Legends from our own lunchtimes

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Been anywhere lately?

As someone who’s had the good fortune to travel extensively under the guise of “work” it seems really strange to contemplate the fact that in our minds we haven’t actually been anywhere for almost a year.

As you read this, we’ll be in Sydney, which qualifies as being somewhere no doubt, but when I was there last week for a day's business, it didn’t, for reasons which don’t seem entirely obvious although I think I’m starting to get a feel for it.

Not going somewhere involves leaving home about one and a half hours before the flight is due to depart, having spent five or ten minutes packing the requisites for the day, driving the hour and a bit it takes to get to the airport, and casually arriving at the departure gate to join the last of the boarding passengers.

There’s no luggage to check in or out when one isn’t going anywhere, just a train to catch or a hire car to pick up, and appointments to be kept, and a process to be repeated in reverse at the end of a very long day.

Strangely, when we’re going somewhere, there are no appointments, so it doesn’t matter if we’re a bit late. Why then are “we” packed at least twenty four hours before departure, with things laid out on the dining table so we won’t forget them?

Why have we double checked the booking, and why are we going to leave at least two hours before the flight just in case. In case of what? The days are also long, but they never seem to be as tiring.

Last week, when I was in Sydney for the day on business there was no excitement, it was simply time travel.

This week with no business agenda, well there is a bit of excitement at the very least from one corner of the room, because it’s travelling time, and there’s the difference!


Monday, July 28, 2008


It's not as though the mother of our children was particularly harsh or hard to get along with, but it has to be said that there was a time when they were (occasionally) trying.

I suppose they were being teenagers really, or at least the eldest two of them were, and while the younger was lagging somewhat in the aging stakes, she was equally happy to oblige when it came to providing the occasional discordant note.

I arrived home late one night. Perhaps it wasn't late in the sense that it was later than usual, but it was late enough for the sun to have set some time ago, leaving the footpath in sufficient darkness that had it not been painted just exactly the right shade of white to reflect the first of the moon's rays I almost certainly would have tripped over the dishwasher.

After further thought, since the thing was glowing a dull yellow sort of colour that would be a pretty fair indication that it was a street light reflecting in it rather than the moon, but I didn't take too much notice at the time, being a little curious as to how a dishwasher had taken it upon itself to fall asleep on our nature strip.

The mystery became somewhat more perplexing as I entered the house, and couldn't help but notice that apart from a hole in the kitchen joinery which appeared to be exactly the shape and size of the appliance I had just met, the place was in a near deathly silence.

I'm not sure if it was the silence, my open mouth, or my countenance which to be fair was probably reflecting an entirely more confused self than the one which usually accompanied my arrival home from another challenging day in the office, but whatever the case, my arrival was greeted not with a welcoming hug, but with a sort of barked proclamation:

"I've told them that if they didn't stack the dishwasher when I asked them, I'd get rid of it, and they could wash and dry up every meal," the voice said, in a tone and a volume that lead me to believe that either my beloved had reason to think I'd lost part, or perhaps all of my hearing during the day, or alternatively she may have been a tad unhappy about something.

Relieved that it was nothing I'd done, and anxious to ensure that it didn't become something I'd done, I expressed my wholehearted support for this splendid strategy, and set about ensuring that since it wasn't me that didn't stack the dishwasher, it shouldn't be me that washes up!

To be fair to all parties, following the events of this particular evening, the miscreants did indeed wash and dry for the next few years, until it was deemed that sufficient time had passed that perhaps dishwasher stacking could be looked forward to as a labour saving novelty.

When in due course a replacement machine was installed, it was treated with a new respect to which it soon became accustomed.

Ever since that day, to their eternal credit, while ever the young ladies in question were living with that particular machine, it was indeed regularly stacked and unstacked with something almost approaching enthusiasm, at least apparently, lest it should once more be subjected to eviction.

The question of whether the habits developed at that time remained with them beyond the bounds of that particular kitchen is a subject perhaps best left for a future post, although it is suffice to say that at the time of writing, as none of them currently own a dishwasher, the question is probably moot.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Good Old Days

Often when one hears about the good old days, it’s hand in hand with phrases like “they don’t build things like they used to”, and accompanied by knowing nods from all directions.

Well of course they don’t. Technology has improved, tools have improved, and we’ve all learned that there are better things to do in life than dust around intricate carving or cornices carved to look like some ancient Egyptian flower.

