Monday, 30 April 2012

A purple patch.

In the middle of some intense days of work, I took a little time out (30 minutes to be exact) to have my regular manicure.  It's a habit that I go in and out of, depending on what else is going on in my life and how the cash flow is.

When I'm feeling constrained by the requirement to wear a suit, I love to splash on some colour - or go dark and gothic.  Maybe I wear colour on my nails the way men wear ties.

My favourite place to go is the OPI nail bar in David Jones in the Bourke Street Mall.  Prices start at about $10 to just have your nails painted.  The prices go up, the more you have done, but are still reasonable.  It's a great place to sit and watch shoppers.  With all of the OPI colours on display, I love to watch shoppers browse the range and try to predict what they will choose.

I've had some really interesting conversations with other women while we have our nails done too.  It's a networking hot bed!  I've also noticed that I'm usually the girl with the wildest colour choice.

I hadn't been for a while because of life circumstances and I've been three times in the last three weeks.  There are new people there and we're all acquainting ourselves with each other.  The first week, I chose a grey-blue called "I have a herring problem" from the new Holland collection.  The following week I went dark and chose "Here Today...Aragon Tomorrow" which is a green based black from the Spanish Collection.

This week, I went back to Holland and was the first person ever (at the OPI nail bar in David Jones Melbourne) to have their nails painted with a glorious, perfect purple called "Dutch 'ya Just Love OPI?"  Every time I look at the colour I fall in love.
Perfect Purple (c) divacultura 2012
Purple is notoriously difficult to photograph.  Add a little more red and take out a smidgen of blue and you've got the colour.

While I was being painted purple, I admired the New York City Ballet collection which is all very soft pinks, lilacs and blues.  The woman painting my nails shook her head saying they were very nice, but "they're not for you - too subtle!"  What's next?  I really want to surprise her by choosing "Don't Touch my Tutu" but I think I'll go back to Holland and choose "Vampsterdam".

In case you're wondering how I remember all the names and colours - there's an app for that!

Sunday, 29 April 2012

It's never simple

This weekend I'm on a deadline.  I have a list of five things that must be completed by Monday (tomorrow).  They are all high stakes and are time consuming.  They require me to have access to my computer and printer.  I'm calm about this deadline.  I have a plan and I'm pretty good at focussing and working when I need to.  I cancelled my plans for last night as part of my prioritisation of these things.

The piece that I couldn't plan for was my printer dying.  I knew there was a possibility that I might need more toner, but with an Officeworks store five minutes away, this wasn't a big deal.

At about 5pm yesterday, the toner light started to flash.  I recognised this warning, but was on a roll and didn't need the printer at that exact moment - I could print later.  Then a warning came up on my computer screen telling me that I needed to clean my corona wire.  What an enticing prospect.  I'd never been propositioned in quite this way before, so I dived in and tried to follow the cryptic pictographs showing me how a stick figure would approach the task if they carried a gigantic magnifying glass.  I squinted, I leaned, I tugged, I jiggled and nothing seemed to work.  I stuck my tongue out and put on my "doing" face, but not even that worked.  I went to the solutions web site and discovered what I needed to do:  I needed to pull and slide.  I located the tiny green dooverlacky attached to my corona wire and I slid backwards and forwards for all I was worth.  I replaced the component, proudly, and pressed print.  The printer made some promising, printer-like sounds and then went deathly silent.  All that was left was the sullen blinking of the warning light.  Again.  Still.

I turned back to the solutions website and was relieved to discover they had a plan for this exact situation.  I clicked the link and received the bad news.  My drum needed replacing.  This had never happened before.  By this time it was about 6:15pm.  I went to the Officeworks website to check they had these drums and to see how much they cost.  They had none and they cost more than most complete printers.  I'd been thinking of upgrading to a wireless printer with a scanner, so this was obviously the time to do it.  I checked the store opening hours and discovered they were closed and I would have to wait until 9am this morning (Sunday).

I was there by 10am and found a 15 year old boy to help me decide.  Within five minutes, I'd made my decision.  I'd found everything I wanted for only $50 more than the cost of the drum for my old printer.

"I want that one," I said and pointed.  The 15 year old boy went "out the back" to get the stock.  He returned ten minutes later, empty-handed.

The store I was in was the only store in Melbourne without that particular printer in stock.  Time was ticking on and this quick trip to Officeworks was starting to take a chunk out of my day.  I asked the 15 year old to help me choose another one, but the only other options either didn't have all the elements I wanted or they were significantly more expensive.  I would have to drive over to another store.  The 15 year old helpfully called ahead to the other store to make sure they had the printer ready for me when I arrived.

