Friday, February 26, 2010

More real estate comedy

Those wags at Roberts Real Estate - will they stop at nothing to make us laugh?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Sockburn Worm

Unless you are familiar with the folklore of Northumbria, you perhaps have not heard of the Sockburn Worm, "a ferocious wyvern that laid waste to the village of Sockburn in Durham."
A wyvern, recently.

Some winnable wars

Many wise pundits have pointed out that a War on Terror is impossible to finish. When can we actually stand down the troops? Is Terror going to surrender? Etc. All good points.

Here is my list of winnable wars we could consider as an alternative. While most of these targets are not evil, certainly not in the al-Qaeda class, I think the benefits to the morale of the western world of a short, sharp, successful blitzkrieg, outweigh the [very few] negatives.
  • War on Terrines
  • War on Terriers
  • War on Terry Towelling (followed by the War on Terylene, together known as the Fabric Conflicts)
  • War on Terri Irwin
  • War on Terracotta Statuary
  • War on Terrazzo Contractors
  • War on Terrariums
  • War on Pteradactyls
  • Waugh, Ontario

Monday, February 22, 2010

Cowboys v Dinosaurs

Yesterday was all go. The day started with Little Athletics at 8.30. While Marcus ran, threw and jumped and I measured, clapped and urged; Elf and Michael went to town to get presents.

Athletics wrapped up at 11.00, and we had an hour to reset ourselves before going up the mountain to Ferntree for a combined birthday party for Paul (30-something 43) and Harry (4) Newell. This was to be a Cowboy/Dinosaur Party - I know, cliché right? Emphasis was generally on the cowboy, with lots of haybales to sit on and some live fiddle and banjo music later in the afternoon. There were some dino tails in evidence and one girl turned up late in a full, very hot-looking dino suit.

The kids had a fantastic time. It was about 34°, and there were water bombs, sprinkler runs, sprinkler dancing, and eventually I was convinced to hold the sprinkler directed at the trampoline while a number of young people bounced on it. Michael found a small pond and spent a lot of time poking it with a stick. At one stage he asked me, quiz-style, "What is an arthropod that stings but is bigger than a wasp?" Knowing he is scorpion obsessed, I got it right, despite being stunned a little by the question. Later there was pass-the-parcel with James the fiddler providing the music.

The garden is very large and rambling. The kids took themselves off into distant parts of it and amused themselves, and the adults got to sit on haybales, drink and chat and listen to the banjo player and fiddler get to know one another through the course of "Duelling Banjos", "Molly Malone" and other standards. Very pleasant.

Scout's and Harry's grandparents John and Lynn were visiting from Victoria, and Lynn did all the cooking. The food was magnificent, and it just kept coming all afternoon. John and Lynn had a vineyard/restaurant/home at Yarra Glen that was all but destroyed in the Victorian fires 12 months ago. They have been living in inner-city Carlton since being burnt out, but next week they move back to Yarra Glen, into a tiny 8-square cottage next door to their property. Some of the vines survived and they are going to try to keep their wine label going.

We had to tear ourselves away about 4-ish to get home, into fresh clothes and head out to Moonah for the next party. Which, come to think of it, is what we did last time we visited Ferntree. This time it was a barbecue dinner and cocktail soiree for Susan's 40th. At my first try I made a terrible mud-coloured cocktail, about a pint of it. After that I let Elf give hers to me, after repeatedly making them and finding them too strong.

Another set of grown-ups, another set of kids. Marcus made a friend, and together they invented a game involving bouncing on (another) trampoline, and impaling large apples off the tree on short sharpened sticks. Fortunately this yard was smaller and rambling, and they were discovered before too much damage was done. Michael again did his own thing, and made a beautiful delicate sculpture from cane rods, an old CD and some wire. I took some photos with someone else's camera and will hopefully get them at some stage.

Again the food was lovely, piles of barbecued lamb, pork and chicken. Susan had a great time, we left her laughing her head off.

