Legends from our own lunchtimes

Friday, March 28, 2008

When Charlie met Sachin

I know that I've pondered before the genetic stamp that we have that creates the unrelenting urge to photograph celebrity, and I thought that having said what I said, that would be the end of it.

However I wasn't accounting for some very dear and otherwise sensible friends who for the purpose of this episode I shall refer to only as Deb and Charlie. Now Deb has a few things going for her that at least partially offset the fact that her hair is somewhat lighter than the tone that is commonly considered to be an indicator of a less than median thought process capability.

Charlie has a lot going for him too, not the least of them being Deb.

With a bit going for each of them, they found themselves staying one weekend in a well known Hotel in the Big Smoke, the sort of place that you'd expect to find the upwardly mobile, or at the very least, the rich and famous. Indeed as they ambled through the foyer on this one particularly balmy evening, they discovered they were sharing their retreat with the entire Indian Cricket Team, who as it happens were boarding their own particular bus for a bit of a game with Australia.

Charlie knows a thing or two about sport, including who Sachin Tendulka is, and more impressively what he looks like. In fact Charlie has Sachin up there in his top two in the international sportsmen stakes. So as the Captain of the Indian Team was about to board the bus, bat in hand, one can only imagine his surprise to be bailed up by a bloke he'd never met, asking if he could shake hands and have his photo taken by the bloke's camera wielding spouse.

The great man (who is probably the only international sportsman in the world who is shorter than Charlie) obliged politely, even if his mind was on other things. Deb fired off the single shot like a true Pepperoni even though her mind was clearly on other things as well, and they all went their separate ways.

Sachin's concentration must have been badly effected by the flash, as a few hours later he was given out while batting for his country, after standing on his own wicket. No one can say what it was that effected Deb's concentration, but she spent all that night trying to find novel ways of avoiding that moment when Charlie would ask to see the picture.


History records that the great man was stalked by a blonde over breakfast the next morning, and after being shown the photograph from the evening before was heard to say in a surprisingly dismayed Indian accent, laced with a mouthful of baked beans.

"Oh that is very terrible"

A new photograph was made, and Deb and Charlie have lived somewhat more happily after that than perhaps they may otherwise have, had the original photograph been their sole piece of memorabilia from the encounter.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Toes of Blue

It's not so much a confession as a reflection on where we live, and perhaps to a lesser extent where we choose to travel, to reveal the strange truth that it's entirely possible to have lived for half a century, traveled to the farthest-flung reaches of the globe, and never stood under falling snow.

The first time we saw snow at all it was at the top of Australia's highest peak. It was not so much a cap as a deposit of dirty gritty ice in a small depression. In volume and texture it was something akin to the the party-ice deposit on the lawn after emptying the Esky the morning after a small get together; clumps and lumps of crushed ice mingled with the all manner of good-time detritus, but to us it was snow and we walked on it and threw lumps of ice at one another and wondered why snow balls seem so much like painless fun in the movies.

It was of course 40°c at the time and we were dressed entirely appropriately for an hour of romping on ice, in shorts, singlets and bare feet. My big toenails stayed blue for a week.

A decade later, we were on a train in another world and caught our first glimpse of the Swiss Alps and with that the knowledge of what snow capped peaks were supposed to look like. While we never managed to get closer than a few kilometres to the snow, we did feel more than a little sheepish about our earlier enthusiasm.

A further twenty years elapsed before, while travelling in New Zealand in late Autumn, we realised that there was snow in them thar hills, and set off to get us some! "Them thar hills" turned out to be Mt Cook, New Zealand's tallest peak, and not renowned as a gentle place for barefoot singlet wearing tourists who'd never seen snow, so in exchange for a sum of money which pretty much equalled all we could borrow against the equity we had in our house, we took a helicopter to the peak, and stood for a few minutes in the previous year's winter. We even threw snowballs of somewhat less density than our previous experience, and being worldly wise by then, we knew that this stuff, which was the texture of a SnoCone, was still not the fluffy powder stuff of which true winter romance was made.

Snowflakes that stayed on our nose and eyelashes continued to evade us.

Then came the call.

It was Easter Sunday. Evening for us, but morning for those who chose to live in London.

"Hi Dad, guess what we've got?" enquired the cheery voice on the other end of the phone.

Well I knew it was hardly going to be a pony, as their flat was far too small for that sort of thing: "Flurries of snow" I replied cooly, almost matter of factly, trying to maintain the steady air of a father who has worked hard to build a reputation for having an immense depth of knowledge of all things, but who had actually been talking to Paula on Thursday about her brother's plans for the weekend, which involved travel out of London into the wilds of Birmingham or somewhere despite the forecast of "occasional snow flurries".

Flurries of snow indeed!

We didn't need any magic shoes, with three clicks of the magic mice on our respective computers we were transported half a world away. In the blink of an eye we were there with them on their balcony watching the snow fall.

Shell's toes had already turned exactly the same colour as that of her dressing gown, (which indeed was a very similar colour to her father's toes all those years ago) before she decided to adopt a more suitable form of foot attire.

