Category Archives: Pattern

Geography, geometry and the cartography of loss.. revisiting By the Time I Get to Phoenix

It’s just over 2000km from LA to Oklahoma. Let me take you on a journey of just over 2000 words, as we explore the curves and crests of Jimmy Webb’s timeless By the Time I Get to Phoenix.

“New York, Sept 14, 1990 – BMI, the world’s largest performing rights organization, today announced the titles, writers and publishers of the 50 most performed songs in the company’s 50 year history.

    1. Yesterday…John Lennon, Paul McCartney
    2. Never My Love…Donald Addrisi, Richard Addrisi
    3. By The Time I Get To Phoenix…Jim Webb….”

There is something insidious about the geography of love and lust. And leaving.

In “Phoenix”, that geography insinuates itself. Until you become part of the journey.

I can’t really say when Phoenix became my favourite in the Webb/Campbell pantheon.

I was always a Galveston man, something about the chorus and the stories of the flood from the great hurricane of 1900. And Wichita Lineman, that great fragmented masterpiece, arguably the greatest vocal of all time. Ditto Susie, I now see it’s clunkiness, but the simplicity of the metaphor appealed, and the loss in the “if I don’t stay around” talked of passions and obsessions I had never really felt.

Apparently Sinatra agreed, Phoenix is the greatest torch song ever, apparently.

I’ve flown over Phoenix. From the air, its strategic rationale as a defence town in the SW makes sense. It’s a million miles from nowhere. But in Webb’s masterwork, Phoenix the place, Phoenix the song, becomes the centre of everything, the leitmotif of that dreaded moment in every relationship.

But more, it becomes not just the symbol of Webb’s subject’s journey. It’s America on the rebound.

Three verses… three cities… lines… lifelines… birth, work, death…. meet, mate, leave….Phoenix, Albuquerque, the high school production of Oklahoma!

When it’s not about beautiful balloons that go Up Up and Away, or 99 of them flapping across the East German sky, great pop is about love or death, or love and death, or in the context of Love Will Tear Us Apart, about love in the context of subsequent death.

Phoenix is about the death of love. Clearly, of undying love – I’ve left that girl so many times before.

Relationships as dissected plateaux, flat, but riven with crevices. Will they dig themself out of this one?

I’ve left that girl so many times before… yet you feel he has never made it to Oklahoma before. Maybe he never will, never make it to that unwinding 3rd base.

After all, this is a song of movement, but inferred movement only. He could be sitting in a café in downtown LA or San Diego the whole time, just mapping out how it will unfold. He talks a good leaving, but every time I play the song, I get a different feel. He will go, he will stay. He will go, and come back. Graeme Wood, if you know what I mean.

So Webb’s artifice is to create a magnificent canvas of journey, in a world of paralysis. It’s us that move him across the desert, not really willing him on, but certainly dragging the google map, to see where he goes after Oklahoma. And all the two-bit towns he would pass through.

Journey Without Maps.

This… map without journey…

We use “roadmap” all the time now as a catch-all in our lives.

According to Wikipedia, Webb and Campbell had first met during the production of a General Motors commercial. Webb arrived at the recording session with his Beatle-length hair and approached the conservative singer, who looked up from his guitar and said, “Get a haircut”.

One of my unfulfilled dreams is an art installation thing. I hire out a cinema. There’s a split screen movie playing – he is on the left, probably played by Ryan Gosling, but more likely Aden Young or similar local. She is on the right, played by, I don’t know, someone watchable. Got to look good rising, working, sleeping, reading post-it notes. Maybe Sarah Snook. Good sleeper.

Anyway, it’s a realtime thing. The song starts when he leaves – let’s presume it’s from LA. It could be anywhere – San Diego, perhaps. Maybe San Fran. Webb doesn’t ever say. But let’s presume LA. It’s about 600km and about 5 and a bit hours. So we’ll have him leave around 2, and arrive at 7:30.

And she will rise. And read. And laugh.

By the time I get to Phoenix she’ll be rising
She’ll find the note I left hangin’ on her door
She’ll laugh when she reads the part that says I’m leavin’
‘Cause I’ve left that girl so many times before.

Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 11.19.04 pm

In another 8 hours, it’s Albuquerque. We’ll have him go by Route 60, and then I-25. Towns like Show-Low. Eagar. Pie Town.

And she’ll work and eat and ring.

By the time I make Albuquerque she’ll be working
She’ll probably stop at lunch and give me a call
But she’ll just hear that phone keep on ringin’
Off the wall, that’s all.

Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 11.30.03 pm 

Another 8 hours – and an unknown number of Bennies – gets us to Oklahoma.

By the time I make Oklahoma she’ll be sleepin’
She’ll turn softly and call my name out low
And she’ll cry just to think I’d really leave her
Tho’ time and time I try to tell her so
She just didn’t know I would really go.

Crying, disbelieving. Moaning.

Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 11.31.53 pm

(Thanks to google for the maps.)

As you watch it unfold, you can play every single version of Phoenix ever recorded. You can fast forward to any bit. Or go the whole hog, Renaldo and Clara style, badge of honour as you leave.

