Legends from our own lunchtimes

Monday, April 28, 2008

George and Rosie

Rosie was our third attempt at owning a dog.

Smaller than a reasonable sized rabbit, and with a terriers fearless outlook on life, she endeared herself to just about everyone she came across. Actually she endeared herself to everyone except George.

George was a neighbour, who might have been a nice person beneath his hyper-sensitivity to all but the sound of his own tiny mind ticking over, and just as he'd taken exception to the squeaking of the litter of kelpie pups six or eight doors down the street, he had also decided that the occasional terrier sounds emanating from within our yard were something that his life would be better without.

One fine, sunny Saturday morning, sometime between morning tea and lunch time, I heard the unmistakable sounds of a Silky Terrier baling up a bearded dragon, that particular type of mid-sized lizard that occasionally visited from the bush at the rear of our property.

I bounded down the stairs to rescue the hapless, if not defenceless creature, to be greeted by George standing at the fence in his pyjamas, and speaking in a language which I at first assumed to be some kind of foreign, but quickly recognised as profane, and to make it even less comprehensible, not a verb was uttered during his whole tirade. The gist of what he was saying in words that didn't quite make sentences, was that he wasn't able to get a good day's sleep with the incessant barking happening.

Just why George wanted to get a good day's sleep after spending the previous night in repose was not a question I dared ask at the time.

It is fair to say that by the time of this incident, we'd been the subject of several reports and subsequent visits from entirely sympathetic Council Officers who had marked our place as "never to be visited again", and the entire neighbourhood had really had quite enough of George's incessant and unjustifiable complaining about anything and everything. If that hadn't been the case, I doubt that I would have been quite so impolite in my response, in which case he may not have stormed back up his stairs and thrown his living room furniture out the window in a rage, but I'm afraid I too had had enough.

"I terribly sorry George," I apologised in the most polite and level tone I could muster under the circumstances, "I'll go and start the mower so you won't be able to hear her."


Thursday, April 24, 2008

Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels

Having recently posted a gallery of my father's photos on my Flickr gallery, and tomorrow being Anzac day here in Australia, I suppose it's natural to have connected the two in my thoughts.

He served in New Guinea in World War Two, and in common with many of his vintage who served in theatres of war, never shared any of the details with us, either when we were children or even when we pressed him about it much later. Whether this was because of being sworn to secrecy because of the importance of the work he was doing as we all imagined it to be when we were small, because he had expunged the things he had experienced from his memory, or because there genuinely was little to say about those years, we shall never know.

From the little we gleaned, we do know that it can't have been fun. We also know that there was no such thing as post-traumatic stress syndrome then, that real men didn't show weakness or unnecessary emotion, nor for that matter would they own up to having a dose of that sort of thing if indeed it had existed.

As a meteorological observer at an apparently particularly unpleasant place called Shaggy Ridge we know that he didn't much like having his weather balloons shot out of his hands at the time of release. He did joke once that he didn't see any action, because he was too busy keeping his head down.

I went to an Anzac Day dawn service with him once when I was five.

He gave me his medals some time after that, although I thought nothing of it at the time, and we played with them until they were all lost on a vastly different ground to the one on which they had been earned. Fifty years later we could easily draw a own conclusion about his motivation for doing that, but it is pointless to surmise, and in all probability we'd be wrong.

Unlike so many of his contemporaries, he didn't smoke.

Everyone seemed to smoke in the 50's so his abstinence was unusual enough for me even as a small child to notice and to ask why he didn't. He told me he used to smoke a pipe, but during the War in New Guinea a Fuzzy Wuzzystole his pipe and he never got a new one.

Each ANZAC Day I am torn between the remembrance of those who have fallen in all wars, and trying to ignore the celebration as he did, but the day can't pass without me giving at least some thought to the mysterious Fuzzy Wuzzy Angel that stole his pipe and imagining that if he's still alive, somewhere under a shady tree in New Guinea he's taking a few thoughtful puffs, and wondering what became of the bloke who gave up smoking on his account.


Monday, April 21, 2008


In 1958, when my Father finished a roll of slide film, it'd get bundled off to Kodak for processing packaged in a little canvas bag that came with each roll just for that purpose. After close to an eternity, a little cardboard box would arrive with 36 slides neatly packaged inside. As if by magic, the contents of the little aluminium canister inside the canvas bag had been transformed.

