Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Melbourne - the fashion capital...?

People were wearing all kinds of stuff in Melbourne today.

As I walked down Flinders Street I contemplated the couple walking in front of me.  Let's call them the Mustards, for they were both dressed from neck to knee in a monochromatic mustard-scape.  

He was tall and striding along on his sturdy mustardy-tan coloured walking shoes.  Moving up was a slightly lighter hue of trouser, secured at his waist with a light brown (mustard?) belt.  On his back he wore a shirt, mustard stripes forming checks against a white background.  Slung  casually over his shoulders was an expensive looking jumper, again, co-ordinating shade of mustard.  Above his shoulders hovered his noble head, covered in mustard coloured hair!  

Next to him, a woman, wearing a seersucker dress in a mustardy-green check that covered her from shoulder to ankle.  Her feet were shod in a mustardy-tan sandal and she completed the ensemble with a quilted bomber jacket in a metallic mustard.  Her hair was the same shade as her handbag, which fortunately coordinated with the man's hair.  

Having taken in all I could cope with, I decided to pass them.  As I looked back, I saw that the man was wearing a moustache.  Of course, I don't even need to say what colour it was, but I had discovered his identity.  It can only have been Colonel Mustard!  I didn't see any evidence of a candlestick, but it could have been a length of rope in his pocket.

As I passed, music came towards me.  A small man dressed head to toe in a fluorescent harlequin-patterned Lycra bodysuit was carrying an enormous boom-box on his shoulder and dancing down the street.  He was wearing fluorescently framed sunglasses and and huge smile, full of too-white teeth.  He made me smile and I could see others happily registering his presence.

Moving onto a tram, two older women ( at least 70 years old, I guess) board the number 8 tram to Toorak at Chapel Street, South Yarra.  Those of you who know Melbourne probably have a pretty clear picture of these two women, but I'm sure it's wrong.  One of them was wearing a denim skirt with a t-shirt.  The t-shirt had a slogan on it:  "Crazy shirts. Be original. Be crazy."  This could be read in so many ways.  Her travelling companion was wearing silver sneakers, coordinating with her glomesh purse.  

And there was I, back in Melbourne black.  It's been a while because it's been so hot, but I think we struggled to reach 20 degrees Celsius today.  Clearly the fickle weather has been playing havoc with people's wardrobe planning.  I hope.  I don't think anyone was wearing their outfits ironically.  Except maybe the guy with the really big i-pod.  Kids these days.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Pop up park in the village

One of the streets in my village has been closed.  I'm so happy!  We're getting a pop up park!   What a fabulous idea - closing car access to facilitate better pedestrian access within a community that has a lot of pedestrians. It seems so obvious.  I walked past this afternoon and the plastic turf is partially laid.  At this moment a survey if the site requires a good dose of imagination.

I've often wondered about the traffic planning within Yarraville.  The shopping heart is made up of a cross road and it's always busy.  Place a train station and a level crossing at one end of the busiest street (the one that is the main thoroughfare), add in streets that are just wide enough for one car when cars are parked in both sides of the street and you have a recipe for gridlock and frustration.  To say nothing of pedestrians illegally crossing the tracks and risking their lives instead of missing their train.  (There was a pedestrian underpass here - it was closed in 1997 and replaced with the current arrangement.)

Generally when I'm going to the village, I walk.  The only time I will take my car is when I'm on my way to or from somewhere else and need to stop off on the way.  On these occasions, it is incredible to witness the displays of stupidity, bad manners and frustration of drivers.  As I've mentioned, there is only room for one car to pass when there are cars parked on both sides of the streets - and there are always cars parked on both sides of the street.  To relieve some of the congestion, there are a couple of bays where it's illegal to park so that people can pull in and allow cars coming in the other direction to pass.  They work really well, unless they are blocked because people have actually parked there!

This is when the fun starts.  Imagine the streets with no where to pull over and the boom gates down on the level crossing at the other end of the road.  None of the traffic can go anywhere while ever these are the prevailing conditions. Incoming traffic doesn't know what's going on until it gets there.  Oh boy!  Sometimes the boom gates can be down for what seems like an eternity.

The other day I was in this very situation. I was approaching the cross road to take a right turn and get the hell out.  The traffic in front of me was banked right back to the major cross road in the heart of the village while it waited for the trains to pass.  As I prepared to make my right hand turn, a car coming from the street I was turning into, turned right, blocking my path.  It was unable to move because the boom gates were down and the traffic was stopped.  Now no one could go anywhere!

There are a couple of possible explanations for this behaviour. Firstly, the driver was not local and didn't understand the conditions.  Secondly, the driver's ego meant that that driver's destination was the most important thing on the road that day.  Thirdly, some people are just stupid.  Makes me wonder how they are even driving on the road.

I hope that bad tempers, bad driving and bad manners don't mar the happiness of a pop up park.  It will mean cars have to go somewhere else and it will take out about eight premium parking spaces from the village.  It's going to be there for three months.  I wonder why we can't have it forever?  How lovely if the plastic grass was replaced with the real stuff.  Then we'd have a real park.  I wish we were getting a real park.

(The Age report includes a nifty picture of the street where the park will pop.)

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Summer heat - officially gone troppo

It's so hot this evening, it's almost to hot to watch the men's final of the Australian Open tennis, let alone play tennis.  The wind is teasing, pretending that it's going to blow through a change, but it's full of hot air.

