Friday, 2 September 2022

Ah, spring

 Yesterday was officially the first day of spring, and duly marked by our local supermarket by removing all the winter warmers in favour of tomato plants, zucchini plants and the rest.

To be fair the day before was the first documentation day since mid-May when I didn't have to rug up, managing only with a beanie, thermal t-shirt and a fleece top. I even turned the heater off mid-morning.

So despite having come back to a freezing house after our trip to the Kimberley, things seem to be picking up at last ...

Friday, 26 August 2022

We've been on a cruise

 Well that's a sentence I never thought I'd write!

To me the idea of a cruise always brought to mind these floating gin palaces with onboard casinos, discos and for all I know, a resident troupe of naked acrobats. And most definitely not something we'd ever do.

No, not one of these. This was a Coral Expeditions cruise to the Kimberley, with a small ship and frequent landings at sites of cultural, historical or scientific significance which are quite frankly, almost impossible to get to by any other means.

The ship

And it wasn't all a floating research seminar, there were some fun bits as well like being banged about in Zodiac going through the Horizontal Falls.

Now, as we know, the times are not what they were, and given that Covid is now endemic, and small isolated group in close proximity risks an outbreak. As they say, it only takes one.

Coral handled this quite well, advising passengers to carry out frequent self tests in the fortnight before departure - we went a little further than this and self isolated as much as possible and masked up as there seemed to be an Omicron out break locally. The day before departure we had to do a self test and upload a picture of the test results, followed by a nerve wracking final RAT under supervision before being allowed to board - while RATs are not a 100%, do enough of them it's a pretty good indicator that you are covid free - there always being a worry about people who are either asymptomatic or nearly so.

The whole multiple RAT scenario was a bit stressful as we had first to fly to Darwin from Melbourne. I'd booked a direct flight with Qantas who promptly cancelled the flight and rerouted us via Adelaide.

The flight to Adelaide was full and we cowered in our N95 masks. Qantas had decided to provide breakfast - a slimy egg and ham roll which we declined on the grounds it was (a) disgusting (b) we wanted to stay masked.

We had to wait for a couple of hours in Adelaide airport for our connecting flight to Darwin. This wasn't a Qantas flight, but one operated by one of their regional sub contractors, Alliance Airways, which was slow.

They did feed us - a microwaved something consisting of sloppy mince and potato chunks with an orange cheese topping - only the presence of the odd kidney bean suggested that it was supposed to be a chili of some sort - totally tasteless.

Before I retired I always used to set my preferences to 'vegetarian' with Qantas - the food wasn't any better but at least that way you avoided in flight meals that looked and tasted like lightly boiled dog - in fact when I was working I preferred Virgin to Qantas because the food was fractionally better and they treated you like an adult.

Virgin, of course nearly went under during the pandemic and have returned to their low cost roots. I've no idea what they are like to fly with now.

Anyway, despite a long and tedious flight on Air Magimix we got there and more importantly, out bags did too.

No one really much was wearing masks in Darwin, so we continued to self isolate, which was hard as our hotel room had a pool view, and the weather was warm and the water inviting.

We did have a walk around the centre of Darwin - somewhere where I hadn't been to since 2005. Not much seemed to have changed from how I remembered it - it was still a laid back 'Not Today, Not Tomorrow, Not Tuesday, Not Thursday' sort of place.

And then, having passed our compulsory RAT we were on the boat.

I'm not going to detail the experience - everything worked, we saw some great indigenous rock art, a lot of birdlife,  quite a few crocs, some quite fantastic geology, and as a bonus several whales out at sea. It promised much and delivered more.

Mermaid tree Careening Bay - where King beached his boat the Mermaid in 1820

One of the side effects of going to such a remote area was that we dropped off the internet for nearly 10 days. The ship did have satellite internet but it was slow, expensive and erratic so we did without. Only when we passed a remote mining camp would our phones burst into life and download a scad of emails, and even then sometimes only the headers - any app that was dependent on a good 4G connection didn't work.