We'd all wait impatiently for darkness so that we could take our spots round the projector to see what wonders he'd captured on this latest roll of film.

Being the eldest, I'd get to turn the lights off. They just went off, none of this lights "down" business then, there was no such thing as a dimmer; we were lucky to have electricity! The projector bulb produced the whitest of white light inside a dusty square on the screen and we made animal shadows with our hands in the slide-less frame until the first slide went in.

The carriage clicked... then this!


Actually we never had the real thing, but occasionally Mum used to open a tin of "Camp Pie" which is the same horrid recipe mix of fat, offal and sawdust that is used in Spam, despite the fact that we kids hated it so much it'd only go down cubed and battered, served in fritters with lashings of tomato sauce. Of course using the term to describe unsolicited advertising hadn't been coined at that particular part of last century so we just called it rubbish. We didn't call it "junk" either, because even if we'd been exposed to that word at the time, (which we hadn't) we'd be chastised for using "Americanisms".

Of course in those days the rubbish bin was exactly that, for rubbish, none of this recycle nonsense (except for softdrink bottles and we'd get threepence for taking it back to the shop if we were lucky enough to find a big one of those!), and usually it was straight into the rubbish bin for all those advertising slides!

I'm not sure how this slide avoided its fate, but it did, and now I've found it again while scanning the rest, so it's got a chance to live a bit longer and spread its message further.

Junk mail: bringing you advertising since 1950-something!


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Lost in the Great Moscow Circus

There were four of us, or maybe five, who braved the streets of Moscow one evening for a visit to the Circus.

Braved is hardly the correct word, as we were hunting in a pack, and therefore unlikely to fall victim to one of the marauding police officer's foreign currency extortion plots, but we still hadn't quite mastered the cyrillic alphabet, so reading signs was problematic to say the least.

Anyway, we found the place by dint of well honed navigation skills and a bit of luck, and not quite understanding what to do next, waited with the assembled throng.

Not having an understanding of any of the letters in the cyrilic alphabet and travelling without an interpreter meant that we were a little challenged when it came to finding our seats, or for that matter actually finding a door which looked as though it would lead to our seats.

In times like these we have a well rehearsed practice of following someone who looks as though they know where they are going, and in the theatre context, we decided to follow the crowd as soon as the doors were opened.

The seething mass of humanity containing ourselves, flowed into the building and purposefully wheeled left, then right, then right again. These were people who knew where they were going, and were in a hurry to get there.

We were smugly congratulating ourselves on our street-smart wisdom, as we all to a person would instinctively have turned left and continued up the stairs, but the crowd knew better obviously.

What we couldn't have known, was that the crowd it seemed, had spent the few hours before the show crowding in the bars in the area, and the bars in the area were obviously devoid of what we would call euphamistically "conveniences". When the doors to the theatre opened, the rush was not to take their seats, but to find some physical comfort from the restrooms located under the theatre seating tiers.

Eventually we managed to swim against the tide, and found the entrance we were looking for, wondering ever since how so many people could possibly ever be contained in one small cubicle.

Note to file, in Moscow, not everyone is going where you want to go, which should have been obvious in a city where even the pedestrian crossings lead mereley to the middle of another street.


Monday, April 14, 2008

recycled plastic bags

When I was a kid, plastic bags weren't very common, and I suppose as an extension of that they weren't very economical either.

When one went to the supermarket which in those days were not actually supermarkets, but "grocery shops", and apart from tinned produce and the odd cellophane bag of upmarket sweets, almost nothing came separately packaged.

Actually buying a new plastic bag was not even considered, even if they had been commonly available, to do so would have been considered wasteful.

Fresh food was wrapped in "greaseproof" or "butcher's" paper then in newsprint, before being placed with the other stuff in a cardboard carton or a brown paper bag or in a string bag brought from home for the purpose. When something did come in a plastic bag, it became a treasured item, washed and hung out to dry to be re-used many times before finally wearing out and being discarded.

This process was called "using them again" and much later was given the much more pompous and dishonest tag of "Recycling". Recycling of course originally was coined to describe the process of salvaging the material for re-use in another product made of the same material. Of course there were no plastic garbage liners either. Scraps were either fed to the chooks, burned in backyard incinerators, or wrapped in neat newspaper parcels for deposit in the bin.

