Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Rain, rain, rain

It's been a fun-packed couple of days on the weather front as gale-force winds and torrential rain sneaked in and have surprised us. For the first time since we moved back into the outskirts of Coffs Harbour in February we had an electrical blackout yesterday evening that lasted well into this morning. We were a lot better off than we would have been in our previous house: at least here we have mains water so if the power goes out we can still flush the toilet and have a shower. And did I mention that the roof here doesn't leak..?

My clever husband has set up a UPS on the server so that it can at least shut down in an orderly fashion having saved our data, and we have a gas lantern, plenty of torches, spare batteries and a little gas ring burner with spare canisters as well as a gas barbeque so we're not exactly roughing it if the lights do go out. The weakest points of the house are things like the freezer and the fridge, in which food obviously begins to deteriorate over time, and the fish tank: although the water temperature and the air temperature aren't radically different so our tropical fish won't die of cold, we're not sure how long they'll last without oxygenation of their water, although they survived over twelve hours this time around with seeming ease.

It is amazing, though, how vulnerable we all are to climate and geography and Australia certainly provides its inhabitants with many challenges in both areas. Last time we had a prolonged bout of really heavy rain was the week we moved house (of course!), when we had 23" (almost 60 cms) in 3 days. Road surfaces and storm drains just don't cope with that amount of water in such a short space of time and the centre of Coffs Harbour simply floods, while surrounding rivers burst their banks and whole areas are cut off. There isn't much one can do about it. There are those who will read this and doubtless think that civil authorities are short-sighted and badly prepared, but I'm only just beginning to realise how tenuous any sense of established 'white European'-style civilisation is in this country.

I hear, with astonishment, that what is now the Botanic Gardens in Coffs was - until 1981, so only 28 years ago - the site of the "night soil trenches". Yep, you heard me: human waste from septic tanks was collected and buried in trenches close to the town centre until less than 30 years ago. Emerald Beach, a nice village a few kilometres up the coast, with lovely houses, a beautiful beach and unbelievable views, only got mains sewage facilities 5 years ago. Mains electricity is almost (I say almost) everywhere, but mains gas is virtually unheard of and only possible in the big metropolitan areas. I grew up with above-ground power poles but these days in the UK most towns have spent 25 years and more burying their services so that it was a big shock moving here and seeing power lines everywhere, with the poles also carrying phone and data cables. Surprise surprise, when the wind blows, the rain comes down and branches fall off neighbouring trees the power poles frequently come down with them, leaving people with regular blackouts and phone outages. If you live on a property with bore or tank water rather than a mains water supply - far from ubiquitous - then a power outage usually means your water pump shuts down unless you have a solar-powered pump, so no water for flushing or washing until the power company finds the fallen branch and repairs the line.

M assures me that metropolitan areas (and let's face it, the vast majority of Australians live in big cities such as Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth) have all the facilities I'm accustomed to from living in Europe. But outlying areas have been strapped for cash for years because so few voters live in those constituencies. Coffs Harbour might be the largest city in the thousand or so kilometres between Brisbane and Sydney but it's really very small; it practically counts as being in the bush, so conditions here really shouldn't be a surprise.

I have had to find a new attitude to go with living here. Australians allegedly moan about whingeing Poms and to an extent I see the frustration. If I was living in Sydney, with all the services on tap and a big infrastructure to support my lifestyle then moaning might accomplish something as well as afford me a pleasant passtime, but here it's pointless and annoying. You just get on with things.

In fact it's not all bad losing power. I can't waste time reading the news pages on the BBC website when I should be doing something else, I can go to bed when it gets dark because I can't see to do anything else, and we can play simple games of cards or just talk to each other instead of stressing out about 'more important' things. It's probably good for me.

I've just aqua-planed my way back to Korora after picking up our daughter from school and fruitlessly seeking a way to get to the large Bunnings Warehouse just south of town. Major accidents have blocked the Pacific Highway to both the north and south of town so the place is backing up with large B-double articulated trucks; rain has closed the airport, the link road to the airport and most of the sideroads off the Highway (including the road out to our block so interestingly if we'd been living up there we'd have been cut off from town by flooding!) and is encroaching on the centre of Coffs. We had to turn round half a dozen times, trying to find alternate ways to get to Bunnings until we could see, from a distance, that although the lights were on in the store there was a moat of water around it that must mean staff and customers are stranded. Close by, floodwaters have cut off a large High School so that parents and school buses were one side of a large and enlarging body of water while the 300 or so children were a kilometre away on the other side. On the way back up the Highway I stopped to buy spare batteries for the torches, bread and milk, butane gas canisters for the gas ring and petrol for the 4WD just in case we're stranded for a couple of days, and then we came home (with the back wheels of the 4WD sliding out from under us as we negotiated the windy hill back up to Korora). My darling daughter is - unusually on a school night - watching television for a while, since we will probably soon lose satellite reception, internet connection and power and our opportunities for entertainment will be slightly curtailed! And I feel fine. This is just how it is, and frankly we are going to be living a kilometre and a half up a dirt track some time in the next year or so, and I'd better get used to it, because it might be me stranded on the other side of body of water. I plan to have plenty of spare batteries, tow ropes, D shackles, torches, gas lanterns and other sensible stuff so that I don't whinge while I wait for the flood waters to subside.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Horses of St Mark's Square

