Apes and Co.

2356 Chimp

1270 Mama!

7659 Christmas decor

2969 Human footprint 2

0790 Streaky Sky

0844 Long shadows

9425 The Dreamers

8340 Gorilla B & W

7326 Demitri, Direct from Athens

9882 Greetings

6135 Sky

2539 Downpour

1825 Water feature 2

2261 Silver lining

9558 Wet window, Broadway

7491 Hot dog

2117 Tin legs and tin mines B & W

1803 Carsurfing spiderman

5930 Lady at Bronte 2

2386 Blue bathbomb

2342 Big guy

2286 The Trump Rooster

2792 Bondi Beach 2

7529 Corrugated Blue

6263 King Kunta 3

Once, I thought the word “hiatus” meant the high-point of something, akin to apex or pinnacle, and can only hope I never invoked derision for using it inappropriately. To say that there has been something of a hiatus with this blog is an understatement, but my head has been immersed in climate science, astrophysics and composing poetry, when not lost to digital distractions. There is a lot to write about, but when I write, poetry is my top priority and until I reach my target (c. 50 poems) I’ll not be writing much else.

My enthusiasm for photography hasn’t waned, but rather the repetitive cycle of places I visit has reduced my enthusiasm for trying to squeeze some new angle out of the all-too-familiar. It would be preferable to have new subject matter rather than create variations on the same old themes, yet the arrival of a second child has reduced mobility further still so that my orbit is now more Mercurial than Neptunian, in an astronomical analogy.

Now having another baby – 8 months last Sunday – I have been gifted a second opportunity to observe the naked ape in its infancy and ponder questions of evolutionary selection and priority. Practically every stage in growth has been refined by evolution on account of its utility and trying to make sense of even simple questions such as why babies automatically put things in their mouths or why the bottom two teeth come first, means I’m constantly engaging in thought experiments that take me back to the African Savannahs or, indeed, to the trees.

This collection features a bunch of apes; showcasing their lifestyles and manufactured habitats, including some poor sods in prison at Taronga Zoo. Other cousins also feature, refugees from the ravaged landscape, dependent on our measly charity for a chance to survive and thrive. They’ll all be dead soon, bar the “pests”. As the Holocene comes to a close, as we say farewell to abundance and embrace the next extinction, we’ll one day wish we’d never left the savannah in the first place.





I put this blog on ice for while, realising that it had become the sole focus for all my writing. This was something I had always wanted to avoid – writing regular content rather than sustaining longer projects. This has been going on for some time, especially considering I haven’t written a novel since 2008, largely on account of losing interest in novels, with my attention shifting to short stories, journalism, film and computer games. Either way, the blog was always intended to be just an appendage; a home for writing I considered not worth submitting elsewhere, or that was too self-indulgent to be of interest to publishers.

I stopped sending material to journals a few years ago, having grown tired of the paper submission process with its ludicrous turn-around times. Since then, particularly after the birth of my son, Tragicocomedia has become the sole destination for writing and photography. This situation felt unsatisfactory and, in a way, self-defeating, especially since I have shown little interest in communicating with other bloggers or participating in the community. What, then was the point?

So, I stopped; hoping I would get itchy fingers and send out some more submissions. Only, after a brief flurry of writing poetry, I soon stopped writing altogether. It was a strange feeling not to be writing, an uncomfortable sensation of having been freed from moorings and set adrift. “Riding the Bakerloo line” is what I call it – a dizzying drift off the rails.

And in this manner six or seven months went by with too little to show for it. Now, however, my fingers are itchy again and I’m writing poetry. Not to publish here, but to get on out there in the old-fashioned way. In truth, it’s the only kind of publication that I really value. I was born before the internet and need to see it in print.

These photos mostly come from the year and a half that has passed since I published new shots, plus a few oldies that I found to my liking. Much of this time has been spent hanging around play-parks in my role as the “wicket-keeper” – standing at the ready, poised to catch my son should he fall. Unlike his dad, he never falls.



In attempting to explain the world to my two and a half year-old son, I have come to realise that human artifacts are divided into two very simple categories: “Tools” and “Toys.” It all seems rather obvious when you consider that things are either designed to enable one to complete a task, or simply to be played with for the sake of pleasure. These categories are by no means exclusive and, if one were to create a Venn diagram representing human artifacts, there would be a great number of items which shared the space where the circles overlapped; at least with regard to how they are employed.