In the other store, there seemed to be only one staff member and they were on the printing and copying desk.  I queued.  Soon I was explaining my story to another 15 year old.  She asked me if I'd talked to someone in "tech".  I gestured to the ghost town behind me, raised my eyebrows and shrugged.  She made a call and spoke to an invisible person.  After another fifteen minutes a small man with a huge trolley and a large cardboard box appeared.  He had my printer.  We queued at the checkout, but their pin pads were broken so I could only pay there if I was paying cash.  I wasn't.  We trekked back to the printing and copying desk.  I paid and the small man with the huge trolley took the cardboard box to my car.

I arrived back home with my new hardware almost two hours after I had left.  I opened the box, sorted all the components and separated the packaging.  It's plugged in, I've "unlocked" the toner, I've put the paper in and I've told it what country and time zone I'm in.  I'm ready, but the software installation process seems to have stalled.  It's still stuck on the same screen it was on when I started writing this post.

Perhaps I'll have to kidnap the 15 year old.

And what about getting rid of the old printer?  I hate to put things like this in the rubbish and know that it ends up in landfill, but what can you do?  Anyone? And then there's all the packaging from the new one too.
A big box of new rubbish.  (c) divacultura 2012

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Complexification is a killer

A message flashed up on my laptop yesterday when I unplugged it to take it with me for the day.  The message was about the "USB human interface device".

I was puzzled.  I had no idea what that could be.  I looked at all the things I have plugged into my USB ports and realised that they were talking about the mouse.  Human interface device seems like overkill - so many more words and letters and space taken up when a single, five-letter word would do and be immediately understood.

How did this happen, this complexification?

One aspect of the work I do is to assist people with government departments, tribunals and some simple legal matters.  The area people need most help with is understanding what they're being asked to do.  Even simple information is transformed into something terrifying through ambiguous and complicated language.  I've had many conversations where I listen to the ten minute explanation of what happens next and then I say something in summary.  Usually the summary sounds like "so you're saying they would have to pay?"  The answer is usually yes.

The law and bureaucracy touch all of our lives everyday and information should be accessible, meaning available and able to be understood.

I noticed this quote on the end of one of my client's emails the other day: Beware of complexifiers and complicators. Truly "smart people" simplify things (Tom Peters).

I'm running the simplification checker over what I do, say and write from now on.  

The people who came up with the idea of a device to assist human beings to interface with a computer were probably pretty smart.  The people who looked at it and called it a mouse were probably smarter.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

It's the communication that's the problem.

Travelling home in peak hour from Flinders Street station today was not fun.  My travel time is usually about fifteen minutes when things are going well.  Tonight it took over an hour - but that's not the point of this post.  The point is about communication and how necessary it is when things are going wrong.

It all started when I arrived at the Elizabeth Street entrance and saw a larger than usual crowd trying to get through the barriers. From what I could see, only one barrier out of six was working for myki tickets.  The other five were flagged for Metcard only.  An aqua clad mykimate was valiantly trying to bark reminders about how to touch on properly as the people were still standing on Flinders Street as the traffic started to move.  I can't imagine the strategic decision behind this, so can only suppose that the barriers were Metcard only because they weren't working for myki.

I quickly left there and saw from the timetables that something was up.  It appeared that my next train was over 20 minutes away, which I knew couldn't be right during peak hour on a week day.  I entered the station through platform one and headed for platform 9, hoping that there would be a train.  It wasn't listed anywhere and there were no staff on the platform to ask.  I went back up to the concourse and the nearest staff were down the other end.

They told me to go to platform nine and when I provided feedback about the lack of staff to ask, the woman shook her head and said in a less than passionate tone that she would pass it on.  I felt that this was not something at the top of her priority list.

Back down to the platform I went.  As I arrived, I received an SMS alert letting me know that all trains on my line were delayed because of a signal fault at one of the inner city stations (South Kensington).  As I read that all evidence of my train disappeared from platform 9.  I looked for someone to ask.  Still there were no staff.

Up to the concourse again to speak to the same woman.  She looked thrilled to see me.  She argued with me, saying there were announcements being made.  It turns out they were being made on the concourse, but not on the platforms where actual people were waiting to catch actual trains!

Then I realised that there was another train line that I could travel on to get me one stop away from where I was aiming.  The information woman was not helpful in this regard and I worked it out myself.  Along with most other people.  The train was PACKED.