Cameron and I had a short talk about politics - both of us shaking our heads in wonder that for the first time in our lives we are considering the Liberals a palatable prospect at next month's State election. He would never be able to actually tick the box, after a lifetime of antipathy, but I'm thinking they might deserve a try. It's strange how your scorn for politicians your own age, at 40, is completely different to the scorn you felt for politicians at 20. David Bartlett is the first Facebook premier - which might go down well with the youngsters but I don't like it. He has an online poll for his Facebook friends, on how he should be conducting his campaign. Yuk.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

I continue to take over the internet

My work colleague Ben went fishing up in the lakes last weekend. He says he caught a tench - I don't know how he identified it, but for the sake of the story let's say it really was a tench. Of course, he consulted the internet for good tench recipes, and this is what he found, high up in the Google search.1

1. Says he. I have just repeated his experiment and cannot see it anywhere but I am not letting that stand in the way of a blog post.

Trenchside lifelong learning

On Tuesday the boys rode to school; Marcus on his too-small red bike and Michael on his new scooter. Marcus remembered the rules (stopping at driveways etc), and Michael followed suit fairly well. He's been very reluctant to don the helmet, after I pinched him slightly with the chin strap months ago. He can't take it off himself yet either.

The bikes were forgotten when Elf picked them up on Tuesday afternoon, so the ride home happened after school yesterday. The bike shed at 3.10pm is mayhem, a bit like a cave of bats where they are all trying to simultaneously enter and leave. Michael eagerly burrowed in and emerged with his scooter in hand, and helmet proudly on his head, backwards. This time he was pretty brave about the chinstrap, and I was extra careful.

The ride home is slightly uphill, but they both made it without whingeing, which hardly ever happens when they have to walk. Marcus is in denial but he is too big for his bike. He has another one but he is not prepared to move up. He can't straighten his legs when he pedals, and it makes going uphill difficult, and painful to watch.

At the moment the road is being dug up for a gas pipeline - the work has passed the school now and is painstakingly moving up towards our place. As we picked our way through the tools, compressors and tubes littering the footpath, one of the workers noticed our plight, and started shifting stuff out of the path of the little riders.

There was a very fat, cheaply bound book on the footpath - I guessed it was Local Bylaws and Regulations for Digging of Trenches 1973 or something. As we went by I saw that it was actually Teach Yourself Indonesian. I fondly imagined that while the rest of the crew were scoffing iced coffee from cartons, smoking and perving on pedestriennes, the nice fellow who helped us was diligently teaching himself Bahasa Indonesia.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Dale Begg-Smith - an Australian jerk

Dale Begg-Smith won gold at the last Winter Olympics for his adopted country, Australia. This time, competing in his country of birth, Canada, he came second. To a Canadian. In the pics below you can work out which one is Begg-Smith - he still has his goggles on, and is pouting like a 2-year-old.

Photos © Associated Press

Yeah sure, he's disappointed, but apart from that he's a nice person right? Well, in fact he's a millionaire promoter of malicious software responsible for up to 20 million popup ads per day

Monday, February 15, 2010

Urban paddling

I was moved to go for an early paddle on Sunday morning, so I lurched out of bed at about 7.30 and took the wave ski down to Marieville Esplanade. There is a small beach and a large yacht club. I tried the beach first and the water seemed a bit industrial. I hopped in the car to drive further down the river when I saw Ned and his mum Sharon walking the dog. Ned is in Marcus' grade at school. They just moved into an old house in the street on Saturday. Sharon told me a good place to launch, so I turned around and went back to the yacht club. There is a nice bit of shelving gravel where they launch their rowboats, so I put in there. The water was like glass. I spent about 40 minutes paddling out beyond the moored yachts, over towards Battery Point, then back towards Wrest Point. The surface had freshened up by then with occasional wakes from larger craft out in the river, but it was still very pleasant. Looking back to shore I could see that I was only about 200 meters from Coles Sandy Bay, our supermarket. One of the yachts had been recently and badly painted orange, and its name (apparently written with a fat felt pen) was Orange Drama.

View Larger Map

Once I was back on land I dried off a bit and popped in to see Sharon and Ned's new place. Ned's dad Barney is a professional demolition man. He has a decent sized business, taking down buildings and structures. And he loves it - he told Elf once that although his family hoped he would go into law, "I just love blowing things up". He was very matter-of-fact about pulling the back half of the house off and starting again. I'm impressed that they can see so clearly what they want to do. When I look at a property I can't even look beyond ugly curtains.

My first Wikipedia article!

