Thursday, June 30, 2005

One day in India, 1998

15/9/98 AGRA Hotel Safari
We were up at 5 and on the road to the Taj Mahal at 6. We walked for half an hour through a sort of military reserve area and then through Taj Ganj to the Taj gates.
We were stalked by a few trishaws. Bree and PJ were taunting them in various ways. I thought up a new one: I just stood behind the trishaw while the driver was trying to talk to me. They are in a little enclosed shell. As he spun it around looking for me, I just jogged after him, staying right on his bumper so he couldn't see me. I ended up chasing him down the street as he fled.
It was overcast, so rather than pay 100R extra to get in for sunrise, we backtracked and had breakfast at Joney's, nice cheese parathas and great masala chai (spiced milk tea). Colourful, plastic Pepsi décor, with black velvet paintings of English cottages.
Back at the Taj a few guides approached us. We engaged a Mr. Hashmal, who cost us 250R between three. It only costs 15R to get in to the Taj Mahal, about 60 cents.
Inside the entry gate we walked 100m to a central square filled with Indian tourists, many in large groups. Mr Hashmal showed us where to stand to take all the classic photos. On our right as we came in was a huge gate, and through it was a tantalising glimpse of white. We took turns to occupy The Spot, as people in front of us obligingly ducked and people behind us grumbled good-naturedly.
We were searched on our way through the gate. PJ was carrying a carton of cigarettes for bartering, and they were seized. We waited for her, so we would all see the Taj together.
My first sight was a magical moment. It is very, very, very beautiful. We entered a large open garden from the right, with red sandstone colonnades on three sides. The Taj sat at the far end, with the Yamuna River behind it. On the left and right facing one another were two ornate identical buildings, the mosque and the guesthouse.
Mr Hashmal led us to the next Photo Spot for the famous symmetrical shot. Bree had with her a tray with cotton-wool kittens under glass, given to her as some sort of punishment by her work colleagues, and I had my Richmond Tigers sponge bag. We took a few silly photos featuring them. Indians are very fond of trick photos where people are leaning on/eating/wearing on their heads the Taj.
Most people know the story that Shah Jahan built the tomb for his beautiful wife who died. He planned to build an identical black one across the river, but his son Aurangzeb deposed him and locked him in a tower, with a tiny window to look out on the Taj.
Everywhere were crowds of Indians from all over the country. There was a large group of Communist convention delegates wearing green scarves. A group of women called Bree over to be in their photo, and she dwarfed them. A group of teenage boys asked us to be in their photos too - the girls especially seem to be a huge novelty. We got a few shots of the lads with the kittens and the sponge bag.
I met and talked to a couple with a little 2 or 3 year old boy. He was very shy and they scolded him for it. They kept picking him up and placing him back in front of me. I played pat-a-cake with him for a while. It was lovely and cool, sitting in the shade on the damp marble. It was their fourth or fifth trip to the Taj, I think they were from Ahmedabad.
We took our shoes off to go up the marble steps to the tomb. There is a large terrace around the main building, with a slightly sloping tower at each end. In case of earthquake or bombardment, the towers were supposed to fall away from the Taj. There was a welcome cool breeze up on the terrace - below in the garden it was quite hot and muggy. The foundation of the planned Black Taj can be seen on the opposite riverbank, and the red Agra Fort looms among the newer city buildings.
Up close to the walls you can see the pietra dura, inlay of semi-precious stones. The different colours came from all over the world; black marble from Belgium, red garnet from Zimbabwe, and jade from China, blue lapis from Afghanistan and yellow something from somewhere else. There are four-sided half-columns that have an Islamic chevron design that makes them look eight-sided.
The whole thing is so wonderfully designed, by Persian and Turkish architects. It is quite small inside. Mr Hashmal ruthlessly shoved Indians aside to let us see the wonders close up. There are natural draughts created by geometric pierced marble screens placed to catch the prevailing winds. The tomb, the doors and the gate in the distance line up perfectly. The glimpse of the outside world through the gate makes the profane world outside seem like another beautiful aspect of the Taj itself - I was quite affected by it. I found a quiet corner of the garden after we thanked and paid Mr Hashmal, and just enjoyed being where I was.
On our way out we saw a lawn being 'mowed' - a line of women and girls on their haunches with hand scythes, inching their way across the grass in the hot sun, and carrying the cut grass in their skirts.
Outside was an amazing ruck of trishaw touts and souvenir sellers. Everyone asks where you are from, where you're staying, what you're paying and where you are going next. One kid wanted to sell me tickets to Jaipur. I said I already had tickets, and why would I buy them from a total stranger like him? He said 'You spend some time with me, I buy you chai, you buy me chai, then we'll be friends and you buy ticket from me'. There were bright plastic cameras for sale that looked too cute to be real.
We engaged three pushbike rickshaws to take us back to the hotel. We wanted to have a race, and the drivers obligingly overtook one another so we could all take photos of each other. My driver calls the squirrels 'gillies'.
A friend of Bree's had raved about a site outside Agra called Fatehpur Sikri, an abandoned city. We found a taxi driver who agreed to take us for 350 R, guaranteed no shopping stops. Taxi and trishaw drivers seem to make a high proportion of their income from commissions. Merchants pay them to bring passengers to them, whether the passenger wants to or not, and it can be a major pain in the neck.
