A couple of comments about Mary Poppins.


I like Mary Poppins. She’s cool, calm, and full of surprises. Plus, she treats children like adults and adults like children, which is how we should act. We are drawn to Mary Poppins because she’s unpredictable. She transcends adulthood and childhood in a way that I aspire to.. 

To understand Mary Poppins the character, and Mary Poppins the story you’ll need to:

– watch the original movie

– read the original book/s

– watch Saving Mr Banks

– watch the recent revamped film

As Saving Mr Banks reveals, Mary Poppins’ stern demeanour stems from pain. As P. L. Travers says to Walt Disney: “Mary Poppins and the Bank’s, they’re family to me.” Walt Disney loves Mary Poppins, but Travers knows them as complicated people who bare the scars of tragedy. From pain and suffering we invent and fantasise through our imaginations.  

The flashbacks in Saving Mr Banks are set in rural Queensland, where Travers grew up. They tell a dark and grim tale. Travers’ father suffers from alcoholism, and her mother suffers from an illness that results in her attempted suicide. 

As the ‘original’ film is being made in the Los Angeles Disney studios, the real life Travers, played by Emma Thompson, obliquely remarks upon and foreshadows the flashback scenes. 

“Being a mother is a job, a very difficult job, and one that not everyone should have taken on in the first place.”

The script echoes off itself, transferring one line from one character in one era, and then repeating that same line in a different character in a different era. In one of the opening scenes, Traver’s father, played by Colin Farrell, says “a leisurely stroll is a gift, darling, it’s a gift.” And then the Hollywood driver, played by Paul Giamatti, says the exact same thing when driving Travers back to her hotel.  The contexts and meanings are different, but the important point is that a writer has a finely tuned ear for these echoes. We see Traver’s reaction to these echoes and they transpire into her transformation, which is to share her family with the world, and to not be ashamed of her past. 

The reluctant and cantankerous Traver’s in Saving Mr Banks is directly related to her childhood. Her demands on Disney and the studio employees represent her desire for control. For example, she demands that there can be no hint of romance between Mary Poppins and Mr Banks. 

In fact, Mary Poppins is not a love story. There is no romance, and the love shared between the characters is always mediated by a collective activity: floating on the roof using laughing gas, flying a kite, and so on. No one declares their love for one another. No one is allowed sentiment. We feel the love the characters have for one another. We have to sense how they feel toward one another and through that sensing we become part of the story. 

So, what kind of story has Traver’s created? 

The book is much shorter the original and revamped film. In a 1977 interview on Desert Island Discs Travers remarked, “I’ve seen it once or twice, and I’ve learned to live with it. It’s glamorous and it’s a good film on its own level, but I don’t think it is very like my books.”

This assessment rings true for me. In the book/s there are no songs to fill out the space between the episodes. The paragraphs are short, yet contain interesting turns. Mary Poppins, like the words on the page, never explain; the logic of the text is left to the reader to decipher. This gap presses on the imagination of the audience, and from the snippets of detail we are given about Mary Poppins, mostly sniffs, we reach out toward the archetype of the character, the universal interloper/healer/giver of gifts. An outsider has the freedom to express themselves freely, and to leave when they’re no longer needed. 

It’s Mary Poppins who gives structure to the play of the children. She guides them and provides for them a language in order to make more meaningful connections between disparate parts of their lives. So when Michael wakes up with a “curious feeling inside him”, it’s Mary Poppins who tells him he woke up on the ‘wrong side of the bed’. Michael’s grumpiness is a sign he’s becoming an adult, and Mary Poppins is there to guide him:

“He waited, wondering what she would do, and was surprised when, without a word, she went to the bathroom and turned on the tap herself. He took his towel and went slowly in as she came out. And for the first time in his life Michael entirely bathed himself. He knew by this that he was in disgrace, and he purposely neglected to wash behind his ears.” p. 76

The characters different attitudes are constantly overlapping one another, but they move forward in a playful and stoic manner. They make light of their problems through their interaction with one another. Mary Poppins is the one who makes sense of what happens and when it feels like nothing is going to happen, she makes things happen. She is wise in this way. The hand of wisdom is always invisible:

“I hate being good,” he said aloud to himself [Michael], as he trailed after Mary Poppins and Jane and the perambulator on the afternoon walk to the Park.  

“Don’t dawdle,” said Mary Poppins, looking back at him. 

But he went on dawdling and dragging the sides of his shoes along the pavement in order to scratch the leather. 

Suddenly Mary Poppins turned and faced him, one hand on the handle of the perambulator. 

“You,” she began, “got out of bed the wrong side this morning.”

“I didn’t,” said Michael. “There is no wrong side to my bed.”

“Every bed has a wrong side and a right side,” said Mary Poppins, primly. 

“Not mine — it’s next to the wall.”

“That makes no difference. It’s still a side,” scoffed Mary Poppins. 

“Well, is the wrong side the left side or is the wrong side the right side? Because I got out on the right side, so how can it be wrong?”

“Both sides were the wrong side, this morning, Mr Smarty!”

Throughout the book we are given the sense that this story has been told before, and will be told again and again. A walk in the park, visiting The Bird Woman, getting high on Laughing Gas, being visited by The Dancing Cow and Christmas Time are all repeatable occasions which we can enter, and discover how we’ve changed. We learn about ourselves through our rituals and traditions, because we can observe how we react differently to last time, or the time before. Thus, the plot and character arch of the tale Traver’s has created is mythological; it’s about the stories we tell ourselves

After visiting The Bird Woman Jane and Michael love hearing from Mary Poppins what The Bird Woman gets up to overnight. They’ve heard the story before, but the joy is in the hearing, and in the telling, and remembering of detail. The effect is to suggest to us the elements we need for contentment are already in our lives, we just need to open up to ourselves and to one another.  

Out of a mind like Traver’s comes our greatest children’s stories. The greater the suffering the greater the need to fantasise. But our fantasies have two sides, a happier, lighter side; and a darker, more serious side. Mary Poppins gives us some idea of how to control our fantasies. She has been there and she’s back, and she is here to let us know how the two sides of the same fantasy can co-exist. ‘Adults’, those serious and playless people, have withdrawn from fantasy because they cannot handle the darker side, and their imagination pays the price for that withdrawal. 

