Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Blind Side of the Heart - a review of the novel.

The Blind Side of the HeartThe Blind Side of the Heart by Julia Franck
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a bleak but powerful drama drawn at the personal rather than national level, the events of the interwar period in Berlin sliding past uncommented upon. We live the consequences of them in this novel instead.
Franck's prose is intimate and energetic with a rhythm that accounts for life in its finely textured moments. The main character Helene is the victim of parents who are unable to deal with one catastrophe and the narrative is of her attempts to cope with that and survive another.
If there is something engagingly historical in this story it is the timely reminder that intergenerational human dislocation is inevitable when world politics fails to rein in the bullies.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Yeah but...Who are You?

Over more than six years of blogging I've often felt exposed and sometimes vulnerable as I try to say something of value that is positive or thoughtful in the full knowledge that there are so many better voices than mine to be heard on all the topics that I cover.

After all this time it matters less whether I post regularly because an increasing number of 'hits' are of archived posts on specific topics- and it is a source of amusement and pleasure to see what it is that people are still reading, and noticing from which continent the latest wave originates. So as I write this, there has been a fairly steady 5000 hits per month- although it can go as low as 2500 when I struggle to post something fresh.

If there is a trend that I find frustrating it is that fewer new voices are choosing to comment on the posts and I put this down to the tendency of net surfers to skip about until something of use or of interest pops up, without any real engagement or sustained investment in the message or the messenger. If I was a commercial type this wouldn't concern me, if the product was still moving and interest was maintained.

But I'm not that type and that isn't a valid representation of my motivation for writing. If I'm honest here, I really don't know why I do this beyond the fact that the blog becomes a sort of journal of the things that excite me. Or more particularly, the things that I feel able to share that excite me- there are a lot of personal, family and local and political/environmental things that I stay shtum about. It began because a small number of us spoke to each other online in our posts and these were almost incidentally shared to a wider audience because sharing information freely was a liberating and excitingly new thing to do.

I try (and it is a struggle sometimes) to keep away from politics and  events that divide us. I try to concentrate on the acquisition of a creative life of some sort, and I imagine the reader as someone looking for a project, or stuck in a rut who might be interested in another viewpoint on making this or reading that. I love the idea that ordinary people can make and create extraordinary things, and in doing so they become more wonderful as people. I like the idea that things can always be better if we are more thoughtful in our approach to them.

Almost every two or three months I make the decision that I'm talking to myself  here and should stop posting online. I know nothing about the reader  (who is metaphorically outside my house in the dark looking through my window at my private thoughts-) and that thought makes me feel like a shameful exhibitionist. How do I square that with the fact that I've always been a rather private person- one who would probably be happier doing things than talking to people?

Who ARE you? Does it matter who you are? It matters who I am. Well, it does to me anyway.

My Flickr photo sharing pages are much more straight-forward. They are sets of pics on how to build two particular boats and currently there have been 1.4 million hits on them, and I've tried to be helpful to dozens of builders who have emailed me. That is a simple transaction of sharing. Blogging though is a weird sort of contract where the reader gets to be interested or not without the writer having any clue about the relative usefulness of the postings beyond the fact that people seem to keep looking. But I guess that is true of my books too, thinking about it. I just get figures from the publishers every month telling me that some number of copies were sold, with no idea if they are enjoyed or valued or not. That never seems to worry me...

Oh, and that pic at the top of the page? That's my mum in the 1930's with her two brothers in a boat. I was born of one of them and named after the other two, and if in my sixties I'm still searching for something in myself, it is to find the bits of those boys that are in me since they lost their lives so young.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Not Eric. Not George.

A while ago I was fortunate enough to be on the receiving end of some solid wisdom from one of my children. I had been struggling with some guitar phrases used by the great E Clapton  and I expressed some frustration to my son that I couldn't play these particular licks in the way I wanted, and he looked me in the eye for a second, and with a slight grin  said -'Let me get this right, you started to play guitar at age 59 and you're upset that you can't play like Eric Clapton?'

I don't often try to share what I'm learning, but every so often I'll record a certain piece to be a sort of marker of my little journey, and how good it sounds will be determined by a filter I have in my brain that judges how much time and effort the piece is worth, given how much there is still to learn.

The music piece behind the slide show above is a case in point. I know I could make it sound so much better if I spent another week just polishing it further, but at some point I just 'called it', because the benefit does not justify the time.

