Monday, 19 December 2011

'twas the week before Xmas ...

... and we played hooky.

In an ideal world I would have wrestled with our elderly, tempremental (actually downright crochety) Victa two-stroke lawn mower, cut the grass, done some more landscaping.

But I didn't.

Instead we drove out to the Cork Street Cafe in Gundaroo for a shared pizza and salad sitting in the sun in the old stable yard, and then up over the hill to Collector, and across to Bungendore for a late afternoon coffee and to pick up some fresh chicken for a barbecue and home.

Evening was said chicken in a cajun marinade cooked on a very hot barbecue with potatoes and a green salad, along with a bottle of a decentish New Zealand rose - an enjoyable conclusion to a lazy and relaxed day ...

Monday, 29 August 2011


Continuing the spring meme ...

a pleasant weekend pruning trees, in one case severely, planting things, ripping out some mad ground covering vine before things get too snakey and generally enjoying being out in the air

Friday, 26 August 2011

Spring !

Suddenly, spring has come to Canberra, with daytime temperatures in the high teens and last night, for the first time since mid May we didn't feel the need to light the wood stove in the lounge room.

Spring has crept up on us slowly this year, at first it was the increasing day length, and then the willows on campus began to burst into bud, and then various of the non native flowering trees have acquired blossom. Even our apricot tree consented to blossom last weekend.

But it remained cold and chilly, and the city had a cold defeated air. This week, for the first time since autumn it's been warm, and on campus in confirmation you can see couples beginning to canoodle beside the creek ....

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

A Sydney weekend

It’s the middle of winter in Canberra, freezing cold, but not enough snow to ski on. So what to do?

Go to Sydney of course for some warmth, sunshine and culture.

Well, we managed two out of three. This weekend just past was the windiest and coldest for for a long time but we still had an excellent weekend, driving down to Kangaroo valley, just to take a look at it and staying overnight in the village.

We thought it would be a bit warmer than Canberra, but it wasn’t – howling penetrating bone chilling winds, but even so we had a good time, eating at Cafe Bella, and giggling like school children in the second hand bookshop at a display of postcards of 1930’s children’s book covers, including one unfortunately named ‘Invisible Dick’. Well, it was a more innocent time.

Sunday we drove to Sydney, but rather than going direct, ambled via Berry and the Royal National Park to our hotel in Woolamaloo on the old wharf.

It was freezing. Sydney is supposed to be warm even in winter. Well it wasn’t. However we had a good time, ate at China Doll on Sunday night, and on Monday did tourist things, catching the Manly ferry for the ride out to the heads with fish and chips for lunch while watching the surfers brave the waves, and then back to Sydney, a walk round the Opera house and back to the hotel via the Botanic Gardens.

Monday night we treated ourselves t oa superb meal at the Moncur Bistro (no relation, it’s named after the street) in Woolhara, and then, rather than brave the cold, curled up in front of the tv in the hotel.

Tuesday, amazingly, the wind had dropped, and it was warm and sunny. We spent our last morning at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, which has some quite nice orientalist paintings as well as some early twentieth century Australian paintings (including Grace Cossington Smith’s Sock Knitter, which actually looks a better picture in reality than it does reproduced in an art book) and a nice exhibition of pre-raphelite drawings from the collection at the Birmingham art gallery.

And then, too soon, it was home, back to chilly Canberra.

Usually I don’t like Sydney, it always seems to reproduce the worst of London, with pretentiousness, overpriced pretentious restaurants, crap trains and crowds, but this time I enjoyed it. I must be mellowing …

Monday, 27 June 2011

wood, wood, wood

Everyone knows Australia to be a warm sunny land of perpetual sunshine.

Everyone is wrong. Canberra may be sunny in winter but these clear sunny days bring nights of sharp frost and chilly mornings.

Not a problem in itself, but the housebuilders of Canberra also seem to have fallen for the myth of Australia being a land of perpetual warmth and sunshine, and build houses without decent heating and insulation.

Well we've retrofitted insulation, central heating - a ludicrous ducted air system that sends toilet rolls fluttering in the breeze, but it's what people have - and double glazing, and still our lounge room is cold.

So we've turned to the wood stove fitted by the previous owners - a slow combustion stove that once it's heated keeps going and puts out a respectable amount of heat.

The stove of course burns wood, hard wood. Last winter, which was cold, we bought half a tonne and possibly the same again in bags from servos and hardware stores and that kept us going.

So this year we bought a half tonne load at the start of May, but seem to have gone through most of it already.