This is Major General Cyril Clowes, commander of allied troops at the Battle of Milne Bay, New Guinea, 1942. He inflicted the first defeat of Japanese land troops in the Second World War - which is a pretty big feather in a fellow's cap, you would think. But shortly afterwards he was sacked. So - maybe this makes you keen to read my article! Except of course, that it's not my article, its belongs to everyone. Awwwwwwww.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Aggrieved at clownsome referee

We lost 2-1 at soccer last night - I think perhaps the lowest score since I've been playing indoor. We played OK generally but our shooting was poor and their goalie was talented. I like to play pretty hard, and I had a series of clashes with one particular guy on the other side.

We were one goal down with a minute to go, and my adversary had the ball. He was a bit slow getting rid of it, and I took it off him. He didn't like the way I did it, mouthed off and lashed out at me, giving away a free kick. With 5 seconds on the clock I took the kick and sprayed it. As the hooter I sounded I went to shake hands but he refused.

The referee we always have lately is a clown, and usually pretty inconsistent. The first time we had him, I enquired politely what a free kick was for. He replied "It's a bit hard to explain..." Clown. He can't work the remote-control scoreboard, so we spend the whole game wondering what the score really is.

He can apparently read minds. He has given free kicks on occasions when I have won the ball with a bit of incidental contact because "you weren't really going for the ball". He is often late on the court, arriving up to 2 minutes after the clock has started running. Last night he was late for the start and again for the 2nd half, which is just ridiculous. The timing is all automatic and there is no way to reset the clock, so that time (which we pay for) is just lost.

I was feeling generally aggrieved at the clown, the stroppy opponent who wouldn't shake, and of course losing. There's nothing you can say about bad refereeing. His decision is final, and if you've lost the match it just sounds like sour grapes anyway. But I am sick of waiting for him to come on the court, so I vented my frustration to the centre manager. I pointed out that if a player is late on court the team is penalised 2 goals. He didn't really get my point of view - I'm sure it was just another whinge to him.

I know this is not the World Cup. My team are all close to, or over 40 and at times we probably look like a sweaty unfit pack of sad dads. But - we pay to play. We are customers. There's got to be a bit of respect for the players from the referees.

A little chat

The kids have been back at school for a week. Marcus is now in Grade 3, and Michael in Grade 1. They both have new teachers and new classrooms, and seem to have settled in OK. Marcus is now upstairs - it's serious primary school up there. We've heard he'll get homework this year. We have just started getting him to sit down and do some handwriting practice each evening. He's not keen but it is really making a difference to his writing. We hope having a habit of daily desk time will help when the homework kicks in.

Michael's teacher beckoned me aside the other day to ask "what we want from this year for Michael". She's had gifted kids before and was a bit wary that we were expecting her to just smooth the way for Michael's inevitable progress into international law, or brain surgery.

We've had this little chat with teachers a few times now, so I recited the usual things,
  1. we want Michael to enjoy school, so he still has an appetite for more at the end of Grade 10.
  2. we expect him to complete the work everyone else is doing
  3. he is enormously interested in a wide range of things, so anything you throw at him with energy and passion behind it, he will probably love.
The same goes for Marcus, but his new teacher has known him for a few years and is pretty much aware of what he needs. The main difference between the boys is that Marcus excels strongly in maths, while Michael seems a bit more of an all-rounder.

Michael's teacher went on to ask what Elf and I do. When I said that I'm a graphic designer and Elf's an office manager, the teacher said "Was it a big surprise when he turned out like this?" I pointed out that no, we'd already had one gifted child so another didn't surprise us, and in fact our families are quite high achievers academically - ourselves and our parents and siblings between us could make quite a pile of degrees. Perhaps the fact that when I drop the boys off I am attired in shorts and sandals has given her some idea that I am no mental giant.

Friday, February 12, 2010

People doing stuff, in Taiwan

To quote a YouTube comment: "The thing with the mat unrolling had me on the edge of my seat for reasons I don't comprehend". I never thought I would actually watch all 6 minutes of this, but I did. I think if a new episode was on TV each night I would be a dedicated fan.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Dry Sheep Equivalent

According to Wikipedia;
Dry Sheep Equivalent (DSE) is a standard unit frequently used in Australia to compare the feed requirements of different classes of stock or to assess the carrying capacity and potential productivity of a given farm or area of grazing land.
As an Australian, I am now trying to use this unit as frequently as I can. Apparently 1 DSE equals about 7600 kilojoules, or about 3.8 Big Macs.

