Thursday, February 27, 2014

Finches return to Gamone

Last year, I was delighted by the month-long presence of several beautiful finches at Gamone, from the middle of February to the middle of March. I wrote about them in three blog posts: first, second and third. I’m happy to see that the finches have returned this year. This morning, I spied a couple of finches beneath the seed box for tits.

Here’s the male:

And here’s the female:

For the moment, they haven’t flown up to peck at sunflower seeds in the clay pot posed on a ledge outside my bedroom window.

NOTE: Upon comparing today's images with those of the hawfinches of last year, I realize that they are not at all the same birds.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Lesya can take off her bullet-proof vest

[breaking news, Saturday afternoon, February 22, 2014]
I hope my blog title is not naively over-optimistic...

A few weeks ago, I was enchanted by this photo of the 31-year-old Ukrainian pro-European deputy Lesya Orobets wearing a bullet-proof vest during a parliamentary session.

The latest news, this morning, was that the pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych had fled to his home territory in the east, while his opponents gathered at the Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) in Kiev. A French weekly, this morning, spoke of a "revolutionary wind" that is blowing across this land.

The parliament has apparently voted already for the liberation of the ex-PM Yulia Tymoshenko, but she has not yet appeared on the scene in person.

It’s amazing to realize that, for the last few months, Europe has had a bloody uprising on its doorstep, involving a would-be future member of the EU. I hope this great nation soon succeeds in joining Europe.

BREAKING NEWS: The great lady has finally appeared, in a wheelchair.

And she declared immediately that Ukraine must become a member of the European Union.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Photographic blues

The following image shows a group of women attending an electoral meeting in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.

The name of the professional photographer who obtained the image that you see here, published by AFP, is Shah Marai. On the other hand, we know nothing of the identity of the attendee who was using a blue smartphone to take a photo of her surroundings, nor do we have a copy of the image she obtained. There’s no doubt about it: the blue tones create a soothing esthetic effect, disrupted strikingly by the lady’s bordeaux garments. Needless to say, it’s a huge challenge to reveal the essential human dimensions in the case of a refractory subject such as this, and few photographers can hope to succeed. Curiously, Shah Marai’s photo seems to be marred by a small but intrusive patch of blinding white light (no doubt a technical blunder, which could easily be Photoshoped out) near the right-hand-shoulder of the lady in blue. It would be interesting to know how the image might (or might not) have been enhanced by the use of a blue filter.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Prince Bonkers

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. And when in Saudi Arabia, put on a costume that makes you look like a desert chief.

When my sister Jill and her family visited me recently, she told me she admires the behavior and style of the future British king. To my Cartesian mind, Charles Windsor has always been quaintly bonkers. And I have the impression that it’s getting worse as he grows older.

An idea that has just sprung into my mind. I think it would be nice if His Royal Highness were to go out to Australia (a land he knows well), strip down to his underpants and participate in a corroboree dance with Aborigines up in Arnhem Land.

He would simply have to take elementary jockstrap precautions to make sure that the royal jewels don’t bounce around too visibly in the red dust.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Primroses popping up at Gamone

Every year, in February, I look forward to the first primroses, harbingers of spring. Well, they started to appear here a few days ago.

It has certainly been an amazingly mild winter at Choranche, with little snow and no freezing weather whatsoever. On the other hand, there has been a lot of rain and several days of strong winds. I certainly appreciated the luxurious presence of my new wood-burning stove, combined with the convenience of my recently-constructed woodshed. Not surprisingly, since the stove burns almost constantly, my woodshed is already half-empty (or half-full for optimists like myself). Fortunately, in a place such as Gamone, acquiring firewood is not a problem.

I certainly can’t complain about recent meteorological conditions here on the edge of the Vercors. Elsewhere in France, particularly in Brittany, there have been tempests and flooding. Christine and François had the impression, for a week or so, that they were being struck by a new tempest every day.

Talking about things popping up like primroses, what are those two brand-new wooden boxes that have suddenly appeared alongside the doorstep of my house?

There must be some kind of an explanation…

Crazy creationists

The short video that you’re about to see provides a brilliant condensed summary of the absurdities of creationism. The opening interview says it all. A guy has the nerve to look us straight in the eye and declare that, if the Bible told him that 2 + 2 = 5 then he would believe it immediately, without asking questions. That’s to say, in that fellow’s fuzzy warped mind, the alleged “word of God” is more powerful than human reason and intelligence. To call a spade a spade, he’s a crackpot, a blithering basket case, a moron.

Then there’s Australia’s gift to the USA: Ken Ham.

I reckon that our nation should make some kind of formal apology (like Kevin Rudd's reconciliation with the Aborigines) for dumping this dumb bugger on our friendly American allies. But the truth of the matter is that countless citizens of God’s Own Country probably see Ham as cute and brilliant. In any case, I would think that most Americans are adults, and we should be able to trust them to take care of themselves.

The person who gave me a laugh is the fat slob who rambled on about humans having been made in God’s image.

