Friday, 2 April 2021

A trip to Bendigo

 J had submitted work to the Bendigo Easter Art show and had all four pastels accepted.

That meant a mad dash to get the works framed and then delivered to Bendigo. We could have used a courier, but were running out of time so we opted to drive to Bendigo - after all it was only three or so hours away.

The drive was fine - the real problem was that when we got to Bendigo the parking was all app based. Fair enough I thought, I’ll download the app.

I’ve always had a bit of a thing about parking apps - they are all different, and end up sucking little bits of money out of your account, but we were in Bendigo for a few days so needs must. (My worst parking app experience was in Pula in Croatia where, having finally managed to download the app, it took one look at my Australian credit card and said 'Ne', leaving us a desperate drive round the city to find a car park that still took good old fashioned money.)

This time, download and installation was  fine except it wanted me to generate a complex password and get it right - not so easy, especially when typing on a little iPhone keyboard. But we got there, paintings were dropped off, and we were off.

As we’d wanted to go to the show preview on Thursday (today was Monday) we’d opted to stay a few days in Bendigo in an AirBnB - actually a nice old house.

Getting in was fun - they’d used one of these real estate agent keybox padlocks  attached to a railing and finding it was fun. Once in it was fine - well apart from the lack of a coffee plunger and slowish internet. (Rather than a wired nbn connection it was a Huawei 4G network box connected to Optus - performance should have been reasonable, but it wasn’t - on the other hand our Huawei portable 4G modem connected via Telstra worked well.)

So off to dinner.

It was a Monday night, so not a lot was open, but we ate at Clogs, a pizza joint started years ago by some Dutch guys.

No, it wasn’t Italian, but the pizzas were well made, generous, the wine list was good, and it was noisy and fun, and a really nice experience. Recommended.

The great thing about staying where we did was that we could walk to restaurants, the less good thing is that the house was on a main road into Bendigo, with the noise of late night trucks.

The next day we made a terrible discovery - we had no way of making decent coffee! Breakfast was instant coffee and sourdough toast.

After that we took ourselves for a drive over to Clunes, via Newstead, where we stopped for lunch at the Dig cafe - a bowl of really chunky pea and ham soup (J) and pea and halloumi fritters (D). From there we set off for Clunes - I’d wanted to go there for some time due to its reputation for second hand book shops.

Well, it certainly has a lot of bookshops - I could spend hours in them, but fortunately for our bank balance  being Tuesday, despite it being the week before Easter, they were mostly closed - another time perhaps.

On the way back we stopped at the supermarket in Castlemaine that we’d stocked up in on our Port Fairy trip back in November for something for dinner tonight as we’d decided to eat in, and to pick up a coffee plunger - instant coffee doesn’t really cut it in the morning.

A good organic pasta and a glass or two of pinot noir sealed our evening. We were both tired and opted for some TV rather than something more dynamic.

The following day we decided that we’d have a day looking around Bendigo, so after a leisurely breakfast it was off to the Art Gallery. 

Most of the gallery was taken over with a Mary Quant exhibition from the V&A in London.

We decided that at $25 each the exhibition was not really worth it, so contented ourselves with lunch in the gallery cafe and a look at what little of the permanent collection of mostly pre-World War One Australian Art that was on show.

We then walked down the hill to do a little shopping - or rather we didn’t. The main Myer department store was run down and reminiscent of a provincial department store in the GDR is the last days of socialism - uninspiring, tatty and with a poor selection of goods - I’d been looking for a pair of smartish shoes, and I’m still looking.

Walking round the centre of Bendigo it was noticeable just how many stores had closed and how comparatively light the foot traffic was - clearly the lockdowns and restrictions had had their effect, and people had learned the habit of shopping online. Whether they’ll come back is an interesting question - evidence so far suggests perhaps not ...

So, dinner.

We wondered whether to eat at home, go out, and then finally decided to go out.

We booked a table, possibly the last table free at a traditional Italian restaurant opposite the art gallery. When I called to book our table was described as being ‘upstairs’ - this actually meant up several flights of stairs through a warren of fridges, kitchens, store areas to a perfectly pleasant little dining area at the top of the building. If it had had a view it would have been wonderful.

It didn’t, but the food made up for it. We both opted for fish and had some beautifully cooked blue grenadier with chunky but nicely cooked vegetables. Absolutely wonderful.

