peteg's blog

Patrick White: The Cockatoos

/noise/books | Link

As The Vivisector wasn't totally crap, I went looking for another Patrick White in the UNSW Library. They don't seem to have Voss, so maybe I won't get to that.

This one seemed promising as it is a compilation of six short stories:

  • A Woman's Hand shows White's inability to imagine women as having much of an explicable internal life.
  • The Full Belly: Greece occupied by the Nazis. I found it difficult to grasp what he was getting at.
  • The Night the Prowler is decent (I believe he turned it into a play) but flawed by the opening gambit being the rape of his protagonist, which severely limits where he can take things. I didn't find the arc at all plausible.
  • Five-Twenty maps the decline of a couple who retire to the Parramatta Road. White is in his element and comfort zone here, just as he was in the final movement of The Vivisector.
  • Sicilian Vespers was OK but didn't amount to much.
  • The Cockatoos was the pick of this collection for me, with White exercising his ability to keenly observe social dynamics and pretensions. It also benefits from him not being as brutal as he typically is.

Overall this collection isn't great, if only because White cannot formulate a plot worth a damn.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

Abortive snorkeling attempt with Albert at Little Bay (while Sandy sat on the beach). The water was fine and clear but full of jellyfish with angry-red inner bits that, according to Albert, do sting. (Plausibly Pelagia noctiluca.) Beautiful day for it otherwise.


/noise/movies | Link

With Albert at his place. I haven't seen this in an age. It's great as far as Scorsese Italians-in-America go.

Jenolan Caves: Orient Cave.

/travels | Link

Stupidly I headed out to Jenolan Caves on Easter Friday. The traffic in the city wasn't too bad but became hellish a few kilometres before the roadworks at Wentworth Falls, etc. It opened up past Katoomba, but even so what I expected to take two-and-a-half hours took three-and-a-half. This meant that there was barely time to make the 3.45pm Orient Cave tour, let alone go looking for the platypus in the river, despite it being a perfect day for it. The cave was as beautiful as ever.

Vernon, Florida

/noise/movies | Link

An early Errol Morris doco about the town Vernon in Florida. This is clearly at the self-parody end of his genre. I found it pretty tedious at times, though the preacher really got me.

Robot & Frank

/noise/movies | Link

I'm a sucker for anything with Frank Langella in it, and I liked the premise of an old man training his robotic carer in his vocation. Unfortunately much of it is twee and predictable. Liv Tyler is... well, Liv Tyler. Susan Sarandon is solid in her one-note sexy librarian character.

Dana Stevens talked it up a bit too much.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

Late afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay. Loads of suspended plant matter, so it probably wasn't too healthy. Quite temperate with some relatively large waves rolling in. Quite a few people. Saw a school of young gropers, I think.

The Benowie Track, Thornleigh to ... Thornleigh.

/travels | Link

I headed up to Asquith yesterday to spend the night with Pete R.'s family. We with Beth and the kids to the pool at Galston (via the Gorge, rife with ambitious cyclists) in the morning and set off from Thornleigh with the ambition of hoofing it over the Hornsby. It was quite hot and perhaps we didn't take quite enough water. We got quite close to the end and took the path that (subtly) said "Hornsby" and "Bluegum Forest", thinking that it would fork... but in fact it was Hornsby via the Bluegum Forest. So instead of ploughing on another 200m or so to get past the gorge, we bush-bashed our way out and hoofed it along suburban streets back to Thornleigh.

In recompense we had five beers each at the Hornsby Inn, a beer barn near the Westfield. It was a long trek back to Randwick for me; I caught the 378 by accident and walked home from Charing Cross. No time or appetite for dinner.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

Early afternoon paddle at a quite-flat Coogee. Many people down there but I expect they're mostly locals; the days of backpackers overrunning the joint passed with the depressed dollar.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

Late afternoon paddle at Gordons Bay. The swell was a lot stronger than usual so getting out was not much fun.

Netrider Learners' Session

/travels/Motorcycle | Link

Given the weather and sundry other things, this was my first opportunity in six weeks to go to the learner's meetup out at Homebush. This time I took the M4 and got there in about an hour. It was a nice day for riding around the city, as evidenced by the loads of bikes.

Due to the fair weather there were loads of people. The bloke riding the CB400 goes for his test soon. Betty was the smallest thing there; the CBR250s dominated.