Nothing sparks a more irrational misty-eyed dose of hankering for the good old days than a visit to a lovely old house built in the vernacular style of Queensland around the turn of the twentieth century. For reasons unfathomable, these brilliantly portable structures constructed almost entirely of single thickness tongue and grooved boarding have reached dizzying heights on the scale of romantic desire and almost equal heights in crediting tradesmen with the skills of artisans, that they really by and large did not possess.

While legend has it that they are superbly suited for our sub tropical climate, the reality of life within is that they aren’t at all insulated, have poor cross ventilation, and seem to produce dust through every crack in every board.

I would hate anyone to get the impression that I don’t like them, I do, but I also have a far more pragmatic approach to assessing what is and what is not a desirable feature in a house!

What they do represent superbly is a skillful and efficient use of structural materials which was particularly innovative at the time that could not be emulated in today’s legislation ridden world. Built entirely of lightweight materials that could be easily transported, they were the epitome of transportable building. So adaptable are they to this that more than a hundred years later it’s not uncommon to see them cut in half and carried by truck and trailer to a new location, sometimes many hundreds of kilometres from their original siting. They were however, built to a simple formula, requiring little in the way of specialised skills apart from rudimentary carpentry.

While some were comprised entirely of tongue and grooved boarding, others like the one our friends Chris and Kaz have, had ceilings of pressed zinc in ornate patterns which emulated the fancy plasterwork in houses built in a more substantial style. These mass produced panels heighten the illusion that a “master craftsman” had been present all those years ago.

Of course in those days, ceilings were a long way above the floor and the lighting wasn’t particularly adequate, rending it quite difficult to make other than a quite arbitary assessment of the real level of craftsmanship, which is how the ceiling bloke got away with it in our friends Chris and Kaz’s house for so long.

In the pressed panel ceiling model, typically a decorative cornice and frieze, also constructed of pressed zinc would be used to join the ceiling and wall in a visually suitable manner. To ensure the illusion of plasterwork is complete, a decorative cover strip is usually employed on the corner mitre with the odd flower and leaf arrangement designed to distract the eye from any crack in the join.

In the living room in question, there was clearly an error made in two of the mitres, leaving a larger gap than that which could be accommodated by the standard fitting.

The builder, obviously tired of the job, and wanting to get home and onto the next job found a novel way of overcoming the problem.

Clicking on the photo above will render a larger copy of it, in which the plain corner mould can be clearly seen. With no decoration, no flowers, no vines, it looks like something that doesn’t quite belong.

And then the form begins to look vaguely familiar and it dawns. The master craftsman has decided that the simplest way of overcoming the problem is to manufacture a wider strip, but the only material he had to had was the inner soles from his boots.

A few tacks later and a quick coat of paint, and no one will find it for a hundred years! Try doing that with your triple gel, anti shock, no smell, g-force orthotic liner from one of your joggers.

The really don't make things like they used to!

Monday, July 21, 2008

I had a bit of a travel day last week.

To be more accurate, I left home well before dawn one day and arrived home at a few minutes past the next morning.

It’s a really weird thing, travelling for twenty hours and arriving back where you started without actually seeing daylight at home, sort of as though the day never happened. It’s very much the way I imagine time travel would feel. Everything is just a little older when you arrive back, but nothing’s been moved.

In terms of meals it never did happen. Sometimes between airports, trains, meetings, buses, hire cars, more meetings, the sun going down, still more meetings and a frenetic two hour drive back to the airport to catch the plane to a place which is a gentle ninety minute drive from home, it just isn’t possible to find any time or place for food.

Which is why it’s nice to travel home on Qantas, where “refreshments” are included in the fare.

I saved thirty dollars by flying out on one of those airlines where everything is an extra cost.

“Coffee sir? That’ll be two dollars please.”
“Did sir want a cup with that? That’ll be three dollars please.”

I have no idea why I have an aversion to paying five dollars for a cup of instant coffee that would have been warmer if it had been left in the sun for an hour or two, but I do. I have an even bigger aversion to paying for a piece of leftover yesterday’s sandwich too, but that might just be a hangover from when I last flew from London to France on Ryan air, when a cheese and pickle sandwich which looked as though it had been stolen from an ancient history museum, cost about the same as renting a flat at the beach for a month.

The bloke sitting beside me must have had a similar aversion. He bought a can of Coke and a Mars bar for breakfast. “That’ll be seventeen dollars please.”

If we were to then fast forward through time to a point that was least a dozen or so hours after I had last eaten, I could be found sitting on a flight home this time with “refreshments” being served.