It was good having a detox, and despite spending most of my life being jacked into the internet I didn't miss not having it, time to read, time to write in my journal, etc.

The cruise finished in Broome in WA, and we took the opportunity to have a couple of days there.

Broome had been hit hard by the pandemic - as a tourist town its main source of income had gone, as had the backpackers who washed glasses and served meals - several restaurants had closed as had some of the shops, which made eating out a challenge, but Cable Beach was still there and our hotel had a decent pool so we had a little bit of gentle downtime before the flight back.

Cable Beach

Again this was with Qantas, and this time they consented to run the direct flight (one a day) back to Melbourne rather than give us the great tour of Australian airports.

The flight was full, and despite being asked to, some people didn't wear masks. The catering was just as appalling on the flight to Darwin with the dread 'Chili concarn' again being on the menu. There was another option but we never saw it as they only seemed to have three serves of that available.

They also said they had no booze but J noticed a tray of green cans in the drinks trolley that looked suspiciously like James Squire pale ale, and asked ingenuously what they were, something which got us a can each.

However, both us and our bags got to Melbourne, which was the main thing and we don't (touch wood) seem to have picked anything up from the flight.

So, would we do it again?

Emphatically, yes. We had a great time despite the hassles of flying and the stress induced by having to have multiple RATs along the way, and even though I'm happy to be rude about Qantas's fairly appalling performance despite our paying out for full price tickets, they were trying to provide a service, even if it wasn't up to their pre-Covid standard.

Given the daily horror stories about lost bags and cancelled flights I think we got off lightly.

Hopefully by the time we come to use our international flight credit next year they'll be a bit more together ...

Wednesday, 20 July 2022

A pleasant afternoon out

 Well, today was our wedding anniversary. (Actually it wasn't, yesterday was our actual anniversary, but instead of doing anything special, yesterday was spent taking the cats for their annual check up and shots, something which hardly counts as romantic.)

So, when today dawned bright and clear we decided to have a day out. Normally Wednesday is my documentation day down at Dows but I've postponed it to tomorrow.

Instead we drove over to Rutherglen where we had lunch in Valentine's Bakehouse, and then on to Carlyle Cemetery just outside Rutherglen.

Once in goldrush times it must have been a bustling sort of place, but now it's a slightly forlorn place in a paddock on the banks of the Murray.

My main interest was the Chinese cremation towers, brick built, but slightly different in style in the ones in Beechworth Cemetery

These, and the graves that the Chinese miners left behind serve as a reminder as to just how extensive the Chinese presence was in the goldfields.

I'd originally planned to photograph the Carlyle cemetery as part of my stalled retro photography project, but the weather has been so bad this winter I decided to shoot on digital as I wanted to capture some images while the weather was decent.

After our bit of cemetery browsing, we drove on to Campbells winery to pick up some decent bottles of wine and then as drive along the banks of the Murray and then home.

It doesn't sound like much, but bad weather, the flu, and latterly bone chilling cold - today was the first time in days the afternoon temperature reached double figures - have kept us indoors for most of this winter, almost as if we were still in lockdown ...

Saturday, 11 June 2022

A cold start to winter

 Officially, June 1st is the first day of winter in Australia. 

Normally it's just another day in the slow slide from late autumn to mid winter cold but this year it came roaring out of the southern ocean with sleet and even a little snow.

And so it has continued. Dull dreich overcast days with continual showers of cold sleety rain.

I had hoped to get work done in the garden, but no, games are off. Similarly for winter bike rides, too cold, too wet with the afternoon temperatures struggling to reach five celsius some days.

Similarly for my retro photography project - while in theory I could have done some work, and I have some sites lined up it's simply too dull, with uniformly grey skies and flat light that does not pick up shades for decent landscape photography.

As for the documentation of Dow's pharmacy, I've managed to get some work done despite the cold. Winter has always been a tough time due to the cold and damp in the old building and this year it started to be trying in mid May, but you could work if you rugged up a bit.

