Bookshops, ebooks and rural life

As I’ve said earlier, J and I have abandoned Canberra for rural retirement in country Victoria. Being literary arty people we of course read books, go to the theatre and son, things which are still amazingly possible, with major theatre companies coming to a local arts centre to play Shakespeare, and the greengrocer putting flyers for an opera weekend in with your shopping.

But books. Now there’s a question. Fortunately we have a competent volunteer run second hand bookshop in the village which as a reasonable level of stock and does well out of the holiday reading trade, as well as another bookshop that sells new books even if it does tend towards lifestyle and cookery, stuff that sells, rather than literature.

For the rest, there’s the kindle for recent fiction and a few other things, and a combination of Abebooks and BookDepository for the non digitised, the second hand, and the stuff you actually need or want a physical copy.

What you don’t get is happenstance, the finding of books that you might never otherwise have bought. Yes, book reviews in the weekend papers help, but they’re not everything, something that became clear to me last week when we went down to Melbourne for a couple of days for J’s birthday and to see the Degas exhibition at the NGV.

We were staying in Carlton, and one afternoon we split up so that J could go shopping untrammelled by an impatient male and myself I went to the botanic gardens hoping to find a guide to the plants of the Victorian Alps in the shop.

Well it was bitterly cold, and the botanic gardens’ bookshop was useless, so I caught the tram back to Elgin street. Walking down Lygon Street back to the hotel I passed Readings bookshop, and I as I was still in search for an Alpine flora I went in.

I don’t know if they have one in stock or not – I only got as far as the history section before I’d spent my money – I could have spent more, a lot more, but what it did show me forcibly was the power of happenstance, of chance discovery, and something only really possible where you can support a bookshop that carries a large stock, which means a city.

How I recreate the joy of browsing I don’t know, but I’ll keep trying …

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Rural life in Denmark and Scotland

Since we’ve moved to Beechworth we’ve been making some use of the streaming box that our ISP included in the bundle, and one of the things we’ve been watching is 1864 Denmark’s War about the second Schleswig war.

Now, I know almost nothing about Danish history in the nineteenth century, but the production values for the tv series appear to be high so I’m going to assume that the representations of rural life, are not that unrealistic, even if the reality was smellier and more squalid.

The interesting thing is how similar the representation of rural life is to the descriptions of rural life in Scotland at the same time, both through novels such as ‘Sunset Song‘ and historical works such as David Kerr Cameron’s Cornkister Days.

Which of course begs the question as to how similar (or dissimilar) rural life was for people in northern Europe before the impact of industrialistation …

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Finally, we’ve moved …

I’ve been quiet recently, but I’ve been absurdly busy -finally, we have moved in to our new house in Beechworth.

For a long time we had been planning to move out of Canberra when I retired, and shortly before Christmas we bought ourselves a new house in Beechworth in Victoria. The house is only new to us, in fact its core is a wooden miner’s cottage dating from sometime between 1900 and 1910.

Like all wooden houses, boards have been replaced, rooms relocated and so on, but the core of the house is still the original Federation cottage. For a long time I had fantasised about owning such a house and having a lemon tree in the back yard, and I now have both.

Of course buying a house left us with one to sell, and taking a long hard look at our Canberra house we realised it needed a few finishing touches, like new vinyl in the laundry and a new carpet in the bedroom, plus the garden needed a serious trim and tidy, all of which took longer than we hoped – we had hoped to have sold by Easter, but the house only listed the weekend after Easter.

Fortunately it sold after only a couple of weeks, so we made up some lost ground there even though the post sale dickering during the cooling off period dragged on a little.

And then we were done and had thirty days to hire a truck and move.

