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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Tomorrow is the first day of summer and the last month of the year


If somebody knows where this year has gone, please tell me because it went so fast that somehow I seem to have missed it.

Something else that went too fast is the washing machine which has gone to washing-machine heaven which leaves me with three choices: to wear the same smelly underwear and shirts again and again, or to buy new underwear and shirts gain and again, or to buy a new washing machine again.

Another decision I need to make concerns the benchtops in the yet-to-be-finished kitchen: do I order some ho-hum laminated factory-made stuff or do I commission a local woodsman to make me something out of the beautiful hardwood from the surrounding State Forest?

I let you know about the washing machine and the benchtops as soon as I've finished my cost-benefit analysis.

P.S. The junk mail man has just stuffed my mail box with a whole tree's worth of wastepaper, advertising everything I've never needed, including a pair of sunglasses with inbuilt bottle opener. I could barely resist the urge to rush out and buy one.


Saturday, November 29, 2014

Sang Pemimpi


It must be getting closer to the 12th because Padma phoned to say she's shopped for some things to bring home. Luckily (for the bank account), she no longer travels with check-in baggage so whatever she buys will of necessity be small and light.

She bought a copy of Sang Pemimpi, a sequel to Laskar Pelangi which I very much enjoyed. It was filmed on the little-known Indonesian island of Billiton where BHP's partner Billiton had its origin in 1851 (you always learn something when you read this blog, don't you? ☺)

Several other DVDs she bought are ‘Soegija‘, ‘Soekarno‘, ‘Habibie & Ainun‘, ‘Jokowi‘, ‘Rumah Tanpa Jendela‘, ‘5 cm‘, and ‘Garasi‘ as well as some Western ones such as ‘And So It Goes‘, ‘The Love Punch‘, ‘Begin Again‘, ‘Heaven is for Real‘, ‘A Merry Friggin‘ Christmas‘ (Robin Williams last film ?), ‘NOAH‘, ‘The Giver‘, ‘Left Behind‘, ‘Third Person', and 'Bad Neighbours'.

Why she bought the last one I have no idea as we already have them but at 7000 rupiah (70 cents) they're as cheap as the ones we've got.


Friday, November 28, 2014

An Act of Nature


Went to renew my Home Insurance with NRMA, the same nice people who, after having had me covered for flood damage for the past twenty years, put this PR-spin on last year's renewal slip:

"Your policy now includes flood cover. On the right panel you will see two premiums listed - one with flood and one without. You can choose which you'd prefer. To remove flood cover, you must contact us on 1300 137 593."

And here's the 'right panel':

What a stunt! My policy had not only NOW but ALWAYS included flood cover! What had changed was that NOW they wanted five times the premium for it! Why am I still with the bastards? Because all the other insurers are bastards, too!

However, having become more wary and wiser and having watched Billy Connolly's movie 'The Man Who Sued God' and having so many big blue gum trees near the house , I asked them if the policy covered any damage caused by a tree falling on my house and, more specifically, any damage caused by a tree falling on my neighbours' house (remote both in distance and likelihood).

"Yes", they said, "of course, your house is covered. As for damage to your neighbours' house, that's covered by their policy."

"But wouldn't I be liable because it was caused by my tree?"

"No, you wouldn't! You didn't deliberately push it over, did you? It would be an 'Act of Nature'."

An 'Act of Nature'? What happened to 'Act of God'? Have they all become atheists or have they all been watching Billy Connolly's movie?

Anyway, it's probably the silliest answer I could've hoped for, as buildings & contents insurance is not compulsory which means that in the event of my neighbours not being insured, they would still go for me (as they would anyway).

So I went one better (or so I thought) and spoke with one of the "experts" at NRMA headquarters who prattled on and on (always a sure sign that he didn't have a clue what he was talking about) and, when pressed for a written reply, emailed me an almost irrelevant 'Factsheet' from their Product disclosure statement.

I'm sure I could've got a more satisfactory reply from a call centre in Mumbai.

P.S. Not that you could ever rely on what these people tell you: when they pulled the flood insurance stunt on me, they also suggested a lower sum insured to make the premium more affordable (since when is a $5,000-premium affordable?) to which I immediately raised the question of under-insurance - click here. Not getting a satisfactory answer from their local office, I took it all way up to their head office whose insurance "expert" told me I was way ahead of him when I mentioned the dreaded word 'averaging' as, having been a cook in a previous life, he had no idea what I was talking about. Not wanting to risk being put through to their cleaning lady, I didn't bother to pursue it further.