An App will help you track progress on google maps and google street view. You will be able to virtually drive the route. Frank Black knew d=r x t.

You will be able to squeeze every last bit of mystery and romance from the song.

I mean, skeletons need flesh; don’t they?

(Thanks to Jimmy Webb for the lyrics.)

Juxtaposition makes this song. It’s just him and his position. And the rest is all about her. Just doing the routine. She is Oblivious. As they head to Oblivion. We get a look into the everyday, to see what happens when someone leaves.

What happened the night before? Who did what to whom? Do we really care? It doesn’t really matter – just be thankful that they did it. (There is an Isaac Hayes prequel version, but this time I’m saying “No, Chef!)

Webb mines the universal vein in Phoenix. It’s a song about she and me.

But the geography, while purely metaphoric, is the pivot. We know those towns, we know the journey, it’s the only road he could have travelled.

You try it – try singing “By the time I get to Ballina”; “By the time I get to Watford”. You will be begging on the street before you know it.

We’ll come back to this theme.

Roads are long and life is lonely, and relationships are like truckstops.

The first time your hear the song, it’s actually only in verse 2 that we realise he is on the move, not just going to Phoenix. And then verse 3 confirms it. In subsequent listens, it’s us doing the projecting, not Webb.

This great icon of a break-up song is a slow cooker. No boilover, not even a simmer.

It’s the first ever boiled frog song about relationships

Haven’t you ever wondered, just what does that part of the note that isn’t about leaving say? Can you buy some milk and bread, please? I fed the dog?

Forget Leo Sayer, Webb is the genius un-sayer.

It’s not even “show, don’t tell”. It’s just “don’t tell”. Don’t explain, because we all get it, we have all left that guy/girl so many times before.

Wikipedia tells us Webb wrote Phoenix in ‘65, Johnny Rivers kicking off the appearances in the charts. Campbell’s signature version went to Number 2 in the country charts in 1967.

He’s a strange cat, that Jimmy Webb. Music’s Shakespeare, I reckon. Up, Up and Away was one of my favourite songs as a kid, courtesy of the Trans Australian Airlines ad. Up Up and Phoenix won 8 Grammys. Webb wrote half the first 5th Dimension album and pretty much all of the second. Macarthur Park – the genius is that it could be dribble, or genius

He moved to LA in the early 60s with 40 bucks from his dad. I read somewhere the studio chiefs saw his talent straight away and effectively begged him to stay in a caravan and write write write, they would bring him food and the other nutrition a great writer needs.

Webb had a string of hits with Campbell and others like the Supremes.

There was to be no haircut.

(thanks to Wikipedia for the facts.)

Just when did the American Dream sour? I couldn’t find that on Wikipedia. Was it already dead when Pet Sounds came out? Was Vietnam just the symptom, not the disease?

From the early 1800s, west they went, for land, water, gold, for rock and roll. For a share of the dream. Chuck’s Route 66 screams out the roll-call of staging posts as we all hurtle Westward, Ho.

But it’s Chuck’s “The Promised Land” that is the clarion, a bus-bound escape to sun and surf and fun and… anyway, allegedly he wrote it in prison in ‘65. Using an atlas as prompt. I was born the same year. And love atlases. The facts are not connected. They are just coincidences. Like points on a line.

Webb wrote Phoenix the same year, from a different kind of prison. By the time Webb had Campbell getting to Phoenix, it was becoming clear, despite Monterey et al, there was no paradise out there. Or anywhere. ’68 was just the exclamation mark.

So we head back east.

To Watergate. To E Street.

Welcome Back, Kotter.

The road as metaphor is the great exemplar of the cliché that is truth nonetheless. Easy Rider. Kerouac. McCarthy’s dystopian scrounging travelogue. Smokey and the Bandit. Duel. Convoy. TransAmerica. Broken Flowers. Kiss or Kill.

Vanishing Point.

Kowalski cremated the dream when he vanished the Dodge into the concrete.

The Band and CSNY and others tried to channel the essential California Dreamin’, to keep it alive. But it was gone, they could only capture a caricature. The music was to become sclerotic, with the Eagles et al the Walking Musical Dead.

The sense of loss is profound. The Americana movement has been searching for it ever since.

What happens after Oklahoma? Why don’t we care?

See, this is not Tangled Up In A Blue Webb. Dylan would have filled the canvas with so much colour and character and history and incident that we would have lost all interest in “she” and “I”… I married Isis on the 5th day of May, early one morning the sun was shining she was laying in bed, someone’s got it in for me they’re printing stories in the press.

30 verses and 200 encounters with svengalii and shaman later we don’t really care, we’re just thankful we survived the ride.

(Actually, there’s a fair bit of Webb in As I Went Out One Morning and even Watchtower, just fragments of stories, circularities. Might explain the revisiting that goes on.)

In the great works, there is no end. Songs, books, movies. Lines go on to infinity.

It’s only 6 Feet Under that dared to show how the next 80 years of the characters’ lives would pan out. It was fun, sad, shocking, corny but worth a crack. It hasn’t been done since.

A journey without beginning or ending. All about ending. Love’s Never-Ending Story.