I got some advice about the U-turn — keep your head up and don't worry about where the bike goes. I need more revs to do it properly, but I'm getting there. The cone weave is easy now. Emergency stop was never hard, nor the dodge. I need a shirtload more reps though.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

Getting in ahead of the change, I took Betty down for an early evening snorkel at Gordons Bay. The sun was behind the ridge before I got in. Visibility was pretty good, the water quite temperate and flat.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

Late afternoon paddle and snorkel-of-sorts at Gordons Bay. A fair bit of plant material in the water makes me think it rained over the weekend. Good temperature, not much swell, calm and warm out. The Indian summer kicks along.

David Bowie: The Next Day

/noise/music | Link

The soundtrack of this backward looking mode of the moment has been provided, of course, by David Bowie. The Bowie at the Beeb triple CD remains pure gold, for instance, though it calls to mind my first serious nine-to-five wage slavery of more than a decade ago. I'm building the nerve to trawl the previously untouchable Berlin series, and so forth.

I prevaricated about buying a copy of his new album The Next Day, but seeing as he couldn't help himself, I couldn't either; Apple is now 30% of $20 richer. I hope the remainder helps him not have another heart attack. The power rock-pop of (You Will) Set the World On Fire recalls the end-to-end near-perfection (heh, this is Bowie) of Scary Monsters (and Supercreeps). The rest, well, I'll get there one day.

There are piles of reviews. Pitchfork goes full retro and claims the canon of the great man was already complete. Kitty Empire (presumably her real name) draws the back pointers I am too lazy to. Sasha Frere-Jones talks it up, and rhapsodises about the lyrics; and if there's one thing I learnt from Pete R., that's precisely what you don't do.

Later Ian Buruma gives Bowie's career the once-over.

Cloud Atlas

/noise/movies | Link

I dragged Jacob along to the new Wachowski effort after he inflicted West of Memphis and Django Unchained on me. Betty got me without incident from NICTA to the motorcycle parking lot at the end of Bathurst Street in the CBD. We grabbed a late dinner at dear old Chinatown Noodle King, where I think he gave me his flu.

We were about ten minutes late to the 9:10pm screening on George St, and I was too tired to follow it closely. I liked the pseudo-2046 Neo Seoul sequence until it got all Matrix/neo-Tron. The World War II British segment was fine too. However none of the story arcs were completely satisfying, and the New Ageism is tedious.

The New Yorker covered the tail end of production. Anthony Lane is ambivalent. The New York Times reviews it at length. Dana Stevens mutters a few brutal things.

Bushwalk: Royal National Park, Bundeena to Otford.

/travels | Link

On a whim Sean and I decided to walk from Bundeena to Otford along the Coast track. Preparation on Friday involved buying some supplies and deciding on a car shuffle that meant we wouldn't need to carry our camping gear too far. The weather was perfect for it.

After a moderately early start and a Maccas breakfast that probably got me through most of the first day, we both drove down to Otford and left Sean's car near the lookout at the end of the walk. I drove my car up to Garie Beach, where we dumped our gear and an excessive amount of water on top of the ridge; I climbed that twice on both sides and can tell you it's the worst incline on the whole walk. After that we parked my car at Bundeena and set off around midday carrying just water and food down the highway to Marley Beach.

That stretch is really quite pretty; loads of rocks, pretty flat, and some nice beaches. Wattamolla Dam was an eye-opener to me, a beautiful secluded little swimming hole which was comfortable enough right now but perhaps not next week. After that stretch there is a super-boring slog down to Garie Beach, and then over the hill of ill repute to the camp grounds at North Era. It didn't really feel like 17km apart from the last few hundred metres of steep incline and (bodily) decline.

We got to the camp grounds with a fair bit of sun left, finding our gear where we left it. My dear old MacPac Nautilus turned out to be easier to erect than Sean's dome. I ate my leftover (flavourless) butter tempeh cold, and Sean his chilli beef concoction. We got through the McWilliams Tawny Port, which was a bargain at $12 for 28 standard drinks. Like the distance we covered during the day, it sure didn't feel like that though; more like 5 or 6 I would guess. Sean fell asleep during my scintillating story, so I headed over to the campfire at the other end of the grounds and met a couple of UNSW Mechanical engineers: AJ from the Punjab via Malaysia, Gordon who originated from near Glasgow but has been here for ages.

I slept surprisingly well, and managed to navigate the toilet without paper not too shabbily, without even a hangover for company. Breakfast was a Sunrice pre-digested Thai Red Curry from ages ago, and some of Mum's "soluble" Bushells coffee. We got moving around 11am.

