Monday, April 29, 2013

Oi! Back to work!


Andrew, originally uploaded by jiulong.

[Pic by Rolleiflex 3.5F with Shanghai GP3 film]

Back at work in a full time job for the first time in .. oh, about a year. I'm back at my old office and it feels surreal - I'm the new boy but the old timer, having worked there for almost ten years on and off before I left last year. Within a few minutes of being there, I find myself doing thing automatically such as going to the kitchen to make a cuppa. It's the same but different - the company has been bought out and quite a lot of people have been culled or moved around. I'm sat at a new desk with just the bare bones of office furniture, the crappiest computer and nasty monitor ... welcome back! But at least everyone is friendly.
Getting there is another thing. Living [temporarily] in Baulkham HIlls means that I had to catch the 602 bus today along the M2. Not too bad, but its a bit of a new experience for me, commuting by bus in Sydney. Got the last free seat and squeezed on with my fold up Brompton bike. Coming home I tried taking the train all the way - and cycling back up from Seven Hills - set off just after five and didn;t get home until nearly seven. Won't be trying that again!

Meanwhile, I am finishing off the book 'Hack' by NOTW journalist Graham Johnson. It just confirms all my worst prejudices about tabloid journalists (if you can call them journalists) .. and about the utter decline of Britain into chavs and Daily Mail reading smug reactionaries. I'm also reading a biography of a German woman (with the un-German name of Louise Fox) who worked as a clerk for Hermann Goering. She later emigrated to Tasmania and had a very mundane later life in Launceston and the Gold Coast. She writes of how the Nazi leaders have now become comic book hate figures, portrayed as utter madmen. In reality she says they were quite ordinary people who just had a lot of ambition and who were in the right place at the right time, and all the worse for that. It's weird to read about how the 'enemy' were quite like us.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Parramatta family portrait - by Rolleiflex


Parramatta family, originally uploaded by jiulong.

Not sure if I like the grainy quality of this pic of the family on our way to have yum cha in Parramatta today. It was taken with the usually reliable Rolleiflex 3.5F using some leftover Shanghai GP3 film that I bought ages ago in Beijing. I developed it in Kodak D76 (made up from powder) for six minutes. Everything seems a bit too grainy and contrasty. Maybe I should try a shorter developing time next time.
It was yet another lovely sunny day, and i would have liked to go out to the beach for a swim. However, we are currently living in Baulkham Hills and it's just too far to get to the beach from here - especially when we have two teenage boys who just can't get out of bed before 10am on weekends. So instead we went to nearby Parramatta and had yum cha at Princes Restaurant (not that impressed to be honest - not much choice, too much seafood in everything). The upside was that we found a decent cafe on the way back that did really good coffee - right at the top of Church St, just before the arts centre. Can't remember the name.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Walking round sunny Sydney with a Leica M2

