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Friday, July 31, 2015

To MINIX or not to MINIX ?


We spent the afternoon with friends in town who have their large flat-screen television connected to a Wi-Fi-gadget called the MINIX NEO X8-H Plus.

"What's that?", I hear you ask. Well, think of it as a fairly powerful Android tablet - just like my HP Slate 21 - but with no built-in display.

Instead, you attach it to your television - or any other HDMI-capable display - to watch movies or browse the internet on the wide screen.

Just make sure your television has an HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) connection into which a plug like this will fit:

Browsing the internet on a large flat-screen television is quite a new experience and well worth the couple of hundred dollars this amazing gadget costs, whether you buy it on the internet or at Dick Smith.


Thursday, July 30, 2015

It'll raise the average IQ of both countries


Another man has been remanded in custody after being charged for attempting to travel to northern Iraq to fight with Islamic State. Why stop these people?

I'd help them pack their bags, get them to the plane on time, make sure they're seated comfortably, and even prepay their in-flight entertainment (RAMBO?)

I mean, their leaving Australia and going to Iraq should raise the average IQ of both countries by quite a large double-digit figure
(I always knew that having met 'Piggy' Muldoon in 1978 would one day come in handy ☺).

Good riddance to you! Just don't call my Australia your home!


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Send me SOMETHING!!!


Thus spake the newsletter editor of the ANZ Banking Group Retired Officers' Club for which I am the blogmaster. He had resorted to telling jokes to fill the pages, after which he added the footnote: If you do not send me stuff to share with all our members, I shall continue to put articles like that above in the newsletter. If you want me to stop, send me something!!!

Well, the third exclamation mark got me started to jot down some of my memories of my employment with the ANZ Bank which, despite its shortness, had been a hugely important milestone in my life and I will always be grateful to the late Mr Robert Reid, the then manager of the ANZ Bank in Canberra, who hired me as a youngster, fresh off the boat from Europe, and gave me the chance of a new start in a new country.

And, of course, the Bank's social life and the team spirit, together with living in a boarding-house full of other "Bank Johnnies", left me with many memories which I indulged in on my Barton House webpage.

Working for the ANZ Bank allowed me to not only learn good, almost expletive-free English and mix with people a cut above the rest but it also introduced me to Australian commercial practices which would stand me in good stead as I worked my way through a correspondence course in accountancy with the then Hemingway Robertson Institute.

"Once you withdraw, you lose all your interest!" That's what my immediate boss, John Burke, jokingly used to tell me! He was the head-ledgerkeeper at the ANZ Bank in Canberra Civic during my first two years as ledgerkeeper from 1965 to 1967. He was again my boss as accountant of the Kingston A.C.T. branch where I worked as a teller for another nine months or so after I had come back from South Africa.

Yours truly outside the ANZ Bank Kingston A.C.T. in 1969

Those were the days before computers, electronic calculators, or even electric adding machines! Everything was done manually and took many hours, like when it was 'all hands on deck' twice a year to 'do the decimals', i.e. calculating the interest on savings accounts. And you needed a strong pair of hands to shake a sorting tray full of coins. Rolling those coins into tightly-wrapped tubes also took some learning.

And what about pistol practice? Not that we ever fired a shot in anger! That small pistol in the teller's drawer and the red trip lever on the floor that would set off the alarm were our only defense against a hold-up that never came.

There were some machines, like that huge beast of a 'Proof Machine' which was the size of a small room on which all incoming cheques were 'batched' by the respective bank on which they were drawn. And in those days there were many more banks than there are today: who still remembers the Rural Bank of New South Wales, the English, Scottish & Australian Bank, the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney, the Commercial Bank of Australia, or the Bank of Adelaide?

