Sunday, July 31, 2011

In the Picture

 Over the week-end I had the pleasure of a visit from a Melbourne Navigator builder and his friend, who came to see Annie, and to chat about the progress of his build- it is roughly at the stage shown in these pics from Annie's Flickr set. I'm hoping that our boats might sail together one day.

Reflecting on some of his comments made me realise how powerful  photo sharing sites like Flickr are in  very real and practical ways. Making something like a boat is a transitory experience that involves lots of imagining and tricks and mind games to stay motivated. It also presents a lot of small problems to be solved in your own particular way. Amateur builders are nearly always going about these things in a context of family or career or local issues of space or money- very few have the perfect budget, endless time and ideal spaces and tools.

So for most of us the process passes, the boat is built and  then enjoyed, but the building becomes something from a time before, and just an experience to be remembered- unless the story of the build is recorded and shared. The ability to add notation and comments to the photos takes the process to an even more powerful level, as do the little interactions that inevitably occur between fellow photo-sharers who keep an eye on each other's progress.
I looked at my Flickr statistics to-day and found that although I only have a few sets of any interest, there have been an astonishing 145,000 (now in 2016 there are more than 1.3 million hits. ed.) hits, increasing some days by as many as 600 views. This absolutely dwarfs any interest shown in this blog, which is interesting because it tells me quite clearly that people are rightly much more interested in what we do than the things we say. I find this a bit ironic or perhaps revealing, because I struggle much more to say something coherent than I do to make something!

I'm sure I could stop blogging to-day without causing much concern to anyone, but the Flickr photos will be of use as long as I keep them up there because they allow us to understand a difficult process visually, and to reassure ourselves that if something can be done by someone else, we can do it too.

My Flickr sets

Thursday, July 28, 2011

the next best thing to sailing...

 I wonder if I can say this well enough. If part of the pleasure of sailing is in the quality of the air in your face and the simplicity of the devices used to propel you into it, and if this is enriched by the taste of sea on your teeth and your tongue, and if the wind has the taste of the water that surges beneath you and it is fresh in its saltiness, then the next best thing to that is eating an oyster.

Un-cooked, no sauce, nothing but fresh, pure oyster taken straight from its shell. In there is the texture of slippery rocks awash in sea water and the licking of kelp in the pulse of the tides. In there is a taste all over the mouth, not just on the tongue; clean, wholesome purity.

We spend hours in kitchens and restaurants conjuring complex flavours that don't come close. But like so many of the most worthwhile sensations, this one is bitter-sweet when we consider how unbelievably plentiful they used to be when clean water was abundant and people were few.

I can't eat an oyster without thinking about a book called 'A Secret River' by Kate Grenville, which wraps a wonderful story of a clash of cultures around the settlement of the Hawkesbury River in New South Wales. For thousands of years the oysters were plentiful, and simply there to be had by anyone who was hungry. Within decades the English settlement was struggling to feed itself. Details of the book can be found here.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

boat people can make us proud

Anh Do escaped an unstable and dangerous Vietnam in an unlikely boat after the withdrawal of Australian troops, wrapped in the arms of his mother. He is now a lawyer, but is best known as a stand up comedian. He recently won an important literary award for his book 'The Luckiest Refugee", details can be found here. I listen to his voice, and I sense the values that he seems to have developed, even in the absence of an easy childhood and he makes me feel a little bit of pride in being Australian. I only tell you this because I haven't felt this way often in the last fifteen years. There was a warmth in being an Aussie that has been partly subsumed recently by a shallow edge of materialistic and anti-intellectual self-interest.

Margaret Olley passed away to-day. She was an artistic institution here, not only as a painter for most of her eighty-eight years, or as a patron, mentor, and subject of many famous paintings, but as an on-going presence representing the artists artist- the type unaffected by fashion or trend, simply content to delight in the texture and colour and sensual delight of the painted image. Say her name and I smell turpentine and linseed oil, I think of domestic clutter and light falling across a kitchen table. I remember Cezanne and Matisse and Bonnard, and I'm reminded of the gritty surface of canvas, the scumbled brush and crinkly tubes with lids not quite on: the interior landscape of a perceptive mind both bound and liberated by the familiarity of ordinariness and the domestic space.

Monday, July 18, 2011

the most exciting artefact I've ever held

 This is a violin made by Francesco Ruggieri in 1670- although the scroll is by Joseph Guarneri (why that is so is another story and would probably test the patience of my reader). Where were you in 1670? I'm having trouble remembering my whereabouts. But I want to make some sort of attempt to describe something of the magic of this, a beautiful classical violin of great age and reputation.

 You, or maybe your children have probably heard this instrument. I think Francesco would be a little surprised to know the extent to which the vibrations he made possible from the carving of his gouges, has resonated across the world to an audience of millions, even just in the recent era. This is one of those instruments that has made the sort of sound that has excited  specialist classical listeners, to be sure; but it has also made beautiful noises that have become part of the story of mass entertainment and common culture across the world. This, because it's custodian has played (amongst a life-time of more specialised assignments) in the production of many film themes, including Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Death at a Funeral and Dr. Who, amongst numerous others.