At the end of ‘The Bird Woman’ chapter:

“Yes, and some on her knee. Then she smooths down the head-feathers of each one in turn and tells it to be a good bird—“

“In the bird language?”

“Yes. And when they are all sleepy and don’t want to stay awake any longer, she spreads out her skirts, as a mother hen spreads out her wings, and the birds go creep, creep, creeping underneath. And as soon as the last one is under she settles down over them, making little brooding, nesting noises and they sleep there till morning.” 

Michael laughed happily. He loved the story and was never tired of hearing it.

“And it’s all quite true isn’t it?” he said, just as he always did. 

“No,” said Mary Poppins, who always said “No.”

“Yes,” said Jane, who always knew everything…..  

An initial review of John Kinsella’s The Wound.

On page 63 of The Wound we read: “A language as inarticulate as struggle for voice in the poem.” This is an unexpected line from the greatest poet ‘Australia’ has germinated. My biased opinion of course, but an opinion I’ve held for a few decades, and an opinion that has galvanised year on year. Kinsella is ‘Australia’s greatest poet’, not because Kinsella doesn’t just write great poetry, he lives poetically. By that I mean he is as thirsty to understand the universe as he is to fight for universal struggles. He does more for poetry than he writes poetry, and he is more prolific at publishing than Peter Dutton is a racist fascist.

In this context I’m left to ask myself if the line about finding voice is perhaps false modesty? Well, who hasn’t sat on the freezing cold porcelain after forgetting to lower the toilet seat in the middle of the night? Yes, even the greatest have false starts, hiccups and doubt. These days Kinsella is as comfortable with his dickheadness as he is with his apparent self-righteousness.

In the introduction (yes there is an introduction, thank fuck) to The Wound, Kinsella highlights two kinds of wounds that drive the collection. The literal wound, which is the violence inflicted by humans on other humans, animals, and the environment. And the ‘conversational’ Wound that is a response to the literal wound. Kinsella believes that poetry is a pacifist solution to the injustices that he sees going on in the world. The Wound is post-attack, pre-rehab and pre-scar, if you will, and the poems seek to explore that specific time period.

He uses the works of Build Suibhne and Friedrich Holderlin to facilitate his “pacifist response to conflict”.  I must admit that I have not consulted those works for this initial review. I’m sure scholars and fans of Kinsella will find the cross-referencing fruitful. His open relationship to past poets reveals an intense desire to make make poetry relevant, to show that if he can be moved by poetry then you might be too.

Kinsella is fond of writing poems and collections after other writers, and especially poets. This strategy provides a sense of tradition and history to his works, but it also enables a lens from which we can survey the past through the perspective of a living poet. The appeal to, and translation of older works sparks an interest in those works, and the context in which those works were created.

Kinsella stresses that “I am not Sweeney … he is a bestiary.”(pg10) This is true, as throughout the first book the poet does refer to Sweeney in the third person. Compounding this idea, the titles are action descriptors of the poems, not semantic abstractions of the feel of the poem. Nevertheless, the Sweeney trope does provide the poet with a kind of freedom, an alternate-eye-perspective on the events that are witnessed, so he can test his ideas against a Middle Irish Romance and use that as a sounding board for his morality and art. The Sweeney conceit provides a fluidity, and lightness and airiness to the narratological aspect of the poems. The ornithological alter-ego can fly across the landscape and survey The Wound. In this sense the ‘I’ of the poems co-habitates the bestiary. Check out ‘Sweeney the Vegan’ for a fine example.

The events and their places are multivariate. Having read through the book a few times, I think it’s safe to say the first book is preoccupied with activism, and the second book entertains a metaphysical detachment to place, bordering on spiritualism. Given the two books are in conversation, we can then also assume a dialogue between the activist first book and the cosmological second. We can then assume that they inform one another. For to share in a certain cosmology implies a shared view of the world, and hence, a shared form of activism even in the most subtle behaviour. Be it the products we buy, the jobs we refuse, how we choose to live and so on. You don’t have to be on the barricades to be active.

Book One:

Having had some exposure to the period in which some of these poems were written – particularly the Roe8 protest poems, I have experienced the way in which Kinsella builds his poetics: a belief that the small gesture of the gift of poetry, if given the space to gestate, can and will connect the past and the future in important, significant, ways. Ways that cannot be usurped by any outside influence:

Claim the glory of a grey wagtail – yellow bird –

So rare in winter even twitchers

Will say ‘mis-sighting’, ‘missattribution’,

When you know you’re right.

Accept the wisdom of the two-pot

Screamers, welcome the blowback,

‘Or worse’, a foreigner – accept ex-

Communication from entire townlands.

p.15.

 

The poems speak from the outside, trying to find a centre. The centre is facilitated in the freedom found in playing with imagery. Freedom in creating for yourself. The concerns are repeated and emerge in different contexts from different events. The patterns are evident, yet resist systemisation, though they do not shun the possibility of systemisation. The key is to preserve the poetic voice as an act of resistance, to hell with concealing process:

Refuge is the key. Refuge is where

no creature will be killed by us for flesh

but will make its own way – fences down

and passages no rite de passage condescended by us.

Almost three decades have passed.

I have learnt not to proselytise, and this

song is not a commandment. My song

is still a lament, and I perch high

on the old York gum that lost a limb

in the last storm – I hear the owl

homing in on its prey, and have nothing

to say against its way, knowing it’s not my way.

p.20.

 

You will not feel ripped off or jaded by any of these poems, they all stand on their own, and the Arc Publication editors fine tune Kinsella’s mastery of  language. Every poem has taken time and wisdom to reach an apex, to consolidate a passage – and I challenge all those who winge that Kinsella haphazardly publishes everything he writes to prove there’s a dud in this collection. When you read a lot of Kinsella’s reviewers, you get the sense that publishing too much poetry was a bad thing in the first place. As if drawing attention to injustice through art was and/or is a bigger deal than actively working to stop those injustices in the first place.