Jimmy Webb’s musical was called His Own Dark City. Jimmy Webb was born in Oklahoma. The two facts are not necessarily connected.

Is he going to Nashville? Where do the roads take you?

Is it the Country Boy from that song going home to Tennessee? Is the song about Campbell or Webb? Facts don’t help.

You make your own mindmaps out here.

He leaves her a note on the fridge. He breaks up by post-it-note!

I guess you can’t really blame Webb’s villain…

Tho’ time and time I try to tell her so
She just didn’t know I would really go.

I never can say “goodbye”, said Gloria Gaynor, who clearly wasn’t trying very hard.

By the time I get to Phoenix she’ll be rising.


What a line. Stripped of context, it could be about the mythological Phoenix rising. It could be a simple descriptor – the town of Phoenix will be rising when I get there. We even know a woman called Phoenix, it could be about a person.

But we should have known better with a girl like her. This is Lamentations 101. The sun may never rise on this relationship again. The sun was going down on America. No world peace was going to rise from the fiery ruins.

All that remains is the metronome, time passing as wheels go round and round.

Onward, ever onward, on the road to nowhere.


What lies beneath the veil of Bradmania

Found this intro to a book Jonesey and I were going to write into the beautiful period of cricket before Bradman, It’s not bad! Dated 2007 so the attacks are on JW Howard, who manages to make other offspinners look good…

It’s hard to see history as a continuing, evolving stream. We like markers, a beginning and, often, and end.

In European terms, “Modern” history, at least as taught in Australian schools, begins with the French revolution in 1789. Before that, all history is “Ancient”. So, 100,000 years of human history in one category, and 216 years in the other.

You might expect that the delimiter would move forward in time with us, making what was once modern now ancient. Look in the mirror and tell me that’s not true.

In cricketing history, we choose the advent of the Bradman phenomenon as the delimiter. His first game in Sydney, for St George against Petersham at Petersham Oval, in November 1926, is the dawn of modern cricket history.

This is not to equate Bradman with Napoleon – his successes too polite, his failures so unromantic. (If we were looking for a parallel, Ian Chappell, the great moderniser, would be a better fit.)

As each year passes, and the amount of information placed in front of us grows, it becomes harder to look back into time and see what has gone before. This is especially the case with cricket, where our ageing memories shrink in direct proportion to the number of tests played, and the decreasing periods between them.

Each wave of history, each crescendo of achievement, works to obscure what has come before. Already we’re being force-fed the Clarke/Watson era as if it was a reality, and we haven’t even laid to rest the Waughs/Warne/Hayden/McGrath/Gilchrist era. Before that was the Border/Simpson era; the Chappell(s) era; the Benaud/Davo era; Bradman’s Invincibles; and Bradman before the war.

To put it into perspective, between 1877 and 1926, 50 summers, Australia played x tests, or . We also capped x players, or … And even outside of the Great War, there were still gaps of up to x months between tests (example)

You can see how Bradman’s complete domination of Australian and world cricket form 1928 to 1949 blots out anything that happened before it. It’s a cricketing blanket fog.

But there was life before Bradman. Just as there was civilisation before Napoleon, and even before the Medicis, Michelangelo, Leonardo.

We talk of how the Renaissance ended the Dark Ages, but in cricket many have called these pre-Bradman years “The Golden age”. Indeed, George Giffen wrote a book of that title.

So to ignore Clem Hill, Archie Jackson, Victor Trumper, Fiery Fred Spofforth, Tibby Cotter or Arthur Mailey would be as heinous as ignoring the Norman Invasion, the Hansa League, the Domesday Book, Magna Carta, not to mention the centuries of enlightenment that flowed out of Africa and Asia, long before Europeans started to get their shit together.

Not to mention Bardsley, Armstrong, Trumble, Murdoch, Noble, the Gregorys.

Yet all we ever seem to hear about, from our Prime Minister down, is Bradman. And what he begat.

There’s history there, lying under the silt and clay, like those skeletons at Lake Mungo. Just waiting to be uncovered.

Looking at that era gives a glimpse of the major issues cricket would face – debates over professionalism, contract disputes, constant rule changes, attempts to globalise the game. There were Aboriginal tours, games of XI vs XXII, and even the ugly face of sectarianism. It was time when it was Ok to be a Trott, and, if you were Midwinter, to change horses mid-summer.

Our problem’s not with Bradman. He WAS the greatest player ever, quite possibly of any sport. But he was not the only great player Australia ever produced. And he certainly wasn’t the most interesting –the metronomic prose of My farewell to cricket, reflecting the robotic nature of his genius, is one of the great cures for insomnia.

Just as history would suffer if we only examined Caesar, Alexander, Napoleon or Churchill, so is cricket the loser from an obsession with the Don.

His star eclipses everything.

But if we could build a Hubble telescope (rumoured to be named after WA’s spare parts paceman of the 1960s, Jim Hubble), to look past our sun back into time and place, surely it’s time to look past the Bradman constellation, to see the mystery and complexity of cricket as it was forming?

