Thursday, 30 December 2010

Winter expectations

Interesting article in the NYT about life in Mexico City in winter. Apparently most houses are built of concrete, windows are single glazed and buildings don’t have any heating to think of. At first thought, given that the city is almost on the Tropic of Cancer, that doesn’t seem so big a deal. The city is of course at 2300m altitude and consequently cold in winter.

Just like Canberra, while most of the city is around 600m above sea level we’re 35 degrees south giving us a winter (and summer) climate like Madrid. In short, cold in winter. Seriously cold. We managed –6.7C overnight in the middle of winter.

And yet, because Australia is a sunny warm, hot even, country houses were built until recently with little or no insulation, single glazed windows and no heating save for a couple of pissy electric convector heaters.

The result is that most houses in Canberra are cold in winter, even after retrofitting insulation, central heating and double glazing. We’re definitely colder in winter than we were in our heavily insulated house in England despite living in a warmer climate overall…

deck renovations and other madnesses

rendering #1, originally uploaded by moncur_d.

In a moment of insanity we decided to render the brickwork and paint it to set off the new deck.

So far so good. Rendering is kind of fun, letting you revisit your inner three year old to make mud pies and get gloriously mucky in the process.

The two big walls are done just the front of the house and the back, both of which involve a lot less in the way of ladders and buckets ...

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Deck renovations


well what else to do on Christmas week than render the brickwork?

As you can see from the picture the deck is 90% done with the screens to hide us from the neighbour’s gaze in place. The rest is mostly just painting, oiling plus finishing off the balustrade with some stainless steel wire.

Rendering is a dirty thankless task. Despite looking purplish in the picture it’s actually a pale shade of grey, and even though though the first coat inevitably looks scrappy it definitely has potential …

Monday, 20 December 2010

Birthdays ...

it was J's niece's birthday this weekend, and as always in the run up to Christmas finding a restaurant with a free table and decent food was a major challenge. But we managed it ...

Sunday, 19 December 2010

deck renovations continued

well, there was going to be a photo today, but it's pouring with rain again.

Highly frustrating as it's almost done. Other house things have been done such as replacing the ghastly 1980's snot green cladding with tasteful grey steel cladding, and cleaning the old dangerous slippy tiles off the steps, but then the rain came in great lashing bursts.

Games are probably off for the rest of today ...

Monday, 13 December 2010

deck renovations ...

still going through a desperately unphotogenic stage, but steps in place, decking down, and have started painting the eaves which necessitated taking some branches off of the mad twisted eucalypt in the front yard.

A hard, dirty, messy weekend ...

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Deck Renovations day 9

Another unphotogenic day but progress is being made:
  1. the hand rails are installed and awaiting the wire
  2. one of the sets of steps is in place but still to be finally bolted in place
  3. all the planking is down and most of it has had its first coat of deck oil
still to do:
  1. privacy screens to stop being overlooked
  2. stainless steel wire under the balustrade
  3. second set of steps
  4. painting the uprights

Monday, 6 December 2010

Molongolo in spate

river in spate, originally uploaded by moncur_d.

went down to Coppins Crossing yesterday and the Molongolo, normally a fairly placid creek, was dramatically in spate after all the rain we've had in the past week or so.

The bridge was closed to traffic, and there was a lot of debris heaped against it on the upstream side, but it was possible to splash across the bridge for a look.

Judging by the strand line debris on the banks the river must have been close to a meter over the bridge at the height of the flood ...

Friday, 3 December 2010

Deck renovations (not)

Well this week saw what is officially the first day of summer (01 December) in Australia. We've marked it by a week of near continual rain (around 20mm's worth most days) and culminating in a storm yesterday that dumped around 80mm on parts of the city in a couple of hours.

Not surprisingly, not a lot has happened on the deck.

So instead here's a picture of Sullivan's creek this morning:

Now for those of you who don't know the ANU campus, Sullivan's creek is a gentle meandering willow fringed stream with bridges and stepping stones, the idea being to provide a green strip through campus where students can picnic, read books, lie on the grass, surf the internet and do the other things that are a part of undergraduate life.

Not today. As you can see the stepping stones have disappeared under a raging torrent of muddy brown water, and even the swans that normally bob about have retreated to the reeds for a disconsolate peck or two ...

Sunday, 28 November 2010

deck renovation day 7

deck renovation day 7, originally uploaded by moncur_d.

it rained.

In fact it poured down, meaning no outside work was possible at all today, so I contented myself pulling up the old lounge room carpet.

Fortunately, managed to get a coating of oil on the new wood yesterday so things shouldn't be too bad ...

Thursday, 25 November 2010

the deck - day 6

the deck day 6, originally uploaded by moncur_d.

things are taking shape, the new planking is down (mostly) ...

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

the deck - day 5

the deck day 5, originally uploaded by moncur_d.

footings nicely curing and most of the structure of the extension is complete except to the steps. Now starting to strip out the old damaged decking ...

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Ikea and Ryanair

this morning it struck me that Ikea are the Ryanair of the home furniture business:
  • it always turns out to be more expensive than you think it is
  • service is anything between incompetent and apalling
  • you only do it because there's no (affordable) alternative

Monday, 22 November 2010

Deck renovation day 4

The building inspector was happy with the work so far, so concrete poured to stabilise the footings. Now waiting for everything to cure.

Desperately un photogenic, so no picture this time

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Doing the Ikea thing

Well, we’ve just bought ourselves a new car – we’d been thinking about doing this next year but J happened across this 2 year old Subaru 4WD, only 20,000km and previously leased to the Presbyterian Church to ferry old ladies about.

Everything checked out and it looked so much a bargain we said Yup! and bought it. Leaves us the ticklish problem of having three cars but we’ll sell the Hyundai to some impecunious student and I’ll drive the old green Subaru wagon, intergalactic mileage not withstanding, to work.

So having bought something that you cou;d use to invade small countries with, we decided to christen it by doing the Ikea thing.

Now, your version of the Ikea thing may be different but this is how it works in Canberra.

Get up at 6 am on a Sunday morning. Coffee, wholemeal toast, fresh orange juice. Off by 7.30 listening to NewsRadio chortling about the imminent collapse of civilisation as we know it. All good.

Realise we don’t have enough petrol for a 600km round trip and pay early Sunday morning rip off prices for a tank. Drive to Sydney. Ikea, Swedish style brunch. So far so good.

Walk round store looking at things. Acquire $300 of unplanned but seemingly essential purchases. Go to warehouse to buy furniture we meant to buy. Discover, despite having checked the website the previous evening that half of what we meant to buy is out of stock.

Buy the plan B alternative and resolve to come back in January for the other stuff. Take pallet trolley up 4 floors in multistorey car park and by some miracle avoid flattening several young children. At least this time because we have the mothership everything fits avoiding humiliating retreat to hire roofbars etc.