Arguments about aesthetics are a waste of effort if you agree we as a species are headed down the wrong path, that we are creating a worse world for future generations. The Wound, in any case, is a triumph of both aesthetics and proclamation, and if I sound like I am defending Kinsella for his approach, I am. If you’re more worried about the sustainability of your literary journal than you are about the sustainability of anthropogenic pressure on the environment, your wires are crossed. We can do both, I hear you respond. Are you doing both? I must ask. The Wound asks:

 

Listen, says the hermit, Hear the vanishing call of the vanishing

Quail-thrush, hear the dogger’s vehicle come back from his killings,

Hear the deceased dingos calling the moon down to the treeless

Horizon. You are haunted, the hermit says, You are haunted

By the toxins falling from the mouths of demagogues – angry

Whites who cherish the idea of DNA, swilling from chalices

Of pure hate, rallying around their flags gifted to them by the warfare

Of their ancestors. You are haunted by the chiasmus of the pass rising and falling – plain      to plain – at sunset, the Major Mitchells

Coming in to find a stand of trees on the burning edge, bound down

By the renaming they’ve had imposed on their own language,

and on the language of those they’ve coexisted with for so very long.

p.45

As you read these poems, and if you get into them, you might feel a call to arms, a shared sense of released frustration. Yet you might not know what to do with that frustration. You might not feel that the injustices that Kinsella sees are the same injustices that you see. The thing with Kinsella’s art is, he doesn’t let you off the hook. This is not a Roger Waters’ concert. You don’t get to go home having felt like you’ve done your bit.

I was reading the collection on the train from Perth to Fremantle, stopping between each poem to look out the window, at people, and to check my phone. When I got off the train there were about ten cops with a search dog looking for people with drugs, I’m assuming. Their presence at the station was enough to make me uneasy. A cynic, I was questioning their strategy: at 10am who were they going to catch? I recognised one of the cops from the Roe8 protests. And I was quickly reminded of that ordeal. Everyday citizens at loggerheads with the executive because of a bloodyminded and vengeful legislature:

 

Sweeney Contemplates a Display of Force by the Police State 

Distant now, and working out how to make a return, how

to embrace

the wetlands and detrack the machines, Sweeney flew low

through the rain

of grasshoppers rising up from the denuded plains, late crops

shaking

their seed onto the scorched earth. I will return to the coastal plain,

said Sweeney loud to the parrots, loud to the crows, loud to

the mulga

snakes, loud to the grasshoppers. I will stand with the

protectors against

the troops of the dictator, against the builder of stadia and

his wealthy,

uncouth mates. I will stand against their class pretensions,

against their

sporting codes which read a little like the bishop leading an army

against the heathen. I am a heathen, Sweeney told the blue sky

stretched to breaking point; I am old as the earth but can’t

even perch

on the outstretched branch of a York gum without feeling

guilt. But I will fly

down to the marri, to the blackbutt, to the banksia, to the

zamias and grass

trees and ask if I might perch temporarily, temporarily to

watch over

the souls of those who dwell there, who know the stories,

who connect

constellations with earth itself, who can unpick the codes,

the fever

of growth, schematics of belonging. Red-tailed black cockatoo

will guide me in, give me strength. I will ask to join the lines,

speaking

my ancient tongue of respect. I will tell the police they must

listen

to the ground through their feet, must listen to the whispering

coming out of the bush where there are as many worlds

as night reveals, spreading its sheet, a future unfurled.

p.50.

 

If I were to make one criticism it would be that some of the endings, for me, are ambiguous and therefore detract from the viscerality (is that a word? Let’s make it a word) that makes the poems hypnotic and powerful. But I’m just being picky to pretend to be balanced. This is a serious review after all, and my ‘career’ as a poet depends on my reviews.

Book Two:

I’ve always liked the poems of Kinsella’s where he’s up to something, where the poetic ‘I’ is acting in the world, be it building rock cairns or throwing a rock to decide where to plant saplings. They make me feel like I’m there:

The woods are closed

till February the eighteenth,

being private woods.

With too much in me,

I want to get between

even the bare trees,

even where there are ixodidae

that spread Lyme disease.

I will be wary, and bare

little skin. I do not want

to attract or disturb ticks.

And it is not ’tick fever season’.

I will have a better chance

in this demi-cold. I’ll be out

of the cycle. Freelance.

p.76

We know we are not in Australia. Australia doesn’t have woods, and they don’t get ‘closed’.  “With too much”, he goes for a walk to try to shake out whatever is overfilling him; to walk out his worries through the ground. But he’s drawn to the closed woods, to where the blood suckers seek to spread disease. He is caught between his desire to be away and being aware of the ticks. The danger of the ticks is overblown. No doubt Kinsella has been bitten by many a tick. It’s the danger of nature he wants to draw our attention to. By covering his skin he creates a scenario where he can do both, to find an accepting middle ground between his desires and present dangers.

‘A Celebration of Peace’ and ‘If From the Distance’ book-end the second book. Perhaps the two most metaphysical poems in the collection:

But I have my eyes and ears peeled,

listening beyond the deathsounds, waiting

to catch the late-early calls of the riverbird.

It sticks around through winter, making

the best of what’s on offer. Generations

of conflict along these narrow banks,

the poisoned grasses, the long gone

common reeds. But I am standing

in for you in this celebration of peace

talks – the conniving of Munich

to let death stop in Syria, a bit.

God has decided on unity.

A shell burst antiphony.

p.67

While reading The Wound, I kept checking my phone for social media updates, and other messages. Every time I read another poem I felt more attuned, somehow. More where I should be, doing what I should do. I became more aware of my habits. Kinsella’s work is primarily preoccupied with observing habit, both in language and body. Habit is what makes character. Habit also underlines hypocrisy, and where consciousness of our impact on nature (human and non-human) is contradicted by our actions. Kinsella suggests this is where we should be headed, could be directing our investigations, not cowering from our foolishness. The entrance to art is through our hypocrisy:

The afternoon stuck at its centre, unable to dilate,

Retract into the island sea of desire. Accept, take

Her happiness into your hours, drink in the sun

And deny melanomas usurping its generosity,

Lifting truths out of us to grasp hands with grain

In the silos, to promise season after season of growth,

Only to be overcome by the fumes of pickling,

The distance growing between us and the dirt.

And so my absence is an enunciation

Of your isolation in the world! I love you,

But can’t know all there is left,

 

A line missing from the final poem? What does that mean? The book finishes on a comma. A playful comma after the weighty previous lines, designed to disorientated the reader.