The last two weeks have been particularly cold and certainly feel as if they have been the coldest over the whole life of the project, it's certainly the first time its been so cold I've resorted to long johns, a thermal layer, fleece jumper and a puffer jacket to keep warm. 

Fortunately I still have my thermals from when I we used to go ski-ing as well as from when I used to ride my bike to work in a Canberra winter, and despite their age (some of my biking thermals date from when I lived in England over twenty years ago) they still work well enough.

And while I've been warm enough working away, I've had to abandon ship early the last two sessions as even with fingerless gloves, by early afternoon my hands were simply getting too cold to type accurately, which has slowed things down a little.

Hopefully things will warm up a little next week and give me a chance to do a little work outside as well as maybe even managing a bike ride ...

Sunday, 5 June 2022

And then the power went out ...

 It was a cold blustery day with squalls of sleety rain coming from somewhere near the Antarctic, and given that Beechworth seems at times to be at the end of a very long piece of string, the power would occasionally flicker momentarily.

As Beechworth doesn't have mains gas, and we don't have a wood heater, we're reliant on power for heat, light, data, the whole shebang, so understandably we get a little nervous when the power flickers - we seem to get more than our fair share of outages and a winters' day when it was struggling to reach five Celsius is not the day to have an outage

I'd just made a crock of Boston style beans and had them bubbling away in the oven when suddenly the power went out.

Over the years we've got quite good at managing outages :

  • check if all our trips are on and if the smart meter says connected - if they are or it doesn't it's a power company issue
  • wait twenty minutes and see if the power comes back on
  • fire up the 4G travel modem and the lightweight laptop I use when we go travelling and check for an incident report
Normally, well as normal as any power outage is, it will say half the town is off and a crew (or crews) are on their way to replace transformers, reset things or something.

This time it didn't, so I checked to see if any of our neighbours had lights on. Those on the other side of the street did, but none on our side did, so I phoned Ausnet, the company that looks after the power distribution network, who said that they hadn't had any incident reports, but that they would send a truck to investigate.

This winter, we got properly prepared - a couple of new battery storm lanterns, new gas cartridges for the camping stove, so we could make some packet soup and instant coffee.

Even though the house is reasonably well insulated, it began to cool after an hour or so, so it was woolly socks and Ugg boots, and in my case wildly over specified gilet I'd bought in Scotland that's really too warm for an Australian winter that I used to take with me when we used to go skiing.

The only real problem was that my phone was only on 40%, and obviously I needed to keep it on in case Ausnet called. (Normally we use wifi calling as we're in a reception blackspot, but of course the wifi was off and both the modem and our phones were struggling to get more than a 4G bar. And when phones (and modems) struggle, they use more power.

The landline of course doesn't work as since we changed over to the NBN all phone services are VOIP based. In pre VOIP days I used to keep an old beige Telstra push button phone that worked off the phone line voltages for emergency use.

Fortunately I remembered that a little USB lantern that I use to light up the barbecue in winter had a minature power bank in it meaning my obsessive recharging of it paid off - I could use it to top up the phone and the modem batteries.

And so we waited. After about three hours I called Ausnet for an ETA on the truck. (All credit to Ausnet, when I explained that we only had electricity for heating and that J has rheumatoid arthritis that means she has to stay warm, they immediately contacted their maintainence sub contractors who'd been tasked with the job to find out what was happening.)

Just as they were telling me the truck was five minutes away a Downer Toyota Land Cruiser rolled up.

The guy jumped out, checked the power pole end of things, checked the 50A feed into the house, then got out a long pole, pulled a cover off the base of the box with his pole and swapped out one of the biggest fuses I have seen (apparently, and I did not know this, we have a fuse at the house end of the power cable to protect us from spikes caused by trees coming down on the powerline).

I'm guessing that because it happened on a Sunday, just by chance all of our neighbours on our side of the street were out, making it look like it could be a problem at the power pole end of things.

Anyway, as soon as the fuse was swapped, everything beeped and roared back into life.

All that was left was to charge the travel modem and laptop for the next time we needed them, and to recharge the battery in USB lantern.