The Oxford English dictionary defines a tool as “a device or implement, especially one held in the hand, used to carry out a particular function.” This seems a pretty sound definition, although we shouldn’t be too swayed by the use of “especially” into thinking that things not held in the hand are not actually tools. After all, considering this more broadly, we might categorise a table or chair as a tool, in that they allow one to carry out a particular function – whether it be sitting and eating dinner or standing upon either of them to change a light-bulb. Approaching the problem from this perspective brings almost anything that is useful under the same very large golfing umbrella. A car is a tool for carrying things, including oneself, between places; a book is a tool for conveying information; a towel is a tool for drying oneself, and so on. If it isn’t designed purely for pleasure and serves a functional purpose, then surely we might consider it to be a tool.

Toys, on the other hand, are defined as “an object for a child to play with, typically a model or miniature replica of something.” While the definition of a toy as something to play with seems right enough, I strongly dispute the rather limiting idea that they are merely for children. Irrespective of this, a toy ought to have no functional purpose beyond pleasure and play. A toy car, for example, isn’t much use for anything beyond the recreational, although I’m certain it could be used in a more functional manner under the right circumstances. Equally, one might say that a teddy bear cannot be classified as a tool, unless we wish to be very open-minded in our consideration of all possible situations and imagine that it might serve as a pillow, insulation, or, under extreme circumstances, a weapon. We might also define a teddy bear as a tool for helping get a child to sleep, but this does seem rather to push the reasonable boundaries of the definition. Either way, if we apply these broad definitions to such artifacts, then one can see that pretty well all objects are either tools or toys.

Of course it is possible to play with almost anything at all, whatever its original purpose, which is precisely why I have come to this realisation in the first place. My son far prefers to play with things that aren’t toys most of the time; screwdrivers, knives, kitchen sprays, drills, lighters, scissors, shampoo bottles and the like. Of course, it is the dangerous things that are most attractive to him, largely because they are interesting objects, but mostly, I suspect, because we constantly tell him that he shouldn’t be playing with these things and frequently confiscate them from his hot little hands. I have now become so boring about this whole business that he even repeats the mantra of “it’s not a toy, it’s a tool”, without in any way changing his behaviour. Yet, in being forced to define things in this way, the world has become quite sharply divided, not so much into things which are tools or toys, but into things which ought to be played with and which ought not to be played with. The degree of subjectivity one might bring to this is mindboggling, and I do harbour more than a little reluctance in suggesting, for example, that one can’t have a good time with a hammer. For my son’s sake however, perhaps I should be pleased that while he is successfully learning the categorical boundaries, this is not in any way limiting his desire to play with things that are not toys. It’s a tough one; I don’t want to stifle his creativity, but, as the Easter Road Toll song says “Fingers don’t grow back,” and I’d like him to reach adulthood physically intact.

Ice-cream van, Hong Kong, 19th July, 2009

Whether or not the people who created the “Mister Softee” brand name did so with a sense of irony is anyone’s guess, but there is something intrinsically amusing about the name. It is refreshingly un-masculine, as is the use of the formal, written “mister” in place of the more common contraction, which is bolder, and achieves this through a kind of playful emasculation that may or may not be intended. Ice-cream itself is hardly a very masculine food; decadent rather than stoic, it has connotations of indulgence, relaxation, innocent and guilty pleasure. Perhaps the title is rather alluding to this; its softness as a substance fits the softness of ice-cream as a pastime or treat.

To be soft also suggests lenience, kindness and generosity; so the man who sells the ice-cream is kind, gentle, friendly, and those who indulge in it are perhaps more soft in how they seek happiness; eschewing the savoury and the harder-edged in favour of the syrupy sweet. The soft lighting in this image seems to fit with the gifted title, while the ice-cream man with the hair-band has an air of kindness and dedication in his meditative approach to pouring a cone. He seems to have an affinity with the young customer who stands, watching closely, united through their love of ice-cream.

Considering his fascination with monsters, tunnels and dark places, I imagine that if we left our son Magnus to his own devices he’d probably develop a rich mythology, even a religion, within a few years. It is impossible to truly grasp what it is that he is thinking when he talks of these things, but the reverence, awe and fear with which he regards them exhibits the attribution of agency to natural phenomena that underlies our rather sorry invention of religion and superstition.

Recently his focus has shifted significantly to an obsession with tools and machines, which are his favourite objects and, more often than not, playthings. He certainly enjoys playing with toy cars, trucks and animals, but these are almost invariably trumped by a desire to play with or impersonate screw-drivers, Allen keys, drills, saws, scrapers, trowels, air blowers, chainsaws and whipper-snippers. Every day he begs us repeatedly to play with my tools, of which I own but a few and which, if such a wish is granted, leads to him making a buzzing, whirring, sawing or grinding noise, while pretending to fix things about the house.