With the evolution of "self-service" came the supermarket with its miles of shelves lined with pre-portioned and pre-packaged goods, and with it came the de-valuation of the plastic bag. Where once they were rare they became litter, a nuisance, something to be discarded. What once would have been "wasteful" became "convenient".

They were being produced in such vast quantities that one could even buy them new for a few cents. We had created a product that was cheap, and would last for two thousand years, yet was designed for a single use before disposal.

No one seemed to see the folly of this. People started to believe that by picking up their dog's waste in a second-hand plastic bag they were indeed "recycling". People started to buy new plastic bags for recycling in this manner. Local Authorities started to provide them for free!

Well, thankfully it's all coming to an end. The damage to the environment, and waste created by the relentless march of the plastic bag is such that people are beginning to take notice. Of equal consequence, the fossil fuels on which the plastic compounds are based are becoming rarer and more expensive.

In a few years we may see a return to the practices of my youth, but it won't be for a few thousand years until the real impact on society will be analysed.

Time Team is a television show we quite enjoy, documenting a team of archaeologists as they search for clues of our history, digging up bits of pot, shards of bone, and other detritus.

While watching it last night we couldn't help but imagine archaeologists digging among our middens, sitting amid a mountain of "recycled" plastic bags, trying to figure out why the embalmed organic substance in them held so much importance for us that we saw fit to preserve it in plastic for future millenia.

If canned pet food really contains as much preservative as I think it does, their discovery may an unpleasant one indeed.


Thursday, April 10, 2008


There was a time when one of my eyes failed to function it's fair to say, in the manner to which I had become very accustomed. It's also reasonable to remark that said eye actually didn't do anything much at all for quite a few months, except fill what would otherwise have been a very unattractive hole in my scone.

It was perhaps a less than pleasant sight for those who happened upon it, as it simply sat there motionless, ignoring any pleading from my brain, staring into space apparently unaware that the other eye was moving in a completely different direction, although the lack of glamour was undoubtedly offset somewhat by the propensity for a stream of dribble to appear from the somewhat lower than usual side of my mouth with almost no provocation.

This got to be so constant, that I took to wearing shirts with vertical stripes so the dribble wouldn't be quite so obvious.

It wasn't so much that people were distressed by all of this, although it was true that whenever I travelled on the train, young ladies would give up their seats for me, and as soon as I had availed myself of their offer, the person sitting next to me would also spring to attention, leaving me with two seats for the entire journey, but more that I felt it had a better chance of recovery if I kept it protected from the elements, that I began to wear "the patch".

Without it, I was treated as though I had something incurable and highly contageous. It was clear that the absence of a working eye and a mouth which would to respond to normal telepathic commands had left me categorized by many as a substantial danger to the community.

The patch turned that around, I became a swashbuckling object of desire (or at least of greater desire than without it) whenever I donned it. Instead of crossing the street when they saw me walking towards them, people would stop and ask if I had something wrong with my eye. I would usually respond happily with "No, it's a bit of a chick magnet really", and walk on.

There are many who have made detailed observations of human behaviour towards disabled people in the past, and it was indeed interesting to discover first hand the different standards of socially acceptable and unacceptable appearance, whilst under the spell of the one affliction.

Although I am a bit miffed that I was never given my due at the Cinema. Each week I'd arrive at the ticket box with my patch in place, and ask for a discount because I could only see half as much as everyone else.

Not once did I get that discount, or even a coupon for trying.

I did get a smile once though.


Monday, April 07, 2008

Mutton Dressed as Galah

There's an old bush recipe for cooking galah that goes something like: Place the galah in a pot with two round river stones ( (known colloquially as gibbers) and boil until the gibbers go soft. When the stones are soft discard the contents of the pot, and eat the gibbers.

Every western Chinese restaurant has Mongolian Lamb on its menu, a sort of fanciful sizzling concoction that arrives steaming on a heated cast iron griddle.

In Mongolia however, the lamb seems to be a much older version of once was sheep, than perhaps we consider to be lamb in the western world.

Watching the blokes cook our evening meal one chilly afternoon in Tarelj, brought memories of the galah recipe flooding back.

Without ceremony an old milk can was filled with sheep, water and secret herbs and spices, and then before our very eyes, a dozen or so fist-sized black smooth river rocks were heated and added to the brew.

