Introducing The Crayon Files

I’m Caron Eastgate Dann, a writer, journalist and academic based in Melbourne, Australia. This blog investigates rediscovery, from old books to childhood hobbies, from discussing favourite recipes to travelling back to favourite destinations. It’s not a nostalgic trip down a clichéd memory lane, however: rather, it will discuss how aspects of the past can be very much part of the present and can be integrated with new media and 21st-century ideas. I started thinking about this a few years ago when a technician was doing some work on my computer system. I asked if I needed a new modem, because the one I had was quite old. “Actually, it’s fine,” he said. “Not everything old has to be thrown away”.

If you’d like to know where the title The Crayon Files comes from, find out here.

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Stuff you should be able to find out—but can’t

I like to know things. I was that annoying kid who kept asking, ‘But why?’. I’m still asking that question—but if it’s anything to do with bureaucracy, administration or everyday problems, increasingly I can’t find the answer.

Last week, I got a new phone, smart watch and tablet. About time: I’ve wanted a smart watch for ages, and my other devices were ancient and slow.
I ordered them from one of Australia’s biggest telecom companies, of which I have been a customer since the 1990s through umpteen address changes. The online ordering process was smooth: the watch and phone were a separate order to the tablet, and I did them within 10 minutes of each other. Two emails came shortly after with my ordering details, all correct.

Two days later, a “confirmation” email came for the phone and watch—inexplicably, the delivery address had now changed to an old one I had four years ago. I had no end of trouble getting this changed, then the company cancelled my order without telling me and I eventually had to do a new one. I asked many times how this old address had suddenly surfaced again, and they kept saying, “The wrong address was listed on the records”. However, they couldn’t tell me why that was when a) I had changed it on my account nearly four years ago, and all the bills have listed my updated address since then; and b) The initial order acknowledgement the company sent me clearly had my ‘new’ address as the delivery address; and c) the tablet, ordered at the same time, had the correct delivery address and I received it within days.

One operator on the company’s online chat forum was honest enough to say, “Truly, I don’t know why this happened”. OK, fair enough, but when I was in customer service, we were taught to add, “But I’ll try to find out for you”.

After talking/online chatting with five different people, the address seemed to be finally updated. But not really—on the PDF of each order that the company sent to me, although the delivery and billing address were correct, the ‘customer service address’ was still the old one. Again, I asked an online chat assistant if she could change this, and she said she ‘didn’t have access to that information’. Eh? She advised me to go to one of the company’s shops, where I would also find the SIM I needed to operate my new phone, which they had inadvertently left out of my online order but couldn’t now send to me.

Finally, finally, a helpful person at the shop I went to not only gave me the required SIM but was also able to change the service address. #whyrealshopsarestillgood
But I still can’t find out why the new address morphed to the old one. *Sigh*

When it comes to bureaucracy, it seems to be making itself more and more mysterious, with more and more “paperwork” (not all of it virtual and most of it clunky), and more and more secret-squirrel-like behaviour. Bureaucrats rarely, if ever, sincerely apologise for their mistakes.

The tedium and tyranny of bureaucracy are not new, of course.  As the sociologist Max Weber said more than 70 years ago, “Every bureaucracy seeks to increase the superiority of the professionally informed by keeping their knowledge and intentions secret. Bureaucratic administration always tends to be an administration of  ‘secret sessions’: in so far as it can, it hides its knowledge and action from criticism…” (Weber, Essays in Sociology, 1946, quoted in David Graeber 2015, The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy).

There are a million other things I want to know but can’t find out. Every day, there’s something. Luckily, the internet helps with some of these. For example, in writing this post, I was reminded of a friend who always wondered why the streets weren’t littered with dead birds, since there are so many of them. I searched today and found the answer, which you can access here, if you’re interested.

Sadly, though, the internet won’t be able to help me find out why my old address crept back into a new order form four years later. Oh well.

Why do people suddenly stop blogging?