Sneak back into Ikea store to buy a hundred bucks worth of Swedish goodies. Realise that we should have gone to the  supermarket yesterday. Dive into Coles. Realise we’ve over the three hours free parking and pay eight bucks to escape out onto the lunacy of the Sunday afternoon M4.

Drive home, entertaining each other with funny stories. Ignore NewsRadio.

Spend an hour with the fridge trolley getting things out of car and into house (our bad for buying a house on a 30 degree slope). Prop offending items up in strategic locations. Say ‘fuck’ a lot.

Feed cat, eat dinner and contemplate the fact that today’s cost the same as a couple of air tickets to Bali. Say ‘fuck’ once more.

Collapse in bed.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

the deck - day 3

the deck - day 3, originally uploaded by moncur_d.

The frame of the deck extension is now complete - nothing much will happen now until the building inspector comes round and checks the footings - after that it's pouring concrete and letting it set ...

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

the deck - day 2

the deck day 2 #, originally uploaded by moncur_d.

day 2 - the frame for the first part of the deck extension is up!

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Deck renovation day 1 ...

we're renovating and extending the deck on our house:

deck renovation #1 16/11/2010

deck renovation #3 16/11/2010

so far it's just the messy bit of taking off all the old wood and painting the uprights and new beams ....

Saturday, 30 October 2010

computing service snowman ...

computing service snowman, originally uploaded by moncur_d.

a blast from a cold and wintry past: the university of york computing service attempts to solve recruitment and retention problems by making its own staff - feb 2003

(note use of network cable as a scarf substitute ...)

Monday, 25 October 2010

Singapore to Scotland

I like trains.

There, I'm honest about it. I enjoy travelling by train. I'm quite rational about it as well, and since puberty I've never had an urge to hang about on railway platforms photographing trains.

And the reason I like trains is that they're interesting. Unlike flying which is only interesting when something goes wrong, train travel is interesting, be it because you get to look into other people's back yards or because the the often wonderful views of the country side - and sometimes magical - I remember reading papers for a meeting on a suburban train somewhere near Chalfont, and looking up when we stopped to find we were sitting in a snow spotted wood.

Not only that but other people's trains have that exoticism that travel brings them - like the brightly painted bar cars on Spanish trains, or signs on old French trains warning you not to lean out of the window with that silhouette of the woman with the scarf - they encapsulate other cultures in a full-on fully-leaded manner.

And they are simply more sociable than planes. thing about train travel seems to make people open up in a way they often don't on other modes of transport.

And as such I've always been a sucker for stories of long distance train travel, even though the longest we've done is this year's trip from London to Venice via Bologna (it was going to be from London to Kalamata but the gfc and austerity inspired strikes in Greece curtailed that).

One idea that has always fascinated me is getting the train from Bali to London - with a few ferries and the odd bus in between:

The route would be something like:
  • Fly to Bali
  • Bus and ferry to Java (kinda like this)
  • Train across Java
  • Ferry to Singapore
  • Train from Singapore to Bangkok via KL
  • Train from Bangkok to the Cambodian border, various buses via Siem Reap and Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City (or alternatively train from Bangkok to Vientiane and bus to Hue)
  • Train to Hanoi and onwards via Guangzhou to Beijing
  • Beijing to Moscow via Ulan Bator and the Trans Siberian
  • Moscow to Berlin and then on to Brussels via Cologne
  • Eurostar to London and then onto Edinburgh and the Montrose.
Why Montrose? for no other reason than for a few hundred years my family farmed somewhere roundabout St Cyrus in the Mearns and Montrose is the town my parents grew up in. (Or as J said one time we were visiting 'do you realise you're probably related in some way to every third person we pass?').

Would such a journey be possible - undoubtedly - as this Guardian article from 2006 shows, and it's getting easier, with the railways in Cambodia being brought back into service. And while we might not do it all in a single journey, the trip is amenable to being done in chunks over the years, after all you really can just go to the train station in Singapore and ask for two tickets to Bangkok ...

Monday, 11 October 2010

A photo I should have taken ...

Somewhere in Dubai there is a fashion shop that has gone out of business. The shopfront consists of concrete panels with (mock) Assyrian bas relief designs. I know because I saw it from a cab window on the way to the Mall.

An interesting cultural resonance, as well as giving an idea of how these panels would have looked as crisp white limestone out in the sunlight rather than as tarnished stone in the dull light of western museum.

In an ideal world I would have stopped the cab and taken a picture. But in Dubai's mad traffic that wasn't an option. So I didn't. But I should have ...

Sunday, 10 October 2010


On our recent trip to Europe we had a stopover in Dubai on the way back. Now normally we have a stopover somewhere in SE Asia such as Bangkok, KL, or Singapore as the time difference between these cities and Australia is only two or three hours, and Australia is only eight or so hours away.

That way a stopover lets you reset you body clock a bit, and, even with an overnight flight, you are not completely wrecked the next morning.

Not so this time. Dubai is only three hours ahead of UK summer time and fourteen hours flying time from Sydney, meaning that we didn’t gain much in terms of body clock reset and were reasonably wrecked when we got to Sydney. Flying straight through might have been a better option.

So why did we do this stupid thing?

Curiosity. I’d always wanted to visit the Emirates since reading Jonathan Raban’s ‘Arabia through the Looking Glass’ – basically on the impact of oil wealth on the countries of the Arabian peninsula – some thirty years ago.

Etihad of course flies into Abu Dhabi, but there is free bus to Dubai provided as part of their attempt to steal clients from airlines using Dubai. So we stayed in Dubai on the advice of our travel agent on the basis that Dubai was slightly cheaper and more to do.

Well we arrived in the dark, and the bus eventually rumbled off down the freeway to Dubai past exits for exotica such as camel racing tracks and the like and eventually arrived in a huge conglomeration of tower blocks.

A chaotic unloading of luggage and a cab to the hotel and we were checked in to our hotel. The first thing we noticed was extra security, like having to use the keycard for your hotel room to use the lift, and the way all the free shower gels and shampoos in the bathroom had tamperproof seals – perhaps as a result of Mossad’s assassination of a prominent Palestinian activist in a Dubai hotel room earlier this year.

However, that was all too much for us and we crashed out. Due to our flight schedule we only really had a day in Dubai, so what to do?

Dubai city at first appears to be an incomprehensible mixture of building sites and tower blocks linked by a network of freeways in perpetual construction. You don’t walk, you drive or take a cab. There is a Metro, but without any idea where it went to it was useless to us.

We had also failed to check any guides so basically it was beach or shopping. We chose the mall as a quick glance at the Time Out provided by the hotel revealed that you basically needed a day pass to a beach club to get anywhere decent, the public beach apparently being crowded and rubbish strewn. Whether this is the case or not I have no idea as we never went to have a look.

Instead we went to the mall, and it was absolutely fascinating sociologically.

