Sydney has lived up to my damp, cold memories with rain & clouds the past few days. But I have gotten out and about – took walks down the streets I used to walk to school – past houses that friends I remember lived in at that time. Changes have been minimal on those streets. The downtown main street – Charlotte Street – has suffered from various attempts to revive it – one plan resulted in, what I call, cartoon quaint – in which stores fronts were given this ‘down east’ treatment that reflects nothing of the city’s heritage – fake St. John’s.
Some have had a sad modernity forced on them – that looks clean but has even less character than the ‘cartoon quaint.’ Banalization.
A few buildings have managed to maintain their historic dignity.
The one shopping centre I enjoyed as been transformed into a strip mall. For years one could enter one end, walk the inside promenade and go into the shops, or sit in a food court or the Tim’s – these community spaces were always active with locals. Now the promenade is gone, you have to enter each store from the parking lot – no shared indoor space & frankly very uninviting. Not even worth taking a picture of. Clearly no market research went in to this pointless renovation.
One good addition, at least one that I like, is Wentworth Perk. The cafe has been renovated a great old house, added a large patio and serves great coffee. I see it has a line up of local musicians – no spoken word night though – if I was here long enough there would be one – maybe I’ll line one up for my next visit though – I’m sure Sydney is ready for a splash of my mildly erotic queerness. (2019 note: Wentworth Perk is now Dillian’s At Wentworth & serves great coffee).
I bought loads of books already: all for research – some from Reynolds Books
(n) = Nimbus Publishing Ltd.
Archie Neil Chisholm: As True As I’m Sittin’ Here
Clary Croft: A Maritimer’s Miscellany (n)
Brian C. Cuthbertson: The Loyalist Governor – Sir John Wentworth
David Doucette: North of Smokey
Dawn Fraser: Echoes From Labor’s War
Rannie Gillis: Historic Sydney (n)
Historic North Sydney (n)
Monica Graham: Historic New Glasgow + (n)
Laurie Lacy: Mi’Kmaq Medicines (n)
Carole MacDonald: Historic Glace Bay (n)
Garfield MacDonald: A Morien Memoir
Alistair Macleod: Island – his short stories are stunning
Richard P. McBrien: Catholicism (one of characters is the parish priest’s niece so I need to know a bit about the religion)
Joe MacPherson: In The Shadow of the Shafts (not a porn novel)
David Newton: Where Coal Is King
here’s a very rough draft from my miner novel – which I’m thinking of calling The Priest’s Niece (2-19 note: it is called Coal Dusters)
Birk could hear singing. It wasn’t far from him on the coal face. He hesitated a moment before pushing the loose rock, duff, behind him, for Swede, his duff-raker, to shift away. It was Swede singing.
“This is the dark. This is the work”
There wasn’t room for Birk to turn around. He wanted to ask Swede how he could keep singing when breathing was difficult enough. Birk snorted some of the coal dust out his nose as he took a shallow breath though the rag over his mouth and shoved more of the debris back towards Swede.
“This is the dark. This is the work. The dark we live in. The work we do.”
As he chipped into the coal face Birk drifted in and out of listening. All there was to think about was his arms flex strike flex chip slag crumble push behind. Flex strike flex chip slag crumble push behind. He no longer felt his sweat, felt his hands as rock broke, fell to his feet. His back and calves numbed from the constant crouch.
Flex strike flex chip slag crumble push behind.
When he stopped he could hear. “This is the dark. This is the work”
Swede tugged at Birk’s elbow. “C’mon lad. Time for a slurp a’tea.”
Birk listened for Swede to scuttle away so there room for him to inch out.
He barely backed out when he heard a dry crack over the sound of the other picks, over the sound of coal falling, over his own breathing. He heard it because it wasn’t a sound that fit into the sounds he usually heard.
Instinctively he nudged Swede. He nodded that he had heard it too. After working together in the mine for several months as a team they didn’t need words. Miners’ eyes talk when words couldn’t be heard anyway.
They crawled backwards on their stomach out of the edge in the coal face they had been working. They were at the point where they could half stand under the ceiling when there was louder crack. Then silence.
All the other miners had stopped.
“Struts,” Birk muttered.
“Yeap.” Swede replied.
They scuttled up the low, narrow passage. Other miners shimmying out from the ledges they had been working. All shuffled hunched and silent to hear.
A brief thump was followed by a low shudder under foot.
“Ceiling in level five.”
They were three level below that on level eight.
“Keep your arses movin’!” A harsh shout from behind and the line of miners moved slowly forward. hunching up and down to avoid the ceiling supports. The tunnel going from five foot to four foot high every six feet.
Birk felt a drip on his face.
“Leak.” he shouted. “Fookin’ leak.”
Another shudder and dust flakes began to fall on them. He grabbed Swede by the arm to pull him along as fast as he was moving.
The air already thick with coal dust became thicker with their fear. They almost fell out of the vein into the shaft where the carts were. They kept moving so the other miners could get out too.
There was already water in the shaft. How long would the stavings hold?