Sydney University modern architecture
I am trying to stick to my rule of only ever taking one camera out with me. Today it was the Leica M2 with 50mm Summicron lens, to finish off the last five or six exposures on a roll of Ektachrome E100G. However, I also took my new digital Olympus E-PM1, which I also tried to use with the Summicron ( but this proved useless as on a digital it becomes effectively a 90mm lens, good only for portraits and 'tele' shots).
It was a beautifully sunny autumn day in Newtown and I had  to wait a couple of hours while my Brompton was getting an upgrade at Cheeky Transport (smaller crank to ease the gears and a new saddle). I wandered down to Victoria Park and took a few pictures of the views and of the architecture (see above). I will process and publish these pics tomorrow. Sydney feels so nice on days like this - after the bleak weather of a Yorkshire winter it feels like a permanent  holiday here. And is it the sunny weather that makes everyone here seem more attractive, stylish and laid back or is it more like that anyway? I took the opportunity while in Newtown to re-visit some of my old haunts - coffee and a croissant at Campos coffee followed by a visit to Vinnies op shop (tried on a few shirts - no sale) ... and popped in to Gould's huge second hand book emporium. Nice to see it still going. And as usual it turned up an interesting tome on my pet subject, China - a diary written by the Russian Tass correspondent describing the time he spent in Yanan between 1943 and 1945. The book gives a remarkably candid view of Mao, and the author does not hold back in describing Mao as a scheming, power-mad tyrant, even in those days before he came to power. He compares the nationalist/feudalistic so-called Marxism as practised by Mao very unfavourably with the democratic and 'informed' Marxism of Russia. The author basically says that Mao used Marxism as just a cover for his own power grab, and that the CCP was useless during the war years, even having secret links with the Japanese command in Nanking. (Makes a mockery of all those anti-Japanese war movies they constantly show in China). As a Russian the author is very sceptical of the real intentions of the CCP and says that Mao and the other leaders were blinkered and xenophobic - secretly despising and resenting the Soviet Union, but he notes that they were surprised and troubled by the sheer ability of the USSR Red Army in invading Manchuria in 1945. All in all, Mao is portrayed as a cold-blooded manipulator whose only real interest was in gaining power at any cost and in maintaining total control over all Chinese - basically a modern day 'Red' emperor. I should have bought the bloody book instead of speed reading it while standing between the bookshelves - but it was $15 and I got the gist of it from reading just a couple of chapters.
I had a $7 Thai lunch across the road and then picked up my bike with new gears and saddle (at a cost of $160 though) and made the long drive back to Seven Hills in the white Honda. It's such a long way and I just hate driving - even listening to some exquisite Debussy couldn't make it bearable.



Thursday, April 25, 2013

ANZAC Day parade, Sydney, April 2013

Out early (for me) to the ANZAC Day parade in central Sydney on a sunny morning. I don't really know why I went - I'm not especially patriotic or militaristic, but it's a bit of spectacle and a bit of Australian culture. It's always stirring to see the WW2 veterans, although unfortunately there's few of them present these days. Most of the older marchers I presume are from the Korean war and Vietnam war era. There were also a lot of young military-looking blokes in suits with medals - presumably veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of them looked quite odd - almost like mobile phone salesmen rather than soldiers. I suppose that's the difference between a citizen/conscript armed forces and the new volunteer 'professional' military.
It feels awkward being at a parade when you don't support the current wars in Afghanistan etc. Especially when you see newspaper reports quoting current soldiers saying it has been their ambition to fight in Afghanistan to 'defend Australia'. In a documentary I saw about Afghanistan, the terrain and society reminded me of Tibet and NW China, and I could only imagine what the people of those regions would think if battalions of western soldiers in their obligatory Gucci military kit were tramping through their villages. "Go away, leave us alone' I think wold be the most obvious sentiment. It's one thing to be defending your country when Hitler is at Calais or the Japanese are at Kokoda ... but sending troops to central Asia? Well,, I don't want to bang on about this. Nothing I say or do is going to make a difference.
For the remainder of the day, I pedalled around Elizabeth Bay, enjoying the sun and just soaking up that languid Australian 'day off' atmosphere. I snapped a few scenes with my Contax IIa and used the 50mm Sonnar and 21mm Biogon with B&W Fuji Neopan Acros film. I passed one of the most expensive houses in Sydney and the owner/occupier drove in in and old Ford Fairmont. Wish I'd got a picture of that.

ANZAC Day parade, Sydney, April 2013

ANZAC Day parade, Sydney, April 2013

Contax IIa, Biogon 21mm lens, Fuji Neopan Acros 100

ANZAC Day parade, Sydney, April 2013

A weird coincidence in Elizabeth Bay


Elizabeth Bay, Sydney, originally uploaded by jiulong.
Today I was out on my bike mooching about the inner suburbs of Sydney on a sunny ANZAC Day. I paused outside one very beautiful and elegant apartment block (not the one in the picture, but very similar) and I lazily wondered what kind of person could afford to live there. As I looked on with low level envy, the electric gate opened and a woman walked out. Imagine my surprise when I recognised her as a former colleague - a financial journalist who I think was married to a rich banker. That explains it then. Fortunately for me and my self esteem she didn't clock me.

Elizabeth Bay, Sydney


Elizabeth Bay, Sydney, originally uploaded by jiulong.

