Goodbye, Australia

Sadness resists description. I am trying.

Last time I left a place it took me four months to say what I wanted to say about that process, and somewhere it stopped being about me but became about a single emotion, the way it hurts when you have constructed yourself through the things you take with you and then you are forced to leave them behind.

If I were making Detritus again, this time, it would not be about objects. It would be about people. It would be much closer to the bone and much messier. It would be about Australia.

I’m not very good at talking about emotions. I’m better at writing them, so long as they are righteous anger or contemplative melancholy. I am not good at joy; I hesitate to put words on it, to name it, in case it dissipates. I am even worse at pain.

I am heartbroken to be leaving. There. That is a way of wording it that does not say too much. It implies a great deal but leaves me some cover, some distance from the emotions themselves. I am not saying that at some moments my heart feels like it will burst out of my chest. I am not admitting that I wonder, truly, whether I will ever be at home anywhere again. I am not speaking on the rending of bonds that are no less strong for being relatively new. I am not even mentioning the loneliness I fear, the life I am leaving, the friends I love intensely who I might never have met, so easily, and now might never meet face-to-face again.

Never is a long time. I can safely say: I will come back, if it is within my power. It will not be the same; that’s safe to say too. I won’t come home to these people in my house, grinning and gaming and asking how my day was. I won’t be able to pop for coffee with them of an afternoon after my shift ends. I won’t jump off things and fall over in the same room any more. My Sundays won’t be proper Sundays. We will still talk. We will still jump. We will still game. We will still drink coffee. We will be many thousands of miles apart, but long distances are not the barrier they once were.

It is probably not safe to say the partings feel like grit scraped over raw bruised skin, each one a new pain on top of pain.

It’s right to talk about how excited I am about New York (and I am!), how much I am looking forward to the work (because I am!), how thrilling it is to live this ridiculous life, to live in these wonderful cities, to span the world (and it is, truly, it is). It’s good to say these things. It’s good to remember them. Even aside from the work, which promises to be wonderful, I am looking forward to arriving, to finding and furnishing an apartment, to MOMA, to Broadway, to the tall buildings and the shops and the crush of the city, to the food, to the rush and thrill of a new place and new people.

And it’s good to talk about how proud I am of what we’ve done out here, how lucky we’ve been to find such friends, to take such joy in work, to play in new cities and to have the great privilege of beginning to discover a country. How happy I am to be able to call Sydney home, even for such a short time. I would not swap this sadness for the sadness of never having come here, or the sadness of not making friends: I am glad to have made marks on this place, and to be marked by it in return. I have had a wonderful time.

But I’m scared, too. I’m scared we won’t find new people. I’m scared that this is my tribe and I’m making a terrible choice by leaving them, no matter that it is the right choice for my work. I’m scared that I’m fucking up. I’m scared that, of these two delicious cakes, the one I’m not choosing will be the tastiest. I’m aware of how incredibly lucky I am, to be able to be scared about all this.

Sadness is hard. My heart will not break, but it will scar; it always does, though this will be the worst wound I have inflicted in some time. My world will expand again and it will fill with new people and I hope, desperately, breathlessly, so hard I screw up my eyes and clench my fists, that the friends I’ve met here will never leave my life, even though I’m choosing, geographically, to leave theirs. I am an idiot for throwing away such happiness. I am making the right choice, to chase more. I am so lucky and so frightened of getting lost.

Goodbye, Australia. See you soon.

What’s next: New York

So this is what’s next: I’m going to New York. I am hugely, hugely excited to say that I’m going to be assistant editor of Guardian US. Sometime towards the end of the year, Grant and I will pick up sticks and head back to London for a short while before living in New York for the next couple of years.

I am so incredibly sad to be leaving. I’m so proud of what we’ve done out here. We’ve made Guardian Australia into a formidable force on the Australian media scene, in a very short space of time. We’ve punched well above our weight in terms of the stories we’ve broken, the readership we’ve gotten, and the response to our presence – it’s impossible to deny that we’re here, and that we matter, now. What we’ve achieved in so short a time is absolutely amazing. None of that will end when I leave, of course; I was only a small part of that incredible growth, and Guardian Australia is in a great place now to grow even more over the coming months and years. I’m so proud of it, and of all my colleagues, and I’m going to miss them enormously.