As we approached North Melbourne station the train stopped in the middle of nowhere.  The driver informed passengers about what was going on!  And suggested that people standing in doorways actually leave the train to assist with quick disembarkation .  He reassured everyone he had mirrors and could see the platform and that no one would  be left behind.  What a difference this communication made!  We were still sitting between stations, but there was an air of relaxation once we had been informed.

Why can't everyone at Metro Trains recognise this need for information.  We know that you can't help it if a VLine train trips the signal and causes a fault, but we also know that you can help the quality of your communication.  The travelling public needs information about what's happening when things don't work according to plan.

By the time I arrived home at 6:20pm, I was very happy not be jostled against a stranger's armpit.  With the beginnings of cold weather, the trains smell like wet dogs and mothballs.  It's awful.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Indulgence day

It's been one of those days.  With the Anzac Day public holiday and grim wintry weather, I had no incentive to leave the house.  So I didn't.

I slept in! Enjoying the feeling of warmth under the covers while my nose and ears felt the cool air in the room.  I read a book in bed for a couple of hours and realised that I'm going to need better book reading light.  It's been such a long time since I had the opportunity to read in bed that I hadn't noticed.

I cooked a proper lunch:  puy lentils braised with onion, garlic and olive oil, tossed with diced red capsicum and continental parsley and dressed with red wine vinegar.  This was served on toasted pumpkin sourdough bread with homemade beetroot relish.  I crumbled some Danish fetta over the top and served it with baby spinach and rocket leaves.  Delicious!

I indulged myself with some solid DVD watching (Season 2 of the Australian series, Spirited) and made the time productive by keeping my knitting needles active.  Outside the wind blew, the rain fell and inside seemed a very sensible and appealing place to be.

It's been ages since I had a day like this.  I've been on the go constantly, including interstate travel which means when I'm home there's always stuff to be done.  Or I end up working.  It's the nature of being self employed.  I'm not complaining.  It's just not as easy to work when most of the country is on a holiday.  No one was contacting me for a start.

I'm glad I took today for myself.  I have a very busy end to this week and then a solid week of work next week.  Seizing the day doesn't have to mean frenzy.  It can also mean quiet indulgence.

What did you do today?

Monday, 23 April 2012

If myki is the solution, what the hell was the problem?

myki discovery centre at Southern Cross station
(c) divacultura 2012

Last week I had the misfortune of arriving at Southern Cross station during peak hour and witnessing first hand the difficulties with myki now that the parallel Metcard system is being aggressively phased out.  Having survived the train journey itself where I experienced what the live cattle trade might be like, I travelled on the escalators to the concourse without incident.  It was here that I reached the myki bottleneck and witnessed one frustrated commuter after another hold their myki to the reader with no result.  Then it was my turn and my normally well behaved card failed to open the barriers for me too!  

Swimming against the tide of a mass of people pressing to exit the station is not an easy thing to do, especially when everyone is wet from the rain and frustrated that the tickets have so many problems.  I finally emerged, frazzled by the glares of my fellow travellers and noticed the statement proclaimed by the myki "discovery centre":  "myki - Victoria's new public transport ticketing solution".

This left me wondering what the problem was.

The paper Metcard system which is being replaced by myki seemed to work pretty well.  Occasionally there would be a glitch and a card would think it hadn't been validated, but in my experience this was rare.  As a user, my experience was that it was easy to use and I knew exactly what I had left on my ticket.  What more could a girl want?

There were a few problems with Metcard.  

One was the litter caused by people throwing their expired tickets on the ground.  That's not really a problem with Metcard, that's a problem with people.  myki has solved this problem.

Keeping track of business travel expenses and GST was time consuming and individual expired tickets needed to be kept as evidence.  Yawn.  myki makes this process MUCH easier.  With a registered myki I can download a report into a spreadsheet that tracks my trips, costs and GST.  All I need to do is cross reference it with dates of travel for business.  It's a dream.  Of course it would be better not to have to collect tax for the government, but that's a different story.

To cover unpredictable, irregular travel patterns, I had to have a poker hand of cards in my purse to ensure that all situations were catered for.  myki travels with me and adjusts fares automatically which means I don't have to think.  

That's pretty much it, I think.  So again, I wonder what problem myki is actually solving?  These three issues are fringe issues that are good to fix, but are they worth the millions of dollars that has been spent?