It's so hot, my eyelids are sweating.  My skin is sticky with perspiration and my hair is piled on top of my head as I try and keep my neck cool.  It's humid.  It's not supposed to be humid in Melbourne!  There was supposed to be no more of that when I left Brisbane for southern climes.

One of the things I love about weather is that people talk about it.  As though there's something deeply bonding in the joint admission that it is hot, or cold, or windy, or wet.  What is left to say?

There was a bloke I knew once.  His boss had a multipurpose statement that worked in all conversational settings and could be uttered without interruption:


I suspect he came from somewhere in North Queensland where the local greeting is equally efficient, especially when little or no articulation is applied to its utterance:


The answer to both these questions/statements is "yep", said without pronouncing the first or final consonant.  In that regard it shares a startling resemblance to Portuguese.  But I digress.

As I languish in this heat, I recall the six months I spent working in Darwin as the build-up began.  It was an extraordinary feeling, like being in a pressure cooker where the pressure builds and builds and builds and builds for weeks and weeks and weeks.  It does something to your mind.  The local newspaper even featured an editorial on the phenomenon known as "going troppo" or "mango madness".  I have since discovered that the effects of the build-up feature regularly in the paper and usually reference random acts of violence or displays of anger from normally serene people. (Here's an example.)

So here I sit. Not on the couch - it's too hot to sit on.  I'm contemplating another cold shower and am wishing the shape of the cubicle was more conducive to sleep.

I'm too tired to stay awake and too hot to sleep.  What to do...research airconditioners online.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

What I love about summer

Shiny, meaty cherries.
White peaches.
Oh and sweet, juicy pineapple.  It doesn't look as pretty, but it is heaven when it's great.  (Hell when it isn't.)

Friday, 27 January 2012

Are you a pirate?

Copyright and piracy facilitated by the internet is a hot topic right now.  Usually the discussion is framed in terms of music, movies and television shows.  I download music that I have paid for regularly.  I have not yet downloaded a movie or a television show - I tend to buy DVDs - but with the acquisition of a smart television, I can see that changing.  In fact, I won't even visit the local video store, because I can rent movies online via my television and have them delivered straight to the television itself.  That's less stuff to have hanging around.

It's been interesting hearing people on the radio justify their decisions to pirate material.  They explain that they always buy CDs from the local band when they're at the gig, but are happy to pirate from bigger bands because the band can afford it, or the band won't miss it.  Or if it's a movie, they don't pirate Australian content, but Hollywood is okay to rip off.

I really hate these arguments.  These arguments make me yell at the radio.

As an artist myself, I value the work of artists.  I understand what it takes to create something original and how hard it is to make a living out of that.  I just don't understand the view that once an artist is successful they suddenly become worthy of less respect and the artistic merit of their work is of no consequence.  This says a lot about the position of art and artists in our world.  Art is a commodity which we consume.  The consumption process has become quicker and more direct because of the internet.  It's often become cheaper too, but clearly not cheap enough for some people.

There are lots of incentives for people to steal artists' work.  Apart from the obvious one of cost, copyright restrictions and release dates for new material have not caught up with the technology and fail to acknowledge that we really do live in a global village and people want to see the new season of "Mad Men", "True Blood" or whatever else takes their fancy NOW.  Not three months after the other people have seen it and given away the ending!

Then I started to think about this argument in the context of books.  I've been an avid reader since the moment I knew the alphabet.  I buy books, borrow books from the library and a couple of years ago all the birthday gifts I received were books or vouchers for books. (Oh happy day!) Some books I hang onto, others I turn over through a local second hand book store, some I lend to friends and others I pass on to friends with no expectation of their return.  In the latter two cases, my friends have the ability to read the book (ie consume the artistic product) without paying for the privilege or contributing anything to the author.  Yet, I can't imagine an author being unhappy in the knowledge that their books were being widely shared.  I'm not sure what happens with author royalties when a book is resold.

So isn't lending a book to someone to read a form of piracy?  I'd be devastated if I became a criminal because I swap books within my circle of friends. Although the difference might be that most people don't photocopy a book when they lend it to their friends, so there is still only one copy, which was originally purchased. One of the limitations with my conversion to an e-reader is that fact that I can no longer lend books to my friends.  I can borrow e-books from the library however.  I'm yet to do this because none of the e-books available to borrow are remotely appealing.

On reflection, my boarding school was a hot bed of criminals flagrantly breaching copyright.  The greatest invention at the time was the double cassette player/recorder.  It made the making of a mix tape so much easier.  And the art of recording songs off the actual radio, minimising the announcer talking over the intro or the ending can not be underestimated.  I guess this was on a smaller scale - a bit like swapping books with friends, it was kids sharing their music with each other.  And the quality of the copy was rubbish so there was an incentive to buy the original if you liked it.

I think the whole paradigm around art needs to shift.  The internet provides a highly efficient and accessible distribution method but it potentially can have a negative impact on artists' livelihoods.  This has happened many times over history and I'm confident it can happen again.  It will be the artists themselves who design the revolution.  Business will then realise there's a new way to make a buck and we'll look back and wonder what all the fuss was about.

I also wonder about the use of the term "pirate" and the fact that it has been romanticised by Hollywood movies.  After seeing Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, it's hard to remember that a pirate is a terrible criminal.

