Tuesday, December 12, 2006

looking for horizons

"What if, say, the manner of going over the ground were itself a poetic act, and not merely a prosaic means of getting from one place to another."
Paul Carter, The Lie of the Land

They have taken away our signs. Many years ago I mourned, ever so slightly, the disappearance from the main city train stations here in Sydney, of the large static indicator boards. Well, no, they weren't static - there was movement. A light would go on beside each station the next train would stop at. Anyone who was a regular could tell just by looking at how the board was lit if the next train was theirs. They didn't have to read, they could just sum it all up in a look. When you're running, the ability to sum up the situation in a glance is important.

For some years these major stations have used screen-based indicator boards, which you must read as the names flow by quickly - or you must take a chance when a train is standing there as you rush up. More than once my chance has been wrong. Besides, on outdoor stations the screens are hard to read due to reflection. Some stations, such as St Leonards and Sydenham, do use black screens with orange or red text, kind of an electronic tickertape. I can do that, almost.

But today (Monday) at Marrickville, no more wooden, manually operated indicator board, no more clock face with moveable hands. We have a screen, which you can't see coming down the stairs as it's halfway along the platform. And I cannot read it from my usual spot. (One's 'usual spot' is important in the hierarchy of city needs.) Anyway, I squinted and scrunched and concentrated but, nup, no could read, unless I walked right up close to the screen (there's only one per platform).

Screens may be exact and quick but you have be right up on them. Horizons are starting to become a thing of the past, like wood and brass and sign writing. I wonder what is becoming of the peripatetic eye, or what of changes made directly by hand, inexact and human, what is happening to how we see perspectives, the folds and turns of the land. I shall need to take more time at my desk to stare out into the limited but reasonably interesting and changeable horizon I can see from the fourth floor. Not because I'm bored or distracted but because it is necessary to keep seeing, that reading which is beyond text and isn't pixellated, squarish, flattened and tiring. And take my chances with timetables.

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