The Kiss of Life and Death – free book idea

 As flagged when I set up this blog, I’ll chuck up what I think are some promising ideas that I know I will never pursue.

Just found this outline from 2007 when looking for a story on Billy Midwinter… anyway, anyone wants to have a crack or collaborate, go for it/let me know…

 The Executioners –  a history of Australian test selectors, and their selections (maybe “The Kiss of Life and Death” is more marketable,a  it Drusilla Modjeska meets a Flanagan?)
* intro piece – the rise of “tenure” among players – and selectors. what if a coup – players sacking the selectors. 11/11/1975 etc etc. how it works in other countries.
1. Australian test selection – history and process. Home, and away.
2. Key personalities
3. Their playing records
4. Patterns – bowlers picking bowlers; states etc
5. Ranking – based on results of dropped/picked players. a selection index?
6. List of all Australian interventions post-WWII. categorise into retirement, injury, pitch conditions; dropping; retirement (forced and voluntary). who was picked -average length in game, age, recall, how long they lasted etc  Timeline.
7. Pen pictures – 20 executions and 10 beatifications:
Bichel 2004 (and Brad Williams?)
Slater x 2
Geoff Marsh
Whitney 89
Wood 88-9 (nice piece comes up on cricinfo about Woody)
Matthews post-Sharjah
Zoehrer “”
Yallop 84-5
Laird 82-3
Yallop 81-2
Walters 81
Yardley and Higgs 81
Hookes 79-80 (scored 43 and 37 against Windies – dropped!)
J Benaud
Greg Chappell
Miller (SA tour?)
Grimmett 38
also touch on Taylor, S Waugh and Hayden in ODI, maybe Yardley and World Cup 83
Martyn 2006
Symonds/Watson experimentation
Gavin Robertson
Peter Taylor
T Chappell, Beard, Bright, Wellham, Kent 81
Alderman 81
Richie Robinson
John Watkins
Thommo 72-3
(allowances will be made for depletion during WSC and SA rebel tours – so picking Hibbert and Kerr and Mann etc will not feature. the changeability in those times will be critiqued in 6 above.)
for these pen pictures, thinking lots of “reaction” – photos of headlines, quotes etc -and interview with the selectors (if alive) and players, to see how the news was communicated, how they felt, what info was given etc etc. and how long it took to get over it etc.
am thinking low production format, but lots of graphs and b/w pictures – like that ABC stat book I still have that you must read. maybe 240 pages.
can either be functional (as above) or just a historical narrative – so we deal with 1946-64, say, as one long piece, add all of the relevant bios from above for that era are discussed within it. maybe a “start writing and see” issue?

One day in Newtown, and not quite Newtown…


Beck, looking all Brian Jones, beckoning me up King St


Nobody gives a fig about cyclists!


GBH – girl by herself?


You Majesty looks like the Piss Boy!




Gumnut babies


Fitzroy Lane mechanic mural


Devo devotee, or Rust Never Sleeps?


This art is truly not FUKT


Off Denison St, cool geezer but he reminds me of William H Macy


I’m always touched by your presence, dear!


Reality imitating art imitating shit


Newtown Art Seat, and seater


Rasta metal mongrel!


One last rest at the Hub



Bailey St. oi!


Bailey beetles


Purple rain
, IMG_7863

X marks something or other


Postie therapy


Cathay away


Wild cats of Don St.


Aorta have more heart than to make a cheap pun about this


Don’t know about you, but I’m scared!


This was at the back of a house we lived in once in Fulham St. With the rents, this is about all we would be able to afford now : (


Big M little m what begins with m… Many marvellous murals on Margaret, look at them!








Oh yeah, you light up my dogshitbag dispenser


This is actually handpainted. Nice touch!


Giving me the good cat, bad cat routine, are you?


Sausage vent?


Enmore Tafe students colouring in between the lines


Ink ink, you stink


Australia St area mural by Akisiew and Hazzy Bee


Akisiew and Hazzy Bee signatures by Akisiew and Hazzy Bee



And these last two are from one of Newtown’s best kept secrets, in Station Lane, a mural by Hazzy Bee and Akisiew inspired, I can only presume, by the mass bird deaths in Arkansas over a couple of years :

All photos copyright Peter Warrington, copyright for the original street art pieces remains with the street artists responsible.

The boy who cried “Virgin”… confessions of a plane spotter, of the amateur variety

You can see all sorts of things in Marrickville, the happening and slightly hipster capital of Sydney’s grooving, booming, bulging Inner West. We live near Enmore Park, which has a new pool and playground, cafes on its fringes, a re-made hipster pub hang across the road, unleashed dogs, women doing boxing classes, places to park shopping trolleys, and a constant flow of kids and their parents.

Anyway, there’s this guy who goes to Enmore Park. He gets excited, and starts to point. And then he yells “Virgin, Virgin, Virgin!”, and his two young girls come running, stand next to him, point, and join in: “Virgin, Virgin, Virgin!” People stop and stare, or start dialing the Police helpline, but these three just smile and nod.