Basically there appear to be four classes in Dubai:

  1. The Arab elite. These are wealthy and don’t need to go to the mall
  2. The Arab citizenry. Underemployed and not necessarily highly skilled.
  3. The expatriate experts. Basically educated people from Europe, India and America who run the oil industry, staff the universities and work in the hospitals, make the banks and the phones work.
  4. Guest workers. Overwhelmingly from South Asia. They build the tower blocks, drive the cabs, clean the toilets, water the trees and basically do everything the citizenry won’t or can’t do

It reminded me of the class structure of second or third century Rome, Patricians, Plebians, the undefinable class of Greek freedmen, German foederati and the rest who actually ran things, and the vast mob of slaves who cleaned the drains, grew the food, and made things.

And resonances kept coming. The security guards in the mall were Kenyan, the shop assistants from India, Indonesia or the Phillipines and we were Mam and Sir – something peculiarly discomfiting to a pair of left leaning Australian liberals.

I personally found the class divide shocking, more so when I bought a t-shirt from a shop and went back as the girl serving me had forgotten to remove the security tag. The manageress bawled the girl out in front of me, and while I don’t speak Hindi, I could tell it was more than for show. I had to spend time reassuring the manageress that I was not upset about the error, and that it was only an inconvenience otherwise I was worried that the girl who’d left the security tag on might have been out of job. And it was that sir and mam class thing.

We also probably bent some of the social rules by eating at the food court – where we had some of the best Indian vegetarian food ever – where we were almost the only white people, but then there were some Indians who looked like hospital staff on their lunch hour so I don’t think it was that gross an error.

And this thing persisted. We decided that, rather than use the free shuttle bus, we’d get a cab to the airport in Abu Dhabi, as it saved us having to get up at 4.30 and cabs are cheap in Dubai.

So next morning we got an ordinary city cab to Abu Dhabi, out through the mad traffic and perpetual roadworks of the city centre and the construction sites building apartment blocks and offices, weaving in and out of the battered white buses crammed with construction workers. After this chaos I’d expected the freeway to be as anarchic, something based on past experience of long journeys in big old battered Merc taxis collectifs in Morocco barrelling across the desert.

Not a bit of it. The freeway was restrained and disciplined. The driver stuck to the 120 km/h limit as did almost everyone else and lane discipline was exemplary. One thing that was noticable was that once you got out of Dubai city the freeway just ran across desert enlivened by the odd scrubby bush. As soon as you crossed into Abu Dhabi the freeway was lined with trees and bushes, admittedly only a few metres wide and irrigated, but it made a difference. But that sir and mam thing caught us out again. The driver took us to the airport, and this horde of porters rushed up wanting to know if we were first or business. We of course were economy. You could see this didn’t compute. White people who could hire a taxi to come from Dubai (actually the fare was less than $60 for a 150km, and moderate by Canberra or Sydney standards) must of course be travelling business at the very least. They clearly didn’t know what to do so wandered off leaving me their trolley.

And that was our adventure in Dubai. The mall was just a shopping mall, it could have been Bluewater outside of London, most of the shops were the same, or even the Canberra Centre. But it was enough to give us an impression of a highly stratified ‘money talks’ society. An Islamic Los Angeles.

I have no idea if that is typical of just Dubai, or the Emirates in general. However there are other things that might well make it worthwhile to go back on another occasion.Sharjah is said to have an interesting archaeological museum, Abu Dhabi is building a Guggenheim and a Louvre, there are of course trips into the desert, and anywhere on a major trade route (as shown by the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea and other texts). The place should be littered with interesting remains and wrecks showing evidence of Graeco Roman and Byzantine trade with India, and while there are clearly things happening, it all seems little known out side of the Emirates.

A strange, odd, confronting place, but well worth a visit.

[Note: Aristophanes tells of the use of exotic Scythian Archers as police slaves in Athens, hence the resonance with the use of Kenyans as security guards in Dubai. Of course it could be a process of self selection - the late night security guards at our local supermarket in Canberra are overwhelmingly Samoan and Maori, and it's probably the ideal job for beefy guys with a less than full education ...]

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Europe 2010 Pictures

I'm also gradually assembling a gallery of pictures from the Europe trip on Flickr.

It's a work in progress so feel free to check back for updates ...

Canberra to the Mani and back

As I’ve already said elsewhere we’re back from an excellent four weeks in Europe during which we travelled from London down to Kardymylli on the edge of the Mani entirely overland by train, ferry and (slightly less green) a rented Fiat Panda.

Of course, being Australian our initial journey to London was totally ungreen, involving an Etihad flight from Sydney to London via Abu Dhabi. We’d never flown with Etihad before, and only chose them out of curiosity and because they’d give us two seats side by side with an aisle oneside and a window the other – Etihad planes being laid out 2+4+2.

Airlines reflect their host cultures and Etihad was no exception with that wonderful and infuriating mix of seeming chaos and efficiency that seems to underlie travel in the Middle East. The food was good too, provided you enjoy the idea of a surprisingly spicy chicken and green olive tagine for dinner and kebab and ful medames for breakfast.

In London we stayed in a rented apartment in Chelsea which we nicknamed the ‘Chateau Kazakhstan’ for its slightly vulgar over the top decor. However it was extremely convenient, within walking distance of the soldiersV&A, which was useful as there was a Tube strike on our first day there. The only downside was that the internet didn’t work with the dread ‘no DHCP offers received’ error message, which meant a trip to Starbucks and the purchase of some BT openzone vouchers.

This revealed a problem – BT send you the voucher codes in an email, which you of course can’t print as you don’t have a printer, and so you are reduced to scribbling down the 12 digit codes (wrongly in one case) on a bit of scrap paper. It would be easier if they followed Orange’s approach of giving you an account with a username and password to let you logon to the network – at least then you can ask firefox to remember the username and password, even if it’s not the best in terms of network security, but I don’t think it matters too much for 10 quid’s worth of internet access.

But I digress. In London we did London things such as causing chaos in Sainsbury’s by trying to use a self service checkout to buy a bottle of wine, and other such fun things. I also managed a side trip to Oxford on the Oxford Tube to look at the new revamped Ashmolean museum and its good, if small collection of Coptic and Middle Eastern material. The return journey was enlivened by a sloan-ish woman talking loudly to a friend on her mobile, discussing her friend’s latest dalliance which had apparently involved some mild bondage …

And then to Paris via Eurostar. And we managed the whole London thing of the taxi we booked not turning up and eventually managing to flag down a black cab. However we got to St Pancras in time enough to check in and board the Eurostar.

I was struck at just how prosaic it had become – the train was distinctly tatty and instead of it’s initial glamour was now as sexy as the 0823 to Goulburn. The food was worse too. However we got there, and Paris was, well Paris.

