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Thirty years on

Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.

This is especially so for school reunions. My eldest son is pondering whether to even go to his – the people he wants to stay in touch with, he does via Facebook.

Fair enough.

I however do go to my school reunions. Melbourne High School has an active Old Boys Association which is very well organised for them.

The 30th (gulp) reunion was on Friday night.

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The old school. 30 years on #gulp

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Those of us who got there by 5:30 got to have a tour of the school. Much of it looks about the same, but most (but not all) of the old portable buildings have been replaced. Overall the grand old school building is looking good, though a little shabby in places. There’s never enough funding for as much maintenance as they’d like.

And… gasp… we got to go to the top of the tower. I never got to go up there as a student.

The view was spectacular.

View from the tower at Melbourne High School, looking west across the city

View from the tower at Melbourne High School, looking northeast

View from the tower at Melbourne High School, looking east

The reunion proper was down in the pavilion as usual. Of the 300-odd-strong cohort, about 60 attended, perhaps not too bad after this long.

Some speeches, a flood of memories, some reflection on those who didn’t make it to thirty years, then some raucous singing.

The song “Forty Years On” might have been specifically designed for school reunions, and it’s damn devious of the school to implant it in our brains while when young so we can belt it out in our senior years.

Most valuable was some good chats with old friends who I hadn’t seen in a while.

One bloke I was with at primary school too. We had a strong bond in grade six (what’s that, 36 years ago?), but we lost touch in high school — and having thought about it over the weekend, I think that was my fault.

Melbourne High School at dusk

So it was good to catch up, have some laughs and reminisce over old times.

Great to see them all in person. Better than Facebook and Linked In.

And the view from the tower was better in person, too. Well worth going.

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So darling share this wine with me, we’ll be together on the eve of World War 3

Friday night concert! I was sold on Things Of Stone And Wood – though my compradres were really going for the support act, Club Hoy.

It might be cruel to call TOSAW a one-hit wonder, though none of their efforts charted as well as Happy Birthday Helen. But the song was on an album called “The Yearning” (1993) which I really really liked back in the day… perhaps apart from the title track, which seemed overly earnest and solemn. I liked it so much I had both the album on CD, and the EP of the single. Listening to the album today, it’s still terrific.

Friday night’s concert was a full performance of “The Yearning”, a near 25th anniversary performance. I admit, the last two concerts I’d been to were similar setups: Ocean Colour Scene’s Moseley Shoals, and Deborah Conway’s String Of Pearls.

A nostalgic Gen X-er and his money are easily parted.

Northcote Social Club, 24/3/2017

M and I made our way to Northcote and met up with Tony and Elizabeth. We found some dinner and as we chatted over some food, which gave Elizabeth and I a chance to hear Tony and M’s tale of being shushed for talking at a concert many moons ago by a fan of the support act. Don’t talk over Dave Graney!

A notice in the window of the Northcote Social Club gave us the running times of each act (and a song lyric on the sign above), and we opted for dessert over Rick Hart (sorry Rick).

We headed into the club at about 9:30 and found a spot close to the stage.

Club Hoy at the Northcote Social Club, 24/3/2017

Club Hoy came on, and were really good, despite two blokes behind us talking incessantly about the other concerts they’d been to (and presumably talked through).

After a few songs, another bloke trying intently to listen to the band turned around. “Shhhh!”

“Sorry mate”. They disappeared. I laughed and laughed (quietly). Thank you, defenders of support acts everywhere.

They finished up, and suddenly from nowhere, TOSAW fans filled the room, with the two biggest blokes in the place crowding out some of our view. Alas, Tony and Elizabeth bailed at this point to return home to their respective families before it got too late (it was about 10:30pm), which was a great pity because I think they missed a great show. (But I would say that; I accept I’m a Club Hoy newbie and a TOSAW fan.)

Things Of Stone And Wood, Northcote Social Club 24/3/2017

Lead singer Greg Arnold doesn’t look a day older – his long hair, beard and moustache probably help, and I was left wondering if he’s had them since 1993 or if he just grew everything out for the anniversary tour.

No matter. They rocked. It was a great show, with TOSAW tragics singing every word, but everyone present in the sold-out club seemed to enjoy it. And let’s face it, a good deal of what makes a great show is whether the crowd gets into it.

There was some nice band repartee as well. They seemed genuinely delighted to be there in front of such an appreciative crowd, and don’t seem to mind being known popularly just for Happy Birthday Helen (“it took us around the world”).

They answered something I’d long wondered: was The Yearning (track 7) meant to lead straight into Single Perfect Raindrop (track 8)? Why yes! But due to a miscalculation of sorts, on the cassette the effect was ruined, because you had to turn the tape over. No such problem on the CD.

After the 14 tracks of the album, they went on to play a few later songs, including one that sounded very familiar when I heard it: Wildflowers — which they remarked is unfortunately relevant again.

…as well as the B-side “She Will Survive”, with its very memorable lyrics about Jane Austen.

And then it was over. What a great show, and a great night out for $40.

If you remember them from back in the day, and have a chance to catch them (that show was sold out, but they’re on in Geelong this weekend), I can thoroughly recommend TOSAW.

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The Old Bill

I used to love The Bill, way back when it was a cop show with a sense of realism, rather than a full-on soapie.

The episodes I enjoyed the most, season 4 (from 1988) are currently airing on the ABC, in the middle of the day (around 3pm, and again the next morning around 5am). I’ve got my PVR recording them and I’m checking to see if any memorable episodes pop-up that I want to watch again.