OK, those of you in the know will know that that Virgin-shouting weirdo is me. And the girls are mine. We would have just seen Virgin Atlantic’s beautiful A340-600, the longest plane in the world, head off to Hong Kong. Four red engines, sleek and smooth, like a racing Ferrari in the sky. Only flies once a day.

You see, we like to watch the planes. We live between both main flight paths for Kingsford Smith Airport, so you can learn to love them, or you can go mad. Luckily for me, I have always loved the planes, going right back to pre-school days when education was sitting on the hill at Arncliffe watching the beautiful birds come in. Back then, 707s and 727s and Fokkers and the first Jumbos and the pure adrenalin of Concorde; Sonic Youth had a different meaning back then. I was transfixed by the TAA version of Jimmy Webb’s “Up, Up and Away”.

And now it’s my turn, the girls and me and 80 movements an hour, planes from everywhere, colours and symbols and shapes and technologies of many and various types. Geography and industry and physics and art, in one glorious, loud spectacle. Well, sometimes loud, the A380s and Boeing 787 Dreamliners are like genteel breezes compared to the hurricanes of Singapore’s older 767’s and the aging bulls that are the mighty 747s, the once-future of aviation fast being re-imagined as a jumbo-sized mistake.

Except when they abort a landing. One day in Enmore Park a Singapore A38o pulled out of its landing right over head, the groan and the scream of engines and flaps like something from another dimension. Exciting, unless you were on the plane.

I’m not a plane nerd in the purest sense, being almost completely devoid of aeronautical or combustion engine knowledge. A guy I used to work with once sat on a train to Newcastle and tried to explain how planes fly (and boats float and how computers work and cameras and and and ) but I came out none the wiser and decided to remain a passionate, technical illiterate. I’m not really fussed by fitout either – I mean, I love flying no matter where or who with, but I do that once every 9 months, and see a plane about once every 9 seconds, so it’s what’s on the outside that matters to me…

… a rainbow of colours. Lots of corporate red, in majority (Virgin Blue – get it?) or minority (Qantas).  Passionate orange, a clever choice by brand setters Jetstar. Yellow is Tiger and the garish red and yellow DHL, a reminder of the strip Watford wore when losing the 84 Cup Final. Some green flashes in the Vanuatu and AirCalin colours. Lots of soothing blue, Garuda and United. UPS is an indigo girl. Purple for Thai. Qantas even has a pink breast cancer awareness-raiser Dash with propellers.

… there are stars galore, Jetstar and Lan Chile. Flowers. Animals – kangaroos and tigers and birds; I used to surprise the girls by saying we would go visit the tigers and ‘roos, and they weren’t too disappointed when we pulled up at KSA rather than Taronga Zoo.

… there are planes with jet engines and propellers. Planes with two engines and four. Planes with one deck, and planes with upstairs as well.

… there are passenger planes, and there are cargo planes. Whilst most cargo goes out in the hold of passenger planes, there’s a growing array of dedicated freighters, from Qantas and Thai and Singapore and Korean and even Emirates and a seriously spooky Jumbo from Cathy Pacific which, with no windows and sleek shape, reminds me of the bomber in Dr Strangelove. There are the parcel posters like DHL, UPS and FedEx. And big global freight-only operators, like Polar, which comes to Sydney from Cincinatti, and Atlas.

… and there is the champion Flying Doctor service and the champion Ambulance plane. Making up for the private jets, the casino high-roller express, and the dickhead Prime Minister’s Air Force jet.

As a geographer, I also love the sense of connectedness that comes with aviation. Where planes are going, who is catching them and why. And the questions of political economy, like why we had no planes from India, with its 1.whatever billion people. The 1.whatever and a bit billion Chinese are serviced by 5 or 6 Chinese carriers – Cathay, China Southern, China Eastern, Air China, China Airlines (Taipei) and Hainan Air for a while. Plus Qantas, and Virgin Atlantic to Hong Kong.

The answer lies in the relative stage of economic development, business networks, and tourist preferences. And competition  between Sydney and Melbourne Airports. But Air India at least now flies to Sydney once a day, in a spiffy and pretty Dreamliner. You go to India via Melbourne, but it’s a beginning, and I think you might see 3-4 flights a day in 10 years, and 3-4 Indian airlines in 20 years.

Put all of that together and it’s a carnival of the skies. Sometimes it’s so mundane, one Qantas A320 from Melbourne or Brisbane after another, but at other times, like between 6 and 7 in the mornings, it’s a tidal wave of energy from all around the world.

We spend so much time with the planes overhead – at school, the pool, in the park, playing golf, walking home from shopping, hanging out the washing – that I invented a game. Nominate a colour, symbol and type of plane for each plane as you hear them approach. Whoever Frankie picked is the winner. Simple but effective boredom killer.

I love the planes so much I get very possessive. Virgin Atlantic announced last month that they won’t fly to Australia from Hong Kong any more, meaning their beautiful red bird will be gone from the skies. That would leave only Etihad flying the A340-600, the racing car of planes. It reminds me of the Fireflash from the first Thunderbirds episode, a childlike vision of everything beautiful and magical about flying. Very sad to see it go.

