Monday Melbourne: CXXXIII, July 2006
Russell Degnan

Almost sunrise, the Exhibition Building and the Museum, early morning. Taken June 2006

Melbourne Town 31st July, 2006 11:36:41   [#] [3 comments] 

In which Burgher Russ gets all political and stuff
Russell Degnan

It was a sore-throated company that woke and readied to leave the next morning. Burgher Russ in particular, having been conned (again) into donning a major general's costume at some point during the verse and song [1] that accompanied their visit to TimT's humble lodgings.

Upon setting off to visit Armaniac it almost immediately began to rain; the road quickly turning muddy, clogging their boots, and making even the smallest progress forward difficult.

Oddly though, on the hill above them the sun shone brightly, the gentle soft grass giving way to a little village. A somewhat familiar village. The village of Burgher Russell de Hotham Esq.

"Is that not your house, Russ?", Erica Starling asked, "and does that not mean we are walking in circles?"

"Yes it is, and yes we are." he replied, "'tis hardly my fault our acquaintances all know each other. I have high hopes we shall soon leave my own circle for other places yet unseen. Though I don't mind."

"Well I mind, my red shoes are getting muddy. Where did all this mud come from anyway? There was hardly any at the other places we've been."

"Mostly from other people. Armaniac likes to talk about things the rest of us try and avoid. See the sign?", he said pointing at the post on which, in bold letters, was written Godwin's Law:

As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.

"Are you sure we want to visit here? It might be unpleasant", Erica asked.

"Oh no, Armaniac is great value.", Burgher Russ replied. "See! Here we are". And there they were, outside a well kept little house, with a front porch that exhibited signs of extensive scrubbing. "Everyone remember to wipe your feet too, Armaniac has already had a couple of houses swallowed by the mud. It is best not to bring more inside."

Armaniac knew they were coming, but he knew not what for, Burgher Russ poked his head in to say hello...

...and was promptly moved to a more, indeed very, hospitable location...

[1] Hey, read the song, it took forever to find a rhyme for "procrastinate"

A Burgher in Absentia 28th July, 2006 01:37:45   [#] [2 comments] 

Ratings - August 2006
Russell Degnan

No finished series for this month, but another starts in a few days in Columbo so I guess I better type in a preview

Forthcoming Series:

Sri Lanka (1086.68) v South Africa (1101.97) - 2 Tests.

A series with mutual obligation written all over it. The Sri Lankans should be favourites against a young, and still declining, South African side, particularly given their efforts in England. But frankly, do I care? Not really. A two test series is only slightly less of a waste of time as the one day series that follows.

Australia (1st) 1379.29
England (2nd) 1180.93
Pakistan (3rd) 1183.32
India (4th) 1123.44
New Zealand (7th) 1028.9
West Indies (8th) 832.00
Zimbabwe (9th) 672.64
Bangladesh (10th) 598.51

Idle Summers 26th July, 2006 03:01:44   [#] [5 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: CXXXII, July 2006
Russell Degnan

Exhibition Building, early morning. Taken June 2006

Melbourne Town 24th July, 2006 22:35:36   [#] [3 comments] 

Is anybody looking for a game of cricket?
Russell Degnan

A strange title for a post perhaps, on a day when the clouds are a deep black, and the rain is filling the gutters with water. Of course, if you think that then you've obviously never played cricket in Melbourne.

I do however. Though, with one exception I've avoided talking about it here, much as I avoid talking about most of my non-blogging social activities. It is something of a surprise to me then, that I've been playing at my current club, Youlden Parkville for longer than I've been at my current job, current house, or current profession.

Unfortunately, so have many other players at the club, and it is in dire need of some fresh new talent to enliven the bar in an evening, and roll the arm over on an afternoon.

It is an outstanding club, situated in Royal Park, and fully in tune with the surrounding Brunswick / Parkville area, being a home for students, writers, and other unemployed artistic types, as well as the gentrified professional classes. The beer gardenground is as pretty as any in Melbourne, overlooking the golf course and the zoo. You can hear the jazz from there during the summer evening sunsets. We also cater to a mix of standards from experienced first class players to complete unco's. The former left and I stayed, but both are definitely welcome. All four elevens play on turf wickets as well. An especially attractive thing for any of you who bowl military medium seamers, or are in love with the cross-batted slog.

Since the new season will start sooner than you'd think, and the planning for the current one might entail cutting back on the number of teams we run -- to the dismay of everyone concerned. It is a matter of some urgency that we find a player or two.