We stayed at the Holiday Inn for no other reason than it was directly opposite the Gare de l’Est and we had a train to catch reasonably early the next morning. After dumping our bags we jumped on the Metro and took ourselves down the Tuileries to have a beer and enjoy the ambience of Paris on an early Autumn afternoon.

The actual area round the Gare de l’Est is not the best and singularly devoid of decent places to eat, but we did find a little cafe round the corner from the Holiday Inn that did a decent pizza and pichet de rose, and had live jazz from a local group, including one woman with an amazing if untrained voice. Of such things memories are made.

The next morning we boarded the TGV for Zurich. Our eventual aim was Bologna and we had a couple of changes but we had confidence that SNCF and Swiss efficiency would see us right.

The TGV glided effortlessly and punctually across eastern France to Zurich arriving exactly on time. I had been worried about this connection as we had only nine minutes to find our connecting train and get on board but we need not have worried.

The connecting Swiss train was a bit of a surprise. I had expected something cold and efficient but in fact the train was quite conventional and overcrowded. And the on board cafe only ran to pretzels, ham and cheese paninni, beer and fanta. And they managed to run out of that. It was also slow and was 15 minutes late into Milan, which was a problem as we’d planned for a leisurely 25 minute change – instead we had a mad dash down one platform, across the concourse and up another platform. However we made it and we made Bologna in time for a shower and an excellent dinner at an upmarket trattoria, the Cabbineta d’Oro.

Bologna is a pleasant enjoyable workaday city with a slightly old fashioned but good archaeological museum and a new medieval museum, but we visited neither this time, as our aim was to fulfill an aim of mine the past twenty years or so to visit the mosaics in Ravenna. Every other time we’ve tried to do this something has happened that makes it impossible, not the least because Ravenna is not the easiest place to get to by train.

So up early the next day, to beat the tourists, a long rattle across the plain past men tending their tomatoes and harvesting their beans to Ravenna, and yes, the mosaics were everything I imagined. I was particularly taken by those in the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo and the way that the Magi are represented in the way late Roman writers describe Parthian clothing, and the parade of saints are dressed as if they were Roman senators, clothing which must have seemed suitably antique and respectful, much in the same way English High Court Judges still wear 18th Century dress to make themselves look more imposing.

The other mosaics are equally stunning, Justinian looks like the hard bastard he must have been and Theodora’s ladies at first look to be stock figures, but as you look at them you begin to realise that images, though impressionistic, must have come from life, one’s winking, one looks flirty etc etc.

And of course Ravenna is where Dante was exiled to when he was kicked out of Florence. By pure chance we managed to end up in Ravenna on the anniversary of Dante’s death, marked this year by a medieval festival with re-enanctors and the rest. After the festival, we paid our respects to the shade of Gallia Placida, arguably the most powerful woman in the late western empire, and then back to Bologna.

The return journey had some comic relief as I’d bought the train tickets in advance via SNCF’s online booking site, and this confused the ticket inspector as to how we could have day returns from Bologna to Ravenna issued by SNCF in Paris, and I’m afraid my Italian deserted me and I was reduced to pointing at the SNCF logo on the ticket and saying ‘Francia – bigletti internet’ – however he got the point (or perhaps decided this was going to be too difficult to resolve) and stamped our tickets.

Back in Bologna we found parts of the city cordoned off for a pro Berlusconi rally, but an obliging riot policeman told us how to sneak round the cordoned off area to get to the main square in time to see the sun go down and people do that stylish Italian thing of sitting and talking with extreme style.

We should probably have stayed in Bologna longer, but next day we were off to Venice to stay in a moderately over priced apartment near the Arsenale vapporetto stop.

Oddly, I’d never been to Venice before. Staying where we did in an alley in the warren of the medieval city was a truly wonderful experience. Fighting through the crowds to see San Marco and the Doge’s palace was less so, but we had the advantage of being able to beat the crowds, and because we stayed there wander the streets once the tourists had gone for the day or to visit less well known sights such as the Rialto fish market or go to one of the outer islands for the day.

Then it was off to Greece via the ferry. Originally, and some of the older vapporetto maps still show this, there was a water bus to the ferry dock. Not any more. You now have to get the vapporetto to Piazzale Roma, struggle across the bus station and onto the monorail to Stazione Maritima (actually you could walk this if you had a single backpack, unfortunately our attempt to travel light hadn’t really worked and we had a wheely case and an overstuffed daypack each). From there you might think there would be a shuttlebus to the actual ferry terminal some 2km away. There wasn’t. And it was raining, in fact it had been raining all morning, something that causes Venice to smell ever so slightly of shit and fish.

So we struggled down the road, being doused every so often by German camper vans splashing down to the ferry dock. However we got there, and the ferry was not busy, so we ended up with a bigger cabin than we’d booked.

It was a Greek ship, and suddenly we were in Greece, feta and tomato for lunch, and extra olive oil by the litre if you wanted it. Just in the same way as Etihad was a little flying part of Arabia, this ship was a little floating Greek island in an Italian sea.

One of the best things about the ferry to Patras is that it swings round the south along the Canale della Guidecca and out into the Canale San Marco past Arsenale, san marcoof the city, and then out past the islands and out into the Adriatic.

And a day and a half later we were in Patras. Flying would have undoubtedly been cheaper but that day on the boat gave us time to read and write up notes on the journey so far.

Our original plan had been to stay at the Olympic Star in Patras – a more than reasonable hotel a couple of blocks from the train station, and then get the train to Kalamata the next day, and pick up a rental car there. Rumours of strikes and industrial chaos led us to change our plans and pick up our rental car in Patras, hoping that as long as there was petrol available we’d be able to spend a week in the Peoloponese and then drive to Athens to drop off the car rather than risk being caught out by a train or bus strike.

Collecting the car was not as easy as it should have been – half the city centre was cordoned off for a go-kart race, the Europcar rental office had moved the week before to a new office block and had no signs up yet and the street it was in had been renamed. That said we found it with the help of the hotel staff who gave us a map with two or three likely locations, one of which was spot on. And the traffic police were great, allowing us to park illegally while we got our bags from the hotel which was in an area cordoned off for spectators.

The last time I was in Patras it was a sleazy place, with beggars in the square and obvious prostitutes touting for trade. This time it was cleaner, more prosperous looking, although there were a number of shops with closing down sales, and generally nicer. They even had a branch of M&S.

Getting out of Patras was reasonably straightforward, although we did make a wrong turn and end up in an area of beach side stalls, where we managed to surprise an elderly stall holder urinating in a bright orange plastic bucket. He had obviously though he was being discreet behind his van outside of his stall, and didn’t expect two Australians in a rented Fiat looking for wide enough gap to do a U-turn.