I find it hard to believe that I started this collagraph plate almost three years ago, before we'd even started thinking about moving over to Australia. The inspiration came from the verdigris runnelled surface of the horses of St Mark's Square in Venice. We'd taken my father over there for a short break in February 2006 and it was cold, sometimes wet and absolutely magical. When we returned to Bristol I dug out a large sheet of really thick card that had, I think, been used as backing for a pack of etching paper and I started drawing on it. By the time we emigrated, some eight months later, all I'd achieved apart from the drawing was the outline of the horse's collar and a small amount of texture from crumpled tissue paper saturated in PVA glue... I've carried the damned thing around with me every since vowing that soon I'd get on with finishing the plate.

Nothing has happened until today, and from somewhere came the enthusiasm to pick it up again. I've always liked the drawing but I think that as usual I've been afraid of failing with it, ruining it, or just not managing to make it properly. I managed to get over myself a bit today and have been cooking on gas: felt made for three flower garlands, washed, spun and hung out ready to dry plus the Codex 6 books are now complete and I've added surface and texture to the horse collagraph plate and I've started applying carborundum dust around the outside of the asymmetric image. In truth I won't know if I want that velvety darkness around the horse until I start proofing the print - I may end up cutting the whole thing out and using it as an element in the print. We'll see. Between now and then I think I've got a long way to go, not least in terms of figuring out HOW I'm going to print it as it is far too big for my press. I think I'm going to have to hand-print it.

Detail of the eye. I've tried to build up the surface so that when it prints in negative there is an indentation in the relevant places on the image. You can see where I've heaped up the carborundum powder over the wood-glue around the ear and mane!

The whole thing is 90 x 65 cms which is very big for me

Codex 6 - the second book

I'm not so sure I like the text on the covers of the second book; I should have made it chunkier

I've finished the second of the two books resulting from my residency and I'm pleased over all with the results despite my misgivings about my 'font size'! The words on the front and back covers come from the Greek roots of the words hegemony and antithesis (which is a form of resistance). Hegemony and resistance are words used in the pulp-printed pages in the book. Again I cut into the book board and used a bone folder to push the book cloth into the covers and reveal the embossing.

In some places on the papers we made during the residency I used pulp-printing to 'join' two newly formed sheets

First class

At last I've bought a drafting chair, which for those who don't know is a chair with extra oomph in the gas lift mechanism and can raise itself up to the height of, say, my printing bench or working table. I've rarely bought myself a piece of furniture that's specifically directed at my own personal needs so this is an important moment! Of course the person who has sat in it for the longest length of time so far is actually my darling daughter, but at least she's comfortable.

I now have levers for seat tilt, back rake and seat height! And I have to be careful with the height adjustment because it takes off rather fast if you're too enthusiastic

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

More Joy!

I realised after I'd posted the entry about the Sturt Winter School that I have some other exciting news to share which is that I'm going to the UK in September and will be able to attend the 10th anniversary IMPACT conference, which is going back to its home at my former university, UWE in Bristol. Hooray!

There is extra joy, in fact, because we're managing to combine it with a family holiday AND I get to spend some time with my friends by myself for the first time in a couple of years. I'm going out on my own, to attend the conference, and I will be joined by my delightful husband and darling daughter a week or so later. We're hoping to take my father back to the Veneto region of Italy (it's his birthday while we're there...), catch up with some friends in Paris and Brussels (which is always nostalgic for me as I used to live there) as well as the UK, and then I'm going to bring darling daughter home with me while hubby uses his proximity to some of his European clients as an excuse for a booze-up with his mates, oops I mean client visit!

And just in case there doesn't sound as if there's enough joy in the mix already, I can tell you (smugly) that we've accumulated enough points over the last two years to do all three return flights on our Air Miles. How about that.

Codex 6 - the first book

You'll remember that I went on a residency, Codex 6, at Southern Cross University in Lismore in January...? Well I've finally been able to start putting the resulting handmade, pulp-printed paper into book form and have bound the first of two accordian books. I promised to show the results, so here are some photos:

The books are in a simple accordian format with two hard covers

The pages are made from sheets of hand-made pulp-printed paper

The theme of the work was 'Resistance' and the motifs evolved into spiky viruses, prickly cacti and cogs

I've cut into the book board to create impressions of cogs, which are a recurring motif in the pulp-printed paper

Eventually the full set of 16 books will be boxed together in a slip-case although I believe that they will all be individually for sale. I hope that the set will be shown at the Southern Cross University Acquisitive Artists' Book exhibition later this year.

The Joy of Courses

Thanks to Ampersand Duck for alerting me to the Sturt University Winter School, running from July 13th - 17th. I knew about the Summer School and not about the Winter School, but there is a luscious range of courses from making "Beautiful Books & Boxes" with Caren Florance (who is, to those who know her blog, Lady Duck) to basket weaving, tapestry, printmaking, wood working... it's a long list and frankly I'd like to do about half of the courses but I've chosen the one that will contribute the most to me and my skill set!


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