Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Getting to somewhere nice

When the art school is all cleaned up at the end of each year, students leave stuff behind. Sometimes it's confusingly useful stuff, sometimes absolutely useless. One year, a girl left behind a whole box of simple art materials: textas, ink pads, stamps, the sort of thing you'd leave behind when you're returning home by plane a very long distance.

I took home one of the stamps because I didn't understand why it had been bought in the first place. It's very twee, very odd, and very un-PC, using as it does a gollywog straight from the archives of Enid Blyton. I thought maybe I could use it somehow, some day.

Well, I decided to make it a kind of Xmas card for 2009:

Not too jolly, but (I hope) you know what I mean. The proper message is here: I hope everyone out there enjoys being home for Xmas, or at least gets the chance to go to a safe place that will look after them. And even if it's not Xmas for everyone, I hope the suppos-ed Xmas spirit pervades all the glum & sticky corners of our nation.*

We're off up north today, en route to the Woodford Folk Festival (all starting on Boxing Day), and I'm sure I'll keep in touch via iPhone and various loaned computers, although I won't be able to cruise the neighbourhood much...

So have a lovely whatever you want it to be. See you properly in the New Year!

*For any overseas readers: this is a very Australian message, and relates to our way of dealing with international visitors. Just google "Christmas Island" if you want to find out more...

Saturday, December 19, 2009

product displacement

As a decidedly secular human, and married to someone who is consciously atheistic after a very Christian childhood, I always have problems with the notion of Christmas. I can understand it as a day of rest, a day of celebration, maybe even a day of reflection, but I just don't get the relentless pressure to perform, the extended and prolonged lead-up to the event, and the overburdened and under-thought media beat-up of one single day that only leads to a huge sigh of relief on Boxing Day (the day that we really should be thinking about charity) that it's all over for another six months (depending upon when your local shops start displaying tinsel). And that ridiculous rush around the shops, followed a few days later with another rush around the sales. Bah humbug, to infinity.

So when I was offered the chance to read The Atheist's Guide to Christmas in return for a mention, I jumped at it (that was back when I thought I'd have ample time to blog!). I knew BB would have a squizz, and I was quite interested myself. So it duly came, I read some, passed it on to BB, who read some and then lost it somewhere around the house until I had my memory jogged by a couple of emails, and I found it again. Classic. In the meantime, NZ jumped on the campaign bus. I'm very aware that by doing this review, I've become very 2009. Why not? It's almost 2010!

Anyhoo, here's my mention: this is a jolly good read. Apart from the fact that it's very British, and has multiple moments when the text is very Anglocentric (not in terms of skin but in culture -- can you say Britocentric?), there are some really good essays and writers. BB was a bit sad that Ricky Gervais wasn't in it (didn't surprise me), but was consoled by Robin Ince, who is the subject of Ricky's annoying cry of OOOOHHHHHHHHHH ROBIN! that all of the extended members of my family know so well, thanks to BB (who, I despair, is a real catch-phrase man in the way that other men obsess about sport or beer).

There are big drawcards like Richard Dawkins and little deterrents like Simon le Bon, whom I wasn't aware carried any weight at all in any arena (again, must be a British thing), but for my money this book is worth getting for one piece alone: the essay by comedian Josie Long, entitled Things to Make and Do at Christmas. She has wonderful ideas for Christmas preparations and Christmas games, and her idea about Christmas Crackers will inspire me in years to come.

Another essay I really enjoyed was by David Baddiel and Arvind Ethan David, who conducted a serious survey of the mainsream film industry (focussing primarily on Hollywood) and asked: three movies with explicitly atheist protagonists or themes. Not documentaries or TV programmes, but proper, popcorn-eating, multiplex-playing movies.

BB and I played this on the way to Colonel Duck's farm last night (where I type now). We couldn't do it. In fact, according to these two filmmakers,

...even the Atheist Film Festival, after running an internet-wide competition for suggestions, has only been able to settle on three titles: The Root of All Evil, Deliver Us from All Evil ... and The Life of Brian...

(And they admit the latter title isn't really atheistic, just a naughty boy.) The rest of the essay is a great discussion about how some movies start with atheistic themes or from an atheistic book (like The Golden Compass) and then are sabotaged by a nervous industry, and why. I highly recommend it.

I have to admit that I haven't read the entire book, but I think that's a plus. I've read over half, and it's a bit like a volume of poetry: so diverse that you can't actually read it from front to back; you have to dip in and out, read something, think about it, and then try something else. Simon Price wrote an amusing piece about ways of enjoying Christmas music, Mitch Benn made a salient point that allows us to use the term 'Christmas' (I still prefer 'Xmas'):

if only practising Christians can use the word Christmas, then only Vikings can use the word Thursday.

BB and I had fun trying to work out who most of the writers were -- again, the British thing -- but it suited both of us, as he knows who Derren Brown is (Magician) while I know who Ed Byrne is (stand-up comic).

So, we're having Xmas today. It's ironic, I don't want to have any bloddy Xmases, but every year I have two: an early one with the Duck family, and then one on the actual day wherever we happen to be travelling. This year we'll be with the lovely Sacha and her family again on the eve before the Woodford Folk Festival. That Xmas will be very laid-back, but today we have a tree, lots of presents, my dear little Nana, the first of BB's Xmas puddings, and lashings of bubbly. We're all dressed up, but not going anywhere. Maybe we'll play Scrabble. Maybe we'll fall asleep in front of the tv with full tummies. Whatever we do, this is the last year I'll do Xmas this way. Next year, with a bit of planning, I want to do it Josie's way, with lots of fun and laughter. She's been dog-eared, and her essay will be loved by me for a long time.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Cranky & Humbuggish

Sorry for the silence
All I wish for Christmas is three extra hours in the day.
Until someone grants that wish, I'll just have to keep talking to you in my head.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009


This thursday: 10 December

Canberra Bookbinders Guild Christmas Meeting.
If you've always wanted to join but felt shy, this is the perfect first time experience. it's a Show, Tell & Sell session: people are encouraged to bring their work to show and they are also encouraged to bring things for sale, whether it's books or excess materials or tools. There'll be a glass of wine or three and it's also bring a plate of nibblies. 7.30, Woden Community Centre (behind the big discount chemist, opposite Woollies -- the door is self-locking, which is sometimes off-putting: you have to ring the doorbell and one of the nice binders will rush out & open it).

Megalo are having their annual Member's Show opening, even though they haven't put it up on their website. I think that starts at 6pm, so you can do like I'm doing, and rush between the two events.

Next week: Wednesday, 16 December, 6pm

Gifted image

Gifted reverse

ANCA Gallery & Studios (where I have my studio) is having their Christmas show, with lots of goodies up & about. We're also having a lucky dip, fondly referred to as '20:20', because the dip items will be priced between 20c and $20, and all proceeds go to the Fred Hollows Foundation (chosen because we're visual artists, vision is very important to us). So far we have all sorts of things in the dip, including these:


I call them 'mouthpieces'; they're origami mouths, and when you pull the side tabs back & forth, the mouths open and shut. If you hold them in front of your face the effect can be quite freaky! (I know that by sewing them they sully the idea of fold-only origami, but I found they hold together much better as an object with a bit of a stitch.)

I'm sure I can add other things to this list of events, but between those and all of Bumblebee's primary school graduation hoo-haas, they're quite enough to be doing for now.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Cinematic LOLcattery

With big snaps to For Battle, who between them have many fingers on many pulses, and also many things without pulses, may I please recommend to you

Pop Suede, and especially their post of a LOLcat version of Twilight: New Moon.

Now I don't have to see the movie. Or, I think, read the book. They also did a LOLcat version of the first Twilight movie. And Sex and the City: the movie.