Out of Patras, the agony and the ecstasy of driving in Greece came back to me. Yes of course lane markings are for decoration, or at most there to suggest that you form two, or three, or four lanes, as many as can fit into the available space, and yes, the hard shoulder is to allow you to let faster traffic past, and no, indicators are just blinking lights. That said I managed the near continuous roadworks between Patras and Corinth without difficulty, even if it was enlivened by the sudden discovery that J couldn’t read lowercase Greek letters at all, and on our previous trips had been reading uppercase ones based on her knowledge of Cyrillic scripts – strange what you discover in the middle of a half built freeway intersection where all the temporary direction signs are in Greek. Fortunately we were looking for signs to Tripolis which rendered in Cyrillic is close enough to Greek to be recognisable. From there we drove on down to Kalamata and then to Kardymylli.

Kardymylli was to be our chill out stage. We stayed in a stone cottage in an olive grove which had about the most inefficient solar hot water system in Greece – ie it was cold most of the time, ate fish and went walking in the hills behind the old town. From there we had a side trip to the Mani and to Mystras, but basically just chilled. Internet access was fun – if you walked down the hill through the olive grove you eventually got access via a flaky signal from the hotel on the other side of the inlet – enough to check email but not enough for sustained surfing.

And then it was back to Athens. Originally we had planned on having a stop at Mycenae, but we missed the exit (seeing freeway exits to Sparta and Mycenae excites my inner child) – I think it was only signposted coming from Corinth rather than from the Kalamata end, and decided to dash to Athens to try and get to the Acropolis museum before it closed – the next day being Monday when the museum is closed.

Well we made the museum, and frankly I was slightly disappointed. While they have a good display of sculpture, including a range of kouroi, some of which show the first hints of figurative representation – in one example the archaic smile has metamorphosed into a slightly wicked wink – the museum is waiting for the main act. The display of the Carytids give a hint of just how stunning the display will be if the marbles ever return, but until then …

Lysistrates column AthensThe next day was Monday, and the Greek Heritage service had decided to go on strike, or more accurately protest against the austerity programme by not collecting entrance fees leaving us free – literally- to wander round the Acropolis, including the scaffolding free Parthenon almost at will, not to mention the Stoa and the Roman Agora area.

And we managed to slip in a (free) visit to the Byzantine Museum to see their exhibition 'From Byzantium to the Modern Era'.

Athens was Athens, and while we were staying close to Syntagma Square there was no sign of the anti austerity protests other than a few extra riot cops and the odd boarded up shop. Athens was as peaceful and engaging as ever. My only regret about the Greek leg of our trip is that one of the Greek quality papers was giving away free cd's of contemporary Greek music. I should have just been impulsive and bought the paper for the cd rather than procrastinating until they were all sold out. Next time I will.

From Athens it was a flight back to Scotland to see family and then back to Australia with a day (and two nights) in Dubai.

Dubai, even though we had a ridiculously short visit, made a strong enough impression on us to deserve a separate post. Probably we were completely mad cramming all this in to four weeks.But we enjoyed ourselves, and even though we tell ourselves we should do something simple next time, such as a couple of weeks on a beach at Lankawi, somehow I don’t quite see it

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

clean underwear and travel

One problem about travel is that you get sweaty and dirty. No matter how clean and restful the experience was you're going to spend a long time sat in the one place. And it's not a good look if you've got to interact with people at the end.

Long train journeys are bad for this, planes are worse. And with flying there's always the lurking fear that the airline will lose your bag. Well sometimes, not very often, they do, and they usually turn up but that doesn't help solve the immediate problem that you're stuck in a an alien city with no clean undies. Everyone has suggestions as to how to plan ahead, but here's mine:

  • Buy yourself a flight bag - most airlines let you take around a 10 litre bag as cabin baggage, even the really mean screw-you discounters
  • In this bag put a small backpack and put the following in the backpack:
  1. Travel computer in travel sleeve - make sure the battery is fully charged
  2. Cell-phone
  3. Two pens (at some point you'll have to fill out an immigration form)
  4. Hardback notebook
  5. Spectacles and sunglasses
  6. Something to read
  7. Passports, copies of any documents required for the journey
  8. Ziploc bag containing spare change (both local and overseas)
Remember to put your keys (including car keys) in the bag once you're done with them. Do not put chargers, network cables, kensington security cables in this bag. Some paranoid security geek is quite capable of deciding that they can be used to attack someone.

Besides the little back pack also put the following in the bag - clean underwear, socks, a clean t-shirt. You can simply put them in a plastic bag to keep them clean, or else Kathmandu and other outdoor shops sell packing bags that do the job. If you can face the paranoia at airports also pack your three 100ml bottles of shampoo, after shave and anything else in a clear plastic bag separately to the rest as you'll need to get them out to be inspected.

Also put in the obvious extras, a jumper, a lightweight waterproof, and if you want to risk the security geeks a travel umbrella - some places are happy if they can x-ray it, some aren't. And most importantly a travel portfolio containing printed copies of all your travel documents, both outgoing and incoming. Make sure this can fit inside the small backpack.

Why the separate small backpack?

Well security always want to check your computer and it makes sense to make the business of going through security as easy as possible. It also means you've (a) got all your essentials grouped together, a separate small bag in case you need to check other stuff in, as happened to us in Singapore last year when we had an unscheduled day in the city, and came back sweaty. We'd bought extra t-shirts and toileteries in the city so we bundled all the nonessential stuff into the bigger bag and asked nicely if we could check it in as an extra (b) a spare bag for the extra stuff you need to check in coming back - everything from books to t-shirts. (If the airline does lose your bags and you have to buy some extra things, having a spare bag is doubly useful)

The travel portfolio is really useful if you need to prove to immigration somewhere along the line that you really are going to X then Y as in I'm going to a conference at Harvard and then going on to Canada by train before flying back by a different route.

If you're really paranoid a thumb drive with pdf copies of the essentials is useful too - you can always find someone to print them for you.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

travelling to Patagonia

I’ve started reading, or more accurately rereading Paul Theroux’s ‘Old Patagonia Express’.

I first read it about thirty years ago, when it first came out in paperback, and didn’t much like it then, in part because it didn’t seem as amazingly romantically fascinating as Bruce Chatwin’s ‘In Patagonia’ and in part because of the way Theroux’s character shone through - that amazing mix of bumptious pretentiousness and ignorance one finds in some arts and literature graduates from upscale US universities. Knowing about fourteenth century literature does not equip one to deal successfully with a monoglot Italian train conductor at three in the morning

Well I’m still finding his character irritating, but overall I like the book better now, perhaps because I’m older, have travelled more, and perhaps because it captures a world now vanished, without cellphones, email and discount airlines.

Like Theroux I have always been fascinated by the idea that one can put a notebook and some clothes in a bag, go to a train station and end up, well, wherever one can get a train to.

Of course in Australia, it doesn’t really work. We don’t really do trains any more. From Canberra the only direct train is to Sydney, or one can get a bus and connect with the Sydney Melbourne train.

