Homesickness 

I wrote this last year for Six Months in Sydney, but a chat with Adam on Twitter reminded me of it. Some who follow me closely will know my Australian citizenship application had been approved and I have the ceremony next month: thoughts of home and what home is exactly are in my mind again. 
Timehop reminded me this morning that three years ago I was about two weeks away from leaving the UK and that this fact, having suddenly hit me, was causing my emotions to be pretty messy. I suppose it was to be expected, aside from the thoughts of everything I was leaving behind, I had also, earlier in the week, put the majority of my possessions, packed into tea chests, onto a truck bound for a shipping container. I very much felt like I was in some sort of ‘limbo’; halfway between two lives. I’d done all the admin, all the packing, booked my flights, tidied everything up. Aside from saying goodbye to people I wanted to say goodbye to, I was ready to go.

During the previous couple of weeks I had spent most of my time busying myself with the packing and with the admin, but once everything was done, once I was able to just stop, it hit me: shit, this is really happening.

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I had a couple of mini meltdowns, had episodes where I’d just break down into tears for no real reason and then after about five minutes I’d be fine. It was a strange time for me, emotionally.

Three years later, I feel very settled. That ‘limbo’ feeling is long gone – honestly I have never really felt it here. I expected to feel homesick perhaps, but I never have. Perhaps things like Skype help. but I’m sure it goes deeper than that. I feel no real desire to be in the UK. Sure I miss family and friends, and have a desire to physically be with them, but there’s not much about England itself that I long for, and as time passes, the UK feels ever more like a foreign country. When I’m there, of course, it feels like home, but being so far removed in my day-to-day life means that any associations with “home” are reserved now for people rather than the place.

On my last day in Leeds, I sat in City Square and cried, but now that feels so long ago, as though it were another life. I thought I wouldn’t be able to cope without the BBC, but I find myself only rarely catching ip with British TV shows on iPlayer, and I haven’t once in the last three years listened to Radio 1 online. I don’t feel that longing for supermarkets, the pub, fish-and-chip shops, British roads, the Pound, that I thought I would. I just feel settled.

A friend on Twitter said this, and it echoes my thoughts beautifully:

So perhaps that’s it. I don’t feel any longing for England because I have no need to long for it. Any time I want it, I can have it. Looking back three years, I wish I’d known it then. But even three years later, it’s a comforting thought.

 

follow me on Twitter: @supercroup

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More letter writing, this time to the council

There’s a proposed development for a plot of land with a house currently on it in our area. I read the application, and I was very much “don’t care either way”. Then yesterday, a flyer found its way into our mailbox that was littered with racism and NIMBYism, and that pushed me very quickly from “don’t care” to “fully support”.

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SAY NO! – TO 28 ROOM BOARDING HOUSE

Chinese developer, Jiankai Pty Ltd wants to demolish the historic old home and gardens at 154 Welbank St, North Strathfield and replace it with a huge 28 room boarding house.

The boarding house, designed by architect firm Ghazi Al Ali, could be housing 60 or more renters on this small residential block.

This boarding house would be on an unprecedented scale for this area and if allowed could be the beginning of a tidal wave of similar developments destroying the value of our homes and the character of our beautiful and safe suburb.

Please contact Canada Bay council to submit your objection to this proposed development.

I was unable – and unwilling – to respond to this directly, as it did not say who it was from, and in any case it seemed more productive to take action against these people rather than engaging them in an ultimately pointless argument. But here are my objections to their objections:

  • Highlighting the Chinese name of the developer and Arabic name of the architect (when those details really are irrelevant) is out-and-out racism. We should oppose racism whenever we see it, even (and especially) when it causes some inconvenience to us.
  • The house and gardens are not historic. Neuschwanstein is historic. Taj Mahal is historic. Westminster Abbey is historic. An unremarkable three-bedroom house built on stolen land is not. The history of the Wangal clan of the Eora nation (of which I am, woefully, largely ignorant) is the history of this piece of land, and this house plays no real part in that history.
  • Change is good. The house is old and tired, and the architect’s previous projects are beautiful.
  • House prices falling would be a good thing for this area. More families being able to afford to live here.
  • This area is perfect for this sort of development. It has good transport links and is perfectly situated for access to Sydney, Sydney Olympic Park and Bicentennial Park.
  • This area is modern and multicultural, and this sort of development is in-keeping with that. Opposition to it is not.

