What Do You Mean ‘It’ll Be Three Days’?

On Friday, my computer chucked in the towel: blue screening all over the show. I called a repairman, we did a drop off (I felt like a drug lord) and he drove away with what I dramatically told him was my life’s work.

He sorted the blue screen stuff (faulty RAM stick) then the computer refused to charge. He fixed the charger then the wireless wouldn’t arc up. He worked out the wireless then the computer wouldn’t start. He sent it to computer ER.

I hope the last domino has fallen.


It’s a curious thing. When Tony, the repairman, told me it would be three or four days until I saw my laptop again, I just about blue screened myself. How the heck…? I had things to do, projects to work on. This next week was to be an intense time, a fun time…a productive time. And now, pow zam zap, all in cinders.

I checked my to do list. There were things I could do that did not require a computer, things that might have been pushed aside or snarled at if I’d had one.

That afternoon in the library, as I signed out the maximum number of items (all picture books) the contrasting colours on the cover of a book on the counter drew my attention. Oooh! A thick  novel by one of my favourite authors. Goodbye ‘The Elephant and the Bad Baby”, I’ve read you once, you can wait for another day when there is less magic around.

The following morning I climbed the steep hill behind my house feeling this time like Lucie from Mrs Tiggywinkle: ‘along a steep pathway – up and up – until Little-town was right away down below – she could have dropped a pebble down the chimney’. Moisture turned the far hills blue. A nearby lake shimmered and it was warm enough to remove my mittens.

At home, I nested in the sun room. It’s often too bright in there for me to see my computer screen but a crisp white notebook… now that works. With no web pages to distract me, no photos to fiddle with (one of my planned projects) I am putting in the yards on my picture book. It is taking shape.

From my windowed room I watch the day as if it is a movie. I saw my first bumble bee of the year – a huge, fuzzy black ball carving paths in the air. A flock of large gulls wheeled in and settled in the paddock in front of me. Other birds flapped wildly or soared or dropped to capture food. A tiny figure traversed the hilltop skyline away to my right as though balancing on a razor edge. Clouds formed and dissipated.

None of these things are visible from my office. In the normal course of events I would have missed them as I sat in front of my screen.

And I have made curtains, resealed the shower recess, discovered why the vacuum cleaner isn’t functioning, learnt how to gut a fish, picked up the rubbish along my road and the main road it intersects, realised that the gap at the top of the pantry cupboard door is unfixable, watched Torville and Dean skate their final Bolero ever, read three quarters of a novel and planned two dinner party menus.

Granted, some of these things I would have done anyway, but it seems so much easier, I have so much more room, when I’m not tussling with a computer. My life opens up. For me, there is some suction exerted by a computer. There is always stuff to do on it – useful stuff, good stuff but stuff. These computerless days have liberated me from all those tabs I want to read, that bulging inbox. Oh yes, I need to be more organised (I’m working on it) and less hoardy and unrealistic about what I can get through (working on those too). Maybe if I was, being computerless wouldn’t create this sense of freedom.

Sometimes it takes just a step, sometimes a full swing of the pendulum, to experience or remind ourselves of how we can feel, to see what is possible. And then we can swing back, but only as far as we want for we have become aware again. We can rejig our lives.

So what am I going to do? I’m going to work in the sun room in the planning and first draft stages. My writing hand is a better conduit for useful thoughts than my typing hands. And I attend better when I have a notebook not a screen of clamouring tabs. I’m going to let go of ‘stuff’ on my computer so I don’t feel hemmed in by it. I’m going to make time for those activities from which the computer keeps me.

There are things which I simply cannot do without it though. I will be pleased to have it back (and that anticipation is now increasing incrementally with the delay). However, when it does return, I’m going to work my computer, rather than the other way round.

Update. It is now twelve days since my computer left (I wrote the above on day five). The computer is dead. That revelation didn’t bother me as much as the initial idea of being computerless for several days did – a quick adaptation. It is a strange land without a computer, with things unfinished, undone, dangling in the ether around me. It is at best, not altogether pleasant, at worst, concerning. In today’s world, life both opens up and closes down without one. I’m ready to rejig – but I need to cross the hurdle of setting up a new computer to do so.

Meat on the Street, Jewels in the Window

A city’s hinges are its most dynamic times. Those are the in-between hours – the mornings and evenings, often overlooked or designated uninteresting when compared with the bulk of day and night. They are when the city swings from one mode to another. They are when it reveals itself.

Take a morning in Cardiff – after the stuff of night, prior to the business of day.

toll bridge to Wales

At 7.15am the cars are streaming in and out of Wales, UK.

This is when the city forms itself; when it creates its day.

Stripped of cars, streets appear bare but systems are whirring.

Cardiff, Wales

An early worker confronts a screen in a grim office block. A woman wanders into the adjacent room, makes a hot drink and wafts out again. On the street below, someone strides purposefully.

office block

Yesterday’s rubbish bags are stacked high around lamp posts in the malls. Surely they’ll be removed before the shoppers arrive.

Delivery trucks line the streets, orifices open.

delivery trucks, Cardiff

I trace the milk vendor by the rattling of his cart.

Cardiff, Wales

A clutter of tables and chairs is quickly given its daytime persona.

cafe chairs

A paper recycling trolley sits outside the market doors. The man who pushes it has disappeared inside. Perhaps he’s collecting paper. Perhaps he’s collecting gossip and a morning coffee.