I'm just waiting for LOLcat crib texts for the HSC and other important exams. These cats are defining our times, and I'm loving the ride.

duck up

Yay, website fixed. Thanks for the kind offer, Tigtog, but all it needed was a bit of nagging after a slack weekend.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

broad sides & hyphens

O hai

I've not been around, I've been off socialising with my non-social-network network. How quaint, to sit face to face with people and catch up on news that is older than five minutes.

In the meantime, I've been accruing dotpoints:

-- firstly, go here and have a damn good chortle.

-- back? Wasn't that funny?

-- When I mentioned the other day that I was selecting future Duckettes, what I meant was: I've established a little residency for a couple of graduating students (from my art skool) to come to Studio Duck and print an edition of letterpress broadsides each. Broadsides are essentially posters, usually incorporating text and imagery, most often poetry, but not always.

So I got the chance to walk around the school and get a preview of the grad show to find potential people. I had one pretty much chosen beforehand, but I have had so many good students come through the Book Studio and play with the letterpress facilities, that choosing the second was tricky.

Eventually I made my choice, and then on Friday I went along to the prize-giving ceremony and gave out my residencies, doing the whole shake-and-kiss thingy for good measure. So stay tuned for the adventures of Peter and Natalie and their broadsides, which will hopefully be produced in a couple of months or so! I've bought all the paper, so now I just have to get them into the studio and get planning with them.

presenting 09
Bumblebee's photo -- from afar and above -- of me presenting my award to one of the two. The poles are tricksy things :)

Peter graduated from Printmedia & Drawing, and he does the most beautiful wood engravings from found wood that he prints in really interesting ways and also produces books from them that are like slow motion animations. Natalie is a Photography student, but her bookwork is very separate from her photography: very text-based and quirky. I think the two of them will make very different broadsides, which is what I want -- I'm planning to keep a small part of the edition aside to form a limited edition folio in five or ten years time, and it should be a really diverse bunch of broadsides.

-- After the award ceremony I took Bumblebee out to see a local outfit called Mr Fibby. The frontman used to be/is B's drama teacher, and they are very good. Have a listen for yourself. B was alternately in stitches and enthralled, and now he thinks he knows what he wants to do when he grows up.

-- This morning I had breakfast with an old friend who has been busy producing her own music for many years in the background of a busy money-poor love-rich creative-community life and is now hovering on the brink of her first album release. I'd love you to also have a listen to her music (especially Jack and Angel, the latter being a song I first fell in love with yonks ago sitting on a beach under the stars when we were in a very small band together) because if you like it, please support her by buying one of the albums in a few weeks and telling all your friends about it. I'll remind you again when it's released.

-- This afternoon I'm going to a get-together of members of my old art school workshop, the now-extinct-in-all-but-our-hearts Graphic Investigation Workshop. If you're an ex-student of GIW, and didn't know that there was a GIW Facebook group, come and join it now.

-- I got Bumblebee into the studio yesterday to help me print a Xmas card for this year. To my relief, he liked using the printing press, although he needed to use both arms to work it, and he had to take regular breaks. I haven't mentioned that B is not feeling the best at the moment -- he has permanently swollen glands in his neck and low energy, and we're undergoing various tests to identify the problem. He hasn't got Glandular Fever -- although he's HAD it, the tests reveal -- but it could be post-viral, or something else altogether. He's not terribly ill or anything, just not firing on all cylinders. And he's proved himself to be a very good Printer's Devil, which bodes well for the future!

(More photos of his printing at flickr)

We also had a bit of a visitor in the studio the day before:

spider visit

Discovered (thankfully) just before I actually put my hand on the water bottle, as I was reaching for it. Byrd was passing by, and he's very good at moving spiders, to Bumblebee's relief.

Have to go! Running late for re-onion.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

duck down

Apologies to anyone trying to access my formal website. I got an email telling me that it would be down for a day for some hosting software enema or some such thing, and two days later it is still down, although my dashboardy thing looks ok and everything is still intact behind the scenes. Frustratingly, I seem to have trashed the email, and I didn't get a chance to sit and contact my hosting service today (too busy going to the art school to pick out two future duckettes -- but more on that this weekend) so it's still down.


Let's all take this moment to breathe. In, out. In, out. Try not to think about Australian politics, and especially not about swimming costumes. In, out.

Monday, November 30, 2009

dotty points

Sorry, still feeling flat. And somehow quite disconnected from things. Still, there have been some light moments over the last week:

-- assessing lots of TAFE students as a guest panel member, which felt like being on a panel for some kind of talent show. Byrd was also a panelist, and I discovered how Bad Cop he really can be, which was fun.

-- I had a surprise run-in with a mermaid! We literally bumped into each other in the halls of my art skool, and she recognised me from the various silly photos I've mounted over the years. We made time to stop and have a beverage together on the weekend, among decorative wombat tiles and trees, and it was lovely.

fifi with the wombats

-- Bumblebee and I had a visit from Colonel and Lady Duck today. Colonel Duck has decided to stage an Intervention on our badly neglected garden, and came up to make some plans about how to proceed. He gave Bumblebee one last chance (after nagging him for ages) to write a Christmas Present Suggestion List before he committed to buying him singlets and undies, so B sat down and wrote a very Star-Wars-heavy list, with one last thing at the very end: he wanted a (sic) BADMITTEN SET.

All I could think of was a set of mittens knitted in the shape of devil's horn hands, so:

badmitten set

I had to make that image, THERE'S NOTHING LIKE THEM ON THE INTERWEBS. Come on peoples, especially etsy peoples who can KNIT. Why hasn't anyone thought of this before????!!!

-- It was the cats' collective birthday last friday. I gave them a huge plate of raw whiting. They were very happy. They turned five.

-- Best Beloved has a new job. With a new title. It's quite an impressive title, but I'm not allowed to tell you it. The acronym, however, is DISS {see, I'm even getting my jokes wrong] DISMISS. That's something to laugh about, isn't it?

I'm quite enjoying watching the Liberal Party turn themselves in knots. That's another thing to laugh about...

Hmm. I'm trying to laugh more. I'll get there.

Monday, November 23, 2009


Ceiling Cat, bless the interwebs and the nice people I know on it.

Harry sent me this site:

Unless by “attention to detail” you mean spelling.


Hours of fun and grimacing for everyone, whether you like handmade things or you don't.

Harry is one of the reasons I can spend so much time in my studio. Best Beloved is away for a few days, and Bumblebee spend the whole day yesterday painting Harry's Warhammer figures and working out some elaborate battle scene involving Beastmen, Space Marines, Bionicles and Lego Star Wars. There's also a boss Warhammer dude with a real crab-claw arm (found the last time we went to the beach). It is fantabulous. So thanks a squillion, Harry.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Life in the Hat

Thank you for wonderful messages of support and I promise I won't HTFU too much. I always feel a bit embarrassed after I grizzle on-line. I want to start licking my paws furiously like a cat. But I refuse to delete posts unless they're hurtful because this is as much about me remembering my life as it is sharing it with others.

More gloom: our DVD player is sick. Might be the heat, might be the excessive wurtiness pervading the house.

So we can't indulge in our favorite comfort videos, we're reliant on the tv, which (to stop whinging) really isn't so bad anymore since there's all those kooky free digital channels like GO and VH1 and Turner Classic Movies etc.

Luckily/wisely we bought an extended warranty for the player, but it's going to take up to 5 working days to find out if it gets fixed (which would be another long process) or replaced (huzzar).

