Legends from our own lunchtimes

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Australia Day (the Holiday)

Yesterday was Australia Day (the Holiday), as opposed Australia Day (the Day) which observant readers will by now have realised was last Saturday, and we celebrated it by having a goodly portion of a few hundred people over and sailing all manner of boats, and of course launching Phil and Chris' lovely Eureka Canoe.

We had sort of planned to launch ours too, but well there are one or two little details still to complete, so that remains as a good excuse for yet another party at the home of the Biting Midge at some yet to be determined future date.

Australia Day did mark the fourteenth anniversary of the launching of our Goat Island Skiff, Gruff, and we took her for a burn round the block but it's fair to pay a bit of homage to the dear old thing.

Since this story has been on my Goat Island Skiff pages for about ten years, I'll repeat it here for posterity without fear of reprisal from the cast.

Gruff was very new, and yes I was quite pleased with the way it turned out, it being my first solo boat building attempt and everything, and in the process I'd managed to achieve a small amount of notoriety by having my construction diary published in Australian Amateur Boatbuilder. AABB is not renowned for being terribly fussy about its editorial content, but I took that one as a goal to me anyway and felt suitably famous.

It was all glistening and woody and had shiny new sails and let's face it, I was chuffed. I think we all were to greater or lesser degrees.

Abbie was 16 and we were holidaying on the Noosa River at Noosaville. Fiona was staying with us, and by stretching the already overstretched mathematical bit in my brain, I have calculated that her age was very similar to Abbie's at the time.

One fine sunny afternoon, the girls asked me to help them rig the boat and of course I gladly obliged, anything to encourage healthy outdoor pursuits, particularly those that reflect my own interests. How successful was I as a parent and role model? My children were becoming boat people, perhaps I could get them to crew when we raced! My heart almost skipped a beat at the thought.

After happily rigging the boat on a suitable patch of clean, dry sand on the riverbank, I began my carefully rehearsed words of sage parental advice about wearing life preservers, and not straying too close to the river mouth on the outgoing tide, and watching out for idiots on jetskis and....

Abbie interrupted:
"Oh we're not going sailing dad, we're just going to sit beside it on the river bank."

"All the guys keep coming up and asking us questions about it."


Saturday, January 26, 2008

A Day Off

Today, 26th January is Australia's national day, named rather imaginatively - "Australia Day".

For the first two hundred years of our history, Australia Day was a celebration of the anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet, or the first White Settlement as it was known for many years.

In 1988, the year in which the bicentenary of settlement was celebrated there was a not imperceptible shift in official policy:

There is a greater awareness of the need to celebrate modern Australia - a land of diverse ethnic makeup, a country working towards reconciliation with its indigenous people and a nation gearing itself for the challenges of globalisation, the removal of previously safe assumptions regarding national identity, and the uncertainties of a new century. Australia Day is the centre of an evolving nation.

Today, the official Australia Day website describes the day thus:

On Australia Day we come together as a nation to celebrate what's great about Australia and being Australian. It's the day to reflect on what we have achieved and what we can be proud of in our great nation.

Now there's nothing at all wrong with that in itself, but it looks to me that in the race to "reconciliation" our actual history is being smothered, or perhaps slipped under a beach towel. It seems to me these strangely anonymous powers that be, are hoping our history will fade, that we've grown beyond it, that for some reason we can't be proud of it as though being great in some way makes up for an apparently dark past.

They're making a big deal of swimming in blow up pools and eating hamburgers shaped like maps of a Tassie-less Australia without giving a thought to the fact that here, notwithstanding the challenges of globalisation, they'd be called rissoles, not hamburgers.

It's not that I'm against having fun, far from it, I just don't think that we have to get too introspective about celebrating our history. We certainly don't have to morbidly "reconcile" every time the moon rises, neither do we need to apologise for our place in time.

I do think that being told to have fun, or more correctly being directed to have fun by a quasi government department is to put it simply, UnAustralian! Or would be, if there was such a thing, which of course there cannot be, but that's for another day.

The reality is of course, that notwithstanding the apparent need to advertise the fact, we never did care too much about what it was about, as long as we get the following Monday off work, and that we do.

Australia Day is worth a Public Holiday!

The only thing that could beat that would be taking a sickie!


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Perceptual Blindness

When Julian wrote his piece last week on Perceptual Blindness, he couldn't have known that at the same time I'd be editing my single Eiffel Tower photo from 2007 and pondering that very concept. Our photo shows the tower in the background viewed at the end of a vista created by an insignificant street lined with a mix of modest hotels and construction work, and was taken with the help of my phone.