This piece was my first played with a slide and I found intonation very challenging, ending quick trips up and down the neck at the right pitch, and  trying to give them pleasant vibrato; all of this took a lot of repetition and refinement. Plenty still to do. The solo is played over a backing track by Brian Sherrill which I re-mixed a bit and sped up 10%.

It is played in standard tuning on a regular guitar and was an attempt to capture something of the feeling that George Harrison expressed very sweetly in his later years. I mention that because trying to do these things is so beautiful in the way that it lets me inside the music, and falling short of the target is OK in that context.

So learning to play has really been an enormous lesson in learning to listen.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Midnight Watch

I enclose my Goodreads review of this book by David Dyer about the 'side story' of inaction by a nearby ship when Titanic struck an iceberg and failed to recover. He has researched the characters and actions that  turned a maritime accident into a human disaster.

The Midnight Watch: A Novel of the Titanic and the CalifornianThe Midnight Watch: A Novel of the Titanic and the Californian by David Dyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wasn't particularly interested in an analysis of the events surrounding the Titanic story, but I was rather captivated by the failures that made it such a disaster.
The unfathomable distortions of a truth, or maybe just the exploration of the impossibility of truth as memory lie just beneath this fictional rendition based upon actual events and people in the sinking of Titanic and the loss of so much life- apparently unnecessarily. The book explores the terrible inaction of a nearby ship when Titanic was damaged and unable to recover.
In the last pages Dyer masterfully resolves a lifetime of focus by a fictional newspaper journalist who struggled for decades to explain the human failures at the heart of the tragedy, and did so finally by understanding that human action takes place within a lived emotional and psychological context.

View all my reviews

Monday, July 18, 2016

A New Port Fairy Whaler

It isn't often that you hear of a small community having a replica working hull made to celebrate not only the working traditions of the local seafarers but also those of the craftsmen that enabled them to take to the water.

 The 28ft Huon pine whaleboat is being built for the local Port Fairy Heritage Boat Group. The builder Garry Stewart says 'working with me on construction is Rob Whitehead who is a member of the group, all timber is huon pine, fastenings copper and bronze, planking is lapstrake, and the design is what was used for off beach whaling at Port Fairy in the early 1800s'.

This pile of Huon Pine is a rare thing now. Like so many wonderful species in the Southern Hemisphere, the huge scale of their availability and their wonderful working qualities fooled our forebears into thinking that the supply was endless. I'm thinking Huon, in Tasmania, Australian Red Cedar in New South Wales,  Kauri in New Zealand, and Jarrah in Western Australia- but there are plenty of others that grew aplenty in our neck of the woods. For some, their use is very political and it can be difficult now for good craftsmen to source the timbers that have always served so well.

While in some stands of forest 'clear felling' is still allowed, exposing soils to invasion by weeds and depleted by erosion, in other situations supply of particular species has been very restricted if not banned.

Huon is a marvellous timber to work. It planes like butter and has an incredible aroma that wafts off the blade and fills a workshop. It is resinous and very resistant to rot. These trees need time and space, so their use should be carefully considered. I would argue that traditional crafts that depend upon them should be prioritised.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Rebirth of a Lakes Classic from 1936

There is something about the Gippsland type fishing boat that rings my bells. I'm not alone here...
Although different builders varied the type considerably over the years (as documented in previous posts here), there was a convergence in the years between world wars when certain attributes became almost fixed to create a distinct local character.

There remain  on the lakes a good number that have outlived the great days of commercial fishing and there are many families for whom this type of boat provided work on the water across several generations. Some of the boats are working evidence of family and local histories and this boat is one of them.

The boat has recently been rescued and purchased by Peter Medling, a fourth generation fisherman from Paynesville.

Peter said; 'Built in 1936 for Jack and George Smith and used as a professional Fishing Boat for many decades. My brother Ray Medling bought her in 70s and fished out of her for nearly 20 years . I also worked out of her for many years as well. Rob Morecroft also used her for fishing. Rick Cove who was married to the daughter of the original owners the Smiths then bought her back...He contacted me this year and I was keen to buy a piece of our family fishing history back as my fathers boat is unrepairable. We will totally restore her and will have her raced tuned for the next fishing boat race at the Rally. She will be renamed to the Nancy Jean to honour my mum. JGS will still be written on her stern I have been lucky enough to score the rudder off my dads boat so that will be fitted also to complete the family connection. So with a little luck another one of our great old classic boats will be saved!'