George Washington's Teeth

According to Wikipedia;
[Washington] had several sets of false teeth made, four of them by a dentist named John Greenwood. Contrary to popular belief, none of the sets were made from wood. The set made when he became President was carved from hippopotamus and elephant ivory, held together with gold springs. The hippo ivory was used for the plate, into which real human teeth and bits of horses' and donkeys' teeth were inserted. Dental problems left Washington in constant pain, for which he took laudanum. This distress may be apparent in many of the portraits painted while he was still in office, including the one still used on the $1 bill.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Flower car

When I had my Flower Car, back in the 20th century, I seem to have spent a lot of time driving places just to hop out and take photos of it. In the country children would wave delightedly as I passed by. In the city men would should shout "Poofter!"

I am told by others that one of the small joys of life in Hobart back then was to see large me with my usual driving frown pass by in this frankly ridiculous small car.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Boating, battling

On Sunday we went boating with Imp and Ed and the girls. It's Royal Hobart Regatta weekend, so we had our own tiny regatta by the slimy sucking mud of Castle Forbes Bay. The plan was to drive down to the Huon River at Franklin and hop in the water there, but there was nowhere for the kids to play safely when not on the water. We went a bit further south, where the river broadens out and there are a few bays. Where we ended up had a couple of little shingle beaches between the expanses of evil mud.

We launched the Tub and the wave ski and had a lovely time taking turns out on the bay. As Elf said later, thank heavens for all the little crabs, or the kids on the beach would have had nothing to do except find oysters to cut themselves on. The Huon Valley is very fetching (mud notwithstanding) and 100 metres out from shore riding a very slight swell, is a terrific position from which to appreciate it. (Note how I'm talking all nautical now, avast).

The girls (very proficient swimmers) wanted to try the wave ski on their own, so we let them have a paddle close to shore. This inspired Marcus to do the same - he handled it very well and I felt very proud of him, scooting around out there. I also took the Tub for a row on my own, which I think is a first - it handles beautifully when you're the only one in it. Well, except for a persistent swerve to port, due to a damaged starboard oar. Michael hopped in for a tour of the bay with me before we packed up.

On the way home Michael had a lot of questions about sea levels. "If the sea levels rise, then all the maps will be wrong!" He is also a bit obsessed with the dotted lines on maps, where boundaries are In Dispute Or Undefined. To Michael, these are "battles", eg India and China are "battling" in the Sinkiang region. He has predicted that with the sea level rising there will be more battles - I think he is imagining a wholesale wobbling and rearranging of all the borders and coastlines. I suppose in the long view he is right. I think Geoffrey Blainey said "no political boundary can ever be permanent".

Meanwhile Marcus is demanding to know where he can see oxygen as a solid.

Golf 3 - The Lake Wins Again

On Saturday I Rob and I had another hit of golf. On my way out Elf said "so, you're a golfer now, is this it?". Once again my first shot went straight into the lake. If I keep this up there'll be an island of golf balls slowly rising out of the middle of it. We were a bit more consistent this time - we didn't get par but we didn't get double figures either. The Snack Wagon has now officially changed its name to Tucker Truck, but it did not visit us this time.

We were both pretty worn out by the time we got home. If you're a good golfer, nine holes is not much exercise at all. For the Bad Golfers such as ourselves, it's a complete aerobic workout, involving walking, swinging, swearing, swinging again, searching, and a little each of climbing, crawling and wading.

Bizarrely, on this round we recorded a net gain of 4 golf balls.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The fictional island of Sodor

If you have spent any time with Thomas the Tank Engine you may be aware that he and his chums live on the island of Sodor. I was just looking up things on Wikipedia, and one thing led to another and there I was reading all about it.

Rev. W. Awdry who wrote the Thomas books went to a huge amount of trouble to invent the history and culture of Sodor and its railways, very little of which information ever found its way into the books. Sodor was said to be between the Isle of Man and the British mainland. A bridge connected Sodor to the real town of Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria. Within the books British Rail is called The Other Railway.
The North Western Railway has had running rights into Barrow Central Station since the agreement with the London, Midland and Scottish Railway in 1925. There is a Scherzer rolling lift bridge of 120 ft (37 m) span and double track over the Walney Channel, designed by Topham Hatt and erected in 1915. The NWR built its headquarters at Vicarstown in 1915, but the administrative offices were relocated to Tidmouth in 1926. Until the construction of the Jubilee Road Bridge in 1977, the NWR had rights for a car-ferry and worked an intensive and profitable service. British Rail had running powers over the Bridge to operate the joint NWR/BR suburban service from Barrow to Norramby.
Can you believe he bothered to make all that up?