Luckily, some of the crap I've been slowly sifting outwards includes our old DVD player that probably still works... we will find out tonight when I try to reconfigure all the wiring. Hopefully I've also still got the manual. We only replaced it because we wanted to be able to record shows and convert videos, etc, so we bought a DVD/VCR combo. Which, 15 months later, is cranky and playing up. I HATE built-in obsolescence. Colonel & Lady Duck used the same video player for 20 years before they went all crazy and bought DVD players and set-top boxes for every room in their house.


I feel I should explain the presence of Ultravox in the car the other day. It's all part of Bumblebee's musical education and trying to rip him away from endless Michael Jackson rotation.

He's found, as I mentioned earlier, all my 80s vinyl, which is really only EARLY 80s vinyl, from 1981 to about 1984. After that I got heavily into cassettes, and we all know how well they survive over 20 years. So I have a big gap in my music collection until I started buying CDs -- and I'm always a late starter -- in the mid-90s. And then in the late 90s, I was too busy sorting out dysfunctional relationships and having a complicated baby to pay much attention to contemporary music, so there's a big gap in my head from about 1994 to around 2002, when I started back at the art school and reconnected with what everyone else around me was listening to. During that gap time I'd been listening disconnectedly to blues, jazz, swing, old standards, and my totally uncool record collection.

Anyhoo, so Bumblebee was grinding our ears with endless loops of 'Footloose' and 'Fame' and 'I love Rock & Roll' (so do I, but not incessantly), and then suddenly a song like Depeche Mode's 'I just can't get enough' would emerge from the mix. And seem really out of place.

One morning I was lying in bed half-listening to his music choices and realised that most of the music I loved from the early-to-mid 80s was the music I wasn't exposed to at the time -- being stuck in country towns with cheesy radio stations -- but the music I'd danced to as a young uni student in my favorite Canberra nightspot: The Manhattan.

AAAHHHH! I heard certain of you gasp in adoring nostalgia.

The Hat, as it was affectionately called, was a cramped long thin swell of a space above the recently-dead Woodstock Pizza restaurant in Civic, in the walkway between Petrie Plaza and Garema Place. It was the polar opposite of all the other mainstream clubs, yet wasn't a particularly threatening environment. It was stuffed full of goths, druggies, new romantics, students, gays, everything that was fabulous about the 80s. They played The Cure, New Order, Depeche Mode, The Smiths, Ultravox... and much much more... (you know the stuff) and you could dance on the low floor or the raised floor (if you were feeling brave or at least full of bravado).

The Hat exposed me to low-mood music that was grittier than listening to the Carpenters in my bedroom. It was a revelation, and while I didn't take on much the outward trappings (apart from -- for a while -- my beloved shoe-string tie held together by a deep red glass 'jewel' pushed up to the collar of my crisp white shirt, plus lots of hair gel and eyeliner), I definitely kept a big space in my heart for the Hat and its culture. It's funny, I wear more black these days than I ever did then.

I haven't thought about The Hat for AGES, and a combination of feeling low and B playing that particular DM song made me leap onto iTunes and put together the first in what I hope will be a series of Hat Mixes. The first, my instant gut reaction, has:

Love Action (The Human League)
Temptation (Heaven 17)
Enola Gay (Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark)
Chant No 1 (Spandau Ballet)
Fade to Grey (Visage)
Vienna (Ultravox)
Too Shy (Kajagoogoo)
Just Can't Get Enough (Depeche Mode)
The Model (Kraftwerk)
Living on the Ceiling (Blancmange)
Planet Earth (Duran Duran)

That last one is the only Duran Duran song ever worth listening to, IMHO.

When I played it for B, he liked it to a certain extent (it'll grow on him as he gets sookier in adolescence, but for now he's a real Light Pop boy), but I was surprised at how immediate and vivid were my memories of The Hat as a space and some of the interactions I'd had there. It was amazing.

I'm working on another Hat mix, this time taking the time to go through my CD collection to add to the iTunes purchases. New Order (initially typed New Idea, heh), The Cure, Brian Eno, The Cult, Pet Shop Boys, Bronski Beat... any other suggestions? And do feel free to reminisce about The Hat here, please.

It's a great lightweight and non-urgent project to distract me from but also sweetly enhance the inner gloom while it lasts. I'm trying to move Bumblebee through the 80s he's loving at the moment into the 90s so that we can both explore what I missed out on. And periodically he gets caught by something on the radio, which is also great.

When I'm not around him (i.e., during the day at Studio Duck, where I can play what I want, when I want and as loud as I want as long as my studio neighbour likes it), I've been playing CW Stoneking (I've got both albums and crave a third) and Robert Johnson on high rotation.

They're a bluesy cure for the 80s, fo'shure. And my studio neighbour does like them.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Body memory

Sorry, haven't been very blogg
Oops, remembered that I swore not to apologise anymore when life gets in the way of blogging.

I've been on autopilot lately; operating 'normally' face to face with people, but feeling really flat and numb inside, the sort of caught-in-a-bubble mood that can be completely indulged by driving the car hard down the highway playing Vienna at ear-blistering volume while tears run down your face.

This is an odd time of year for me: the art school winds up, so I have a less obviously pressing schedule (even though there is LOTS to do), the weather hots up so that my body slows down, but the rest of the world seems to be in a high whizz towards Christmas. I am energised by busy-ness, like a self-winding spring, so unless there are pressing deadlines (I tend to type 'deadlies', which feels right) or people depending upon my efforts, I go into slow mode, and that leaves me time to think or mope, whatever my inclination. This year it's mope, big time.

There are so many names for what I'm going through. Churchill called it the Black Dog, Nick Cave wrote about The Moose in the stairwell. I've been on an internal emotional rollercoaster, which is hard for BB, who is a very smart man but not very intuitive and finds emotional outbursts befuddling. 'What can I do?' is a sensible question when you've been highly trained in management skills and how to motivate a team, but it's infuriatingly useless in the face of someone who wants you to just do something, anything, as long as it's not planned or discussed beforehand. And preferably accompanied by laughter, but he's not inclined to jolly me out of misery: he joins in, which never helps matters.

He sent me a text yesterday, from Melbourne airport, where he'd spent the day:

It's our anniversary soon! What shall we do?

And while I'd like to say everything fell into place, I certainly had a beam of clarity pierce the grey matter.

This is the time of year when bad things happen to my body. Just typing that made my eyes water.

I started writing a list of what happened each year, but if you've been reading the blog you'll know it all. Ever since we've been married, starting from the actual wedding, I've had surgical intervention on my woman parts, mostly for failed pregnancies, but culminating a year ago in the removal of them. All around this time of year.

I'm sure I did the right thing by myself to remove the offending organs (well, they offended me), but I still feel bad about BB's chance to have babies of his own. I console myself with the thought that I have laid a lot of suggestions on the table as to alternatives, with the proviso that if he wants to pursue them he has my full support, but the paperwork/organisation is all his (I think I've done my fair share so far). He's done nothing to date, so the regret can be fully shared in future years.

I think, though, that the combination of time of year and weather and everything is triggering off a large amount of body memory: pain, fear, dissatisfaction, anger, an annual time to take stock and make big decisions about forks in the road. I can't work out if I'm indulging myself or if it's involuntary. I'm unsure if this will pass or build, or be annual or whether I can nip it in the bud. I think having the same routine this year as most of the other years isn't helping (like going to Woodford)... I think I/we need new experiences to avoid this sensation of falling into a pit at the end of the year.

It's not just my flawed body and its memories that has been bringing me down... last weekend Poor Bumblebee had his tender young heart broken by someone we thought was a really good friend. It's a boy in his class who seemed more sensible and sincere than most; he was part of a group of kids who fall in and out of favour with each other constantly, but this boy always seemed to stay out of the pushings and pullings. We had encouraged B to spend time with him after school and on weekends, invited him over a lot, were cheered by B finally finding a friend who seemed to appreciate him for himself (for all his loveliness, he finds it hard to hang out with groups of kids, they always seem to find his weak spots -- he is very easy to tease, he's very thin-skinned). B had so much confidence hanging out with someone who actively listened to him on the same level.

