The Ghosts Of The Mall

It is not very often that we can say we like ghosts. The traditional ones – rattling chains, screaming in the night, passing through walls, etc. are somewhat of a strain on the nerves. They leave slime. When they infest a house the resale value plummets. Few people want them.

In my case I do have a reason to be grateful to them – they have enabled me to start my retirement in a good note.

When I was working in my last career I was sent out on many occasions to help people with photographic training. Specifically, with the Polaroid passport cameras that were common at the time. These were the four-lens jobs that put nearly identical pictures onto a sheet of Polaroid or Fujifilm instant film. The requirements of the Australian passport department were stringent and the geometry and illumination needed to achieve them operated within a fairly narrow band of possibility – hence I was sent to train chemist’s assistants and post office employees on how to do it.

Fine. Motor out from the shop, conduct a hour’s training and motor back in, picking up a cup of coffee on the return journey. Easy stuff. But it was the sights in the shopping malls riveted my attention – I saw ghosts.

They were both sad and frightening, and I paid close attention to them. They were the men of a similar age to myself that had no occupation – either public or private – and who passed the day sitting in the centre of the mall. Some of them drifted silently about. Grey men in shapeless garments – they may have been wearing their grave clothes – with grey faces devoid of expression. Whenever I encountered them they hurried me on my way, as I did not want whatever had infected them to touch me.

Well, now I am a retired person, and having seen what mall ghosts look like I have determined on a few things:

a. When I get up, I dress up. The outfit may be a plaid shirt, braces, and high-water britches, but it is the clothing of a person who is determined to keep moving. No grey winding cloths.

b. When I am in a mall, I keep moving briskly to whatever store I need to go to. And then equally briskly back home. Malls are fine for concentrating shops in one area, but they make lousy graveyards.

c. I do not eat or drink in a mall. I have food at home that costs me 1/4 the price of the mall. I do not need to overspend to undereat.

d. I have hobbies – so does my wife. They are the life-rings of retirement. I do not begrudge them to myself or to her , and I realise how much good they do us.

Every hobby cannot be done all the time, but they can be rotated so that there is something all the time that can be done on one or the other of them. It might not need to be done, but that is not the point.

Fortunately I am a loner in many respects and always have been. Thus I do not need to be cossetted in a group doing things to find things to do. But I do not deny the utility of pensioner groups and other forms of entertainment. That is what some people need.

Result? I am up early and doing, and the feeling of being a ghost comes rarely to me. I would urge it upon others for as long as they can manage at whatever level they can achieve. Leave the malls to the teenagers.

 

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Make It Or Buy It?

I once started an old-fashioned hobby that needed all sorts of arcane things that I had never seen in shops. When I asked the president of the hobby club where to get the things needed he said: ” My Dear Fellow – we make them ourselves. “. And then proceeded to show me how. Over the years I discovered no end of enthusiasts making things in workshops, forges, sewing rooms, and kitchens that had not been seen for centuries.

I joined in with some darkroom and studio work that revived old practices. In nearly every case there were difficulties finding out what to do and where to get supplied of raw materials but in the end most of the projects attempted were achieved. And I found out that in the process of casting, sewing, forging, planing, and general blood-letting we had gained something even more valuable than the musket balls, swords, tunics, and historic photos – we had gained the ability to be a little independent in a coddled world.

Not all of us can make castings in a furnace that we have constructed from river clay – but I know two chaps who can. Likewise I know people who can hand-stitch an entire suit of clothes. I can make leather goods and spray paint. None of us is ever really daunted by a household repair – we might not get round to it for a decade, but that is just laziness – not fear.

We all have reversed the admiration we might have once felt for store-bought goods in favour of those we design and make for ourselves.

If you are a person who is the victim of the shops – if all you wear, eat, use, and do is governed by the goods on offer and the price that the retailer can extract – pause for a moment and think. Is there any little need that you have that can be satisfied by making it yourself? It doesn’t have to be an organically grown steam engine or an entire garden in a week. But start small and make…and use to the exclusion of a commercial product…one thing. Get used to it – get to like it – and get the feeling that there are more things that you can do…

There are.

Coupla Shotza

That sounds like a Polish folk dance, doesn’t it? The Kupula Shotza. with big skirts and lots of twirling around.

Actually it is a prescription for the end of a good day and the start to a new project. I am retired, with enough working space around me and time to spare…I can commence making trouble in a dozen ways.

