Voice Work

On Thursday, the WordPress writing prompt was “Voice Work”:  who would you like to do a voice recording of your blog?

It got me thinking about audio books, a book pleasure I enjoy from time to time.  The delight of this kind of ‘reading’ is in the hearing.  The voice of the reader combined with an excellent novel is the best kind of one-sided conversation.  Usually an actor is chosen as the reader, but hearing him read is streets ahead of seeing and hearing actors interpret a novel as film (well, for me it is).

Take, as an example of a highly-recommended audio book, Dances with Wolves read by its author, Michael Blake.  My husband and I listened to it on a long drive and often found we didn’t want to get out of the car.


Then there was The Collector, written by John Fowles, narrated by James Wilby.  Creepy story.  A butterfly collector decides to collect something less morally acceptable.  The reader played the part so well that I don’t think I could trust him in real life.

The Collector | [John Fowles]

And recently, on another long drive interstate and back again, we listened to The Book of Ebenezer Le Page by Gerard Basil Edwards, a story about a long life on the island of Guernsey, written by a Guernsey man, and read by Guernsey-born Roy Dotrice.  It was so good that we’ve replayed parts of it just to hear the narrator’s voice and the quirky dialogue, where verbs aren’t always conjugated and h’s are dropped when they exist and added when they don’t.The Book of Ebenezer le Page | [G. B. Edwards]

I tried to imagine someone (not me) reading my blog posts, but I drew a blank.  But something else sprang to mind: a book I’ve translated which will be available next year.  That is something I’d like to hear read aloud.  The story, Spiridion, is set in an 18th-century monastery where goodness is punished and females play no part.  So my reader would have to be male, for the only female in this book is the author, though she’s a writer with a man’s name:  George Sand.  She wrote in French, but for my English translation I would choose, perhaps, an eloquent Englishman.  Or Australian, because I’m Australian.  But then, perhaps not, since there are no 18th-century monasteries here;  an Australian accent might not be credible.  I’d need someone who sounds like he could have lived in the 18th century, from a country where monasteries have been around for a millennium.  How about an actor I’ve seen in a film of the same genre?  Say, Sean Connery.  Hmmm.  Did you see him in The Name of the Rose?  Yes, he’s the one.  I’d pick him.


One trip EVERY month: June

This month, well, yesterday, I went to the Deep Space Communication Complex in Tidbinbilla, south-west of Canberra.  Relaxing with a coffee in the Moon Rock Café, I had a great view of the largest steerable antenna dish in the southern hemisphere, the DSS43 (Deep Space Station 43), which was staring off into the distance, at this angle:

DSS43, Tidbinbilla

After coffee, I went into the gallery to see the moon rock:

Beside the rock stood an astronaut that some tourists were touching despite the do-not-touch sign.  When they finally left him alone, I took a closer look, without touching, and in his mirrored helmet visor I caught sight of me and my son, who was reading some information on the wall behind me.  I snapped the three of us:

Astronaut head

And I wondered how he would look in a space suit, sans visor:

While I was dabbling in moon history, the DSS43 began to move:

DSS43 on the move, Tidbinbilla

I went out onto the balcony to watch closely as the dish rotated to look straight up at the sky.  I wanted to know more.

DSS43, Tidbinbilla

Back inside, I read the information about the big dish and tried to understand it.  Of course, I couldn’t.  But perhaps you can.

DSS43 info Tidbinbilla

Yesterday at Tidbinbilla, the weather was stunningly clear and fine, if wintry.  Today it’s raining, the wind is howling and blizzards are threatening in the mountains.  We had picked the perfect day for dish-watching.

Thanks Marianne for the prompt to take one trip EVERY month.

Weekly photo challenge: Three-picture story

On the lower slopes of Black Mountain in Canberra is a unique form of Botanic Gardens.  The entrance seems to promise a dry native forest, but the gardens offer examples of all kinds of Australian native plants, and nothing but.  We rode our bikes here this morning, and as I walked my bike up the incline of the entrance, I snapped Black Mountain Tower and admired the symmetry of trees either side.  This is Canberra.  The city of symmetry.

Australian National Botanic Gardens, entrance

With many native plants hailing from the warmer tropical parts of the country, it’s tricky to keep them alive here in the cool capital where we have several months of frost and very low temperatures.  Yet, in an old dry eucalypt gully, a rainforest has been developed with the addition of 2,000 misting sprinklers that keep the humidity high and allow specimens from the tropical north to survive.  The rainforest canopy is dense and keeps out any light breeze; the only agitation today is the flitting and scurrying of birds and lizards on the forest floor.

