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I took these images over the weekend just gone in Hindley Street, Adelaide.  Hindley Street is essentially the seedy end of that South Australian town, filled with a wild, almost out of control mix of cancerous fast-food franchises, strip joints, sports bars, wine bars, hotels (some posh, some not), and independent bookshops with a fair bit of street art, both permanent and ephemeral, thrown in for good measure.  To spend a week in the street  – so to speak – was a joy, especially for someone who comes from the right side of the tracks.

I was in Adelaide for a range of reasons, including attending the Fringe Festival (which was bloody brilliant – steal money from your grandma to see Australia’s own The Burlesque Hour and The Wau-Wau Sisters from New York) as well as for He Who Deserves The Best Bars and Restaurants Money Can Buy, because it was his birthday, well, it’s almost his birthday.

But since I’ve been back in the comfort of my own house and street and suburb and city, I’ve been thinking about the miracle that is a pulsing city street, one that’s human despite the threat in the faces of the people who live there, beautiful despite the ugliness, wanting despite the aloofness.

Tonight I’ve come across a quote from the British author and critic John Berger.  In Keeping a Rendezvous (1987), he wrote ‘Every city has a sex and an age which have nothing to do with demography.  Rome is feminine.  So is Odessa.  London is a teenager, an urchin, and, in this, hasn’t changed since the time of Dickens.  Paris, I believe, is a man in his twenties in love with an older woman’.

I’m not from Adelaide but I’d call it an old-man wino in search of a cultural experience or a quickie in a laneway. And my home town, Canberra?  A bored middle-class white boy speeding along in a stolen car hoping to crash into some meaning.

Your place – how would you describe it?

And then there she was.

All week I’ve been marvelling at my happy, cheery little friend that has sprung up in a rather grim-looking black pot on the backstep.  Maybe I shouldn’t be that surprised, because I actually planted the thing – a geranium – over summer.  But still each morning, as I peg my bath towel on the Hill’s Hoist out the back, I look down and get a happy, cheery little vibe from my happy, cheery little friend in the grim-looking pot.  And pink isn’t even my favourite colour; actually I’m not a fan of the colour pink in the slightest.

But still, there she is, looking so happy and cheery.

Perhaps it’s because in the part of Australia where I live we’re coming to the tail-end of one of the hottest summers on record.  Or was it years? Or decades? I can’t recall – all this talk about the world falling apart weatherwise gets a bit mixed up after a while.

Or is it because, speaking of weather, no one seems to have the definitive answer on climate change – is it fact or fiction? – and what we should do about it – tax polluters or plant more trees?

Or maybe I’m cheered up by my happy, cheery little friend because she comes from my aunt’s place, a farm a couple of hours drive west of here, couriered to me by my brother as a cutting in a plastic shopping bag.

Or it might be because ten years ago some bastard poisoned parts of my front garden and all this time later I still can’t get things to grow there (one day I’ll talk about this, perhaps even here on this humble little blog-shaped contraption), so it’s just nice to see a happy, cheery little plant doing so well.

Or it might be because, unknown to me, I just need a little cheering up this week.  Could it be this?  It could be, you know.  Perhaps, perhaps.

What I do know for certain is that I’ve now taken a snap of my happy, cheery little friend and put her up here for all to see.

Isn’t she pretty?

To celebrate her fame I’ve just put on repeat on the stereo Beirut’s ‘The Gulag Orkestar’ (off the gorgeous 2006 album of the same name).  Not because it’s the cheeriest song in the world, in fact it sounds like a stack of men with banged-up brass instruments getting plastered on cheap vodka because their wives have run off with a herd of donkeys.  Or they just like getting drunk on cheap vodka.  Either way, Beirut’s music is music that makes me smile.

More to the point, I think my happy, cheery little friend is out on her back step right now swaying this way and that because she loves this music too.  Or she’s remembering what the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam once wrote: ‘how poor is the language of happines!’  So she’s swaying this way and that.

Yes, how poor is the language of happiness.

Now it’s dawning on me that we really are into a brand new year and I’m coming to terms with all the hope and expectation and mental exhaustion that goes along with it, and then after the five days of almost-forty-degree temperatures that we’ve had in this Australian part of the world (weather we’ve always had, it has to be said, but it doesn’t get easier, in fact it seems to get harder), and now with everything that’s happening in Haiti – what can I say about that disaster without sounding vacuous? – I’m afraid that the dear old brain has quite simply run aground.  Already.

So what better (read: easier) thing to do than post a handful of photographs, all of which were taken during the Christmas and New Year just gone in the small town an hour east of here where my father lives.  It’s essentially a nineteenth-century cattle-grazing joint, but the mainstreet is remarkably intact.  I took these shots while walking around after lunch one day, as all about me half of the city I live in was passing through the town on their way to the coast to escape…pretty well everything they know.

So there’s a picture of one of the strangest (and possibly most evil) Christmas shop-window displays imaginable.  There’s a soldier in the sky and under a streetlight, the soldier, of course, actually being the main part of the town’s beloved war memorial.  There’s the remnant of what must have been quite a session for a few bored local teenagers, or a few bored local hippies, or, let’s not pick on the usual suspects, maybe the local town priest who just needed a bit of time out, and who’d blame him for that?  And there’s someone else in the sky, this time a cemetery angel.  And, finally, another thing from the local cemetery: plastic flowers on a grave, which has always struck me as odd, the plastic, though at a time when someone so cherished has been lost just a little bit of colourful permanence wouldn’t go astray, surely.

Permanence. Now that’s something worth thinking about over the coming days (though I already know intransience is something us human types can never really have).

POSTCRIPT: while I’ve been getting this post together I’ve been listening to Unmap by Volcano Choir, a collaboration between Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and Collections of Colonies of Bees.  I won’t write at length about the album right now because I want to let it percolate for a few days so I can fully get my head around what the album’s trying to do, but let me say that mostly it’s a cracker.  For anyone interested in Bon Iver it’s certainly worth a listen to, particularly ‘Still’, which is a stunning reworking of ‘Woods’ off the Blood Bank EP.  I’m not going to upload that song here, because somehow it’d feel like gutting a great piece of music, but it’s worth purchasing Unmap just for this – talk about something wonderful to fall asleep to, which is exactly what I’ll be doing in a couple of minutes.  Until I write something a little bit more intelligent on this, check out the band’s website at

Odd to end the year with pictures of a dead animal, but perhaps it’s not so odd at all – today 2009 comes to a close and something that was getting long in the tooth calls it quits to make way for something…completely unknowable, quite frankly.  Yeah, not so cheery.  But it is truthful and that’s what matters the most, so I’m working out as I continue to age at a rate of knots.  I took the pics at the base of Mount Gillamatong, Braidwood, New South Wales, this part of the world being a favourite haunt of my father’s.  I’m not really sure what the bones once held together, but I’m guessing a sheep that had lost its way.  That happens.

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