Rick Cove has contributed some of the boat's history, he wrote to Peter;
'I purchased her from Robert Morecroft about 1985 and with the help of Rob Ashworth got her seaworthy and back into the water. Robert Morecroft had just raised her from a watery grave in Raymond Island bight but she was too much work for him so I bought her for the same reasons you did. To get her back into the family. I worked at the Paynesville Slipyard where Rob Ashworth and I spent many many hours rebuilding her. I went to work in her each day for about 14 years. In 1998 I was in hospital for a back operation and got news that she had sunk. Friends raised her but the Mazda 323 engine was not able to be used again. My crook back stopped me being able to use her and from about 1998 she was kept for the family. We moved her to Duck Arm when I sold up in Paynesville in 2007. She has always been regularly slipped and anti-fouled at the Paynesville Slip. There was only growth on the keel cooling pipes when you pulled her out. The original cost when she was built in Paynesville in 1936 by Robinson, ( on the corner of King Street and Langford Parade), was 90 Guineas. (94pounds 10 shillings or $189.00) The original receipt is still around in the family somewhere and I will try to get it for you or at least a copy. It is great to see that you are getting stuck into her.'

Above, The JGS and Lorna (Peter's father's boat) in the 1980's.

Peter has begun the restoration, replacing and sistering ribs and plank pieces and is currently replacing the deck with reclaimed kauri planking with the assistance of Bob Benton. I hope to post on her progress and completion.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

what is it about lines?

Some obscure thing in my childhood must be responsible for my appetite for nice lines. I've never been a builder of any merit, but I have had so much joy over the years drawing lines to create a space, and then getting outside to make them real lines drawn against sky. If I'm honest, these things interest me much more than fitting out or even using a building. What I love is the transformation of space by considered lines and I feel rather blessed that the old body can still enjoy  days in the sun 'on the tools'.

There are a few persistent themes in this blog, and line is one of them. I vividly remember a walk with my father when I was less than four years old, through a street in our Victorian country town of Horsham where we lived,  less than ten years after the Second War. On this walk I saw my first house frame being built and the sense of transformative wonder has never left me. I raced home and stole all Dad's garden stakes and tried to create something equivalent in the garden. I had a parallel experience the same year at our local swimming hole at Green Lake, where I saw my first boat- with the same attempt at re-creation when I got home. Every chance since then, I've been up to the same mischief, but never as a professional. It was violins that allowed me to be paid for making nice lines, and I'm missing them a bit lately.

I have a grandson reaching the age that I was when these things shook me. I bet a few readers might have grandchildren too. I hope some of them are as aroused by the possibilities of making things as some of us were. Taking an idea from paper to the vastness of the outdoors, and being encouraged to do so can set  the mind up to be forever looking to see the 'what if' in life instead of the 'I can't'.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Couta Boat restoration in Port Fairy

Garry Stewart is a fine professional boat builder, working on the Moyne River in Victoria's west, and he has recently restored this 20ft couta boat in what he describes as a refit and a new laid deck. This is quite small by 'couta standards but is a lovely no-nonsense hullform of rather beautiful proportions.

Garry wrote that she has a length of 20 ft, a  beam  of 7ft 6'' draft 2 ft 6'' and was  built by Peter Locke boatbuilder at Queenscliff around 1935-1940. She has a lug rig, centre case with 3/8'' steel centre plate, planking and ribs are New Zealand Kauri. The new deck is Iroko, new combings King Billy pine, and is powered by 20hp Volvo diesel.  He added that as she has lifting eyes for and aft she would have worked from Lorne or thereabouts on the Surf Coast where it was usual to lift boats onto the pier for storage between fishing trips.

'Castwood' (ex 'Dolphin') on the lovely jetty at Port Fairy

Sunday, May 1, 2016

the dog splice

The couch faces west and the autumn sun unravelled itself across the floor to where I was sitting, book on lap, beer in left hand. The view was all sparkle and golden explosions where my eyes were looking, so I closed them and focussed instead on the warm orange pink of my backlit eyelids- seeing nothing, but looking at the colours while my right hand draped from the arm of the couch, relaxed and loose.

Rising to that hand Smiling Billy lifted his head and adjusted his posture to be more fully under the space between fingers, confident  they would be on Automatic Stroke. And they were. He didn't know then, like I did, that it was his last day with us before leaving to be adopted.

This is all about bitter-sweet. Simple, everyday sensations and moments that become more beautiful because the moment has limits and what is present and powerful now will not be forever. These are the things I take note of and try hardest to hold onto,  remember and  recreate, but they can't be replicated. It isn't the event that has been moving, it is the context and the meaning and the ephemeral, ungraspable and insubstantial qualities of joy that come upon me when I least expect them.