So... if anyone who reads, or happens to google across here is looking for a game, please drop me an email or comment, or send same to recruit [at]

Idle Summers 23rd July, 2006 19:08:18   [#] [3 comments] 

The Train Carriage as Public Space
Russell Degnan

"He seemed to remember, or he retrospectively imagined, or he reconstructed, from films and books with the aid of a nostalgia as runny as old Camembert, a time when travellers crossing Europe by train would become acquaintances for the length of the journey. [...] Nowadays... yes, nowadays, the journey was too swift across this new European zollverein, the food was brought to you at your seats and no one smoked. The Death of the Compartment Train and its Effect Upon the Social Interaction of Travel."
Cross Channel - Julian Barnes

I had occasion to take a v-line service during the week, and was perhaps especially fortunate in that I got to travel on three different types of trains while doing so. Anybody who thinks I care exactly what type of train it was is sadly mistaken -- as are those of you who want to know how I got three trains on a return trip, who shall have to speculate. For what I want to talk about is the seating arrangements, which were, unfortunately, mostly the same.

The decline in compartment trains is pretty much a universal phenomenon, in that while a few rickety Italian trains still have them, I've not been on one in this state since the late 1990s. The decline in social interaction the quote alludes to is equally universal. I've not come close to experience the sort of shenanigans that accompanied a trip to Warnambool in a compartment train in any of the years since. Nowadays you are lucky to speak. Lucky even to look at another passenger.

And it has everything to do with the tendency of modern trains to face the vast majority of seats to the front.

It is not for this post to find out why, though I may return. I suspect it is related to a general wish many people have to travel facing forward, perhaps safety or economic reasons, and possibly, a designer fetish with air travel, where seats seemingly must face forward for landings and take-off.

However, I also think it is because designers are obsessed with individual comfort in a way that is naming them neglect a fundamental aspect of travel: a train is a public space.

It gets neglected because it is not obvious. A train, tram, or bus is primarily a device for moving people. And like our neglected streetscapes, which are perceived primarily as places for movement, and not interaction, the train suffers from a lack of public interaction to the extent that many people consider them unpleasant and unfriendly. And there is absolutely no reason why any piece of public space, be it a public park, a street, or a train carriage should be unpleasant, if some of the lessons of urban space use are absorbed.

Given quite a few urban designers don't seem to know anything about how people use public space, it should be no surprise that carriage designers don't either. However, there are two relative basic principles that tend to run through the work of both William H. Whyte and Jan Gehl, both encapsulated in the edge effect.

1. People want protection from their sides, so they feel comfortable. The first seats to fill up on a train will be at the window, and the more seats available at the edge of a space the better. Although they were principally done to increase standing room, and they never seem to be quite the right height, I like the rail seat-rests on trams because they let you stand/sit on the edge.

2. People want to be able to see other people. Seats that face each other, so you can talk to a friend are vastly superior to seats facing the same direction, and not just for tall freaks like me whose legs cramp up pressed against the back of another seat. People also sit at the ends of carriages, or in the door area so they can look out. Noone either sits, or stands in the aisle, exposed to others, and unable to look around.

I don't expect people to start conversations on trams and trains, any more than I expect people to start conversations with strangers in a public square. These principles run deeper, as they affect your general sense of enjoyment while retaining your personal space. Nor is this a call for a return to compartment carriages, which are, perhaps a little too intimate, but the train is a public space and should be designed with how people use (and should use) a public space in mind, by arranging the seats appropriately, and for preference, flexibly.

Many years ago I was asked to sit on several train seats to assess their comfort levels. It seemed pointless then, and it seems more pointless now, under travel conditions of great comfort but tedious boredom. Comfort on a train has no more relative importance than the comfort of your lounge room is to the enjoyment of that. I have yet to see a lounge room with a bunch of very comfortable couches facing a blank wall.

Passing Fancy 22nd July, 2006 21:17:37   [#] [1 comment] 

In which, Burgher Russ, lyricises, with great care, yet no style
Russell Degnan

After a little early confusion over whether their party was merely visiting or looting, pillaging and in the case of the brothers Sterne's prize-winning lawn, scuffing, Burgher Russ and his companions had a very congenial stay at the castle. Jon Sterne was easily placated by their mulled wine and VIRtual GIN. In his typically congenial manner, while drunk, he promised to accompany them on the next part of their journey to visit the enigmatic Timothy Train.