Of course having to use a phone to take photographs was indirectly the reason we were in Paris this time, as our passports were undoubtedly on their way to Morocco with our camera, leaving us with only two options: we could learn to speak French and just blend in with the crowd for the rest of our days, or we could spend a few days in Paris having deep and meaningful discussions with our Embassy about some replacement paperwork which would allow us to travel across a border once again.

The photo isn't all that sharp, and the tower is some distance away, but it's unmistakably the Eiffel Tower, the one that is so instantly recognisable that when they make souvenir keyrings in its image, they don't even have to stamp "PARIS" over the arch. If you leave your Tower keyring carelessly on a boardroom table, the others at the meeting don't have to ask.

They know.

We visited Paris for the first time in 1982, and like every visitor before or since, made a visit to the Eiffel Tower. I spent hours looking at every detail, at every rhythm and swirl in the structure. I was amazed to discover that this tower wasn't just a silhouette on the skyline, it was a masterpiece of wrought iron elegantly woven into a piece of fine sculpture.

Clearly, I wasn't the first to discover that. I'm sure that Mr Eiffel had a fair idea that it was pretty good, and the World Heritage people had probably noticed a thing or two that set it apart from a few stories of temporary scaffold holding a flag, which was its original purpose.

The interesting thing, to me at least, is that I can't recall anyone else being so taken, in fact when ever I happen upon an Eiffel keyring on a board room table, and attempt to share my enthusiasm with its recently returned owner, I'm met with blank stares, as though none of the details exist.

"The lights were pretty", they'll say, or "There was a lot of haze and the view wasn't even that great from the top platform."

Nothing to describe the wonder.

Nothing to indicate they'd even considered the juxtaposition of structure with decoration, the elegance of the curves bisecting the the catenary bracing, finishing with an organic flourish contrived with such skill that it hardly feels contrived at all.


The lights were pretty though.


Saturday, January 19, 2008

Fresh Fruit

It was around August in 1987 I had my first night at the quite pleasant Mulgrave Motor Inn in suburban Melbourne, which was later to become my second home Inn for a time, but that's another story. Now for those that don't know that particular establishment, even twenty years later it is described as follows in it's promotional literature:

Mulgrave Motor Inn offers Comfortable, well appointed accommodation choices to suit all tastes and budgets as well as catering for single travellers to Families.

I suppose I must have been a "single traveller to Families" what ever that is, but anyway in the morning I popped down to the dining room for breakfast, as is my custom.

The menu had an item: "fresh fruit in season" and thinking I might be in for a rare treat, perhaps a serve of Victorian stone fruit or wild berries or something similarly exotic for one who had been raised in the tropics, I asked the young lady in the pleasant beige uniform what fruit in season was offered this fine day.

"Bananas!" she replied.

Now I can't be absolutely certain, but I suspect that there are very few bananas grown in Victoria, and even fewer come "in season" during the latter stages of winter there, and when they do, they probably don't put a sticker on them declaring them to be a product of Brazil.

On studying further the language of the menu, my mistake had been to presume the word "local" had been omitted when indeed it had never been intended. By definition, for fruit to be available, it has to be be in season somewhere or it simply wouldn't exist.

It follows then, that the very expression "fresh fruit in season" must rank with the best of the oxymorons.

Like "Microsoft Office Works" or "Civil Engineer".

"Would sir care for some Fresh fruit in season"?

Perhaps not today thanks. Actually what have you got that's out of season?


Tuesday, January 15, 2008


A few years ago we were enjoying a pleasant evening at Kingfisher Bay on Fraser Island when we struck up a conversation with a lovely couple from South Australia.

I can't or at least probably shouldn't actually mention their real names because that would impinge terribly on their privacy and maybe they didn't actually come from South Australia, but that will do for our purposes. However, as this whole tale revolves around their uncommon surname, I'll just make do by changing their Christian names, to make a bit of a show at protecting their innocence.

Anyway Tom and Mary Finger, (not their real names you'll recall), drove the sort of Peugeot that looked as though Julian had owned it for a dozen years before abandoning it in the Lewis backyard. It was sort of Columbo meets Mad Max with French subtitles, and because the Fingers were on a motoring holiday, it was loaded to the gills with camping accoutrements which added a sort of jaunty air to the whole catastrophe, but once again I digress.