But there was a boy in their 'group' who was very jealous about the afterschool activities, and unbeknown to us was working upon the situation. It's a long story, but ultimately this friend succumbed to the group's mood and hung the phone up on Bumblebee quite brutally, saying he wasn't 'really' his friend anymore. We watched B's face crumple and his confidence shatter on the spot. It was distressing, and made worse by this lad & the rest of the group of lads continuing to ostracise B through the week (not quite silently: pointing and giggling from across the classroom) for nothing that we can actually pinpoint other than it's making the jealous boy happy.

It's sad, and as a family we're all saddened. We feel quite helpless as to what to do. The lad's mother rang back straight after the hang-up and apologised, but didn't sound like she wanted to intervene, thinking it would work itself out. It hasn't, and it isn't a trivial matter. B, who had been feeling secure in that one crucial person's support, feels utterly undermined. He's wary again, and cautious, and we're suffering with him. We all, as a family, feel rejected. We're pretty bad with social upkeep generally, and situations like this show us how thin-skinned the three of us actually are. I went through a lot of them as a young adult, and I'd hoped my child would escape them... but no. So I'm also reliving bad memories of this kind too.

I am pinning my hopes upon high school for Bumblebee. I know it's a whole new big potentially cruel arena, but it will have a breadth that small classroom microcosms don't have. He'll go from a year of 50 students to a mosh of at least 250, and all jumbled up into different classes and groups. The old pecking order will be disrupted, and there will be new opportunities for friendships. And these kids will hopefully learn that you can be friends with each other in different ways and for different reasons.

I can hear thunder outside, which is heartening, but bad for my computer. I think it's time to get out & about, try to jolly up somehow. Harden the f%&* up, as they say.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Remember to breathe

funny pictures of cats with captions

I'm pretending that I'm moving. It's messy, and it's going to get worse before it can get better, but I need to purge. I want less crap in my life.

funny pictures of cats with captions

The cats aren't helping.

UPDATE. I've decided upon a hot weather action plan. Pretending to move in the mornings and evenings, while the house is cool, and pretending to live at the studio during the day, where it's always cool. Destruction and creation, awesome way to pass the summer days.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


funny pictures of cats with captions

I hate hot weather. It's always astounding to me how Canberra has long glorious cold crispy winters, sneaks in a few weeks of perfect spring where the evenings are chilly and the days are warm, and then it just thrusts HOT and DRY onto us abruptly. Last week I was wondering whether to leave a jumper or two out in my wardrobe, and yesterday I pulled out all my extreme (hot) weather gear. It's rude. It's horrible, and I wish I lived in Alaska or Nimmitabel* or something.

Hot weather makes me cranky and my skin breaks out. I look like an adolescent at the moment with my spotty t-zone, which is ridiculous with my greying hair and bingo-wings.**

My studio is lovely and cool, but I'm on a weird schedule at the moment where I have to dip in & out of art skool to assess people, and so I never get a clear run at studio time. So I've been writing & thinking & drawing, which is not too bad.

BB still has a sore bottom (have I mentioned it before now?). Caused by riding his bike too hard, it has progressed through many stages of hypochondria from cancer to boils and other alarming things and his hobbling varies depending upon who is watching. He's getting an ultrasound today, so hopefully we'll get to the bottom of it (groan). I can't tell you anything else about it, the details are too revolting and TMI would damage your relationship with me.

Bumblebee is spotty too, increasing in hormones daily, and gaining height rapidly. He's almost grown out of my shoe size, but I don't want my riding boots back because he's trashed them completely. I noticed the other day that his voice has deepened but not breaking yet, so he'll have a very deep voice eventually. He's going through an 80s music phase sparked off by me giving him one of my albums to play after he saw the (new) movie of Fame; I'm trying to steer him into the more electronic side of things, but he loves the cheesy songs, and my ears have started bleeding from all the earworms I carry around all the rest of the day.

The cats are miserable in the heat. I've been planting catmint in weird places around the garden to surprise them, but they're too hot to wander, just lie around the house all day in the cool, stretched to full length on the floorboards. Occasionally I'll step over Padge in the hallway (he can't stretch full out there unless he's diagonal, he's longer than the width of the corridor) and he'll catch my leg with a desultory claw as if to remind me that he would like some food or water please, like some fat English tourist on a Spanish beach.

rampant padge
Padge in my office filling up available floor space. he's not stretched to capacity, and my feet (size nine and a half) are a good size indicator.

Blogosphere as I know it is going through another big purge -- lots of interesting people giving up their blogs, like Alan Loney & Betty Slocombe. Others are starting new ones. It's a dynamic thing, isn't it? I guess I'll just keep on keeping on... that's the beauty of keeping the aim of the blog really broad :)

Happy happy happy that Amanita Design has released a new game: Machinarium. I've downloaded the full version but haven't had a chance to play it yet. I love Samarost and their other games -- good for both adults and kids, with their beauty and reliance upon logical yet dreamy thinking.

And another thing I've been wondering lately... (damn earworms) call me crazy and call this a crazy conspiracy theory, but I'm wondering if my trouble with online Scrabble ISN'T just my crappy connection and the fact that the rest of the virtuniverse is trying to play, but the fact that I have requested that all my playing details aren't broadcast to all of my facebook friends etc. As soon as I vetoed all the notifications and crowings and general annoyances, the software became extremely recalcitrant. Makes me cranky in a very GenX kinda way.

Sigh. I guess I have to go out and brave the heat of the day. I hope you're sitting somewhere cool, maybe even downright frosty.

*not as silly as it sounds. Nimmitabel, between Cooma and Bemboka, is the highest settlement in Australia and even in summer they have to wear a light cardigan in the afternoon. My grandmother was born there. I would be living there now if BB could drag himself away from his career.

**I realised when I talked about the chook-raffle recently that I need to have a glossary sometimes. Bingo-wings are large flabby under-upper-arm bits that wobble when you move your arm. Sometimes they're called 'bye-byes' because they keep waving after you stop. Any other good names for them? Share.

Friday, November 06, 2009

The Pillowbooks

The Pillowbooks is an artist's book comprising a complementary pair of concertinas. It was made for my exhibition Pressings: Recycled Bookwork, and sat so quietly in the show that I don't think many people noticed it.

The rationale for my exhibition was that the works in it were made from the remnants of other work; there were altered commercial books and pieces made from larger/more formal book projects that I'd been working on over the years. When I printed Transmigration, a fine press book of poems by Nan McDonald and drawings by Jan Brown, I printed the edition on paper called BFK Rives Green, which is a lovely eucalypt grey-green colour. I also printed a much smaller, spare edition on BFK Rives White, and those pages are still sitting waiting for me to resolve them... but there were off-cuts from both editions. The green offcuts became part of the fine press books by becoming endpapers, and some of the white off-cuts became The Pillowbooks.

It's a devilishly hard work to document, because the back piece is clean-embossed and standing, which means that the light is never right for a photograph. The front piece lays flat, which also makes it hard to get a good clear shot at the same time as the back piece.

So I'll describe them to you: The Pillowbooks is a set of two concertina book-structures containing the same piece of text. The text is paraphrased from a song called Be My Pillow, by Australian outfit Machine Translations, from the album Happy. This is what the MT website says about the song:
Be My Pillow is about a great love affair between two home-furnishing impersonators.