A hectic morning in the Bay


It's been a wretched rego morning to keep the little FORD Focus on the road for another year. After my strange encounter with South Coast Ford, I'd booked in with James Brown Automotive who did the inspection in half the time and at half the price.

As I queued up at the new Motor Registry, all chrome and computers and digital display except for the PLEASE TAKE A TICKET sign which, like a real Red Green job, is held up by duct tape, I noticed the laundromat across the street advertised for sale.

Driving home to Riverbend's unmatched peace and quiet, I wondered if those unmatched socks were included in the sale.

P.S. Here is Red Green 'Swissing it up' for our regular reader in that mountainous region whose main industrial activity is the production of cuckoo clocks, chocolate bars, dodgy bank accounts and neutrality which is their fool-proof tactic to avoid being defeated: click here.


Thursday, November 27, 2014

The calm during the storm


We all have our moments of anxiety, when the bustle of the crowds and the roar of the traffic gets a little too much. In the build-up to Christmas these worries can become more acute, with travel arrangements to make and presents to buy alongside those contradictory work and family commitments.

If the seasonal pressure is getting to you, bring a little perspective back to our needlessly tense and preciously brief lives by watching this short clip.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The kitchen(-work) was temporarily suspended


The trickiest part of the ongoing kitchen renovation was leaving the "live" cook-top in place while demolishing the old cabinets beneath it and installing the new ones.

Most of that work got done today and I am particularly proud of having been able to fit in a wine rack as well ☺

I'll open a bottle after I have fitted the kickboards, doors, drawer fronts and handles.

Well, cheers then!


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A $20 blow job


Now that I've got your undivided attention, let me tell you about the flameless LED candles I bought for $20 at the REJECT SHOP in the Bay this morning.

They are a set of three real waxy candles that flicker and give off a soft ambient yellow glow and a lovely vanilla scent. They are almost indistinguishable from real candles despite the fact that they have no dangerous naked flame and don't melt. Instead, they run on three AAA-batteries and switch on as soon as you blow in them.

Blow in my candle and I'll follow you anywhere! ☺


Monday, November 24, 2014

Horst's 20th Anniversary


It will be twenty years ago on the 25th of April 2015 that my friend Horst first set foot in the Kingdom of Tonga which is as good an excuse as any to visit him again and help him celebrate!

Unlike my last visit when I "raced" from island to island in a battered old DC3, I shall this time "go native" and sail aboard the almost new MV 'Otuanga'ofa (what an improvement on the MV 'Olovaha, a.k.a. 'Orange Vomit'!) which, at a leisurely 12 knots (22km/hour), will get me from Tonga's capital Nuku'alofa to Pangai on Lifuka Island in twelve hours - give or take a day! ☺

Five hours' sailing time from Nuku'alofa to Nomuka, an hour's unloading, then two more hours to Ha'afeva and another hour of unloading, and then it's two to three hours' sailing to Pangai on Lifuka

If Horst then still lives on Uiha Island, I'll practically sail past his beach shack although I have heard rumours that he's thinking of returning to the "fleshpots" of Pangai - well, more like one store, one bank, one snooker hall, and the Mariner's Café, run by Magdalena Malanowska, the only Polish lady in the whole of Tonga and quite possibly the whole of the South Pacific.

Should Magda have run out of golabki, bigos and pierogi, I can always book myself into the Ha'apai Beach Resort which was the Niua'Kalo Beach Hotel but which had a change of name as well as owners.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

What's on telly and what's for dinner?

M.C. Escher's 'Klimmen en dalen' (‘Ascending and Descending’)


Call me a nerd but work has been my life and the principal source of my life's meaning! I loved my work which was always challenging and inspiring. On the rare occasion when it wasn't, I didn't stay long.

I mean, if you're going to work all your life, it had better be something you like. If not, remember that they write tragedies about people like you.

If most people seem to view their work as some sort of Escher-like drudge, it may be because they are still working at jobs chosen for them by their sixteen-year-old selves. I chose my first job when I was 14. And the next one when I was 17. And again when I was 19. All up, I made well over fifty choices to keep me challenged and inspired.

Mind you, I may not have the last laugh because I have now been in my last "job" - retirement - for over fourteen years and my interests seem to be reduced to what's on telly and what's for dinner.