The taxi was comfy, and the driver was a really nice guy with nine fingers. We saw a lot of small thatched huts in the fields. We were shocked to see captive himalayan bears dancing under coercion by the road. We took a short cut that is also used by big trucks. The road had very soft edges and the trucks were heeling over at alarming angles. I shot some very jumpy super 8.
The taxi broke down in the middle of nowhere. Nine Fingers flagged down a covered jeep, and he and we got a lift to Fatehpur Sikri. He roused a few passengers out to make room for us - some were hanging on the outside and some were left standing on the road waiting for another hitch, while we looked out the back guiltily. Soon the jeep was flying along, overtaking and veering around bears. It was not at all scary since we were oblivious of each oncoming vehicle until we had already survived it.
We tumbled out at the village of Sikri. Nine Fingers pointed the way to the site. He didn't speak much English, but I think we agreed to meet in two hours. Two boys were labouring up the hill with a big market barrow called an 'Indian trolley'. PJ and I thought they were slacking, so we showed them how to do it, sprinting to the top with it and leaving them and Bree behind.
Fatehpur Sikri was really impressive at first sight. Guides came out of the woodwork and the girls engaged one while I was staring open-mouthed at the huge steep flight of steps that led up to the main gate. [Banana lassi has just arrived.] He asked where we were from in Australia. When Bree said Sydney, he said 'SCG - very good for Allan Border'.
We foolishly went off and wasted one hour on a fairly nasty lunch in a flyblown dhaba (truckstop). I had a mughlai paratha, thinking that for 40R it must be delicious (they are normally 12R - 20R. It was just a big fried crispy mess with no filling, very bad value. Yuk.
Fatehpur was a city built to commemorate a Mogul war victory. Sikri was a town of Rajput warriors on a hill. Our guide Ataullha had a great gesture to say 'fighting' - clenched fists pulling apart and banging together. 'Fateh' means victory. Another story says that the king Akbar came here to ask the local saint Chishti for a son. When a son was duly born, he built a city here in thanks and installed Chishti in a beautiful mosque. It was all abandoned after only sixty years. Ataullha says Chishti told Akbar that a holy man and a fighting man (the gesture here) could not live together, so the king would have to get out of town. Our guidebook says the water supply was unreliable. Whatever.
We wandered around the outside, the walls of beautiful red local stone. This is where the stone for the Red Fort in Delhi was quarried. There were a lot of smaller less important buildings going back to the jungle, their walls crumbling and the stone blocks disappearing for houses and cow pens in the villages around.
Then we entered through a side gate and found ourselves in an enormous open square. I had to wear a little sarong arrangement to cover my knees, as we would be going into a mosque. I was in a bad mood because my camera had mis-loaded so I was out of film. Ataullha said 'I am unhappy because I don't think you are happy today'. We saw the saint's tomb, which was opposite the main gate. We stepped over many tombstones of other holy men. Ataullha led us into the mosque, where prayers were just finishing. The crowd were all men and boys. As they filed out a couple of the boys practiced their bowling actions. I did one too and they grinned. One man had blue eyes - very odd.
The view from the main gate was (again) breathtaking. This hill dominated a vast flat plain, you could see for miles. I was soaking it up as much as I could, on account of having no camera, while a youth tried to sell me a sandalwood chess set. He understood and spoke English quite well, so when I said it was the ugliest chess set I'd ever seen and if he didn't beat it I'd push him down that flight of steps I mentioned earlier, he got the message.
Ataullha took us out behind the mosque through the modern village built literally against the wall of the old city. He was after a commission by taking us to a souvenir shop, but we were running late so we just marched back out again. The blue eyed man was running the shop. On the way we saw the grave of a prince, with a tiny grave next to it of his beloved parrot. An old man in the village had a grey beard fringed with red henna. Mr Hashmal had told us that henna in the hair kept the head cool, but it seemed to be largely a cosmetic thing.
Nine Fingers and his brother were waiting for us at the bottom of the steps, in a different and very flash taxi. On the way back we stopped to buy some old bike inner tubes, which became a towrope when we got to the stricken taxi.
Unfortunately, a bear-man was there. I tried to ignore him, but we had to have the windows down or we would have suffocated. It wasn't just the bear, the guy was a maddening bastard, so I had a go at him, and if he'd had somewhere handy to tether the bear I think we would have ended up toe to toe. I was having a surly day.
We finally got going, then stopped after nightfall in a no-tourists part of Agra to drop off the first car. On the way into town there was a broken down trishaw blocking a narrow market street. We somehow squeezed both taxis through.
What I saw today from the car; tin trunk shops, boys sliding down an upturned cart, a play fight, a real fight, loads of goats, some pigs, a moped graveyard, people squatting and talking right in the middle of fields, a beautiful house painted blue and green, walls painted pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi pepsi, a female soldier, a huge railyard, a stationary train out in the country, lots of stuff.
Lots of small shops; goods are piled in front, then the shallow shop, then a long yard behind. Water is everywhere and people shitting in it. Barbers, electrical repair shops, lots of STD/ISD phone shops, baby clothes. The barbers have a picture of sixteen standard haircuts on the wall to choose from.
I am drinking plenty of chai as advised by Arian. Joney's masala chai is my favourite so far. I have spent 20R on clothes-washing soap, 150R on Relaxo thongs that don't fit, a little on drinks and food, and the rest through the kitty on meals, travel and accommodation. I have 800 rupees left from the $US50 I changed at the airport.
Geckos on the walls, squirrels on the ground.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Don Scott