The poor sad bastard surely sees himself as a glorious replica of the Godhead: the fourth musketeer, just after the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. I have a comical vision of him dragging his massive body out of bed in the morning and admiring himself in the mirror while shaving. He probably imagines sincerely that he’s looking at a latter-day cousin of Jesus himself. An ugly case of the deity with diabetes, Christ with cholesterol…

It’s the believer in divine arithmetic who worries me most: the “2 + 2 = 5” fuckwit. If ever this fellow were to have a dream in which an angel told him to take a knife and sacrifice his child, there’s a good chance that there would soon be blood.

POST SCRIPTUM: Looking back over the faces in this blog post, and the whole content of the video, I’m struck by the wide-eyed regards and the on-camera presence of these various mixed-up individuals. Although I can’t claim to have ever met up personally with lobotomized patients in old-fashioned psychiatric wards, and even less so with zombies, all the individuals who appear in this delightful little video belong to a category that I’m inclined to label (facetiously, I admit) as “lobotomized zombies”. They seem to have been struck by a blinding light—the “light of God”, of course—that has seemingly destroyed many of their neurones and affected adversely both their vision and their power of speech. In the style of the pathological criminals we often see in crime documentaries on TV, they mumble empty and alarming “explanations” that are devoid of any logical structure or intellectual rigour. I’m aware that the superficial adjective I’m about to employ is terribly ill-defined (like the individuals themselves), but I would say that all these people are, to a greater or lesser degree, mentally sick.

Pickering village flooded

My future great-grandfather William John Pïckering [1843-1914] left London for the Antipodes aboard the Zealandia in 1860, at the age of 17. He got off the ship in Auckland, New Zealand, where he ended up working as a surveyor, planning the layout of the future great city. It wasn’t until a couple of decades later that he decided to step across to Australia, where he purchased an outback sheep property, got married to a local girl, and raised a large family.

Meanwhile, his youngest brother, John Edward Latton Pïckering [1851-1926], remained in London, where he became a librarian at the law courts known as the Inner Temple. He seems to have led a sophisticated existence, residing in an elegant old house called Cedar Cottage in Datchet, on the opposite side of the Thames to Windsor Castle.

Over the last few days, this lovely old village has been on the front page of British news because of the severe flooding.

It was in Datchet that we saw images of the two princes, William and Harry, manipulating sandbags alongside their military comrades.

For a long time, I liked to imagine that my great-grandfather had immigrated to a harsh Down Under environment that provided me with the title of my genealogical writings: They Sought the Last of Lands. Meanwhile, I had the impression that his young brother led a relatively cosy existence in Datchet, enhanced by his unexpected decision to get involved in a bigamous union with a parson’s daughter from Chelsea, enabling them to create a family of five offspring.

Today, I’m no longer sure about the relative environmental harshness of the two places: the dusty plains of  Currabubula Station out beyond Tamworth, or the submerged banks of the Thames.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Darwin Day

This year’s sunny Darwin Day at Gamone seems like the first day of spring… but I might well be a little over-optimistic.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Ugly image

I’ve tweeted my disgust (a drop in the ocean) of this ugly depiction of the victims of an earthquake in the Philippines, which has just received a Picture of the Year award.

To obtain such an award, all you need (apart from a good camera and good lighting) is a bunch of miserable victims, with a long-haired muscly hulk in the foreground, and a mysterious assortment of primitive objects such as Christian crosses and statues. The cunning photographer is banking on the combined human tragedy of poverty, ignorance and naked disaster... with a carefully-chosen background and setting.

As I said in my tweet, this kind of superficial photo-journalism—totally fake and arty—makes me want to vomit. I despise the would-be talents of the arty arsehole who created this nauseating image.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

On the far side of the cover

This is my final cover design for the family history of my mother’s people in Australia, which is about to be published by Gamone Press in the form of a 266-page hard-cover book in Royal Octavo format (15.6 cm wide and 23.4 cm high) with a laminated cover:

Click to enlarge

Readers with an idea of all that is involved in book publishing will be aware that, behind such a simple layout, there are many technical and editorial issues. Then there’s the question, on the back cover, of how a 73-year-old author of a family-history book might refer to himself. As you can see, for the circumstances, I’ve become Waterview “Billy”.

Does such a personage still exist today… or is the present-day old-timer (and blogger) at Gamone named William Skyvington a totally different individual? That’s an interesting and indeed profound philosophical question. To my mind, “Billy” still exists… but in a ferociously new-born fashion, where almost all the Jacarandas and bendy bridges behind him have been burnt.

A single marvelous tree remains. In fact, a frail sapling. A mythical female phantom. I shall refer to her forever, simply (in any case, I never knew her name), as the girl in the fawn dress. Once upon a time, I caught a glimpse of her as I was waiting for the school bus in South Grafton. She was an angel. Unbelievably beautiful, but ethereal and untouchable, beyond the bounds of my contacts. She was a Catholic kid: a pupil of the school run by the nuns of South Grafton. In my mind, there has always been a photographic image of the house where she lived. It was the humble abode of Mary. It was unthinkable, of course, that I might ever dare to knock on that door. Meanwhile, I have spent my life searching for her. The girl in the fawn dress...