 I have to tell you that hearing it is great, but holding it and feeling it live and dance in my fingers as I breathe and talk is quite the most wonderful thing I've ever experienced as a craftsman.  It is of another order again from anything I've felt- and I've felt quite a few over twenty years.
It's a strange sensation, to pick up something that looks a bit like thousands of other things that attempt to be like the thing that this actually is. This has very little to do with outward appearance, or even craftsmanship. If you know instruments a bit, it speaks to you before you pick it up with a thousand subtle messages to tell you exactly what it isn't. These are the visual clues and they can't be fluffed or faked very easily. They don't have anything to do with a clever person wielding tools cleverly. They speak of dozens of 'one percenters'- tiny details that add up to something that your average grafter could slave away at for decades and never get close to...the angle of a breath with the impact of a hurricane.

With a really fine instrument, I can feel it moving around in my fingers while I talk, and the way that it does that will tell my  little brain about different qualities that are present, or more likely not present. Most instruments will respond to my voice, as filtered through my fingers. This one responds to my breath. Jumps to my breath.

Of course it has had centuries of training by wonderful musicians, including the present one. And it has had the benefit of centuries of diligent and maybe inspired maintenance (and possibly, modification) by the worlds most talented repairers. But it all adds up to one of the most superb artefacts (in my humble opinion) ever created by a person, because it is not only a sublimely beautiful physical object, it is itself a very active participator in the re-creation of a magical level of musical performance.

Gaby Lester is a charming and very talented musician who gives generously of her craft and skill. Her web site is here, and it includes lots of interesting links, including one to the beautiful Italian village of Fossa that was devastated by earthquake but struggles to reassert itself, and a You Tube video of her playing a tune with 'The Who' and lots of other wonderful stuff. It was a joy to meet her and to spend a little time with her wonderful instrument.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

feeling up from looking down

 Like a pair of old beach-combers we spent a lovely afternoon gazing at the tiny worlds within worlds of the low tide at Rickett's Point, Port Phillip (near Beaumaris). The mountains just visible in the pic above are the You Yangs which lie between Geelong and Melbourne. Our normal stamping grounds are beyond and way to the left of them.
 For users of google earth, the point just visible on the horizon here is Arthur's Seat near Mornington. Beyond that but not visible is Portsea and the Heads. Port Phillip is a huge body of water.
This point was declared a Marine Park in 2002 and one of the locals tell us the mussell population has made a significant come-back since then. As if to reinforce the logic of his thinking we saw a pod of at least a dozen dolfins swimming out near the edge of the Park.

Julia tells me the local aboriginal people cultivated fresh-water pools in high rock flats along these points, capturing run-off above the high water mark. We saw some evidence of this, but not a particular hole for which we happily searched.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Grey Point, Lorne, Victoria

Woke to a white-out, but not a snowy sort of white-out, a bottom-of-the-cloud sort that blanks and buffets from the west and lights the windows with cotton-wool fluffy-light until its bottom edge  flirts with the trees on our hill, over the gully.
As the cloud lifts, the lazy long streaks of moisture seem reluctant to let go of the trees, and I don't blame them. I would do exactly the same thing myself if I was headed up that gully on a cold whisp, headed for the great southern ocean.

But here inside, snug as a bug in a rug, it is time for that strange winter logic that declares that this is the moment to confront the grey coast and see what she's able to throw at us...from the safety of a beach.     The wilder the day, the more likely we are, it seems, to stand in awe at the frenzied energy of mother-sea, and  to think respectful thoughts at the power of things beyond us.

Friday, July 1, 2011

end of financial year sail

Well actually it was the start of the new financial year, not the end, and I was pretty happy to be on the water in the middle of Winter. The weather reports for weeks had been teasing, but yesterday turned out as predicted to be from 6-17 degrees C, with a light Northerly. When I arrived it hadn't reached 10 degrees, but it looked warm and that seemed enough.

I'm aware that my little trips in Annie must seem pedestrian by the standards of more experienced cruising types, but for me at the moment it is just beautiful to find some time and space on the water, with company or without. And to gain some varied weather experiences,  learning to trust myself as a sailor.

It was interesting sailing because even when the breeze died there was a bit of a swell and it was harder to pick the shifts visually by looking at the surface texture of the water. When the breeze came up the swell came with it, and there was no trouble picking the direction then. So I headed from St Helens, straight over towards Limeburner's point, into increasing waves and a firm breeze, then swung around towards Eastern Beach on a run. I was able to reach back past St. Helens, with the intention of going all the way to Limeburner's Lagoon, but the wind died when I passed North Shore, and feeling that I had already had the best of it, I pottered back in.
These grain stores are one of several export docks that form the Port of Geelong. Since 1850 this port supplied much of the wool that fed the textile industries in the north of England, and if you are British and over 50 you most likely wore woolen clothes made from fleece that came from Victoria's Western District, to this Port and then on to the 'mother country'.

Many of Australia's agricultural crops were geared to feeding and clothing Britain- particularly during the wars, but this all fell apart when Britain joined the Common Market and pitched her future plans in with her old rivals. Like the rest of Australian industry and agriculture,  the farmers and orchardists and millers and weavers had to find new markets, and re-structure their enterprises.

There are a couple of very short clips of the sail on Flickr, here- the usual bits when things were calm enough to manage a camera at the helm, but I know some people just like to listen to the water noises in these.