(A version of this piece originally appeared in ANZAPA Mailing 316, August 2020)
My life is remarkably unexciting, sometimes in an interesting way. Take last Tuesday for example.
I count it as a good start to the day when I sleep in to 7am, so the day began well. Other days I can be awake at 5 or 6, which is always very tedious because I know I’m going to be tired for the rest of the day. A nanna nap in the afternoon helps, but lethargy can become an unwelcome friend on such days.
Now that I think about it, I must have been woken a little bit earlier than that by a little cat insisting that I make room for her in bed alongside me. Isn’t it amazing how much space one little cat can take up. I was reluctant to get up and she was even more so, so we lay there for a little while listening to the ABC’s news of the day, which was about as cheerless as usual these days, and then forced ourselves to get up.
‘What shall we do today?’ I asked Isolde. She indicated that my first task of the day would be to open the bedroom blind so she and her big fat brother Tristan could gaze out at the activity in what passes for our back yard. It was actually one of those questions that didn’t need an answer because I already knew what the day was to begin with, shopping.
Due to the failure of a tradesperson to turn up at our Hocking Avenue place I’d waited there all the previous afternoon and not done the shopping then, and still had Robin’s car in our driveway. Actually, I prefer to do the shopping as early as I can in the morning to avoid people as much as possible, for the obvious reason.
Up at our end of Ballarat there are really two options of supermarket, the little shopping center on Bakery Hill which has a medium sized Coles and the other down on the Flat only a short distance away behind Bridge Street that has a Coles and a Wollies. Usually I go to the Coles on Bakery Hill because it has our local chemist shop close by and Valma and I go through a lot of medicine these days. But this time I didn’t need any medicine so I headed down to the larger Coles and was there by about nine. I know where most of the stuff that I want is on the shelves but trying to find what we wanted this time was more challenging because I had to find it in places where I’m not used to looking. There’s a bit of complication here because I find it challenging to see the labels on the bottom two of the supermarket shelves, but eventually everything was in the shopping trolley, plus a few other things that I’d thought about but not written down. For example, I managed to pick up enough UHT milk to last us a couple of weeks, which was good fortune because I hear that it’s now being rationed again.
With all the necessary provisions in the back of the car I diverted down to Hocking Avenue to pick up a few boxes of models that I’d packed the previous afternoon while waiting for the non-appearing tradie. Then back home here in Stalag Hemsley, unload the car and drop it around in Robin’s driveway, which involves a walk of only a couple of hundred yards to get home again.
After that the rest of the morning was spent in the kitchen doing some cooking. I think I can safely say that I have the bread and butter pudding licked, but we draw a curtain of silence over the rest of the morning’s activities. That’s certainly something I won’t be trying again. After all that excitement it was time for lunch and a nana nap, a good half hour.
The rest of the afternoon I spent listening to Merv Binns, part of an interview I recorded with him a couple of years ago. I enjoy going and interviewing people for history projects but I really dislike having to listen to them again because that involves a lot of note taking and fairly intense concentration. For that reason I usually put off listening to interviews until I have no other choice, and so it is this time because I’ve got to the stage where it is time to start writing and I can’t do that without having all the notes from the interviews. By now I have only a little of Merv to listen to and then my interview with Race Mathews, and then I will have done it all, for the time being.
Come about 5pm and my concentration and stamina has all gone so I pack that away and potter about the house for a while, tidying up the mess in the kitchen from the morning’s struggles. Then Valma and I settle down to watch a bit of Netflix. At the moment we are watching two programs, one called something like ‘Forensic Crime’ which is an American show about how forensic science solved murder cases. The other is called ‘Wolfblood’ and is one of those young adult shows about a young woman coming to terms with the fact that she is a werewolf. It’s a British show so rather understated in comparison to the American shows of a similar nature and hence more entertaining. Neither of these two shows is great watching, but about what my brain is fit for at the end of the day. The forensic show is depressing because it shows the dark side of humans and also some amazing human stupidity while it is also good because it demonstrates how everyday science does good things. Actually, this part of the day is good for getting in some more snoozing and I don’t think I saw any of the shows we watched in their entirety. During this watching binge we sampled the results from some of my kitchen struggles earlier in the day, which looked a lot worse than it tasted.
By about 9.30 we’ve had enough of that so Valma retires to bed to read for a while and I return to my room to do some scale modelling. It is how I’ve ended just about every day since my assault in 2001 and part of my pain management process. Before then making scale model aeroplanes was something I did occasionally, since then it’s been an obsession of sorts because it helps keep the pain under control.
What awaits me in my model making is twenty 1/144 scale models of IAE V2500 jet engines that will go under the wings of ten Airbus A.320 models. It is easier to make and paint the engines before attaching them under the wings than to try and paint them when they are in place, but making twenty is a bit like listening to oral history interviews, tedious work. So I’ve put it off as long as possible but it’s got to be done so I can move on to more interesting work. The part of the work for tonight is masking off part of the rear exhaust which involved taking two pieces of 0.4mm masking tape and peering through a magnifying glass while I put them in exactly the right place. After I’ve done that twenty times then comes the process of trimming off the excess tape, again using the magnifying glass, and then applying the masking fluid to preserve the colour when the next colour is airbrushed over it. It’s tedious work, that’s the only way to describe it.
To occupy my mind while doing this mindless work I have a look to see what’s new on my computer and find, joy of joy, the new instalment of David and Perry’s ‘Two Chairmen Talking’ is there. I really enjoy listening to this podcast that they put out every second week, partly because they are old friends and partly because they talk interestingly about reading. I’ve tried listening to other podcasts about stf but they’ve all been much more hyper and about the exciting new things going on in the field. These two simply read books and talk intelligently (most of the time) about what they’ve read. It certainly is change from all the babble about the plague you hear on the radio and see on tv.