The slog from there down to Otford is hardly worth remarking on, though the rainforest had its moments. We bumped into mrak's mate Tom Murtagh and his entourage who were walking down to Burning Palms for the afternoon. Surfacing at Otford, feeling like we really had walked 8km, Sean drove his car up to the cafe where we recovered with a burger and a coffee each. Our gear was still where we left it at Garie; fortunately retrieving it was the easiest encounter with that hill of the three times I climbed it. The ambo and police were at the beach, so I'm guessing that someone passed away, but I have no details. After that we had another coffee at Bundeena, after which I recovered my car and ran into terrible traffic on the Grand Parade on the way back.

As Sandy never tires of reminding me, I carried far too much water — I estimate I used at most 50% of what I brought. Perhaps if it had been hotter I may have made it to 60%.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

Late afternoon snorkel at Gordons Bay. Loads of fish, quite comfortable in, flat as a tack. Still no squid, though the big female groper must surely be on the turn. I really need to get a tinted visor for my helmet if I'm going to keep riding back at that time of the evening.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

I took Betty down to Little Bay today in the early afternoon for lunch and a snorkel. As before there were loads of fairly large fish, in particular ludderick. The beach was almost entirely deserted with the exception of a husky and his owner, and some retired gents. Heaps of seaweed on the beach, not so much in the water. Good visibility, nice temperature, no stingers, low tide, not much swell.

Out front of Dan Murphy's in Kingsford.

Last weekend Dad helped me fit a milk crate to the Ventura (short) sports rack, and today I got a chance to see how it went carrying a case of beer. The cable ties did a good job of securing everything, with the remaining flex being in the pipes that attach the rack to the frame of the motorcycle. I rode like I had just gotten my Ls again; slow and wide on the corners, fast on the straights. I don't think the load moved much but it was off-centre and slightly weird. I'll be wanting to practice a lot more before I get out on the highway with camping gear.

/noise/beach/2012-2013 | Link

Late afternoon snorkel at Gordons Bay. Visibility was pretty good, though the water was a slightly off-putting tea colour. I saw some large specimens of the usual types: a goatfish the size of a medium groper, and a large female groper.

Patrick White: The Vivisector.

/noise/books | Link

Sometime last year I signed up at the UNSW Library as an alumnus borrower for $90, optimistically imagining I would scour the shelves for all those books the kids no longer even see, what with all their iTech going bang right in front of the quiet signs while the cockroaches munch on lunch droppings. Conjoined with this was a capricious plan to read some of Patrick White's novels, seeing that at least some of his short stories weren't completely dire, and because Jacob kept joking about me being pretentious enough to attempt Voss.

Well, it pays to start somewhere down the chain. This one from 1970 is reputedly one of his better efforts, and it took me about a month to chug through. As an exemplar of brutalist modernism its only peer in my mind is the UTS tower, and that has rounded corners. The studied scatalogy was perhaps innovative or shocking when published, but is not much of anything now, and that goes double for the Australian patois. This is partly redeemed by White's fluid notions of identity: Hurtle Duffield is sometimes us ("you"), and Ms Hollingrake is the original chameleonic social cypher.

Here White is one type of artist (a writer, a vivisector) trying to capture the life of another (a painter, just possibly ostensibly Sidney Nolan or Francis Bacon) in a series of episodic, periodic portraits. We see the artist as a young man, sold into penury as a plaything of the nouveau riche, and finally post-stroke, as a master who may just have got the last word in. Clearly White put a lot of himself into the curmudgeonly Hurtle Duffield, perhaps with an eye to someone realising the paintings he only sketches with words.

I have to observe the obvious influence of Lolita on the final movement: Kathy's father is an absent Russian, and White knowingly deracinates her with Volkov, slipping singularly to Volkova when she is in her element as a young woman (p531). White opines "It seemed as though the heart were a cupboard one simply had to open: innocence hides nothing; and perfection bears looking at." Shuard is transparently the Quilty character (p534 and earlier), and making him a critic was pretty lame. I didn't get into Hero (Hurtle's Greek mistress), though I did enjoy how Nance loosed his artistic sensibility on his return from the first World War.

As Duffield says to Rhoda about Kathy: "You can't expect more than their art from artists. If you did, you might forget about the art, and die of shame for what they've shown you of mankind." — and that bites White both ways. Maman utters the semi-wise "half of cruelty is thoughtless", but no, it is not thoughtlessness so much as carelessness; being mindful does not preclude klutzing it right up. White treats May Noble, the working class artist (as the Courtney's cook), to the only letter that resonated with me (p178); a beautiful piece of plain speaking. None of this is to say that he misses any opportunity to punish his characters.

David Malouf's Harland's Half Acre covers similar territory, but as I read it well before this book log took form I cannot recall how close these are. It is impossible for me to like or dislike this novel; it was somewhat engaging, superior to Happy Valley, and so I will probably try another one.