Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Water, water everywhere

I'm not trying to rub it in for my friends living in drier parts of the country, but our water tank went from almost empty to completely full over the course of the last 24 hours... that's at least 16,000 litres of water off our small office roof! This meant we had to rescue darling daughter from school (we were in school with her anyway, fixing up computers and going to Craft Group) because it's possible we'll be flooded in here. We came home via the garage (diesel for the generator), supermarket (milk) and butcher (well meat, obviously) so we should be OK for as long as it takes for the sun to come out again.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Happy anniversary baby, got you on my mi-i-i-nd

Such was the state of play this morning! Three very tired people (one of them behind the camera), having spent the weekend feeling under-the-weather because of a virus and the joys of being ill while living in two cramped rooms. In fact the dog even joined in the fun, vomiting copiously after taking it upon himself to eat a quarter of a large bag of Blood and Bone that I'd bought for the garden...

Anyway, canine whimsy not withstanding, today is our tenth wedding anniversary. Hoorah! Ten happy years, not without their ups and downs of course, and no-where near as many years as other people we know but... second time around it feels like a big achievement for both of us, especially having cocked it up so marvellously the first time!

And of course without each other we wouldn't have darling (sleepy, ill) daughter who, despite feeling sleepy and ill managed to hide away yesterday evening long enough to model a beautiful beeswax table, champagne bottle, wine glass and hearts for us and make a lovely card.

Dearest husband has spent all day at school, battling with the IT system (hah! I'm not the only one who puts their hand up at the wrong moment!) but I managed to kidnap him for a celebratory coffee mid-morning and we went off to the local equivalent of a deli and bought naughty treats to eat this evening: dolmades, pate, cheese, fresh pasta and yummy little tarts... to go with the bottle(s) of champagne chilling in the fridge. In addition to the clocking up of three thousand six hundred and something days together (I just can't be bothered to work it all out... yawn) we're also enjoying the prospect of another IT contract for dearest husband, the start of violin lessons for darling daughter, and the suggestion that our house really truly might be ready to move into in about 2.5 weeks' time. Do we need any more excuses to celebrate?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Bundanon Trust application

Today I am older, tireder and probably greyer... but I have at last managed to submit an on-line application for the Bundanon Trust's residency programme. Hooray!

The Bundanon Trust administers the Bundanon Estate, home of Australian artist Arthur Boyd and his wife Yvonne and now an arts centre that hosts multiple artists-in-residence every year. The residency programme is particularly generous in that there is no required outcome! Instead there is an understanding that the creation of art of all sorts sometimes just requires a physical, emotional and mental space... absolute luxury. Anyway, I don't know how much chance I really have of being selected in 2011 - there are hundreds of applicants - but I know that I put in a much better application this year than I did last year, so at least I feel good about it.

The starting point for me is that text seems suddenly to have taken a central place in my work, rather to my surprise. I must say that I view my arts practice rather as a hunter regards a deer in the forest: the best tactic is to stay hidden and very still and silent, and if you're lucky a deer might walk into a clearing... If I stand still and watch very closely I can, occasionally, catch a glimpse of what I'm on about - but often it is obscured by everything else going on around me. Perhaps that makes me less of an artist? I don't know, but I am aware I have quite a skittish attitude to life so perhaps my inner artist is simply being consistent with my outer everything! Anyway, the deer of illumination walked out into the clearing recently and jabbed me hard with its antlers: text has reappeared in my work and the whole river thing I had going is SO yesterday. To whit: two residencies at Southern Cross University making collaborative artists' books just covered with text, the 'Bridge' book, the 'Boat' book, the first BookArtObject piece and of course the Arabic boat/books from my recent exhition. Doh! I'm interested in text.

More specifically I'm interested in that boundary between understanding and failure to understand. I love New Scientist magazine and there was a fascinating article about language structures and brain development. In the 1960s Noam Chomsky proposed that babies' brains are born to develop language: they are built to understand universal 'building blocks' of language, and linguists ever since have been trying to identify what those building blocks are and coming up with ever more complex analyses of language. Now you are talking to someone started learning New Testament Greek at the University of Oxford while being only dimly aware of the existence of nouns and verbs, but did you know that it was once thought that every language has four basic word classes: nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs? Apparently this has now been shown to be wrong: Lao has no adjectives, while Straits Salish doesn't even have distinct nouns or verbs.

In contrast to Chomsky's theories of a universal grammar it is now being suggested that 'diversity is the key to understanding human communication' and that languages do not share a common set of rules. While human thinking undoubtedly shapes language, language in turn shapes our brains. "This suggests that humans are more diverse than we thought, with our brains having differences depending on the language environment in which we grew up"*. It may be impossible to think in exactly the same way as someone who grew up in a radically different linguistic environment... and it is this boundary of understanding that interests me.

Different people think and speak and act in different ways because language at once frees us and limits us. How can you express an idea that is outside your linguistic boundaries? Anecdotally I hear Chinese thinking is based around narratives rather than isolated facts: I presume that this is embodied in their languages as well as their culture, and is probably expressed in pictogram form in Chinese characters. When I was at university I remember asking a friend what the Mandarin characters on her T-shirt said, and she couldn't explain the idea to me. Does this mean that people raised in a Mandarin-speaking culture will never completely understand English-speaking perspectives, and vice-versa? I don't know, it's a big argument but in so far as I am able to access one little corner of that conversation I must say that I find myself fascinated...