So this time we bought a tonne, which turned up midday Sunday, meaning Sunday afternoon was spent wheel barrowing up loads of wood to the wood shed.

The last bit's not quite true - about three quarters of the way through the wheel barrowing exercise, a couple of my neighbours who were having a kickabout with their teenage sons came over and started helping. Just turned up and did it, meaning we got the last quarter tonne shifted in about 10 minutes. Shows what neighbours are for.

The wood shed is now stacked nearly to the roof with wood - which surely should keep us warm through the rest of winter ...

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Thailand holiday

We've done something unusual - we've had a holiday!

Normally, Moncur vacations consist of long flights and mad dashes to visit classic archaeological and historical sites, or else serious travel. We had meant to combine both these themes this year with a trip through Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and down to Sinai, but this was clearly not the year for it.

So, what to do? We needed a break, we had done no alternative planning, so we went to a travel agent and said "Thailand, we like Thailand, what can you offer us?" and we ended up with eight days in a resort with a private beach near Ao Nang, to which we tacked on some extra days in Ko Lanta and a few days in Bangkok.

Now we'd never done anything like this in our lives before, and we had our doubts as to whether we'd fit in in a nice family resort, but it was very quiet, the start of the monsoon, but the weather was good enough to let us go swimming an kayaking most days.

Embarassingly, there were almost more staff than guests, but our major problem was monkeys. With so few people about the monkeys were coming out of the forest to scavenge through rubbish and try break into people's holiday units in search of food. On a couple of occasions we had to deploy umbrellas to threaten them. The staff used catapults to chase them off.

One day we went on a snorkelling trip - which was a blast - and quite fun as we inadvertantly ended up the only people of European descent on a boat full of Malaysians and Singaporeans, and after some initial coldness, they all became quite jolly, esepcially once they realised we were as skilled as they were at snorkelling, and happilly shared sunblock and instant noodles with us.

Ao Nang, at the start of the monsoon, was nothing special, a grubby strip of restaurants, souvenir shops, mixed in with tailors, massage parlours and and bars. In the rain it could seem as if it was just us, the whores, and the tuk tuk men. Having said that it wasn't really that sleazy, just off season, and as a consequence some of the more dubious sides of tourism in Thailand were more evident than they would be at the the peak times.

After Ao Nang we went down to Kianang Bay on Ko Lanta, which was really, really quiet. We;d originally meant to go to an eco centre for a few days wildlife tourism, but the road had washed out in a big pre monsoon storm so they'd closed early.

Ko Lanta was really, really quiet. It seemed like it was just us and all the tourist places had closed, leaving us the sensation of living in a Thai village. It was also pretty muslim with women in full veils riding Honda motor bikes, but everyone was relaxed and friendly with no one trying to chaffer us into buying things.

And then Bangkok. The day we flew from Krabi to Bangkok the monsoon arrived with a vengeance. The Thai airways Airbus took off in a storm, bucked and lurched all the way to Bangkok, with the hosties, obviously used to this, timing their service of the snack packs to T so no one spilled a thing.

Coming into Bangkok, the plane was struck by lightning. The lights went out, came back on, the plane lurched over the sky and straightened out. Instead of a cheerful reassuring announcement like "Well that didn't work, we'll have to go round again" they put on some Thai classical music, which did nothing to reassure anyone. After circling the airport for about fifteen minutes they tried a landing again and this time they managed a textbook landing despite the plane bouncing over the sky on approach. Once on the ground they then couldn't disembark anyone or unload the luggage because of the rain so we were about hour and a half late by the time we'd got our bags back, and the queue for taxis long and fractious so we tinned up for limousine into the city for 1100 baht as opposed to the usual six or seven hundred a cab costs once you've paid expressway and airport tolls.

While expensive, this was the right thing to do - smooth, comfortable, clean and fast and delivering us to our hotel without problems - the limousine divers have GPS and know where all the hotels are anyway so there's none of the buggering about you sometimes get with cabs.

And then we were in Bangkok, dirty grimy, sleazy Bangkok. Sort of like it in a way, like the massage ladies eating on the street, the informal little shrines with joss sticks and offerings that appear in city flowerpots, and the way, especially in the monsoon, it looks like something out of BladeRunner with insane gridlocked traffic, cables dangling everywhere, huge electric advertising signs and video screens that look as if you can read them, except they're not, they're in Thai, but in a font designed to look like western lettering.