1970s Hawthorn ruckman Don Scott is "a smelly bottom" according to Marcus. There is a picture of him on the back of a big football book that actually was a gift to Elf from her mum. The Fullagar family have a talent for quirky gifts. Have I mentioned the oxo cube wrapped in tinfoil? Best not.

Anyway. The back cover is a montage of old footy cards and so on, and this one has a caricature of big Don with his blousy long hair and big lips - he famously turned up to a tribunal hearing one evening carrying a manbag. And Marcus has taken one look at this outlandish caricature of this outlandish man and nailed him for what he always was. A smelly bottom. Perhaps the brown and yellow Hawthorn guernsey is to blame.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005


Its mild today, I just walked to work in shorts. Yesterday the frost was inches thick on the shady sides of streets.

Tumbledryer psychology: I find that I set the timer dial according to how badly I want the items dry, rather than how long it will realistically take. Eg - pair of socks/running late for work = set timer to 80 minutes.

A friend of a friend won $500,000 on Millionaire last night. Its the first time I've watched it in ages. I knew Yemen, I knew Jaques-Louis David, but I didnt know lugubrious. I might have come away with a few grand though.

Idea for a cartoon - friend says to upper classy looking wife, "How is George going with retirement?" Wife - "Oh, you know, he sits on a few boards and so on". (Friend can't see George in the shed reading newspaper and sitting on a few boards).

Monday, June 27, 2005


I have a very strange old piece of furniture. It has had a long happy life in an office at some time. It is a kind of hutch, with a few little square pigeonholes and large open area supported by turned wooden pillars like miniature chair legs. There once were six but by the time I bought it second hand, one of the central ones was missing. Marcus was looking at it the other day and he said "This is like a piano. There's three, then there's two". I thought it was an excellent observation - the remaining pillars look like the pattern of the black keys on a piano.

Michael is dancing beautifully now. A bit of foot stamping, some spinning and gyrating - he's quite a mover.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

White water

I walked to work this morning. It's stopped raining after about five days - so not quite biblical proportions. We really needed it too. The little rivulet actually had white water rapids this morning.

I went to Jeff Blake's solo show Cancelled by Popular Demand last night. I was very impressed and urge everyone to get along. I think I'll go again on Sunday with Elf. The saga about Bob de Niro falling in love with a zebra and being mauled by lions was superb.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

A rare picture of our lads

Are they plotting world domination? Probably.