After some initial chatter Perry talks about the Locus Awards and I remember when we used to use old issues of Locus as bidding chips in games of fan poker in the 1970s. David talks about Bring the Jubilee which I remember reading some time in the 1960s, it must be pretty good if I remember it among all the books that I’ve read since then. Next Perry talks about the book about Campbell, Asimov, Heinlein and Hubbard. Now that’s a book I wouldn’t mind reading but here I am sticking tiny pieces of tape on a relatively tiny piece of plastic. After that the two of them discuss many other books, a couple of which I wouldn’t mind reading either. I’ve often wondered why, when I’m listening to this podcast, I enjoy listening to them talking about books I will never read. Part of the answer is, I think, because David and Perry think and talk articularly about their reading and I enjoy that. The other part of the reason is because if I read rather than fiddling with little pieces of plastic I’d have a lot more trouble getting to sleep because my brain would have been stirred up by what I read rather then soothed by the calming quality of sticking little pieces of plastic together.
The other thing about sticking little pieces of plastic together is that it doesn’t involve much actual brain work, which means that I often find myself thinking about other things while I’m modelling. So while I’m listening to Perry and his mate Chong talk in depth about a book several thoughts flow though my mind. One is that listening to this podcast is a little like reading some of the early issues of ASFR, literate, thoughtful and a bit light hearted. Then it occurs to me to wonder how an interview with KUF Widdershins would have gone, sadly now impossible. Then, as their conversation develops, I find myself intrigued by the way that these two readers could find so much to agree about and yet draw different meanings from the same book. How, I next wonder, would the early Sydney Futurians have reacted to such a book, how would it have fitted into the world of the Russell brothers, Vol Molesworth, Graham Stone, Bill Veney and the rest before the war. This leads me on to the observation about the apparent fact that this book was written by an Australian and perhaps published in Australia when, in the 1950s, Merv Binns had so much trouble bringing sf into the country. At the same time as I’m thinking these things I’m listening to Perry and Chong and trimming all the little stray bits of tape off my scale model engines. Who said men can’t multitask, they just can’t multitask anything useful like cooking. As my culinary adventure of the morning had shown.
Their conversation then turned to stf and literature more generally and the link, or barrier, between the two. I’m thinking to myself that this gulf has existed for decades and Ursula LeGuin talked about it in her Guest of Honour speech at Aussiecon, which has been from the beginning the aiming point of my entire history of fandom in Australia. Perry and Chong’s conversation finished and Perry and David conclude their podcast summing up the conversation about literature and stf. ‘LeGuin talked about that in her Aussiecon speech’, David said. Perceptive man, that Grigg fellow.
After that I still had about half my collection of V2500s to finish so I listened to one of the scale modelling podcasts. There’s not much thinking involved because scale modelling is about manual technique and not so much about intelligence. Still, it’s something I’m interested in and I’m more likely to make one of the model kits they talk about than I am to read one of the books that David and Perry talk about, sadly. But that’s the necessity of life. After a little while all the modelling for the night is done, it’s time to put the tools away and put the parts where the cat’s can’t get at them, and for repose.
It’s a few days later and I’ve found another use for my computer. The last time I went to an ICOTEC meeting was in 1996 when Valma and I went to one in Budapest, we haven’t been to one since because it is expensive to get to Europe and it takes time and effort, all commodities that we have not had in abundance of late. But this year the Plague has meant the usual get together had to be cancelled and it’s being conducted over the interweb. Thus, for a mere €25 I can attend all the events that are being conducted virtually.
ICOTEC stands for the International Committee for the History of Technology. It is the European equivalent for the Society for the History of Technology (SHOT) which is more or less based in North America. ICOTEC was created by the same bunch of people who set up SHOT but its purpose was to create a body that historians behind the Iron Curtain could attend, hence the International Committee, part of the title. These days the two organizations run more or less in parallel and on the occasions when we’ve attended meetings there’s been a SHOT meeting somewhere in Europe one weekend and a meeting for ICOTEC the following weekend.
I like history of technology conferences because they are conferences where history is discussed in a scholarly fashion, but on topics that I find interesting. But since we haven’t been overseas since 1996, and are not likely to do so again, both conferences are outside my reach. I did plan to attend a SHOT meeting in Singapore a few years back but even then our health prevented that from happening.
COVID 19, however, has changed that so for the past two nights I’ve been staying up very late indulging in people talking about the history of technology. I had to instal Zoom on my computer to do it, and don’t yet have a microphone or camera attached to it, but I can look and listen and make comments in the chat if I like. It’s stimulating stuff because Europeans have a different view of the world to Americans and so, even though there are some Americans on the program, the discussion has a distinctly European flavour. They all speak in English which is, I guess, the Latin of our times, which is convenient for monolingual me.
The only catch is that the programming doesn’t start until 1pm, European Central Time so the interesting evening sessions are very early in the morning for me. I guess this timing is for the Americans so they don’t have to get up too early in the morning to participate, but it means that sessions don’t start until 9 at night for me, and I run out of puff by about 2am when things are just starting to get interesting. Still, what can one expect for a mere €25.
Wanting to participate in this has at least forced me to move into the 21st Century by loading Zoom onto my computer. I’m told that getting a camera and a microphone and installing them is child’s play, but not for me who consciously gave up on trying to know what my computer was doing and how it worked more than a decade ago. I go to the dentist to get my teeth fixed, why would I do the equivalent of self dentistry when it comes to my computer.