What do you think?  If you do illegally download material, why? An honest discussion about what motivates behaviour is necessary for any change.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

First conversation of the year with my neighbour

The neighbour in question is the strange one whom I suspect is doing strange things within the confines of his flat. I've introduced you to him before.

There have been three sightings this week, all involving him wearing his very warm overcoat.  Including on the days when the temperature has been around 35 degrees Celsius.  I only saw him close enough to be obliged to speak to him today for the first time in 2012.  Here's how the conversation went:

ME: Hi Gottfried*.  Happy new year to you.

GOTTFRIED: I don't celebrate new year.

ME: Well, hello anyway and good wishes to you.

GOTTFRIED: Yes.  Hello Tanya.  Good wishes to everyone everyday.  All the time.

I ran up the stairs feeling nervous.

* Not his real name

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

MYKI - Liberal member's response

Remember when I received a refund cheque for 94 cents from the Public Transport Ticketing Authority who administer MYKI?  I wrote a whole post about it.  Then I decided to bring the situation to the attention of my state government representatives.  I wrote about that too.

Most of my representatives have kept me very well informed about how they are progressing my enquiry, by emailing, messaging from the ipad, telephoning or sending an (undated) copy of the letter they wrote to the Minister for Transport.

Today I received the first communique (via email) that indicated what the Minister's office has to say about the refund process for MYKI tickets.  It came from the office of Andrew Elsbury MLC:

"Thank you for your email regarding concerns with Myki refunds. I have spoken to the Minister's office and they have advised me that the Department of Transport has no immediate plans to change current refund procedures."

Now this has left me with more questions than I started with.  What's the story with what the Public Transport Ombudsman advised me last year?  Were they wrong or have plans changed?  If the plans have changed, what on earth is the rationale for leaving it the way it is?  And this is now happening against the backdrop of the recent announcement that a full roll out of MYKI will occur this year and the paper metcards will be phased out.  The email has been sent from a staffer, but I can only assume it represents the Member's views.

Andrew Elsbury is a member of the Liberal Party and therefore the Victorian State Government, elected in 2010.  Perhaps I shouldn't expect very much more from someone in his position.  But then I noticed on his website this statement:  

"In his Members Statement to the Legislative Council Andrew sets out what the Coalition Government is doing in Melbourne's West and how it is ending Labor's "That'll do" attitude."

I don't know Mr Elsbury, seems like the prevailing attitude is "that'll do".  I wonder what you think of the system?  How is it serving your constituents?  I'd really love to hear someone argue its benefits.

Chance encounters - new opportunities.

Interesting things are happening.

I have just been commissioned to knit a bunch of these cute little egg cosies for Easter.

(c) divacultura 2012

My approach to designing them was "I'm basically making a hat for an egg".  Stay tuned and I'll let you know when they're available from the retailer.

Yesterday I was offered a spot teaching piano to children locally.  I was very happy to get the call but it clashes with my choir rehearsal.  I really had to think about whether I should sacrifice my choir for the sake of paid work, but decided that singing regularly is very important to me.  I could have found another choir to sing with, but I like this one and feel committed to it.

Both of these opportunities arose because of chance conversations in a shop.  I've discovered that being in the world in a state that is always open to possibility means there is potential in every encounter.  Especially if you're curious enough to ask questions and engage with other people, whoever they are.

So here's a little cheer for my two new additions to my business.

I bought more than a television today.

Back in November I wrote about my experience of television sales guys after my television went black and left a horrible smell.  Since then, I've done lots of thinking, talked to lots of people, clicked on a lot of websites and today, I finally handed over the money.  No more encounters with sales guys.  At least not in the capacity of sales.

I bought my last television over twelve years ago.  A lot has changed since then. And I don't just mean in relation to televisions!  But since we're talking about televisions, consideration has to be given to plasma, LED, LCD, WIFI, dongles, HDMI cables, blu-ray, 3D and high def is just standard these days anyway.  Talk about smart! These TVs are smarter than the guys selling them.  And they are all guys.

Buying any kind of big ticket item is interesting against the back drop of all the economic commentary about the Australian dollar, the two-speed economy and what's really going on in the retail sector.  Is it all over because of the internet?  I've been thinking about these things.

My dead television (faithful servant that it was) was a Sony.  The first place I went for a replacment was Sony.  My first conversation was with a Sony sales guy - not the one I wrote about.  He spent a lot of time with me, explaining all the stuff about televisions these days.  I really didn't know anything.  I walked out after about half an hour with a business card and some prices written on it.  Naturally I went down the road to the other shop and had the encounter with the television sales guy that I did write about.  He wasn't interested in a relationship, he just wanted to sell me the biggest possible television at the biggest possible price, probably with a lot of stuff that I didn't even know I didn't want.

Then I went away for Christmas and absorbed all the advertising on my family's television, enticing me to a buy a television.  I didn't learn anything about televisions, but I did get some retailer brand awareness.  I chatted to family members and friends who had just bought televisions.  I experienced a smart television for the first time, but I still had to put the garbage out and do my own washing.  I thought I knew what I wanted.

