46 Great Opening Lines: 22

In Laurence Binyon’s poem ‘For the Fallen’, which adorns numerous war memorials around Australia, there is a verse that every Australian knows:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old…

Opening line of the Author’s Note, Desert Boys, Peter Rees, 2012


I’ve heard the line ‘They shall grow not old…’ every year of my life, yet it still catches me out. Wars need poets.

When I look at the photo above from my father’s World War Two album, taken during his time in North Africa in 1941/42, I wonder whether these soldiers fell or grew old. Unfortunately the photo is uncaptioned and I have no names for them. They seem to be posing, demonstrating a lesson in warfare.

I’m struck by its similarity to the image on the cover of Desert Boys by Peter Rees, a book about Australian soldiers who fought in the desert in both world wars. In each photo there are five young Australian men in helmets, focusing on something to their left. Perhaps these cover men are also posing. In any case, their photos remind us that they went to the desert to fight, and may not have returned to grow old.



46 Great Opening Lines: 21

On an exceptionally hot evening early in July a young man came out of the garret in which he lodged in S. Place and walked slowly, as though in hesitation, towards K. bridge.

Opening line, Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, translated by Constance Garnett

Last night I could have written:

On an exceptionally hot evening early in January a middle-aged couple came out of the house in which they lodged in H. Street and walked slowly, as though in hesitation, towards C. bridge.

Yesterday evening and this evening are the endings of exceptionally hot days in Canberra. Today, 39 degrees.

Commonwealth Avenue Bridge, Canberra, dusk yesterday

Perhaps you didn’t imagine Dostoyevsky’s character walking towards a bridge like this one. Rather, since I don’t have any photos of Russian bridges, you might have seen him heading for a bridge resembling this old one in Cairo, where the evenings are undoubtedly hot:

English Bridge, Cairo, nightime, c1941

I confess I haven’t read Crime and Punishment though I have read other Dostoyevsky works. But when I compared the opening line translated into English by three different translators, I thought it was worth writing about. My favourite is Constance Garnett’s 33 words in a succinct sentence, quoted above. Compare it with the 46 words of Katz’s translation:

In the beginning of July, during an extremely hot spell, toward evening, a young man left his tiny room, which he sublet from some tenants who lived in Stolyarnyi Lane, stepped out onto the street, and slowly, as if indecisively, set off towards the Kokushkin Bridge. (Translated by Michael Katz)

Plenty of detail, but I was lost after ‘sublet’. In my humble opinion there are 13 words too many. That said, I can’t read Russian and therefore can’t really say if there are omissions or additions. Now look at this one by Oliver Ready:

In early July, in exceptional heat, towards evening, a young man left the garret he was renting in S–y Lane, stepped outside, and slowly, as if in two minds, set off towards K–n Bridge. (Translated by Oliver Ready)

The number of words is similar to Garnett’s, but what it loses (for me) is the immediacy in her first words, “On an exceptionally hot evening…”. The other two translators tell us first off what month it is, but that’s not as good a beginning for a great opening line.

Perhaps I’m presently susceptible to Garnett’s first words since it’s about 10 pm and the temperature in my house is still 30 degrees.



Five black and white everyday photos: 4

Five black and white photos from my everyday life. Day four: labyrinth.

How I longed to run into this mess of twisting branches and climb through from one end to the other. But I’m too old. And I still have my pride.

Cottonwood tree aka Beach Hibiscus, Scarborough Boat Harbour, Queensland

Five black and white everyday photos: 2

Black and white photos of my everyday life. Day two: Fountain.

The Captain Cook Memorial Jet in Lake Burley Griffin, Canberra, shoots water 152 metres high for about four hours a day. In moderate wind the fountain spray forms a transparent curtain across the lake. In strong wind it’s turned off to prevent a water hazard on the nearby bridge.

Photo taken during a visit this week to the National Library to read Pierrots on the Stage of Desire, a history of 19th-century French pantomime.

Inspiration from anevolvingscientist.org (on his Facebook page).

Five black and white everyday photos: 1

Five photos of my everyday life, in black and white. Day one, fungus.

My gardens have just had a professional makeover. The gardener re-made four identically shaped gardens with the same range of plants repeated in each. But in one of them, under and around a grevillea, a leathery tan fungus is growing, apparently not a bad thing. It’s possibly a saprophytic cup fungus feeding on the rotting forest litter used as mulch. I just spotted it a couple of days ago. It’s a real head-turner and typically evokes this reaction: Whoa, what’s that?

Fungus feeding on forest litter

Ken, anevolvingscientist.org, came up with this photo challenge. Many thanks!


WWII, Winter, Syria and Lebanon

Some years ago I scanned hundreds of photos from an album my father brought back from the Middle East in 1942.  The original snaps are small, about 2″ x 3″, so I’m fascinated by the detail I now see in these scanned and enlarged photos, such as the people on the right in the image above. The caption for this picture says “Col. Gee, Syria”. Nothing about the other guy. However, it’s uncertain whether it was taken in Syria or Lebanon. The photo below, the ski school for the soldiers, is marked as located in Syria when in fact it was in Lebanon.

Australian Army ski school,  Lebanon, 1942

Easy mistake to make, since the Australian soldiers were sent to train in Syria in the winter of 1941/42, but from there they went to Lebanon to train to fight in snow country. A disused chalet near Bcharre in the Lebanon ranges was turned into a ski school. It was pretty hard on the Australians, used to extreme heat but not extreme cold.

So much snow. The magnificent cedars of Lebanon form the only contrast in this black and white image.


The Nile, 1941/42

A reader of this blog, a maritime archaeologist writing a PhD, expressed an interest in some of the photos I’ve posted here over the past five years, especially images of the Nile and its boats. So this post is about the Nile River, Egypt, in a particular period, 1941/42. The photos are from my father’s album, from a time he was stationed there for seven months with the army (not counting the couple of months to get there and back). He took photos and swapped photos with his mates, stuck them in an album and left them for his family to do what they wanted with them. Many of these photos have been on this blog before, with a couple of exceptions. Where there were captions beneath the photos in the album, I’ll repeat them. Where there was none, I’ll write what I know, if I know anything. The photographers of these photos are unknown. Some were taken by my father, some were not. I don’t know which is which.

Canal sailing, Nile River
Imbaba opening bridge, Nile River, Egypt
Nile Bridge
Weir in Nile River
Felucca, Egypt
“English Bridge” Cairo, daytime
“English Bridge”, Cairo, nighttime
Camel bridge, Great Delta Barrage or Alkanater Kheireya, Nile River, Egypt
Officers’ convalescence, River Nile
Showboat celebrations on Nile, flood
Sunrise on Nile
Sunset on Nile
View to a village across the Nile

I love all my black and white 1940s photos, but I totally love the feluccas and never tire of looking photos of them.  Thanks, my reader, for asking me to take another glimpse into 1940s Nile history.


Weekly photo challenge: Danger

My father captioned this photo in 1942 ‘Dud bombs’. But judging by the rubble almost covering the small building at the bottom right, some earlier bombs had done the job they were made for.

It’s an odd photo that seems to have a part of another photo laid over it; the man looking at the dud bombs is transparent! The hill of rock behind him is visible through his face…

The WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge this week is to find an image that evokes danger, so I immediately thought of this one from Dad’s war album of photos from Egypt and Libya. I don’t have a clue about bombs, exploded or unexploded. But these dud bombs were probably a source of danger.

Dud bombs, North Africa c1941/1942