Legends from our own lunchtimes

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Passport Photographs

At least having to replace our passports mid-term gave us an opportunity to get a hold of some photographs which have a vague resemblance to the people actually presenting the documents.

I'm not sure what the images in our old passports were supposed to represent, but I know the gentleman at least, had difficulty convincing more than one stern border guard that he was indeed the person in the picture.

I smile at the thought of the new owner of the stolen passport, trying the asymmetric squint to provide a more convincing likeness in a last ditch effort to cross from Estonia into Russia, but to be fair, I have long held the view that if one looks anything like ones passport photograph, one is too ill to travel.

Nothing confirmed that more than the immigration officer's comment on our return home after a month or so away a few years ago:

"Gee, you're looking much better after your break."


Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Interplay of Light and Shade

Col was an architect.

To say that he wasn't eminent in the eyes of his peers would be something of a significant understatement. In today's parlance (or was it yesterday's?) he wasn't cool. His designs weren't cool either, in fact in a professional sense they were rather lacking to the extent of being devoid of any component which could even be considered to be slightly sophisticated or elegant.

Col was so uncool, that he wore floral shirts tucked out, before tucked out was thought of, and one could just tell that they hid trousers that were worn at a level too far above the waist to make the pages of Vanity Fair. If he were around today, he'd be a nerd, a wealthy nerd I suspect, because he seemed to have a keen eye for a commercial deal, and what appeared to be a well run business, but a nerd none the less.

Bill was also an architect.

Bill reeked cool in a sort of architectural sophisticated manner that would have had him wearing a bow tie if open necked shirts weren't so much more appropriate to the coastal business environment. He was the only person I had ever heard of who had a Citroen Palais which he'd bought new. In those days the Citroens I knew only came second-hand, as if "new" was something the factory hadn't figured out how to build, but he had one and it beautifully offset his perfectly archetypal life. It looked perfect parked beside his slate lined pool, set in the tropical gardens which harmonised beautifully with the elegance of the parquet in his living room, clearly visible through full height frameless glazing.

Bill's designs were as cool as his cream silk shirts, and as president of the Institute of Architects, he was held by his peers with a certain amount of respect. He was altogetherly too arrogant, and as if to offset his undoubted talent in his chosen profession, was something less than well endowed with business acumen.

One evening, at a meeting of the Institute, their diametrically opposed paths crossed.

Col had just attended the opening of his latest project, another meaningless building, probably quite suitable for its purpose, but with no redeemable features in an architectural design sense at least, apart from the remarkable fact that it was constructed beneath an enormous golf ball which hovered somewhat precariously on a tee which sprung from the middle of the building's roof, leaving absolutely no doubt as to the intended function of the building.

"Tell me Col", inquired Bill, with a glass of orange juice in his hand,

"Was it the interplay of light and shade?

The juxtaposition of form perhaps?

Does it reflect a simplicity in the structure that remains unseen beyond the building fabric?

What exactly was your philosophy behind that thing on the roof?"

"You can think whatever you like, Bill", came the instant reply,

"I got six percent of the cost of that thing."


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Mystery Craters

For as long as I can remember, somewhere between Bundaberg and Gin Gin, heading north, there's been a small handpainted sign that says "Mystery Craters 500 m" and an arrow pointing to the left.

This in itself is something of a mystery, as the sign at the entrance and other memorabilia displayed quite haphazardly within the kiosk clearly proclaim that the craters were not discovered apparently until 1971 and my memories just as clearly pre-date that sign.

These 35 craters are 25 million years old and are possibly of volcanic origin.
Mystery craters were discovered in 1971. The 35 craters are formed in sandstone.
There has been no explanation for the origin of the mystery craters.
Were they excavated by ancient humans?
Do they display ancient inscriptions?

I have not yet been able to fathom how the sign and its attendant craters, together with the somewhat less than salubrious patch of country that are their surrounds, has been so deeply and clearly etched in my childhood memories. My father hurrying by on our way to Rockhampton, or Townsville, unwilling, or perhaps unable to stop as if compelled by some mysterious force, not even for a second, to allow even a tiny glimpse of what lay there.

