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.

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

 

Over 30? Don’t bother applying for this job…

Screen Shot 2016-03-25 at 9.46.03 AMI saw this job ad recently for an online group that caters for seniors—that is, people aged 60 and older. The ad made it very clear that no one from the demographic for which they cater need apply: the successful candidate, it said, would be a social media ‘native’, but would have ‘A love for the not-quite older generations’.

It reminded me of a conversation a TV sitcom family might have about how to deal with an elderly relative at a celebration: ‘Just sit dear old grandad in the corner with a party-hat on; he won’t know the difference’.

There are so many things that are wrong with this ad. Don’t even get me started on the grammar—but that’s for a different post.

Firstly, it’s illegal in Australia to discriminate against job-seekers on the basis of age. Of course, actual selection of candidates based on age goes on all the time, albeit surreptitiously. But you’re definitely not allowed to advertise a job of this nature and specify age. By saying they are looking for a digital ‘native’, the company is specifying it wants someone younger than around 30. Actually, by specifying ‘social media’ native, they’re probably meaning someone in their very early 20s.

There is one positive aspect to age-discriminatory advertising: it means people who are 30+ will know not to bother applying for this job. Otherwise, as this company caters specifically for ‘older’ people, it could expect to get quite a number of mature-age applicants, believing that perhaps such a company would appreciate that digital ability is not about age but technological dexterity.

For a site that advertises itself as championing people remaining active in their 60s, this is poor form and a proof that they don’t really believe in their audience. They could sure do with someone who is a good editor, by the way: I took a look at their website and the stories were full of grammatical and typographical errors in every paragraph (as their ad was).

There seems to be a general belief, particularly among the young themselves, that you can only be really good at using new technology if you were brought up with it. Imagine if we applied that to other fields.

For example, P.D. James, who died in 2014 aged 94, started writing in her mid-30s, but didn’t work full-time as a writer until she retired from the civil service in the UK when she was 60. She was born in 1920, before radio and TV broadcasting started. In 2009, aged 89, she was a guest-editor at BBC Radio 4 in the UK, and she interviewed the Director General of the BBC, Mark Thompson. She was so good, the show’s host, Evan Davis, said she should have a permanent job on the show.

The late Steve Jobs was 50 when he released the first iPhone. Did anyone try to tell him he was too old to be doing such things, and that because he wasn’t a ‘digital native’, he wouldn’t be any good at them? Using the above company’s mentality, if Jobs had applied for his own job, he wouldn’t have got it, purely on the basis of age.

Here’s something else to think about when you advertise that a job will go to a digital native: more than half the people in the world still do not have access to the internet. Australia has immigrants from many different countries, including young adults who came from countries in which they were not brought up with digital technology. Should they be precluded from applying for jobs that require use of technology, because they were not exposed to it as children?

As I often say to young people, ‘Your age group only uses this new technology, but my age group and several before it actually invented it’. (I did not make up this sentiment—I read it somewhere and appropriated it). Many young people I know are quite good at using social media. But not all. Some tell me they don’t particularly like it, and many admit they’re not that knowledgeable about it, particularly if it’s an unfamiliar app or medium.

It is true that demographics show that a greater percentage of younger people than older people use new technology, particularly social media. But that doesn’t mean older people can’t use technology. And just because some can’t or won’t use it, doesn’t mean all of them lack these skills. You shouldn’t be precluded from a job because of what someone else can’t do.

I know also that many mature adults would like to use more social media, but most social media use is recreational: it’s about play, entertainment and fun. And unfortunately, most adults are time-poor, particularly those who are middle-aged or older. They might have a 10-hour+ work day including a commute, have to care for children and perhaps elderly parents as well, have to pay a mortgage and provide a living for themselves and their dependents. Finding time to play on social media is increasingly difficult.
Ironically though, the fastest-growing group of new gamers in Australia is the over-50s, according to Digital Australia 2016, and 49% of Australians in this age group play computer or video games.

On the other hand, young people can also be discriminated against because of their age. When I was just 22, I became the assistant editor of a big rural newspaper where I had been working as a reporter. The editor had been promoted to a higher managerial position, and another older reporter was promoted to editor, even though I’d been effectively doing the job for the last six months. The owner said he would have liked to have made me editor, and he knew I could do the job: the only reason I was made assistant editor instead was that I was too young. People would not accept someone my age as editor, he said.

I am very much against ‘youth rates’ that Australia and some other countries have, too, unless a young person is unable to do the same job as an adult-rate person. I think it’s exploitative.

My point is this: if you are an employer in the field of communications, try not to have pre-conceived notions of who might or might not be able to do the job you are advertising. Choose the person who is right for the job as if you could not see them: not by age, looks or other incidentals. Choose by aptitude, enthusiasm, and the ability to relate to the audience you are aiming to reach.

