The quality of light

22/05/2014

This morning, a huge, raucous flock of sulphur-crested cockatoos filled the sky around Richardson Park. They’d actually been quietly tearing up the turf on the creek bank next to Bates Street until a certain excitable cairn terrier spotted them. After they’d wheeled a lap of the park they settled on the electric wires, hung upside down and generally teased him, which is what he deserved.

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The light in the morning is kind of the same all year round; I could have taken this photo of these cockies in July or January. But afternoon light in winter is different. It has a quality that evokes something in me, something that makes me in equal parts nostalgic, sentimental, morose and the nice-kind-of sad. Perhaps it’s the reminder that the season of cold and dark is upon us and that this, deep down, reminds us of time’s relentless passing and thereby our own mortality.

Jambo would probably scoff at all this philosophising.

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I know that smell has been shown to initiate memory retrieval. I’ve experienced it myself: the specific combination of metal being burnt or machined, mixed with industrial lubricant and metal grime (which I occasionally get as I pass the little engineering place on Clyde Street) immediately puts me back in the shipyard where I did my apprenticeship.

I think the quality of light can do this too. The winter light in the creek may be enhanced by the mournful clanging of the bell by the Clyde Street lights, or the down-thrust of a plane as it begins its descent into Williamtown. The sounds of vehicles (particularly trains and planes) going someplace else has always evoked that nostalgia/sentimentality in me. I was thinking that it might have something to do with “other lives going places” or “a sense of life passing me by” but I clearly remember having the same feeling when I was a small child, lying in my bed and hearing the two-car rattler heading over the Foxfield viaduct and onwards up the Cumbrian coast.

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I’ve been trying to capture this light, but an iPhone really isn’t the tool for the job.

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It can sometimes surprise me, my phone. I didn’t expect this iridescent bougainvillaea petal to look as hot and alive and vibrant on the screen as it did in the creek, but it does.

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The maudlin times are upon me. Evening light, distant bells, trains and planes. The nice kind of sad.

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That’s enough, thank you

04/05/2014

I’ve spent more of my days on this earth treading Australian soil rather than English and yet, until the day I die I suspect, the month of May will always signal spring: buds in the hedgerows, lambs in the fields, new potatoes on my plate. Our April was beautifully mild, but May changed everything overnight. I consider myself a winter person and yet I had to agree with The Wife this morning, as we scuttled around the kitchen trying to drain the warmth from our mugs of tea, when she said, “That’s enough winter, thank you. Now I want summer back.”

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Perhaps it’s a Newcastle thing. Our climate is so benign that we don’t handle sudden change well. If it’s boiling hot for a bit we always get a southerly buster to cool things down, but if that buster brings more than three days rain we all get sick of it. Most Novocastrians that I know have a wardrobe that’s suited for fair weather and temperatures of around 23 degrees; as soon as it varies by plus or minus 10 degrees we’re knackered. My kids insist on going to school in a T-shirt no matter what time of year it is or what’s happening outside. Bewildering.

I’ve been watching a pair of grey goshawks nesting in this tree for a few weeks now. I was a bit reluctant to reveal the location, for no good reason, but as a kid I was an egg collector (back in the days when this was considered a fine activity for young lad) and I still tend to guard “finds” like this.

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It’s a beautiful giant on the edge of the Styx proper, between the fuel depot and the triangle of derelict railway land. At some point in the past a bunch of sleepers have been shoved down the banking and towards the creek and have come hard up against this tree, when it was much, much younger. Now they’re part of the tree.

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I’ve looked and looked but I haven’t heard the goshawks since the cold winds came. The last time I saw them they were being harassed by a the black-shouldered kites, so maybe they’ve moved on to milder climes.

Can I come with you? Pleeeeease! I’m so cooold!