For half a century the mystery deepened.

If we are to believe the current version of the story, it seems a bloke was digging in the paddock to put trees in or pull trees out or something, when he noticed some hard bits round the edge of the hole he was digging, and discovered these were made of a substance called "rock", which is essentially different to the one called "dirt" which was his preferred digging material.

Unable to work out who had put the holes there in the first place, the bloke decided it was a mystery, and told someone from "New Idea" who confirmed it was indeed mysterious and published an article which in turn was read by a tour bus operator, who told a bunch of elderly widows they needed to see it and yes they could get a Devonshire Tea there as the holes were sure to have come from the south of England, perhaps they were left over from building stonehenge, and in the blink of an eye, a whole new micro industry had been created.

Then of course there is a further mystery, and that is why we would actually pay to walk around half a dozen puddles, some of which don't even have water in them, even if no one knows how they got there.

Well again you see, it transpires that that may not be exactly true, the bit about no-one knowing:

"The geologist's report apparently completely dispells any aura of mystery. Here follows their summary:

"A geological investigation of the 'Mystery Craters" adjacent to Lines Road, South Kolan, indicates that these structures are sinkholes in a laterite profile. The sinkholes have been caused by the collapse of overlying strata into underground voids produced by tunnel erosion."

(Robertson, A.D.; "Origin of the 'Mystery Craters' of South Kolan, Bundaberg Area," Queensland Government Mining Journal, p. 448, September 1979. Cr. R. Molnar.)"

It appears that no mention was made in the geologist's report of any inscriptions, nor why I believe I have know about these things for almost twenty years before they were discovered.

Personally, I think the geology report is a cover-up, the inscriptions have been deliberately covered by water, and the real answers are contained in an x-file in some hidden vault, perhaps in an underground void.

I can only wonder if there are other mysteries locked within my being, from those "lost" 20 years.


Friday, February 15, 2008

Borrowing Electricity

When we bought our land in Manly, if our neighbour was to be given a report card on his ability to maintain the grounds and building in a clean and tidy manner, in the comments section of said card, one would almost certainly have read the words: "Could do Better".

He was a nice enough bloke, for a drug addicted alcoholic biker, and we'd spoken to him many times in the year or so between buying the land and starting construction.

When it came time to build we had a few choices in ways of obtaining temporary electrical power for the duration of the project, but my preferred method was always to give the neighbour a few dollars, (fifty of them in fact, a very generous number in 1990), to plug our power cords into a handy point for the duration of the project.

Before starting work, I spoke with our soon to be neighbour, and he happily agreed that I could use the electricity, and thanked me for the fifty.

That was on Thursday.

On Monday, we started work and one of our carpenters popped his arm through the bedroom window to plug in to the point as arranged, to be greeted by what could best be described as a somewhat concerned person really, making something of a din.

It seemed our now ex-neighbour had put all his worldly goods including my fifty dollars in his truck not long after thanking me with a straight face, leaving nothing more than an old couch and an unpaid electricity bill for the new tenant, who unsurprisingly was in no mood to be co-operative.

With all the political strength I could muster, I approached the neighbour on the other side.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008


If a sign says "Tourist Attraction" there seems to be an expectation that whatever lies behind it will draw a flotilla of pensioners and excursion-starved school children in the same manner as a sign which says "wet cement" acts as a magnet for all who wish to be remembered by scrawling their names and birth dates.

The very word Attraction seems to be a self fulfilling prophecy.

The Super bee at Glenview on the Sunshine Coast was an attraction apparently, but despite trying really hard one fine sunny day, we could find nothing attractive about it.

Not a thing.