In honesty, the development will cause a bit of inconvenience. It’ll be noisy and annoying, and the people who end up living or staying there might be noisy, rowdy or generally irritating. But the choice between that and supporting the cause of people who push a NIMBY agenda using racist rhetoric is a very very easy one.

So I wrote to the council to register my support for this project.

Dear General Manager
I write regarding the development proposal for 154 Wellbank Street, North Strathfield, and and I would like to register my full support of the proposal.
I have lived in the vicinity of this property with my boyfriend for three years, and I have never been particularly fond of the appearance of the 20th Century house that is on the block and I am irritated by claims from some in the local community that it has any historic value.
The property was sold last year for $2.25m, which is an outrageous price for a family home in any area. Some members of the local community have said that this development will lead to a drop in the value of homes in the area: given the astronomical price of this property at its last sale, a drop in house prices is certainly a good thing. Further, a $2.25m property being occupied by a single family seems to me to be a case of excessive under-occupation and I welcome the proposal to use the land more economically to house more people.
Although I have not seen the type of intended occupants of the proposed boarding house, developments of this kind tend to be marketed to either students or tourists. The location of this property is a perfect location to house either students or tourists. Its proximity to North Strathfield station would make it attractive to intended residents, giving a boost to the economy of the area.
There have been other developments in Wellbank Street recently, some of which are ongoing, and disruption and disturbance has been minimal. I am confident that the proposed development would not cause any excessive disruption to me or to other residents in the area.
I have researched the architect linked to the proposal, Ghazi Al Ali, and have found the other projects they have worked on, especially Omar Mosque in Auburn, to be modern and beautiful. The proposed development would be a welcome replacement to the tired, ugly building which is currently on the block.
North Strathfield is a modern, multi-cultural, and forward-looking suburb, and this development is exactly in keeping with its character. I hope council will recognize this and approve this proposed development.
Yours,
John Avocado

Here’s a fact sheet about the Wangal People, produced by Canada Bay Council. [PDF]

I’m going to drive to work less

A statement I have made too many times is that I would go to work on the train (instead of driving), but my workplace is too far away from the nearest station, so it’s impractical and inconvenient.

What garbage.

A few weeks ago on Twitter, a friend briefly described his Public Health Utopia, and one of the points was that it involved more people walking more. And then it clicked. To walk to work from the station takes me fifteen minutes. Maybe twenty if I take it easy. But either way, it’s not a long walk.

So I’ve resolved to go to work on public transport more often.

The downside is that it takes longer overall for me to get to work, so I have to get up earlier in the morning, and if the weather is no good it’s not that nice, but otherwise it’s positive. I’ve found the walk from the station to work is a pleasant one: it’s relaxing and gives me some space to think. It’s suburban too, so the fresh (ish) air wakes me up, and I guess the walk itself loosens me up a little. I won’t pretend it’s a workout, but there must be some health benefits, even if minor.

Perhaps importantly, I like traveling by train. And I don’t like driving. Even though in the morning I drive away from the city, I still get stuck sitting in traffic, or otherwise have to deal with whatever dickhead drivers decide to assault the roads with their aggressive driving styles, and I arrive at work stressed. When I go on the train, this just doesn’t happen.

Although not a major motivation, it’s in my mind that tolls will be back on the M4 next year, and I would honestly much rather pay a train fare than a road toll.

I’m sure I’ll still drive to work sometimes; probably a lot at first, but hopefully less and less. Even then there’ll be days when I wake up and think “bugger it; I’ll drive”, or days when I just can’t work my personal schedule around the train timetable. But I hope that more and more this will become rarer and rarer.

