Wednesday, January 30, 2013

On our last night in London we bought Tsing Tao beer and steamed bao in Chinatown. The streets were dry and a full of a cold wind which couldn't decide on how cruel it wanted to be. We walked down to Trafalgar Square, because there is something so wonderful about that vast open space so full of sky and surrounded by movement.

We climbed Nelson's Column and sat three tiers high on that grand monument to naval victory. The sun was down and London is luxurious with night lights and colour and light and colour and all double decker red buses weave through that round about, all out of town buses are pulled to that round about. We drank our rice beer and Big Ben donged the quarter hour. Other tourists climbed the lions and we pulled faces in their photos.

Overhead planes cross-hatched the sky.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Interestingly: the Victoria Memorial

Buckingham Palace is, well, yes. It is yet another stately building in a city full of stately buildings. Historians and architects alike may despair my plebeian ignorance and lack of appreciation, but apart from watching the guards stomp back and forth in an attempt not to lose their toes to frostbite, there really wasn't much to behold. The Queen wasn't in so it wasn't though we could pop inside for a cuppa either.

Out the front is, however, the Victoria Memorial, which is a very large ornate and ostentatious affair with statues and 'gifts' from various members of the Commonwealth which look surprisingly similar to communist propaganda monuments from the Soviet era. But with lions.

Presiding over all this is an angel of "unclear entitlement" (according to wikipedia) which could be both Peace and Victory. Wiki also claims that the statue is bronze, not the goldiest gold that ever golded, as I assumed.

The Original Bling by sirtessa
The Original Bling, a photo by sirtessa on Flickr.

I mean, seriously, look at it. That's bloody gold, that is. No photo manipulation either. The winter sun did its thing.

Anyway, gold or bronze aside, you will agree that it is very, very shiny. And free of bird poop. 

London is obsessed with bird poop. I've never seen so many spikes placed upon surfaces to deter birds from perching. Spikes everywhere. Everywhere! On railings and fences and window sills and ledges and gutters and street lights and statues and signs and EV.ER.EE.WHERE.

This angel of "unclear entitlement" does not possess spikes. Nor does it wear birds or bird poop. 

We can only assume therefore that Her Majesty the Queen has appointed herself a sniper to sit atop the palace roof and take out the little buggers before they even make landing. If you look to the left wing you'll see a set of stairs on the roof, leading to a raised platform. Perfect position to preserve the splendour of Queen Vicky.

This is perhaps not the most illustrious position to hold, but it would be a sure sight better than being one of the guards standing watch by the front doors, with nothing to do but stomp back and forth in an attempt not to have their fleet fall asleep.  I suspect that the Royal Sniper may have had some practice in the gardens, as there are multiple signs about the place requesting that one does not feed the pelicans. One would be quite willing to oblige however one does find that actually, there are are no pelicans. One must make do feeding the swans, geese, ducks and squirrels instead.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Collecting Homes & Between Them

It's been only four days since leaving Glasgow, and yet it already feels like that moist cold flat happened to someone else in some other lifetime. Four days and three cities and three different sets of wonderful warm people. There was no snow in Glasgow, nor in Manchester, but the land all around is six inches deep in white and the powder growing as our double decker bus hurtled south. There's looking like a tourist, and there's gawping at snow hitting the window, stuck to trees and falling from the sky.

(The majestic turn of wind turbines made mysterious and magical in the blur of snow, against a snow-blank sky and anchored to snow-buried hills.)

Returning to places you do not know intimately yet have established a memory landscape upon is a curious deception. While I know the homes my friends have opened to me well, their city streets are hazy recollections. I have no idea of the layout of Manchester and Nottingham but managed to find tea shops I'd enjoyed in both and enjoy them a second time.

The sharing of such discoveries is a new thing for me, still. Perhaps always. J approves of one tea shop and disapproves of another. We both discover a retro game store and the oldest pub in England. He meets friends I have known so long yet have never met, and seeing that my friends also enjoy my friends is a cockle-warming delight.