Fortunately I have not retired with a fortune…or I would actually be dangerous. I have also retired in a very nice part of the world and need not try to escape from it. Indeed, I really think I should be wise to escape into it rather than the other way round. I have a comfort zone and I’m smart enough not to allow someone to try to inveigle me out of it for their own purposes.

See? The coupla shotz are working. I’m actually thinking for myself. If you’d like to draw up a chair and pour one, we can can both benefit.

It is very rarely that we can admit to being happy. We are not allowed to be so by the people who want our money…happy people don’t spend. We are allowed to search for happiness, but we’d need to buy all the equipment for the search and pay ( ask about ezi-finance terms ) before we could play.

And in the end it would not be play. It would be work.

I used to worry about not being successful, or rich, or powerful. I could as readily have worried about not being puce, or steam-powered, or slanted. It would, in the end, have made as much sense. I have now reduced my worries to whether the dinner will be overcooked or whether I will be able to do my hobby in my little workshop…rain and cold weather affects it. It is a much more basic approach to life, and much more pleasant.

 

A Thank You Goes Out To…

a. The people who subscribe their time to read this column. I do read yours as well, but I am so confused about replying that I wonder if anything I send back ever gets to you. Some of you are quite the writers and photographers.

b. My research assistant Warren. He finds things on the internet and in the newsagencies that I miss.  It is invaluable to have a pair of eyes that know what they are looking for and light up when they see it.

c. The local hobby shop for shifting closer to my home. When I am out of Tamiya XF37 it means I do not have to go over half the city to get a bottle of it.

d. The WordPress organisation for making a device that lets me publish daily with so little trouble. I do not make as much use of the features that they provide as I might, but there are little advances all the time. Just today I learned how to edit spam followers from the email list – a recent problem for many WordPressists.

The format of this column is one of the free ones – I initially set out to do this as an experiment. I am slowly filling the storage cache for images – up to 42% of capacity in the years I’ve been writing. I’ll eventually fill the basket and then consider taking up a paid theme that will allow more storage capacity.

If you are used to seeing this column with the current settings, do not fear. It will be years before I need to change the appearance. And when it does go over, it will be as simple as possible – there is enough other confusion in graphic design.

e. The people who do things. The model makers, hot rod builders, re-enactors, dancers and all the rest that I follow and report. And a thank you in anticipation for all those who will capture my imagination in the future.

I value your enthusiasms and skills. You are the people who operate the levers and wheels of the world. You do not sit and watch petrol explosions and murders on television and imagine it to be real life – you go out there and actually live something.

f. The people who serve me in their jobs. The girls at the post office and chemist. The workers at the local hardware store. The hobby shop owners. The checkout people at the supermarket – I always use the human checkout procedure because those humans need a job and a wage.

g. The people who assist me in extraordinary ways – the bookshop owner who finds a lost book. The camera shop expert who helps me with my computer. The bank assistant who clears up a worrisome situation.

h. My family and friends, who indulge me in my little enthusiasms and occasionally applaud them.

i. People who write me letters – either on paper or the screen. A letter is a real effort at connection that the social media page can never be.

The Little World – It’s Only A Hobby – Part One

I remember a comedy record that Lou Jacobi made in which he said that he had a hobby of catching honey bees in a jar. Another character asked him if he put air holes and honey in the jar, and he said ” No “. When they remonstrated with him that this would cause the bees to die he said ” So what? It’s only a hobby…”.

SO WRONG on so many levels – both in humanity and in hobby-manity. But you still laughed at the deadpan delivery…

Leaving aside the comedy and the poor bees, the idea that something is ONLY a hobby is one of the most corrosive ones that you can hold. If you approach anything upon that basis, you are doing yourself and whatever you attempt a vast disservice.

I am not generally an advocate for passion. People who profess it generally do so to press their opinions upon you – opinions that might not pass the scrutiny of logic, practicality, or morality. Passion becomes at once an engine and a vehicle for anything. I like engines and vehicles, sure, but not when they are made to bear down upon me.

I cannot do the cold logic of the Vulcans, nor even the measured stuff of classical philosophy. I refuse to go into the marginal footlings of Talmudic logic…it seems to be something of a hairy fraud. But I can see some things clearly, and one of them is the need for a good reason for nearly everything.