She threw a snowball at us. It wasn't like the others we'd experienced. This one was soft and fluffy and we didn't feel it at all.

For half an hour we played vicariously in the falling snow, enjoying the experience as though we were there. We were. Right there. On their balcony. Kept warm behind our little screen and keyboard.

I had been barefoot, dressed in shorts and singlet, but my toes weren't blue.


Saturday, March 22, 2008


By more than one measure, Sylvia was a tough old thing, with a few too many years of hardship under her belt.

She was our neighbour and could almost have been one of that kind of old lady who frightened children so much they may have considered her to be a witch. That she could coerce any living material out of her tired and sour garden was evidence enough to any adult that indeed she had some sort of magical power, although whether these were of the black variety or some other shade could only be left to conjecture.

Her back yard was entirely given over to agriculture in the style of many of her vintage, and was laid out in beds with walkways between them, each walkway covered in lawn and neatly edged with any bit of scrap timber or iron that had been to hand, supported on a variety of old pipes and stakes.

Perhaps I was exaggerating a little when I suggested the lawns were neatly edged. The reality was that she trimmed or dug the edges with some vigor, and over the years the lawns had receded to an area barely wide enough to walk along, while the hard dirt at the edges had steadily increased their encroachment until they were wider than the lawn they were supposed to be edging.

The garden beds had been worked to within an inch of their useful life, with all unwanted organic material being viciously dispatched to a better life in the hereafter, and the half-century of depletion of mineral and organic reinforcement had taken it's toll. In some places the soil was so hard that it defied any attempt to even scratch the surface. Plants were inserted into whatever dusty bits were left, and commanded to grow.

We didn't think it was particularly attractive at the time, and used to refer to it as "gardening by the scorched earth method".

After here passing, we eventually bought her place, and renovated her garden, and thought little more of what once was there until travelling a little south of Bourke last year, when we came across a landscape filled with bulldust and baked clay.

We wondered at the irony of being so far from the coast, yet being reminded so strongly of our former neighbour's little beach-side garden.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Attention Deficit Disorder

I know there are lots of kids who suffer from, or more correctly cause others to suffer because of a condition known as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder otherwise known as ADHD.

I know there are lots of theories about what causes it, and why and how and there is also a consensus of sorts that says it's rise may be plotted proportionally with the decrease in capital punishment. Or was that corporal punishment? It matters little, there are a bunch of brats out there, behaving like brats and no-one will stand in their way.

It seems the question of how this epidemic came to be is yet to be answered by medical science, although while sorting through some of my father's slides the answer became quite clear to me at least.

When I was a child, there was no ADHD, only good kids, and bad kids.

Not coincidentally, there were also no railings on cliffs, no fences around pools, we travelled in the backs of open trucks, we rode on boats without safety rails, there were no car seatbelts, whirring machinery had no guards of any kind. If a child didn't listen to the advice so sternly given by adults, he was usually mortally injured or worse.

In accordance with one theory of how we came into being, this is called the law of natural selection.

By the turn of the twenty-first century we have become so over-regulated and so overprotective of our the young of our species that natural selection no longer occurs, at least not "naturally".

I suspect that ADHD was rare fifty years ago, simply because no one with that affliction survived for long, due entirely to the complete absence of health and safety regulation. I surmise that perhaps one or two "sufferers" made it to adulthood and through one of those outside chances that changes the course of nature, found careers in Workplace Health and Safety, where they realised more than anyone else how lucky they were to have lived through their youth, and set about making the world a safer place.

Armed with all this first hand knowledge, they began to breed, and the world became safer and safer still, until there were no more dangers for kiddies, and natural selection simply didn't work anymore.

To begin with, I thought that this was wrong, that they'd created an aberation in the selection process, that technology had somehow interfered with nature. Then I realised that the manner in which the fittest survive is by adaptation, by creating mechanisms by which they can control their predators. If the bad kids have adapted a Government Department to ensure their survival, then nature is taking its course.

I just wish it would take its course a little closer to a crumbling cliff top.


Friday, March 14, 2008

Goodbye Noosa, Maroochy and Caloundra

Tonight at midnight, the Sunshine Coast Regional Council comes into being. That doesn't mean anything to anyone not living in the areas formerly under the control of the Noosa Shire, Maroochy Shire and Caloundra City Councils, but to us it means that the Councillors will be paid even more for taking an ever more parochial position on local politics.

With the new Mayor set to earn almost as much as the Prime Minister, and with Noosa separationist Big Bob Abbot almost a certainty according to that font of all knowledge, the Sunshine Coast Daily News, who knows what mayhem the next four years will bring?

So I thought, inspired somewhat by Joan and others, that there'd be no better time to have a go at a photo a day on the Sunshine Coast.

I don't know how long I'll be able to keep it up, and I suspect that day two may just be a repeat of this post, but everyone's welcome to check out the other Sunshine Coast Daily, hopefully providing an alternative that's a bit brighter!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Feel the Surreality

Lake Baikal is big. It's coastline is about the same length as Queensland's, yet it doesn't make a dent in the even more vast Siberian landscape.