Some final thoughts. Poo and shit. It’s great to see Kinsella finally embrace a relish for poo and shit. I’ve been writing about poo and shit since the mid-90’s and was starting to feel isolated among the literary glitterati. Kinsella, like many great poo and shit masters, can go from poo and shit to complex abstractions without skipping a beat:

 

Fist shakings are salutes? It was like the 1936

Berlin Olympics. Or the Nuremberg Rallies. If Sweeney

Was crass for saying it – out of touch with the zeitgeist –

Then he would likely be damned for mentioning the New Guard

or the Fascist Legion or the ribbon cutting on Sydney

Harbour Bridge. It wasn’t a big shit he’d dropped,

But it was obviously pungent – Aussie flag bandannas

Were now covering eyes as well as noses and mouths.

They are veiling themselves, said Sweeney, wistfully

As his shit incited the patriots to fight among themselves.

p. 38.

 

9781910345979

First Experiments with the Zpacks Duplex Flex Tarp

Tucked quietly away on the zpacks website is the Duplex tarp. That’s the Duplex tent minus the groundsheet and bug netting. Or maybe the duplex tent is the tarp plus the groundsheet and bug netting?

Why I am I being facetious? The way the Duplex tarp is presented, or should I say not presented, one could come to conclude that the tent came before the tarp. Or the tent is so vastly superior to the tarp that the tarp isn’t even worth considering. There’s not even a picture of the Duplex tarp on the zpacks website. There’s just an option to buy the tarp, sight unseen. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but there’s not a single photo of a Duplex tarp on the web, to my knowledge.

With some long walks on my horizon I wanted a shelter that could do it all. I’m already a flat tarp user and while I love having a flat tarp it usually takes me about an hour altogether to get set up perfect. The time it takes from site selection to locking the bug net down can seem like a eternity.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy this process. Having a flat tarp means every shelter is customised to your selected site. I enjoy this on walks less than two weeks long but any longer than that and I want a shelter that can be put up quickly and assuredly.

Coming from the perspective of a flat tarp user, I wanted a shelter that could give me the versatility of a flat tarp and the convenience of a freestanding tent. Oh yeah, and it needed to be light. Ultralight. What about bomb proof? What about with massive floorspace? Sound impossible?

So do I take a gamble on the Duplex tent without the groundsheet and bug netting? I’m thinking well, you’re a bit over walking poles. You have been using a zpacks staff for a few years. I love the staff but they’re not the best shelter support unless the peak is the same height as the staff (you have to take the staff apart and then the height is not micro-adjustable).

Also, I said to myself, I want to be able to write while I’m walking. Furthermore, I like picking my nose a lot, and walking poles and nose picking do not go hand in hand.

That was the limit of my thought processes.

I picked the woodland/camo because it’s a bit thicker and a bit darker inside.

Enter the ‘Flex’ freestanding poles. These are some carbon fiber poles that zpacks get from Easton. They weight 280 grams. When the ‘Flex’ freestanding poles were released by zpacks some of the critics over at the Backpackinglight forums chucked in their two cents. Here are some of the objections:

“This flex design seems to me more a case of trying to make the flexible poles fit the design of the Duplex rather than making the most of the poles by having 2 longer continuous poles that cross on each side of the shelter and redesigning the shelter to suit the poles.”

“The idea of using a Duplex without trekking poles sounds cool, except of course the addition of 12oz poles eats a lot of the weight savings that makes the Duplex so great.”

and

“Hmm… agreed… just looking at it, intuitively I don’t see how it can withstand a substantial wind load without collapsing, let alone a good dump of snow. Can that ridge line really support as much tension as one pitched with trekking poles? Looks as if Joe had a pretty good test venue there… Scotland?
But even if it does work, I too cannot see carrying around an extra 11 ounces when I’ve got two perfectly good trekking poles weighing 7.2 oz total.”

The overall consensus was that the ‘Flex’ poles were superfluous ‘if you walk with trekking poles’. A lot of the comments also said that they had never had a situation where  a non-freestanding tent was difficult to pitch easily. Having had some experience with non-freestanding tents, I find this statement hard to believe. I like a drum tight pitch and will spend ages re-positioning stakes and tightening  guylines until it works the way I like. Some people I’ve seen can set their non-freestanding tent up and not care.

For me however I don’t want to carry walking poles and I prefer to have a floor-less shelter. The more I thought about a Duplex tarp combined with the freestanding poles, the more the combination started to make sense. Since I’m limiting my options to not having walking poles, for this comparison I presume you would be carrying the carbon fiber poles with the Duplex tent (not the freestanding poles) that zpacks sells that go into the peaks.

For those of you who don’t have a clue what I’m banging on about, this is the Duplex tent:

ultralight-two-person-tent-duplex-blue_l.jpg

You’ll notice the groundsheet and the netting is sewn to the tarp. You’ll also notice that there are two poles keeping the tent up, one in the middle of each door. These are the dedicated carbon poles zpacks sells. Many hikers use their walking poles to keep the tent up instead of the carbon poles pictured.

I’m comparing the above to this:

IMG_1585 (1).jpg

In this photo the netting and the groundsheet are connected but they are separable. There are a variety of groundsheets and nets you can use instead of the ones shown. The netting creates an inner (second) cocoon for the sleeper, this is called a double walled tent. The poles keeping the tent up are on the outside of the canopy and do not require stakes to keep it up.

Some astute readers might point out that the comparison isn’t fair – a non-freestanding single wall Duplex versus a freestanding double walled modular Duplex? Apples and oranges, as the saying goes. Yes, but I’ll give the non-freestanding a head start.

Now, the all important weight numbers.

From the zpacks website, the Duplex full tent numbers are:

– The Duplex Tarp with taped seams and sewn in linelocs weighs 9.5 ounces (269 grams)

– The included guy lines and door clips weigh about 1.2 ounces (34 grams)

– The sewn in Cuben Fiber bathtub floor and bug screen weighs 10.0 ounces (284 grams)

– The included medium-plus 7″ x 13″ stuff sack adds .3 ounces (8 grams)

– The total weight for the packed tent is 21.0 ounces (595 grams).

– If you’re carrying the dedicated carbon poles they’re 60 grams each, so + 120 grams

Total = 715g.

On the other hand, the freestanding Duplex tarp combination comes in at:

– The duplex tarp alone is 9.5 ounces or 269 grams.

– The flex pole set and hardware is 10 oz or 282g.

– Add your own groundsheet (MLD DUO 60g, or zpacks solo bathtub 91g)

– Bug net = Sea to Summit solo nano = 80 grams.