It was an attraction with a small "a", and I write in past tense because its owners, having officially announced its demise, are preparing to move their honey processing business a thousand kilometres south, leaving nought but happy holiday memories for the thousands that apparently flocked their every year, or perhaps, if the closure of the establishment can be taken as a sign of financial success, who didn't flock there at all.

From the welcoming green forty four gallon drum at the entrance with the blurry superbee carelessy stencilled in white, with its little row of soldiers formed from butts from hastily drawn last-minute durries on the way in, to the decaying and somewhat leprositic concrete images of Snow White and her merry band, it was difficult to find anything that was either relevant or attractive about the whole catastrophe, except of course for the honey, which to be fair, could be bought at any supermarket for at least less than the special tourist prices available direct from the manufacturer.

The quality of souvenirs, unlike the quality of mercy, seemed fairly strained, the plastic cups made sense perhaps, the furry maggotts with wings and bee-stripes a little less, but the tray holding polar bear side table was beyond credible explanation.

I have met a person who said her son enjoyed he go-karts, but he was five, and didn't want to see the bee display.

Someone else I have spoken to of late told me that their child had gone to a party there, and that it was "surprisingly" good.

Before I become accused of being cynical and less than partial, I should note that the cost of entry is nothing, and we paid the full amount on our visit.

Of course if one wished to see the bees at work, or visit a demonstration at a small additional cost, (which one certainly did not) then there is a chance that one might perhaps recoup the (small additional) cost of admission to those tired displays in entertainment value, or at least perhaps some educational worth could be derived. Perhaps, if the place were bigger, one would pay the price just to rest one's weary feet.

Alas, there being nowhere particular to amble, nor anywhere in particular to arrest one's attention for long enough to cause one's feet to become weary, the Bee Show didn't quite meet its potential in the customer attraction stakes either.

As we departed, we glanced over our shoulder at the waving Superbee smiling somewhat less than enigmatically through its multiple coats of paint, and wondered if there was any wet cement nearby.

If you are seriously masochistically inclined, you may make your own assessment of these observations, by popping straight to our small Superbee Gallery on Flickr.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Water, Water Everywhere. . . . .

It's been raining here.

All our dams are overflowing, and we've got three years' supply, but the rain keeps coming down at at least an inch a day, sometimes this happens in twenty minutes. This is not a bad thing, because we know that in three years' time the dams will be empty again and by then we'll have difficulty remembering what it was like to have rain.

One morning this week we woke up, and there was no water in the pipes at our house. This wasn't that insidious sneak up on you run out of water slowly the drought's really bad sort of water shortage. This was (or could have been) urban terrorism at its best. Bang! No more water in our entire suburb.

The sky was blue, after all the rain the river was running that nasty angry brown colour it gets when it's swollen with floodwater and full of nasty bacteria, but even if we had contemplated taking a glass or two of it for breakfast, it's still tidal saltwater and not really the stuff which any mammal except perhaps the odd stray whale could tolerate.

It's quite amazing how much our routine is set by what seems to be such a simple commodity.

We had a litre or so in the fridge, but I didn't want to waste any of that washing the morning goop out of my bung eye. Oh, and I couldn't dress the infection on my shoulder which flared up in the humid weather after having "that" skin cancer removed last week.

There was just enough in the kettle to have a cup of tea each, with half a glass to clean our teeth, but shaving was out of the question, and bathing was simply off the agenda.

It was all strangely frightening. Not "ooh I'm scared" frightening, but frightening if one contemplated (and one did) the impact of a large community suddenly without any means of access to water, and how that communty would attempt to survive beyond the first few uncomfortable hours without clean teeth if its access to it has somehow been terminated.

Don't be too concerned though, the council fixed the burst water main, and we had it back later that same morning, and I stopped being frightened by my own thoughts.

But it had made me think quite seriously of all those people in the world who have to walk kilometres to retreive a bucket of dirty water that's of no better quality than our river, and wondered what chance the infections on their shoulders would have of ever healing, and whether they even knew that mostly their life expectancy is less than the time it takes their beards grow.