I went back to the Sony guy and narrowed it down to three options.  The differentials were based on size, how the WIFI is accessed and 3D.  WIFI was my decider.  Once I knew that, I had no choice about 3D (I'm getting it whether I like it or not).  I was closer to my quarry.  I looked in a few retail stores and either couldn't get the attention of the sales staff or they treated me with contempt when I did get their attention.  Couldn't see myself popping in with a question about the remote control and any of these guys being happy to see me. So I hit the 'net.  I looked at no name Chinese imports with the same specs and a quarter of the price tag.  I looked at home brands.  I looked at refurbished items.  I looked at Sony online and I looked at price comparison sites.  One of them came in with a price $90 less than what my Sony guy was offering and I hadn't started haggling with him yet.

Then I thought about it.  I have a few other electronics purchases to make this year, both personally and for my business.  I've always trusted the Sony brand.  The guy had invested his time in me already and gave the impression he was happy to help.

I had made my decision.  I called to say that I would be in in the afternoon to make the purchase.  I told the guy that his wasn't the absolute cheapest price I could get, but that I had decided I was buying more than a television; I was buying a relationship.  I also wanted to make sure he received recognition for the sale if he wasn't in the store when I went in.

My decision paid off.  My sales guy wasn't there when I went in but the other staff were informed and ready to assist.  A better price was offered - without me even having to ask - and the paperwork completed swiftly.  Delivery was organised for free at a time convenient to me and I got a fantastic deal on a couple of accessories which I had planned to buy later.

This experience made me think about everyone who questions the future of retail.  In the end, I can buy an identical product anywhere, for a variety of prices.  Service and a relationship were the deciders for me.  I am confident that if I have any trouble setting up or down the track that I can call on them for help.  Paying a slightly higher price was worth it for me.

My new neighbour helped me take the old television down for hard rubbish collection.  It's just sitting there - I wonder if anyone will pick it up?  My set top box and DVD player are going to a friend who can use them.  I'm keeping the VCR though.  It may the last one in existence.

I hope I've made the right technological decision and haven't backed something that only three people have, is better, but will be obsolete next week! (See my post about this problem I have.)

Monday, 23 January 2012

Communal knitting.

Tonight I went to knitting group, or stitch and bitch as they are sometimes known.  I remember telling my brother once that I was not available to do work for him because I was going to knitting group and he laughed his head off.  Of course my brother does not knit and so the concept was totally alien to him, but still, his mirth had a little touch of mockery mixed in.

Our group meets in a cafe on a Monday night where Tony, the cafe owner, seems delighted to have us there.  He has a system to allow us to order and pay for our drinks and food separately, so settling the bill isn't a hassle and tonight he even went out and bought more bread.

I have been to this group a few times before (usually in winter) and noticed that we attract a lot of attention.  We've been pointed at, studied and photographed by curious onlookers.  I wonder what the attention would be like if we were doing something exotic!  I was second to arrive tonight and wasn't sure if I had previously met the first arrival (it's been a while).  First names meant nothing until we introduced ourselves using our Ravelry names.

The group of women come from all different occupations, backgrounds and lives, but when we take out our needles and start knitting together we share a common language and appreciation for each other's work.  Tonight I seemed to be surrounded by scientists and learned all kinds of things: there are no caves in Melbourne! the thylacine was present in Papua New Guinea! This is what a blob fish looks like and yes they are real!  We talk about work contracts not being renewed and problems with neighbours and what movies we've seen lately.  And we share knowledge and love of our craft.

It's fascinating to see what everyone is knitting - and how they're knitting it.  There are so many different ways! Tonight I was able to see how someone else changes colours for stripes when knitting socks in the round.  Our collective brains helped someone else decide whether the waistband of a top they had just cast on was going to be the right size and we pondered the question of whether the length of a circular needle includes the needles themselves or just the cables connecting the needles.

But there were also periods of companionable silence.  Just a group of women sitting together and knitting.  A simple and lovely thing.  And then we all disappeared into the night and back to our separate lives.

Music by the bay

I'm often not in Melbourne during this summer holiday period.  I usually continue my stay in the country and return at the beginning of February.  This year I had a day of work to attend to earlier and now find myself on holidays in my city during summer.

I was a bit worried about how I would spend the time because my business is very quiet at this time of year and there's not a lot of spare cash floating around.  No need to worry though, because I've discovered there are a lot of community events being offered for free.

Just down the road from my village, I have an "historic seaport".  It's a beautiful setting.  There's a park overlooking the bay which has big, shady trees and a rotunda.  The rotunda provides the perfect stage for musicians and the local council realises this and is offering free concerts on Sunday afternoons.  I put my camping chairs in the car, heavy duty sunscreen in my handbag, hat on my head and headed over to meet a friend and spend the afternoon with the Tim Rogers trio consisting of him and a cello player.

It wasn't too crowded.  People were gathered wherever they could find shade.  The council had thoughtfully placed big umbrellas to provide shade where there were no trees.  There was also a supply of sunscreen available. Kids roamed free and danced spontaneously and there was music.

The friend I met is a new friend and we discovered common musical tastes and talked about gigs and Tamworth Country Music Festival and lyrics and bands and other things.

Traffic was chaotic though and I wished I had a bicycle like my friend.  I managed to find a park only to discover the parking metre was out of order.  I photographed the parking metre and called the number provided.  I listened to about 90 seconds of information which ended with the instruction to leave all my details, took a breath and then was told that the voice mail box was full.  Oh well, the gift of free parking too!