Here's proof of how big a Proof Machine was

Once a day one of us juniors would be the Exchange Clerk and trot off to the Reserve Bank on Canberra's London Circuit to exchange cheques with the other banks. It was a much sought-after job as some of the exchange clerks from the other banks were of the female variety which gave us blokes a chance to chat them up ☺

For us ledgerkeepers - Kevin Sloan, John Julian, Jeff Bowdie, and yours truly - the race was on every morning to extract as quickly as possible our customers' overdraft balances and report them on blue O/D Cards to the Assistant Manager, Mr Bradford, who would then decide which to pass and which to do the dirty deed on. Back in those days a dishonoured cheque was a disgrace - well, to some; others were daring enough to attempt to 'fly a kite' - and a customer's cheque was 'bounced' for all sorts of other reasons first - Endorsement Required; Signature Unlike Specimen Held; Amounts in Words and Figures Differ; Post-dated - before his lack of funds was disclosed with a gentle "Present Again" or the more abrupt and final "Refer to Drawer".

Female bank staff were demurely dressed in dark-blue smocks with detachable collars and an ANZ brooch fastened to the lapel. The absence of either resulted in a severe reprimand from the manager. As did swearing: Kay Atkinson once exclaimed, "Strewth!" Within minutes the phone rang and the manager wanted to know who had uttered such profanity.

Back then banks still bothered with small-time banking: we regularly visited schools and encouraged kids to deposit their play money into savings accounts with us. And we offered a variety of Special Purpose savings accounts: for holidays, for education, and, of course, for the eventual home purchase. No bank in those days gave out home loans to customers who had not been diligent savers over several years!

The ANZ Bank also encouraged its customers to save for Christmas with their Christmas Club coupon book which held 50 coupons of either $1, $2, $5 or $10. A customer could walk into any branch, deposit the equivalent of one or more coupons, and then wait until early December before he was sent his final balance, plus interest, in a cheque.

Some customers couldn't wait that long. They were given the third degree by the manager who demanded that they put their reason for an early withdrawal in writing. Once reluctantly approved, they were given back their money but without any interest - remember John Burke's "once you withdraw, you lose all your interest"? ☺

Speaking of third degree, woe betide you if, as a teller, you were short of money at the end of the day. All that grovelling and letter-writing to the State Manager who eventually, after you had started paying off the shortage from your meagre salary of forty-quid-a-fortnight or whatever, graciously forgave you the rest.

And I will always remember that small cheque I had sent to the Bankers' Association to pay my union dues. They had taken so long to cash it that I'd totally forgotten about it. When it finally came in, the balance in my account was less than the stamp duty on the cheque. I think turning up drunk for work or being caught out in some osculating activities with a ledger girl in the bank's strongroom would have been more excusable than uttering a worthless cheque. More grovelling and more letter-writing to avoid being given the sack! (By the way, having an account with another bank was also a sackable offense!)

Do banks these days still have an Opinion Clerk? I was one for a while, which was probably the only time when the ANZ Bank gave out opinions in a heavy German accent. My favourite one was 'Possessed of assets' (which in the vernacular meant "filthy rich") which I knew I would never achieve on my paltry bank salary (my penurious situation was best captured by the bank opinion 'Financial position unknown' aka "flat broke"), so I left the bank again at the end of 1969 to seek my fortunes elsewhere - see here.

The tie that binds

But I still have my old Bank tie and many happy memories and, yes, I am now 'Possessed of assets' but rapidly running out of time to spend them all. Unless, of course, it is true what they say: that old bankers never die; they just want to be a loan!


A tale with a sting in the tail


Burg Thurston works at Batemans Bay's Innes Boatshed which has been a local landmark since 1955. There he made friends with a giant black stingray called "Nobby".

“Over time, the stingray got more confident”, Burg says. “Now I jump in, he shoos the other stingrays off and comes in and glides up my belly.”

"I loved to surf in the mornings and when I started working the morning shift I was often a bit anxious when I knew I was missing the waves. Then I realised, if my mind was always in the surf while I was working, I was going to miss what is right in front of me, which was the stingrays and how beautiful the boatshed was, and how good my job actually was.”

Did you yell 'Encore'? Well then, here it is:

Wherever you are and whatever you do, this film may inspire you to take your focus off what you haven't got and turn it to what's right in front of you.


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Armchair-travelling on a cold day

Marina Zeas in Piraeus in Greece


This must be the coldest winter in the twenty-two years I have been at "Riverbend": as I went out this morning to feed the wild ducks on the pond, the grass was covered with white frost which crunched under my gumbooted feet.