This tour through England is something of a long goodbye, which is odd because it is Scotland that was our home. Somewhere between Glasgow and Manchester we crossed the border and it was a moment unnoticed and unmarked. I was probably dozing. Possibly snoring.

(J is intent on the 'hams' of England, having hit Birmingham/Burning Ham and Nottingham/Not A Ham and just now noted Grant Ham and Bing Ham on bus billings as they swing past the window.)

So many people- Wait, let me correct that. So many Scots asked me "Why Scotland?" There isn't really a neat answer to that question. It might have been due to Braveheart, or it might have been due to generic fat fantasy worlds harkening back to the shared delusion of what the Highlands are. Perhaps it was simply because it was far away, full of mist and crags and dark grass and all the things that weren't to be found in my backyard.

Now, knowing I won't set foot in that rich soggy land for some years to come, I can say definitively and certainly, it is because Scotland is my home on the other side of the world.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

I love the sounds of Moony's preening. The stiff yet soft rustle and shuft of her feathers as she runs her pinions through her beak. It is the sound of safety, it means that she - a creature who is by her very nature born to be prey - is relaxed and comfortable. Sitting on my head offers no threat to her, and so she may primp herself to her little heart's content.

Trust is a truly golden treasure.

Bad Movies and Growing Up

Tonight I had my viewing of Showgirls and... I honestly don't know what to say. I can understand how The Room got made; all it needed was one man with determination and too much money. But how the hell did Showgirls make it all the way to cinema release without someone saying, "WE ARE MAKING A TERRIBLE MISTAKE."

It was featured as part of Bad Movie Night, and was spectacularly entertaining. For all the wrong reasons. Once released from the theatre we, a small posse of non-Glaswegians, roamed the streets quoting lines from the film and eventually settling into a pub for some 'old fashioned' cider. In this case 'old fashioned' means 'gross'.

These are the last days of Glasgow. Each night passing is the dying of an era. When we left Edinburgh for the last time, said goodbye to our friends there, the truth of our departure reached the end of its patience, stopped loitering hoping for attention and upped and tapped me on the shoulder. We are leaving. These beautiful people, they won't be a mere bus ride away. We'll be on the other side of the world, and when we say our goodbyes, these goodbyes will have to stand for ages. We won't see these faces for years.

Conversely, we're going home, where our families are, our animal friends, our human friends, all our loves. I'll return to a job that pays more than what both of us were earning here. There is a lot to look forward to.

And yet.

Part of me can't help seeing this as the last gasp. That going home will mean growing up, being responsible, being settled. That maybe I have developed new eyes, and going back to somewhere familiar and known will mean turning that once beloved place into something boring, uninteresting, dull, that maybe I will resent the place, yearn for elsewhere, and as such lose that precious sense of home I've come to treasure. Part of me worries that because of this I'll start being blind to wonder and forget to seek the delight in ordinary things.

There is no way around such flitty demons other than to build a fortress out of memories and incredulity. There are nights yet to come in which to roam Glasgow, stomp the ice growing in puddles and cry 'ewww!' at the puddles which don't hold enough water to freeze.

Glasgow hasn't always been kind to us, yet has been nothing but forthcoming about giving us stories to tell.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Irrelevance of History

We're sitting in The Kenilworth in Edinburgh, a traditional pub with a ridiculous variety of whiskeys available. On the skirting around the bar island the fact that the building is dated form 1789 is written in a neat calligraphy in gold paint on dark varnished wood.

The first encampment establishing Australia as a penal colony of the British Empire happened on 26 January 1788. Thousands of years of Aboriginal culture carpeted over just like that. That is the Australia of today. 225 years old.

It is a surreal thing to have a pint and a pie in a place that is older than the nation you grew up in, especially when you have memories of the bi-centennial celebrations of 1988, of a school assembly in primary school, being tasked to make vaguely nationalistic posters and not entirely understanding why this particular date was so important, why you were given a special medal commemorating the anniversary, because at 7 years old you do not yet have a sense of time, of age, as at 7 years old you have not stood on the Great Wall of China, walked the streets of Edo, stood in the Cave of Hands, hid from a squall beneath Stonehenge, or come to understand how much you can learn in 10 years and how stupid you were 10 years ago.