We'll be heading back on another Sunday for some outlaw country from the Wagons.  Sitting out for a few hours on a Sunday afternoon reminded me of guitar afternoons at college which were put on as a "recovery" event after campus parties.  Music is indeed very good for the soul.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Supermarket shopping

The second supermarket in the village has been taken over, renovated and is open for business.  When I first moved here, I went to that supermarket because it seemed bigger and that seemed to be what I was looking for in a supermarket.  I didn't find it to be very appealing though and went to the other one.  It was brighter and very cold inside - excellent in summer but not in winter.  It didn't take long for me to never go to the bigger supermarket and always go to the cold one because the cold one had lots of good stuff, even if it was a bit chaotic.

Whenever I was out of the village and had to shop at one of the Big Two supermarkets I noticed that their stock provided a lot less choice and I would quickly return to the village and happily pay the slightly higher prices in order to support the local community.

I've lived in this community since 2007 and had never been back into the "other" supermarket.  One day late last year, I noticed that all the windows were papered over and the shop was closed.  I felt bad.  I hoped it wasn't closed for good because even though I never shopped there it seemed important that there was a second supermarket.  I soon discovered that it was closed for renovations.  What a good sign.

I planned to give it another go when it opened for business again.  While it was closed, I noticed that my regular supermarket started to get some new lines in.  Things were moved around a little bit.  There was a whole new nut section in the green grocery department.  Competition can be a good thing for consumers!

The other supermarket did indeed open again and I could see that it was much improved even before I went in.  I went in just to have a look.  I wasn't committed to buying anything yet.  The atmosphere was better.  Things looked cleaner, brighter and more inviting.  There were staff everywhere and no other customers, but all the staff greeted me with a smile and the request that I let them know if there was something particular I was looking for.

On my way out a man stopped me and introduced himself as Mark.  He was the new owner of the supermarket and he was keen to find out what I thought.  I told him truthfully that I regularly shopped at the other supermarket as I had never found this one appealing.  He listened and he told me that he was still working on his lines, so if there was ever anything I was looking for that he didn't have I was to let him know.

I was impressed.

Other things were great too - no plastic bags are offered at all.  You can take a box away, bring your own bags or pay a small price for paper bags (20 cents I think).  They will be holding tastings once a month which should be an interesting community event as well as smart business on Mark's part.  They have a recipe up the front, invitingly displayed with the ingredients required to make it.  Today's recipe was a grilled peach, Persian feta and mint salad.  Yum!

I told my friends who live in the village about my experience and encouraged them to go in.  We'd all shopped at the other supermarket as a matter of course.  Other friends have also reported meeting Mark and having conversations with him about their shopping needs and his hopes for the business.  So it wasn't a one off.

Today I was looking for a particular item and couldn't find it.  I asked one of the women working there for help and she directed me to where I needed to go.  As I walked to the checkout she asked me, genuinely, whether or not I had found the item I wanted and whether it was the brand that I was looking for.

I think the other supermarket might be getting a run for its money.

What do you look for in a supermarket?

Friday, 20 January 2012

What the dog saw

"What happened to you?" the middle aged Italian woman asked, showing grave concern on her face.  She was asking another woman of similar age.  I could only see the back of the woman being asked, but I gather she was pretty banged up.

"Fell over the dog," she replied.

"Oh it's easy to do isn't it?"

"Oh so easy.  Yes, very easy.  Falling over the dog."

"Yes, falling over the dog.  You've got to be careful....you can't be too careful."

"Oh I know.  Can't be too careful.  And the dog."

Of course, now I was really curious about the fate of the dog.

What kind of dog was it?  Or should I say "is" it? If it was a chihuahua and she fell on the dog, the past tense may well be appropriate.  But wouldn't falling over a chihuahua be akin to falling over a blade of grass, a speck of dust, a stray hair?  It's a completely different scenario if the dog in question was a Great Dane.  I mean, there is something to fall over, but it would be hard to fail to notice the dog leaning there.  Go round!  Unless she is blind.  I hope it wasn't the guide dog! Oh no!

I love these snippets of conversation.  I love listening to the way people actually talk.  They talk like this in a mundane, ordinary way, full of non sequiturs, unfinished thoughts, words unsaid because they are already understood.

I wondered what the dog would say about the situation.

"Rex! What happened to you?"

"My human is an idiot. Got all excited. running around like a maniac.  Stood on me."

"God, those humans. You never know, you never know."

"I know.  She wouldn't listen to me when I told her to watch where she was going.  Now look at me."

"Still...you know...oh dear...what...", shakes head.

"I know. You never know."

"Well take care Rex."


Two films

I have seen two films in two days.  Both films have left me devastated, breathless, bodily affected, surprised, perplexed.  I have come out of both films feeling exhausted, looking dishevelled and with a handbag full of soggy tissues.  It will take some days to think about these films and consider my reaction after there is some distance between me and the experience.

Yesterday the film was Lars von Trier's "Melancholia".  I knew nothing about the story and if you possibly can see it in a naive state DO IT.

Today the film was "The Descendants" starring George Clooney.

Music features heavily in both films and is a vital part of both films' landscape.

See these films if you possibly can.  That's all I can say right now.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Secondhand fumes

Once I had reached the city by train yesterday, I switched to a tram to get to the other side of the city.  It was about 8:30am so the tram stop was packed with people and they all pressed into the tram.  Among the commuters were three Australia Post workers with trolleys of mail for delivery within the city.  How fantastic to see public transport being used in this way!