I’m going to miss Sydney too. I’m going to miss my new friends more than I can say, and I’m going to miss so much about the city too: the botanic gardens, the sky dinosaurs, the red lights on top of the Westfield tower, the ability to go to Bondi beach after work if I want to. I will be very sad to say goodbye.

But I’m so excited about what’s next. Grant and I get to go explore New York. We get to embark on another adventure, so soon after the last one. We get to go across the world, again. And, most excitingly, I get to be a big part of what’s next for the Guardian in the US. I am thrilled to have this opportunity. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Happy birthday, Guardian Australia

Tea, cake and champagne for the Guardian Australia launch.

About this time last year, I think someone had broken out the champagne. Not that that meant we stopped working, of course – it just joined the cups of tea and chocolate echidnas (echidnae?) that Penny bought to celebrate launch. We started very, very early and finished very, very late, and it was worth every minute.

Today is a year since Guardian Australia launched, and it has been an incredible year professionally (as well as all that boring personal stuff about finding a new home 10,000 miles away from home). My instinct when it comes to explaining why is to go to the stats – to turn to what we know about our new audiences, the people who found us on launch day and the people who’ve discovered us since. We can bring out commercial and editorial numbers that prove the impact we’ve had and the appetite for our work in Australia, which has completely eclipsed what I thought it might a year ago today. But those numbers don’t tell the whole story – they don’t cover the stories we’ve broken, the speed at which the office has grown, or the way our audience has formed a community around our journalism.

With tons of help from colleagues, I compiled a huge awards list for the anniversary, and it acts as a look back at some of the highs and lows of the year. It’s long, but there are probably at least twice as many things I could have included, if I had enough time to put it together (and thought people would still be interested at the end of it). As it is, it stands as a little marker of what we’ve managed to do in the last year – and my favourite part is, by far, the comment thread underneath. There’s our biggest achievement – that after a year, we have readers who’ll reply to our birthday celebrations to say: “Thank you for being here. Please stay.”

The generosity of governments

It’s not possible to make an infallible system.

If you support the death penalty in practice, on some level, you have to decide that a certain number of innocent lives are a price worth paying for the state to kill guilty people. You can support the principle but oppose the practice – as some do – because it is impossible in practice to create a system which only, ever, executes the guilty and spares the innocent. The more you try to ensure the innocent are spared, the more guilty people also avoid punishment. A perfect system of perfect judgements is impossible in the real world.

No system can sort with 100% accuracy between the deserving and undeserving, either for assistance or for punishment. There will always be borderline cases, those attempting to cheat the system, those whose circumstances are not neat or clean. Most systems are set up to assume a certain leeway, with the exception of those systems set up by states to help their people – or those wanting to become their people.

In the UK, the government has decided that no level of assistance should be given to anyone who does not fit increasingly strict criteria of need. It does not matter how many people with genuine needs are hurt in the pursuit of its desire; if one person who might just about be able to cope without benefits receives benefits, that is one too many. No matter that by tightening the system the government is actively hurting many, many times more people than it’s justifiably excluding from assistance – that is, fundamentally, the point. And the war of words in the popular imagination is won by convincing people that there are so many more undeserving than deserving welfare recipients, and that the pain is therefore proportionate.

But of course it is not. In striving to ensure that only people who most desperately need help ever receive it, the government cuts programs that help everyone. It sees the extra help given to disadvantaged people as an unequal and unnecessary expense, and so guts programs designed to ensure equality of opportunity. It is OK to hurt people who need help, the reasoning goes, so long as you don’t accidentally help anyone.