In short, I’m working on becoming a proper train commuter, and I hope my life will be better because of it.

It might be interesting to say that I wrote this post on my phone on the train on my way home from work.

Cheaper public transport please

I talk about public transport a fair bit, and I love public transport. There are plenty of annoyances, of course, but I love the concept of buses, trains and ferries, and mostly I love them in practice. I hate sitting in traffic in the car, I like to be able to sit back and relax when commuting, and (perhaps most significantly) I like drinking alcohol, so a public chauffeur is necessary!

What I am generally less thrilled about is paying fares. Not because I don’t want to pay for transport at all, but because, to me, it seems to go against the ethos of public transport. So I offer my preferred solutions.

[Note: I am enormously in favor of publicly-owned public transport, so my ideas really only work with government-owned and -operated networks.]

Public transport that is free at the point of use

Free. Free buses, free trains. You want to go into town? Get on the bus. It’s free. Going to work? Jump on the train: nothing to pay. Easy. Of course public transport would still need to be funded, but I prefer the idea of everyone paying through the tax system.

I hear grumbling from drivers already. “Why should I pay if I don’t use it?” Firstly, of course, because good public transport is good for society as a whole, even if it doesn’t benefit you as an individual. But also, just because you are not physically sitting on a train doesn’t mean you are not using it. Really good public transport systems that lots pf people use do benefit drivers, mainly in the way of fewer cars on the roads. They’re also really useful when your car breaks down. Or, yes, when you’re drunk.

My instinct would be to restrict free public transport to local and commuter trains and buses, with fares remaining on intercity services, but I can’t really explain why.

However I am aware that totally free public transport is a difficult idea to push, so if we are continuing to pay fares:

Cut-price peak-time travel

At first thought, it goes against all logic. Everyone wants to travel at rush hour, so peak-time travel is premium travel, and people should pay more. Of course!

Nope.

There are two main reasons for premium pricing: either you want to discourage people from using the service at a particular time or you realize you can make a tidy buck by charging more for a service when more people want to use it. I hope it’s clear that I don’t want to be discouraging people from using public transport – ever – and I think that cashing in on people using services at particular times is pretty shady behavior.

I’m, again, assuming a state-owned public transport network, but really we want to be encouraging more people to use public transport at peak times. Again, fewer cars on the roads etc. I’d rather see people going to work on the bus or the train rather than driving in. So to me it is nonsensical to put fares up at precisely the time we want more people to use the service. In my world, rush-hour would be the cheapest time to use public transport.

Given the world we live in, I don’t expect either of these things anytime soon, but it’s nice to dream.

How we value friendship, and how Facebook has changed that

I think quite a lot about friendship. I moved halfway across the world when I was in my late 20s (which, I hasten to add, was not that long ago!) to set up home with my boyfriend. It’s a stable, monogamous relationship, but the consequence of that is that it’s fairly challenging to meet new friends – and I mean friends in the sense of genuine friendship, rather than just people I know. So I really love living in the time of Twitter and Facebook, meeting people online and making real, genuine connections with people.

Having the majority of my friends being “online” friends often leaves me thinking about friends I have had in the past. People who I became friends with by meeting them in real life (IRL*), but people I’ve lost contact with. I’ve had the most wonderful friendships with people – and had experiences that made me think “we’ll be friends forever”. Almost all of these friendships have ended because of circumstance. I moved away, or they moved away, or one or the other of us changed jobs, or we just happened to meet at a convention and spent the whole weekend together, but the convention ended and so did the friendship. Some I have as Facebook friends, but the majority of those friends have simply passed into memory.

I get a little frustrated how the internet – and Facebook in particular – has messed with the way people maintain friendships. And importantly, the way friendships end.