However, when I lived in England it was different. And impossibly romantic. Bus to the station, train to London, and in pre-Eurostar days, the boat train from Victoria to Newhaven, and then rattling across France in the dark of early morning, and across Paris as the sun came out to catch the train south to Spain and the Basque Lands.

This was travel, humping bags, customs officers, discussions with railway officials in bad French and worse Spanish, standing all the way from Paris to Irun in an impossibly crowded over booked train.

And the chance encounters. The man who gave me some apples from his garden and a spare metro ticket when he found I was going on to London, or the blonde girl who spent all night on the ferry talking to me about organic smallholdings and Bhuddism. We could have become lovers but our only shared intimacy was coffee and Gauloises in a cafe opposite the Gare d’Austerlitz as we waited for our separate early morning trains.

And there were sleepers - in pre-easyjet days the simple idea of a night’s sleep on a rattling train saved a day or two off a journey making longer trips possible. When I moved from Scotland to Wales I packed up my gear on my touring bike, rode to the station one January evening, checked my bike in and rattled by various trains to Shrewsbury on a cold winter’s morning before catching a train to Lllandrindod through a cold frozen early morning rural landscape straight out of Kilvert’s Diary.

Of course there were downsides as well - hours spent in cold station waiting rooms waiting for the early morning train from somewhere to somewhere else, trying to find somewhere for a shower after a long sweaty un air conditioned journey, but it was still fun.

Fun in a way that that you don’t get if you only travel by air and just pick up a rental car. On planes people do not move around, talk to each other much, or anything much. Mostly you sit there, watch someone else’s choice of movie, eat indifferent food, and try to sleep when possible. Solitary air travel is, well solitary, and if one travels with one’s companera it may be more companionable, but it’s still tedious and boring.

The fun bits of air travel really revolve around missed connections and delays, like the time we went to Brunei for the afternoon. We were supposed to connect with local flight to Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia, but our flight was hopelessly late.

We had to meet some people in KK so the airline’s suggestion of a hotel and a flight the next day didn’t work. In the end it was through immigration, into a battered Holden mini-cab - the driver had to hold the gear change in drive to stop it jumping out - for a mad dash across Brunei to a highspeed passenger ferry to Labuan, other cab and wait in the airport for an onward flight.

Or more accurately wait outside the airport. The security guards locked themselves inside the air conditioned terminal to watch ‘Who wants to be a millionaire?’ in Malay while we sat in a taxi shelter in a tropical downpour waiting for them to open the terminal building for the next flight.

Or being bumped off a flight from Turkey, and flying back via Berlin, overnighting in a very strange discount hotel I always suspected of having been a Stasi barracks in a previous life and then doorstepping an airline office to cram onto the next available flight to London as they couldn’t book us through all the way from Istanbul.

Car trips are similarly insulating divorcing you from interaction - and while we’ve had good times, including rattling round Crete looking at Minoan ruins in a dented Fiat with a dodgy gear change, - you’re just another pair of people on a road trip.

Likewise we’ve taken some small group tours to cram travel in - basically if someone has a tour organised of Hellenistic sites in Turkey it can be quicker and less of a hassle to travel on one of those - preferably the travel oriented ones - the rougher the better staying in cheap local hotels and eating in local cafes - because the company has usually sorted the logistics out. Also the people attracted to that sort of tour tend to be more adventurous and interesting.

Real travel is something else, travelling on local public transport sometimes, like our trip to Laos with the rattling sleeper to the border and the insane bus journey across the north of Thailand from the Mekong to Chiang Mai with 150 people crammed into a fifty seater bus, trying to find/organise hotels in advance, or wandering round strange cities trying to find somewhere to eat - which sometimes can be surprisingly difficult.

However, it’s fun, in a perverse, sustaining. stimulating way that lets you experience a country, and how other people live. When they say that travel broadens the mind this is the sort of travel they mean, the dirty grubby stimulating sort. And irritated as I may be by Paul Theroux, I appreciate and admire his sense of adventure

No more morning newspaper ...

Today was our first day without a morning newspaper, having decided to cancel the papers as we weren't getting through them.

I'm afraid to admit I kind of went cold turkey and took my breakfast coffee into the study and started reading my mail and RSS feeds ...

spare tyre woes

back at the end of June, while I was having my wisdom teeth out someone broke into my car.

I'd left it parked on the nature strip rather than in the drive to make life easy for J. In retrospect I should have put it at the top of the drive, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Anyway, while I was pissed that they'd buggered one of the door locks - the passenger side - there was nothing of value taken and the radio was still there - I wasn't fussed. After all it's a 10 year old Excel with dents in every panel that I bought from a post grad in the Maths Institute for three thousand bucks back in 2007.

So I did the usual things, phoned the cops, who took my name and address and gave me an incident number, called the insurers who told me I wasn't covered for lock damage, knocked on our neighbours' doors to warn them to be careful if they were planning on leaving cars parked on the nature strip.

And that was that, until last Saturday, when I put a case of wine in the boot and noticed the floor bent rather a lot. So I lifted up the floor panel and discovered the spare tyre, jack, and wheel brace had gone.

Now garages sometimes take things like that out when they're fixing something and forget to put them back, but I've had other heavyish things in the boot since the last time it was serviced back in March, so I reckon I'd have noticed before now.

Anyway it had gone. And whenever it had gone it was a long time ago. So, you say 'shit' and move on. However I sort of lucked out. I phoned some wreckers to see if they had a suitable spare wheel and jack, and the first one I called said 'Not a drama, $45 for the wheel, $25 for the jack'.

'Sounds good, put them aside, I'll collect them this afternoon'. So after work I drove out to their yard, collected and paid for them - and this is where I lucked out - they'd found me a compatible wheel - with a factory new tyre - and jack from a new car someone had written off and threw in a wheelbrace for free. So while I was $70 down it felt like I'd come out ahead ...

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Judi in the snow

Judi in the snow, originally uploaded by moncur_d.

Just to prove that even though our ski-ing trip on Monday was a bit masochistic we enjoyed it - really !

Cancelling print media

It might seem like heresy but we've started cancelling print media subscriptions. Not because we've become iPadified but because we find we've unread papers and magazines sitting around the house, and yet we both spend more and more time reading newsfeeds and other online sources.

First to go is the New Scientist - which is a wrench given that I've been a loyal subscriber since I was sixteen, when it was valuable as the only reliable source of science news and which has sustained me for years.

Nowadays there's more choice of news sources, and the New Scientist seems increasingly not to cut it as a backgrounder for new topics. Sad, but $300 a year for something that sits unread seems a lot of money.