Rainforest boardwalk, Australian National Botanic Gardens

Signs along the rainforest boardwalks say that Australia once looked like this all over, cool and damp, dark green and fungal.  These timber boards are gradually returning to that wilderness state, but as they wear down into a more natural form they make a good canvas for shifting shapes.

Rainforest boardwalk, Botanic Gardens, detail

Daily Prompt: Through the window

Go to the nearest window. Look out for a full minute. Write about what you saw.

I don’t have to get off my chair for this prompt;  the nearest window is twelve inches from the back of my computer screen.  Or rather it’s a bank of windows which ‘look’, as they say, onto the front yard and the street.  But I look, and I can’t see much of either.  In a full minute, I see a small green forest, a patchwork of trees, some planted by us, others by nature.  Leaves of diverse shapes sway in a light breeze.  To the right are seven-lobed maple leaves and conventional one-lobed leaves of an unidentified shade tree which made its home where carnations once grew.  To the left, three rich green ash trees grow up beyond the roof.  The blue-grey needles of the spruce provide the only contrast, its branches inversely arching as it towers into the sky, blending with the blue heavens where today there’s no sign of fires or storms.  A good day.  From a small drawer beside the window, I take out a camera to photograph the scene and a black currawong flies into the frame and sits on a branch, keeping his eye on me.  I move to get a better view of him but he doesn’t trust me and jumps to another branch, then another, and flies away.

In this full minute I neither saw nor heard another human.  But now, as I write, toddlers are squealing and mothers chatting in the flats opposite.  Always a comforting sound, like a promise.


Daily Prompt: 10 minutes' writing (and 30 minutes' editing).

What do librarians think about?  Every week I exchange words with them and every week I walk away wondering:  do they ever read the books that put food on their tables?  Where is the quirkiness that goes with bookishness?   They have, instead, certain employer-imposed behaviours that can make or break my day in a two-minute encounter.  National Library librarians are silent and serious, always well-dressed, sometimes helpful, seldom more knowledgeable than me about the book I seek.  National University librarians are closer to retirement, slow to attend the counter and slower to answer my questions.  Public library librarians are young and energetic, more of them male, more of them migrants, at once serving two customers and aiding three other librarians. But of all the librarians that fill my week, none can compare with the women in the little Catholic University on the corner, five minutes’ bike ride from my house.

The Catholic librarians are a special group.  Quiet, controlled, suspicious, pale-skinned and small-smiled.  Employed through a joy filter.  Practical women who can explain the system without expression or superfluity, leaving me to wonder if they ever read more than the call number.

And yet!  When I need to fire young imagination or teach literacy through literature, all I need is the Catholic library, the most excellent of all for tutors like me.  If I need to teach perfect pronunciation to adults or social justice to children, there are posters listing the books I need.  Shelves are loaded with children’s literature and mind-changing novels and histories, filled to the ceiling with up-to-date books by broad-minded authors,  about family and culture and  difference and music.

The women behind the counter, did they acquire these books?  Surely they are mistresses, hunting out secret pleasures to please their book-lovers.

When they don a pious mask and slip behind the counter to take my book selection, scan it, swipe it and push it back to me with a small comment and a smaller smile, what are they thinking about?

Saint holding a book, inner courtyard, Catholic University

Daily Prompt: Home, Soil, Rain

Today’s Daily Prompt asked for free associations with the words
home, soil, rain.

My home has not burnt down in the last few weeks, but several homes in south-east Australia have been in the path of merciless bushfires, and now some people have nowhere to lay their heads in peace.

A large 40,000 hectare bush fire is burning in the Warrumbungle National Park. Fires have destroyed more than 30 homes in New South Wales. (FILE:AAP)

Photo:  A large 40,000 hectare bush fire is burning in the Warrumbungle National Park. Fires have destroyed more than 30 homes in New South Wales. (FILE:AAP)

The soil in my yard is dry and a large crack has appeared in the ground at the side of the house.  The lawn that grew in spring has died.  In open farmland and bushy forest, the long grassy stalks are thirsty brown fire fuel.

Cracked earth, My yard, Canberra
Cracked earth, My yard, Canberra

In 1908 Dorothea Mackellar published a poem about this country, which many of us think of in weeks like these.   It’s called My Country and is famous for its line ‘I love a sunburnt country’.  A couple of later stanzas are on my mind:

Core of my heart, my country!
Her pitiless blue sky,
When sick at heart around us,
We see the cattle die –

But then the grey clouds gather,
And we can bless again
The drumming of an army,
The steady soaking rain.

Core of my heart, my country!
Land of the Rainbow gold,
For flood and fire and famine,
She pays us back threefold –

Over the thirsty paddocks,
Watch, after many days,
The filmy veil of greenness
That thickens as we gaze…

Dickson Wetlands, Canberra
Dickson Wetlands, Canberra
Rain will come again.  It will fill the cracked earth, soften it and quench its thirst.  Rain (and firefighters) will douse the uncontained fires still burning as I write.