Now the removalists have rules about when they can take. They’ll take furniture, they’ll take household goods, even plants but they won’t take stuff like Judi’s paints and chemicals for her artworks, or the gas bottle for the barbecue, and they’ll tell you you’re better off moving things like computers and other domestic electronics yourself, so we ended up with a series of trips where we’d drive in convoy taking both cars, down to our new house, overnight and come back. Basically an 800km roundtrip. In between we became seriously adept with packing tape sealing up and packing boxes.

And then, the day before the removalists came, while we were taking the cat to the cat motel while we moved, our Subaru Forester stopped dead on an intersection and the dashboard lit up like a Christmas tree – it turned out that the alternator had died and also fried the battery – fortunately nothing else had died.

I had to have the car towed to an NRMA service centre to be fixed, and that left us without a car as we’d stupidly left the old green car in Beechworth, so we ended up hiring a car, and ended up with a Corolla hatch.

Taking the positive view, having the car die in the city where there are tow trucks, garages and a choice of car hire options was a lot better than on the freeway out in the bugger all – the way it stopped dead could have been very dangerous – hopefully we’d have been able to coast into the breakdown lane.

The Corolla was a revelation – it was a 2016 model with all the toys – a reversing camera, six speed automatic transmission and ran the cheapest discount unleaded we could buy, and was miserly with it as well – driving it compared to our lumbering SUV was like fast forwarding twenty years – even if at times the automatic transmission sounded like a sexually frustrated washing machine – certainly something to give us food for thought as we were thinking about downsizing to single smaller car in a year or so once we were sorted.

And sorting is what we’ve been doing for the past three weeks – opening boxes, finding where to put things, screaming in frustration when we can’t but we now could say we’ve done most of it.

We had the foresight to buy a flat pack wardrobe from Ikea that once assembled should solve most of our storage problems, that and a couple of no name melamine pantry cupboards in the studio and we should be right for storage.

But unpacking isn’t all there is to moving, there’s the touchy little matter of settlement, when your buyers (or rather their mortgage company) pay you and you give them the title deeds which are of course held by your bank as security for your bridging loan.

In principle a simple exchange. In practice, a complete nightmare.

Our bank lost our documents. They store them in a secure storage facility somewhere, and when they are needed they get a courier company to retrieve them and take them to your local bank office to do the deed.

Well the papers were collected but didn’t arrive. Worse the courier company had lost sight of them, somehow they fell through the tracking system and it took a week to find them. It wasn’t just that they’d ended up in Broome (or wherever), but that no one knew where they’d gone.

Our buyers had of course got their own removalist booked and had given notice on their rented property so were effectively stuffed. They weren’t, we negotiated a deal where we let them move in as if they had taken possession, but that they would have to get out and pay us for any repairs required and forfeit their purchase deposit if for some reason the sale didn’t complete, but in the meantime they assumed responsibility for all the taxes and charges.

It took what was a fairly nerve wracking week for them to find the papers and complete settlement.

But it’s done now, we’re in. We still need to fight with the bank to recover the extra costs incurred due to their stuff up but everything is done.

All in all, moving interstate proved more difficult and stressful than moving half way round the world, but hopefully we won’t need to do it again.

But it’s not been all bad.

There’s been the simple pleasure of opening the back doors onto the deck on misty Sunday morning and hearing very English sounding church bells ringing through the mist, or late on a freezing night pulling off the freeway into Albury – our nearest approximation to a city – in the hope of finding somewhere still open to eat and finding a truly excellent (and genuine) Tandoori restaurant – complete with a gaggle of waiters standing around watching MTV India as things wound down.

And of course moving to an area which is kind of country brings some surprises. Of course the Albury hardware megastore has a range of shotgun safes in the home security section, just as the bike shop rents and services chain saws.

Different, but I think we’ll enjoy the change …

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Not fixing Ernesta …

Way back in October, I wrote about my attempts to clean up the digitised text of Ernesta Drinker Bullitt’s account of her journey through Austria Hungary and Germany in the midst of the first World war.

At the time I fully intended to clean up the text, proof read it and contribute it back.

Didn’t happen.