And then it was Thursday, the day of the exhibition preview.

The preview was not until the early evening so we went back to Castlemaine for a few hours, looked in the various second hand shops and bookshops, had lunch followed by a walk round the Botanic gardens, and then back to Bendigo for tea and titivation ...

After making ourselves look presentable, we walked down to the preview, where J inspected the standard of the competition, and I just enjoyed the range of paintings and styles on show.

We had expected drinks and nibbles, but Covid had killed that, so after an hour or so we walked down to a pub in Pall Mall and watched the sunset over the gardens.

We’d originally planned on being very sensible and practical and going back to our AirBnB and packing up in advance of an early start for home the next morning, but instead we went back to Clogs because they were (a) open (b) had a free table and (c) a lot more fun for a pizza and a couple of glasses of wine.

Even so, we were up before the sun the next day, packed up and had checked out by nine ready for a drive home.

Being Good Friday, traffic was light at first, but there were increasing numbers of caravans on the road.

Even so we got to Murchison by 10.30 for a coffee and cake stop at the bakery, and were home before one.

All that remains is a trip back in a few days time to pick up any of J’s artworks that don’t sell ...


as it was none of J's pastels sold, so yesterday we had a maddish dash to Bendigo to reclaim them after the end of the show.

We were on the road by 7.30, stopping at Murchison for a coffee and a comfort stop just after nine,

Geek that I am, I noticed that the toilets in Murchison had sprouted something that looked distinctly like an outdoor public wifi base station - so out with my phone, and there it was, an open public wifi connection provided by Greater Shepperton council.

And the on to Bendigo.

Collecting the pictures was amazingly efficient and straightforward - when you booked in your artworks you received a sheet with barcodes and a jpeg of the picture - collecting was simply a case of rescanning the code and cofirming receipt in good order.

And then back home.

It was too early for lunch in Bendigo, so we went back via Heathcote, where we ate at Fodder, a nice if very busy cafe, and then onto Nagambie.

Here we came unstuck. We meant to work our way via a backroad to the Hume Freeway, but turned left when we should have turned right (actually we turned right, mistakenly thought we'd made a mistake, did a U-turn and started heading through town.

This brought us out onto the highway to Shepperton, where we didn't really want to go, but we spied a sign to Longwood, which we knew was on the Hume.

It looked like a perfectly pleasant rural backroad - until it turned into narrow rutted dirt for about 10km before going back to bitumen.

Once back on the blackstuff it was a quick run into Longwood and out onto the M31 heading north.

A long day, and due to the dirt stretch on the Longwood road, longer than it should have been, but even then we were back by four, which wasn't too bad ...



Saturday, 20 March 2021

My old Kuwahara ...

 Finally got around to taking my old Kuwahara bike out of the toolshed where it's been stored for the last few years to see what sort of state it was in. I'd been thinking for some time I should put it back into use as a daily ride for nipping to the post office, supermarket and so on.

Once I got it out of the shed I gave it a quick look over for any obvious defects. Superficially it looked good, even the front light worked, so I pumped up the tyres and took it for a ride up to the old watertank on Havelock Road

While I'd ridden it around Beechworth a few times while my trail bike was being fixed I'd used it mainly for commuting when I lived in Canberra.

The major damage it seems to have suffered is that the rear gear shifter seems finally to have seized - the front one seized some time ago to be replaced (*ehm* temporarily) by an old cable shift lever. The lack of gears did make it a little like riding a fixie but other than that it rode well, the brakes worked (but it's probably time for new blocks), and amazingly the tyres still held pressure.

So a trip to the bikeshop for a general service and new gear shifters, and I should be right for having a bike for riding round town ...

Friday, 12 March 2021

No more daily paper

 We've made what feels to me a momentous decision.

We've cancelled our subscription to The Age - they wanted to put the price of our admittedly cheap subscription package up by 25%, and we graciously declined.

Frankly, we thought the quality of the journalism had gone downhill over the last few years, and we decided it was time to go.

It seemed like a big decision, as we've been newspaper readers all our adult lives.

For me, it was the Scotsman (now a shadow of its former self) and then when I moved to England, the Guardian, although I'll admit a brief dalliance with the Independent when it first appeared.