Yes. Well, right. In fact, it is a full-bodied, multi-layered and heart-smackingly rich paean of yearning that sounds amazing through headphones and that I never get sick of. The words on these sheets of paper are

I was listening to the song one day and it made me think about relationships as pillows: how when you're not in a relationship, you yearn for the comfort and companionship of a lasting relationship, and then when you are in the thick of a comforting long relationship, you can still yearn for the crispness and freshness of a new encounter. And from another angle: being aware that any relationship worth its salt doesn't stay fresh and surprising; it wears in, gets comfortable, becomes old. If it goes past comfortable, becomes lumpy, do you accept that and keep on, or do you look elsewhere? If I stick with the pillow as metaphor here, do you keep the old pillow or buy a new one? Do you freshen up with a new pillow but hold on to the old pillow for sitting up in bed, for support? Do you ever just want to borrow a pillow for a while if you're feeling a bit flat at someone else's house? Is using someone else's pillow wrong? Do you think upgrading is decadent, unfaithful? Do you hate holding on to old things, and prefer making a fresh start every few years? Does the idea of taking off the pillowcase and seeing the pillow stains make you feel queasy? Do you leave pillow maintenance to somebody else?

Pillow books have been described as "a collection of notebooks or notes which have been collated to show a period of someone or something's life."

So here are two 'pillows': one is fresh, white, crisp, stiff, embossed with the words (I used wood type, printed letterpress), folded in one concertina direction so that the first fold is a valley-fold, hand-sewn at one end (like the decorative end of a pillowcase) with crisp unwaxed linen thread that emerges from the thick fluffy paper jauntily. The paper deckle is at the top of the sheet, so the concertina can stand upright.

The other is folded in the opposite direction, mountain-first, and lays horizontal. It has also been embossed with wood-type, but the indented letters have been stained with watercolour, in the colour that pillows go underneath the pillowcases, from pools of drool and seeping hair-grease. The hand-sewn threads at the decorative end are limp and aged (really old: antique Victorian-era cotton, straight from the factory spool!). The paper deckle is at the base of the sheet; it doesn't stand up easily, and is quite unstable when it does.

Old, new. Fresh, used. Permanent, temporary. Loved, rejected. People can have such differing viewpoints about what is necessary, what is important, what they like/dislike/value. All of these thoughts sit in this simple piece of work.

I like the idea of making work that connects with specific pieces of music. So much of what I do and think about is accompanied by a soundtrack in my head, and to make concrete connections with this soundtrack excites me. I think hearing Be My Pillow is important to the reception of this work, but of course it isn't essential. It's an optional enhancement.
no wait
no stay
this will help you
along the way
no love
is lost
and i want you
to be my pillow
(extract from lyrics written by J.Walker)

For purchasing information, see my website, or for further information, please contact me.

[written for and cross-posted from]

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

hands on

Feeling moderately better. It's a revolting cold, just squats in your sinus chambers like some horrid monster, and one day you feel like it's shrinking, and the next it grows until you think your head will explode. Today hasn't been so bad, and I hope tomorrow will be even better. I'm trying to kill the monster with olive leaf extract and lashings of garlic.

In the meantime, I've been kind on myself. Lots of rest, lots of nice food, not too much rushing around. I quite like cooking when I'm feeling poorly, and I managed the best risotto I've ever made a few days ago: chicken with fennel, lemon and garlic. It was stunning, and I think it's because I added lemon juice and garlic every time I added stock, so the flavour built up slowly and strongly. Yum! [PS: made it again last night, and remembered that the other WOW factor is adding lots and lots of ripped up fresh herbs -- marjoram and sage -- and stirring through just before serving. Plus fresh black pepper.]

Today I wasn't so kind: I took Bumblebee to see This is It, the Michael Jackson movie. Sigh. All I can say is that it was just like a Michael Jackson album: lots of schmaltzy crap interspersed with moments of absolute brilliance. By the end of the movie you've had quite enough, and I was relieved to be out of the cinema. The excess! The money spent! I kept thinking about the sheer amount of power and resources going into his method of spreading the word about saving the planet. The tears of gratitude shed by the dancers when they found out that they were in the show... the way you could tell that MJ (as they all called him) didn't like to touch or be touched, no matter how many times he said 'I love you'. And his hands...

I came home and started telling BB how I'd become mesmerised by MJ's hands... great big slabs of capability, they were, and strange on such a slight dreamy frame. BB surprised me by barking out a laugh, and told me that just today he'd listened to Ricky Gervais et al saying exactly the same thing!

Blimey. Honestly, I couldn't stop looking at them, and it was obvious that he was quite aware of their size and has practiced hard at keeping them unobtrusive in his dance moves. He had bandages on the tips of his right hand through much of the movie, and I wondered if he'd been trying to stop biting his nails in preparation for the concert series?

I'm sure the concerts would have been amazing. He was planning to put so much energy into them that I doubt, if he'd not died when he did, that he would have lived through the entire run of 50. What impressed me most was that he didn't rehearse to recorded tracks... it was all live, live, live, and he was quite a perfectionist. If only he'd kept away from doing long, tedious, overblown ballads! So boring, so unnecessary. So him.

Lastly, we've rediscovered real-life Scrabble. I've dusted off the old set, sewn up a pretty cloth bag for the tiles, and I'm 'versing' (as the twelve-year-olds say) anyone who will play me, and teaching Bumblebee how to play (and to stop saying 'I'll verse you', which makes me think of hard-core poetry slams). Byrd turns out to be a very good RL player, for all his lazy typing facade; BB is highly competitive, and if he loses, he'll fret until he wins the next game soundly. Me? My style is fairly laid back, because I just like the actual playing, but if I get a whiff of success, I'm capable of raw aggression and smugness :)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

silly me

Never, ever say it out loud. It's asking for trouble.

Just the other day I was saying to BB how lucky I was that I hadn't been ill for much of the year.

This was me at 9.30 this morning:

And this was me by mid-afternoon:

(courtesy of this place; I didn't really want to show you a photo of my rapid descent!)

It's a cold. Or flu. I can never tell the difference. I think I got it from Jethro on the weekend -- and I tell you Zoe, if this is how he felt, no wonder he moaned all night! I'm so ready to crawl into bed.

I did manage to get to Studio Duck to meet up with Lucas from Big Fag Press and his good lady, and I'm so glad I did. They are very enthusiastic people, and by the end of the visit we were making plans for an Australian printers' wayzgoose some time -- maybe next year? Fun!

But... now I'm home, and the screen is starting to hurt my eyes, so I will drag myself off to bed. My sinuses feel like they're about to explode, and my head is throbbing. I think the pills I took at lunchtime to get me through the day are wearing off. Ciao.

Monday, October 26, 2009


There's a reason why I never got around to travelling the world like most of my friends: there's too much to see between pages. With books you don't have to buy a souvenir of a good journey, because the book is the keepsake.

I love finding things worth remembering in texts while I read them, but I'm absolutely useless at remembering them, and where they were. I've tried a lot of things: over the years I've keep a book of quotes -- long lost now -- and I've written excerpts in diaries that are stashed in dark corners of cupboards, soon to be burned at my next drunken bonfire. I've even started index cards, in a box, but where is the box when you're reading a book under a tree? (Or in a bath, but you didn't see me type that.)

Then there are more radical physical interventions: writing notes in the margins is a common one, but rediscovering most of the notes I wrote as a high-school student has put me off that. Firstly, they were written in coloured pen that has bled and spread to make garishly sodden words, and secondly, they were completely inane. I'm worried that if I make marginalia -- in pencil, the most conservation-friendly implement yet invented -- they will one day be laughed at heartily the way BB and I laugh at one of his texts, Freud's Moses & Monotheism, where the reader wrote in the margin in tones of great scandal: Freud is NOT a Christian!!!!