Something that I think is hard to accept is the idea that all friendships are temporary – but it’s an important idea that I agree with. Too often I think we measure the success of  a relationship or friendship by it not ending, and we value friendships based on how long the lasted, but I reject this. I say we should value a friendship based on how much we enjoyed the experience while it lasted.

Facebook (and social media in general, but for me it’s mainly Facebook) is ruining this because now we have the ability to add friends to a database and access them whenever we like. We now have this idea that a friend isn’t really a true friend unless we are connected with them for life. It’s for this reason I’m very unsure about Facebook, and maintaining Facebook friendships. I feel that some – maybe most – friendships are meant to me temporary: that it’s not the longevity of the friendship that counts, but the feeling of having a friend.

I look at my friends list on Facebook (it’s small, just 74 names), but also think about the friends I have had IRL in the past who are not on that list, people who I had terribly good – albeit temporary – friendships with. While I love that Facebook and the internet allows us to stay in touch with people we’d like to, when we fall out of touch with people it’s not because we were not good friends, it’s because real friendship and what Facebook would have us believe is friendship are two different things.

* as it happens, I do count the friendships I have with people I only know online as “real life” friendships too, but online vs IRL seems to be a distinction we make, so I use it here for ease of understanding.

Opal FAQs: a critique

originally posted on my tumblr in 2014

i’ll start by making it clear that i think opal is a wonderful system. i like oyster in london, i hate paper tickets, i value convenience and speed. opal is all of that, and i would encourage anyone who uses public transport who would benefit from opal to get an opal card.

opal deserves aggressive and targeted promotion. it needs to be supported by an excellent advertising campaign, and it needs clear demonstration that opal is better and cheaper than paper tickets – including weekly, fortnightly, quarterly and annual tickets.

however what new and potential users need is information. information that is free from promotional “push”. information that allows people to decide, based on facts and not emotion, whether opal is right for them, as well as information that gives people a clear understanding of how to use opal, and how to make the system work for them rather than the other way round.

all of that said, i think mostly the communication of opal to potential and new users has been wonderful. the website is easy to use, full of easy to find information which, for the most part, is just that: information. i received my opal card today, and it came with a “starter pack” – a couple of leaflets with information and instructions of how to use the system.

one of these was frequently asked questions. this was the one place where i didn’t want to see marketing or promotion. i just wanted simple questions answered, without anyone trying to convince me how awesome opal is. and for the most part, that is what i found. but in quite a few of the passages, there was a worrying fusion of information and promotion.

so… i edited it! i got a black ball-point pen, and sat down with a cup of coffee, crossing out all the bits that provided zero information and instead were a cleverly disguised attempt to convince me that opal is really good (again, i am already convinced). and here it is, page-by-page:

first off, the front page. not a major issue, but a bug-bear of mine. faq’s are rarely that: frequently “asked” questions. they are simply frequently anticipatedquestions, and in this case, they are the questions that the opal people want to answer. they are a set of really good questions, but i’m sure there are some more, shall we say “challenging, questions that are asked frequently.

they’re sneaky on this page, and they’ve started by hiding the advertising as phrases, nested in informative sentences. i know already that opal is easy, convenient, and fast. it’s on all the posters. it’s on the website. in the faq’s i just want to know what the system is and how it works. tell me how it works and i’ll decide whether it is easy and convenient

in the fifth paragraph, they also set up themselves against the opposition: paper tickets. while a comparison with paper tickets is, later on at least, necessary, it is included here simply to suggest that paper tickets are bad, and that opal solves all the problems of paper tickets. this paragraph creates a conflict – one which doesn’t actually exist – and that is the key to marketing: creating a battle and then winning it.

there’s also discussion of “full potential” here, which suggests power and supremacy. again, this isn’t information; it’s setting up opal as something brilliant. (which, i add, it is.)

here is a nice picture of someone putting their opal card into their pocket (rather than their wallet), that i think is supposed to show that an opal card is small and easily fits into your pocket. opal cards are actually bigger and heavier than paper tickets, but that’s by the bypass.