Tom and Mary had driven around 3,000 kilometres before arriving in Queensland, and been on a sort of journey of genealogical discovery, tracing Tom's extended family, visiting all the long lost cousins on the way.

The Finger family it seems, were of European origin, and had spread across the south of Australia, ensconcing themselves in numbers of farming communities where they were able to call upon the skills handed down over the generations, producing all manner of crops for the market. The entire family it seems, apart from Tom that is, who works up to his armpits in a thing called "data", spent their days in rural pursuits.

Tom and Mary thought that they'd visited every member of the family in the course of their travels, thy had even found a few cousins they didn't know existed and were actually basking in the rosy glow of the success of their journey as they drove through Gympie and saw the sign, delicately daubed on an old car bonnet in that special font that is reserved for farmers making roadside signs:

"L Fingers 100 yards"

Believing the "s" on the end to be a typographical error, or perhaps in truth, this was a miscreant cousin who had undertaken a slight change of name to ostracise himself from those in the south, or maybe there was just a missing apostrophe, they turned up the red dirt driveway.

Tom launched into his by now well rehearsed introduction:
"Gidday, I'm Tom Finger, I saw your sign, and I've been tracking down all my long lost relatives, and just wondered if we were somehow related."

From the puzzled expression that greeted him, Tom knew he hadn't been clear enough, and reintroduced himself, pointing to the sign to add emphasis.

"Mate, my name's Reg Wixted, and I don't have a clue what you're talking about," came the straw-hatted reply.

Again Tom pointed in the direction of the sign.

"Yeah well, we do grow bananas here, and we do sell 'em to the tourists driving past," replied Reg still puzzled, and clearly with no idea what the stranger in the sandals was on about.

"But your sign says L. Fingers!!!"

"Oh, you want some Lady Fingers?" came the dry response, followed by a short pause accompanied by a look that left no doubt that he still didn't understand anything of the conversation;



Saturday, January 12, 2008

More Customer Feedback

After the debacle at the trendy place down the road, we ended up in a clean and tidy family run cafe, on a very shady verandah overlooking the beach.

Yes, lunch was a little late, but by the time we got there the crowds had thinned to exactly no one, so we ordered hamburgers with the lot. They arrived on huge buns with plates to catch the beetroot dribbles as they trickled off the bend of our elbows.

It wasn't just that the day was clear, the air was fresh, we were hungry and the food was terrific. The service was friendly and warm and if we'd lived there we would have gone back. Often.

We would even have visited on our way back if we were coming back, which of course we weren't due in part to the nature of our circumnavigation of the North Island, which was decidedly one way.

Inspired by the warning left for us earlier in the day, we constructed our own comment on the product.

Our gesture was taken in the manner in which it was intended. Even as we were preparing to leave, the staff had been assembled by a justly proud proprietor and the plate was being preserved in resin for the benefit of future generations.


Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Customer Feedback

Somewhere on the East Coast of New Zealand's North Island, there's a lovely little seaside town in the midst of a barely spoilt natural environment, with a happily eclectic mix of old batches and carefully co-ordinated beach dwellings.

In amongst it all, there's a gallery complex with a pub next door and a restaurant on the top. It's all in that beaut modern beachside style of architecture that's grey timber and matching concrete and a little rust, and if it's done well it just slots in as though it's always been there.

This one was almost done well. It could even be said to have been of the genre: "Trendy".

It was clearly new, with a precision about the architecture that hinted at pretension, a gallery that was almost up itself, and a solemn throng of customers who clearly were.

Still, upstairs was the closest thing we'd seen for a while to a probable source of sustenance, and it was close to lunchtime almost exactly three years ago. Actually it was well past lunchtime, and it was a Sunday and the place didn't seem to be suffering from a shortage of customers, which is something we always take to be a good sign.

As soon as we reached the top of the stairs we had an uneasy feeling, and that was before we had even seen the price list.

The place had been designed to within an inch of it's life. The decor was harsh in a deliberately modern way, minimalistic even, and in stark contrast to the mess of uncleared tables which resembled something like a stadium floor after a grand final crowd.

Except that in this stadium the crowd was still present.

Every table was something akin to a dog's breakfast.

The queue for service contained at least as many people as the balance of the room. It seemed to us that the reason that there were so many apparent customers, was less to do with the desirability of the place, and everything to do with the possibility that some of them had been waiting since the week before Christmas last year, such was the efficiency of the ever so trendy black-shirted staff.

We made a dash for the one unoccupied table, recognisable as such because under what looked something like the results of an archaeological dig, there were four chairs.