Generally, my experience with the routine of touching on and off at train stations and on trams has been fine. I've had a couple of times where the barrier won't open, but given the amount of travel I do on public transport, this is negligible.  When it comes to any of the back office processes though, it's a nightmare.  (There are links to my previous posts on these subjects at the end of this post. )  It seems that as more and more people are being forced onto myki because of the phasing out of Metcard, the system isn't coping very well at all.

There are brand new, purpose built myki barriers at the Bourke Street end of Southern Cross station, but these are not in use all day.  Why this is the case is one of the myki mysteries as people tell me that the so called "frankenbarriers" which have myki readers retro-fitted is the reason so many commuters have problems.  Busy commuters, trying to get where they are going will not be paying attention to these subtle differentiations - all we know is that we can't get out, or in! 

So tell me again - what was the problem that myki was solving?  What's it the solution to? It's really hard to remember. I was pondering these things as I completed a screening survey which is the first step in the process to be selected for the myki customer experience panel.  I was stumped when asked how I felt about myki.  Was I positive or negative?  I don't know.  Some things work and some things don't and it seems ridiculous that after so long and so much money everything is not working properly.  I think most people would think it's reasonable to believe that myki should be working; or else, don't roll it out.

Then I noticed this sentence over on the myki website:  If you use these stations, prepare for the change by ensuring you understand the myki system and by buying a myki in the next weeks.  (Italics are mine).  This is not an achievable task! Especially not in a short time frame.  I've been using myki for over a year now and I'm still making discoveries about how it works!

The readers are so touchy that an education campaign to explain how to use the myki tickets is now underway.  The slogan "Touch. Hold. Go" becomes "Touch. Hold. Go to another barrier and see if that one will let you out. If it doesn't see if you can find a staff member to help release you from this commuter hell."

Patronising signs abound in the city stations admonishing us not to "wave", "swipe" or do anything other than "touch".  If the average person needs educating to this extent then the system is flawed.  Let's face it, most people aren't average!

Apart from all of that, I really miss Metcards - they were handy as bookmarks. And they worked.

Here are some other posts I have written about myki:

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Weekend snaps

It was a stunning day in Melbourne yesterday.  I went to the Royal Exhibition Building in the Carlton Gardens to visit the Finders Keepers Markets.  They were fun, but the gardens and fountains were begging to be photographed.
Cherubs and gods
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Mythic fountain
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The Carlton Gardens
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Royal Exhibition Building -interior
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Window details
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On the way there, I travelled on the escalator in Parliament Station.  I was in a visual kind of mood and noticed the surfaces and details.
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Parliament Station - don't wave your myki

One foot up
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And today we've just had an amazing storm.  The rain arrived horizontally carrying small hailstones.  The thunder cracked and afterwards this is what happened.

First one then...
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...a double!
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I've had a great weekend.  How about you?

Saturday, 21 April 2012

The case of the parking spot & the crazy neighbour.

The front yard of my block of apartments has been undergoing a remodelling over the last few months.  It is apparently to be transferred from ugly and uninviting to a barbeque area.  They demolished the front fence, took out the big peppercorn tree, demolished the letterboxes and have built an enclosure for the rubbish skips which live right at the entrance to the property.  There are rumours we are getting a security gate which will govern access to the property.  None of this has been communicated to those of us who are mere tenants.

The barbecue area is a nice idea, although I'm not sure how much it will be used, given its location.  The new letterboxes are much more secure.  The bin area I'm not sure about.  I'm not sure how we'll get access to the bins to deposit rubbish once all the bins are in there!  We'll see.

Here's what I came home to on 20 February this year:
Looking towards the street. (c) divacultura 2012

Looking from the footpath. (c) divacultura 2012

Looking from the driveway. (c) divacultura 2012

It's certainly not Backyard Blitz. At the rate they're going, our barbeque area should be ready for deepest winter.  Excellent!

On Friday morning, heard the beeping of a truck reversing into the driveway.  I looked out the window to see pouring rain and a cement truck reversing into the parking bay that belongs to my very particular neighbour whom I call Gottfried.  (You can read more about him and his neighbourly relations in this post.) For those who haven't read about Gottfried, the key thing to know is that he yells at anyone who parks in his parking space, or even thinks about stopping there.  That sounds reasonable, until it is revealed that he does not have a car.  With all of the activity happening at the front of the building, there have been regular displays of Gottfried's particular view of the world. To remove the temptation for anyone who may be considering parking a work truck there, he has taken to parking the trailer he uses with his bicycle.  (It is red and has a rather jaunty pinwheel attached which whirls in the wind.  Quite unexpected.)