Moments like these happen have happened over and over the past year. London was overwhelming. It seemed every building, every street corner, ever mail box had a little plaque commemorating this or noting that. The history of the place was inescapable, and so deep as to drown us all. How can anyone go about their everyday lives when there are tombs in the footpath? How are you supposed to pop down the store for a pint of milk when the building is advertising the fact that it was rebuilt after a zeppelin raid during the war? How can you do anything when you are surrounded by history which demands your attention and respect?

 I guess you just carry on, as everyone else here appears to be doing.

(Aside: Glasgow has shifted my sliding scale on what I consider eye candy, and whoa, there are so many pretty things walking around Edinburgh I'm getting whiplash. J is giving me a lot of shit for flirting with the bartender.)

Sunday, January 06, 2013


Tokyo. That was an incessant city. London was indefatigable. Sydney is bursting. Sleep is a similar city. To sleep is to try and traverse the main street of all of these cities on a weekend, a holiday weekend before an event that requires all to do extra curricula shopping, also it is a beautiful day, the first after winter, and there is a parade.

Sleep is never a straight and empty road in a featureless land. Sleep is not windless water. Sleep is not rest.

I am not haunted. My dreams are not nightmares, shames, guilts, fears or secrets. They are only dreams of living libraries, water suits, rollerblading on uneven paving and leaping from high platforms because gravity is for other people. They are only dreams.

There are always dreams.

Always running. Always negotiating. Always solving. Always seeking. 

And then I wake.

Such a simple word; wake. A single syllable. Staccato. Wake. To open your eyes is as long as that syllable. As if the crossing from one state to another were such a small, easy thing. 

Is it? Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps I am doing it wrong. It's likely that for most of you it is.

In the city of Sleep I am so many other people. I live so many lives, with so many other faces and furies. My agendas are diverse and legion. To wake is not to wake. To wake is to stop being these other people, stop pursuing their goals and fighting their circumstances. To wake is to suddenly and abruptly become me.

Bewildered. Confused. Untethered. 

I do not go to sleep; I go away.

I do not wake; I come back.

And between those two points of transformation, I do not exist at all.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

While looking at photos of sea pens...

Imagine having a life in which you never once knew what you looked like.
Imagine never knowing that you were beautiful.

Imagine not needing to be beautiful.

Imagine not having the concept of beauty at all.

Imagine how simple life would be.
Imagine how-

How could any of us exist without beauty?

Friday, January 04, 2013

Peace of Mind is a Privilege

Walking home alone from the middle of Glasgow city along the Gallowgate and through the Barras to our dingy flat in Calton is not a tour of the scenic parts of Glasgow. Do a search for 'Calton' and in quite a number of hits the word 'deprivation' will also appear, along with frequent mention of the fact that the life expectancy of a male in Calton is 54 years, which puts it on par with Iraq and Gaza, areas which experience military combat. The Tongs used to call it home, to the point where Calton was once known as Tongland. It is still wearing that reputation of violence, even though the gang has moved on and the violence has mellowed. I have heard it said that Calton has the highest crime rate in Western Europe, but haven't been able to turn up anything to substantiate that.

Suffice it to say, this place isn't pretty. It's tenement blocks and abandoned schools. Three of the latter within a three block radius of our flat, to be honest. There are vacant lots overgrown with grass and nettles and full of trash. The streets are well littered, plastic bags and polystyrene take away containers, drink bottles, buckfast bottles, straws and bottle caps, couches, fridges, miscellaneous pieces of large broken plastic, window frames and chocolate wrappers, you know, rubbish. That which is unwanted and yet does not go away. There's grass growing in all the roof guttering, personalitiless graffiti, and numerous potholes in the streets. I've written previously about that which goes on in our tenement alone. Add to that list now finding a complete and used heroin kit (very budget, I might add) in the hallway, used syringe and dirty spoon and all. Add to that the kids smoking pot who kicked a massive crack in our front door when an upstairs neighbour told them to get out.