Dinner at last. I can't say that I was expecting the world, after all the service was described as a "snack" by the ever attendant attendant, who duly handed me a slick curvy green box which would not have looked out of place on the shelves of a Body Shop outlet, except that instead of containing some sort of secret lotion, on it were written the words:

Sea Salt Lavosh
Pesto Dip
Sugar and Spice Biscuit

I had no idea what a Lavosh actually is and it’s a testament to the educational benefits of travel that I can now report that Lavosh is three crackers sealed in a small cellophane bag.

Having had my mind suitably broadened, and being reasonably familiar with the term “Pesto Dip”, I began to wonder what a “Sugar and Spice Biscuit” might be.

Sugar & Spice Biscuit
Wheat flour butter sugar (22%) oats egg spices (1%)

It was late and I was tired and hungry, but no matter how many times, nor how many ways I added up the ingredients they always totalled 23%.

Twenty three percent.

I have no idea how the physics of that works, although I'd like to learn more. Imagine the power one would wield if one was able to say, fill one's fuel tank using just 23% , or if one could use the same technique at a Weight Watchers weigh-in.

All I know is, that when I did the mathematics later (and please don't ask me why I did, but I did), the cost of the airfare home, was an amazing 23% exactly, more than the one that didn't have the food service.

I don't think I'll ever know what to make of any of that, but I don't think I'll ever read a label again either.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


If there were only mothers in the world, children wouldn't be allowed to fall.

Our kids learned to climb on monkey bars, to slide down slippery slides, and even to ride bicycles down hills in spite of the constant watching and urging to "be careful".

It was all so tedious and unadventurous really, but I really didn't understand the depth to which this genetic predisposition to the long term protection of our species ran, until the first week of our first absolutely without child holiday.

All of ours had grown beyond the point of needing intensive care, apart from the odd "are you keeping warm enough" over the telephone, it seemed they were finally well and truly in command of their own respective parts of the world.

There we were, reaping our reward, on a nice quiet piece of river with a tree-lined grassy bank sloping into a sandy beach.

We set up our chairs in the shade and had barely begun to settle into a quiet afternoon of reading, when it was brought to my attention that the small children nearby, were playing too close to the water, or were climbing too high in the tree, or perhaps the little one will get knocked over by the big boy with the ball.

"Shouldn't we stop that girl from getting her dress wet?"


"Ooh I think that branch is going to break."


"What if someone gets hurt?"

"It's parent will take it to the hospital or the morgue."

Instead of celebrating the potential of the earth's population stabilising for a short while, she seemed to be fighting to retain a gene pool that was already bent on destroying itself. We had to leave.

I was reminded of that episode earlier this week, when we took the grandboy on an excursion to a playground near his place.

He was locked in to a swing. She was gently rocking it backwards and forwards as if it contained some precious cargo.

Not being yet of an age where sentence construction is high on his list of importance, falling somewhere well below food, drink, sleep and cuddle, for a time he rocked patiently, looking pleadingly at her and gently repeating himself:

"two. two. two"

Becoming frustrated, the softness left his voice:


Still she rocked, perhaps hoping to lull him into a deep slumber, unable to decipher what it was that so occupied the mathematical part of his brain.

It took the grandfather to translate.

Gently lifting the swing to about waste height, he whispered;


As the swing raised to chest height, together they called "TWOOO"

With a push and a laugh, the swing flew half way to the moon;


She couldn't watch.


Monday, July 14, 2008

I don't like Cricket, I love it!


I found a picture of the famous Gabba cricket ground Scoreboard the other day, which probably wouldn’t be remarkable for anyone who was a collector of pictures of cricket scoreboards, which I’m not, and so I thought it's existence bore more investigation.

In 1958, we lived on Thursday Island, which in those days equated in technological and accessibility terms to being about as far away from Woolloongabba then as the moon is today, so it didn’t take much effort to deduce that my father didn’t actually take the shot.

It did take a bit of deduction though, to confirm that the score shown is actually on the second day of the first test in 1958, England vs Australia when Australia were defending the “Ashes” once again.

Either that, or it was taken by my father in 1960 when we returned to Brisbane and the scoreboard time had stood still for a few years, an admittedly unlikely probability.

So I dug around a bit.

My father was a bit of a cricket aficionado, and so it turns out was his father, who perhaps fortuitously passed away before he could be disappointed in the absolute lack of cricketing prowess in any of his son’s progeny.

Grandpa, as far as we can recall didn’t own a camera, but it appears he did ask someone at the grounds to take this picture so he could post it to his son, who was living as has already been described in the farthest flung reach of the country, at a place where even radio reception was too sporadic to hear every ball bowled.

What moved him to do this one might wonder? Surely by the time the photo had been developed and parcelled and sent, the results of the match would long have been relegated to history, even on TI.