– Guylines = 34 grams

Total = 725g.

Starting to get interesting?

Both weights do not include stakes. Arguably you’ll need less stakes for the freestanding tent than the non-freestanding tent. You could argue you don’t need any stakes, just like Joe does in his set up video.

Zpacks says the non-freestanding tent requires a minimum of 8 stakes, so at 6 grams a piece (for some shepherd hooks and carbon stake combo) = 48 grams, bringing the total to 763 grams.

From my limited experience with the freestanding Duplex tarp (in windy conditions) you’ll need 6 stakes as a minimum; so 12 grams less, bringing the total to 761 grams.

EXACTLY the same weight. A double walled tent at the same weight as a single walled tent? I’m in.

You could use a bivy instead of the groundsheet/net combo as well, saving weight but sacrificing sleeping space.

I saved up and watched the poor AUD/USD exchange rate put the object a few more weeks out of reach and then placed my order and waited eight weeks.

Okay here’s some photos:

IMG_1563

Above: Duplex Flex tarp with shortened x-therm max. Note no bug net.

IMG_1565.jpg

The interior space is huge. With all the doors closed there’s 2.2m to roll around in.

IMG_1566.jpg

Above: with the DUO Sea to Summit bug net. I’ve since figured out the corners of the bug net are better off being hooked to where the tarp poles meet the ground.

IMG_1559.jpg

Above: There are two mid panel tie outs. I’ve read in various places the panels can flap around a lot in high winds. Maybe having two tie outs will help? With the mid-panel toggle connecting the freestanding poles to the tarp there is more head room in the center of the tarp by default.

Not having used a Duplex tent, here are my imagined advantages and disadvantages of the Duplex freestanding tarp over the non-freestanding Duplex tent (integrated floor and bug netting). Some of these comparisons apply to all modular floor-less tarps to integrated tents.

Firstly, price:

When you factor in the price of the carbon poles the Duplex tent is $600 (USD) plus $60. If you had a freestanding full Duplex tent, you’re looking at $750 USD.

The Duplex tarp is $375 USD plus $150 for the Flex poles totaling $525. You then have to factor in the bug net and groundsheet price; S2S bug net ($40USD) and tyvek or polycryo ($10).

Next, set up.

One advantage of the integrated full Duplex tent is that there would be a little bit less stuffing around. Maybe ‘stuffing around’ is the wrong phrase – perhaps, ‘less initial set up time’ is more accurate. I’ve spent a few hours cutting bungee cords and getting the inner net working.

The apparent convenience of the integrated tent comes at the cost of versatility.

As said, for me, I value versatility and ‘modularity’ over maximum convenience. In the context of the freestanding duplex tarp against the non-freestanding duplex tent the convenience is subjective. The floor-less freestanding tarp is more convenient if you’re ‘cowboy camping’ and it starts raining in the middle of the night.  In this video I have a waterproof shelter erected in less than 3 minutes. Keep in mind this is probably the fourth time I have set the tarp up. (The first night I set the tarp up was a day before this in the dark and drizzling rain.)

One of the coolest things for me is that you can plonk the tarp over the top of your sleeping bag, mattress and groundsheet. You can’t do that with an integrated tent.

 

Other advantages of the modular Duplex tarp over the non-freestanding Duplex tent:

I can unhook the inner and use the inner with the freestanding poles and have a freestanding net tent to use in bug infested areas on clear nights or during the day when the flies are out.

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When decamping I can lift the tarp up and move it away from the contents inside. No crouching and crawling in and out of the tent as I pack my backpack. Bonus.

I can then make the walls vertical of the freestanding tarp and let it dry while I finish packing up. Bonus.

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Did I say there are no poles in the doorway?

What if it’s blowing a gale? I can set the tent up with both the inner poles/walking poles and the freestanding poles together. You can grab a stick or two in bad weather to support the ‘Flex’ mode. Bombproof.

Shepherd hooks are actually useful in the corner tie-outs where the poles meet the ground. The tension in the carbon poles pulls the stake loop taught meaning the shepherd hooks won’t rotate and flip out. In fact, in these corners shepherd hooks work better than larger stakes because they are easier to fit in.

You can set it up with the walls vertical or with the walls more horizontal depending on the site size.

Even in a light wind you need at least two stakes to keep the tarp down.

You can carry it around one handed. If I set up on an ants nest, moving is quick.

Finding a flat site is not as critical with a floor-less tarp. The corners of the freestanding tarp can be staked down if one pole hangs in the air. There is no sagging of the bathtub floor if you’re on a uneven site, as discussed at Willis Wall.

With the bug netting set up this is a double walled tent. I already owned a Sea to Summit nano solo and double net-tent from my flat-tarp days. These work well in my opinion. The double wall will collect condensation that gets dislodged when the tarp shakes in wind or by large drops from a tree.

A few companies make inners that would be appropriate for the Duplex tarp. zpacks once made one, but do not offer them for unknown reasons. They do offer a single door hexamid. I was wrong, they don’t.

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Above: the elusive zpacks Duplex inner. Maybe this year zpacks will offer the inners?

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Above: Tarptent make a few that might work?

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Above: Six Moon Designs make a Haven net tent. The ridge line is off centre though, so I’m not sure if it’ll work.

Can you think of any others? Please share. (If you have a good condition second hand one of these inner nets, please message me)

I might try one of these one day but for the moment I’m happy having the bug net and groundsheet separate. If I have the full double walled tarp and bug net set up I can leave the groundsheet and contents where they are on the ground and pull the upper way out of the way. Alternatively I can set up the groundsheet and mattress etc as I need them and add the bug net or tarp later. Usually at lunch or at the end of the day you just want to throw your groundsheet and mattress down and not have to think about how everything is going to work.

Some people like having a seamless groundsheet and bug net, which I can understand. You can get the Sea to Summit bug net and groundsheet pretty tight, especially with oversized tyvek or the polycryo. It won’t be a ‘perfect’ seal though.

Speaking of groundsheets, with this set up they are interchangeable as they wear out.

If there is a downpour in the middle of the day, I do not mind setting the tarp up to sit out the worst of it. When I owned a non-freestanding tent even if I was walking in four foot of water I couldn’t be bothered setting the tent up at lunch-time. Lunch didn’t occur on those days.