Hyde Park, Sydney


Hyde Park, Sydney, originally uploaded by jiulong.
After being in overcast Yorkshire for half a year I now really appreciate the light in Sydney. There is something just so luxurious about feeling the sun on your face and skin - and I just love the look of the light broken up by the leaves of the trees and the mixture of light and shade on the ground. You don't notice it when you live here all the time.

Victoria Rd Potts Point, Sydney


Victoria Rd Potts Point, Sydney, originally uploaded by jiulong.

Contax IIa, Biogon 21mm lens, Fuji Neopan Acros 100

Elizabeth Bay, Sydney


Elizabeth Bay, Sydney, originally uploaded by jiulong.

Contax IIa, Biogon 21mm lens, Fuji Neopan Acros 100

Elizabeth Bay, Sydney


Elizabeth Bay, Sydney, originally uploaded by jiulong.

Contax IIa, Biogon 21mm lens, Fuji Neopan Acros 100

Elizabeth Bay, Sydney


Elizabeth Bay, Sydney, originally uploaded by jiulong.

Contax IIa, Biogon 21mm lens, Fuji Neopan Acros 100

Elizabeth Bay, Sydney


Elizabeth Bay, Sydney, originally uploaded by jiulong.

Contax IIa, Biogon 21mm lens, Fuji Neopan Acros 100

Elizabeth Bay, Sydney


Elizabeth Bay, Sydney, originally uploaded by jiulong.

Kings Cross doorway


Kings Cross doorway, originally uploaded by jiulong.

Contax IIa, Biogon 21mm lens, Fuji Neopan Acros 100

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

In which we don't serve ...


Grandad Woodhead in the army
ANZAC Day tomorrow, and it made me think about service in the armed forces. For people like me who grew up in the post war years it's always been a question of whether you would have lived up to the standards set by previous generations. Growing up in the 60s and 70s, we were really the first generation to avoid national service and being called up to serve in a war. My grandfather Woodhead (see above) did his time in the army before and during WW1, rising to the rank of sergeant. He was gassed and spent the rest of his life on a half pension, frittering it away in the pubs of East Leeds. On ANZAC Day they talk about the 'glorious dead' and the sacrifices made by those such as my grandad. But there was nothing glorious about the way he wasted the rest of his life in the boozer while the fish and chip shop he opened with his gratuity went out of business. The rest of the family just looked on him as a daft a'porth. War is often just absurd.

Dad in the British army, Italy, 1945

Likewise my dad, who served at the back end of WW2 in Italy when he was barely out of short trousers (in fact the army ensured that he stayed in shorts during the Italian summers). I suppose dad had a 'good' war. He stayed out of action, driving trucks and generally avoiding any strife apart from being mucked about by the officer classes. Dad never had much good to say about the army - it was a waste of his youth, too much marching, swearing and smoking and being bossed about by clueless officers.

Me, I always fancied myself as a soldier after reading too many war books such as Virginia's Cowles' Phantom Major about David Stirling. Unfortunately, I didn't realise that the peacetime army in Britain in the 1970s and 80s was still very much as class bound institution, and working class lads from Leeds just did not become officers. In the end, my only military service was as a glorified sea cadet in the University Royal Naval Unit at Liverpool, where I 'served' as a midshipman in the RNR on weekends. The nearest thing I came to action was going on a round-Britain cruise in our minesweeper in April 1982 at the time the Falkland conflict was on. We went through Rosyth and I stood next to some sailors who were sent to the South Atlantic! (a bit like Roy Kinnear's great line in the Ripping Yarn's spoof about POW camp dramas - "I was stood next to a man who was taken prisoner!")

Midshipman Woodhead RNR, 1982>
All I learned in the weekend navy was that I was not cut out for military life - too independent and prone to think for myself. I wonder how I would have done in WW2. I'd like to think I could have done as well as the next man ... but as you often read in war memoirs, it's often the least expected ones who turn out to be the reliable and brave members of a military unit, while the 'soldierly' and tough ones often crack up.