This was what we'd call a gee-up. He was quietly if not subtly telling the his son that he could have been there too if he hadn't been living a few thousand miles away in the middle of nowhere, and although I know he'd have preferred they'd been together, he was making the most of the moment.

Then I remembered this post from last year, and I broke out in a cold sweat.

It would appear that I have been born with a genetic disposition to torture and torment distant sons(in law) who can’t make it to the grounds for major cricketing events. It’s not my fault, it’s in my genes!

Grandpa would doubtless have chuckled as much at my post as he almost certainly did the day he slipped the scoreboard slide into it’s envelope.

It’s all very liberating really. It’s as though I’ve had permission to keep up the good work!

There's a cricket season just around the corner. I think I shall.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Living Fossil

At the edge of the town in Bundaberg there’s a relatively recent development on the river, with a pleasant cafe providing exraordinarily equally unpleasant fare. How anyone can get a toasted ham and cheese sandwich wrong is beyond my comprehension, but in retrospect the experience was worth it just to make me grateful for all the people in the world who can toast a ham and cheese sandwich with reasonable proficiency.

Surrounding the cafe is what the urban planners among us would call public open space, which actually comprises a carpark, a steep riverbank and a public loo, all pleasantly disguised behind landscaping and timber ramps, which are so prolific that one can no longer see through them to the boats moored on the river, which was the reason for putting the park and the cafe there in the first place.

Right at the entrance to the cafe though, there’s a bit of sculpture, “public art” the urban planners would call it, in the shape of good old Neoceratodus forsteri, the Queensland Lung Fish. It’s a monster lump of steel with a few bits of old outboard motor attached and at first glance I thought it was another of those witty pieces constructed entirely of pieces of old machinery popularised if not made famous by Mark Trotter, and I’d almost begun a yawn, when I realised it wasn’t. I’m not sure whether it’s a clever piece or not, or whether the exposed ribs and parts of the carcass were meant to be evocative of the danger in which the species now finds itself, but it started me thinking, which probably means as a piece of art it succeeded in any case.

I don’t even know if there was a plaque there to explain it either, I didn’t look, because by the time I would have in normal circumstances gone looking for it I was too immersed in my own thoughts of things near extinction and my fondness of the lung fish exhibit at the Queensland Museum when I was fifty years younger than I am at present. The museum was in that Baroque brick building near the exhibition grounds in those days, and to a small boy it always seemed as though it was a thousand years old even then. The interior was verging on shoddy really, and the displays in my mind at least were something reminiscent of museums from a far earlier time.

We’d arrive and crawl over the WW1 German tank “Mephisto” on the way in, then run straight past the rusty steel water tank that Eliza Fraser paddled in to safety across Tin Can Bay, to the impossibly small glass fishtanks so encrusted with algae that we could barely see through the murky water, and watch what we could see of the poor old “living fossil” meander up and down or mostly not meander at all. I have no idea what it was that fascinated us so, but I think it was that it was a genuinely rare and endangered species, and this specimen was even more endangered than his siblings, given that there was going to be at best limited opportunity for him to return to the place of his birth, let alone find a girlfriend in that small single fish sized tank.

Perhaps it was the thought that at every visit I could have been the last person on earth to see it alive. In the fities, extinction was what had happened to dinosaurs and this was a "living fossil" after all.

Everything else seemed to be in boundless supply.

The poor old lung fish in its own habitat, returns to the same spot each year to breed, and if the spot’s disappeared as a result of drought, or because a dam has suddenly appeared, or if the food supply isn’t up to scratch it simply won’t do the necessary business. Given that it only appears in the Burnett and Mary river systems, which are under reasonably intense water harvesting development, apparently there’s very little business being done at all these days, although some of their number have been relocated into other systems in an attempt to conserve one or two for future museum tanks.

The human population doesn’t seem to suffer from the same geographic fussiness for reproduction of the species as the lung fish, but if it did, I suspect that Bundaberg may well be a very tiny hamlet after just one generation. The town is nice enough of course, but the ham, cheese and tomato sandwiches would be enough to stop anything breeding.


Monday, July 07, 2008

Black and Gold

Black and Gold

Ice cream, like many things comes in many quantities, prices and qualities and I think it would be fair to say that the father of the household has never been too discriminating when it comes to that particular product. If it's cold and sweet, it will be consumed. Whether my lack of discrimination comes from growing up at a time when it was a very rare and very special treat, or whether I just don't have any discrimination, I don't know.