Mostly we did tourist things and shopped, and ate out. One night we went to Cabbages and Condoms a restaurant run to help fund a project to improve the sexual health of the rural poor - which given Thailand's rate of HIV infection - is much needed. The food was superb, and as a nice touch to reinforce their message, rather than after dinner sweeties with your jasmine tea they give you a couple of condoms to pass on to someone who needs them.

I've written some other bits about our Bangkok experience and out Thailand trip in general, which I won't repeat here:

and after that it was time to go. We'd made the mistake of watching the BBC World news in the hotel so we knew about the volcanic ash causing flight disruptions but we checked the airline's website and Sydney airport's website and flights from Asia seemed largely unaffected, so we decided we were going and acted normally.

I'd like to say the airline acted normally, but they didn't - they managed to send our bags the scenic route via Chennai, but, to be fair they did get them back, without any tampering en route, within 36 hours.

So all good. And it's rekindled our lust for travel in Asia. So maybe we'll shelve Syria and try Vietnam, with perhaps a side trip to Luang Prabang, last visited in 2005, next time ...

Monday, 9 May 2011

Late Autumn

Suddenly, we have full on Autumn.

Frosts in the mornings, and in the last two weeks the trees have gone from a wonderful sunlit yellow to sparse and bare, like pencil strokes against the sky and this weekend we've been lighting the wood stove in the evenings - first time this year.

The days are still warm, climbing to the mid teens after a freezing start, and making gardening incredibly pleasant. Yesterday cleared off most of the weeds from the sadly neglected top veggie patch, cut back the raspberries, dug in a mixture of compost and sheep poo, and started covering the dug over areas with bagasse and newspaper, only to discover that I had only half as much as I thought.

By then it was late afternoon, and too late to go and get more bagasse. Called it a day, soaked in the bath to get rid of the dust and sugar cane fibres, and then sat and read some more of Peter Fleming's To Peking while drinking tea and watching the sun go down and the afternoon turn to dusk

Monday, 28 March 2011

a good weekend

Sometimes the simplest weekends are the best.

Saturday turned out to be wall to wall gardening. It wasn't planned that way but that's what happened. Grass cutting, which involved the usual battle to coax our recalcitrant Victa into life, hedge cutting, pruning, shredding the prunings and hedge cuttings for compost and then finally the great destructive pleasure of ripping out some strange invasive purple flowered vine that seems intent on both strangling the ceanothus and the raspberries.

Amazingly, the raspberries seemed to be forming a second crop of fruit. (Given it was four degrees this morning I have doubts whether they'll ripen.)

Good honest grunt, followed by a pizza and a decent bottle of rose.

Sunday we were up early and on the road well before nine for a day at Pebbly Beach. The tide was in, the sea rough and uninviting so we contented ourselves with the bushland walk to Snake Bay and back, followed by a paddle - well you can't go to Pebbly and not get your feet wet.

Despite the fact they've now sealed the road through Durras North to Pebbly - something we didn't realise at first and we took the old dirt road down from East Lynne - it was really quiet with only a couple of other cars there when we got there, and less than a dozen when we got back from our walk mid afternoon.

After that, coffee on the beach at Depot Beach and fish and chips at the Boatshed in Bateman's Bay, followed by the inevitable drive back up Clyde mountain arriving back in Canberra just as the sun was going down.

Even though I was as stiff as buggery this morning a good weekend ...

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Mouse fun ...

The third member of the household, aka the cat, has discovered his true nature and has taken to massacaring the local rodent population and leaving half chewed mice over the driveway.

In one sense we're sort of pleased about this - there have always been mice about, but this year we seem to have had something of an explosion of the local mouse population as a result of the ending of the drought, the wet summer, and consequent massive increase in the amount of grass seed available to support the mouse population - which have also irritatingly taken to fanging the last of our tomato crop.

This is a complete contrast to last autumn when we had mice in the house. On one occasion, the cat was lying on the sofa half asleep and a mouse ambled across the floor. J prodded the cat, expecting him to leap into action. Instead he opened one eye fully, looked at it, as if to say 'yes it's a mouse - seen them before - don't do mice' and went back to sleep.

The upshot of this was that when we went to Coonabarabran last April, and the cat went to the Cat Motel, we ended up buying and leaving mouse traps out.

Probably the only cat keeping house in Canberra with mouse traps, but there you go.

This year has been totally different. He's discovered his inner predator. One afternoon he killed three mice one after the other. However there's a downside - he likes to share. I've tried explaining to him that we don't eat mice, and that I've asked the bank, but they don't accept mice as part payment for credit card bills. But he still likes to show his caring sharing nature.