Marcus had a bad dream last night. "We were flying to Japanese on a plane, and a bad man took our white bag so we missed our plane. Then another plane to Japanese came and we were going to go but a lot of people came and took our other bags".

Michael is saying "I running!" "I spinning!" etc as he does them. He can point to or waggle his; ears, nose, eyes, hair, fingers, hands, feet and head. He calls Marcus "Marcoose" and he calls Giz "Giz". He said "daddy" when I picked him up from Allisons on Monday - the first time he hasnt come running to me yelling "Mummy!"

It was the boys last day at "school" yesterday. A little traumatic but only for me. I was surprised no-one in the office had told the ladies who actually care for the boys. I told them and they were disappointed but understood it was unavoidable. Elf's new job starts next week and the boys will start at "New School" then too.

Monday, June 20, 2005


We went to the beach on Saturday. Sounds mad doesnt it? It wasnt all that cold, probably about 12°, and no wind. We were visiting the Cruikshanks out at South Arm, and all the kids were a little bit stir crazy so we went for a walk. Its a lovely little beach, just down the lane and across the highway and down another lane from their front gate. The kids all dropped daks and skipped about in the water, mad little loons.

Marcus was right about Tingletree. It was the worst school in Australia. We have found somewehere else though, quite close to Elf's new job and quite close to mine too. The boys will have a visit there on Thursday with Elf and then start there the following Thursday and Friday.

I took the boys to the boat park yesterday, and my old soccer team were playing on the ground adjacent. I reckon I could still hold down a place in defence - they looked pretty pedestrian. I got out our soccer ball and both boys booted it about quite enthusiastically. I really enjoy taking them to wide open spaces because they so obviously love it.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Harsh judgement

Elf is changing jobs. Well, her old job was a maternity leave position, so we knew it would end around now. Her old job was Monday - Wednesday, but the new job is Wednesday - Friday. This means we have to find new childcare places for the boys as the current place is booked out and can't just swap days. They are both enjoying what Marcus calls "school" so its a shame.

Elf is taking Marcus and Michael today to see "Tingletree" which is a daycare place in New Town. I mentioned it to Marcus (who has never heard of it before) that we were hoping it would be a good "school". He said, "It's a bad school. Its the baddest school in Australia!"

So - we'll see. I hope its like when he won't come to the table, and says he hates dinner because its yucky, then when he eats a bit he wolfs it all down and asks for more.


There are a few hardy leaves still clinging to trees. The sun is very low now, and this morning as I walked to work it was making the usually dark leaves a translucent red-brown. It looked beautiful against the blue sky.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Go taxonomists, go

The scientific name of the lowland gorilla is gorilla gorilla .
Don't confuse this with the western lowland gorilla, which of course is gorilla gorilla gorilla. They get extremely pissed off if you mix them up with one another.


Marcus: "Mum - Hattie scratched me!"
Elf: "Were you playing biffo with her?"
Marcus:" Yes, I was playing biffo with her, and she was playing scratcho with me".

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Rees scores!

Marcus and I kicked a soccer ball around on the big soccer ground yesterday. We kicked a few goals, but Marcus got the idea in his head that to really be a goal the ball had to end up tangled at the bottom of the rusty chain-link fence. Unfortunately this ruled out one or two of my spectacular half-volleys from the edge of the penalty area.

Marcus dribbled a few through but he got the hang of running up to a dead ball to get more oomph, and then scored a beauty from outside the 6-yard box. Rees scores - Rees United are one up!

Another game Marcus devised required me to stand still on one side of the ground while he dribbled towards me from so far away that he was a mere speck in the distance. When he finally reached me I was bawled out (in oddly familiar phrases) for standing in the wrong place. "Next time listen to what I tell you!".

Quotable quotes from the weekend

"So, we have seen two planes today - one jet plane, and one prr, er, pell, er.. one other sort of plane." - Marcus
"Fire!" - Michael
"3 plus 3 plus 3 is nine!" - Marcus
"Water!" - Michael
"Have you got any... kings?" - Marcus, who has taken to playing cards
"No - MINE!" - Michael

Happy birthday Betty

Queen's Birthday long weekend. Usually long weekends are pretty hard work, but I felt like we got through this one pretty well. I have such a cushy job in such a convivial atmosphere that it is very hard to think of even ordinary weekends as "rest" anyway.