And then, out of the blue, Philippines switched their plane from an A-330 to the four engine A340-400, smaller than the 600 but still very interesting. You lose some, you win some. It joins Aerolineas Argentina, LAN and the troop contract flyer ADAGOLD in flying the 340-400, the latter a creepy albino.

I had to check my possessiveness when working on the recent Sydney Aviation Capacity Study. I tried to not be biased by consideration of which planes would go to a new airport and which would remain, wishing to avoid a Qantas bland-out,  an endless stream of silver Holden Astras, functional, boring (but at least the B717 has the engines up on the wing).

Yes, it’s a fascinating industry, hostage to fuels costs and maintenance costs and fleet adaptability and low cost carrier models and alliances and the search for mid-hemisphere hubs. Why, one, day, we might be hubbing out of Kabul, but the mountains might intrude. Still, Air Turkey will start pumping capacity to Europe via Istanbul next year…

Sydney Airport is one of the most congested traffic spots in Sydney, and I confess to contributing to that congestion. Hundreds of times when the girls wouldn’t sleep, I would drive the perimeter roads listening to Glenn Gould and savouring the peace among the unquiet. And then we began planned trips, mostly inside the terminals, coming in on the bus, sitting at the end of one of the gate piers chewing banana bread and watching the main runway and the hosties and the buses and the trolleys, sometimes seeing 1000 people queued in big international jets while a little Rex flight to Dubbo warmed itself up. Taking advantage of the toilets and the coffee and the shelter, all the things a parent needs. And then there’s the old viewing carpark on Botany Bay, where the hardcore nerds with their zoom lenses and radio monitors go, a fascinating little pocket frequented by champion racehorses as well. You can even walk right up to the airport fence, where jumbos as big as skyscrapers taxi by, we imagine the pilots and passengers are all waving as hard as we are.


And now Ikea at Tempe is “on”, the window seats in the cafe one of the best views in the world. Free coffee for Family members.

Amongst all of that airborne beauty, I have a top 10. It’s always extra exciting to see one of the top 10. And here they are, in reverse:

10, Vietnam

Nice jet, and very attractive full body modern blue. Lotus flower symbol.

9. Fed Ex.

A purple plane. Wilson jokes. MD-10 with the engine on the back, Brought me my boots from LA overnight.

8. Virgin A 340-600 see above

7. Air Asia reverse.

The Air Asia standard livery of red with white flowers and symbols is pretty nice. But this “See Malaysia” livery is a tourist brochure in the sky, the Petronas Towers on the tail. Doesn’t come often, but makes you wonder why others don’t market their countries with their fleet.

6. Aeropelican.

Small regional NSW carrier with plane dressed as a pelican. Followers of my blog will know I am coming back as a pelican. Maybe I will come back as an Aeropelican.

5. Air Canada

Something calming about this mid-morning departure, a lovely and understated paint job and the iconic maple leaf, the red lettering the clincher. Modern 777 and it goes to Vancouver and my local bus doesn’t. “It’s never a bad day if you see Canada”.

4. Areolineas – Argentina

An A340, older, its livery to change, for the worse. Maradona. The quirkiness of having a  flight to Sth America. Only comes 3 times a week – scores points for rarity.

3. Painted Qantas

These Aboriginal-themed planes are Qantas’ best asset, spreading a unique Australia to the world. I would repaint the whole fleet like this, make or more likely break. Not seen in a while and potentially avoiding rust in the Cadillac Ranch of Arizona,

2. New Air NZ.

This black beauty is sex in the sky, allegedly modelled on the iconic All Black strip. Rebranding matters, Air NZ is a quality airline and its old strip is completely fine, but this baby is going to take the world by storm. Air Fiji has followed, shedding its infantile coloured stripes for a more native look.

1. Hawaiian

This beautiful lady sneaks into Sydney at 19:10 every night, and leaves again before the curfew. A spectacular purple livery and entrancing hibiscus wearer on the tail, the only plane with a human on it (other than the Air Asia reverse) that serves Sydney. She reminds the girls of their maternal grandmother.

What are your favourite planes? Any stories from living around the airport?

STOP PRESS: found this ripper on the airliners site. Seriously, seriously cool. Have to travel to Central Asia or Moscow to see it I guess, but it would be worth it!

And here’s some links to galleries, and some fantastic transport art from Sydney-based Alan Spears.

Airbus A380-841 F-WWDD (msn 004) "Own the sky" LBG (Marcelo F. De Biasi). Image: 912600.

Steel you away a.k.a. Big Whoop to Wuppertal :p

I’ve got a thing for steel. In construction, it’s the real deal. I’ve no engineering cred, and failed metalwork (and woodwork and leatherwork and music and art). But I have this thing for steel. The Sydney Harbour Bridge, its gray and thrusting glory, its curves, its brutal functionality – I choose her, over 100 Sydney Opera Houses. (And I choose the hammerhead crane at Garden Island, doomed as she is.)

I was late to love. I’d been to Paris many times but delayed gratification as long as I could; I think it pays to leave another reason to visit. So when I finally touched the Eiffel Tower in mid-2004, I was ready to commit. That busy and almost-embroidered superstructure, that soaring summit surrounded by lawn and river and six storey walk-ups. Amazing from a distance, and even more so up close. There was a firefighter stopwork meeting held beneath the buttresses, firecrackers and foghorns, an ampitheatre of solidity and sensitivity.