While I really appreciate the better quality, and would crawl over cut glass for a cone with a scoop of the really good stuff on it, when there are budgets to be met, as a foodstuff it is well into the optional zone, the cheap icy variety with solids of mysterious origin will do thanks very much. The fact that it can be had by the litre at a quarter of the price of one scoop from the specialty shops cannot be overlooked.

One special night a long while ago, we decided that ice-cream would make an ideal finale to a rather pleasant dinner, and feeling particularly flush with disposable funds at the time, the father was duly dispatched to the corner store for supplies.

Now my father was a child during the great depression, and it must be said that some of his lifetime frugality had been genetically transferred to his son. Unable to pass a bargain, I reached instinctively for the bucket labelled "Black and Gold", a generic and very ahem... economical label indeed.

Unlike their father, my children aspired to rather sophisticated heights and protested long and loud about the rather obvious lack of quality in the generic brand, which to be fair did seem to comprise little more than frozen water with a white tone to it. So perturbed where they, that they chose not to partake of any more of the miscreant material, leaving the best part of four litres to be devoured by their father over the next six months or perhaps eight.

The casual reader may think that six months is a long time to take to consume four litres of ice-cream, no matter how unpalatable that may be, and no matter that it was the task of one solitary person, and to a great extent they’d be correct.

In this case it was time we felt, for the kids to learn a lesson about the importance of being discriminating, or at least determining what is and what is not important enough to discriminate against. When a treat is offered, we felt they should learn to accept it with grace, and that perhaps there is a social price to be paid for creating a fuss where it’s not able to be politely justified.

Each evening for many months we'd offer them a dessert based on ice-cream.

They'd refuse, happily watching me eat a serve with fruit, with topping, with apple pie, or just by itself, content in the knowledge that it would run out soon, and their boycott would be over, but in the meantime they’d continue their protest.

Not once in that whole time did they question how long that one rotten el-cheapo bucket was lasting. If they had, they may have discovered the awful truth.

Each week or so, I’d buy a small tub of the good stuff which was easily affordable as only one of us was consuming it. With the arrival of each new tub we’d discretely empty the contents into the miscreant Black and Gold container, perhaps forgetting to spread the news of an improvement in the quality that may have resulted.

Eventually we owned up, to a family which I may add after twenty years still has its collective noses out of joint, and which still has randomly discriminating taste.

I thought they’d at least try things now before turning up their noses, but no, just this past weekend, after coaxing one of it’s members to try a new foodstuff, I was reminded in no uncertain terms how untrustworthy I am, and all because of “that ice-cream that tasted like dirt”.


Thursday, July 03, 2008

When Good Birdseed Goes Bad

There was a time when the sparrows would fly through our house as though it was theirs. They'd eat crumbs from our coffee table and generally treat us with the contempt which undoubtedly we deserved.

We had a friend who maintained a large city hotel, who offered us a bag of a special sort of birdseed, which would, he promised with a wink which clearly wasn't observed by the female among us, disorient them, and they would never find their way back.

And it did, and they didn't.

Time went by, as it always does, and we found ourselves in the company of a young friend's budgie while she was away for a few weeks. Now it has been previously been observed, that we don't do budgies all that well, so it was incredibly brave of our young friend to leave said bird in our charge.

All went well for a time, until one coffee time, when a few ladies were assembled on our back verandah, and I was summoned from my office to see what I could do with what was very certainly a soon to be deceased family pet.

As the poor thing lay writhing, taking no comfort from the hands of one of our guests who was tenderly nursing it as it breathed it's last, I calmly turned on the stereo.

I wondered at the open bag of "special" seed near the cage. Was this, I wondered half aloud with shoulders dropped, the special seed which disorients sparrows?

Alas, my investigations proved it was the very same.

Incredibly, having missed the wink in that earlier conversation, and also having forgotten to replenish the dwindling stock of birdseed, one of us had used the special seed to provide sustenance to the poor thing.

Figuring I suppose, that a budgie cage is so small, a little diminuition of the homing senses could only be a good thing. Sort of like Alzheimer's for birds I guess. Surely if a bird forgot where it was in a small cage, it would be like living in a large cage.

Wouldn't it?

Well I suppose so, except that the “disorientation” dispensed by this seed was somewhat more significant than that contemplated by the keeper of the flock. Even when confronted with the evidential budgie in distinctly corpse-like repose, she refused to accept it as anything but mere coincidence.

A few days later, in an effort to prove me wrong, she sought counsel from the owner of the wink.

Without a word, the seed mysteriously disappeared, and rest assured dear reader, we haven’t come across another disoriented budgie to this day.

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