I have to say I have never been a big fan of Thomas but I do admire the dedication of those who have collated all this data on incredibly minor characters, such as these from Wikipedia:

Wilbert the Forest Engine was brought to the railway to help Donald and Douglas when they were overworked, but when Percy was involved in an accident with some porridge [etc etc… ] Wilbert is a Hunslet Austerity 0-6-0ST…

Bulgy was a red and cream double-decker bus who hated railways and had very left wing political views. He tried to steal Duck and Oliver's passengers by pretending to be a railway bus … he is now a henhouse by Duck's branch line.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Old photos, old friends

I recently started digging through a large box of letters and photos from the prehistoric past. I chucked out a lot of rubbish photos, but I was surprised to find some fantastic stuff, still in the bulky paper wallets I had picked them up in.

I have always taken arm's length self portraits - this one is from early 1990. I always go for that serious expression that people in art photographs have. I had just moved to Melbourne, hooked up with an expat Tasmanian friend and found a flat in Elwood (the hi-rise part not the gracious tree-lined part). We had no kitchen curtains so we used a phone extension bedecked with tea towels for a little privacy.

This is my nephew Brin. He and his family lived on a little farm at Henrietta in north west Tasmania at this stage. I would guess this is 1996 or early 1997. He came to stay with us last month - he's my height now and about 12 months away from joining the navy.

I read some of the old letters, including one from a Croatian guy named Vilim I used to spend a lot of time with. I played soccer against him at high school, then got to know him better at art school. He moved to Melbourne around the same time as me. We played indoor soccer together over there and kept in touch for a long time after I moved back here. I met Elf about the time his wife Maryana had their first child. I think due to these big changes we lost touch.

When I read Vilim's letter I was overwhelmed with how hard we all used to work to keep in touch then - no Facebook or SMS or email. We wrote letters - on the train, at work, in front of the TV, at the park, when we should have been studying. We posted photos to each other of what we were doing. I felt like a careless miserable sod for letting such good friends just drift away.

Of course now its generally so easy to find someone - I used online White Pages and had them in seconds. I did not really want to ring as I am mildly phone-phobic, so I wrote him a short letter.

After I had finished it I realised that while I am here in 2010, I was writing my letter to Vilim and Maryana as they were in 2000 - young, energetic, go-getting people who did it all - into art, music, movies, sport, but adjusting to life with a new baby. In their world no-one had the internet at home, or could take pictures with their phone. Friends was still going strong. The tallest buildings in New York were the twin towers. I was sending a letter back in time.

So I hunted around on the web for an email address - I had to speed this all up. Turns out Vilim is running a tea import business now, and I emailed him there. I had a reply almost immediately, and we were back in business. I was very brave and rang him last night, and it was terrific to speak with him about all the changes in our lives. We are just a couple of dads now, still playing soccer, with terrific wives who do all the hard stuff for us. We are doing alright.

Some thoughts on show jumping

Photo from WikiCommons

I was watching TV with Marcus yesterday when a snippet of show jumping came on. I said "look at those two mammals working together - what a team". He is well used to hearing me drone on this theme; that we are mammals, and we have to stick together with the other mammals; the hyrax, the kangaroo rat, Hattie, Paris Hilton - we are all in this together. He ignored me.

But [in some strange out of body way] I listened to myself, and it got me thinking - what if there was a version of show jumping open to ANY mammal-on-mammal team? We might arrogantly think we would have the other combos on toast. But would we? Imagine if you will, given a few alterations to the course and obstacles, how a koala on a greyhound would go. Greyhound:fast, koala: hangs on like nobody's business. What about a jack russell terrier on a cheetah? This time, the pup is providing the brains (cheetahs are not the smartest) while the cheetah is there for pure pace. And who wouldn't like to see a JRT in one of those little jackets?

In thoroughbred racing, the track is rated fast, good, dead, slow or heavy, depending on dampness. Imagine a track that started heavy then had about a billion squiggolitres of water poured on it. It's now rated marine environment. Now, imagine, instead of fences, there are hoops. Are you following me? Cue the team of dolphin and water rat. In terms of racecraft and cunning, you are going to have to go some way to beat the rat. The dolphin will be able to actually count the laps which can only improve its winning chances. Plus, if required, it can see off any attacking sharks. Even Seabiscuit couldn't do that.