And it's deep. So deep that it holds twenty percent of the world's fresh water. No one bothers to turn off water taps if they live on its shores.

And it's Cold. So cold that the golomyanka, a scale-less fish which lives in it's depths and whose body comprises almost entirely oil, begins to melt at six degrees. Six degrees of separation, literally, of its skeleton from the remnants of its body.

And it's home to the fattest seals that exist anywhere on the planet. They store so much fat to get them through winter, when the lake is frozen, that they look like grey beachballs with toy noses stitched on.

Listvyanka is not so big, in fact it is quite a small village on the shores of the lake, close enough to the tourist path to be friendly in summer, cheery even when the sky is blue, but one hesitates to guess what it must be like in the depths of a Siberian winter, when the lake is hidden under two metres of ice, and the ice hidden under even more snow.

Our homestay was on the shores of the lake in Listvyanka, in a classic Soviet apartment occupied by an elderly widow. It is "owned" in all probability by the government, but with a government offer to sell to its occupant for the princely sum of two hundred and fifty US dollars, a small fortune in Siberia, we wondered whether or not she'd buy it. We communicated in our best grunts and laughter and sign language, and dined heartily on Omul, the prized Baikal eating fish and blini, pancakes which form part of the traditional diet of the region.

She'd moved in to a friend's place to make room for us, two couples in her two roomed apartment, and in return we brought two of the handful of warm days she experiences each year, and a small handful of the dollars she needed to become a woman of substance.

After breakfast, we climbed the highest peak we could find, returning an hour or two later, pondering the surreality of being under cloudless skies in a place which lives under snow, with fat seals and fish that melt, and a water supply that is boundless.

We opened the front door to the apartment, and knew she too had returned, as the radio in the kitchen was what could only be described as 'blaring'.

Somewhat astonishingly the song was blaring in English.

Better than that, it was a classic Beatles number blaring away in the Siberian summer, a classic from a time when it was not just the climate that was cold.

"Back in the USSR."


Saturday, March 08, 2008

The answer is blowin' in the wind

How many times have you heard it?

"Don't pull that face, if the wind changes you'll be like that forever."

I must admit, it's been a while since that was used in our family, perhaps my mother was the last to issue this salutory warning, it's so long ago.

It's interesting to reflect though, on how prophetic that once meaningless expression really was. With the advent of the internet, allowing immediate access to about twenty percent of the world's population, and digital cameras of one form or other to be found in about every square metre of most developed countries at least it follows that very little of what we do or say is not recorded in some manner or other.

It's bad enough, when someone catches you unawares, or simply completely off guard, but kiddies, when you know someone is taking your picture, and they ask you to "smile", it's just not smart to pull a face.

If you don't believe me, ask Chuck why that is.


Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Soviet Planners

Siberia is a long way from Moscow, and the Cossacks through the ages have not had a history of bowing to the Soviet propaganda machine, preferring to live in sort of deluded autonomy, or perhaps symbiotically with whatever government was in power, with the kind of begrudging acceptance that a junkyard dog displays to the person that feeds it.

It was strange therefore to hear the young English teacher speaking so positively about the grand foresight of the Soviet planners, and how thoughtful the government has been, particularly after being unusually forthright about some of the other "progressive" demolition works undertaken during the Soviet era. Another victim of the propoganda war we thought.

The Soviet government could never have been described as popularist, having spent a good deal of time, shuffling people from one state to another. Half of the population of the Baltic States, and the lesser principalities was displaced by citizens of the closer Russian States and vice versa in a carefully contrived effort to create a unified country. This was met with benign acceptance, as any dissidence was met with a stint in the far flung reaches of Siberia, and it appears only a Siberian would be comfortable with that.

The reason the government had built so many identical housing blocks across the Soviet Republic, he explained, was not an economy measure to save on documentation, nor was it anything to do with the Communist ideal of all men being seen to be equal.

With a widening grin he explained, the Soviet planners had had the incredible foresight of ensuring all buildings looked the same so that no matter where in the Soviet Union they were built. This he said, was out of kindness, so that no matter where one's translocation had them placed, one never became homesick.

Everywhere, looked and felt just like home.

I'm not sure that some of those planners haven't emigrated, and now work producing "starter homes" in our own suburbs. The philosophy seems strangely familiar at least.


Saturday, March 01, 2008


We woke up on New Years Eve with no electricity. There had been high winds and storms for a few days and this had finally taken a toll on the electricity infrastructure. We were in the dark, or at least we would have been if it hadn't been daytime.

Big deal you say, there are four hundred million people in India alone who wake up every morning without electricity, and hundreds of millions just like them all over the world who have never experienced an electric light source.

Maybe then you'll start to reflect on how they actually wake on time without their digital alarm clock, grind their morning coffee, check their emails and faxes, and get the news on breakfast television?

How do these people melt the cheese on their toast?

What do they use to extract their morning juice from their choice of three fruits?

How will they charge their iPods?

How, you ask, do they get their cars out of their garages if the remote door opener doesn't work?

How will they read my blog?

Why are they always smiling?


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