I'm at the point now, and have been ever since I saw Charlie Sofo's Dog Ears book, where I generally dog-ear (i.e., fold a corner over) a page when I find something I want to remember, and leave the finding of the passage to myself again at a future point. If I really want to remember it, I'll re-write it, in my iphone, on a scrap of paper and stick it to the wall in front of me, or here on the blog, but if it's just a bit that jumps out at me, I'll dog-ear the page and put the book back on the shelf. I know that dog-ears damage the book, but I don't buy reading books for their value (and, actually, I don't dog-ear very valuable books, which aren't usually things I want to fondle/reread a lot) and I don't trust the long-term effects of acidic bookmarks or post-it notes. That having been said, I do leave a lot of ephemera through my books: gallery invitations, shopping lists, love letters, post-it notes... but these are usually accidental, like most ephemeral remainders.

Knowing that I dog-ear makes me browse my shelves again regularly. I'll cruise through a shelf, plucking out books, looking for the dog-ears. It works; I find myself whisked all sorts of places, and refreshes my outlook a bit.

I have a fundamental problem with audiobooks and ebooks: you can't dog-ear them. And others agree, especially India Ink, who puts a great case forward for the physical book and talks about

the near impossibility of thumbing back a few pages’ worth to find something I’d already read. Stanza offers much better wayfinding aids than Kindle, showing your relative position within each chapter (that thin two-tone line along the very bottom of the two Stanza screenshots), and not just within the whole book. But there was still no substitute for that visual aspect of reading, which lets one narrow down a search: “The sentence I’m half-remembering was on a verso page, about five lines from the top,” so you can then scan quickly backward, looking only at that part of each page spread, until you find it.

You can search an e-book, yes, and that’s a big selling point, but it’s not helpful when it’s just a dumb text search. Searching an e-book (assuming the software lets you—the Kindle app, as far as I can tell, does not) is not like searching with The Google, where putting in the wrong terms can still get you to the same place if enough other people have used those terms to link to the page. Nor is it like a good index, which cross-references guinea pig to cavy and back; if I search an e-book of The Three Musketeers for lackey I don’t get all mentions of Mousqueton or vice versa, whereas in a properly indexed edition of the book, I would.

Is this a deal-breaker? Obviously not, since blind people successfully read and retain information from books every day. And I certainly absorbed some information and enjoyment from these less-than-ideal reading experiences. If printed books—all of them—were to disappear today, replaced by electronic ones, I trust that I’d adjust. Somehow.

I trust that I would, too. But the point is, I don't want to have to adjust, and hopefully I'm of an age where I won't have to. But my son? Well, that will be his story to tell.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Country stuff

The Country Show opening was great: lots of yummy things, lots of fun activities.

I'm just trying to herd the cats into a box to get them down to the parental farm for the weekend -- parentals are in WA -- but Padge hasn't shown, and I'm afraid our departure may be delayed until he can be found!

So I haven't got time to write more, other than that BB won second prize in the cake comp for his Quince & Nut Cake and Bumblebee won second prize in the chook raffle, so I now have a very annoying rubber chicken squawking at me whenever he's home.

Photos next week, when I can get some from the gallery. I was -- ahem -- selling raffle tickets at a table, so missed out on a lot of the action. The drawing of the raffle was very fair though: we sold hundreds of tickets, and Bumblebee only had four in the mix. it was drawn by the child an artist not in the show!

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Fairy floss, sausage sizzle, cake competition, chook raffle (chooky art, not a frozen chicken, so vegan-friendly), the Toffee-apple Lady, and much much more...

You don't have to be an artist or even interested in art! Just come!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Uncommon press

A few months ago I watched a remarkable television show: Stephen Fry and the Gutenberg Press. Maybe you watched it too; because I'm a letterpress printer, I've had a lot of people ask me if I saw it. I did: it was part investigation into the way Gutenberg had earned his reputation as the Father of Letterpress, and part documentary about the recreation by a group of British press enthusiasts of a wooden hand press similar to Gutenberg's.

If you did watch the show, you'd remember that Gutenberg didn't actual invent the press itself, as hand presses had been used for printing woodblocks before his time. No, he is the Father of Letterpress for inventing a process to easily cast individual metal letters for the purposes of printing. It was much more of a jeweller/blacksmithery type of invention, really, and of course it revolutionised information technology as the world knew it.

While I was watching the show I remember thinking that, in my limited experience of Australian letterpress, and in my broader virtual observances of overseas letterpress, there seems to be two kinds of letterpress enthusiasts: those who live for the print, and those who love the machines. I've only known one person who combined elements of both, and he produced beautiful work.

Myself, I'm a print person, someone who loves what the process does rather than the process itself. I'm not particularly interested in the machines, and when something goes wrong with a press I'm working with, I’ll try to fix it intuitively, but if that doesn’t work I’m not afraid to look girlie and call people who are much handier with a spanner and screwdriver than I.

Canberra has a Museum of Printing quite close by in Queanbeyan; it's full of machines of different vintages, and that use different technologies, from iron presses to platen presses to cylinder presses and a working linotype machine. It was set up from the remnants of the Queanbeyan Age newspaper, and the people who run it (all volunteers, many of whom worked on the newspaper) love their machines. They get them working, they maintain them lovingly, and they print off the odd souvenir flyer to show the public what the machines can do. I don’t think there's a lot of print production happening there, and because I don’t worship the machines, I don't go there very often, which is quite remiss of me.

I bet all the QPM volunteers watched the Stephen Fry/Gutenberg show, and marvelled over the building of the wooden press; I bet they don't know, like I didn't, that a similar labour of love was happening just down the highway a bit. In Australia? Where most of our presses have been scrapped? Where it’s impossible to buy new metal type? Where the once quite healthy private press movement is now almost completely non-existent? Really?

Yes, really.

Let’s start with a little bit of printing history, a bit of context. I listed some printing presses above, but you probably don't know what I mean. Forgive me if I make a mistake here, I'm not a print history expert, I've just absorbed a few things in the time I've been involved with letterpress.

So, this is a press very similar to the one used by Gutenberg.

It is a wooden hand press, with most of the parts being wooden, and only some of the moveable parts of it made from metal, because it was very expensive to use metal at the time, as you can imagine. In fact, this press technology was the dominant form of print production for centuries, until the industrial revolution allowed metal casting to be a lot cheaper and large cast shapes were made possible. This allowed people to produce much more durable designs and you start getting presses that looked like this:

These are called iron hand presses. Similar concept to the hand press, in that you lay the type flat and press the paper onto it. Anyway, with all that marvellous industrial production capacity, from this point on press development went gangbusters, like everything else in the modern world, and presses changed shape rapidly over two centuries:

(That one is very similar to Miss Kitty, my beloved press.)

(Snaps to the marvellous Five Roses Press site for most of these images, a marvellous place to learn about letterpress.)

That first, wooden press is called the Common Press, because while there were many variants and slight improvements (and, I’d say, complete wackinesses) to its design over the centuries of its dominance, commonly they were all wooden with metal screws.

I'm pretty certain that, up to now, we haven't had a Common press in Australia, as we were colonised around the time of the Iron Press. Did you know that the First Fleet had a press on board? I read somewhere that there was no-one able to use it, so it festered in a hut for many years before being hauled out and put into use. One day I'll find that fact again and actually write down the details.

I received a hand-addressed letter a month or so ago, in gorgeous penmanship of a kind I haven’t seen in years. I had only seen the sender once in the last fifteen years, and that was only a few months before the letter arrived. He's one of those wonderful eccentric Australian people that set themselves up in the bush and do whatever the hell they want and the rest of the world can be buggered. When you get talking to them, they've had an interesting life, and are usually very well educated. This man, Richard Jermyn, is no exception.