Saturday, November 22, 2014

The castaway with a wheelie bin


Several months ago, Alvaro Cerezo emailed me to ask to be put in touch with my American friend Matt who owns a tiny island in the Kingdom of Tonga to which Alvaro wanted to ship some would-be castaways.

Like the legendary Alonso Quixano who, having read too many chivalric novels, renamed himself "Don Quixote" to revive chivalry, Alvaro watched Tom Hanks' movie Castaway one time too many, renamed himself General Manager of Docastaway, the self-styled "first travel company in the world to specialize in holidays and experiences in remote desert Islands", and set forth to charge thousands of euros to would-be castaways whose wavering mental faculties allow them to survive weeks, if not months, on a desert island but who can't find such island for themselves.

What a brilliant business model! And it seems to work - well, at least for his "client" Ian Argus Stuart who can't get enough of it, having first got himself "cast away" on some Indonesian island, and who is now doing another Tom Hanks on a Tongan island - I have been asked not to divulge its name which is reminiscent of the foodstuff made from coagulated soy milk but with a final 'a' - complete with iPhone, iPad, satellite dish, solar panel, and wheelie bin (whose lid had been embossed with the instructions THIS SIDE FACING KERB by some thoughtful local council who are now short of a wheelie bin whereas good ol' Ian is short of a kerb to face it to ☺)

When Alonso Quixano awakened from his dream and fully recovered his sanity, he renounced his previous existence and apologised for the harm he had caused and even went so far as to include a provision in his will that would disinherit his niece should she marry a man who reads books of chivalry. What will Alvaro do?


Friday, November 21, 2014

He never contemplated the template


The Kaboodle Kitchen "expert" at my local hardware store never told me about the Handle Drilling Template which sells for a mere $10.75 and could make the difference between a botch job and a perfect job.

Luckily, I found it on the internet and bought it before I had wasted too much time and drilled too many holes in the wrong places.

These three pantries weren't too hard to handle


The heat is on


It's going to be a scorcher of a day!   I only had a quick walk around the block before returning to the coolness of the house and the close proximity (tautology alert!) to a cold beer and a good book.

Or maybe I watch the cricket! I mean, with the weekly garbage truck been and gone, I've had my excitement for the day ☺


Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Real Castaway



There was Robinson Crusoe on Más a Tierra, there was Tom Neale on Suwarrow, there was Lucy Irvine on Tuin, and there is my friend Horst Berger on Uiha.

And here we have Martin Popplewell. Stay with it until Part 4 for some interesting insights and a somewhat surprise ending.


The School of Life


So you're a keen YouTube watcher? Well, go and watch The School of Life, founded by Alain de Botton, the Swiss-British writer, philosopher, and television presenter.

I know it's a bit late for the likes of us. And I know they say that a little education can be a dangerous thing! But not as dangerous as a lot of ignorance! So get started and click here.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The World of Charmian Clift


Having just bought a rare copy of Boy on a Dolphin which was filmed in 1957 on the Greek island of Hydra where George Johnston (he of "My Brother Jack" fame) and Charmian Clift had lived until the early 60s and which I had visited often in the early 80s, I was prompted to read up about that stage in their lives in Charmian Clift's Peel me a Lotus and her other collection of essays, The World of Charmian Clift.

Near the back of the book I discovered an evocatively-written essay of her visit to Thursday Island where I lived and worked in 1977 and which immediately set me off on another tangent. Her essays are out of print, so here's The Island, a time-capsule of what Thursday Island was like in the 60s, to whet your appetite for more of her writing:

"The one certain thing about going north in Australia is that the further north you get the further north you want to go. And so I have fared north until I have fared right off the tip of the northward-pointing finger of Cape York and find myself, intrigued at the very least, on Thursday Island in the Torres Strait, a place which has been of some public interest lately because of certain medical revelations concerning the incidence of what is nicely called 'social disease'. It is a place, also, of which Somerset Maugham wrote a long time ago that there was nothing there but goats, and that the wind blew for six months of the year from one direction and then turned round and blew for six months from the opposite.