The lot was then brought to the boil, and a lid wired onto the can, creating a crude maxi-pressure cooker. After a time on the boil the can was rolled down the hill, then carried back up again, and the whole procedure repeated. This went on for what seemed like several hours, and I assumed the rocks were there to pulverise the meat while all the bashing was happening, or perhaps they were there to help maintain a level of heat for the time the pot was away from the fire.

It was only at the time the meal was being served, I wondered if they'd followed the old Aussie recipe to the letter.

Each of us was handed a steaming hot rock, smelling unmistakably of mutton.

Could it be, I wondered aloud, that we were really going to eat the rock?

Apparently not, the rock was certainly not soft, but was traditionally a hand-warming gesture, offered immediately before a meal. The mutton had permeated it to an extent, so that it left an oily deposit of warmth on anything it touched.

The mutton had indeed been transformed into the texture of lamb. The rocks had achieved their magic intent.

Those old swaggies knew a thing or two about cooking.


Thursday, April 03, 2008

Wanting to help

I've stolen the picture today from Banksy who's got plenty more, and was only going to put it on a wall somewhere anyway. It's a sketch for something he'll do in due course, and he's making a point I've often pondered while visiting countries where the cost of my airfare to get there would keep a family alive for half a decade.

I know that Banksy and I aren't the only ones with these impossible ponderings. I sat next to a bloke in a meeting the other day, who seemed like a nice enough sort of chap, he was certainly outwardly concerned for the well being of his fellow man.

His build perhaps once would have been described as "portly", but in this era of political correctness it is suffice to say it had been a while since he'd missed a meal.

He seemed to be the sort of person living a comfortable suburban existence.

He wore jewelry. Nothing too expensive, the sort of thing that gets imported from India or Indonesia and sold in the flea markets: a few silver chains, a couple of bangles, and a ring or three. The chains were heavy too, not the enormously heavy sort that you'd expect to see on a grossly tattooed heavyweight rap star, but politely heavy. Just heavy enough so that they were obvious, but not so heavy that they were garish although had they been of gold they certainly would have been quite over the top.

Sitting comfortably amid the metalwork, was a simple beige plastic band of the type sold by charity organisations to raise funds for all sorts of causes. They are also sold by surf shops to raise funds for shareholders, but that's not the point.

Inscribed on this band were the simple words"


I wondered if he felt the best way to do that, was to buy lots of stuff made in the jewellery sweatshops of developing countries, or was the thirty cent markup on the plastic band enough?


Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Hermitage

I cling to the notion that Art cannot be owned, rather it is an intangible, merely kept in the custody of its sponsors who are charged with its protection. I like to suppose this is part of the reason that at some time or other, we all feel some personal connection to a particular piece of work, even though someone else "owns" it.

The Hermitage in St Petersburg is the custodian of a priceless collection. A collection which is so vast that it is impossible not to find a personal connection with something, somewhere in its endless corridors and ballrooms.

A day trawling through its corridors is a day in which sensory overload is unavoidable. The enormity and completeness of its collections is overwhelming and the knowledge that what is left represents a mere whiff of what once was, is difficult to comprehend. The enormity of the wealth that was required to create it, and contrast between that and the enormity and completeness of the poverty that surrounded it, and to a lesser extent still does, is even more difficult to comprehend when one is standing amid its treasures.

As the sensory fog lifted on the fine autumn day of our visit, I found myself between a van Gogh or two, and a Matisse or three, staring into the square below, and wondering seriously about the future of these pieces, and the quality of the custodianship.

Priceless treasures are there to be admired and studied, but are also exposed, to be walked over, touched, or should one be so inclined, damaged. The apparent lack of conservation controls is terrifying.

The last time a van Gogh changed hands on the open market, it was for almost one hundred million dollars, the Matisse's each would value at a third of that amount. In the West each would be the subject of a special exhibition with around the clock security. Here they hang, unattended by an open window as if they were a collection of faded calendars on a workshop door.

There are security measures throughout the building of course, had there not been, the likes of Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta Jones would have donned their leathers and whipped them away years ago, but each time I see the photo above, showing the pair of two-inch nails holding the window closed in the van Gogh gallery,

I can't help but wonder:

"Wouldn't that photo have been better if I'd taken the time to focus?"

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