We went to Bonorong Park on Sunday to pat and feed kangaroos and wallabies. Marcus got to pat one of the koalas too. We go out there at least once a year, this was the first time both boys have been ambling around. Marcus took Michael's hand and led him down towards the first mob of wallabies - then left him and ran up to the first one, squatted down and said "Good morning". I thought that was hilarious.

We had a lot of roo poo on shoe and stroller wheels by the time we left, and I'm sorry to say (from a public health standpoint) that we tracked a lot of it into the Royal Hobart where we went to meet Nick and Anna's new baby Katherine Rose. Everything went well with the labour and she is bonny, sleeping and feeding well. Anna is tired but, one must say, radiant.

Friday, June 10, 2005


I've been re-reading Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything. Everyone should read it.

Did you know if you sat Pluto on top of the USA it would only cover about half? Its tiny. Its smaller than our moon. I thought Pluto was the edge of the solar system, but there is actually stuff orbiting our sun that is fifty thousand times further away than Pluto.

I thought that the diagram of the solar system in the front of my Jacaranda atlas was to scale. I have always pictured it being this way when I read about space stuff. In fact, if Jupiter was the size of a pea, Pluto would be about 2km away and it would be the size of a bacterium. I would quite like to make a proper scale model. But if the biggest planet was a pea and the whole shebang was 4 or 5km long there would have to be some big arrows pointing out the planets.

I'll get back to you on the scale model.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

September 11 explained

I was talking with Marcus about an old postcard from New York, and somehow we got onto the World Trade Centre being "knocked down by a plane". Actually it was my fault for saying they "used to be" the biggest towers in the world. Why did they get knocked down by a plane? "It was a big mistake" I lied.

Then a day later - were there people in the buildings? Were they at the top or the bottom? I told him lots of people were in there. They are dead now, they're gone for good. [We are trying to teach him not to lightly bandy around the words "kill" and "die" by teaching him that it is permanent and very serious].

"That's a little bit sad" he said. Probably empathising with the building - he hates it when the towers he builds get knocked down.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Freezing fog

Fog. Frost. Freezing fogs and frosts. Fog was rolling down the valley past our place this morning. It seems to mimic the water - all the tributaries meeting at the main flow. The rivulet flows down into the Derwent River, and our little stream of fog follows along above it and joins the massive bank of fog going down the Derwent. The river fog here is called Bridgewater Jerry for some reason lost in time.

Question - does the fog come up from the water? Or does the fog originate in some mystical way at the same source as the water and just follow it? Water follows contours, and so does fog, but fog has a bit of extra gaseous freedom that lets it waft around with the wind.

So, in closing: fog eh?

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Turkish body language

Turks indicate yes [evet] by nodding forward and down. To say no [hayır] nod your head up and back, lifting your eyebrows at the same time. or just raise your eyebrows - that's no too. - Lonely Planet Guide to Turkey

I hope this is helpful to anyone in Turkey, going to Turkey or just surrounded by Turks who are constantly asking them questions.

About Giants - by Marcus

Giants can be fat tall, tall tall or medium tall. Giants are kind. There are people giants, car giants, house giants, truck giants and bus giants. Yes, people giants live in house giants. Giants can do helicopters and aeroplanes too. You are tall Dad, but you aren't a giant.

Monday, June 06, 2005


We took the boys to a birthday party at Kingston McDonalds yesterday. One of the kids was named Zeno (mum and dad found the name in a book). Books have a lot to answer for. I relived my extreme skydiving bungy-jumping days by going in to help Marcus find the way out of Hamburglar's climbing gym/maze/slide. You have to be able to walk under Hamburglar's finger to be admitted, BUT the fine print says that kids 3 and under have to be accompained by an adult. Shoes must be taken off, and I noticed all the little slots in the shoe-tidy fitted probably size 6 shoes maximum. I don't think many mums and dads actually get in there, and I don't blame them. I am no gymnast, I am 6ft and nearly 100kg, and the downward double corkscrew at the end nearly did me in. They would have had to cut me out with an oxytorch. Lucky I had only eaten a filet-o-fish.

Michael has been saying things like "hand" and "finger" and Marcus is very keen to visit Central Park, New York - heavily influenced by the Wiggles mentioning that there are squirrels.

Friday, June 03, 2005


Sorry - exhaustion starting to set in. Not a lot of brain power available for blogging. Will make notes this weekend for big blog week next week.

Here is a recent pic of the boys working out on the whiteboard. The world map in the background makes it look like they are planning world domination - and maybe they are.