This for me defines the beauty of the Duplex ‘Flex’ Tarp – its simplicity. For long hikes I want a shelter I want to use, not a compromise for weight savings. Psychologically I know it’s easy and I know it works. I want to put it up, even when it’s not raining, because it’s so easy.

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Shout out to John Abela for talking through the options with me before making this purchase.

Lastly, here is an example of a summer gear list with the MLD Core pack pictured above.

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson – review

Bryson is popular. His writing style allows for fast, readily digested prose. There appears to be no subject he is unable to broach. His narratives are simple and erudite. His messages are a mixture of learning and experience. In A Walk in the Woods (AWITW) Bryson attempts to walk the length of the Appalachian Trail (AT) in America. His attempt is unsuccessful, for Bryson is someone who writes books, and decides to go for a hike, rather than the other way around. Bryson is more comfortable at home surrounded by books. The majority of A Walk in the Woods is Bryson relaying information from other books, sharing his experiences of hotels/motels/bunkhouses off the trail, and at one point a monologue about how he’d given up walking to reconnaissance the Appalachian Trail by car. A Walk in the Woods is not a book for me, even though I found it easy to read.

For such a well known author, little is written about Bryson’s style and technique in academic journals. Actually, most journals ignore him completely. Mostly it’s glowing reviews in online newspapers. One serious article ‘Including Appalachian Stereotypes in Multicultural Education: An Analysis of Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods’ takes Bryson to task for his depiction of hicks and hillbillies.
Stefano Calzati argues in ‘Travelling and writing and the form of travel writing: Reconsidering Bill Bryson’s (supposed) postcolonial legacy’ “that travelling and writing are two “practices of knowledge” which promote per se the marking of differences. In this regard, travel writing, as the novelistic genre that derives from such practices, cannot help but reproduce the epistemological distance between the self and the world.” And this is the overwhelming feeling that I take from Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods – his account re-enforces, through his armchair approach, rather than eliminates, the distance between the self and the world.

Bryson’s phenomenology is filtered through his project, his style and his constant attempts to shock the reader to keep reading.
Bryson is more serious about writing a book than walking the Appalachian. There are three main elements that comprise AWITW. The elements do not always hang together well, but the writer is able, through his prose, to weave them together. The first element is his commission by his publisher to write a book. The second element, is the Don Quixote set up. The third aspect that pads the book out are the lectures. When Bryson gets bored with one element he falls back on the other.

The first, why would Bryson disclose to his readers that his publisher had commissioned him another book? What purpose does this give to readers? Bryson is attempting to build himself and his reputation up reminding us ‘these books don’t exist in a vacuum’. Also, Bryson, the man, is the main character in his books. He realises that the success of his career hinges on continuity across his works.

The second, the Katz/Bryson play off reminds me of Don Quixote and Sancho, except Bryson isn’t deluded beyond not knowing why he’s walking the trail. Bryson is deluded in thinking he can walk the trail in one season. After walking for a few weeks, Bryson and Katz are killing time in an outfitters which leads to him looking at an overview map of the AT. He figures out that that the trail is long, much longer than he anticipated and instead of resolving to finish the trail, as Don Quixote would, both Katz and Bryson are put off and dejected. The most interesting struggle in the book is Katz’s attempt to quit drinking, but it comes very late in the piece.
Thirdly, unlike Don Quixote, Bryson, the character, can not be too out there, otherwise he wouldn’t be able to enter into armchair lectures on the history and value of a range of subjects consisting of: how dangerous animals are, the history and design of the Appalachian Trail, how Americans use cars too often, underground fires in Centralia, murder, climate change, geology, diseases, how stupid and fat people can be, especially ones who look like they’re from the movie Deliverance, forestry, the rise and fall of townships, hikers preoccupations with gear, botany, misdirected government spending, meteorology, hypothermia, ludditeness, war, ecological destruction, and so on. After a while, the trail becomes a backdrop for these fireside lectures Bryson, one can assume, wrote before or after being on the trail. In this sense the book is about Bryson’s ability to take cues from the trail and weave them into his research. Where he gets this knowledge from we don’t know, there are no references.
There is a morality to his lectures – but his attitude is incongruous to the way he has set himself up to interact with his characters. Bryson wants to give his readers guidance on the one hand, and then ask them to suspend their disbelief in the name of humour. So, for example, when he discusses how the AT avoids towns and is cocooned in green corridors (in contrast to the apparently more advanced designs of English/European trails), Bryson concludes: “doubtless it is all to do with its historic impulse to tame and exploit the wilderness, but America’s attitude to nature is, from all sides, very strange if you ask me.” p258 This is symptomatic of the manner in which Bryson presents his lectures. His information is to serve an agenda and his research concludes at the point where the agenda has been satisfied. The agenda appears to be primarily to provoke people to keep reading. Surely he must know that not all Americans wish to tame the wilderness and that some Americans share his views.
So when we turn to the people Bryson meets on, and (more often) off, the trail we gain more of a reflection of Bryson, than of the people themselves. Again, the agenda is provocation. Here is his telephone interaction when attempting to find a taxi in Gatlinburg:

“‘How much would it be to take two of us to Ernestville?’ I enquired.
‘Dunno’ came the reply.
This threw me slightly. ‘Well how much do you think it would be?’
‘Dunno.’
‘But it’s just down the road.’
There was considerable silence and then the voice said: ‘Yup.’
‘Haven’t you ever taken anybody there before?’
’Nope.’
‘Well, it looks to me on my map like it’s about twenty miles. Would you say that’s about right?’
Another pause. ‘Might be.’
‘And how much would it be to take us twenty miles?’
‘Dunno.’
I looked at the receiver. ‘Excuse me, but I just have to say this. You are more stupid than a paramecium.’
Then I hung up.”