Being a long-running series with a lot of minor once-of characters, many now well-known British actors appeared on the show in guest rolls. The other day there was an episode (“Conflict”) with Alex Kingston as a doctor — no, not Elizabeth Corday or River Song.
Alex Kingston and Nick Reding in The Bill (1988)

Of course it’s also a bit of a time-capsule from the 1980s. A week or two ago one great episode (“Hold Fire”) featured Bob Cryer trying write a report on an actual typewriter…
Bob Cryer (Eric Richard) in The Bill (1988)

…while Jim Carver and Viv Martella were undercover in a pub, playing Gorf and driving game Out Run while they wait for a suspect.
Carver and Martella in The Bill (1988)

Carver: “Oh my God!”

Martella: “What?”

Carver: “I just hit a windsurfer!”

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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.

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The ABC Shops to close

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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.

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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.

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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
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Who remembers Infinity Limited?

Sometime one morning in 1983 (I think) I was walking through Elsternwick 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?

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Retrospectives transport

How long did it take to get into central Melbourne from your suburb… circa 1925

This is very cool. Similar to tools Jarrett Walker often talks about that show how far you can get in X minutes on public transport, here’s a map prepared around 1925 or so (I’m guessing) by the Melbourne Town Planning Commission showing how long it takes to get into central Melbourne from various suburbs by tram and train (and walking).

How long to the city? Metropolitan Town Planning Commission map circa 1925: Legend

Here’s the area around St Kilda and Caulfield:

How long to the city? Metropolitan Town Planning Commission map circa 1925: Caulfield area

As you can see, the areas around railway stations have the quickest access into the city. Trams don’t reach as far in the same number of minutes.

As you get farther away from tram lines/railway stations, the city becomes less accessible.

Here’s the thing: in many ways the timings on this map haven’t changed much, because in terms of fixed-rail infrastructure, there’s not that much extra in 2014.

On the trains, the Glen Waverley line (a late addition, sketched onto this map) and the City Loop are the obvious new lines, the latter providing better access to more parts of the CBD, but not making much difference in terms of travel time, which remain roughly the same as they were. Bentleigh to the City still takes about half-an-hour.

That travel time hasn’t deteriorated is important: as the city’s road traffic has increased markedly over those 90ish years, the train system has isolated those who use it (and the city at large) from growing traffic congestion.

Meanwhile some areas such as Kew have lost their trains, though areas further out such as Pakenham and Cranbourne, which once had only infrequent country trains, are now part of the metropolitan network.

Trams aren’t shown very clearly on this map, but extensions since the 1920s include the 75 out to Vermont South. But some areas such as Footscray have lost some of their trams, as has Elwood/Brighton, and Black Rock/Beaumaris. Travel times for the trams that remain also seem similar to today, though in peak hours they’re likely to be longer on routes sharing space with cars.

If you have a look at the whole map, many of the obvious gaps in the network are still there… only these days they’re filled with houses, not empty as they were when this map was prepared. As I’ve noted before, if a suburb got its public transport back in the 1930s when PT was still being expanded, it probably still has it now.

Some areas have Smartbuses, which help fill those gaps and get to the station with frequent (at least on weekdays) fast (well, faster than walking) services. But many suburbs miss out on frequent PT.

How long to the city? Metropolitan Town Planning Commission map circa 1925.

Not that accessibility to the CBD is necessarily what everyone needs nowadays — work places, education and other opportunities are now more widely dispersed throughout the metropolitan area.

But allowing people to get to those places, particularly without a car (eg being able to move independent of traffic congestion, and whether or not they are able to drive) is an ongoing challenge.

See the map nice and big, on Flickr (opens in a new window)

Source: State Library of Victoria — map 4. Other maps there include variations on this theme. I haven’t looked at everything yet — no doubt there are some other gems. Map 2 is similar to map 4, but is in black and white, but shows tram lines more clearly.

Update 19/2/2015: The Age found these maps via a Reddit post, and published this article: Is your train commute quicker than 90 years ago?

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Retrospectives transport

Smoke, steam, nostalgia: Steamrail Open Day 2014

The Steamrail Open Day a couple of weeks ago was good fun, though in some ways very similar to the previous one in 2012… But I’ll post some pics anyway.

This is a Tait train (“Red rattler”) — dating back to the 1910s, and very common when I was growing up, but phased-out in the 1980s.
Tait train (Steamrail Open Day 2014)

If you’ve ever wondered what the destination signs looked like from the inside, here it is. I was fascinated by these as a kid. Note the mirror allowing the operator to verify what was on the sign. These old painted canvas rolls are, of course, way more legible than most of the modern LED dot matrix varieties… and representations of them are now very common in home decorating. (You know, those big signs with white writing on a black background, and lots of words, not necessarily place names, all in a row.)
Tait destination roll (Steamrail Open Day 2014)

Sometimes it’s only by seeing things in the flesh that little details come back to you. In this case, I’d completely forgotten that the old red train manual doors had a catch, so it was easy to fix them in a position that let the air in, but wasn’t big enough for someone to fall out of.

Inside the old carriages you’ll find notices about the railway bylaws… in principle not so different from today’s.
Railway bylaws (Steamrail Open Day 2014)

Also of note, and in use until the 70s, are the Smoking and No Smoking sections. (This was from a diesel rail car.)
Smoking/No Smoking sections (Steamrail Open Day 2014)

Old and new (1)
Old and new (Steamrail Open Day 2014)

Old and new (2)
Old and new (Steamrail Open Day 2014)

I’m all for nostalgia, but it’s not hard to see that air pollution may have been one factor in phasing-out coal out of regular use on the railways (though I’m sure economics was the main driver). Well, kind of phased-out… it still powers our electric trains of course.
Smoke and steam (Steamrail Open Day 2014)

On the way home, the platform mirror at Footscray was in just the right position to catch this scene.
Platform mirror, Footscray station