When a pet is sick

LLMy much-loved cat nearly died this week , and I’ve been beside myself with worry. I’m happy to say she has suddenly started to improve, but for a while there, I feared the worst.

My husband explained best how we felt when I heard him speaking on the phone to a friend: “We’ve had her nine years; she’s part of our family,” he said. (She, being a cat, would maintain that she is in fact the head of our family, I’m sure).

I’ve always been a ‘cat person’. My parents had a cat before I was born; for all my childhood and whenever possible in my adult life, I’ve had cats. When I don’t have a cat, I feel like something’s missing.

My husband and I have both had bad luck with beloved cats being run over, and when he bought a tiny, fluffy tortoiseshell kitten for me just over nine years ago, we decided she would be an indoor cat, allowed outside only as far as our courtyard.

Lucy Locket has been a great indoor cat. She’s naturally lazy, timid, averse to strangers and likes her home comforts. She probably could jump the fence if she wanted, but she doesn’t.

That was the way, we thought, we could have our pet for a long time.

But that was in doubt this week when she came down with a serious mystery illness: she was barely able to walk, was not drinking or eating and had a very high temperature.

The vet admitted her to the hospital in his clinic, and there she stayed for three days on a drip and medication.

They couldn’t get her to eat, and it’s very dangerous for a cat to go beyond three days not eating, because of possible liver complications.

But she was so traumatised by the hospital experience, that she had lost all interest in food.

So we had to bring her home to try to coax her to eat. I found some great information on line about how to get a sick cat to eat (here’s a link). It was just tiny bits at a time, but at least it was something. Each minuscule amount she ate seemed like an enormous breakthrough.

Then this morning, she was much better. She is eating again (about half her normal amount, but enjoying it), meowing for a brush, and sitting in the sun. She’s still weak, but I can tell she’s improving, because her weird little habits are back, such as scritch-scratching under a bag if it is placed on the floor.

We still don’t know what the illness is. Blood analysis was inconclusive (and two of the three samples clotted), but seemed to point to a virus. It’s not one of the serious viruses such as feline aids or leukemia, as she has no contact with other cats. It could have been an infection “somewhere”, so she’s also had a long-term antibiotic shot.

The worst thing about an animal being sick is that they can’t tell you their symptoms or where it hurts. She’s much better, though, at letting me know she is getting better: from the trot back in her gait, to the demand for a brush, to the quickly turning head when a bird flies overhead.

Let’s hope the mystery illness doesn’t return.

“Don’t wish your life away”

CalMy late father had a few wise sayings, and one of them was “Don’t wish your life away”. He would say this whenever I said “I wish it was my birthday”, or “I can’t wait for the holidays”, or “only two more weeks to go until Christmas”, and on and on.
“Don’t wish your life away,” he would say.
When I was young, I used to think this was quite funny. Being immortal at that stage, of course, I would constantly be in a state of wild anticipation of The Next Big Thing that would be happening in my life.
Now that I am older, I understand what he meant. Instead of wishing days, weeks and months away, we should try to enjoy each one as they come and for what they are.
Retailing and media conspire against us doing this, of course. Not two weeks after Christmas, Easter stuff was in the shops in Melbourne. Easter is not until late March! And in the week after Christmas in NZ, where I had a short vacation, the TV was full of ads urging people to sign up for some ghastly hamper service that you pay into every week to have food delivered for next Christmas.
The result as I see it is that so many people seem to be lurching from one consumer-driven “celebration” to the next, and life passes by in a flash. Before you know it, Christmas or Hanukkah or whatever you celebrate is here once again and “Where did the time go?”, we exclaim to each other.
“It’s been a long day” is not usually a sentence you utter when you’ve enjoyed a day. But it should be. I want to take each hour of the day as a gift, as a separate entity in which something wonderful can be achieved, thought or read.
Even though most of the year I work around 60 hours a week, I have plenty of time for leisure, because I make it a rule not to work past 6pm, unless I’m absolutely desperate and have a deadline that can’t be avoided.
Otherwise, I have this time every day to relax as I want to, and perhaps to cook the evening meal (my husband and I share the cooking).
Actually, I used to be a TV junkie. I would watch up to eight hours a day, and if I wasn’t working next morning, would stay up watching until 2am. And we didn’t even have pay TV!
But when we moved houses in April 2014, I stopped watching so much TV. I stopped watching most commercial news broadcasts, trashy ‘reality’ shows, game shows and soaps. Now I watch great dramas, comedies and the occasional movie. I watch interesting or entertaining documentaries. I even watch the occasional reality show if it can tell me about something I didn’t know or can entertain me. I watch only about two hours’ TV a night, and often less.
I do play computer games, often for hours at a time. But I find that I can play them while thinking about other things at the same time. I get lots of planning done and think up new ideas when I appear to be pushing buttons on a computer game. This is my secret weapon!
But from time to time, I find myself still trying to speed up days, weeks, even months. It’s good to have stuff to look forward to, I know, but I have to keep reminding myself: “Don’t wish your life away”!