I don't know a lot about Richard Jermyn. I've been told various stories, such as he is an ex-Navy man; he was an architect, so forth. I don't really know what is true and what apocryphal from the various stories. What I do know for certain is that he has a strong interest in letterpress and printing, and used to have a private press in the bush near Bemboka, NSW called the Indian Head Press, named for a nearby peak in the Bega Valley. He lived near my parents, who have a lot of respect for him, and they took me to meet him when I first started showing an interest in type and printing. I lost contact with him; he sold his Bemboka property and moved further south. Apparently he gave a lot of his equipment to the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, and only kept the basics, and that’s the last I heard for a long time.

Then earlier this year I taught a bookarts workshop in Bega, and he popped in to say hello. I had a couple of my fine press books with me, and I was delighted when he looked through them seriously, with care and attention to detail, and then looked at me soberly and said 'good pressmanship' with the same sense of approval that the farmer says 'good pig' to Babe at the end of the movie, and I felt so happy I thought I would burst. I have had the pleasure of having my books admired by good people, but when an experienced pressman praises, it really means something.

So, the letter. It was only a computer-generated and photocopied invitation, but the content was very exciting.

Of course I went, how could I not? I took my mother, a local historian who could also appreciate the importance of the occasion. It was a most enchanting experience: driving down the highway to the furthermost eastern corner of the state, turning into a rough narrow dirt road just off the main road to discover a large green Colourbond shed surrounded by the usual scrap and detritus that is common to most farm barns, plus a rugged vegie patch and a rudimentary washing line full of simple clothes: shirts, worker's shorts, socks. Outside the door of the shed was a table set up with wine and nibblies. Not wanting to drink, I asked for something non-alcoholic, and was poured a glass of water from the tap attached to the rainwater tank.

A bit of chat with the others gathered around – mostly friends and press-making collaborators, only one other person having anything to do with printing – and then we were allowed into the 'Tin Tent' to discover a completely different world.

I was expecting... I guess I was expecting the usual printer's set-up, arranged around the inside of a green tin shed. I wasn’t expecting the ambience of hand-cut wooden beams and carefully yet carelessly arranged arrangements of various collections – saws, lathes, timbers, chains, plugs, books, tins. among many, many collated things – up the walls and on a big mezzanine that is obviously a living quarters as well.

It was a living working space, one indistinguishable from another.

Richard had arranged for some local musicians to sit up on the mezzanine level with violin and harpsichord.

They played (exquisitely) from above as we entered and saw, in a cleared space at the far end of the shed, the press that Richard and a group of friends had built by hand.

You see this picture? Look at this:

It was gobsmackingly wonderful to stand and look at this working replica of early printing history. I can’t begin to convey how privileged I felt to be there when it pulled its very first print.

I had borrowed my mother’s digital voice recorder, and managed to record Richard’s opening speech.

I’ll provide a bit of it here, to give you an example of the gobsmackery:

This was started at the beginning of the year; I think the first of January I started to first put plane to wood. I might just go through quickly a bit of the language of the common press, the various parts, and you’ll see on the printed matter that I’ve made a bit of an explanation and some of the background, but basically this press was derived from plans … from a double volume book called The Common Press, which is the documentation of the common press that is in the Smithsonian Institution in America. Without the plans in this book I would not have contemplated it, but I looked at it and thought ‘I’ll have a go at this’. Just shows the things you can do in a moment of rashness.

The original plans called for oak, elm, beech timber, and the big departure has been that this is not European timber, this is all Australian hardwood. This is where Les and other people have come in. So, from the bottom down: the Feet are the hobs of the Tathra Wharf (there’s a story behind every piece), the Cheeks are (pretty ratty, you can see the difficulty of getting big enough timber)… basically wharf timber from North Bega.

These pieces... that’s the Head, and the other big lump down the bottom, that’s the Winter; those two pieces take the whole of the impression. These are dove-tailed into the cheeks, there’s a big dovetail running up in here, top and bottom, and those pieces take the whole pressure of the press, and these are Roads and Traffic Authority guideposts.

[laughs from viewers, someone says: they don’t make guideposts like that anymore!]

You can see a bit of the original timber there, I’ve written the dimensions there: 8 1/4 x 7 3/4 x 24 3/4, and that’s the offcut. So that’s the Winter. And somewhat ironically, the Summer is this little strip here...

If you want more of that verbal tour, you can download the files and hear for yourself. I’ve broken it into chunks, and apologies for some of the incidental noise, especially my iphone beeping at me. I taped until I stopped to have a go myself. None of the chunks are more than six or seven minutes:

Part 1: Richard Jermyn: Acknowledgement of the local Aboriginal peoples (this is about 30 seconds; I didn't mean to separate this out from the rest of the acknowledgements, but I was experimenting with the sound software)

Part 2: Richard Jermyn: thanking all those who were involved

Part 3: Richard Jermyn: Details about the parts of the press and what materials they used.

Part 4: Richard Jermyn: a live recording of pulling the first print

Part 5: Richard Jermyn: more live printing

Part 6: Richard Jermyn: an explanation of the metal screwthread and how it was made

The detail, the terminology, it’s all something you’d expect to see and hear in a museum, but it’s alive and well in a tin shed in Pambula. Amazing. Apparently this press will outlive anything built in European wood, thanks to the hard woody goodness of our Australian timbers.

Look at that woodcut of early printing again. See the inkballs used for printing? Richard had even put together a couple of those, made with wooden handles, horsehair and the remnants of a friend’s leather jacket. They worked really well, and he put a friend on printing duty while he supervised the press working.

On dabbed the ink, the paper (dry, not damp: he didn’t dampen machine-made paper) was inserted onto the guides, the tympan (made from real vellum) lowered onto the frisket and the whole lowered onto the forme (which is the locked-up type). Then he got friends to turn the handle that moved the type under the platen, and pull the lever that lowered the platen onto the type to make an impression. That prints the first page. Then the forme is rolled further along and the second page of the sheet is printed.

When the tympan was lifted to reveal a (fairly roughly) printed page, we all sighed deeply, no one more than Richard himself, who had very bravely and generously waited until we were all assembled to see if his press actually worked. This is what we took turns printing:

Don’t bother counting the typos: we know they are there, but there wasn’t time to change them, because the music was playing, and the wine was being slurped, and we were all taking turns to use the inkballs and turn the handle, and pull the lever – which, incidentally, explained a lot to me about why there weren’t many women in the trade. It’s hard work to pull that lever! I don’t think I could possibly print on that press regularly, although it would be akin to working out on a rowing machine, and probably very good for me.

>Just in case you can’t see the image, the book he used to build the press was called The Common Press: being a record, description & delineation of the early Eighteenth Century Handpress held in the Smithsonian Institution by E. Harris, C. Sisson (London: Merrion Printers, 1978). He used local craftsmen to help with timberworking and the blacksmithing.

He showed me the book after we stopped printing (only because we ran out of paper!) and it is incredibly detailed, with cross-sections, x-rays of inserts, plans and materials. Still, there’s no way I would look at something like that and think ‘I could do that’. I only do that with pictures of things people have printed.

I think everyone came away from the Tin Tent that day feeling privileged and excited. Richard had invited the local media but they didn’t show, and it’s their loss. Richard told me that he has happily spent $10,000 building this press. There is a thread on Briar Press about the possibility of building such a press, and I can’t wait for Richard to receive the praise he deserves for achieving it. He hopes to move it to somewhere more accessible, but in the meantime he will show it by appointment to anyone who is interested. You can read his contact details on the letter at the start of this post, otherwise feel free to email me and I will pass on his details. If you want to see more images of the press and the day's proceedings, go to my flickr set.