A couple of stops along an overwhelming chemical smell permeated.  I turned to see a bearded man with blue eyebrows and a bluish hue to his skin.  His blue tainted hands were tightly holding the neck of a plastic bag (also blue) and he swayed as he walked.  He was into chroming.

In the last couple of years I have come across many people who do this.  The smell is the first thing you notice, then the staining from the paint being inhaled - usually blue.  I'd never seen it until I noticed a man in my neighbourhood desperately sucking the fumes from  the plastic bag he held to his face as he walked along the street.

The man on the tram was keeping to himself, but the fumes were overwhelming.  I didn't really want to arrive high on paint at my first job of the year!  He sat down and then tried to strike up a conversation with the young blond woman from Australia Post.  She wasn't receptive and I could feel her wishing him away.

It's not illegal to use inhalants, but I wonder why it hasn't been outlawed on public transport like smoking has been?  Like cigarette smoke, the fumes from a chromer's plastic bag have an impact on the people around them and in a closed space like a tram with windows that do not open, it's sick making.

Perhaps outlawing something like chroming on public transport would require society to acknowledge that it happens in the first place.  Or would it be a further extension of what some people call the "nanny state"?  

What do you think?  Have you been in the vicinity of someone chroming?

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Reflections on my summer holiday

I know I only arrived home yesterday, but I've been thinking....

Seeing the indentation of paws and a big, flat, warm spot where Alfie had snuck in to nap on my bed.  I only ever saw the evidence, not the actual dog.

A koala balanced up the top of a telephone pole...still as a statue and still there on our way back hours later.

Take: one sheet of black builder's plastic, some fence posts, a garden hose, two strong fathers and some willing kids.  You get: hours of squealing children hurtling down a very mild slope, laughing their heads off as they beg, "faster! higher! more!"

The joy of finding a baby willie wagtail and holding it.  The tears later, when the dogs got it.  Explaining to the sobbing niece that the dogs aren't bad, they're just doing what comes naturally.

The discovery of what happens when a large puppy sees a large three year old running away...plaything!  The further discovery of how hard it is to get a three year old (boy) to stand still.

Seeing a huge orange moon slowly rise on the horizon.

Being able to see the stars at night.

The image of tiny children sitting on very big horses.  Hearing a tiny five year old's voice issuing the command "BACK" and seeing the horse step backwards.  Seeing the look of satisfaction on her face when that one step is taken.

Sleeping past 9am nearly every day.  I haven't done that since I was a teenager.

Finishing a book every couple of days.

Having family around.

Having Alfie around.
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Trying to get Alfie to look at the camera.
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Never going to happen.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Everything's back to "normal"

Here's today's sequence of events.

Left the family farm on time and without incident.

Travelled at a snail's pace over the gravel road because it is even worse than usual after heavy rain.  Imagine driving on the surface of the moon, but with gravity.

Arrive at Tamworth airport three hours before my flight on the advice of Qantas letting me know that I could check bags in three hours before my flight.  Of course, that may be true if you're in a big city, but isn't true of an airport in a large regional centre.  Even if it is the country music capital.

Have a very pleasant, if rushed, lunch so that I could arrive back at airport no later than 1pm to check in my baggage.

Nearly get knocked out when the boot of the car crashes onto my head as I am retrieving my bag.

Advised by check-in guy that the flight was delayed by at least ten minutes.

As the minutes tick by we quickly conclude it is in fact delayed by many more minutes.

Very bumpy flight to Sydney.

Flight attendants in a snit because tea and coffee service could not be conducted because of the bumps.  I really don't care because the flight is so short it would be better just to have a communal bowl with lots of straws for us to suck our share.

Pfafffff around on tarmac transferring everyone from plane to too-small-bus to transport us to the terminal.  It must have been at least 20 metres from the plane to the terminal but they drove around in a big circle to make it seem like all the pfaffffing was worth it.

On arrival in terminal discover my leisurely hour of coffee and wandering around the airport was not to be as my connecting flight in another terminal was already boarding.  Right leg chooses this moment to have a cramp and go into spasm.

Run like a  crippled maniac over moving walk ways and up escalators, unpack the laptop, take the sunglasses off my head and remove my very dangerous bangle only to be greeted by the world's slowest security staff enquiring about aerosols and umbrellas.

Go through screening without so much as a beep.  Quickly put everything together again willing the explosives screening guy not to pick me.  (I am the most screened woman in Australia, trust me.)

Make it onto flight which is boarding right near security.  YES!

Nap during flight.

Land in Melbourne.

Turn on mobile phone when instructed and receive a text message advising that my baggage has not arrived with me.  Excellent service - at least I don't have to stand at the carousel forlornly watching the same battered backpack go round three times before I draw the conclusion that my baggage has not arrived.

Very friendly and efficient woman at the baggage services desk.  She'd been paging me, but there was no aerobridge when we arrived, so I hadn't heard a thing.  Confirm delivery address and the fact the bag will arrive in Melbourne at 7:05pm and I should have my bag by 8pm.

Another reference number for my collection!

Wait two minutes for a cab.  The driver says three things to me, I have to ask him to repeat them all.  Twice.

Another text message comes through.  This time it's Metro Trains advising that the 6:30pm train I would have caught if I took the Skybus instead of a cab, had been cancelled.  A whole hour's notice!  Wow.  That's a big improvement even if the news is that they're still cancelling trains.