 Billy was a shadow, a pal, and the least complicated foster dog we've had. A wiggler, and always involved in whatever was going on, he was  loose, laid-back and long, soft as feathers, dreamy, enthusiastic and always hungry. He left us considerably heavier than he was when he arrived. He has moved onto a happy pet-friendly extended family.

The 'dog splice' above is of Billy, Panda in the middle (she is still with us) and Sooty below, anchoring the team. Together they were like a pod of hyperactive dolphins when ready for a walk, a camp of teenage boys when things became competitive, and an ageing choir when a phone rang.

Walking the three was an absolute joy as the four of us would head up the middle of our country road in straight almost military formation, turning in unison to follow birds that flew across our path and waiting patiently and without pulling while one of our squadron squirted a tree, bin or interesting patch of ground.

I document this story because I've really enjoyed the process and these moments are easily forgotten, but I have learnt from my blog that a post can send me back into an experience...and occasionally I notice that others seem to find them worth revisiting too.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

rally traffic

It is very rewarding to have sailed so close to a bunch of generous photographers. I don't think we ever had pictures from our trips on Corio Bay or the Western District Lakes and it is a real luxury now to have a collection of pictures of this boat out there sailing. Of course that is one of the features that made the Paynesville rally so successful- the narrow straits at the town centre where the crowds congregated. So I hope my reader doesn't mind a few more indulgences here from those days.

Since then quite a few things have happened to the boat, and I have these as a permanent record of her gradual evolution. The unrestored topsides show up well in the bottom pic and when I figure out where and when I can get her on the hard for antifouling and topsides painting the job will be substantially done, at least for a while...

Sunday, April 24, 2016

getting wired: more time aloft

 These didn't just get on my floor by accident. They took a fair bit of ladder work before they reached the hard. I'm aware that my devoted reader will be quite bored by these pics- the gory entrails and shrouds that used to keep the mast perpendicular, but they are here because I have a deep-rooted love of interesting lines in composition, and because getting me to the top of the mast so often has me so far out of my comfort zone, I need to think that the effort has produced something worth saying, and at least for me, something worth looking at. 

I didn't fall off. Surely that is reason enough to celebrate with a picture.

The new pile above consists of an inner and an outer forestay, four side stays, and two sprit stays              (I call 'em whiskers). The trick was to detach the shackle pin at the top of the mast without letting go of either  the shackle or the old stay (using pliers) and lowering the old stay, retrieving the new one, pocketing the pliers (still without dropping the pin or the shackle), offering the new stay to both the mast band and the shackle, insert the pin then find the pliers again...all at full stretch while powerboats wakefully sped past below. And all while at the very top of the ladder, not knowing if my measurements had been accurate enough for a good fit. 

The dogs were happy I came back in one piece with something salty to smell. Six of the eight wires are up, but I've run out of lashing, so I'm having a beer instead.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

an incremental thing

While I wait for the new standing rigging to be made up, there have been quite a few lovely moments bobbing around Beachcomber in the old tender, with sandpaper, brush, varnish and paint in hand. 

The bowsprit appears as though it means business again, the new bob-stay gives me some adjustment against the pull of the forestays and the rubbing strip has a new, more subtle colour. It is of a mid grey, but like the greys inside the hull it tends to photograph warmer (a bit lilac) because of the warmth of the wood...but so far, I like it. I feel it lightens the appearance of the hull from a heavy Victorian to a more creamy, light hue. It used to be 'Brunswick Green' like the sail covers.

Of course, nice shiny paint on the rubbing strip only makes the topsides look dirty and a bit weathered, but this is an incremental sort of rejuvenation and it will all get done eventually...Including the sail covers which have started to become cream, but still have some green bits there to keep me edgy. She will come out of the water this year for more antifoul and I will paint the topsides then, and replace the green covers at some useful point too.

I admit the two pics below aren't really fair in measuring progress because the 'before' pic was taken on a grey sort of day, but hey, I need motivation sometimes too.