There are no goats any more, but the wind still blows. Presently from the south-east, a buffeting bouncing lively wind that clashes around in the coconut palms and tosses a waxy storm of cream and pink around the frangipani-trees, stirs even the dark heavy mangoes and figs to turbulence, and raises such a storm of dust in the unpaved streets that you are nearly blinded. Your hair streams backwards, your clothes belly out like sails, your skin is coated with a layer of fine dust and your mouth is permanently gritty, but at night it is blessedly cool under the billowing mosquito net and the palm shadows dance on your flimsy walls and the crepitant coconut fronds make a soft scraping rhythm to counterpoint the monotonous thrum thrum thrum of the power plant, which, with typical official cunning, has been built slap bang on the waterfront immediately in front of the main hotel. Obviously there is a scheme afoot to develop this as a tourist island. But you sleep well here and dream strange dreams.

It is not a lovely island. It is barren, dusty, the stony soil is completely uncultivated, the streets are, for the most part, unpaved, the beaches are scungy with oozy weed, rusting tin, and a million broken bottles, the habitations are ugly and utilitarian - even wood and roofing tin have to be brought up from the south. Everything has to be brought up from the south - meat and eggs and fresh fruit and vegetables and milk - what you eat and what you wear and what you drink and the very roof over your head. The only pastures are in the sea, and it is only the sea that is really beautiful, the sea and the near distances filled with the sensuous undulations of islands - Horn and Prince of Wales - which have an illusory enchantment. I say illusory because Horn is where you land on the airstrip, and at close quarters it is just as stony and barren and uninviting as Thursday Island itself.

But the flavour of Thursday Island is authentically tropical. If you have read enough Somerset Maugham and Graham Greene you will recognize it instantly - the heat, the dust, the rusting tin, the decaying jetties, the verandahed hotels, the rhetorical customs house, the mangy dogs, the anchored luggers, the visual impact of black flesh. The old hands stamped with the tired inescapable stamp of too many years and too much tropical knowledge, the bums washed up by freakish currents and beached here, the merchants - Chinese and Sinhalese and Philippine and European and every possible combination of race as well - officialdom pink and superior and aloof, twisting decorously with the hospital sisters at the three consecutive 'cabaret' nights, Thursday at the Grand, Friday at the Torres, Saturday at the Federal. At the Royal every night is cabaret, and every day too if it comes to that, black jellying joyful spontaneous cabaret to a joke-box blasting full-belt under flyblown posters of Esther Williams and Gene Kelly. The Royal is a gold-rush pub from Cooktown, freighted up here holus-bolus long ago and re-erected. Now it has reached the last stages of decay: the stairs have collapsed entirely, the top floor is reduced to a few gappy slats which reveal old intimacies of wardrobes and chests of drawers, and Heaven knows whether the bar and the couple of decrepit rooms which are all that is left of the ground floor can hold out under the exuberance of nightly gaiety until December, when the new Royal, presently only girders on the lot next door, is scheduled for completion.

The native population is now free to drink what and where and when it chooses, and mostly it chooses the wreck of the Royal and draught beer in great jugs and an absence of inhibition.

An old-timer who was good enough to give me a couple of hours of reminiscence regretted bitterly the passing of the protectorate, segregation, European supremacy, and the no-drinks-for-natives rule. What he was mourning, I think, was paternalism. He said that the native population was happier in the old days, and that their present freedom was only debauching them, and debauching the European population with them. He quoted rates of illegitimacy and venereal disease, mixed alliances, cross-breeding, and the somewhat forward behaviour of certain young women.

It is terribly difficult for a stranger to assess the complexities of the social structure of Thursday Island. I suppose it is presumptuous of me even to try.

To begin with Thursday Islanders aren't necessarily born on Thursday Island. They come, most of them, from other islands in the Strait - Murray, Darnley, Mabuiag, Badu, Saibai, Boigu, Dauan - to this trading post, administrative centre, and clearing house for labour. Here there is a hospital, schools for the children, hotels and shops and taxis, work in the town or on the pearling luggers, which still - in spite of all one has heard about the bottom having dropped out of the market - go out for commercial shell, although these days the main and profitable catch is live shell to feed the cultured-pearl farms on Friday Island and Horn and Possession and Good's, on Albany and Darnley and Boigu, at Poid on Moa, and the Escape River. Out of a native population of between 1,500 and 1,700, about 600 men are engaged directly in pearling.

