Pathways to Harrow: the dinosaur at the gate


Last year I was involved with the first Pathways to Harrow project initiated and co-ordinated by the Harrow Bush Nursing Centre. The project involved five outstanding local women, and their stories of how they came to arrive and stay in the Harrow community; I was engaged as the designer and editor for the booklet that was produced.

This year the project continues with another five women, and today I went to visit one to start our journey – a shearer who was recently involved with Harrow’s widely publicised Ducks on the Pond at Clunie shearing fundraiser for charity. When I stepped out of my car to open the gate, I noticed there was a dinosaur attached to the fence. Naturally, I took its portrait.

When Googling “Pathways to Harrow” for this post, I was surprised to discover there’s a catalogue record for the booklet at the National Library of Australia. Bit chuffed, me (also surprised I didn’t realise, since I work in a library!)

You can read more about the Pathways to Harrow project here and here – the second link includes a radio podcast about P2H2013 with the project’s co-ordinator, Anita.

Please click image to view dinosaur full size.


Clunes Booktown 2013

Clunes Book Town 2013

Each year Clunes, a picturesque Goldfields village thirty minutes north of Ballarat, turns into an International Booktown – the main street is closed off, and popup bookstores appear in most of the shops, while book stalls line the footpaths. When a dear friend suggested a cultural outing, I didn’t immediately leap at the suggestion…until I saw the advertising for Clunes Booktown Festival and just knew it would be the perfect weekend destination for two librarians.

The interesting thing about the Booktown crowd was how subdued it was: despite the perfect autumn weather, live music, a Punch and Judy show, and kids’ activities, the crowd was very quiet, respectful as though in a large outdoor library. People didn’t jostle one another, or talk loudly on phones, or yell at their kids/dogs/each other. It was very civilised and soothing.

Please click image to view full size.

Weapons of Choice: choosing and using fountain pens and inks

About a year ago, I bought a vintage fountain pen, a Parker 51, for a friend who loves to write. When it arrived, I had a bit of fun cleaning it and trying it out with some ink to ensure it worked before presenting it to her. I liked it so much that I covetously wanted to keep it for myself – but I didn’t! Instead, I began researching fountain pens, and bought a few economy models online to try.

My first purchase, for around $5, was a “disposable” Platinum Preppy (above front), which came with a replaceable cartridge. One advantage of having a pen with a replaceable cartridge is that the cartridge can actually be carefully refilled with a dropper, which means you can use whatever ink colour you prefer. The nib is marked as “fine”, but being Japanese-made it is actually more like an extra fine. The clear plastic casing has a somewhat brittle feel, but I haven’t broken it yet. The lid, which snaps on, has an airtight seal, making this the most mess-free of my pens, and also the most willing to write immediately. The Preppy comes in a range of colours, and cartridge converters are also available, making refilling even simpler. Its appearance is unremarkable, therefore making it the least likely to be stolen from your desk at work!

My next purchase, after reading many reviews, was a white Lamy Safari (around $30), renowned for its butter-soft nib, which is marked as EF (extra fine), but being German-made is actually more like a fine! It has an attractive, modern casing in quality plastic with a three-sided molded section for a comfortable, natural finger grip, and a sturdy, paper-clip style stainless steel pocket clip. It came with a piston-style cartridge converter, which is easily filled by dipping the opening into your ink, then twisting the end section to draw in the ink. The nibs in the Safaris are replaceable. I like it a lot, and for a while it was my favourite; but I now find that the cap unwinds from the body, causing more leaks which have led to slight staining of the white casing.

My last acquisition was a marbled grey Noodler’s Nib Creaper demonstrator (transparent) pen, valued at around $15, from the helpful and knowledgeable team at Goulet Pens, which was included as a bonus with a large bottle of Noodler’s Lexington Gray ink. I really like this pen, although it smelt odd to begin with – a trait they are known for. It’s an “eyedropper pen”, which means it has a huge reservoir in the body, instead of a separate cartridge, and to refill it you merely unscrew the two halves of the body, and drop in more ink. I have found that I prefer the transparent pens for the practical reason that it’s easy to see how much ink you have left.

I mostly use the bulletproof* Lexington Gray ink in the Preppy and Nib Creaper pens, and a blend of Noodler’s La Reine Mauve and Lexington Gray inks, at a ratio of about 1:3, to create a purplish grey, in the Safari. I keep a small ink bottle (above left) for this purpose.

Researching and collecting fountain pens and inks became a bit of an obsession for a while, but I reined in my urge to buy everything I could, and have a useful collection for now. The act of writing about them here has reignited my interest, and I’d love to acquire a Noodler’s Ahab Flex pen, with a flexible nib. And of course, there are many more inks I’d like to try out, some of which come in exquisite bottles…


*Noodler’s use the term “bulletproof” to describe ink that is waterproof, bleach proof, lightfast, and has excellent archival qualities.