Tonight, while walking back from the pub, a sole man of subcontinental lineage attached himself to me. He was well presented and did not ping on my threat radar. Comments back and forth concerning how warm it was (look, 11ยบ in January is warm for Scotland, okay?) were similarly non-threatening, but because I am not only an introvert but a woman walking alone at night who is hyper aware of the risks faced by all women walking alone at night, I attempted to part ways quickly.

This completely failed because, as it turns out, he lives exactly one block down the street.

Normally this would unsettle me, as, well, I don't know him. I don't like random strangers who want to make conversation knowing where I live. I don't think anyone does. However, his cousins were unloading the car as we walked up, and there is an odd feeling of community in our little corner of Calton, and I really did not feel threatened.

What he did do, however, was warn me against walking in these streets, being a sole woman.

This lead to talking about the nice places in Glasgow, the west side where all the rich people are, which led me to:

  1. bristle and fume that a man dares attempt to offer advice on how to keep myself safe because holy shit I know already anyway this post is not about that; and
  2. reflect that safety, or the idea of safety, is a privilege of the wealthy.
Having lived in Calton for around half a year now, I can state that no, it isn't the nicest of neighbourhoods, and yes, its reputation is greatly exaggerated. While the detritus of junkies is unpleasant to behold, the kick in the door is the worst we've had. In all my solo darkness jaunts I have not once had trouble, I've never even had anyone call out to me. Calton is full of the elderly, who walk slowly to the corner store to buy cigarettes and the paper, and grandparents who own large dogs in small flats and walk them regularly, and young families the kids of which leave their bikes on the grass out the front of their tenements. As a freelancer I'm nocturnal. I walk all hours of the dark, from 4 in the afternoon to 3 in the morning. The Neds are present and visible, and have never once bothered me.

And, if we could afford it, I'd be out of here in a second. 

(Before this goes on, I want to state that living in a lower socioeconomic area does not guarantee crime/danger, nor does living in a higher one guarantee safety. From my experience, living in a well to do area simply means that the ability to hide any problems from attention is present and used.)

I don't want to be hyper alert when walking. I don't like constantly scanning my surroundings and gauging whether to cross a road or keep on this side. That I am uncomfortable sitting in the front room, with our window at street level, is a stressful thing, as this should be my safe place. I hate knowing that my uneventful time here is attributed not only to vigilance but luck as well. 

But we couldn't afford the west side. 

When we get home, back in Melbourne, Australia, we'll face the same decision: at exactly what point to compromise between affordable rent and safe surroundings. 

Safety is something that can be bought. You buy or rent in a safe neighbourhood, in a quiet street. You can pay for taxis to take you home instead of walking. Hell, you could even own your own car.

It must be said that I do tend to walk alone at night not only because it's cheap, but because I refuse to avoid the streets due to fear, a fear that may be unfounded. The distances are small enough here that, should I wish it, I can take a taxi home and it won't kill our bank account. There are buses running most of the night. Walking is a deliberate choice on my part.

But it is worth bearing in mind that on those occasions you feel someone may be putting themselves in unnecessary risk merely by getting from A to B, or by living in C, that they may not have any better option open to them. 

In such instances, telling them that it's not safe is remarkably unhelpful, because believe me, they know it, and they know it a hell of a lot better than you. Don't berate them for what they already know they cannot do anything about. Remember that it is not for you to dictate another person's threat tolerance, nor is the insistance on some alternate means of movement that would require extra finances ever wanted. 

If it is in your means and desire to make a difference, walk or drive that person home, if they wish it. If they need to have a momentary break and rant or whinge about the streets that scare them, support them in that moment. They will get back to being unafraid in a bit.

Most of us don't live in a nice safe world. We can see it, or something closer to it only a few kilometres away, but we can't live there. We compromise. We struggle for better. Sometimes we get better, and sometimes we don't. 

We all decide what we are willing to live with, within the restrictions we live with. Remember that although what each of us decides may be different, it is not for any of us to force our priorities of finances or safety on others.