As I looked out the window I saw one of the men get out of the cement truck and move Gottfried's bike trailer so the truck could be parked in his space, allowing ready access to the cement from the site where it would be poured.  I quickly retreated behind the blinds, wondering how long it would be before Gottfried was out there tearing strips off these blokes.

It took about a minute.  I heard the truck move.  As a result the truck had to park in the entry to the driveway, blocking all access to the property - at 7:30 in the morning when lots of people would be needing to go to work.  In the space of the next 20 minutes, those poor men had to move the truck seven times to allow cars out.  Seven!

But at least Gottfried's parking bay was free.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Unlikely busking duo

Walking down Elizabeth Street towards Flinders Street Station at about 5:30 this evening, there were the usual Friday night crowds.  People going out of the city, people coming in and people wandering around biding time.

Outside the supermarket was a funky busker, playing a bass guitar with neon green, yellow, orange and pink strings.  He had a small amplifier and wore a Madonna style microphone and was getting down with the Friday afternoon crush.  He wore a wide, white smile and was wonderful to watch and listen to.

Right beside him, grooving along, was a man who looked to be homeless.  He was leaning against one of those mysterious dark green metal boxes that cities have on their footpaths, belting out a beat along with the busker.  He seemed oblivious to the fact that it wasn't the beat for the song being played.  The busker kept his wide smile, but he was working hard to get the man to lock into the actual beat.

This didn't happen.  Something else did.  The man started to bellow along to "Buffalo Soldier".  I can think of no other word to describe the sound.  It was a bellow.  Of course the bellow had no tune, but it was also to a different beat so it sounded appalling.  I stopped to take stock of the show.

The busker was still smiling and grooving along with his bass - he had given up singing at this point.  He was now the official accompanist for the apparently homeless man who was having a blast!  The volume of the bellowing grew as his enjoyment grew.  He showed no inhibition and appeared to be deriving great pleasure from this moment of impromptu music making.

I walked on.  I could only handle this particular style of music for a short period and while it wasn't enjoyable to listen to, it was wonderful to watch.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Viking yarn arts

My two new playthings have arrived: a nostepinne and a set of three lucets.

I had never heard of these things either until recently, but lots of people have.  In the age of google and youtube it's really easy to discover new arts and learn the skills to practise them.

A nostepinne is a stick to help wind skeins of yarn into a centre-pull ball.  Here's a picture of mine.

(c) divacultura 2012

Of course it isn't just a stick - handcrafted though it may be!  What this nifty - and beautiful - piece of wood does is allow me to wind a ball of yarn that I can pull from the middle.  This is fantastic because it means the ball doesn't run away while I'm knitting.

I have a fancy ball winder which attaches to a table and has a handle to very swiftly wind a ball, but it's limited to about 400 metres of yarn.  Any bigger than that and it won't wind.  You can see one in action here.  It's definitely better than using the spurtle I usually use to stir my porridge.  It worked well, but probably isn't ideal.

Now to the lucets.  They are also known as "knitting forks" and here's what they look like.
(c) divacultura 2012
I'm still getting the hang of how to use them, but you can see one in action here and get a better sense of what is produced by this method.  Aren't they cute!  Vikings used them to make cord.  Cord was essential to keep your clothes on in the absence of things like zips and buttons.

Here's two more pictures so you can get a sense of scale.
Papa bear
(c) divacultura 2012

Baby bear
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When I picked up the parcel at the post office, another woman was collecting a parcel.  She commented that my parcel looked interesting and asked me if I knew what was in it.  I told her what it was and she revealed that her parcel contained flower making supplies.  It would seem that various crafts, obscure and mainstream, are alive and well.  I love that I can learn a skill which is so old and practise it so far away from the people who created it!

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

The Voice

Occasionally someone, somewhere has a brilliant idea for a talent or reality based television show and I'll be sucked in.

Not usually a watcher of commercial television, I had barely heard about The Voice, but after only two nights, it is now on my compulsory viewing list.  I love it!  The idea of the judges selecting singers to be on their team based solely on what they hear when a contestant sings is compelling.  The studio and television audience can see the contestants and we also know a bit about them, so we don't experience the singers in the same way as the judges.

I spent yesterday talking to a group of employees about communication and the fact that human beings judge another person based on looking at them within the blink of an eye.  Our hard wiring has equipped us to quickly make these judgements so that we can determine whether the person in front of us is friend or foe.  Take out the visual channel and the sound and quality of the voice comes strongly into play.

