What’s under your roof ?

When you have an old wooden house, as we do, you don’t really have an old house. Unlike a brick house, like the 1860’s terrace we had in England, wooden houses have boards replaced, floors relaid, possibly several times in a century, with the result that you don’t really have an old house.

Or so I thought.

Down the street they were replacing the roofing iron on a nineteenth century cottage. Nothing unusual in that, but I looked up in curiosity, noticed there was something odd, looked again, and realised that the old wooden roofing shingles were still there under the tin – ie when they had replaced the shingle roof with corrugated iron, they’d simply laid the metal sheets over the old shingle roof.

I should have taken a photograph with my phone, but I thought I’d come back with my SLR and take some better quality shots.

Mistake – by the time I got back the roofers had put the new sheets of metal on and were finishing off. Still it shows that history is all around us …

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Christina Broun Cameron

As I’ve said elsewhere, I’m currently reading Judith Flanders’ book on the Victorian creation of crime and crime fiction, and I came across a reference to a sprawling nineteenth century three volume novel, Not Proven, by Christina Broun Cameron, which combines elements of the Madeleine Smith case and another equally infamous case where the wife was accused of murdering one of her children, and was shut away by reason of insanity, and where the nursery maid become the husband’s lover (and possibly was before the murder) and eventually his wife after his first distraught wife dies in the asylum.

Like the much better know Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, it combines the elements current crimes to create a new confection, and at the same time reflects concerns of the times – in this case philandering husbands and female serving staff.

So I thought it night be fun to track down a copy to read.

Well there are no copies of the original 1864 three volume set available on Abe Books, either listed under the author’s name or under the title, but a search turned up a version digitised and reprinted by the British Library back in 2011.

And this led to a game of chasing rabbits down holes. The reprints are indeed available through the usual suspects (Amazon, BookDepository) as print on demand, but confusingly both only list by title and don’t tell you which volume is which. They’re also quite expensive for print on demand – something like A$75 for all three volumes. (Each volume is around 300 pages making the page cost around $0.09 a page when the actual print cost would be more like $0.01 a page, plus the cost of binding – let’s be generous and say $0.02 a page giving a production cost of $18 –which is around the same cost  proportionately of the Penguin edition of the Woman in White, although you can get that and other classics from the time more cheaply by buying other editions by other publishers who specialize in out of copyright works)

But if they’re digitised, the scanned source documents should be available – that is after all how print on demand works.

Not a bit of it. The BL will tell you it’s stored on a filesystem somewhere but unlike the internet archive there appears to be no portal to access and download them, making the content effectively useless. So it’s inaccessible …

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Othello in Wangaratta …

To Wangaratta, to see Bell Shakespeare’s production of Othello.

When we lived in Canberra, visits by Bell Shakespeare were must do dates in the calendar, so when we found that they were coming to Wangaratta for a single night, it was no different.

Othello is not a play I’m familiar with and know only from synopses and reviews of other performances so the play was essentially new to me.

The performance was done with no scenery, no props to speak of, and next to no costume other than some army surplus and charity shop items. Instead the performers let the language of the play carry you and suspend your disbelief.

A nice touch, which made the play a little more edgy, was to have an actor of mixed Chinese and Aboriginal heritage play Othello, otherwise it was just you the actors and language.

And it was powerful, and it must have been something like that when played on a wooden stage on a wagon in some country town in sixteenth century England …

The play was in fact performed in the Wangaratta performing arts centre, in a theatre strangely reminscent in design and decor of the MacRobert centre in Stirling, half a planet away, but that I think says more about seventies theatre design than anything else. Seats were good, acoustics good and the staff well organised.

One nice thing they did was instead of emailing a reminder a day or two before, they emailed out a synopsis of the play in case you didn’t know the play. Definitely an excellent venue and an excellent performance

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What we can learn from C19 penny dreadfuls …

I like detective stories. Always have, always will. In fact I have a deep affection for those set in medieval or classical times, even though I know they’re complete bollocks. Not the point, it’s a way to chill out, to curl up with a glass of red and an entertaining story that causes you to escape someplace else, even if someplace else wasn’t really like that.

So I’ve been reading Judith Flander’s book on the Victorian invention of murder and how in one case penny dreadfuls – Victorian melodramatic novels, cheaply written by hacks paid by the line, evolved from the printed broadsheet and pamphlet accounts of murders and executions. Newspapers were taxed so these pamphlets filled a need for sensation, and given that they were mostly bought and shared around by the poorer parts of society, what it implies for literacy in mid nineteenth century England – ie that more people could read, if not well, than generally thought, and if they couldn’t read well, they knew a family member who could.

Not that the middle classes were so superior. Even the Times gave into to sensationalism and dramatic reporting of murder trials to sell copies, as well as spreading fear and paranoia about servants poisoning their masters, abducting their daughters and so on.

Looking at these cheap paperbound pamphlets also helps us see how Dickens and Wilkie Collins, to name but two, basically were writing the middle class equivalents of these penny dreadfuls, often rehashing much the same material lifted from court reports in the newspaper.

In one case,Wilkie Collins’ use of an epistolatory style seems to parallel the way that depositions and incriminating love letters were reported and published in newspapers in Glasgow in one case of a middle class girl gone bad who was accused of poisoning her foreign lover. (And in this case sex definitely sold – even if the details were not printed in the papers, enough was given away to allow the middle class readers of the Glasgow Herald put two and two together and have a shiver of tittilation over the breakfast marmalade)

And of course, there are no police detectives in the early novels – just interested family members, vicars or what have you for the simple reason that there were no ‘official’ detectives before the 1880’s. And of course this tradition of the interested amateur is what gave rise to Miss Marple and the other unofficial detectives of early twentieth century literature (as well as of the police being bumbling and incompetent – because in the early days they often were).

A number of crime writers have contended that a nation’s crime novels really reveal the anxieties and preoccupations of a country – looking back we can also see that the crime novels of a time also reflect the anxieties of the time …

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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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