However, I still love reading 'war' books and this week I have been reading the WW2 memoirs of William Wharton (author of Birdy). He served in the US Army as a private from D-Day through to the end of the war in Germany. His account is both fantastic and reassuringly unheroic. He says he was scared stiff most of the time, and pens a great line that 'the difference between being scared and being a coward is getting found out'. And yet he describes remarkable actions such as being parachuted into occupied France before D-Day to help draw maps of the terrain (although a broken radio ensured that he spent four days doing nothing sitting in a hole in the ground). He writes about dodging sentry and patrol duty and of his role of abusing SS prisoners to get them to talk. He mostly avoided combat, but describes one reluctant patrol he led that was almost wiped out to a man. In all, Wharton's war sounds like a cross between Catch 22 and Full Metal Jacket. In other words, war is absurd, random, unfair and sometimes stupidly cruel. It is also uncomfortable (another great Wharton line is along the lines of "I know war isn't meant to be comfortable but it doesn't always HAVE to be purposely bad ...") and war is also a great source of stories - after the event.

As for me, I think I prefer just reading about it. At 50 years of age I presume that I'm now too old to be called up and take part in one. After fifty years without world war we have been lulled into a belief that there'll never be another shooting war involving western nations, but you never know, do you? Even today it looks possible that China and Japan may kick off in a real war over the Diaoyu/Senkakus. Imagine that - China fighting Japan. Would Australia join the US in taking sides with Japan against China? In that case we would potentially end up fighting the PLA - in which my wife briefly served as a cadet while at university.  Would Australians take up arms against Chinese?

Linda in the People's Liberation Army It's a very real scenario. Maybe we will leave it up to the next generation - my kids have already been through the phase of wanting to be soldiers and join the army - encouraged by military displays and parades. Would they be willing to join the Australian army and against the PLA - and possibly their mum's side of the family?
Richmond RAAF base Open Day, Oct 2006

Sunday, April 21, 2013

I'm back, but as for blogging ...

Well here's a turn up for the books. I'm back in Sydney, somewhat unexpectedly, but still have my Leica, Contax and Rolleiflex. May resume posting here once I get settled. However, I now also have an Olympus E-PM1 digital that can use the old Leica lenses, so I may start posting some pics taken with that. Maybe I should start a new blog entitled Back in Sydney with a Digital Leica. Watch this space...

Brompton bike in Sydney - my initial review



I am a man of simple tastes and pleasures. I do not lust after a flash car, a big house or electronic gizmos. However, there is one new addition to my handful of precious things. Joining my old Leicas, my Peerless watch and my Trinovid binoculars, is a Brompton bike. As with my Leica fan-dom, I started off admiring these things from afar. I noticed a few people riding them in London and thought I would like to try one. And as with Leicas, Brompton bikes are a relatively expensive but durable cult object. If you don't know about them, the Bromptons are basically a British designed and built folding bike. The genius is in the folding mechanism that allows them to shrink small and flat enough to be carried on a train or even on to a bus, without any sticking-out bits. A lot of people ride them in London but I've only seen one or two in Sydney. I've been wanting to get one for a while, but my recent penurious state in the UK ruled out the possibility during most of my recent sojourn there. I had been thinking of getting one just before I left the UK to return to Sydney (as I finally got some money coming in) but by the time I got on to Ebay and Gumtree to look for one I just didn't have enough time before departure to bid for one and organise a pick up. Most of them were for sale in far off places like London or Norfolk. And the going rate for a decent second hand one seemed to be about six hundred quid. To buy a basic model new is about nine hundred quid. So when I saw one for sale for $800 on the Sydney Gumtree site under 'folding bikes' I was on the phone immediately and dashing round to Oxford St to have a peek the same day.

