August anniversaries

It’s the end of the phone call that I remember the most. Before she hung up, she said: “Drive safely”.

I’m sure it was a standard line, but I’m equally sure she meant it. She was a nurse; the last thing she’d want having communicated the bad news would be the recipient having a crash on the way to be there.

I rang my sister, and simply said “He’s gone”, and we headed to the hospital to see Dad.

That was five years ago today.

I still miss him, the clever, silly man. His final years were a challenge for us, but I know that to the last, he was busy reading, writing, thinking — and watching rugby.

His loss is not something that sticks in my mind constantly, but it is something I think about a lot at this time of year.

Other anniversaries this month

In fact any August in a year divisible by five is full of anniversaries for me.

This year I’ll be turning 45. The beauty of being born in a “zero” year is it’s easy to remember my age.

It’ll be 10 years since I bought my house.

15 years since the only time I lost an hour from my birthday, thanks to the early switch to daylight savings for the Olympics.

It’ll be 20 years since Windows 95 came out, which I remember with great affection. (My eldest son also turned 20 earlier this year – something also remembered with great affection!)

It’ll be 25 years since I started the Toxic Custard mailing list, the forerunner of this blog.

The ABC Shops to close

Warning! No transport content! If you only want to see transport blog posts, you can use this URL, or sign up to the email alerts!

My first recollection of the ABC Shop in Melbourne was a small space in their then Lonsdale Street radio HQ, which was where the County Court is now — on the corner of Queen Street.

I think it’s where I got the 1983 Doctor Who 20th Anniversary Special book (a local reprint of a UK Radio Times publication), as well as the Doctor Who Technical Manual (in hardback no less) – both still in our family.

Later on they were in the Galleria (in bottom of the gigantic State Bank, later Commonwealth Bank building at Elizabeth/Bourke Streets), and at times I bought Monty Python VHS tapes, DAAS Book (which I got autographed at the shop by the Doug Anthonys… since sold on eBay) and lots more Doctor Who merchandise, of course. This includes a bunch of laminated posters of paintings from renowned franchise artist Andrew Skilleter, one that also marked the 20th anniversary story (The Five Doctors) — which eldest son Isaac has since had autographed by Fifth Doctor Peter Davison — at an ABC Shop, of course.

Doctor Who 20th anniversary poster

Since then the Melbourne CBD shop has moved to the GPO, then more recently to Emporium. And meanwhile they’ve popped up in most big shopping centres.

We still love browsing, and occasionally buying there. The selection of DVDs is more focussed than somewhere like JB Hifi, and the range of other merchandise is good. (Have you seen the amount of Doctor Who stuff that’s available nowadays?!)

Admittedly I browse more than I buy, but purchasable gems still abound… in March I found this excellent documentary:

So it’s sad to hear all ABC Shops will be closing in the next year or two.

I’ll miss them.

Online will continue, but it won’t be the same.

PS. Trivia: before the recent crop of Doctor Who pop-up shops, there used to be a BBC Shop. Okay, it wasn’t a standalone shop, but a dedicated section of Thomas’s Music on the ground floor of the Southern Cross hotel building.

Five years ago today: A day on the trains

Five years ago today I posted this video: A Day on the Trains.

The footage for it was gathered over the space of a month or two in the dying days of the Connex Melbourne Empire in late 2009, and it was designed to capture a few scenes I thought might be changing in the coming years.

Obviously some things have changed, others remain the same.

  • Liveries: Connex (Metlink) became Metro (Metlink), and then became Metro/PTV
  • Metcard is gone, replaced by Myki
  • Many of the old CRT screens at stations have been replaced by newer flat screen displays

What else can you spot?

The system has become more busy, with more services on some lines. Punctuality has improved (thanks in part to padded timetables and station skipping), but cancellations haven’t. And transport is just as big an election issue as ever.

PS. I’ve since learnt that the skewing effect of large objects moving rapidly past the camera is called rolling shutter.

Before home video

In the days before home video, we had to resort to other means to re-live movies and TV shows.

Novelisations of productions were common. I knew people who had hundreds of Doctor Who novelisations — virtually every story had a book published. I had perhaps a dozen.

WarGames book coverOther books made it into publication — scripts, programme guides, and spin-off material. Of course these are still common, but perhaps only for specific “cult” titles that the makers think will sell really well.

I used to have the script for The Singing Detective. At home I still have two books from The Goodies, which have a wealth of quite amusing material. I didn’t bought them, but acquired them both from the primary school library during clear-outs.

Some people would record TV shows onto audio tape. About a hundred 1960s Doctor Who stories are still lost — but audio recordings exist for every single one. (It’s perhaps a sign of the priorities of big bureaucracies like the BBC that paperwork exists for all the stories, despite the actual stories having been thrown out.)

In the 80s before I had saved up for a VCR, I recorded some stuff onto audio… from memory by just putting a tape recorder close to the TV, though I may have later rigged up a cord connecting the two directly. The Young Ones was an example — I had most episodes on cassette, and listened to them regularly for a while.

One of the movies I bought the novelisation of back in the day was WarGames, which as I’ve written about before, was very influential on me. As I recall it follows the movie script closely, but has a few extra titbits: such as that after the movie ends, David gets a summer job doing computer work at NORAD, and his school is convinced to buy some computers to teach computer studies to the students.

I don’t know what happened to my copy of the book. Presumably I got rid of it during a house move at some point. So in the best traditions of nostalgia, when I got curious and looked on eBay the other week, I found a copy for under $10, and bought it again.

I still love the movie. I bought the 25th anniversary Blu-ray release recently as well — it looks great in high-definition. I’ll probably re-read the book at some stage. It’s only 220 pages — it’ll be a pretty quick read I’m sure.

Nowadays, people can record anything off TV easily using cheap technology, and perhaps every major TV show and movie is released on DVD and/or Blu-ray, and (eventually) repeated ad infinitum on one of the many TV channels. No wonder novelisations have mostly disappeared, and few people record audio off the TV anymore.

  • Ever wondered about the term “Wardriving“, meaning to look for open Wifi networks while driving? It’s derived from “War dialling“, meaning to ring lots of phone numbers looking for computers answering… the word came from the movie.)
  • Speaking of scripts, there are over 80 made freely (and legally) available for download here: Go Into The Story

Who remembers Infinity Limited?

Sometime one morning in 1983 (I think) I was walking through Elsterwick Park on my way to the bus stop to go to school (year 7), when I saw a hot air balloon at low altitude.

On the basket appeared to be a Penrose triangle — the logo for Infinity Limited, the ABC’s science show for kids, which we used to watch at school. Turned out they were filming a scene for an episode — the park is less than a kilometre from the ABC studios in Ripponlea.

To my amusement, the someone’s found it and put it on Youtube.

In each episode, Infinity Limited’s Rick and Krystal would try and solve a science-related problem for their clients, with downstairs company Vortex Ventures, run by Vortex and his assistant Plankton, would try and steal their ideas and customers.

I’m not expecting anybody to watch the whole thing, but the balloon bit is at 16:20. There are also some scenes with Vortex and Plankton trying unsuccessfully to take-off using small balloons — I think that looks like Caulfield Park — the playground at 18:50 looks very familiar, though the big slide has now been removed.

Computer geeks might like to note the presence of an Atari 800 at 1:40. Wouldn’t be surprised if something like it was used to create the first part of the title sequence.

Who else remembers watching this show in the 80s?