We were about to take our seats when we saw "the sign". It seemed to hint to us that the quality of the fare had perhaps not been delivered to the exacting standards that the decor had promised.

It was almost twenty kilometres to the next town, and the food there was splendid.


Saturday, January 05, 2008

Life in a Cold Climate

When one isn't used to life in a refrigerator, one's behaviour can change inexplicably when a bout of cold weather descends.

We were in the backblocks of Wales one evening and had walked maybe three hundred metres in four degree temperatures from our lodgings to the pub, where we had hoped to find, and indeed did find, a meal of rather splendid gastronomic proportion.

On arrival, it was clear to three of us, the third shall remain anonymous but lets just say the other three knew her as wife, mother and mother-in-law respectively, that the pub was quite efficiently centrally heated.

In a move that seemed puzzling to the other three, the matriarchal figure stood back, ordering us into the seats closest to the wall, and coincidentally the giant radiators which lined it. I don't want to imply that there is any usual behaviour of selfishness on her part, as that is certainly not the case, but in a climate far different to the one to which she was accustomed, we had become used to her racing to the warmest spot in any room, and allowing us to elbow each other for the lesser positions, like seagulls fighting for the last chip.

As we began to wade through the second of eleven dishes of vegetables which accompanied our quarter of beef, the first rumblings of "are you warm enough" began.

"Warmth", it seems has nothing to do with the actual temperature of the room, and everything to do with the amount of radiated heat landing directly on whatever part of one's flesh remains bare to the elements.

The seat that she had chosen was next to the roaring fireplace. What she hadn't realised for reasons which remain completely inexplicable, as she herded us so selflessly towards the giant radiators, was that the only heat generated from it that night, would be from the flickering LED's nestled conspicuously among the plastic coals.

The fireplace, and indeed the fire it contained, had been made in China.

A video recording would have given off more heat.

Thanks to Shelley for the pic, and to Nick and Michelle's plastic fireplace for acting as a stunt double for this post.


Tuesday, January 01, 2008

About My Fading Memories



It's just another day people!

Move on, nothing to see here, come on, move along... the sun will come up tomorrow just as it did yesterday.

If you didn't lose that ten kilos or make that extra thousand dollars or you weren't a better person during the course of last year, odds are you won't do it next one either, so don't kid yourself by making any resolutions.

Or maybe, like Clive Jones presumably of Newport, Wales you would like to build a Himalayan Garden, and don't think you'll remember to do it without a public reminder fixed to a derelict piece of fencing near a rarely used transporter bridge. It seems that British iTV declared a "decade of promise" starting at the beginning of the new millenium, and this prompted hundreds, if not thousands of people to think of something they'd like to achieve in the ten years that were to follow, and have same engraved on a stainless steel fish mounted in various locations throughout Britain. Seven years into the ten, I have so far failed to find any evidence of any progress on any of the promises so prominently displayed. I've even sent a message to someone called the Ferret at iTV to see if he/she can assist, but so far this too has been to no avail.

I have no idea what compelled people to make their promises so public, committing themselves to act in a particular way or undertake projects for an entire decade, nor why they chose to write them on a fish, but as far as I can tell it was all for show, just another set of resolutions forgotten by all except the venerable accidental tourist.

For that matter, it's impossible for me to fathom what one actually does with a Himalayan Garden when one has one. Is it a place to set up a mock base camp, to enable one to dispose of empty oxygen cylinders and dehydrated food containers? Having spoken with a number of people who have actually been to the Himalayas, it appears that gardens rarely appear on the travel brochures for a very good reason.

Gardening in the Himalayas it seems, is such a rare occurance, that to date there are no actual recorded instances of it actually having occurred.

Perhaps indeed that is why Clive has set out to create his Himalayan garden in glorious Newport, where there's no sign of any other sort of garden either, and therefore no risk of serious critique. I've searched high and low to see if I can find any evidence of success, failure, or even a hint that Mr Jones actually exists, but not even the Ferret can help it seems. Perhaps Clive's home is actually in the Himalayas, in which case the question of why he would travel to Newport to make such a serious commitment weighs heavily in the whole equation. Clive, if you happen across this post, if you'd be kind enough to fill us in on progress we'd all appreciate it.

In the absence of a metal fish, if you feel compelled to a make a public display of resolve for the benefit of the New Year, please feel free to relieve yourself in the comments column below.

One last thing:

Have Happy New Year and a truly fantastic 2008!

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