The guy I bought it from was a bit vague, and I was a bit suspicious - rightly so. It turned out that the bike was knackered - the rear mudguard had been squashed down with great force so that it had jammed the rear wheel. But by this time I had 'gear-acquisition-syndrome (GAS) in full and was determined not to let the opportunity of owning a Brompton pass me by. I offered him the full price and he accepted. So there I was, dragging a broken Brompton back to Seven Hills.
I was dying to ride the thing, and stayed up until after midnight taking off the rear wheel and swearing a lot with various tools trying to bend the mudguard back - but I just could not budge it. Whatever had pushed it down had done so with great force. I felt very frustrated, but the problem was fixed the next day for a mere $25 by the great guys at Blackman's Bikes in Parramatta. Then a couple of other faults showed up. The steering column was very loose and wobbly - a problem fixed 'gratis' by the guys at Cheeky Transport in Newtown, who are the local Brompton agents. I also soon got a flat rear tyre, which meant taking off the rear wheel all over again and patching the innertube. After three days of fixes, the bike was reassembled and ready to go.
I headed off on my usual 'weekend circuit' around the Eastern Suburbs starting at Redfern, down via Cleveland St and Crown St to Kings Cross (stopping for a coffee and prosciutto at San Siro, seen below in a pic I took a bout five years ago).

Stanley St, Surrey Hills

From the Cross I meandered over the hills to Double Bay and Rose Bay on a sunny Sunday afternoon. And I very soon discovered that the 2-speed Brompton does not 'do' hills. The gearing is so high that it is extremely hard to pedal up anything more than a slight incline. I found my self standing on the pedals and swaying the bike from side to side like a Tour de France rider going up  the Alps switchbacks when I was on even the most basic of hills. The small wheels help a little, but basically it means get off and push up anything like Heartbreak Hill in Vaucluse. This Brompton is obviously only designed for riding on the flat streets of London. I asked the guys at Cheeky Transport about changing the gearing and they said I could gain some 'ease' by switching to a smaller diameter pedalling crank wheel, which would improve things by about 20%. I think I will have to do this - having a bike that can't do hills is a pain.

The Brompton is a fairly pleasant ride, but as some other Australian rider pointed out, it's nothing special - a bit like a 1970s Chopper. It's fun and easy to get on/off, and the small size means you can easily slip between cars in traffic queues or drag the bike off the road and onto the pavement. It is otherwise nippy and agile, but a very sensitive/unstable ride. I would be wary of doing hand signals because the steering feels like it would go out of control if you take one hand off the handlebars  - especially going downhill at speed. A few other little niggles also soon made themselves known. One is that my right trouser leg and shoe kept catching on the protruding castor, often while I was in full flow, with potentially dangerous/embarrassing results. The other is that the chain always seems to get caught on some other protruding clip when unfolding the bike, resulting in me having to re-thread it and getting oil over my fingers. A set of wet wipes seems to be a useful part of the inventory for this Brompton. The other slight problem is that the saddle keeps working loose and slipping down/sideways, but that may be fixed just by tightening a screw.
On the whole, I'm quite pleased with the Brompton - it's fun and portable and obviously it's very different. It draws a lots of comments from the general public - especially when people see me folding/unfolding it. I'm surprised by how many Sydney people are unfamiliar with folding bikes and their 'small wheels'. It's a real conversation starter. However, if I had the money and was able to order a new Brompton, I would go for one with six gears (or at least three) and with the 'M' handlebars rather than the simple 'T' ones. The Brompton doesn't ride as well as my previous folder, a Dahon, which had good gears. I won't be doing any long distance trips on the Brompton. But that Dahon didn't last very long and literally fell to bits after about three years - it also didn't not fold up as well or as compactly as the Brompton.
So I will stick with the Brompton for now, especially for public transport. I'll see how I go with the lower gears.

To finish my day I ended up at Carrarra and then Shark Beach. It was a wonderful sunny Sunday afternoon in autumn and the weather seemed especially wonderful after the relentless bitter cold I've  experienced for the last six months in Yorkshire. I lazed around the beach for a while, eating a cornetto at the kiosk and just gazing out at the beautiful harbour. The shark nets were up and I mused on how it didn't seem that long ago that my kids were climbing all over them. Now they are teenagers and would not be interested in such 'childish' antics. I also lamented the rearranged interior of the kiosk - now a dull takeaway rather than the beautiful old sit down cafe with its flowers in the window.
Flowers at the Nielsen Park kiosk cafe
Ah well, time and progress ... I'd brought my Bessa R2 along with the 35mm Summicron, but only took one snap. As with so many Sydney places, I have taken too many pictures already of Nielsen Park.