Saturday, February 1, 2014

My childhood Eden

As a boy on the rural outskirts of South Grafton, I lived just a stone’s throw away from a pristine paradise: Susan Island, a luxuriant rain-forest Garden of Eden in the middle of the broad and fast-flowing Clarence River.

I was reminded of my childhood Eden by this image displayed by the wonderful Gallica website of the Bibliothèque nationale de France:

Click to enlarge

Susan Island was the ancient home place of a gigantic colony of fruit bats, whose daily excursions (from where to where, I never knew, nor for what reasons?) filled the twilight sky over Waterview with a dark moving cloud. The zoologist Richard Dawkins would have been enchanted—as was I—by this mass movement in the sky.

The Big River flowed just a few hundred yards behind our house in Waterview. Here’s a photo of a family fishing excursion in 1951:

That’s Don on the left, I’m in the middle, Dad’s in the background and Anne and Susan are on the right. I think we were aware that we were being photographed, because we’ve more-or-less struck up poses. We used earthworms as bait. Don and Anne, with bamboo rods, fished for slender Southern Garfish [Hyporhamphus melanochir], which were full of bones but very tasty.

Dad and I, using hand-held lines, were hoping to catch a big Spangled Perch [Leiopotherapon unicolor].

You can see Susan Island—the sleeping ground of the fruit bats—in the background of the fishing photo. But we local residents rarely went there (even though it was easy to find rowing boats), because our island paradise was in fact cursed by a terrible event that had occurred in its vicinity (on the Grafton side) just before Christmas 1943: the drowning of 13 kids who were Cub members of the local Boy Scouts. Not long after this tragedy, I myself would become an active member of this youth organization, and I would never think twice about my drowned forebears. That’s the terrible thing about explicit historical tales. They persuade the living that they belong to the past, and that nothing of their likes will ever reoccur. For me, as a child, the Cubs were drowned… and that’s all I knew about this ancient affair, which ended up irritating me, like a constantly reoccurring news film (without images).

Of the 13 victims, 9 were buried side by side in the South Grafton cemetery.

Today, we have images of their ugly concrete and tiled graves.

Meanwhile, we never see pictures of the tombs of their 4 comrades in Grafton. So much the better. It’s all so sadly desolate, like the memorial on the banks of the Clarence in Grafton, erected through the efforts of a sympathetic police constable named Alan Dahl, mayor of Grafton: a family friend who once taught me the elements of photography.

There’s a recent article on this tragedy in The Daily Examiner [display].

Today, jolted into a state of reminiscences and meditation by the French image of fruit bats, I simply wish to list, once again, in alphabetical order—in the admirable Israeli style that consists of naming out loud their hallowed victims—the drowned Cubs of December 1943. [A precise name is enough, as it were. In Jewish mysticism, a name is often considered to be no less significant than the entity it designates. Many Jews refer to God, for example, as ha Shem : "the name".] In fact, half-a-dozen surnames are those of young siblings or cousins of the victims who went to school with me in South Grafton.

Graeme John Corbett (8), son of John Corbett of 32 Bent Street, South Grafton.

William Robert Dillon (8), son of Frederick R. Dillon of 104 Ryan Street, South Grafton. William was the only son.

Cecil George Lambert (8), son of George Lambert of 90 Hoof Street, Grafton. Cecil’s father was on active service.

Raymond Arthur Morris (8), son of Keith Morris of 127 Ryan Street, South Grafton.

Brian Leonard Munns (9), son of Leonard Munns of 43 Bright Street, Street, South Grafton. Brian’s father was the Deputy Mayor of South Grafton.

Keith James Rennie (8), son of William Rennie of 130 Hoof Street, Grafton. Keith’s father was a munitions worker.

Robert Alexander Rennie (10), brother of the above-mentioned victim.

Edmund James Retchford (8), son of George Retchford of 16 Mary Street, Grafton. Edmund was their only child.

Alvin Adrian Leo Spicer (10), son of Bert Spicer of 193 Ryan Street, South Grafton. When the tragedy occurred, Alvin’s father was apparently on his way home from the AWC in the Northern Territory.

Richard John Steinhour (8), son of George Henry Steinhour and Lillian Margaret of 29 Abbott Street, South Grafton. Richard’s father was a returned digger of World War II.

Dale William Thorsborne (10), son of William August Thorsborne and Iris Sylvia Doris of 106 Ryan Street, South Grafton. Dale was the only child.

Allan Crawford Tobin (9), son of Raymond Tobin of 27 Abbott Street, South Grafton. His father was on active service in New Guinea. Allan had joined the cubs on 8 October 1943.

Robert Walter Wilkes (10), son of Reginald Wilkes of Kelly Street, South Grafton.

There’s no point in mentioning the names of the older fellows who were supposed to be taking care of the Cubs. Meanwhile, the paradise of Susan Island continues to raise its ominous head above the mighty waters of the Clarence. And the squeals of the fruit bats are the music of Eden.

The tragic outing of the Cubs, although totally elucidated, remains in my mind as a kind of mysterious Big River Picnic at Hanging Rock.