Show day fireworks


Off they go again, fizzing and popping in the night sky.


Jambo curled himself up in his basket and put his paws over his ears. I went and stood on the verandah, my shirt off, feeling the early autumn breeze against my bare skin.


When the kids were little it was an annual ritual for us to all come out and sit on the seat on our front verandah and watch the fireworks. There would be two or three minutes of flashes and bangs and then it would go quiet for a minute, but we knew not to leave because that pause signified that the big fellers had been lit, the ones that climb way, way into the sky before crashing and cascading sparks across the show grounds and sending the flying foxes squawking and chattering from their roosts.


This year there were no kids at home, not even a reluctant teenager. I took photos on my phone and texted them to my daughter in England. It just wasn’t the same.

The quality of light


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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

Undefined sadness


English is a pretty good language. It’s got a stupidly large and insanely flexible lexicon and so it’s disconcerting when you see or feel something and don’t have the word for it.

I found myself in such a situation this morning, Sunday, at Clyde Street lights by the old signal box.

Islington Junction Box

In olden times, which these days seems to be a period frighteningly close to when I was a young man in my prime, signal boxes like these were manned (yes, manned, not staffed – I’m willing to bet that only 1950s Soviet Russia had lady signal operators) by men who pulled great big levers, levers that wiggled the points back and forth and sent locos to wherever they were supposed to be going.

Like everything that once required human effort, there’s now an app for it. Or something electronic that dwells in “the cloud”. So I’ve been watching the demolition guys over the last few weeks as they strip the box of its asbestos sheeting and prepare it for its final destruction.


For a while it stood naked, just its oregon timber frame and the steel joists, and yet somehow it was still the signal box. On the second storey you can just make out the items that define this wooden-framed box and tell us what it once was; that is, the levers that the men pulled and pushed to move the points to send the trains along their way. As long as the levers were in place it was still, somehow, a signal box.


But on Saturday afternoon, as Jambo and I headed towards the dog park, I heard a crushing, grinding noise the closer we got to Clyde Street lights. And there it was; or, rather, there it wasn’t. A big scoopy diggery thing had smashed it down: timber frame, steel joists, big levers and all. The Islington Junction signal box was no more.


I felt sad – not necessarily for the asbestos sheeting and oregon timber, but for something else indefinable. Something that was focused on the row of levers. I got it into my head to go and get one, but there was still someone guarding the site quite late, and when I headed down on Sunday morning the crushing crew was already there, the huge mechanical monster crunching up the last remains and dropping it, scoop by scoop, int a waiting truck.

I asked one of the guys if they’d taken the levers out first but he said, no, they’d gone the same way as the frame. He asked me why I was interested and I said that I didn’t know, that it just felt a shame. He agreed, and we stared in silence for a few minutes at the digger as it scooped up splintered timber, metal and busted levers and piled the dump truck high.

That was when I felt the undefined sadness. It was a sadness partially for the loss of the building itself but perhaps more for what the building embodied: the thousands of hours of the presence of men working and talking and joking and arguing within its walls. The funny incidents. The narrowly avoided catastrophes. The pranks. The sadness.

I have some photos of the interior from a few months ago. There were stacks of time sheets and log books that had all been filled in with great care and diligence, yet now they lay scattered among the filth and rat crap.


And the levers, all ranked in line and looking like they were ready to go back to work at a moment’s notice.


I couldn’t think of an English word for what I felt. Not nostalgia, because I never worked in the signal box. Not poignancy. Not German Weltschmertz or Portuguese saudade or anything else that I could think of. Perhaps wabi-sabi, a Japanese term for “a way of living that finds beauty in imperfection and accepts the natural cycle of growth and decay”. That’s not bad. Wabi-sabi would fit for the feeling I get when I see tumble-down all cottages, such as this one at Tighes Hill.

Beauty in decay. In the midst of life is death. And on that happy thought, dear reader …