In Australia, the war is over asylum seekers. On one hand, there are supposedly queues of people waiting to get into Australia; asylum seekers with the proper documentation, who board planes and wait patiently for their chance to come here. On the other, there are people so desperate that they board unseaworthy boats run by people smugglers in the belief it would be better to drown than stay where they are. We are meant to believe that by punishing the latter, the former will benefit. We are meant to believe that it is not worth helping a single person who has come by boat. We are meant to believe that state assistance is a zero sum game, that what’s mine is mine and asylum seekers are Others. We are meant to believe that the country is giving something away when it takes in those desperate enough to risk drowning to live here, not gaining something. We are meant to believe that the only choice is between deaths at sea and deaths in detention, as though stopping the boats is more important than stopping the suffering, the desperation, the human misery that lies behind every journey to these shores.

I don’t think I am useless to Australia. Australia doesn’t think so either; I’m one of the good ones. I’m a temporary economic migrant, not a permanent refugee. I have knowledge skills that this country thinks are worth the cost of my admittance. I don’t really need to live in Australia. So the government has made it remarkably easy for me to choose to do so. It makes sure I can have my husband with me. It offers me healthcare arrangements, because my home country would do the same thing. As long as I am working and do not need further help, Australia is very happy to have me.

Of course it is, because I don’t need help. There is no room in this equation for political solutions that admit the possibility that it might be OK to help a few people who are two degrees above the breadline, if it ensures that a greater number of those below the breadline get that help too. There’s no room for generosity or for compassion, no room for the idea that it is better to make it easy for those who need help to get it than to make it hard for those who do not. And so, slowly but surely, governments act more and more like banks offering loans. They offer assistance only to those who can prove they do not need it, and leave those who need it most to drown.

Instagram (finally) introduces web embed code

Like this:

This is what I’ve been doing today. Grant’s cousin Caroline (who, as you can see, is significantly more bendy and stable than I am) has been staying with us this week, and we’ve been exploring Sydney a little. Today we did the walk from Coogee beach to Bondi, finishing up with an impromptu yoga session on the sand as the sun went down. Yesterday we went to Taronga Zoo, and saw this particularly ridiculous bird:

The one above is embedded with, which generates embed code – it uses img tags rather than an iframe, and therefore has the benefit of letting you muck about a bit with the source, correct typos, and so on. It also has the bonus of being visible in WordPress previews. Right now while typing I have no idea what the top photo’s going to look like, whether it’s sized sensibly for my blog template, etc. I don’t know if it includes comments or like counts or captions. [edit: counts yes; captions no.] It also means the bird photo will be the one pulled in elsewhere on this site attached to this post, unless I upload the others separately; my related post plugin won’t look for images inside frames.

It’s a sensible, if belated, move from Instagram to make their content more easily spreadable, in the way that Vine and Twitter are; it’s hard to see it as anything but a way to encourage people to make more use of its video features, by making those videos are more broadly available. Of course, because some laws of the internet are immutable, there are already people writing SEO-friendly posts of advice for brands about how to leverage it. It makes Instagram a more viable option for live coverage of events, because it’s more easy to pull it all together afterwards into a single page. But right now, for me, it just makes it a little easier to show family back home who don’t know what Instagram is the beauty of Australia in midwinter.

Detritus: a Twine game

A couple of months ago, mid-move, I started a new project – a Twine game/interactive fiction thing called Detritus. I think it’s finished enough to share with the world.

It was meant to be quite a small experiment to see if I could teach myself the medium as well as using it to express something that’s almost impossible to express through non-interactive media. It got a bit more ambitious than that, I think mostly because I had no idea what I was doing or how tricky some of it was technically. At some point soon, when I’m a little bit less close to it and it’s had some air, I’ll blog about making it.

Any bug reports or feedback, please let me know. You can play it by clicking here: it should have sound running in some parts.

Welcome to Australia, there are rainbow birds

A close-up of a rainbow lorikeet.

Here is a picture of the rather magnificent bird that crash-landed on our balcony yesterday evening. It’s a rainbow lorikeet.

It was stunned, so we put out a little water (which it ignored) and a little diced banana (which it ate in a hilariously messy fashion, getting banana mush all over its beak and then slowly licking it off and blinking).

