Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Bike Expedition To Gladesville Skatepark

I work rostered shifts covering various news programmes at the ABC. This week I'm on Lateline (if you live in Britain, you can understand this as Australia's Newsnight). The shift starts at 2pm and ends at 10.36pm. There are of course bad things about this, but one good thing is the big chunk of daytime to play in before work. Sometimes I indulge in lengthy peregrinations on my bicycle, like yesterday, when I rode out to the Gladesville/Henley area of northwest Sydney to visit a skateboard park there. 

The journey was around 13kms, which I extended a kilometer by taking a wrong turn, as you can see on this map:

I strapped my board to my bike and was soon on the peaceful canalside paths of Haberfield, but it wasn't long to busy Lyons Road and the grim multi-lane Victoria Road, where a ute-load of passing bogans leaned from their windows to deliver a doppler-distorted roar of abuse. I crossed the Parramatta River by the Gladesville Bridge, where I tried to follow a presumed bike/foot path on the left-hand side as I rode northwards, but had to stop and lift my bike over the barrier onto the treacherous 4-lane road when the path became too narrow to continue. What the hell, Sydney. A lovely blast of salty harbour air punched through the vehicle fumes as I reached the apex of the bridge, and it was not far from there to the skatepark. 

The small park has a 'V' formation that makes good use of the limited space, you can see that on the plans:

There's a couple of interesting obstacles: a jersey barrier:

 ...and a weird origami-style folded metal flatbank:

Then there's the usual - a transitioned quarterpipe, rails, some manny pads and ledges.

It was the first time I'd skated a jersey barrier, and I managed a few wallridey kickturns on it. The metal flatbank was clangy fun. Here I am doing a pop shove-it body varial (sex change?) on it. Yes, I'm wearing a cycling jersey and jeans. You saw it here first.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Bike Tank

I attended a Bike Tank event last week. It was on from 8-9am on a Tuesday, in a wonderfully shabby ex-industrial warehouse space in Chippendale. I recently read David Byrne's Bicycle Diaries, where he gets involved in all kinds of community forums promoting bicycle use in cities. I want to get involved, too. I visited their website to get a better idea of what it's all about:

The BikeTank is an urban connectivist think-tank that doubles as a bicycle pitstop cafe. 

I don't know what connectivist means, so I check an online dictionary. It's not in the dictionary either. But it's in Wikipedia... what the heck I didn't sign up for a lesson in social learning theory here. At least there's a cafe. Maybe it'll make sense if I read a bit more...

"What do we mean by 'making cities more human'?"
Our view is a granular one.
Design is performative.
It is the act of creating, then sharing, that matters. It's even better if you co-create.
Design is projective.
Design seeds ideas. As Alan Kay famously remarked: "The best way to predict the future is to invent it.

This doesn't clarify things for me; in fact it sounds like something out of Pseud's Corner. But I decided to attend - perhaps I will develop a granular view and learn about the oeuvre of Alan Kay. At least I'll get a coffee.

I got up and went, despite not starting work 'til 12noon. I arrived late at 8.40 to find that everyone had formed groups around tables. They were attaching shapes made of polystyrene foam and pipe cleaners to sheets of thick board with craft glue. I briefly hovered around these tables before making my way to the coffee stall and partook of a free large latte. Then I moved over to where the pastries were, and shoved a raspberry danish, apple danish, and pain au chocolate into my face. I lifted an apple and placed it into my bag for later. Then I had another raspberry danish.

This took me up to the conclusion of the event. The groups disbanded and re-assembled in front of a stage as representative speakers took the floor to deliver the results of their discussion, and display the boards to which they had been gluing stuff. It turns out each group represented a different suburb. They had been spitballing ways to improve cycling in these areas. The results were largely whimsical, such as a car-wash style device that people could ride through to clean their bodies, clothing and bicycles at the same time. 

Some ideas seemed to be the domain of private enterprise rather than local government (Bike Tank is supported by the City of Sydney); a cafe was envisioned on a street corner to maximise ease of access, where cyclists could meet, bicycles could be serviced, and food and drink served. Another such idea was a bike taxi service, where you could ride to a pub, get drunk, then have someone else ride your bike home for you.

The Newtown delegation present their ideas

Not all the ideas were daft. Most of the obvious ways of improving cycling were spoken in the opening minutes - more bike lanes, more bike parking, bike racks on buses, more showers and bike facilities in workplaces. But then each subsequent group had to step forward and continue after the obvious statements had been made, which prompted the silliness. 

Having spent longer analysing their website, I now understand that there were local entrepreneurs and designers in attendance. Hopefully these people can take the ideas raised and develop practical applications. For instance, the bike taxi service demonstrates a need to get your bike home after a drink, but a better solution would be some taxi cabs carrying bike racks.