* Christine Keneally's article Talking Heads, New Scientist 29 May 2010, page 33

Saturday, July 17, 2010

My other obsession

Of course I need another obsession...

Oh well, regardless of my apparent inability to say no to time-consuming volunteer activities, there's always space in my schedule for gardening. This blog post might well be appropriate on our house-building blog, Lookout31, but gardening for me - and the establishment of our garden on our block of land - is a necessary form of personal creativity. One of the hardest things about moving to Australia was giving up on my allotment garden in Bristol. After darling daughter was born I was ill and couldn't walk properly and my mother had suddenly died. The allotment garden was a solace, and I spent many hours pottering around in my 6ft x 4ft shed, fending off the cold with a thermos flask of tea and a few chocolate biscuits.

I dug out terraces, often with husband's help, and ended up with over 20 terraces on a 1-in-4 slope of almost solid clay. I planted gooseberries, raspberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, plums, damsons, apples, pears, asparagus, artichokes and rhubarb, and rotated potatoes, leeks, onions, cabbages, cauliflowers, brussel sprouts, purple sprouting broccoli, parsnips and beetroot. I even had a polytunnel for the tomatoes, cucumbers and herbs! The beds were edged with marigolds and sweet peas, and I grew all sorts of odds and ends in pots and spare bits of soil.

I didn't think I'd get the chance to put in a proper vegetable garden for a while but this week we've had a digger in to prepare the ground for the fencing contractor, and on the way past he spent a couple of hours flattening out a pad for the chook house and a larger pad for the veggies just down the hill - both with a fabulous ocean view! This picture gives you a (very) rough schematic diagram.

The whole block of land is ex-banana farm, albeit forty years ago. Couch grass runs rampant along with rainforest re-growth plants like tobacco bush and lantana, but the soil is good: a lovely dark loam over red, red clay. We'll have to use raised beds to avoid arsenic contamination in root crops but nevertheless it is such a contrast to what I've had before.

I spent a couple of very happy hours this afternoon with my measuring tape and some bamboo stakes, working out the space and drawing up possible layouts on a piece of scrappy, muddy paper. The length of the string running from out of the picture at the right hand side, up and left to the corner is 11 metres, and the strings running diagonally from left to right are both 7.2 metres. These 7.2m strings run exactly south-west (on the left) to north-east (on the right), which isn't a bad orientation for a vegetable garden. The patch will get morning sun all year round and through the afternoon later in the year, and none of the harsh westerly heat of summer but I'll have to ensure that I don't plant big plants infront of small plants and thereby shade them out.

I'm planning five beds, each 7.2m long and 1.5m wide with 0.75m between them. This will allow me to run a four-bed rotation system with a 5th bed for perennials, flowers and a smaller patch for darling daughter. There will be enough room to get a wheelbarrow around the place, plus the irregular shape of the bed gives me some odd corners for compost bins and storage, and the smaller triangular raised bed will also fit perennials, a water tank and possibly even a fruit tree or two. I can't tell you how much fun I'm having thinking about it, reading my gardening books and anticipating eating the produce! And I'll be able to let go of my frustrations again, hoeing, weeding, mulching, pruning... lots to look forward to.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I hates those mices to pieces

It's the third week of the school holidays and we're on the downward slope, heading towards the start of Term 3 next Tuesday. My current preoccupation is with mice, and not in a good way. Living on a rural block mice are something of an inevitability but where I draw the line is having them in the house! Having spent a couple of evenings noticing a distinct nibbling sound in the corner where our food is stored in our temporary "studio-based" accommodation we were not best pleased to find a very sprightly mouse in a box. Nor was I thrilled to witness a mass rampage in and around the guinea-pigs' cage at 4am the other morning. Action was required, and several traps and a lot of peanut butter later I am pleased to report an uninterrupted night's sleep yesterday. However, I haven't forgiven them for managing to get into several layers of wrappings INSIDE a box and munching on my etching blankets, or the chewed patches on M's bath towel...

Mice aside, we had a good time in Sydney the other week, when I went down to a schools conference entitled "Governance, Leadership and Management" or "GLaM" for short. I had a fun two days listening to plenary sessions on "Financial Benchmarking" and "The Watershed Model - Employee Relations", among others, while dearest husband and darling daughter enjoyed themselves around the town.

One of several destinations I was able to join-in on was the Australian Museum just off Hyde Park, to which we had never been in the dozen years or so that we've been visiting Sydney. What a mad place!

Other highlights of the trip included being able to buy some decent children's footwear (our usual aim when we go to Sydney), and a visit to the sales for new bedlinen and a new set of saucepans, destined for our new kitchen. We are SO close now to the end of the build! Warren reckons that it could be 3-4 weeks before we can move in. I've posted various pictures of the developing kitchen on Lookout31, and it's very exciting. We're saving up several new things for the house: towels, bits and pieces of kitchen equipment, new sheets. Silly really, but fun!

This bizarre stuffed kangaroo was, for me, one of the highlights of the Australian Museum... looks like he's about to step on the stage of a vaudeville show!


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