Here it is being confused by my finger: Confused rainbow lorikeet through a window After a short while it fell asleep with its head tucked under its wing, and an hour or so later awoke in much higher spirits. It shimmied up and down the window ledge a little, and started making squawking noises at me when I went out to check on it. When we went to bed it was asleep again, and when we woke today it had flown away.

I found out about rainbow lorikeets when I was in I guess second year of uni. I loved the way they looked in pictures but I thought I’d never get to see one in the wild, not really. They fly in groups of three and four through Hyde Park, making sounds like squeaking hinges, and they flock in berry-laden trees in the botanic gardens.

I am impossibly lucky.

Smoke me a kipper, I’ll be back for breakfast

London’s doing its absolute best to make me happy to leave right now – it’s raining sideways. We’ve consolidated our lives into five suitcases (plus a lot of boxes in storage), and the taxi gets here in an hour and a half. This time tomorrow – well, for me it won’t be this time tomorrow, for one thing, and for another we’ll still be flying – but pretty soon after that we’ll be in Sydney.

There should be a new word – I bet there’s one in German – for this mixture of sadness, excitement, fear and joy that comes with this kind of move. I’m astonishingly lucky to be going to such an exciting job in such an exciting place. I’m astonishingly lucky to have so much to leave behind. I’m astonishingly lucky to be living in a time when I can still live in the internet, and keep track of where all my friends are and what’s happening in their worlds, while being as far away as it’s really possible to be without actually being in space.

We’ve come a long way. We’re off a bit further. We’ll be back soon.

Accretion, collation, decumulation


In astrophysics, the growth of a massive object by gravitationally attracting more matter.

I picked up pebbles when I was young. Entranced by tales of fossil hunters and gemstones discovered on beaches, I trekked back and forth amid the summer holiday shells in Cornwall and the rocky rubble on the north coast of France. I picked them over and came back each time with double handfuls of pointed mussel shells or curled snails showing iridescent patches, smooth stones worn by tides and marked with interesting lines and patterns. Always I had to pick just one or two to take home. Once I found a lump of quartz crystals as big as four fists. That one is with me still.

For a while, because I was a teenager, I collected pictures of the Manic Street Preachers on an early Geocities site. I printed them out and stuck them to my wall with tiny pieces of Blu-Tack. Later on, as I moved between homes in my late teens and early 20s, I took with me a mutating collage of words and phrases painstakingly clipped from magazines, newspapers, posters. It was a cut-up work-in-progress, the words clumping together to form new meanings by association every time I moved. They grew organically on doors and walls in tiny flats painted in scrupulously cheap neutral tones, until they took up more space than there were walls.


The act of collecting, comparing carefully, and often integrating or arranging in order.

My bookshelves, since I was old enough to own bookshelves, have always been overflowing. I used to buy one a week at charity shops, until I discovered student loans and bought dozens at a time and stayed up late in bed reading. Some I’ve read until they fell apart, and kept the husks. Some I’ve never read from cover to cover, but they have memories attached; they are physical, and come with inscriptions or associations or the fact that they have existed since 1786. Some I read and gave away, passed on, decided not to keep on shelves waiting for the right mood to strike.

Since 2006 I’ve collected oil-based perfumes from obscure perfume houses, pouring hours of time into swapping packages of tiny 1-dram vials internationally with people I know only by their forum names and avatars. I’ve tested perhaps six hundred, and still owned perhaps a third of of those, choosing to wear one a day on instinct or at random, until four weeks ago. Now the collection is full of small holes. Moth-eaten.


The disposal of something accumulated.

Three skirts in bubble-wrap mailers, to Yorkshire, Berkshire and Liverpool. A disco ball inexpertly wrapped, that rolled off the post office counter and luckily bounced. Books hand-delivered, posted, gifted, sold, taken box by box to charity shops. More than a dozen packages, each one themed, to friends in cities I will not visit before we leave. Fourteen parcels of perfume, each vial taped closed, accompanied by a couple of tea bags and perhaps a lollipop. My first car, bought in Norwich and delivered one snowy evening by three men, driven six weeks later to Ambleside for our honeymoon, driven away by a couple with a young son in the back. A camera. A pair of boots. Eventually, our bed.