His favourite “book” at the moment is a hardware catalogue from Mitre 10, which he flips through repeatedly while naming all the tools. On a recent morning, I took him for a walk through the wonderfully overgrown Newtown Cemetery before proceeding to the hardware store to look at tools, and now, having associated these two things, he asks me daily if I will take him “to the cemetery to look at the tools.” On a second visit to the hardware store, we were approached by a member of staff who quizzed him about the names of things, and Magnus was able to answer every question with impressive accuracy. I was especially proud of his response “that’s a measuring tape” when presented with arguably the most challenging question of them all; his use of the more formal title seemed to surprise his questioner considerably.

At the moment our house is undergoing renovations and we have been fortunate in staying at a friend’s house which is presently vacant. Initially Magnus was desperate to return home – as one might expect – but now he only really wants to go there to see the huge array of tools being used by the builders. “That’s an electric saw. That’s an electric drill…” It is almost impossible to stop him from trying to pick them up and examine them or play with them, and hence something of a concern with regards to his safety. At home, he likes to play with knives at every opportunity, which he sees as just another tool, and so these must all be kept high up out of his reach in the cupboards above the stove. His obsession with tools is such that he gets upset if we don’t stop outside the window of the crappy pawn shop on the corner of King Street, where a rather moribund collection of dusty and rusty screw-drivers is on offer. For him it is like visiting a shrine and, having made his obeisance, he is content to move on.

Were he to elevate his obsession into a religion, then I suspect that the chief deity in his pantheon would be a vacuum cleaner. Whenever he hears one, sees one, hears something that sounds like one, or sees anything remotely vacuum-cleaner shaped, he becomes immensely excited. Once, watching a TV show, in which a vacuum cleaner appeared very briefly, he spent the entire next ten minutes asking “Where is the vacuum cleaner? Where is the vacuum cleaner?” With his limited understanding of narrative, it might as well have been the protagonist. Nothing else mattered.

While vacuum cleaners might sit at the top of the pantheon, any kind of machine that cuts, digs, chops, sands or hammers comes close in status and respect. Recently the whipper-snipper came into vogue after a trip to a public park in Marrickville where the council were maintaining the lawns. Magnus uses the verb “need” in place of “use,” and, consequently, after witnessing the whipper snipper in action, he kept repeating: “Man is needing whipper-snipper. Man needs whipper-snipper.” From that day forth the whipper-snipper has featured regularly in his games. He will pick up anything, however unlike a whipper snipper it may appear, and walk around making a sawing sound whilst intoning “I cutting the walls” and “I cleaning the leaves.” He refers to my mother’s travel hairbrush as a  “whipper-snipper” and asks her for it almost immediately when she visits.

One very positive upshot of his obsession is that he loves the idea of cleaning things. Despite being far better at making a mess than cleaning up after himself, whenever any liquid is spilled on the ground, he heads for the bottom drawer in the kitchen to grab a tea-towel or swab and tries to join in the efforts to dry the floor. Upon every visit we make to the local supermarket, he wriggles out of my arms and runs towards the aisle with all the cleaning products, grabbing either a “sprinker” (his word for a cleaning spray) or one of the mops and brooms hanging from the rack. He will then proceed to clean the floor in the supermarket, leaving me little choice but to humour him or else risk a meltdown and tantrum that is best avoided. We can only hope that this obsession with and willingness to clean carries on throughout his youth, not merely because we’d like him to help around the house, but because recent studies have shown a close correlation between doing household chores during childhood and being successful in life. If his behaviour so far is anything to go on, then it looks as though he will be a very successful person indeed.

My son Magnus is obsessed with “storm thunder”. Ever since he was first really conscious of thunderstorms, they have seemed fascinating and intimidating to him.

In the early days of his flowering awareness of the world, we went through a spell without any thunderstorms at all. It was not until he was already a relatively advanced little being that a particularly violent one struck. Quite naturally, he was terrified.

We were putting him to bed when the storm began. The low rumbles on the horizon hadn’t yet caught his attention, but when a very loud and much closer crack resounded, he was terribly startled and began to whimper.

“It’s okay, mate, it’s just a thunderstorm. That’s the sound of thunder.”

His face was distorted in a frozen cry of fear. Then, slowly, in a frightened staccato plea, he said, “No. More. Storm. Thunder.”

“No. More. Storm. Thunder.”