Fearing that Jon's next suggestion may be some virtual karaoke, and knowing the consequences of that kind of indiscretion, Burgher Russ made his apologies and led their ever expanding party out onto the open road again.

And quite a journey it was too.

TimT was rarely in the same place. He is as likely preaching politics from the town square, as poetry from the nearest tree. Sometimes securing his supper from bemused passers-by, sometimes weaving his words in exchange for a book or two to satisfy his insatiable hunger for literary crack.

Like an atomic particle, noone could ever say where TimT was, or if they could, where he was going. Yet one could easily trace his passage by following the trail of books in his wake.

Scouring the landscape, the party found a well thumbed copy of Ovid's Metamorphoses by a lake. And from there picking up the trail: a partially burnt copy of Ulysses in a road-side ditch; a copy of Alice in Wonderland in a public house; an annotated copy of the screenplay to Springtime for Hitler; a conveniently, and somewhat suspiciously, placed copy of Wealth of Nations next to a Student Union building; and finally, intently studying the poetry on the wall of a railway siding, Timothy Train himself.

Tim gave an grin and raised an exaggerated eyebrow at the sudden intrusion of so many people on his reverie. Burgher Russell de Hotham Esq. tipped his cap and nodded in response...

A Burgher in Absentia 20th July, 2006 12:43:22   [#] [3 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: CXXXI, July 2006
Russell Degnan

Parliament House and St. Patrick's Cathedral, early morning. Taken June 2006

Melbourne Town 17th July, 2006 13:08:01   [#] [0 comments] 

Khancoban - Khancoban
Russell Degnan

It was luck that led me to see Khancoban. The band that is. Though I have a lovely photo of the road leading into the town from the trip to Canberra last year. Not that I saw much, of either. The town is small, and I spent most of their set (running support for Sodastream) chatting where I couldn't see them. But what I did hear was very good, and I was easily persuaded, or perhaps not unpersuaded, to buy their, ah, CD.

I hesitate to call this an album, do they not have more tracks than seven? Yet it is too long for an EP at almost 30 minutes. Perhaps though, the real surprise is how much they get onto it. Khancoban start like Augie march and finish like Sigur Ros, with a stop in the middle to play a little country music. That's a bit like the town too.

It's a great sound they have going, the country satisfies my fix for dodgy pop, and the diversity of instruments from the six players [1] makes for some interesting and compelling songs. Not the best album you'll get this year, but not the worst either. Unless you only get one album, in which case it will be both.

[1] Just five members though, cellists get no respect.

Track Highlights
These Lines Can Be Traced - Great opening: long keyboard sound, drums, bass-line, guitar. Very moody.
Smoke and the Light - Nice acoustic number. Very Augie March, but with a couple of interesting changes.
Little Lights, Little Rows - Love the piano in this song. Essentially that, a bass-line and a snare drum, but works beautifully.
Take Me Where I Might Want To Go - And a song heavy with strings, leading into the untitled experimental closing track. Both nice and moody.

Finer Things 16th July, 2006 20:07:50   [#] [1 comment] 

In which Burgher Russ and company visit the brothers Sterne
Russell Degnan

They tarried over-long at the rabbit hole; Burgher Russ's commitment to the Col du Tourmalet being somewhat higher than his commitment to the quest. But as Friday dawned, he was underway again.

It was a much expanded company that, by common consent, left the congenial home of Erica Starling of the East and her copious supply of tea, scones and chocolate, for the lands of Sterne. Burgher Russell de Hotham Esq. and the minstrel Erica Starling were accompanied on the road by the wise humourist hooch, the mysteriously named Bridgegirl, the exotic northerner Ennye Doth Yoth Ye Olde Penne; and ranging ahead, seeking danger and disaster -- though finding none, there had been neither troll nor kook in these parts in living memory -- the warrior-nerd Robert Merkel of Benambra.

The Sterne brothers lived on a vast estate not so far from Burgher Russell's knotted village. Reknowned throughout the land for its vast library of books and music and for its collection of 17th century paintings, the Castle Sterne was an imposing edifice, and an inspiration for erudite scholars everywhere.

Our party found the inhabitants in a rickety stable in the courtyard, perusing gossip magazines, playing video games, and rocking out to late 80s metal. They hailed their greetings over the din...

A Burgher in Absentia 14th July, 2006 12:46:03   [#] [6 comments] 

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