Richard Jermyn

[cross-posted at Ampersand Duck the website, Slow Making, and Spike, the Meanjin blog.]


No child, no urgent work, a weekend to plant flowers and see movies. Felt a bit flat on Friday arvo, all my urgent deadlines of the last few months have been met... BB was off winning a trivia night so I called up Byrd and he came over for a chilled evening eating stir fry and watching crap(pish) tv. He's great company.

* * * * *

On Saturday I went to the farmers markets and was seduced by rows and rows of pink and purple petunias going for 12 pots for $10. I bought a stack and filled a few planters on the front verandahs. I'm a lazy gardener, but these will only last a season and I think they've going to cheer me up a lot when the weather turns hot. I spent most of the afternoon fixing the front garden tap which broke as soon as I used it to water the flowers. Of course, I didn't take the broken bit with me to the hardware store, so I bought the wrong size replacement, and had to drive back and do it all again. There are no hardware stores in north Canberra anymore, so this was very frustrating. Mind you, there's no substitution for the buzz a bit of DYI gives once it's done.

* * * * *

Reason I like Best Beloved #1364

Sitting in the dark watching the end of Julie & Julia, where it says (and this is NOT a spoiler):

Julie Powell is now a writer.

Her book was made into a movie.

Best Beloved leaned in and said into my ear:

They should have said Her book was made into half of a movie.

Indeed. BB didn't like the Julie bits of the movie much, but he fell in love with Julia (and her kitchen), so I guess I've got a bit of French eating ahead of me. It's lucky I love butter.

A lot of people laughed at the moment that Julie got her first comment, so I'm guessing there were a few bloggers in the audience.

I liked that movie, but I didn't love it as much as I did Moon. I went into the cinema expecting to spend much of the time with my eyes shut (I'm so bad with suspense) but came out completely exhilarated and energetic. Onya Duncan Jones! I love you as much as I love your father. If you don't know what I'm talking about, go and see the movie.

I'm trying very hard to write up my Common Press experience. I should be finished soon; I'm just trying to do it justice. I'm sure my braincells will kick in soon. I haven't had alcohol since my birthday, but when I stop rushing around, it takes a while to make my brain work again.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Country Show

country show

Yee haw!

Coming your way real soon, with a chook raffle that has the best chooky prizes you've *ever* seen (all proceeds to the RSPCA), an open- entry cake competition, and lots of good country art.

Poster made by me from wholesome chunks of wood type and metal type with a slick of rubber stamping. Printed on a Vandercook SP-20 press. Posters will be sold at the show.

Oh -- there are two versions of this poster. This one is called 'Woodchop'; the other is in pinks and turquoisey blues and is called 'Fairy Floss'. Each is printed in an edition of 10.

(This is what I did with my school holidays. It was printed on Miss Kitty, my 'new' press, and she did really well for her 'first' run.)

(This is also proof that undies-damaged wood type can still be used to good effect :))

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

let's play with fonts

Arial and Helvetica... do you know the difference?

Test your skillz...

When I first took that test, I was a cocky little thing, and shocked myself by getting only 10/20. Then I actually read the article about the differences between the two fonts (you can find it all here on Ironic Sans), and was surprised, in a number of ways. Now I don't think I'll ever use Arial again.

Then I took the test again and got 19/20. There's one that is really, really hard.

I love typography quizzes. I'm not obsessive about fonts, that's probably a flaw in the design part of my brain, but I know enough to get by, and rely on intuition rather than historical facts and cool brands (a bit like my cooking/clothes buying). Still, it's always fun to do type quizzes. Another good one is called the rather difficult font game. And one of my all-time fav bloggers (because he writes about sexy things like tools and books and other great stuff with a sense of fun seriousness) found one recently called cheese or font. Fun!

Monday, October 12, 2009


There are different forms of yearning, aren't there? Some can be wistful, some to do with appetites, others are vague and others still are sharp and pointy.

Here are some of mine:

-- to be less well fed all the time
-- to walk on the beach more than I do (at the moment, annually)
-- to have fewer things I HAVE to do
-- to have a better singing voice
-- to lie on my back in the grass and look at the stars / clouds / trees
-- to read that perfect book
-- to write that perfect book
-- to understand mathematics better than I do
-- ditto for certain sciences, like chemistry and biology
-- to be an effortless housekeeper, to LIKE cleaning
-- to be able to have a complete day without niggling aches & pains
-- to be a man for a week, just to see what it's like
-- to be a child again, just for a week, as well (with an adult consciousness)
-- to be fresh in love again
-- to be able to have a long, whimsical conversation with someone and not worry about time or the topic turning 'silly' (what exactly is 'silly'?)
-- to sleep until lunchtime again
-- to know certain historical characters
-- to see Hagia Sophia before I die or it blows up
-- to eat cheesecake every day and not end up a diabetic
-- to be able to swim like a fish, in the sea (which is very big and scary for me)
-- to be a grandmother
-- to travel the world by myself, taking lots of time to look and think

Bernice has just added to my very eclectic and eternally unfinished list, with a new category (in my experience) of feminity/ feminism.


I'm not unhappy, just thinking about the various little holes in my psyche. Makes it sound like Swiss cheese, but that's just life, isn't it? I'm sure they're very over-privileged white woman yearnings, but that's exactly what I am, so there you go. Many of these things are achievable, if I took the time to do them...

Friday, October 09, 2009


Just popping in again to say that there are more photos of the common press here; I can't see myself writing properly about it until at least the end of next week...

Forgot to mention that we saw Circus Oz the other night. Such a high quality troupe, and each act was like a short story, with so many layers of meaning packed into each segment. And Miss Em was divine, as usual. We saw her at the last Woodford Folk Festival, and we were glad to see that being accidentally dropped on her head there didn't seem to have any long-lasting damage!

The Governor General was there too, looking very glam. Bumblebee was very impressed at being a couple of metres from her in the foyer. I hope she enjoyed it as much as we did.

Oh -- and if you're local, go to the latest exhibition at Megalo. It's Nicci Haynes, with a print show called alphabeater totally based on James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake. It's textual, it's hairy, there's a noise machine, and the whole thing ROCKS.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Remember to breathe

Thought I'd just check in for a quick visit.

First off, let's all take a moment to breathe deeply.

Monaro clouds

It's been a while, hasn't it? I'm constantly taking photos of clouds. These were on the Monaro plains, on the way home from the Bega valley last weekend. I ducked down by myself to witness a thing of greatness:

Did anyone see that Stephen Fry show about the Gutenberg press and the fellow who made his own? Well, I went to the launch of an Australian version of the Common Press, down in Pambula. It's a true thing of beauty, made from vintage and new Australian hardwoods and local blacksmithery. I haven't got time to write more about it now, but I have a sworn duty to write properly about it, as I was the only other printer-type witness. I have voice recordings, video and umpteen photos. It was AWESOME. Here I am, pulling a print.

I came back to Canberra fired up, and inked up my press to get it fully functioning. And fell in love. I've been dicking around with it for days, working on a multi-layered poster for an upcoming group exhibition:

Country show first stage

I'm in love. It's smaller than the Bookstud press, but far more accurate. I've barely stopped to eat and sleep, since BB has been in Carnarvon and B has been with his dad.

But there's always been time for kitty snuggles.

Padge in bed

Right now, I'm dashing out to watch UP in 3D, making a token effort to give Bumblebee a fun holiday, and hoping that it doesn't make me puke. I'm teaching for the next four days straight, so you may not hear much from me again for a while. Keep breathing!