Later on in Canberra, it was first of all the Australian before it became both rabidly right wing and silly, and then the SMH. We never really took to the Canberra Times despite it once having some decent writers.

And then, after we moved to Victoria, it was The Age.

Now, in these days of news aggregators like Microsoft News and Google News, and sites like the Guardian Australia and and the ABC, it feels like an expensive irrelevance.

Which is a pity. I've always felt that decent independent journalism was important and have been happy to pay for it. I just don't feel anymore what we were getting represents value for money ...

A trip to the mid-North coast ..

Well, we’ve managed to have ourselves a little holiday.

Nothing flash, just a couple of days in Newcastle and a week at Green Point on the mid-north coast of NSW.

Why we went and why now is a story in itself.

Way back early 2020, after the bushfire smoke cleared, J had planned to go to a pastel artists workshop in Sydney, and I had planned to tag along to have an afternoon in the State Library checking on some defunct pharmaceutical companies in connection with the Dow’s pharmacy documentation project.

I even still have an email from early March 2020 confirming my application for a Library card languishing in the bottom of my inbox.

The date of course gives it away. A week or two later the pandemic struck, we were in lockdown, and the workshop was cancelled.

Fast forward to November last year.

The organisers rescheduled the workshop for the end of February and again J signed up.

We of course then had the Christmas Covid-19 outbreak in Sydney, renewed border closures, to be quickly followed by a five day emergency lockdown in Victoria. We hung in there until the last possible date to cancel J’s place at the workshop, but it was not to be. We cancelled the workshop, and the hotel in Sydney.

On the back of our planned trip to Sydney, we’d booked an Airbnb holiday apartment at Green Point with the intention of catching the last of the summer warmth. It came with pretty generous cancellation terms which meant we could hang in there even after we’d cancelled J’s workshop.

Well, the stars finally aligned, and a week or so before it was clear we could go.

Green Point is a little too far to drive in a day from Beechworth, so we decided to stopover in Newcastle for a couple of days to let J go to a specialist arts supplies shop, do a little department store shopping for clothes – something we hadn’t been able to do for a year, which personally meant that my trousers can be split into two categories – tatty and very tatty.

We didn’t know Newcastle, but lucked out with an AirBnb on Cook’s Hill within walking distance of the restaurants on Darby Street, and could walk up over the hill to King Edward’s Park and the beach.

We did strike one snag though. We of course needed to install the ServicesNSW app on our phones to check in to restaurants via the QR code.

J had turned off TouchID on her phone because it kept getting confused by pastel dust and hand cleaner, and couldn’t remember her Apple password, and was unable to install the app, meaning that I had, much to her annoyance, add her as dependant each time we checked in somewhere.

Otherwise, everything was fine. We did our shopping, and one afternoon walked up to the old 1890’s fortifications on top of Shepherd’s Hill. Built initially on the back of a burst of anti Russian paranoia, they are now undergoing restoration. The actual emplacements are still very run down and tatty, but the Gunner’s Cottage looks (from the outside) to have been sensitively restored.

Then on to Green Point itself.

Basically, we had a holiday. Storms offshore had made the surf too rough to swim, even on Lizzie Beach, except for one day when we had a fairly rough swim, rough enough to make you feel alive, but not so rough as to make you doubt your mortality.

Other days we had a couple of good coastal bushwalks through unfamiliar subtropical vegetation, and a trip up to Ellenborough Falls on top of the Dividing Range.

And then it was time to come home, just as we were getting into the swing of things, but equally bad weather had been forecast, so staying another few days might not have been much fun.

Rather than retrace our steps, we decided to bypass most of Sydney and Newcastle by heading over via Singleton and the Putty Road through the edge of the Blue Mountains to Windsor, and then drve across the Blue Mountains to Orange.

The idea was sound, but much of the scenery on the Putty Road was uninspiring and there were no decent picnic spots. In retrospect we’d have done better going via Merriwa and Mudgee.

I had a memory of stopping outside the old courthouse in Windsor on a wet Sunday in November twenty years ago and thinking it looked interesting and historic, and we’d half a plan to stop for a late lunch there.

Not a bit of it. Coming down the Putty Road took longer than we thought and it was the beginning of the afternoon school run when we got to Windsor, so we pressed on through Windsor and Richmond hoping that we would find a cafe that was still open.