Next to go will probably be the Canberra Times. It's always been one of these newspapers that looked as if it ought to be a heavyweight paper, but actually wasn't, relying on syndicated content most of which you can get online, while its local news coverage is increasingly trite. I had hopes that when Fairfax took it over it might turn into essentially a Canberra edition of the The Age or the SMH, but no such luck - it seems to get thinner and thinner and worse and worse.

I feel guilty as I've always enjoyed reading newspapers, but then I don't really read the Canberra Times, more flick through it at breakfast, and especially since I've taken to reading the Australian at lunchtime I've found it far too lightweight.

As to the Guardian Weekly - I'm still enjoying it and it's a nice foil to the Australian, so it'll be interesting to see how it lasts if we go newspaperless ...

Tuesday, 17 August 2010


This year has not been a particularly good snow year, with decent cover coming late - as we saw with our trip to Kiandra at the end of June. The snow didn't really appear for another month and then the usual mix of colds flu and work meant we couldn't get out for a bit of cross country ski-ing.

Well, yesterday the stars aligned and we managed to get out - and it was truly horrible.

We woke up to a clear Canberra morning after overnight sleety rain, checked the weather and ski reports, and while there was bad weather coming it didn't look that bad. We'd originally planned to go to Perisher but at the last minute changed to Selwyn near Kiandra as it was a bit more sheltered and while they had had sleety rain that morning the forecast said it should clear by mid day.

It didn't clear - it got worse. Unbeknownst to us there was a severe cold front coming through and dumping snow on the Victorian side of the Alps. Driving up through Cooma in cold but brilliant sunshine we could see the weather clustering around the Alps with sleet and snow falling - but having checked the weather that morning we thought that was probably the end of it and it would start to clear back from the Kiandra end. Driving through Adaminaby the wind began to blow with the town flagpole noticably bending and twisting in the wind and as we started up Connors Hill it began to sleet, turning to wet snow at the top, although it wasn't lying. Sawyer's Hill was much the same story and when we got to Kiandra it looked almost as if the snow was rained out with patches of grass showing, and the Eucumbene river was in flood.

We momentarily thought about giving up and turning round and cutting across to Perisher as we thought it didn't look as if there was much ski-ing to be had, but decided to press on. At Selwyn itself the snow looked ski-able and we decided to give it a go. The snow was coming down as small wet flakes at this stage but we reckoned we were well enough equipped.

Off we set towards Four Mile Hut along the trail. The track was covered in wet draggy snow but we were making reasonable progress but the snow was now coming down in wet sloppy flakes the size of 10c coins. About half way there as we were coming out of shelter under the trees we realised it wasn't going to clear and while we were warm enough in our ski gear our packs were getting seriously wet and it was only a matter of time before the wet started seeping through gloves and boots.

So we turned tail and ski-id back down to Selwyn, with our vision getting steadily more obscured by the heavier and heavier falling snow. And all the time the skis were getting draggier and draggier in the wet snow, making the experience less and less enjoyable.

When we got back to the car there was already about four or five centimetres of snow on it so it was gear in the back and skis on the roof as quickly as possible.

Rather than sit and have a thermos of coffee we decided to follow the National Parks snowplough down to the park gates before the road got too wet and slippy. Driving down we had to zigzag around a ute that had spun and ended up in the ditch partly blocking the road. The police were there and everyone looked to be alright so we kept on heading down.

Things were no better when we got down to the Snowy Mountains highway, so we decided to carry on down the hill joining a line of three or four cars behind another snowplough. Left to itself the road would have been covered but there was enough traffic (just) to keep it slushy.

The snowplough stopped at the bottom of Connor's hill and from then on the sleet increasingly diminished and the road cleared so that while it was cold and spitting it was basically clear by the time we got to Adaminaby, where we retreated to the cafe for a pie, coffee and a shared danish.

We must of looked cold and weatherbeaten as the lady serving suggested we should sit by the fire. After that it was back to the car, which was still partly covered with now melting snow and surrounded by a fascinated excited group of Indian children, who'd clearly never seen such a thing.

The rest of the journey back was uneventful apart from the occasional sleet flurry. It looked as if we might get some snow on the Brindabellas out of the weather, but there was none visible on the mountains this morning as I drove to work.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Oyster card annoyances


J and I have an Oyster card – a London Tube and bus stored value e-ticket card. Just like we have Singapore travel cards as well.

Anyway, we’ve a trip to London coming up so I thought I’d add some value to each of the cards online in advance – the last thing you want is to find you’re out of credit when you get the Underground from Paddington to our short stay apartment.

No way. London Transport will happily sell you a visitor’s Oyster card online, and even send it to you in Australia but won’t let you top up online.

They seem to have this really weird idea that if you want to top up the card you want to register, and you have a UK address, UK phone number and UK postcode, and that you only have one card.

Well we have one card each and we don’t mind who uses which – as we usually go most places together it doesn’t matter.

What we really want is an anonymous top up facility – here is my Oyster card, here is my Paypal account, or visa debit card number, please transfer GBP10 from my account to my Oyster card.

But no they don’t do that – and it can’t be paranoia over foreign credit cards given that they let you purchase cards over the internet. And it’s silly – if you lived in Paris or Brussels and came to meetings in London three or four times a year you’d probably want to get yourself a card and top it up from home as well

Thursday, 12 August 2010

hot chips

isn't it strange how the smell of hot chips, salt and vinegar is doubly wonderful on cold blowy day at the end of winter ?

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

what a wonderful thing is the internet - part 78

I own this rather wonderful bia 4 coffee pot from Bialetti and have done so for over 15 years - and use it every morning for my first cup of coffee of the day.

Over the years I've tried a lot of coffee makers - automatic drippers, filters and the rest but stove top espresso ones are the best. Out of these I've tried stainless steel ones (scalds the coffee) and Asian copies of the orginal octagonal Gaggia's but the bia still makes the best coffee. Better even than the automatic machines we have at work.

Like all stovetop espresso makers the gaskets harden and die, and this has been bia's problem for the last few months - you had to tighten things up really hard otherwise you'd get steam and spurts when you brewed.

Poor bia really needed a new gasket.

But where to start? Well, while our local DJ's still sells stovetop espresso pots they don't sell spare gaskets.

Apparently no one in Australia sells spare gaskets online - yes I'm sure there's some wonderful traditional coffee shops in Sydney and Melbourne that still sell such things but they're not online. The stores in Canberra want to sell you a new (and preferably an expensive automatic) coffee maker.

So it was off to google.

The first shop I turned up was in the States somewhere - really helpful website, told me how to work out which type gasket I needed (in inches mind you - ever tried finding a non-metric ruler in a metric country?) but wouldn't ship to Australia.

Then I turned to ebay - and immediately found two ebay stores - both in the UK - who would ship to Australia. Eight bucks all in including shipping, with payment via paypal. Ten days for it to get to Australia and hey presto, I had a pack of manufacturer original gaskets.

A bit of swearing and probing with a kebab skewer to get the old ossified gasket out and we were in business.