Buildings are prepared for the day. Footpaths and tiled entrances are spruced.

man sweeping street

Doors are opened but disallow entry. It is the hour of the select few.


A pinstriped chap opens multiple locks on a bank door while his co-worker watches. I refrain from photographing this security-sensitive moment. When I return later, one of the men is crouched inside the glass door, undoing the floor locks for more staff – but not yet the public.

shop front

Behind closed doors and in full view, organisation continues.

Loiterers are more obvious at this hour when there are fewer people. They stand or crouch in recesses, smoking, eating. Some more intentional people out on the footpath glance up and down the street, hands jiggling in their pockets. Pre-work smokers chat in pods of two or three.

A meat wholesaler talks to me of his memories of market towns before supermarkets undercut the individual retailer. He understands people’s desire for the one-stop-shop but misses the diversity and the sense of community.

meat supplier

And that’s the key: engagement. Before the rush begins, with its throngs of averted eyes, there is engagement. The manager of an automated supermarket has time to answer my questions. The driver of a passing delivery van reaches his arm out the window to grasp the bloodied hand of the meat man. The butcher comes jovially out from his shop and settles in for a chat. Near the church, a man unloading beer from a huge truck sings loudly, injecting a little joie de vivre into the lives of passers-by.

meat supplier, street, van

In a park close by, two men comment on life and rest their beers on the hut bench. Perhaps they are the one constant as the city swings on its hinges through the day.


Around them, the early morning city gradually merges with the later, less nuanced version of itself.

And we leave it to do so.

Severn Bridge, Wales, architecture


To Hear the World in a Glass of Champagne

I raise the glass, thinking to drink as a thousand times before. But I hear my grandmother’s glass xylophone.  Tiny, high-pitched dings sound above the almost-monotonic poppings.

I tilt the glass and hear the sound of the sea inside a shell: the ocean twice removed.

champagne glass Continue reading

Living with the Beast

Western Australian summer is a beast. For months it slumbers, its great curved back a docile silhouette against the greys and greens and bobbing florals. Then it awakens and scrapes its claws across the land in a blaze of heat.

  • The water in garden hoses scalds and the cold tap in the shower runs warm.
  • Lawns crunch and prickle bare feet.
  • Thick metal necklaces become burning collars. Steering wheels and doorhandles and car seats scorch hands and thighs.
  • Pedestrians at traffic lights shelter beneath buildings, metres from the kerb, waiting to cross.
  • Paddocks stretch into the distance: rolling, fuzzed and tawny; rustling with bleached crop stubble; closely-capped in the pitch black of char or flat, bare and crazed with cracks. And, above them, the deep, rich sky.
  • Urban buildings glitter and oncoming vehicles are globs of eye-watering golden light.
  • The only clouds are the tiny tufts of cumulus stirred up at the ocean’s edge by the reach and retreat of the waves. People come in their hordes for the cleansing and lightening peculiar to swimming in the ocean.
  • The air is an invisible wall, high and hard and hot. It batters and stings…and waits for a spark.
  • Fire alerts on the radio warn residents who have remained to fight for their suburban homes not to venture out because the heat will kill them before they even see the twenty-metre flames.

sheep at dawn

But sometimes the beast slinks into its cave and only its switching tail shows that it breathes yet and will strike again.

  • The Fremantle and Albany doctors drift across the land signalling the end of the working day. People dare a drink of red instead of cooling white and know that tonight they will turn off the fan and pull up the bedsheet.
  • A storm’s first drops spatter and the world smells of dust.
  • The earth is made nubile by the honeyed light of evening.

Australian shed and tree

Australia, evening light

Eventually, the beast curls up again, a monument to the season. We used to think it immovable, impervious to us, but now our proddings rouse it earlier. It stalks for longer. And we have become its prey.

Australia, evening light

Anchovy Ahoy! Part Two

Weeks after the departure of the ss Great Britain from the UK, the fair maid Clare, wandering by a (muddy) Western Australian shore, sighted this raft.

miniature wooden raft

Clearly it was the handiwork of a shipwrecked tin of anchovies (those knots bear all the hallmarks of a deft tab).

But the anchovies had gone! Continue reading

Anchovy Ahoy! Part One

Once upon a time an anchovy swam in the vast ocean with all its friends.


They flittered and darted, avoiding the jaws of sharks and salmon. Unbeknown to them, a far more sinister danger lurked. A danger so dastardly, planned and executed with such cunning, that there was no escape.  As they innocently played Pin the Leg on the Octopus a net was ploughing towards them. The anchovy was scooped up, suffocated, gutted, salted and laid out in a small rectangular tin with a number of its friends.

Weeks passed in oily darkness. One day, the lid was peeled back. The anchovy was thrown onto a bed of soft green leaves next to a strip of capsicum.

 “I didn’t watch Two Fat Ladies for nothing,” a woman’s voice said.

Continue reading

San Franchrimbo

Christmas comes to San Francisco in many guises.



Christmas colours come to public transport with the longest nails I have ever seen. The driver related how people told her she wouldn’t be able to tenpin bowl with them. However, recalling her father’s words, “You can do whatever you set your mind to,” she went right ahead and now wins trophies using specially drilled bowls.

Continue reading