Later I researched Eiffel and how his innovative use of steel girders was applied to skyscraper design and construction. Even if the Tower had been dismantled as planned, his legacy would have been secured.

Years passed – six years, years of stopping and starting and false starts – it was time for another trip, with partner and child and grandparents. Paris was obviously on the list, but I decided to adopt a broader “steel” theme. Paris-Wuppertal-Bilbao. The latter was an obvious choice because we had always meant to “do” Northern Spain but had wavered and fizzled, the Guggenheim was there and so was the Bizkaia at Portugelate. More of that later…

Wuppertal was the one that had everyone scratching their heads. Especially the Germans. Why the fuck Wuppertal?  It’s just a smallish provincial city northeast of Cologne. But it has the Schwebebahn, the gondola monorail. Built in brutal steel. Innovative, effective, but an engineering dead-end.

I had been obsessed with the Schwebebahn since it starred in Tom Tykwer’s film The Princess and The Warrior. Franke Potente also starred. It’s a fascinating, arid love story of misfits, and the dreamlike sequences shot on the Schwebebahn captivated me. Round and round the city it went, straddled over dense streets and the river, a giant eel, fishing and gliding. In my past life, it became a running joke for me to proffer up a Schwebebahn as the solution to Sydney’s transport problems – it wasn’t the dumbest idea I had; you should have heard the one about a metro from… never mind : (

When we had visited Europe in 2004, we had to travel from Luzern to Lyon, and someone had left a copy of a newspaper on my train seat. On the front page was a story about the 100-year anniversary of the Schwebebahn! Even through the jetlag, I was resonating with coincidence. But we didn’t go that time.

Jump back with me to 2010 and the detailed itinerary planning. I figure I can sneak to Wuppertal by highspeed train and be back the same day. This is it, it’s now or never. So I book a ticket to Cologne on the Thalys and it’s cheap and I’m excited and everyone else thinks I am weird and consistently I treat that as a compliment and that is how I live my life and will keep on living it.

We come to Paris and I revisit the Eiffel, this time with my daughter, aged two and a half. She buys a small pink replica to hang off her backpack. Her grandparents are in Paris for the first time and he, a fitter and turner of some genius and decades of resilience, is also in awe of the engineering masterpiece. And he can explain it to me and translate the structural principles into a sort-of English. On our first night we had looked out and the Tower had been lit with flashing lights and fireworks, kitsch but we were kids in the kitschen, rushing to get our cameras.

Then the day dawns for me to go Wuppertal. My Thalys leaves at 6:30 so I’m up at 4, having a shower in our rented apartment and scalding myself on a baroque piece of exposed pipe. It wakes me up properly, and I am grateful of a variety, I see the irony in pain inflicted by metal on this day of all days. I take the metro to Gare du Nord and have a breakfast and decide to buy the last book in the Lisbeth Salander trilogy even though I haven’t read the other two. The Thalys is red and sleek, bound for Brussels then either Cologne or Amsterdam, one being an IT and media headquarters and the other still a mercantile wet dream. Even on Sunday, there are business people being propelled along this great economic corridor at 320km/h, blowing away the BMWs on the motorways, throwing shadows as fast as hurricanes on the golden fields.


Belgium arrives and I remember from a much earlier trip how British the coal towns look. It’s as if Orwell or someone wrote a “coalmining towns for dummies” and franchised it in Benelux languages. And then we’re through Aachen into Germany for the first time in 15 years despite saying I would never go back. But that was before the Schwebebahn.

The Deutsche Bahn office in Cologne is a monument to efficiency and courtesy, and integration of each and every transport need is achievable with the push of the right button, the periodic advancement in a queue and the exchange of Euros. There is a pass that lets you travel to Wuppertal and use all public transport – including the Schwebebahn – and that is what I buy. It is about 10am by now and I am feeling so fucking smart, and start getting the camera ready.

I would like to say the road to Wuppertal was paved with good intentions, but I went by train, and the carriages were mostly filled by people seemingly going from village to village for church services. After about 40 minutes we started to come into the outer suburbs of Wuppertal, and I was like a laughing clown, turning from side to side to catch a first glimpse of the green supports and the rails. There she was. Between some buildings. And again, over there, as the track looped around. The train pulled into the Hauptbahnhoff and I grabbed my daypack and threw the camera around my neck, expecting to join the swarm of daytrippers and trainspotters on the platform.


It was pretty dead. Germany is quiet on Sundays. Most retail is shut. It’s none of my business if they want none of my business. I grab a map and discern where the main Schwebebahn station is. I see the rails, and a train sitting there. I decide not to run, the frequency is pretty high. So I control my excitement and just walk around the corner into the station. The barriers are down. I look for another entrance. Barriers. WTF? Maybe this station is closed on weekends. I go to the ticket office. And there it is, the simple handwritten notice, “closed for repairs Sunday 12 October. Buses operating.” I gag. I have had 4 or 5 coffees and too much pastry and I can taste it all. Or is that it? Could that be something else in my mouth, a sad taste of rude awakening?