Bryson’s characters are there to make him look smart and to support the preconceived worldview he wishes to push. It is because of this that the subjects of his lectures do not become integrated and he doesn’t appear to recognise the ecology and interconnectedness of the world in which he inhabits. A more enlightening approach would be to manufacture or even seek out an intelligent person who may be more helpful and illuminating. He could work all of his home reading into the voice of his characters.
Because of this provocative style, Bryson leaves himself open to hypocrisy and inconsistency. At the end of the taxi driver episode (in which he and his Sancho (Katz) buddy decide on a whim to give up the idea of walking the entire trail), they find themselves back in the dearth of commercial America, amongst shopping malls and carparks, the opposite of the woodlands they had been walking through:

“But come off the trail, properly off, and drive somewhere, as we did now, and you realize how magnificently deluded you have been. Here, the mountains and woods were just backdrop – familiar, known, nearby, but no more consequential or noticed than the clouds that scudded across their ridgelines. Here the real business was up close and on top of you: gas stations, Wal-Marts, K-marts, Dunkin’ Donuts, Blockbuster videos, a ceaseless unfolding pageant of commercial hideousness.”
While it is not the role of a writer to be morally consistent, it is their role, especially in the context of non-fiction, to research thoroughly and to show their readers an interconnectedness. Instead, when recounting the phase of American history where demand for new world seeds and botanical interest was high, Bryson speaks with celebratory glee, apparently unaware of the relationship between that unregulated process and forestry the ugliness he describes above:

“The first people to venture deep into the woods from the east (the Indians [sic], of course had got there perhaps as much as 20,000 years before them) weren’t looking for prehistoric creatures or passages to the west or new lands to settle. They were looking for plants. America’s botanical possibilities excited Europeans inordinately, and there was both glory and money to be made in the woods. The eastern woods teemed with flora unknown to the old world and there was a huge eagerness, from scientists and amateur enthusiasts alike, to get a piece of it…These and hundreds more were collected in the American woods, shipped across the ocean to England and France and Russia and received with greedy keenness and trembling fingers.”

Contrast the above attitude to the one in this passage:

“In 1987, it [the Forest Service] casually announced that it would allow private timber interests to remove hundreds of acres of wood a year from the venerable and verdant Pisgah National Forest, next door to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and that 80 per cent of that would be through what it calls ‘scientific forestry’ – clear cutting – which is not only a brutal visual affront to any landscape, but brings huge, reckless washoffs that gully the soil, robbing it of nutrients and disrupting ecologies further downstream, sometimes for miles. This isn’t science. It’s rape.”

And then this one:

“And there was a more compelling reason to go. The Appalachians are the home of one of the world’s great hardwood forests– the expansive relic of the richest, most diversified
sweep of woodland ever to grace the temperate world–and that forest is in trouble. If the global temperature rises by 4°C over the next fifty years, as is evidently possible, the whole of the Appalachian wilderness below New England could become savanna. Already trees are dying in frightening numbers. The elms and chestnuts are long gone, the stately hemlocks and flowery dogwoods are going, and the red spruces, Fraser firs, mountain ashes, and sugar maples may be about to follow. Clearly, if ever there was a time to experience this singular wilderness, it was now.”

Bryson does not draw any comparisons between the seed collectors, the forestry service ‘rape’ and climate change. The author seems intent on shocking the reader into further reading without considering an overall scheme. People starting and finishing Bryson’s work appears to be a more important criteria to him than jettisoning contradictory elements in his prose. An argument could be made that being in the same book, and written by the same author would constitute the correlations being drawn, but my opinion is that the structure, the schism between the elementsof the book, prevent such a reading.
When Don Quixote lectures, (Cervantes’ Don Quixote) he is so clearly out of touch with both the other characters in Cervantes story, and to us the readers, that we all humour him. Within Don Quixote’s absurd lectures, however, are some incredible conclusions, some of which we tend to agree with. But the Don Quixote, the character of Bryson, in A Walk Walk in the Woods never strays into the absurd. Often his observations are blatant and his treatment of others’ is cruel. One has to ask that perhaps if we didn’t treat each other the way Bryson treats people in his book, whether the planet would be in the state that it is.

Of course, Bryson and his fans might rebut my above points by claiming ‘lighten up it’s just a bit of fun’, or, present the book as a gateway to more serious studies of wilderness, ecology and nature. It’s creative non-fiction after all, so don’t take the deliberate littering seriously. There are light moments and Bryson does indeed reflect on the wonderful aspects of bushwalking or hiking. These appreciative moments are added and sprinkled throughout as if to remind us that that he’s not a negative bastard. There are some arresting moments that lift the reader up from the negativity I seem to keep returning to. Here’s a moment, on day one of their hike:

“When, after ages and ages, you finally reach the tell-tale world of truly high ground, where chilled air smells of pine gap and the vegetation is gnarled and tough and wind-bent, and push through to the mountain’s open pinnacle, you are, alas, past caring. You sprawl face down on a sloping pavement of gneiss, pressed to the rock by the weight of your pack, and lie there for some minutes, reflecting in distant, out-of-body way that you have never before looked this closely at lichen, not in fact looked this closely at anything in the natural world since you were four years old and had your first magnifying glass.” p53

At the end of the book Bryson wryly states the trail did not change his life: “but I certainly gained an appreciation and respect for the woods and wilderness and the colossal scale of America” p350. Perhaps, if he did complete the trail from one end to the other, if he allowed the experience to become more than an exercise for his publishers, he might have let go of the preconceptions that inhibit transformative processes. It is somewhat troubling that a writer takes on a major project lasting a period of years to finally say to his readers, ‘don’t bother, my book is all you need’. Perhaps he is attempting to provide counterbalance to the apparently naive rights of passage accounts that pervade nature and walking writing? Overall however, Bryson’s work is an intellectual, rather than phenomenological one.

 

References:

Bryson, Bill. 1998, A Walk In the Woods, Black Swan, London, England.

Including Appalachian Stereotypes in Multicultural Education: An Analysis of Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods
Herzog, Mary Jean Ronan, Journal of Appalachian Studies, 1 April 1999, Vol.5(1), pp.123-128 [Peer Reviewed Journal]

Stefano Calzati (2015) Travelling and writing and the form of travel writing:
Reconsidering Bill Bryson’s (supposed) postcolonial legacy, Journal of Postcolonial Writing,
51:4, 422-435

Portaspresso Rossa Air Espresso Review

In mid-September 2012 I emailed Ross Spencer at Portaspresso about a Rossa device. The bloke had the integrity to inform me that in a month or so a new model would be available, one lighter and better. So instead of selling an old one, he said to wait.

Having never used a Rossa device I was in no position to judge what was better or not, but I do own a Rosco Mini-hand grinder and have been very pleased with the quality and craftsmanship.

I’m willing to bet that if you owned a Portaspresso device and your town was engulfed by magma from a volcano, in a thousand years time archeologists would be able to dust off the dirt, and begin happily grinding their favourite espresso blend while musing over their latest report.

