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 ...

Tuesday, 17 May 2022

Ghost signs

 Went for a drive with J to photograph a couple of possible locations for an art project she's working on.

Just for fun I took my digital SLR along for a bit of practice in using an SLR camera as the first thing my retro photography project has shown is I'm a bit rusty with photo composition. 

Using a point and shoot or my phone camera has made me lazy - after all I can always crop and fiddle with an image. Practising composition on a digital SLR before changing back to film seems to be the way to go.

So we stopped off om Chiltern and I photographed a couple of ghost signs on the side of an old chemist's shop (not Dow's)

The shop's now part of a home and decor shop.

After that we walked about and photographed the old 1860's post office building (still in use)

and billiard hall

before driving on to Rutherglen for lunch.

Thursday, 12 May 2022

Bloody stop signs


A couple of weeks ago I posted the photograph above of a ghost sign on a wall in Chiltern. 

As is rather obvious it's got a shadow. Not of me, but of something else.

So yesterday, which was cold and overcast I went back and retook the image - on my phone, just as before

No shadow.

So what was causing the shadow?

A bloody stop sign at the intersection behind me. Low winter sunlight did the rest.

How much of the shadow was an artefact caused by my phone and how much was due to my being a total dill and not noticing is up for debate, but nevertheless I simply didn't notice the shadow first time around when taking the picture.

As part of my retro photography experiment I plan to retake this and some other ghost signs in Chiltern, something obviously that needs to happen on a chilly overcast day ...

Wednesday, 11 May 2022

Winter has come


Today's been the first really cold day of the year documenting down at Dow's, (noticeably colder in the old 1859 building than out) so it's on with a neck warmer an an old University of St Andrews beanie, not to mention a battered old gilet.

Most definitely not stylish, especially when accompanied by blue examination gloves, but then being warm is better than looking cool. 

Of course in the last two years, the cold weather coincided with pandemic lockdowns and closures meaning I'd forgotten just quite what a  problem it could be, so today's chilliness came as an unwelcome surprise...