It will be interesting to see if the new stays, shrouds and whiskers fit because I measured without removing the mast, by means of overlapping timber sticks (which needed to cover six metres for the forestay) poked up to the heavens towards the upper shackles with optimism and a bit of economy-driven confidence.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

these nights are tough

 Tomorrow our latest foster greyhound goes to her new forever home, and we believe she will be loved there and will really contribute something to the people who will become her guardians. Frankie has been a gorgeous presence in our home since she was rescued about four weeks ago, and we have tried to teach her a little about being a regular dog- and a functional companion in a human household. When we first had her at home she walked into glass doors because she had never seen them. She was overjoyed to have toys and affection, and human company, but also to hang out with Sooty, our adopted greyhound.

For all the good news in the above paragraph, tonight is tough in the same way it has been spending our last days with the others we have fostered. They all bring something to us in combination with their own particular difficulties.

Below left, Angel (now called Maggie) was a former racer who was retired to be a breeder. She was incredibly wise and tender, but lacked any interest in walks or exercise in the time we had her because she just wanted company, food and peace. We hope her new owners go further than we had time to, in re-engaging her with the wonderful doggy world of smells and natural noises.

Below right, Rosie was frightened of everything when we got her. She had more neuroses than we could count- particularly her fear of men. But after a couple of months she followed me everywhere and was ready for her new home with Flynn, a lonely whippet and his 'mum'.

We've only been at this for some months, but all of these dogs are happily placed with people who needed them, and are themselves transformed from soon-to-be-exterminated gambling devices into wonderful companions.

So, like the other times, tonight is tough. We'd love to keep them all, but as Julia wisely reminds me, it is not about what is best for us.

I look across at Sooty, who is still a bit bolshy and territorial, and I remember how difficult it was for him to be loving and accepting of affection when we got him, and I remind myself that he had four trainers in his four years before we got him, and he had to compete all the time to get anything. In the end even winning a number of races wasn't enough to keep him alive, so I forgive him his moods, and I concentrate instead on the times he reaches out to me with his foot to indicate that he does want me to keep stroking him, even if he struggles to be overtly affectionate.

And he has been a star at helping these other dogs transform into family dogs. He is rock solid on our walks, and a role model in sniffing, hanging out and welcoming guests into our home. He has gravitas and dignity and when he comes for a cuddle, you feel blessed.

Friday, April 8, 2016

bobstay boogie

Trying to remain vertical while standing in and working from the tender has taught me some new moves.

Never was much of a dancer...but with one hand holding a tin of varnish, the other using a brush and the tender untethered as I work along the big pole, the new moves become impressive when a motor boat speeds past.

The jib tensioning rig needs restoring, as do the whiskers and the bobstay chain, tackle and line. But I began by resurfacing the bowsprit which had been beyond the reach of the tools until now. It is now being recoated as weather and time permits.

Below, the jib traveller is attached to an endless out/inhaul. Lovely leather sheathed bronze ring and wiggly bits.

Below are the parts of the bobstay tensioning tackle. Galv chain is shackled to a block and then linked by line to a double block. At the inboard end a wooden eye is spliced onto the line to provide another two part purchase inboard by means of another line spliced to the bowsprit at the standing end, then fed through the wooden eye and back to a horn cleat on the sprit. The chain was looking mildly disreputable, so it has added gravity to my bin. The gal pulley blocks have stood up remarkably well and have been redeployed without any interference.

All of the gal. shackles have remained serviceable- probably due to the beef tallow used to lubricate the threads. A big bucket of the stuff was kindly provided with the boat (Fred's supplier had grossly overestimated how much he required) and it is remarkable stuff. You would think after more than 25 years in a shed the tallow would be rancid and beyond sniffing, but it remains a clean, white, low odour and  serviceable marine lubricant. Needless to say all moving galvanised parts going back on the boat are retallowed.

Below, the new lines, chain and splices for the long outboard parts. The splice on the inboard line will need to be done on the boat.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Geelong WB Festival 2016 and a brand new Aussie Navigator

 Because I haven't seen much coverage of this event in the blogosphere I include a few pictures supplied by our friends Peter and Felicity. Since there is often very little feed-back about this sort of coverage I found it hard to know how many pics to include. There are more on Felicity's disc if needed...

Below are some shots of Peter's new home built Navigator. I have been thrilled to see it emerge from a pile of promising plywood. Peter chose to build light and has used the thinner plywood for his hull and I'm sure he will find it fast and responsive as his early tests suggest. Observant readers will notice sails from Duckworks.
I don't want to embarrass Peter at all, but I do need to say that his passion for wooden boats goes a lot further back (and a lot deeper) than just this, his recent build. He has played several major roles in the Geelong event for many years, on the committee (I am without details here) and as the representative of a major sponsor. 

The boat is named after the very talented Felicity, below.