About the same time as I started on Ernesta, I took the decision to retire at the end of 2015. The need to finish off various bits of work meant that Ernesta took a back seat. Coincident with all of this we took the decision to sell up and move out of Canberra to country Victoria, something that’s taken a ginormous amount of time to organise, so I’m afraid that poor Ernesta has languished in a corner of my cloud storage account.

But I did want to read the book, so a month or so ago I gave in and ordered a print on demand version from one of these Indian specialist print on demand companies. I’ll admit I partly did this because there’s a couple of old reference texts I wanted that are available through the same people, so I thought I’d try out the process on something less crucial.

Well the book took an age to come, something I’ll blame on the Indian postal service more than anything else, but it arrived well packed sealed in plastic inside a cardboard sleeve, and covered with a zillion postage stamps.

Print quality was good and clear – yes there’s the odd artefact from the scanning process but the book is perfectly legible, and well bound with the edges nice and sharp. The paper used is good quality, perhaps a slightly lighter weight than I would have specified, but otherwise fine.

The cost of the whole thing was about what you’d pay for a new Penguin Classics paperback here  in Australia – not extortionate but not remarkably cheap either.

That said I’d certainly go down this route again with hard to find texts, especially those that I was using as reference material …

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Tintypes, stereoscopes and porn

I started out, innocently enough, looking for images from the Crimean war, and falling through a set of internet rabbit holes, found myself looking at a website devoted to early erotic daguerreotype and ambrotype stereographs.

Stereographs are of course made from a pair of slightly offset images, that viewed from the correct distance through a viewer give an impression of a 3D image.

Popularised by David Brewster among others, stereographs were very popular in the early days of photography, and obviously they were popular for more than viewing pictures of Queen Victoria being graciously pleased.

The erotic images are perhaps a little less explicit than those you can find on the internet today, the models are plumper, pubic hair is rather more evident, but basically not a lot has changed in the 150 or so years since these images were made. And interestingly quite a few of the surviving images have been expensively hand tinted suggesting that there was a market willing to pay and pay well for such material.

I’m reminded of the diarist Frances Kilvert’s comment on a visit to London which included an attempt to buy  some religious photographs from a shop in Burlington Arcade and that the proprietor of the gallery was reputed to  sell obscene French photographs, suggesting that such material was available to those with the money to pay for it and the business was profitable enough to cover the running costs of a shop in an upscale location …

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A 10p mystery


On our back deck, beside the outside tap, we have a couple of ornamental bamboos in pots. This afternoon, as I was filling a bucket, I noticed something shiny under the roots of one of the plants and, being curious by nature, I had a closer look.

It was a coin, a ten pence coin, but one from the Isle of Man. Well, neither of us has ever been there, and we can be sufficiently sure of Australia’ strict biosecurity laws to guarantee it didn’t come with the plants or the potting compost.

The pots do however have an ornamental stone mulch on the top. These mulches are quite often come from Thailand, Indonesia, or elsewhere in south east Asia, so it would just about be believable if I’d found a couple of one or two baht coins.

My only guess is that sometime between 1992, when the coin was minted,  and whenever a river somewhere in south east Asia was dredged for river pebbles, someone from the Isle of Man who was visiting the area slipped and dropped a couple of coins.

I’ve written before about out of area coin finds, such as Roman coins in Africa and of course the Kilwa coins, so it was kind of interesting to have a personal experience such as this, even if it was with something as mundane as a 10p coin from the Isle of Man …

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  John Leech’s 1861 cartoon for Punch of a man reading from Collins’s book. Photograph: Universal History Archive/Getty Images

I’ve been rereading Wilkie Collins’ ‘Woman in White’ while at the same time watching ‘The Bridge’ on SBS, and I’m struck by their similarity of structure – lots of individual events and stories, told (or centered) around different characters, all of which appear initially to have no real connection and some of which become connected, and others vanish.

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