We didn’t.

We ended up buying a packet of potato chips at a petrol station and sharing them as we drove over the Blue Mountains to Lithgow.

However, what I did spot, while stuck in traffic behind a bus, was an interesting looking old graveyard with what looked to be some early nineteenth century sandstone gravestones, the sort of place you might pull up and have a look at, except of course there was nowhere to stop and we were trying to get to our motel in Orange. Some other time perhaps.

Orange was nice, looked nice, would repay a visit. We’d hoped to arrive early enough to have a quick look at the town centre, but it was nearly six when we got there, so we went straight to our motel and checked in.

The next day was another long drive across the west of New South Wales via Canownidra and Corowa to Jugiong on the freeway and home.

The countryside round Orange looked beautiful though in early Autumn and maybe one day, we’ll have a proper trip ...

Tuesday, 23 February 2021

Bikes and wallabies

 Up early this morning, just as it was getting light, for an early morning bike ride.

I thought I'd be a little more adventurous, and loop round through the gorge road, which wends its way, with quite a bit of up and down along side Reid's creek through the remains of nineteenth century gold workings (there's quite a few places you can see abandoned pits, still with the drill holes in the rock, where they were following a seam).

While narrow, the road's mostly bitumen, apart from a kilometre or so of dirt. Despite the heavy rain at the start of the year, there's nothing in the way of washouts, and only the odd pothole and the dirt section has been graded recently, making it an easy ride.

Once on the gorge road, and in the woods, I was planning to turn off my bike lights in the hope of seeing some wildlife in the pre dawn light.

Not a bit of it.

Despite having ridden round the gorge in daylight a few time, I didn't realise that the track, and some of the woodland paths, were very popular with the serious early morning cross country runners. ( I know the type, I used to be one once.)

Well the runners had disturbed the wildlife which had clearly all hopped off deeper into the forest, so I kept my flashing front 'see me' light on so that the runners could see me coming.

Strangely enough keeping my flashing front light on didn't seem to faze the one bit of wildlife I did see, a black wallaby, which sat for a minute or two in the middle of the track looking fixedly at me the way wallabies do, as if trying to work out whether I was any sort of threat.

Eventually, before I got at all close,  it decided I was just another bloody human and leisurely hopped off into the trackside scrub.

Other than that, not an animal to be seen.

Still it was a good ride, and I looped back up Mellish Street to the bike path along the old railway track, and home following my usual route along Balaclava Road.

Took about an hour, and not a bad start for a chilly late summer morning ...

Friday, 12 February 2021

Lockdown (again)

 As of midnight we're back into lockdown, hopefully only for five days while they get the outbreak associated with a quarantine hotel in Melbourne back under control.

Strangely, I felt relieved when I heard the news.

I actually listened to Daniel Andrews announcement on Newsradio, and I have got to say he was a master of communicating what was happening unambiguously.

If you want to see an example track down his latest announcement on YouTube or a news website.

His speech could be divided into three parts:

  • Where we are
  • What we are going to do about it
  • Why we are doing it
And it was good, clear, unambiguous.

So there we are. Stage 4 circuit breaker lockdown for five days, and hopefully with no extension.

Yes, it's a pain in the bottom, but short term pain is always worth it for long term gain.

Thursday, 11 February 2021

The merest hint of Autumn

 This morning, just before dawn, I went for a bike ride following my usual route, up Finch St, onto Ford St via Church St, down past the Shell station to Mellish St, along the bike path following the old railway line to Havelock Road. Sometimes I go up the hill to the old water tower on Havelock Road, other times I go down Alma Road to the mountain bike park, then back along Balaclava road to home.

Usually takes between 40 and 45 minutes.

This morning when I set off it was about 12 or 13C, but I warmed up quickly enough riding up to Church St, but when I dropped down to Mellish St I suddenly felt cold. There was heavy dew on the grass and the cows in the paddock beside the creek were steaming ever so slightly.

There was a distinctively autumnal nip in the air, and it was like that all along the bike path. Obviously the cold air had pooled around the creek, because riding up the hill to the old railway water tower it suddenly got (relatively) warm. I proved it to myself by turning round at the water tower and dropping back down the hill. Same thing in reverse, just short of the golf course the temperature dropped markedly.

Autumn seems to be coming early this year ...