Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Anguis in herba

A real snake in the grass: a diamond python (morelia spilota) lying dozing near the water at Patonga, New South Wales. Wikipedia says "some forms can be more irascible than others", but this snake, although it was at least 6ft long, paid scant attention to over-excited photographers and lay quietly, not to say complacently, just outside its hole.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

O dear

Yesterday, in one of those moments when you feel lucky to be alive, I steered a crew in an OC6 through the harbour. The sun was shining, the wind was in our hair, and the eggshell of the Opera House was gleaming in the distance. There were ferries and yachts and pleasure craft everywhere, and our little boat boldly made its way though all of the chaos. The wind was behind us, the crew's timing was perfect, and we rode gentle rolling waves in towards the harbour bridge.

Today, I looked out of the window at another beautiful sky, only to be assaulted by this statement. Is it a smoke ring? Is it the second letter of a cry for help? No, it's a sign, desecrating the beautiful blue Sydney sky, that an American mega-celebrity and "world's most influential person" is in town. (Watch out for terrible puns about "the Oprah House".) Apparently they have also, cravenly, allowed a neon "O" to appear on the harbour bridge - I was spared this sight yesterday; it might have taken the sheen off the day. I'm happy that she is female, and black, and ascended from a terribly impoverished background to her current heights, but I don't want her to have the sky too.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

There goes the fear

At the foot of the wall in Pine Lane, and just to the right of the little red scooter, a peculiar little clay model has appeared. It's a TV remote control with "FEAR" written on it. It's discreetly tucked away in a place where it's hardly noticeable: another little secret. It's a pretty obvious statement about people being controlled by their own fear, but it also makes me think of people sitting mindlessly in front of their TVs - like the couple who live across the way, who have a beautiful roof terrace, but are never seen on it because they are sitting inside watching their garganto-TV instead.

Friday, December 03, 2010

The reader

When I was 18, just after moving to Glasgow to go to university, I bought a copy of Lanark by Alasdair Gray and was completely bewitched by it. I had dreams afterwards about growing scales on my skin. I related the dystopian landscape of the book with what I saw in Glasgow at the end of the twentieth century, just beginning its economic recovery and rehabilitation with events like the Glasgow Garden Festival (a visit here was the last time I saw my granny before she died; the cheerful newness of the showhouses and a cheap showcase of "modern" design are what I remember) and the accolade of European City of Culture (1990).

I had my precious, battered and well-read copy of Lanark until 1993. It was borrowed by my then-flatmate G to take across the Atlantic, on a boat-delivery mission from Cyprus to the British Virgin Islands. He got sick and had to get off the boat in Minorca, leaving my book behind; on its continued journey, it was seized upon by the captain's girlfriend, who decided it would be a fine wheeze to tear out each page upon reading it and cast it into the sea. On arrival in the BVI, she threw the carcass away.

Favourite books are a special possession in a way that few other things are. I can happily leave a thriller on a plane or in a hotel room for someone else to read, but I sometimes lie awake at night worrying about the safety of books left in the attic of a house in North London. This callous behaviour with someone else's book, by someone who later went to clown school, has always struck me as being an unforgiveable act of vandalism.