I always thought it odd when I’d come across a lapsed blog that had seemed full of enthusiasm, and to which the writer had posted regularly (even daily), until, one day…nothing.
No announcement or explanation, no slowly dwindling posts, just one day it was all on, and then the blogger never posted again. You look at the date of the last post, and it’s two years ago.
Or, you’re used to reading the blog every week, and one day you realise you no longer  see notifications about new posts.
Sometimes, this is for the awful reason that the blogger dies: this has happened three times with blogs I follow.
But ruling out the exceptions where the person has suddenly become ill or died, it’s a mystery.
And I have to say, I’m now one of the culprits. I realised today that I am just two weeks shy of it being a year since my last post.
Granted, my regularity of posting had dwindled over the previous year or so: pressure of working seven days a week and so on. But since late June last year, I’ve had a job where I have most weekends free. So why haven’t I been blogging? It couldn’t be blogger’s block—writing is something I’ve done almost my entire life.
I guess it’s that thing where it’s easy to get out of the habit of doing something. I’d started to see writing the blog as work, thus something of a chore, when actually, it should be an enjoyable diversion in one’s leisure time.
My neglected blog has been on my mind lately, and more so today when I paid the annual fee for the domain name carondann.com. Hopefully, I still have some readers left!
While I’ve been away, I’ve been painting pictures. Here’s my latest one, which depicts a beach at Hancock Park, near my birthplace in Dunedin, New Zealand, that I visited a couple of years ago.
©Caron Eastgate Dann, 2017

Look what we grew in our courtyard garden!

©Caron Eastgate Dann, The Crayon Files, 2017

We don’t have a garden as such, but there is a small L-shaped area through sliding doors, big enough for a collapsible washing line, a table and four chairs, one long narrow garden bed and some pots. The horizontal stroke of the “L” is what we call “the badlands”: a few small trees for privacy and just enough of a “jungle” for our cat to believe she is wild and free (when really, she’s an indoor cat who has the run only of a very small suburban courtyard).

But oh what we can grow in this tiny space. I decided to do a quick sketch of some of our autumn produce: three types of tomatoes, red and green capsicums and chillies.

We have so many tomatoes, I’ve been making our own tomato sauce to freeze; so many chillies, they’ve also been picked and frozen for use all winter; and a few luscious capsicums so crisp and dense they seem like a different species to the spongy articles found in supermarkets. Our potatoes are coming on, and we hope to have a bumper crop by winter.

In addition, the courtyard is packed with herbs: rosemary, basil, thyme, curry leaves, mint, parsley, and an olive herb with spiked green leaves that truly does have the aroma and taste of actual olives.

If anyone can tell us how to grow coriander, please advise. We’ve failed dismally!

By the way, the sketch is done on Ampersand Clayboard with Prismacolour pencils. I wanted to do a simple picture that reminded me of some 1980s cook books I have.

When the world’s gone mad, there’s always art…

Recently, a friend and I went to the David Hockney exhibition ‘Current’ in Melbourne. Known as the UK’s greatest living artist, Hockney, who turns 80 this year, is a master at embracing the new while still acknowledging the past. His digital art is inspirational, but so are his acrylic portraits. One informs the other, it seems.

Anyway, my friend and I were talking about how we felt overwhelmed by the current political situation at home and abroad, poor treatment of asylum seekers and refugees in many countries, erosion of women’s rights and the disintegration of fair work practices.

Although we believe in fighting against these things, it is also worth noting that you can’t fight all the time. It is still important to take time out to create: paint, write, cook, or whatever your idea of creativity is.

To this end, here is my latest attempt at creativity: a painting done with Copic markers and fine-line pens, inspired by a photo of an old building I saw when I visited relatives in Oamaru, New Zealand. Oamaru is a peaceful South Island coastal town of grand historical buildings and a centre of ‘steampunk’ culture. Unlike the perfectly renovated buildings in the nearby tourist precinct, this one was yet to be ‘done’. I kind-of like it this way, though.

Oamaru

This is a bit more fun than writing lectures!

nanosummer2016I haven’t been posting much lately—that’s because I’ve been so flat out with work that I’ve hardly had time to do anything else. But I have a couple of weeks now with just a few hours a day of office work, and even the occasional whole day off.

I’ve become entranced with Nanoblock micro-building blocks over the last year or so, and this is what I’ve made so far these holidays. They are three iconic landmarks from three different countries: the Statue of Liberty, The Louvre, and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Each one is built with hundreds of tiny plastic blocks—650 of them, in the case of the Statue of Liberty.

I’m not sure why, but I’ve always loved miniatures of anything: little china ornaments, dolls, dioramas, model train sets. Until recently though, I hadn’t actually made anything myself since a childhood obsession with Lego.

Next up: Big Ben, London Tower Bridge, and the Parthenon.

Study of aloofness, as only a cat can do it

Lucy LocketHere is a picture of my cat, Lucy Locket, that I did this week. It’s scratchboard (appropriate for a cat as subject) with Derwent Inktense ink sticks. She’s a sweet little thing, isn’t she? I know, I know, she doesn’t look sweet…

All right, she’s not really sweet. She’s likely to walk away when called, and to look into the distance, or past me, or at a spot on the floor instead of at me. And this week when she was at the vet’s for a routine visit, she cuddled up to him—little traitor.