Two of the biggest criteria for coffee purchases for me are durability and portability. I want them to last a long time and to go travelling.

Once the new model became available I ordered a Rossa Air Espresso PG (Pressure Gauge).

The set comes well packaged in a small box, capable of worldwide delivery. 

After reading and carrying out the first use cleaning instructions I began preparing the first shot.

Charging the Cylinder:
Luckily for me I’m a road cyclist and have two floor pumps already. The air cylinder adapter has a thread so using the pump with a female thread is easier in my opinion.

The other thing about the screw on type pumps is they make much less hissing noise than the lever squeeze pump heads (when removing from the cylinder thread adaptor). This makes a difference if you are going for an early morning ride or off to work. Either that or pre-charge the air cylinder the night before.

Pumping up above 11bar became immediately disconcerting when I noticed the gauge on the pump only went up to 11bar. But the needle spun passed the maximum without too much effort.

If you need to buy a pump to use the device I would avoid a hand pump and have a look at the Lezyne mini floor drive range. Especially the micro floor drive or the travel floor drive. Lezyne make reliable and durable products that are good for both home and travel.

[Update I have since purchased a Lezyne micro shock pump. It weighs 84g and while taking a little longer, does the job nicely.]

Judging by the Popeye sized forearms of Ross in the youtube videos he probably doesn’t have a problem getting up to 120PSI with a hand pump, but I did have trouble on my little hand pump I take cycling.

Had to muck around a couple of times to get a sense of whether or not the valve was open, or I was pumping into the closed circuit of the pump hose. There’s little chance of breaking the device, so I wasn’t worried.

The valve thread takes a little getting used to and may be a little sticky to begin with. I did think that maybe an armed head like a water tap might be easier to turn than the round head. Jury is out on that front functionally, but the aesthetics would suffer.

[Update: After a week of use I can say the current round head is perfect for the job]

Trick with the cylinder valve is to treat it gently when opening and closing. With pumping, get the pump adaptor on first before opening the valve. Any pressure inside the cylinder will quickly show up on the gauge. You don’t have to open the valve up passed the black o-ring on the valve stem.

Making the coffee:

My first attempt was a disaster because there was no air in the cylinder and the water just flopped through the basket. That was ok I thought, and had about 5 goes pumping the cylinder up and having dummy runs with a wet and used puck.

Most of us will get the device in the mail in the afternoon. For me, I didn’t get anywhere near mastering the technique on the first night. After about 5 or 6 air cylinders’ full (running through a wet puck) I gave up for the night and read the manual and watched the tube video again.

I recommend the video instead of the written manual on the first night as the manual tends to digress and Ross runs through the steps slowly enough on the video that you can follow him. The manual is good for fine-tuning your technique.

All this makes it sound difficult. It isn’t. I’ve had the device for three days now and have started to make good coffee. I imagine it will be about 1 month before I have complete control over the settings. Having said that the coffee on the first morning was a set up from my previous machine.

I ordered the grind transfer adaptor and whilst a nice little addition I am not convinced it’s absolutely necessary.

[Update, the adaptor and I have since become friends. It centres the coffee raised from the base of the basket making it easier for tamping]

Now. About the coffee quality. I’m no expert. Once you have the grind setting dialed in, producing a great shot is easy as. Simple hold the device over the espresso glass and slowly open the valve. The slower you open the valve the more pre-infusion you enable. This is the great thing about the Portaspresso devices: they allow pressure profiling on the fly. There is a great write up on the Portespresso site about pressure profiling.

During the ‘photoshoot’ a friend Lorenz took the photos while I made the shots. I made about 3 shots in fifteen minutes while chatting. Could be done a lot faster.

We could easily taste the differences; some fruity, some caramel, some bitter, some not. At one point our conversation seamlessly shifted to whisky. Making these comparisons, you could say I’m working toward the highest taste of coffee drinking with this device.

I’ve taken to grinding the coffee while the device heats up with boiling water. I also have a blender jug on hand to collect the heat-up water instead of tipping it down the sink.

One of the best aspects of the Rossa PG is that you can control the pressure in two phases. Once in the air cylinder itself and then the second time when you open the valve during infusion. If you put less pressure in the air cylinder there’s less danger of over extraction. Also, if there’s less pressure to begin with there’s less chance of messing it up.

Tamp consistency and the amount of coffee has an impact because this will change the time it takes from starting to open the valve, the valve opening, and then coffee passing through the naked filter head. For my level of experience, at the moment there feels like a delay between opening the valve and coffee coming out. You have to keep slowly winding the valve open.

There is a level of satisfaction with the interactivity of the device. I find myself having to stop wanting to make another shot to see what it will taste like otherwise I’ll be floating on a coffee cloud all day. It’s not like a jumper or an electric coffee machine; you put it on and it does it’s job. There are no buttons or cords or fuses.

There is an old fashioned quality to the Portaspresso range I find very appealing.

A couple of conclusions:

With the purchase, I would welcome some spare o-rings, a spare head seal, and a spare air cylinder pump adaptor. I can see myself losing the adaptor at some stage (especially on the road) and it would be a annoying to have to wait a week or two for a replacement, as it is not after market.

One limitation to the device in both the mini hand grinder and espresso device is that they’re not ultra-lightweight. I’d be very tempted to take the Rossa PG (0.75kg without PG) hiking or cycle touring, but at 1.2kg the mini-hand grinder is a little too heavy.

Perhaps carbon fibre or titanium? Or plastic? One of the previous materials morphing into alloy (like a bike fork drop out) for the threads?

Furthermore, I am not sure the bores need to be as large as they are, since you’re only grinding and extracting one shot at a time. I could be totally off the mark here however.

Having said this, these little dudes are definitely coming along on the next backpacking or camping adventure.

If you could get both the grinder and espresso device down below 1 kg and a combined cost of $500AUD you would have a world beater.

Another touch I would like to see is a molded and padded briefcase for the kit.

The future of lightweight espresso is very bright and Ross Spencer at Portaspresso has a sound portfolio to work from. The Air Espresso PG is an excellent device for any coffee enthusiast because it offers a high level of control over all factors of espresso creation. Thus far, every morning I wake up stoked with my purchase. My bosoms have never swelled so frequently as I stand back to admire the Guinness-like settling of each pour.

If you would like to see some photos, please click here.