He repeated this several times, standing at the side of his wooden cot, arms resting on the frame, hands held by his parents. The poor little bugger was shaking and tears welled in the corners of his eyes.

“It can’t hurt you, little mate. You’re safe in here.”

His mouth curled in despair. It seemed as though all was lost.

“No more storm thunder.”

Since that night storm thunder has almost perennially been in his thoughts. Every day, when a plane flies over, he says: “Sounds like storm thunder.” When a heavy truck bangs its weight in a pothole, he says: “Sounds like storm thunder.”

At some point, on a daily basis, when he is walking around the house, or running around the play park, he will say “Don’t be scared storm thunder. Don’t be scared storm thunder.” He is reassuring himself; a personal reminder that loud noises are not necessarily a problem. On account of his pronunciation, however, it comes out rather more like “Donkey scared storm thunder,” giving his mild anxiety a humorous note.

At night our kitchen is ruled by slugs. They start coming in around ten PM and spread out across the rooms downstairs. They come in droves; twenty, thirty, maybe forty slugs or more, some bigger than a middle finger, others smaller than a pinkie. One must tread very carefully when using the downstairs bathroom or foraging for a midnight snack. In the darkened loungeroom, if something is needed, it is best left until morning or risk the nauseating squishiness of a slug exploding underfoot.

In the early morning the slugs make their way home and by sunrise most have left. A few stragglers cruise slowly around the skirting boards and slide under the door during breakfast, late night revellers after a long and fruitful crawl.

Their principal food source is my two-year old son, Magnus. Since he was big enough to start dropping food everywhere, the slug population has exploded. Of course, we sweep and wipe and pick things up all day long, but with the sheer volume of stuff that gets distributed around the house, enough makes it through to keep the slugs coming.

Magnus, with his flourishing vocabulary, though still unable to pronounce Ls, calls them “Sgusting shugs”. He is excited by their presence and comments often on their size:

“Ooh that’s a big one!”

“Just a baby shug.”

He is sensible about not touching the slugs, though he often hovers over them with mischievous intent. Those that are particularly in danger of being stepped on, we pick up carefully and put outside. Keen to help on this front, Magnus often goes straight to the cutlery drawer and grabs a teaspoon when he spots a stray one in the middle of the floor.

The slugs have clearly made a big impression on Magnus, as have most of the local fauna. Whether it is beetles, spiders, butterflies, moths or “hiding lizards” he is overcome with excitement at any sighting. Just a week ago, in the wake of great storms, we found a frog in the rain-filled inflatable pool in the garden. When I prodded gently it to see if it was alive, it darted off through the water, running circles round the rim of the pool. Magnus was so excited that I had to take him back into the house. In his enthusiasm to make it swim, he nearly whacked the frog with a stick. Fortunately, for its own sake, by the following morning, the frog had moved on.

Magnus especially loves butterflies and has a poster from the Australian Museum on his wall filled with green, blue, orange, red, yellow and black butterflies. He frequently stands and studies this, and, as with the slugs, remarks upon their size or colour.

“That’s a blue one!”

“Very big butterfly.”

One night recently, when Magnus awoke crying, his mother went in to see what was the matter. Sitting up in his cot, reaching out for a comforting hug, he cried “Sgusting butterfly!”

While he had seemed in distress initially, now that his mama was present, he shifted into a more enthusiastic mood. “Sgusting butterfly,” he repeated, unable or unwilling to articulate more. “Sgusting butterfly.”

The idea that Magnus should find butterflies disgusting seems at odds with his love of them, and he must have had a nightmare of sorts. The following day he mentioned the “sgusting butterfly” several times and has continued to talk about it since. Just last night he awoke in the early hours, clearly distressed. When we entered his room, he was standing in his cot saying “sgusting, sgusting!” No doubt the lingering impression of another such dream.

Though Magnus is naturally upset at this recurring nightmare, V and I are also excited about getting this rare glimpse into his imagination. His thoughts are certainly on display much of the time as, like most children, he offers a running commentary on all his play activities. Most of the time, however, his imaginations on this score seem more mundane.

“Car car going the shops get milky.”

“Horsey fall down in the water.”

The sgusting butterfly is something else altogether.

Lying on the couch one morning, I tried to visualise this dream of his and found myself imagining a giant slug with butterfly wings. Perhaps this is what he saw that night, some strange agglomeration of these two very different creatures that are ever-present in his life. Did the Sgusting Butterfly monster him? Did it chase him? Did it speak? Did it take him by the hand and lead him to the promised land? Who knows. Yet we will forever cherish this unique, if somewhat unsettling window into his young mind.

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