That’s just how they roll, I guess.

By the way, I should add that this drawing was based on a photograph taken by my husband, Gordon. Cats do not make good subjects to sit for portraits!

 

A grand design

Grand Palace, Bangkok, ©Caron Eastgate Dann, 2016.

Here is my latest art work, based on a photo I took at the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand. I’ve been to the Grand Palace at least 20 times, and it never ceases to amaze me with its vibrant colour, myriad sculptures, designs, gold figures, wall murals, gold and inlaid gems, temples and more.

I’ve used Copic markers, Prismacolour coloured pencils, and a Copic multi-liner pen in an 0.03 thickness, on A4-size Arttec bleed-proof paper.

Everyday mysteries #1: What goes up but never comes down?

While walking to the train station on my way to work each day, I see a strange sight. It’s a notice on this seat to warn people that it has just been repainted:Wet paint 1

The only problem is, that seats looks as if it hasn’t been painted since last century. The notice has been there for many weeks at least, and is slowly being worn away by rain, hail and wind.

Which leads me to one of life’s everyday mysteries: why do people who put up notices never take them down again?

I see it everywhere: notices pinned to bulletin boards about meetings that happened two years ago, flyers advertising guest speakers at public events from three months ago, upcoming events on websites that have been and gone last week, last month, last year.

Where I work at a university, if you have to change class rooms or cancel a class, besides sending out an email to everyone you usually pin a notice to the door advising students of the change (because many young people don’t access their email regularly).

Weeks after the event, such notices are still pinned to the door. “Zoology 101 is cancelled today, July 20”, a notice will say, and it will probably remain there until September. I often end up taking down outdated notices myself and throwing them away.

I wonder if the people who leave old notices up everywhere are the same ones who leave their empty coffee mugs at the lectern, their pens and discarded food packets and half-consumed bottles of water on table tops, and who place their chewing gum under the tables?

To my way of thinking, leaving up old notices, real or virtual, is just another form of littering—and we already have enough of that.

What I will never do again when travelling

I catch public transport to and from work, and I often see people on the train who are on their way to the airport, bags in tow.

Tow is right—most of them have such enormous suitcases, I don’t know how they cope. They must have half their wardrobe in these things. And even if you can use elevators and escalators most of the time, there are other times when you have to lug the bag up stairs, across gutters and into buses, not to mention crossing the weird gap we have in Melbourne between the train and the platform.

And if you have to travel at peak hours, it’s a nightmare.

I gave up taking a big suitcase overseas in the late 1990s when I went to Europe. My suitcase was on wheels, but these were no help on escalators on the London Tube during the morning rush hour. My suitcase got in everyone’s way, constantly, over two weeks in England, Switzerland and France, and meant I was limited in what I could do once I’d checked out of a hotel. Smart Europeans, meanwhile, were sporting newfangled super-light cases or backpacks.

To be fair, I was going skiing and had all my gear with me. But I’m sure I also had lots of après-ski wear, shoes I would never wear, and bags. If you look at the photos from that trip, I’m never in the same outfit twice, except on the slopes of St Moritz themselves.

After that trip, I vowed that I would never again travel with a great big bag. From now on, I would have a bag that was compact, easy to stow, and light enough to carry easily if the wheels broke or I had to lug it up stairs, for example.

It’s also small enough to count as carry-on only if I have to travel that way, though I prefer to check my luggage most of the time.

I like to remember the traveller’s adage, “Think about what you’ll need for your trip, then take half the luggage and twice the money.”

This is the way I pack...the pencil case with the retro Penguin cover contains my miniature art set for painting en route.

This is the way I pack…the pencil case with the retro Penguin cover contains my miniature art set for painting en route.

And so ends another puzzling day…

Tram

This is so cute, I had to post it. For those who don’t know, this is a classic Melbourne tram. Well, it’s a miniature model I made today with the Japanese micro block brand Nano Block.

These W-class trams were designed in the 1920s and built for decades, but they have been largely superseded now by sleeker, bigger, quieter models.  However, it’s the old clackety-clack tram, like this one, that is most fondly remembered as synonymous with Melbourne life. We had conductors on them, too, who would wear change belts, sell tickets, and dispense all sorts of information.

I’ve written before (here) about my new model-building hobby. This is the biggest model I have made so far (though it can fit in the palm of my hand). It came with a formidable set of instructions, but they are precise, every block fits and there are always enough blocks and more. Imagine if one tiny block were missing…

TramNano