At the moment, the contestants are singing in a "blind" audition, hoping one of the judges choose them to be on their team where they will be coached by the star judge and compete on behalf of the team.  Already, it's been an emotional rollercoaster and the desire of the singers to be chosen really comes through in their performances.

The judges, Seal, Deltra Goodrem, Keith Urban and someone called Joel Madden have a great chemistry and it's a joy to watch them delight in each new singer.  (A cynic might wonder whether the judges are as in the dark as they are portrayed, but I'm not a cynic.)

It's feel good TV, it's probably making squillions of dollars, but I'd like some more please.  I just wish there weren't so many ads.  I'm not used to them at all!

Monday, 16 April 2012

Smooth operator

I went to the hairdresser today.  Damien asked me very nicely if he could blow wave my hair dead straight.  He asked so nicely, that I said yes.  It's a big change from my usual curls and the body blow wave I usually have when I go to the hairdresser.  I don't think I'd wear it like this all the time even though it looks so shiny and feels so smoooooth.

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Koala pays a visit

While I was visiting the family farm over Easter we had a lovely surprise.  A koala walked in the front gate, selected a tree in the front yard, found a fork in a tree and sat there dining on lovely, fresh eucalyptus leaves.
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My dad had been looking out the window of his office and had seen the koala come in and climb the tree.  He called us outside and started looking up into the trees.  There were three trees to choose from and it took a long time for us to find the koala.  His grey fur hid him well amongst the green-grey of the gum trees.  Eventually we found him, balanced in the fork of two branches.  It is amazing to see a fur covered ball of muscle sitting somewhere impossible.
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Occasionally he would look down at us, but his concentration on selecting and eating leaves was intense.  

The farm is in an area near the "koala capital" of Australia so it's not unusual to see koalas, but it's still a very special experience.  And it's certainly much better than seeing a goanna as I did on my last visit .  

Koalas are under threat because of reduction in their habitat.  It is estimated that there are fewer than 100,000 left in the wild.  The Australian Koala Foundation is working to ensure this extraordinary animal does not become extinct. Their slogan is "No me."  

Mr Koala is always welcome to find a spot in our front yard.

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Well hidden.
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Saturday, 14 April 2012

Bigotry in the food court.

Food courts in shopping centres are interesting places to see a wide spectrum of humanity.  Today I ate my lunch in one in the Melbourne CBD as I hopped between rehearsals.

It was just after 1pm, so it was busy but not as busy as on a week day.  This particular food court has about a dozen long communal tables. So you just find a space and claim it.  Three women were at one table with seven small children and one of the women started to yell at two other people who were also sitting at the table.

"Don't you tell me to use my manners!  What about your manners?  You might behave like that in your country, but we don't do that here.  Not in Australia. Why don't you go back to where you came from!"

The usually deafening hum of a crowded shopping centre fell to the background as this woman's anger took flight.  I hadn't seen or heard what precipitated her comment and wondered if someone had spat on her.

I was standing by the counter waiting for the food I had ordered when she approached.  I could see that she was still fuming and she met my eye.  There was no need to ask what had happened; she was going to tell me.  Apparently the two people who were already sitting at the table when she arrived with her group of seven children and two other women suggested she should use her manners and ask permission before sitting at the table.

As I mentioned before, these are communal tables and they seat about twelve people.  Tiny children would take up less space, so you could fit more if they all squashed together.  From what I could see the children were better behaved than this woman.  She then gave me the whole speech again, recounting everything that I just heard, including the part about going back to where they came from - which she followed with: "But you can't say that, or you get called a rascist.  Isn't that ridiculous!"

I shrank back.  I've been in this situation before where a random person makes an assumption that I'll be as bigoted as they are.  Sometimes people recognise the shrinking and take their leave.  Today this woman pressed on, asking me if I agreed that it was ridiculous and she should be able to sit anywhere without having to ask permission from some "Asian".  And in her own country too!

I replied by saying I didn't see what the problem was and that I try not to make judgements about people based on where I think they come from.

She looked at me like I was the most disgusting person she had ever encountered in her life.  She snatched her food away from the (Indian) person who handed it to her and approached a group of three women sitting at another table.  She declared very loudly to these women that she was going to use her manners and ask their permission to sit down, even though they clearly weren't Australian.  The three women stood up and moved to another table.  I couldn't blame them.