The 1940s media technology nothing can better

Radio

There is an adage that says, don’t try to reinvent the wheel: that is, if an invention is perfect, leave it be. One of these perfect inventions, I believe, is the transistor radio. That’s because

  • It is light and portable, and you can buy one small enough to fit in a pocket;
  • The battery lasts for months, perhaps years, depending how much you use it;
  • It always works, as long as you’re in range of radio waves. No electricity, recharging, modem or internet capability needed;
  • When the weather is very hot or very cold, it still works;
  • You can do other things while you’re listening to the radio—you can drive, garden, cook, whatever;
  • There’s a world of entertainment for everyone, young, old and in between, and broadcasts available in almost every language. There are music of all types, dramas, news, advice shows, arts shows, science shows, chat and talkback.

In fact, radio was the world’s first live interactive media. When talkback started in the 1960s, the law in Australia had to be changed, because it was illegal to record phone calls, and radio stations needed a slight delay so they could censor inappropriate callers.

When I was about 9, my parents bought me my first transistor radio. It was a palm-sized red one with silver buttons. Back then, my favourite show was the children’s story request program on Sundays, starting at 6am.

In those days, also, I can remember my grandparents still had a ‘radiogram’ that was a big piece of cabineted furniture, in a polished wood that my grandmother would put a vase of flowers and family pictures in silver frames on top of. They called this piece of furniture the ‘wireless’, and it used valve technology rather than transistor technology. No doubt they thought the radiogram a superior being to the transistor, which was invented in 1947.

When I was a teenager living in Auckland, New Zealand, the soundtrack to my life was the cool music on Radio Hauraki, so called because it had started as a pirate station broadcasting from a boat out in the Hauraki Gulf from 1966-70.

By the time I was listening to Radio Hauraki, it was many years after those pirate days, and it was well established as a legal land-based station. But it still had that edge of being rebellious and even a bit dangerous, with Kevin “Blackie” Black (1943-2013) the coolest of all DJs in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Imagine my excitement when, as a young newspaper reporter in the 1980s, I actually got to interview the great Blackie himself at his house.

These days, of course, you will tell me that radio has been modernised and that I should stream it over the internet using an app on my phone. Yes, I can do that. But somehow it’s not the same: it eats my phone battery charge, for a start.

And I rarely listen to the radio for the music these days, because I can download any song I like and play it whenever.

But in today’s new environment of music on demand, something has been lost. I remember how, as a 14-year-old, I used to sit eagerly by the radio, finger poised on the red ‘record’ button of my cassette player, ready for when a favourite song happened to be played. It felt like winning a raffle when a song you’d been waiting for actually came on.

I still like a transistor radio. My current one is a retro-styled powder blue, which I did an ink and watercolour painting of, as you can see above.

I’m getting another one soon, a digital pocket-sized number. But essentially, it’s the same perfect invention even in the 21st century: simple, easy to use, strong, and lasts forever.

Look what I made! Look what I made!

Nano-flamingoI’ve been flat-out busy this year with work, and in the last few months, I haven’t even been able to write any blog posts. Things are much easier now though, so I hope to write plenty of posts over the next two months.
During that very busy time, I discovered a new hobby: building miniature construction projects.
I like to go for a quick walk in the afternoon to clear my head, especially when I’m overrun with work. There is an old-fashioned toy shop at my local shops, about five minutes’ walk from where I live. In it I discovered these intriguing little packages, each containing 100-150 or more tiny blocks and promising after construction to result in the cutest figures, each one of which can fit comfortably into the palm of my hand.
Nanoblock is a Japanese ‘micro-sized building block’ that has a cult following around the world. Blocks may be as small as 4x4x5mm. You need a steady hand for this work!

Instruction pages look incomprehensible: but they're logical and precise once you get the hang of them.

Instruction pages look incomprehensible: but they’re logical and precise once you get the hang of them.

I started with the ‘greater flamingo’, because pink flamingos make me smile and remind me of Las Vegas.
But when I opened the packet, I was taken aback: the instruction sheet looked incomprehensible with its cryptic diagrams and only the occasional word. “I’ll never be able to figure this out,” I thought.
However, I stared and stared at the sheet, and suddenly, it started to make sense. I got it. The instructions are actually amazingly precise, once you’re on their wave length. And not only is there enough of each type of brick, they give you extras.

I’ve gone on to make a piano and a great white shark. I’m going to do more!

Nano-piano Nano-shark
Because I work constantly with words, I need to get those words out of my head to give myself a break. Micro-block building is like therapy—a relaxation technique for the busy mind, and the same reason I took up art. I can set up everything I need for the miniature building project—blocks, base and instructions—on a sheet of A4 paper on my dining table.

And my next project? It’s going to be a koala or the Sydney Opera House, I think.