From here too the enterprising or adventurous or ambitious islander can move south to swell the labour force on the mainland. The Torres Strait islanders are a big race, tall, and physically strong: they can earn good money labouring on roads and rails, in quarries and canefields. Education here is improving; there are schools up to the seventh grade on Darnley, Murray, York, Mabuiag, and Badu, and on Thursday Island itself a high school up to junior standard where children from the outer islands are brought in and housed in a hostel if their potential warrants it (only boys yet, which is a bit sad: the Australian attitude towards women carries through even in this fresh and exciting field of social experiment).

What is evident is that here the educated young have no avenues open to them in which they might profitably use their education. A few can be absorbed into the Department of Native Affairs, which still administers the Strait's islands, but the majority have to move south, often through Bamaga on the Cape, a settlement which has training facilities and operates as a launching pad to the south, economic and spiritual independence, and - one desperately hopes - eventual integration. It is a tribal movement: Thursday Island drains the outer islands of the young, the clever, the hopeful, the ambitious, and the south drains Thursday Island. One could, I suppose, foresee a time when the outer islands will become Twilight Homes for the aged, and, when the aged die, revert to nature and silence, which is a fairly spooky thing to contemplate.

In this movement of population inevitably - and I suppose unfortunately - much of custom and tradition is left behind as unnecessary baggage. On the outer islands there is still feasting and singing and dancing, but here on Thursday there is little evidence of any indigenous culture. No crafts are practised, except for the crafts of the sea, feasts of turtle meat and turtle eggs are not usual, and apart from All Souls' Cathedral ('... erected to the glory of God and in memory of those lost in the wreck of the B.I. s.s. Quetta 3,484 tons, which about 9.14 p.m. on Friday 28th February 1890, struck an uncharted rock in the Adolphus Channel, whilst outward bound from Brisbane to London, and although in calm water & bright moonlight sank within three minutes with the loss of 133 lives out of a total of 293 on board'), where services are very High Church and hymns are sung in the native language to the accompaniment of a drum (and this is a breathtaking experience for a stranger), songs are likely to be pop, and dancing European.

And yet. And yet. This place tastes exotic, like strange warm fruit. The trades blow, the palms stream, the dust swirls in clouds and coats ugly houses, tropical trees, rolling children, and hurtling taxis filled with grinning black faces. The days of Assemblies, China boats, shell traders, pearl buyers, and the reign of Burns Philp, might be gone, but something lingers, a smell and a taste and an essence, half squalid and half romantic, something indolent, excessive, irresponsible, shameless and happy. One responds instinctively, and I suppose primitively.

Of course one should deplore drunkenness and promiscuity, illegitimate babies of uncertain fatherhood, and disease apparently spreading like the plague. But the drink and the disease are a white gift, and the illegitimate babies are beautiful and happy and adored. People laugh here, and wear flowers in their hair, and go fishing and get drunk and make babies and grow fat without concern or regret.

I cannot see that law or even incentive will alter this pattern in this generation, which, consciously or unconsciously, still pulses to old rhythms. Freedom is only a word until its meaning is deciphered; it needs time and the right key and constant usage.

But the children of this generation will understand it. Or some of them will. Their children's children will consider freedom, equality, independence to be a birthright. As it should be. Legally the Torres Strait islanders are now Australian citizens, with all the privileges and all the responsibilities that devolve upon that state. Most other Australians don't even know they exist, and of course one wonders how long they will exist in their present state.

Civilization will take up, and responsibility, and material ambitions, taxes and plastic flowers and shoes on the feet and respectable alliances and temperate behaviour. The drum in All Souls' will be silent, the Department of Native Affairs a memory, and the new Royal will hold cabaret with due decorum and a four-piece orchestra.

I am glad I have tasted Thursday Island while the taste is still rank and wild. It will turn bland soon enough."

I am also glad I lived and worked on Thursday Island in 1977 when much of the rankness and wildness was still in evidence. I returned to a much 'tamer' Thursday Island in April 2005 - read more here - much of which can be seen in this excellent clip full of bitumen roads with median strips and shiny air-conditioned four-wheel-drive cars. How things have changed since I lived there in 1977!

And here's another one:

Some more photos of Thursday Island here.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Last night Padma's mum passed away

Padma's mum and dad in Bali in July 2011


After a long struggle during which she's been in and out of hospital several times, Padma's mum has finally found her peace.

Padma has been by her side, day and night, since the middle of last month and, being the oldest child in the family, is now making all the arrangements for the funeral.

I couldn't be with her during this difficult time but I am glad we all had a big family holiday together in Bali in July 2011 which left us with many happy memories.

Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there. I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn's rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.

Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.