My food arrived and I took a seat at a communal table as far away from her as possible.

Friday, 13 April 2012

My favourite time of year

Autumn is the very best time of year in Melbourne.  The sun shines and there's a refreshing crispness to the air. It's possible to go outside without living in a hay fever haze. Layers and layers and layers of clothes are not required and we don't have the notorious four seasons in one day which afflicts Melbourne in spring.  The nights are lovely and cool and clear.

If it was possible to have autumn all year round, I would be happy!

I haven't seen the colour of autumn yet, which is amazing because we're half way through.  I did notice that the bright green leaves I featured in this post in November last year have faded a little.
Summer juiciness (c) divacultura 2012

Faded glory. (c) divacultura 2012
But it's the same stunning blue sky. And we're heading for 25 degrees Celsius today.  Perfect.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Justin Townes Earle at the Regal Ballroom

Last night I went along to the Regal Ballroom in Northcote for Justin Townes Earle's concert.  He is a recent discovery for me - stumbled upon while wandering around on itunes  (itunes is a great way to discover new music, but that's probably a subject for another post) and I've had Harlem River Blues constantly playing since I discovered him.

I bought my ticket late last year as soon as the tour was announced.  That's how excited I was.

Sadly, I left disappointed, but no less in love with Justin Townes Earle as an artist.  There were a few problems.  The biggest problem was the sound.  The Regal Ballroom in Northcote is a big barn of a room, but that shouldn't make a big difference.  Vocals struggled to be heard over the rhythm guitar and the double bass sounded muddy with no articulation.  Such a shame!  The lyrics are wonderful and the double bass has some fast riffs where it only works if the articulation is clear.  On the one song where the bow came out, it sounded great!  It could have been a player problem, but it didn't feel like that.

Waiting for the headline act at Northcote's Regal Ballroom.

The other problem was the lack of a sense of a coherent ensemble.  There were three outstanding musicians on stage but there were moments where it felt like they were struggling to play together.  They really needed a drummer!  The mandolin and lead guitar were beautifully played and I really like Justin's style of rhythm guitar but it just wasn't together.  Justin Townes Earle said that he usually didn't tour with a full band and would never go far from where he started - being a songwriter, singing his own songs while accompanying himself on guitar.  It's possible that the band also had sound problems and couldn't hear themselves properly.

His costume surprised me - tweed jacket, tie, jeans, shirt, preppy spectacles and floppy hair which made him look like a nervous university student going to dinner with his girlfriend's parents for the first time.  (This was a big contrast to the audience, a lot of whom were decked out in western shirts, boots and rockabilly hair, men and women alike.)

Despite these problems, there is still something wonderful about hearing music you love played live and seeing the artist stand before you.

The crowd reception was lukewarm and as I walked out I could hear people expressing disappointment, so I know it wasn't just me.

The disco ball seemed a little out of place for the honky tonk, hillbilly show.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Sounds of Easter night

On Easter Sunday night it rained very heavily.  I was lying in bed listening to the sounds of the countryside.  This is what I heard at about 9:30pm.

Ostinato crickets setting the framework rhythm.
Frogs softly join with a jazzy cross rhythm.
A steady drip, drip, drip from the downpipe adds its layer.
A lone frog, closer to home ribbits for two bars in a sonorous baritone.
Then stops.
In the far distance a vehicle can be heard finding its way on a sodden dirt road.
Almost imperceptible is a high, light sound that might be beetles walking on the wet grass.
A weatherboard in the wall behind the bed creaks, taps once.
The thunder has stopped.
A tenor frog adds an ornament - a samba - then stops.
These are the sounds of the night.
These are the sounds of night time on the land.
After the rain.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Break in transmission

Just wanted to let my regular readers know that I'll be off the air for the next week.  I've been a little unwell over the last couple of days and am planning on relaxing over the Easter break.

May the Easter bunny deliver chocolate and your travels be safe!

See you on the other side.

Monday, 2 April 2012

The other one about the inappropriately large truck

Following on from yesterday's post about trucks being inappropriately large for what they are carrying, I was thinking about a cat I had.

The cat was a beautiful dark grey and I rescued it from the RSPCA.  It was a cat, not a kitten, and I took it home and called it Reuben.  That was the end of our relationship.  The cat was nuts.  It would literally climb the curtains and claw its way up the wallpaper.  There was no way to calm it down and it was very stressful to live with.