Being prepared had paid off, and while the problem was easier to manage in daylight, we could have managed equally well after dark.

The only real lesson to learn was that we should invest in a powerbank and keep it charged so we  would be able to extend the runtime of phones, tablets,  and the internet modem in the event of a prolonged outage ...

Monday, 30 May 2022

Radnorshire memories

 It’s two days before winter and the weather has not failed us - six degrees, cold sleety rain and the outside chance of snow. The autumn leaves on the street are turning to a thick wet soggy mush blocking the street drain. It’s time to hunker down and stay inside.

The cats have occupied the study chairs - I had to chuck Lucy off to write this - and show no interest in venturing outside. Too damp, too cold.

Yet, I love living here on the edge of the mountains stuck between the flat Murray plain and the Alps. It reminds me of the time in the mid eighties I lived in Radnorshire in Wales, stuck between the rugged Cambrian mountains and the rich flat lands of England.

I havn’t been back to Radnorshire since I left, except once in the nineties for a little holiday that was a bit of a disaster - I came down with the flu, and that was that, holiday abandoned.

Until I moved to Beechworth I hadn’t thought much about my time in Wales, it was only one damp misty winter morning shortly after we moved into our house when I heard the church bells that I was reminded of rural Wales.

The resemblance is of course an illusion - I strongly suspect that mid Wales has never experienced a string of forty degree days in summer, but in autumn and early winter it holds, even down to the small towns and sometimes quirky cafes, and old country department stores that somehow have hung on, sometimes changing, sometimes staying more or less the same.

And of course, like mid Wales we have just enough isolation - not enough to put off tourists, but remote enough that people come to stay, rather than visit, which of course has a beneficial effect on the local economy.

As I said, I havn’t been back for nearly thirty years, and I’m sure that a lot will have changed. However that’s not really the point, it’s more that the things that I liked then about mid Wales - the small scale of things, the comparative isolation still hold true for this corner of North East Victoria ...

Sunday, 22 May 2022

Election day 2021


Yesterday was election day. 

We’d had a mad week, J had been involved in the local theatre company’s production of Dracula, doing the makeup and helping paint the sets.

Then Friday’s production had been cancelled with two of the cast going down with Covid. At the same time J developed a sniffle, but we did a couple of RAT tests and they came up clear. Probably just a sniffle.

Rather than vote in town we drove down to Wooragee - once a goldmining town like Beechworth with at least seven pubs, but now simply a group of farms and small holdings with a primary school and a village hall.

We lined up in the chilly sunshine of a frosty winter morning and did our civic duty. The fire station was selling democracy sausages, but we skipped - that night’s performance was on and J had to get back to get things ready.

I was going to go and see the performance, but before walking up to the theatre I put the TV on to see what was happening and certainly things were looking hopeful. And when we put on the TV after we got back, sometime just before midnight, Albanese was giving his victory speech. Things were looking good.

In the morning in bed with tea and online news, things were even better. Labor hadn’t exactly won, but the Liberals and the Nationals had decidedly lost. The Greens and various pro-climate action independent candidates were eating the Libs lunch and tipping the waiter on the way out.

Always an environmentalist at heart I was hoping for an increased Green vote even if the Greens often seem a bit too inner city hipster and middle class as well as out of touch with the realities of rural life.

Of course, last time we had a federal election it was still politics as normal - two largely urban based parties slugging it out on the normal issues of the economy, health, education and taxes.

But that was before we had devastating bushfires and covid.

While a lot of people were unhappy with much of the federal government’s handling of the pandemic, the botched vaccine procurement and rollout with much of the slack being picked up by the states, and the equally botched fiasco over the RAT test procurement, it has got to be remembered that  the bushfires, and the smoke clouds, had an impact on the cities, highlighting not only was all not well with the environment, but that it wasn’t just an issue for the bush but one that affected everyone.

Hopefully we’ll end up with a hung parliament where the Greens and the independents can keep the government honest and hold them to their promises about climate action ...