They don't have a council to fix all that, or an office where they can go for a shave.

All they have is people like us who can afford an internet connection, so I thought I'd place a small advertisement on their behalf.

. . . . . nor any drop to drink.


Tuesday, February 05, 2008


Sydney's Queen Victoria Building has been described by Pierre Cardin as "the most beautiful shopping centre in the world". This outstanding example of Byzantine architecture, which occupies an entire city block, was built in 1898 to replace the original Sydney Markets. Later, it accommodated a concert hall, which eventually became the City Library. The building was remodelled in the 1930s and used for different purposes, including municipal offices. In 1984 it was completely refurbished as a shopping centre, with more than 200 shops. The renovations, by the Malaysian company Ipoh Garden Berhad, were highly imaginative and thoughtful. Most important, they retained the turn-of-the-century charm of the building.

And then some clown came along with his screw gun, and bunged up a couple of signs to tell us where the loos are.


Saturday, February 02, 2008

Tell me where to go

Duncan and Aiden are doing research into GPS (that's the satellite based Global Positioning Systems not to be confused with the Greater Public Schools of our youth) as part of their Engineering PhD's, and I suppose that makes them the closest thing to rocket scientists I know.

They are also very sensibly building small wooden boats, I suppose so that in the event of a catastrophic breakdown of the positioning system, they can get away by following the stars out to where the dark blue bit meets the light blue bit just like we used to in the old days before there were satellites.

Talking to them got me thinking about Satellite navigation in cars, and how unbelievably useless it is in a country where roads just head off in a straight line for hundreds of kilometres, and the way the manufacturers attempt to gain acceptance for any inaccuracy in their mapping, simply by using a synthesised female voice to provided directions.

"Turn left in two hundred and twelve kilometres"
"Turn left in two hundred and eleven kilometres"
"Turn left in two hundred and ten kilometres"

Just turn it off and listen to the radio.

Undoubtedly the logic behind using a female voice is to capitalise on the well known deficiencies in directional sensitivity within that gender, but the more thought I give the subject the more disconcerting it becomes. If there is indeed a woman in that little box on the dashboard, how do I know she hasn't turned the whole kit and caboodle upside-down to work out where I am supposed to be going?

How do I know when she tells me to turn left, that she didn't mean the other left, or worse, that she actually meant right but said left because the map was upside down so she'd made "allowances". I'm almost certain the only reason there hasn't been a class action over the inaccuracy of the things is that it would lose on grounds of gender discrimination.

Quite a long time ago, the occupants of the front seats in our car decided that there'd be no more navigation, particularly when we are on a touring sort of holiday. The air is much clearer that way, the language more conducive to comfort. If ever we feel that we don't particularly know exactly where we may be entirely, we simply find a car which looks like it knows where it's going, and follow it.

So far we've managed to have an enormous number of adventures relying on this method, happening on things that we would never have happened upon, and places we would never otherwise have thought to go.

As greater, better, cheaper, gadgets evolve, although I can't actually foresee a time when an in car navigation system will be on our shopping list, I have a foreboding sense of inevitability that one day, we'll buy a car that has one fitted.

This fear is compounded by the probability that the car that we always follow will have one as well, so while he once looked as though he knew where he was going, the female voice from his dashboard will place just enough uncertainty in his driving to convince us he's lost too, so we'd better not follow him.

There's a little pub at the end of a road and round the corner somewhere that we'll never stumble across, because we'll always know where we are, and where we are going and why we are going there. It will be the end of the exclusive hideaway because nothing will be hidden away from the far reaching tentacles of the satellite map. We will have lost the joy of random exploration.

The cast of "Lost" will need to find new jobs because we'll all discover that all this time they've actually been on Gilligan's Island, the only place on earth that's a short day sail from a major population centre, yet until now, impossible to find.

Deep down I suspect that the final episode will feature two young Doctors of Engineering discovering the place by celestial navigation while travelling in a small square boat with a polytarp sail.

That's technology for you!

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