And that's what's wonderful about the internet. Instead of trudging round stores and endless phone calls interstate I could find what I needed online, and with paypal make the payment efficiently - without being stung for minimum transaction fees. It was easy.

And that's how it should be - the internet enables things, not just the sexy web 2.0 things but the simple should be easy things as well ...

[originally posted to my other blog and updated slightly]

Sunday, 1 August 2010

People amaze you in so many ways ...

People are quietly amazing.

My niece Amanda, who I tend to think of somewhat of a flibbertigibbet, amazed me last night in a Thai restraurant my holding forth cogently and coherently on the LHC, the Higgs boson, and what building an even bigger machine could potentially reveal.


Saturday, 31 July 2010

Australia without iron ore

Much of the wealth of present day Australia is predicated on being able to dig big holes in the desert and sell the contents, mostly iron ore, to the Chinese.

While Australia is by no means a single product economy it is true that we are heavily dependent on mineral sales and much of the current strength of our dollar is based on this.

If the Chinese were to stop buying things might become very different, very quickly.

So to understand the results one need to look for analogies. The most common one is New Zealand, equally remote, smaller, poorer but not grindingly so.

There are problems with this – New Zealand is more compact for one thing and without a vast rural hinterland – and has in recent years seen a substantial part of its educated population move overseas to find work, to Australia in the main.

I think there’s a better analogy – Argentina.

  • Both are geographically remote from Europe and North America
  • Both have a population that lives mostly in a handful of cities
  • Both have a large and underpopulated, and largely underdeveloped, hinterland
  • Both achieved substantial prosperity in the latter half of the nineteenth  and the first half of the twentieth century on the back of agricultural exports
  • Both suffered as a result of the 1973 oil shock and from having their agricultural products increasingly excluded from European markets

There are of course differences. Menzies, despite a tendency to demagoguery was no Juan Peron and one could never in one’s wildest dreams cast Dame Pattie as Evita. The Whitlam Dismissal was certainly no coup and subsequent dirty war.

But these are details – both economies have been on a wild ride – bursts of prosperity, inflation, a collapsing exchange rate and the rest. While Argentina’s has been wilder than Australia’s, the Australian economy viewed over the last thirty years has not been a model of steady planned growth. It’s been up and down and all over the place and while the Australian dollar has never collapsed as badly as the peso it has almost halved in value on several occasions.

And yet, despite the problems both countries have managed to hang on to some sort of prosperity most of the time.

So when the iron ore runs out, and the desert becomes full of rusting railway lines running to abandoned mines we might well be better looking at Argentina as a model, rather than New Zealand.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Plumbing woes …

we have two bathrooms in our house, an en suite and a main bathroom. Both have nice new wash basins with taps that should look like this:

25072010unfortunately the tap in the ensuite now looks like this: 25072010(001)

ie it’s now missing the end. This is because yesterday, when I was cleaning my teeth, the end shot off with a massive clatter squirting water everywhere. At first, ok at second, I thought it’s just a bit of grit that clogged the diffuser – the little grid on then end – washed the end out and put it back – and it fitted on suspiciously easily. And then came off. Closer examination of the tap shows the locking ring on the end25072010(002)has a crack in it – which is annoying as we only fitted the new taps just over eighteen months ago. Whether it’s a new tap, replacement end or ring will have to wait till tomorrow, but it’s certainly a pisser – the taps were not cheap at a couple of hundred bucks each, and if one has gone, can the other be far behind?

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Cold in Argentina

News reports of unusual cold weather in Chile, Argentina and Uruguay [CSMonitor, Accuweather].

One can only sympathise, given the current unusually long cold period in Canberra this winter with regular subzero temperatures since late June leading to icefrozen cars and a sudden desire to huddle under doonas even while watching tv, as even though it might reach the dizzying heights of 10C during the day, as soon as the sun goes down the temperature drops quickly due to clear skies and the mass of polar air sitting over us.

On an aside, I tweeted a link about a guatero - the chilean hot water bottle, which the author of the post ascribed to the Mapuche word for stomach - believable, and certainly all the online dictionaries of Spanish concur - but I have an alternative suggestion:

I once worked for Chilean, and he tended to pronounce the English Wa sound more like gWa at the start of words, so I guess he'd have pronounced guatero kind of like gWaterro - which suggests perhaps a borrowing from English rather than Mapuche - which is kind of believable given the English influence in Chile as a source of manufactured goods at the start of the twentieth century.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Bamboo swag

Bamboo swag, originally uploaded by projectbamboo.

Incredibly unflattering picture of yours truly picking up his free project bamboo t-shirt (note Aussie powerboard in foreground) ...

Monday, 19 July 2010

Election fever

We're having an election, which in Canberra, means a five week wonkfest as all the political wannabees appear out of the woodwork and start pulsating madly - not a happy sight.

And of course, they all want to impress you of the rightness of their views. Personally I'd much rather we can get it over with next weekend, but for the record I'm going to vote Green for the following reasons:

  • The only person of intellect in the Liberals is Malcolm Turnbull
  • I don't like the streak of right wing racism exposed by the boat people/asylum seeker thing
  • Labor have been incompetent in the execution of their policies, even if they did save us from the worst effects of the GFC
  • No one is talking about what happens if China stops buying our iron ore
  • The drought was a warning that we need to do something about climate change

@timqat ...

As well as splitting my blogs I've also created me a personal twitterfeed. Just because I'm feeing silly I decided to steal Timqat's persona. I'm sure he won't mind, and I'll take the risk of regretting this later ....

1er Thermidor

Today, 19 July would be 1er Thermidor in the French Revolutionary calendar, demonstrating that what ever they knew about the triumph of reason they missed out completely on not being northern hemisphere centric.

Especially this year when we've had a run of freezing cold weather in Canberra, ever since the end of June, with freezing nights well below zero and ice sitting on the cars until 10.30 in the morning.

In fact it's been so cold we've been lighting the wood stove in the living room every night - something we normally only do at the weekends or if we have people over. We've gone through so much wood I had to get another half tonne of firewood delivered, which itself was a minor drama excellently executed - instead of the usual scenario where they turn up with a half tonne of would in a beat up truck and dump it on the nature strip, this time they had a crane truck and the wood in one of these bags gravel is delivered in and they winched it over and next to the woodshed, which while it still meant stacking the wood, did mean the wheelbarrow part of the exercise could be comfortably skipped.

Still on the plus side we had a awful day of sleety rain in the middle of last week which fell as snow on the mountains - there's more rain forecast next week and if it falls as snow we might well get to go skiing, which is a dramatic change from the completely snowless Kiandra of a couple of weeks ago....

hello and welcome

Hello and welcome.

I've decided to split my blogs and create a second personal one. My original blog will continue as a sort of work type blog, while this one will have photographs and more personal tings of interest to friends and family ...