I say a good reason – not a bad one. The bad ones come close to that passion thing, or to Lou’s callous hobby. A good reason in the Little World can be many-fold:

a. Because it is beautiful. Lots of dollhouse and teddy bear and doll hobbyists draw strongly on this. The things they do are intrinsically beautiful and everyone who sees them is rewarded. Lucky hobbyists – to make something that does this much good.

b. Because it is unusual. And if you did not do it, no-one would ever know about it. Who knows what stimulation your model of a Hungarian tractor might give to someone’s memory or curiosity.

c. Because we need to remember it. If there was a historical occurence, item, idea, or person, you can frequently record them in miniature in such a way that people do not forget it.

d. Because we need to understand it. A prime example of this for me was to see a set of models made in the Museum Of Science in London in the 1990’s. They were cut-aways of steam engines and boilers done with colour highlighting for water, steam, and air passages. It was the first time in 48 years that I had ever really grasped the idea of water tube and firetube boilers or of automatic fireboxes. Never forgot it and I’ve been grateful to whoever  made those models.

In all of these instances there may be some passion…and a great deal of dedication. They might be hobbies, but the best of them are never ” Only a hobby”.

 

Taking Back Life – Part Three – Hand And Mind

I am 69 this year. A delightful time, if I let it be. But it takes work. The trick is to like the work…

I don’t mind it – though I must say that I appreciate the change from weekly duties in the shop or surgery. A daily routine includes writing, photography and communication, bathing and shaving, making the bed, doing the dishes, planning the evening meal and cooking it, and doing the round of suburban payments and shopping. You might think it odd to include the bathing and shaving in there as work, but they are – and you need to do them as regularly as ever before to give shape to your day.

The household tasks are not as annoying as one might think – a weekly clean-up of rooms and the regular laundry. Cooking each day. Garbage disposal, etc. Mundane, but if you go about them the right way, actually pleasurable. It is all in the mind – in my shop position I was the staff member who did the dishes for the rest of the crew. Many of them thought it was demeaning for an older man to be doing dishes, but they didn’t realise that I was pulling a half hour of overtime each day at the task. Every week paid for one more car in my model collection. And on a freezing winter’s day, I was the only one in the building with warm hands! Every task I undertake now for my family means we are better fed, housed, and clothed. That’s worth doing.

My day also includes some time spent at the workbench. This can be in my photo studio illustrating goods, or in my workshop making props and models. I treat the two activities the same way – a chance to explore art and craftsmanship – rather than just dog work. As a result, I can be pleased with a clean illustration of a camera bag or the paint job on a model building. It is the doing rather than the buying or consuming that rewards me here.

And lastly, I try for some reading each evening. ( And if I am dining alone, I can read at the table as well…a social no-no, but a divine dinner companion…) I’m not a novel reader, unless it is a Victorian pot boiler. I tend to read technical books or art histories. Biography needs to have a strong hook to catch me, but then I am surprised when some unknown historical figure pops up. As I’ve gotten older I understand more of what I read.

I’ve more or less decided that my time is what I make of it.

 

 

The Little World – Applying For A Fun Licence

” This is a free country, isn’t it? ”

Fine words, and perfectly appropriate at the polling booth or in the public bar, but hesitate before uttering them in your local hobby shop. Because the answer may turn out to be ” No “.

I’m driven to this conclusion by looking at the goods on offer in the shop. Fine models, glorious kits, magnificent engines, and more trouble than you can pack into a Gladstone bag. In many cases you may be free to purchase the fun, but you will be forbidden to have it…or at least you will need to go a’begging to someone for permission to play somewhere.

If that sounds over the top, consider that here in Perth – the most isolated capital city in the world with hundreds or thousands of kilometres between us and other cities – we need to go to one special secluded spot on the outskirts of town to fly a toy airplane. We need to go 20 kilometres to sail a toy boat, and we can go to Bunbury or buggery if we want to run a toy car.

Noise, pollution, disturbance, wildlife, public nuisance,etc. etc. Councils jealously guard their parks and schools jealously guard their ovals, and woe betide the trespasser. The drone flyers have it even worse as they are the bete noir of everybody. Doesn’t stop the hobby shops from trying to sell lots of different drones, but when it comes to clubs flying them…?

So far the toy train people can escape most of the contumely and control as their layouts are inside, and on their own property. If they take them outside they can be harassed for creating an attractive nuisance or for spoiling the council’s view of what the garden should look like.

The toy soldier, car, and doll collectors also escape most of this problem…but this is probably only because the police and council haven’t figured out an angle that can either fee or fine the collector. Have no fear…they are probably working on it. They already have a stranglehold on the militaria collectors who just want to trade old muskets.

I am not going to worry too much. I’m sure I contravene a number of regulations by collecting toy cars and taking pictures of them and a zealous enemy could put in so many council complaints as to make the hobby miserable, but collecting enemies could also be a lot of fun.

Particularly if you pin them to a board or press them between the pages of a thick book.