Taxi stops at red light.  Taxi driver starts screaming out the window to the driver in the cab next to him.  "Two dollars.  Two dollars." He's shaking something at the other driver.  I'm trying to convey to my mother that I have landed and am (safely) in a cab.

Arrive at home nauseous.  Driver has idiosyncratic driving style involving pressing his  foot on the accelerator and immediately taking it off and hitting the brakes.  Once he hit the freeway, he handled the steering wheel like vinyl on a turn table.  He'd touch it a little to the left, take his hands off, tug his seatbelt and then tug the wheel to the right and lean forward in his seat.  He went through this sequence repeatedly during the drive.

The car was very clean and his shirt was very white, but he could not drive!  I was on the verge of asking for a bucket.

Arrive home to discover my home phone is out of order.  Spend time talking to a call centre somewhere about this.

Go out for essential groceries.

Eat dinner.

Call baggage services at 8:30pm when there is no sign of bag.  Ben tells me it's in Melbourne and the next courier is leaving the airport at 9pm.  At precisely this moment, my out of order home phone miraculously rings.  It's baggage services asking if anyone will be home to take delivery of the bag no later than 10:30pm.

I suppose bags arriving 5 and a half hours after me is not too bad.

Although they're not here yet.

I had planned to let you know that normal transmission will be resumed today, but I don't think I can be sure of anything.

End of holidays

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Back to the city today.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Help me understand.

News of allegations that US marines urinated on dead members of the Taliban has got me thinking today.  Video footage came to light on You Tube and traditional television news services have had it on high rotation here in Australia.  The broadcast has come with grave faces and warnings that the footage we are about to see is graphic before we see vision that has been pixellated to the point that it's meaningless.  Even viewing the You Tube vision uneditted is less shocking or "graphic" than much of the footage available on the nightly news, films and video games.

Important people have expressed outrage at this behaviour describing it as "utterly deplorable" and outrageously offensive".  Hilary Clinton expressed "total dismay" and statements have been made in the prevailing managerial non-speak that this kind of behaviour does not reflect "core values". Does this mean it reflects some other set of values?  What are the non-core values?  Do values mean anything in this world anyway?

I don't sit here and comment as an expert on war, the military, religion, Afghanistan, the US, human behaviour or the impact of war on men and women.  So as an ordinary citizen, I do wonder that the desecration of human corpses causes more outrage than the action that caused them to become corpses in the first place.

I don't know how to feel about this at all.  I find it bizarre behaviour for a group of men to line up, unzip their pants and together urinate on corpses.  I find it bizarre behaviour for governments to send soldiers to kill fellow human beings in the name of peace.

I do have this question: what does it say about our society that urination gains more media coverage and attracts deeper feeling than the killing of countless people, soldiers and civilians alike?

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Up a tree like a goanna

There's a big cottonwood tree outside my bedroom window at my parents' house.

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It has big leaves and even the slightest rustle of wind makes it sound like a storm that will blow us all away.  It is never silent, constantly whispering and murmuring.

Thinking about this big talkative tree brought to mind a random song lyric..."and listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees".  This fragment has swirled around in my mind for the past few days, unable to find a place to rest with the rest of its words.

Yesterday I walked out the back door on my way to hang washing out on the clothesline.  Movement near the base of the tree caught my eye and I heard a sudden sound, different in the landscape.  I looked up to see a goanna just stepping up onto the trunk of the cottonwood tree.

I went into my standard reptile response: freeze, go tingly, stop breathing, feel my heart stop and predict certain death.  Standing stock still is apparently exactly the correct response to being chased by a goanna. Family folklore has it that they will think you are a tree and run "straight up you".  How comforting.  What the hell do they do if you run for your life?  "Chase ya!"

If push came to shove I think I'd put my money on me breaking the land speed record and slamming the door behind me.

When I was working in Darwin I took time out with a friend to visit Crocodylus Park, a working crocodile farm.  It's the kind of place that scares the living daylights out of you at crocodile feeding time and then scares the living daylights out of you when you price a handbag in the gift shop on the way out.

My friend and I decided to attend a talk about crocodiles and have the opportunity to hold one afterwards.  The talk was conducted by a sexy, tanned, khaki-clad park ranger type - all blokey charm and wry humour.  He held a crocodile for the duration of his talk.  It was a young one with its snout securely shut with gaffer tape.  The instructions to the group before anyone was allowed to hold the crocodile was to hang onto it for dear life because the buggers can run fast and if it got away he'd have to spend the rest of the day looking for it.

I was very clear from the beginning that no matter how khaki the khaki and no matter how charming the bloke, I was in no position to have a close encounter with any kind of reptile. Ever.  The mere thought of one - of any variety - makes me go prickly.  But I was happy to take photos of my friend.

She lined up with all the four and five year old kids who calmly held the crocodile and smiled for the cameras.  Then my friend stepped up, took the crocodile and immediately jumped in the air, went to swear, realised there were kids within earshot, said something which could be interpreted as "Jesus Christ" and juggled the crocodile while running on the spot - after her feet had touched the ground again.

Meanwhile, I was a safe distance away, crying with laughter.

She said she was taken by surprise because she could feel it pulsing with life and it was very unexpected compared to how still they look.  You know, when they are lying there doing an impersonation of a log.

The goanna climbed up the tree and disappeared up into the leaves.  The birds became very talkative.  I could see them on the outer limbs of the tree, higher than the goanna, telling that goanna where he could go if he even so much as thought about harming their babies or stealing their eggs.  