As a responsible cat owner, Reuben had a collar with a bell and phone number.  It was in the days before registration and micro-chipping, but I kept him inside at night and let him out during the day.

One day, he was cleaned up by a car in front of my house.  He was lying on the nature strip and was irreparable.  I will confess to feeling relief, rather than sadness.  Our time together had been as fraught as it was brief.  I probably would have had to give him back if he hadn't been taken out by a car.  (It's always possible that he felt the same way and actually flung himself in front of the car in an effort to end the suffering inflicted by his luxurious new life.)  We shall never know.

Anyway, the broken body of the cat needed to be dealt with and I just wasn't up for it.  I reached for the phone book.  The city council had a small animal collection service.  We called.  The woman who answered the phone was so sensitive to the loss of Reuben that she was almost drowned out by the organ music I imagined to be playing in the background.  Arrangements were negotiated.  A collection time negotiated, a fee agreed.  We opted for the basic service, not feeling the need for formal burial or delivery of ashes after cremation. We waited.

An enormous truck thundered over the hill and stopped in front of the house.  A man got out - one of those skinny, wiry, chain-smoking men who drive trucks or move pianos for a living.  There was no nonsense about him.  He spotted the body, strode over and picked Reuben up, launching him into the cavernous back of the truck.  He was so efficient that he left the collar and name tag on the cat.

My house mate ran out to meet him and ask him to remove the collar, but he was so swift that by the time she was out there, he was back behind the wheel and Reuben was just a ticked off job code on a clipboard.

He took a long draw on his cigarette when he heard the request and instead of refusing, as any reasonable person might do, climbed into the back of the truck.  There was the sound of animal corpses being sorted through (can you imagine that?) and then an arm holding a collar became visible.

"Is this it?"

Everyone was happy when the answer was yes.

The skinny, wiry chain-smoking man climbed behind the wheel, put the truck in gear and thundered away to his next collection.

Was such a large truck really necessary?  I was feeling relieved that I hadn't paid for extra services.  I could have ended up with the ashes of anyone's suburban road kill.  I wondered if the woman who took the details so gently and sensitively knew the reality of the service.  At least I didn't have to scrape him off the road.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Woman who want screw get very cranky when she doesn't get it.

There have been people moving in and out of my apartment block all day.  I haven't really noticed them coming in, but when the vans reverse out of the narrow driveway, their beeping makes them hard to ignore.  I've noticed that trucks are either way too small for the load they're expected to pick up, or inappropriately large for their cargo.

A couple of years ago, I bought a new bed.  The bed frame, head and foot arrived packed flat and had to be assembled.  I was assured by the people in the shop that I would be more than capable of doing it myself, so didn't pay the fee to have someone come and do it for me.  This proved to be a mistake and I spent a night on the couch until one of the men in my life could come and help me.

He arrived and surveyed the scene. The shake of his head was almost imperceptible and I probably wouldn't have noticed if it hadn't been accompanied by a long inhalation and a deep sigh.  We pulled apart what I'd already done and started again.  My hot pink tool kit proved to have all the tools necessary for us to achieve the task.

After a few hours, we finished, but there was a problem.  One of the screws wouldn't screw.  Of course there were no spares and it was a public holiday.  It would be okay to sleep on until I could get a replacement.

The next day I called the retailer and was referred to a warehouse or factory way out the other side of town.  The people answering the telephone seemed to speak mainly Chinese - at least it seemed that I knew more Chinese than they knew English and I don't know very much Chinese! It was quite difficult to convey to them that I needed a replacement screw as soon as possible, let alone provide details of which one in particular.  The conversations were endless, circular and pointless.  At one point they advised that I would have to return the entire bed. That point may have coincided with me losing the plot.

After many conversations with the retailer and the Chinese people in the warehouse, an agreement was reached that a new screw would be delivered the following day at 5pm.

At 6pm an enormous truck pulled into the driveway.  I went down to meet it.  A tiny Chinese man was driving and when he saw me he yelled: "Are you woman who want screw?"

My eyebrows went up.  He may or may not have been aware of what he was offering.  In response I offered the faulty screw on the palm of my hand.

He looked at it and proclaimed that there was nothing wrong with it.  I was back in that place again, trying to explain that the thread on the screw was defective.  At least this time, we were face to face and I was able to mime.  He kept shaking his head and then said that he wanted to see the bed.  This was becoming annoying.  I stood in front of the truck shaking my head until he gave me a replacement.

It all worked fine.

"Thanks for the screw!" I said as I walked back inside.