Ailsa's photo challenge: Up

Up on the roof of the outdoor heater (which we’re NOT using right now – 42 deg yesterday), it’s a cool place to mate.  If you’re a dragonfly.

Dragonflies hanging loose
Dragonflies hanging loose
Dragonfly love

My son Josh and I both took photos of the dragonfly couple, but his were better and he’s happy for me to post them.  Thanks Josh.

I don’t ever forget that Ailsa inspires me with her photo challenges.  Check out her shots looking up to Edinburgh Castle:  http://wheresmybackpack.com/2013/01/18/travel-theme-up/

Daily Prompt: Take Two

Run outside. Take a picture of the first thing you see. Run inside. Take a picture of the second thing you see. Write about the connection between these two random objects, people, or scenes.

This was the instruction for yesterday’s daily prompt.  When I read it, I thought ‘I can do that’.  I immediately took my small camera from its small drawer and walked outside.  My husband was sitting at the outdoor table with his cereal bowl and glass of juice.   But my eye fell first on his computer.  I clicked.

Brett at Breakfast

I turned round, stepped back through the door and the first thing I saw was washing waiting to be folded, but the instruction is to record the second thing.  I turned my head;  it was the console radio that I saw, that I always see, with its photos of Renaissance architecture in Lyon, and a photo of my mother.  Not long before she died.  Click.

Console radio, c1949
Radio console, c1949

I have to find a connection.  It could be the old glass vase and the new glass tabletop.  It could be the Chain of Hearts growing above and over the radio console and the star jasmine growing like a triffid over the deck rail outside.  Or it could be a connection to do with men.

My father listened to this radio at a quarter to the hour, every hour, beginning at 5.45am with the first major news bulletin.  He would turn it up so it could be heard from the kitchen where he was eating breakfast, and I would wake and groan.

By contrast, and yet similarly, my husband reads the news on his computer while eating breakfast.  The technology has changed but the need for these two men to know the latest world news is the same.

There’s a broken thread in the connection:  the radio hasn’t worked for years.  When I inherited it from my family home, my husband, a former radio technician, said he could fix it.  But after opening it up and fiddling long inside, he wasn’t able to get it going.

The actual radio in the radio console is beneath the flowery frame, but if I remove the clutter, you can see it.  Looking closely at the panel, I remember something:  this Handel radio was made for Queenslanders.  See how the station indicators are bolder?  And I notice there’s no row for the Northern Territory, but there’s one for N.G.  Is that New Guinea, I wonder?

Handel radiogram, 1940s
Handel radio, c1949, now silent

A thought tickles me:  I imagine one of our sons in thirty years with an inherited computer, opening it up and operating on it in the hope of reliving his father’s newsreading breakfasts…

Daily prompt: Quote me

If you would not be forgotten
as soon as you are dead and rotten,
either write things worth reading
or do things worth the writing.

Benjamin Franklin

This is simple. How can anyone not take this advice?  Especially when there are two choices.

I know of things worth reading that can’t be read, things written in French that non-French speakers are missing out on.  I write those things.  In English.

And when not rewriting someone else’s things, I do things worth the writing (which must then, according to B. Franklin, be worth reading).  Visiting France in its secret villages.  Tutoring little kids, big kids, young and old adults, Italians, Swiss, Croatians, Chinese, Koreans, Australians.  Redeeming my father through his war photos and poetry and paintings. Committing to a daily task of observing unusual things.

You can do this.  Don’t be forgotten.

Daily Prompt: Stroke of midnight

Where were you last night when 2012 turned into 2013?

Is that where you’d wanted to be?

Last night in Australia was the end of the first day of January. This morning it’s the second.  But I’ve awoken to the questions above because WordPress people are still getting through the first day.

But to cut the waffle and answer the first of their two questions, I was on the lounge with my husband watching Sydney fireworks on TV and hearing Canberra fireworks exploding in the distance.  We’d had my brother-in-law and his wife for a BBQ of lamb steaks, marinated chicken, salad, baby boiled buttered potatoes and the best tarte aux pommes (apple flan) I’ve ever made thanks to a Christmas gift from my son: Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  But after coffee and Swiss chocolates, our guests were tired and left, an hour and a half before midnight.

The evening was pretty well perfect.  But it was the first year I’ve not seen my three sons or heard from them on New Year’s Eve.  Nor did I see or hear from them yesterday, the first day of this new year.

Still, this morning has broken with a promise.

7.10 am, 2nd January 2013, Canberra
7.10 am, 2nd January 2013, Canberra