Then on the television news tonight was the story of a boy bitten by a goanna.  There are plenty of stories about that too.  A goanna bite never heals, so they say.  I have no idea what that means.

The rush of adrenalin caused by seeing a goanna brought me the song lyrics I've been searching for.  The cottonwood trees murmur in Cole Porter's song "Don't Fence me in".

Thursday, 5 January 2012

The cricket's on! Everywhere.

Seemingly endless test cricket matches monopolising the television during summer is a fixture of Australian life.  The languid pace and drone of the commentators hypnotises and harmonises with the hum of the air conditioner or mosquitoes.

The only thing worse than cricket on the television is cricket on the radio.  Trapped in a car on a long, straight highway to nowhere with only the sound of  "clock" as the bat hits the ball, it seemed that the trip would not be over before the cricket was, so we all just had to stick at it in the hope that either the road or the match would finish.

Sometimes interesting guests join the commentary box.  Their purpose seems to be to distract from the mysterious monotony of trying to understand cricket on the radio.  I do remember a pleasant encounter with Hugh Jackman when he took in a chocolate cake his Mum made to share with the commentary team.

Occasionally though, the cricket will suck me in.  Like today.  I've been glued to the television cheering Captain Michael Clark to reach his triple century.  He seemed interminably stuck on 299 runs and I fervently hoped he wouldn't get out before he made 300.  (In case you're wondering, he made it and declared the innings with 329 runs and when his batting partner Michael Hussey reached 150 runs.)

To the non-enthusiast, cricket seems to have more laws than the nation itself.  There are no fewer than ten ways for a batsman to get out and sometimes it's very, very subtle.  Trying to understand LBW (leg before wicket) is enough to make my head spin and I'm not a stupid person.  I've also just discovered, today, that "tea" is not the same as "drinks".

Growing up with male members in the family who are obsessed with cricket meant that when there wasn't cricket on the television or the radio there was negotiation over backyard cricket.  With my brother it went something like "if you bowl me ten overs, I'll play dolls with you for 5 minutes".  Talks would continue until a middle ground of "I'll bowl four overs if you play dolls and let me dress you up for 20 minutes.  The deal is off if you get out and you have to convince Mum to be the wicket keeper."

Implementation of the deal required further discussion.  Would the Hill's Hoist clothesline be the wicket for the batsman and the tank stand hit on the full be a 6?  Or was it better to set up a cardboard box as wicket and include the dog in the fielding line up?  Was over the fence to be counted as out or as a 6? Once these details were settled, play would commence.  Before long I would be accused of being half-hearted in my bowling. My brother would try to convince me that if he failed to hit the ball it didn't count.  Further negotiations would occur and my determination to bowl a decent ball waned even more.

The whole game would either finish in tears or when the dog wouldn't give the ball back.

Then the board game "Test Match" came on the scene.  The game consists of a grass coloured mat representing the cricket ground and tiny plastic figures for the players.  The ball is a ball bearing.  Given that the plastic figures can't run to chase the ball, the chances of taking a wicket are remote and an innings could go on for longer than a game of Monopoly.  Initially I was enthusiastic, dreaming about release from the requirement to bowl in the backyard.  Pretty soon though I was putting dozens of overs on the negotiating table in an effort to release me from the requirement to play "Test Match".

The obsession with cricket extends to adulthood.  I've been in meetings where men have called a break so they can check the cricket score.  I've been in workplaces where the television in the tea room is on all day and people drink more cups of tea and coffee than they ever have in their life so that they can check the score.  Now they probably don't even do that.  An app. on their smartphone probably means they can keep track without anyone knowing.

My five year old niece turned to me over Christmas and said solemnly: "There's cricket on the television in the other room too."  Then she sighed.

"Get used to it. Cricket is everywhere."

She looked sad.

I could have added, "resistance is futile" but I didn't want to break her heart.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Pledge for life

Today I was driving in regional NSW with just my ipod for company.  It was great to be out on the open road in a big powerful car, the music turned up (on speaker - NOT through ear buds) and only responsible to get the car home safely and run a couple of errands on the way through.

I drive very little when I'm at home in Melbourne because I'm a committed public transport user, but I do love to drive. The one thing I don't like about driving is other drivers.  In the space of a couple of hundred kilometres today, I had to take evasive action three times and remain patient when the driver in front of me would not drive at a constant speed.

In that little capsule, there is space to think.  During today's trip I passed Lake Keepit.  I attended a couple of school camps there and somewhere else during primary school.  School camps were fantastic!  Long, sun filled days, jam packed with doing stuff outdoors.  Canoeing, orienteering, swimming, archery, boomerang throwing, bike riding, bush walking, tobogganing and on and on.

Citizenship and  responsibility was also a big part of these programs, with everything from cabin inspections to responsibility for clearing tables and assisting in the scullery during meal times.  I can't remember which particular venue it was, but one of them had a flag raising and pledge ceremony every morning.  Now I'm renowned for my ridiculously reliable and long range memory, but I surprised myself today when the pledge sprang to mind:

In our hands lies the future of this great land.  If we all work together, doing the common good, there is no limit to what we can achieve.

Contemplating this as an adult, I'm impressed.  What a great thing to instil in children.   And adults for that matter.  I think this is a philosophy for life.  I'm glad I remembered it.

Did you go to school camp?  Did they have pledges? I'd love to hear them.