I'm not convinced of the efficacy of Bike Tank. It seems to me that the key to improving provisions for cyclists is to encourage more bike use by working with people who would cycle but don't, addressing their concerns and removing the obstacles that keep them off their bikes. The people in attendance are already using bikes, and the tendency of these meetings is towards self-congratulation and the reinforcement of an us-and-them attitude. The bike cafe, for instance - I don't want to hang out with other people who ride bikes any more than I want to hang out with other people who drive cars or walk on footpaths. It's just a mode of transport, and treating it like an exclusive subculture is not going to encourage the average Sydney commuter out of their car.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

"George Harrison: Living In The Material World" - a film by me and Martin Scorsese

This week sees the premiere of George Harrison: Living In The Material World, a feature-length documentary directed by Martin Scorsese, that I worked on a few years ago.

I was first interviewed by the film's producers while I was working in Belfast in the summer of 2005. I flew over to London for a meeting about a project concerning a then-unnamed musician. I had no idea it was George Harrison - in fact, I thought that it was something to do with The Who. I recall being asked who my favourite Beatle was, and by some good fortune I replied, "George." Another day I might have said something different, but I was in luck. I had been listening to All Things Must Pass around that time.

The meeting went well, and the following day I was introduced to Olivia Harrison, George's widow, and I learned what it was all about. I was sworn to absolute secrecy, though, and I'm probably still bound by the non-disclosure agreements that I signed, so I won't go into too much detail.

It wasn't until October 2006 that I began work on George's archive, which kept me busy until December 2007. I was tasked with archiving his photographic collection: securing their long-term preservation, creating high-res scans of the pictures, and cataloguing them in a database that could be accessed by Scorsese's New York office. It was difficult - I had no experience with stills archiving, so I was learning as I worked. Of course the big names were intimidating, as was the setting - an orchidarium in the grounds of Friar Park, the Harrison family home in Henley-on-Thames. 

The critics have been favourable - some, like Philip French in the Guardian, have even mentioned the family photos. It's very gratifying, and it was nice to be invited to the premiere, even if it's a bit far to go for a night out. It will be screened in Australia towards the end of October; I can't wait to see it, and I'm told that my name is in the credits. Along with Martin Scorsese's. I don't think that will happen again.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Josie Long - The Future Is Another Place

Dee Dee (my wee wifey), Becky (my wee sister) and I faced various handicaps to enjoying Josie Long's Edinburgh show The Future Is Another Place last month. It took place in the Potterrow student union, which is haunted by the ghost of me as a catastrophically drunk 17-year-old student, weeping and vomiting in the toilet.  I appalled Becky with the fact that I had once been barred from the union for stealing an armful of drinks, which I dropped on the stairs as I ran away from a barman. The building had seen me in the worst psychological condition of my life, so Josie Long's comedy had to dispel some heavy juju.

Becky and Dee hadn't heard of Josie Long before, and we'd had a long day traipsing around Edinburgh with a flight case that Dee had bought to ship her guitar back home to Sydney. The storage of this object necessitated that we sit in the front row, which is ordinarily the place to be embarrassingly drawn into a comedy performance, but "don't worry," said the guy at the door, "she's nice."

Josie Long

"What a cool thing to bring to a show," Josie Long said to us as we took our seats and stowed the guitar case. Her tone was not sarcastic. She was standing by the curtain with a microphone held to her iPhone, which she was using to provide pre-show music (Paul Simon's Gracelands). She started by removing a cardigan  - it was very hot - and explaining that if her t-shirt rode up it was not, "a slow and awkward burlesque." I think her t-shirt had a Vic Reeves drawing on it.

Josie Long began by explaining that her political anger might pass over the edge of decorum (I'm paraphrasing), and asked Dee to indicate if this was happening. So instantly we were drawn into the show, but the door guy was right - it was nice. The whole thing was charming and funny, and clever (there was an Ezra pound reference!).

Josie Long spoke to us for a moment when her show finished, and she was dead nice. She said she might look up Dee's band Dusker but I don't think she did (BITCH) and I'm sure that I looked quite the fool 'cause I was bursting to engage with her on about 30 different things she'd raised (ohmygod I was in a car crash too, isn't swimming in the sea grand, i'm gonna swim off the island of Iona next week, and yeah Scottish islands are just the thing, and hey I got the Ezra Pound reference, and is that a Vic Reeves t-shirt...). It log-jammed somewhere between my brain and my mouth and I didn't say much at all.

Dee, Becky and I talked about the show for the remainder of the evening, so I suppose it was provocative, although the main sentiment that it provoked was warmth towards Josie Long. We wish to be her friends.

Josie Long's radio show is good too, and so is Dodgem Logic magazine, to which she contributes. There was also a BBC Radio 4 play she wrote and performed in, that was set on the cusp of an apocalyptic event. I really loved that.

Han Solo's dog was also frozen in carbonite. The dog's name was Bum. They cut him out the film 'cause Chewy got jealous. He's in Edinburgh now.