This morning he decided to bring us a mouse for breakfast. It was a bit early, about half past four in the morning, and we don't normally have mice for breakfast - muesli, fruit, yoghurt and fairly powerful americano is more our thing. So we declined politely.

On his way out he dropped the mouse, which turned out to still be alive. So I ended up chasing it round the kitchen with the broom to help him catch it again (technique's fairly simple - open back door, get mouse out of corner where its hiding with broom - guide it towards open door with broom - cat rugby tackles mouse and takes it out).

So, these things happen. It's what cats do. However this morning was clearly a special mouse morning. I was just sitting down to breakfast, when the cat reappeared with another live mouse, which he offered to me for breakfast. Cue rerun of scene with broom, much shouting of 'Christ above', including chasing the mouse round the bathroom while J was drying her hair, and eventually the cat took the mouse out.

However, he clearly wanted to get some protein into our diet - five minutes later he was back with what I assume was the same mouse, and again he dropped it, still very much alive on the kitchen floor. More broom work.

This time he got the message and proceeded to kill and eat the rodent on the kitchen step - not quite what you want as an accompaniement to breakfast.

However the SMH's fetish for coming wrapped in half a metre of industrial clingfilm came in useful for disposing of the mouse. And they are mice - not native critters, which might have been a worry - as an ex lab scientist I've seen mice before as well, and I've been checking what he's been killing.

Given that the hill above us turns into bushland reserve there's obviously a concern that he might be going after small furry native animals, but no, just good old fashioned mice.

The good thing is it's getting colder at night as autumn draws in, and hopefuly that'll see an send to it, with the mice hibernating, and the cat turning into a furry lump that spends the day lying in front of the stove ...

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Green Cape Lighthouse

Green Cape Lighthouse, originally uploaded by moncur_d.

Well after all the wedding and deck building shennanigans we felt we needed a break, so we drove down to Tathra for a few days swimming in the ocean, eating fish in various guises, and exploring.

The photo is of Green Cape Lighthouse south of Eden on a cold almost Scottish late summers day. Warm enough for t-shirts and shorts in the sun out of the wind, but step out of shelter and you were scrabbling for a windproof and a fleece ...

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Mandy and Cyrilo get married!

Mandy and Cyrilo get married!, originally uploaded by moncur_d.

This should really be the last post about the deck being renovated. It won't quite be, as the deck is 99% finished as of Thursday evening, but not quite.

The last week has been a major drama, with having a new hardwood floor laid in the house , and the deck finished off. The deck should have been ready for Christmas but the bad weather just slowed everything down terribly, and the floor was delayed because of Chinese New Year - the guy booking it looked at the 2010 calendar and scheduled right in the middle of Chinese New year - which was a bit fundamental given the installers were all Chinese ...

But, finally by about 8.30 Thursday night it was done, or as done as it was going to be in the time available.

Huge sigh of relief as we'd agreed to host Mandy and Cyrilo's wedding on Saturday...

And yes, everything went well

Sunday, 6 February 2011

picture of the artist ...

picture of the artist ..., originally uploaded by moncur_d.

ever wondered what living with an artist is like?

paint everywhere, all the microwave containers stolen to mix things, but then you do get to see finished result ...

Friday, 14 January 2011

light relief for a friday ...


with floods in Brisbane and Brazil, and buhfires in WA it's been a grim week, however this cartoon from Country Life in the UK did make me smile.

As the image is copyright I'm afraid you'll need to click on the link, but it's (probably) worth it ...

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

renovation madness continued

the continued bad weather has left us with an uncompleted deck, a house that's 75% rendered and an unsightly pile of junk in the yard, made even more unsightly by pulling up the old carpet in preparation for the new floating floor - the original plan had been to finish the rendering and paint the eaves this weekend just past and pull up the carpet next weekend.

Well, that was not to be.

Instead on Saturday we played hooky and took a drive over the Tinderies on a road we probably shouldn't have due to several washout but the Subaru 4WD handled it well enough - didn't even need high ratio on a couple of the boggy bits, and then over to Bungendore for an ice cream and a rootle in the second hand bookstores - turned up an as new copy of Michael Woods 'Domesday' for five bucks.

Sunday we work to rain and the joys of carpet clearing - controlled destruction has its own pleasure - something repeated on on Monday (I have some flex owing and am not working Mondays as a consequence).

Other than the bedrooms and some strategically positioned mats we now only have bare boards throughout the house, something that has annoyed the cat as he can no longer just curl up anywhere at random ...