here again, though, we have the battle of opal vs paper tickets. why paper tickets are even mentioned as part of “how do i use my opal card” is something i can’t work out: step one – don’t buy a paper ticket. but seriously, this is again to set up the conflict of opal vs paper tickets, and to make you think about how you use a paper ticket.

there’s a nice bit about auto top up here as well (another feature i really really love), but the promotional push is here too, along with rhyming rhetoric*, set and forget, which is neither informative, nor something to be recommended.

the really good stuff: the jargon trip, journey, and transfer are explained in a really good way.

here’s an interesting phrase: for the first time. it’s so convincing they’ve used it twice. for the first time is a really powerful phrase: it introduces something and presents it as revolutionary, rather than just new. it’s here to tell you that the system of the past is crap. the first time is something that will change your life. do you remember the first time you rode a bike? the first time you had sex? the first time you drove a car? the first time you heard billie jean by michael jackson? the first time you met your husband? now how about the first time you travelled by bus and the fare was based on the straight line distance travelled. this is them presenting what is a technical and really quite boring change as something revolutionary. sure, it’s exciting if you plan bus routes and design fare systems, but for the general public it’s not first time worthy.

the really good stuff: although they don’t go into much detail here about how fares are calculated, they do highlight that there is a difference between opal and paper tickets, they introduce concepts like fare bands and they say the fare is based on distance rather than sections. a less informative piece would have just said that the fare is calculated automatically, without giving any detail at all about how it is.

i’ll be honest, this page pissed me off. the fist question (on the right hand page) attempts to regulate behaviour, rather than providing information. telling me how to report my stolen opal card, or what to do if that happens is a good idea. telling me how important it is that i follow your guidelines and act immediatelyis not. it’s patronising.

the next two questions, however, are the ones that annoyed me. for a start, they’re the wrong questions. people who use periodical and/or weekly tickets are interested in how using opal will affect what they are used to, and it is here that a fair and objective comparison is necessary. but that’s not what we get. the whole thing reads like advertising, and like an attempt to convince me that paper tickets are crap and i should switch to opal. the facts and information are all actually there, to be fair, but the way it is presented and the style used is very persuasive.

if you go on holidays…you don’t pay is a phrase that is technically true, but it offers no information – it’s included to tell you that if you continue to use periodical tickets, you will be wasting your money. in the other pamphlet that came with the starter pack there were some actual fare comparisons, which would have been good here.

i crossed out the whole section, including the questions. there are much better ways to provide a comparison between opal and periodical tickets that are objective and informative. i won’t offer suggestions.

here we’ve got the simple and convenient line again. as before, informative writing would just tell me how it works, and allow me to decide if it is simple and convenient.

finally, there is a question about travelling anonymously. i am majorly impressed that this was included. it flags opal as not being private. every journey you make is recorded against your actual real name. you are being tracked every time you use public transport. for many people this is not an issue. for some, who want to be able to look back and see what journeys they make, and how much it costs, it is a significant advantage. but for some people it is a feature that is not desirable. lots of people want to travel anonymously, and it is good that this pamphlet explains how to do so. i’ve said that this should be in big letters and at the front, but i don’t really mean it. i just wanted to highlight the fact that it is there, and that it is commendable that it is.

i’ll finish by saying again that i love opal. it’s in its infancy at the moment, and as the roll-out progresses it will get better and better. i’m sure, in time, there will be ways to load periodical tickets onto an opal card, and that there will be single-use and/or anonymous opal cards. but for now, it is a system that i like. i like the way it is being communicated to new and potential users. there is heaps of information on how it works and how to use it. this document, however, contains promotional “push” when i don’t think it should. i hope that in future editions of the frequently asked questions it is just information that is presented, and that promotion and persuasion are left for the ads.

* i apologize for my use of alliterative association here, but i couldn’t resist.

** i don’t apologize for using an apostrophe in faq’s. it’s meant to be there and it belongs there. but this isn’t a discussion on apostrophes.