I check the date and my ticket and the sign and gesture and swear and the drunks who are everywhere gesture and swear and drink their beer. And I walk, I follow a crowd of people who don’t look drunk, into a modern shopping complex, where I figure I will hide and recover my haughty and work out my next move or how to spin this all to my advantage. But the shops are shut, people are window shopping in a mall on a Sunday because there is FUCKING NOTHING TO DO IN WUPPERTAL! And I know I deserve this, because I have been told, by multiple Germans with no axe to grind. I am the dictionary definition of bathos. In my own bathysphere, big enough for one.

Now I am convinced I will die and be buried in Wuppertal and I just have to get the hell out of there.  A souvenir shop yields two postcards and no mugs except this one. So I run to the station and jump a train back to Cologne, I know that there is a Thalys back to Paris at 13:00. I realise I can blame the DB attendant who sold me the pass for Wuppertal, she could have told me the line was closed. It would have made a small difference. I can blame her. So I head to her counter but she is gone and they won’t let me change my ticket without paying a supplement twice what I paid for the whole return ticket. I am starting to feel like Cary Grant in North by Northwest. I curse, tell everyone ahem that Sydney has a better transport system, or at least more caring staff, and head out into the wilds of Cologne with 6 hours to kill till my train to Paris. Did I mention it’s Sunday and everything in Germany is closed? Cathedral, trains, town square, beer, a third lunch. 5 hours to kill. Internet cafe, Australia doing ok in India, check work emails. Beer. Cathedral at dusk. Train station.


I have loaded up on German beer and have plans to drink to forget. I flirt with the idea of spinning it that the camera didn’t work but I still enjoyed the ride. But some deep, generally unrecognisable wellspring of maturity tells me that would make me even more pathetic. And then the beer goes flat because my heart isn’t really in it. I head up the carriage at 320 km/h to put it in the bin and we hit a curve at 320 km/h and the carriage jerks sideways and this jerk jerks sideways and throws his hands to the sides to brace and the wheat beer of great distinction essays a perfect curve all across the chest and face of a terribly nice and sympathetic woman of no easily identifiable lineage. Fuck me dead. This is it. They will kill me as a lager lout or softcock who can’t hold his beer, and it is OK, because i want and need to die. Right now.

She’s actually fine with being lathered in stale ale. Almost apologetic. Maybe my pathetic apologies and genuine harrow transcend the language barriers. Everyone nods and smiles and waves and does the old palms upturned peace man thing. Except for the prick in C32 who tuts and tuts and tuts. All the way to Paris.

Then my last metro ticket gets eaten at Gare du Nord and it’s almost midnight and I am convinced I will be eating by a dragon or mugged or at least fined for not having a ticket. But it’s OK, I walk through our arrondissement with the immigrants and the cats and the lovers. And by now I am enjoying the pain. You have to laugh, if not least because you know everyone else will – might as well get in first. So I laugh, a big head back, shrieking laugh. Like Sean Penn at the end of U-Turn. With better teeth. It’s after midnight when I get home and everyone’s asleep so I kiss my girl gently and tell her mum I’ll share my story in the morning.

The moral of the story is that only a dickhead would leave Paris and travel halfway across Europe and back in a day to ride around in a bloody toy train they saw in a movie. Guilty, as charged. But the story is better this way. I got to draw a line under my Schwebebahn obsession… if I had managed to ride the bloody ungainly beast that may have been the end of my transport planning career. I had to work much harder than that to reach the endgame.

We did get to Bilbao and ride the glorious Bizkaia transporter bridge, which we could see out the window of our swish room in a converted old palace. It’s a great town, Bilbao, and you could get seriously hard for titanium once you see the Guggenheim glistening in the sun. The guy who built the transporter bridge – a mechanism that hangs from turrets and shunts cars and people across a waterway without blocking shipping – was a disciple of Eiffel’s, and it shows. There’s only two or three left in the world that function, but that’s another story…




I’ve enjoyed being 48. No, really enjoyed it. Maybe, hopefully, it’s truly middle aged, I wouldn’t mind living till 96. Fit and healthy and going out watching the Tiges or the cricket while patting a cat and chewing a ripe raspberry. Having bodysurfed.

As a kid, 48 Crash was always my favourite Suzi Quatro song; everyone else seemed to like the Rocky Horror style carnival of DevilGate Drive. Some of you cool kids will probably say you liked “Can the Can”, and that would be fine by me. 48 Crash, that crazy chorus, smash bash 48 crash.

Anyway, I made it here. And then I started to think about what comes next. And it hit me. 48 has the beautiful, simple integer thing happening. first digit half the second. look back, didn’t you enjoy 12, 24, 36? great years, great numbers.

you better enjoy it. it’s like Halley’s Comet. blink, gone. the next one to aim for is 510! then 612. and on and on.

no, better to enjoy 48, and then crash. silk sash bash. like a lightning flash. as Lene Lovich would say, oooh oooh, oooh oooh, my lucky number’s 48.