Beyond Books @ The Whistling Fish Bookshop & Coffee House, Robe SA

A few months ago I read an article about The Whistling Fish Bookshop & Coffee House in Country Style Magazine, and made up my mind to put it on the list of must-see places. So when my family planned a weekend away in Robe, on the Limestone Coast in South Australia, I knew that I would have to visit.

With the gang rounded up and determined to spend a couple of hours wandering the main street, we went in vain search for The Whistling Fish – despite having an address, we couldn’t see anything resembling a cafe and bookstore along the street. Then, as luck would have it, my plan to have coffee there was overthrown by the mutinous relations who were already breezing into another cafe by the time I’d finally located the bookshop. Damn.

So I contented myself with thoughts of a visit there, camera in hand, after a pot of Earl Grey tea at another fine establishment. On my way to the front door I stopped to chat with a handsome whippet and his owner – I find it hard to walk past any sight hound without a bit of gratuitous ear scratching; then I entered a delightful world, where books – old and new – cohabited with collected vintage china and tasty treats (though this was only ever hearsay, as – alas! – there was no room in my belly for tasty treats by this time.)

Now, although I am always happy to be in a place where books feature, my work in a public library makes me loath to actually buy any; for me the real joy was in examining – and snapping – the many touches the owner – JJ Aitken – had added to the store, from the shelf signs created from scrabble pieces, to the whimsical bookish decorations on the tables.

Usually I find the owners of such establishments are quite comfortable with a weird girl taking photos in their stores; but it’s always good manners to check with them about this. Happily, there were no problems on this occasion, either, and it gave me the opportunity to speak to JJ – mostly in tones of great admiration for a Job Well Done.

You can find The Whistling Fish online here; better yet, take the weekend off and find it on the corner of Smillie and Davenport Streets!

Monochrome: 50 Shades of Grey

50 Shades of Grey: trees in fog: shot on the fly,
monochrome setting in camera + effects in Picasa.

Inexplicably, I found myself reading the notorious best seller on the same day this week that I decided to commit to using my camera’s monochrome setting. Coincidence? I wonder. Though I haven’t finished the book, perhaps you’ll allow me the luxury of a bit of a review.

Apparently, 50 Shades of Grey started life as a piece of Twilight fanfiction which went beyond regular vampiric bloodsucking into the more sadistic realms of BDSM, and was therefore deemed inappropriate for many of the younger Twilight readers – and quite rightly so. While Twilight was actually quite chaste (there was no bedroom scene until the couple reached honeymoon island, deep into the series; and even then it wasn’t explicit), 50 Shades is all about highly explicit bedroom dungeon scenes, beginning around the 100th page (just to make things easy for you!). The similarities to Twilight are immediately obvious: wan, Classics-reading, inexperienced heroine meets immensely powerful, attractive, dangerous older man, and he can’t leave her alone: he must possess her. She falls deliriously under his spell as willing captive; and yet their differences appear insurmountable. Can their relationship possibly survive the strain?

Not only does 50 Shades trail along humming the Twilight theme, but – as with the Twilight saga itself – there are references drawn to classic English Literature. Here there are references to Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy (a text with which I am unfamiliar, though now my interest is piqued). There are even passages of Bridget Jones-esque email repartee between the couple, and you may recall that Bridget Jones’s Diary was based on another great classic, Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

But such allusions don’t save the book from being rather dull – and before you become indignant, I might add that ice water does not run in my veins, and yes the frequent sex scenes are adequately torrid; but that isn’t enough to make this good reading, in my, er, book. For heaven’s sake, I couldn’t even find a decent description of the cars mentioned; whereas Twilight at least did justice to the bevy of beauties in the garage. Oh, and speaking of which, both heroines drive clangers (Bella a beat-up pickup truck, Ana a VW Beetle), which are replaced by their controlling lovers.

Another point of irritation is the awful frequency of Ana’s thought exclamation: holy crap! or holy shit! or even – forgive my uncouth language – holy fuck! FFS, STFU. There are other oft-uttered inanities thoughout, but this one really did grind my gears.

The winning edge to books like these is that, for all their lack of literary quality, they are fast and compelling reads which bring a touch of the Classics (and other interesting subjects besides!) within easy reach. And for a large demographic who are reading 50 Shades – time-poor women, who may not usually find time to read for pleasure – they are a Godsend for renewing an interest in reading.

I also recently read Jane by April Lindner, a modern retelling of Jane Eyre. It was remarkably similar in style to the other books mentioned above, and equally readable-yet-unsatisfying.

My verdict: I’m bored. I don’t think I’ll bother finishing book 1, let alone complete the trilogy. Read the classics for themselves, and choose something a bit more original if you want to go over and see how things are done on the dark side.

What’s next on my reading list: Changeless: an Alexia Tarabotti novel by Gail Carriger. Werewolves, vampires, and a soulless heroine (who is slightly too swarthy, and her nose a tad too Roman, to be considered appealing to Victorian English sensibilities) promise a fun and witty romp that I’ll probably even read to the end.