It's a good time to stay indoors with one hand firmly clasped around a hot cup of tea while the other does some armchair travelling on the computer keyboard with the help of GOOGLE Maps. I GOOGLEd for Boudouri # 2 where I used to live in Piraeus and found this:

Click on image to go to GOOGLE Maps

My apartment was at the end of the street in the building with views of Marina Zeas which is now obscured by trees.

The view from my balcony of Marina Zea

The photo below, 'stolen' from the Greek real estate site www.rems-hellas, advertises the old brownstone building, which is directly opposite the apartment I used to live in, up for sale and redevelopment. My favourite taverna, where I used to dine almost every night and where I had my permanent table and chair, was on the corner where the BERLONI-sign is displayed now. Whatever BERLONI is, it's no longer my old taverna!

And while I was at it, I also GOOGLEd for my old office building at # 3 Agiou Nicolaou in Piraeus:

Click on image to go to GOOGLE Maps

My office was on the top floor (not visible) in the brownish building towards the centre of the picture from where I had a 180-degree view of the harbour of Piraeus with its many tavernas in which I spent many hours, especially on a rainy day. The opening scene in the movie ZORBA THE GREEK takes me right back there - click here.

In my office in Piraeus

It looks so good now. Perhaps I should have stayed longer but hindsight comes too late ("Too late!" - an apt title for my autobiography? ☺)

Anyway, that's the difference between youth and age: when you're young, you invent a different future for yourself; when you're old, you invent a different past.

P.S. See also
the Mofarrij fleet
TARE weight
my Jeddah office
Bozenna and Ted
Thamer Mofarrij

P.P.S. You can also find "Riverbend" on GOOGLE Maps - click here. With the river to the left, you see a cluster of three rooftops, one large greyish one and two smaller white ones. The large greyish one is our home; the white one on the left is the guest cottage and the one on the right the workshop. The white speck in the river is my little motor-sailer. "Riverbend" - as the name suggests - stretches all the way around the bend in the river.


Monday, July 27, 2015

You never know what you'll find


When I started with personal computers (after having mainlined on mainframes for several years), they still had an A: and B: drive into which you inserted (very) floppy 5-1/4-inch disks and which ran on DOS Version 2.0 (which is when DOS began supporting harddisks).

But the harddisks only became usable after they had been formatted - twice: first you did a low-level format. Then, if you were using DOS Version 3.3, you could partition the harddisk into more than one logical drive (but only from DOS Version 4.0 could you create partitions greater than 32 MB). Then you did a high-level format on each partition to instal the operating system. Finally, you created the two all-important AUTOEXEC.BAT and CONFIG.SYS files to load the various devices and make the operating system run properly (including instructions on how to use the computer's then very limited memory with the HIMEM.SYS command). Then there were the pesky Interrupts (IRQ) and woe betide you if you had assigned the same IRQ to two different devices: have you ever seen thick black smoke come out of a Point-of-Sale docket printer? I have and it was all my own fault! ☺

And then came Windows and all these wonderful 'hands-on' things became things of the past as the computer did everything for you - well, sort of - and you had no idea how. Like yesterday when my laptop froze up on me - sort of - and I had no idea why. So today I took it down to my friendly Dick Smith store where I was introduced to the F11 function key: switch on your laptop while at the same time hammering the F11 key like a demented idiot to reset the entire computer back to its factory settings.

Which I did and which worked! Proof of which is this blog which I wrote after I had come home again but not before also visiting my favourite shop, the St Vincent de Paul op-shop, which is always full of surprises. No, not this one but a CD of Hans Albers' "Der Blonde Hans" with such German evergreens as 'La Paloma', 'Nimm mich mit, Kapitän, auf die Reise', 'Das Herz von St. Pauli', 'Auf der Reeperbahn nachts um halb eins' and many, many more - sample them here.

And, as always, I brought back a few books. The first one is a copy of Julian Barnes' "The Sense of an Ending" which I already have and have read. This one is in almost mint condition and will make a wonderful present to somebody I know who's just in the mood for such a little treasure. The other one is as much a travel book as a linguistic study, "The Prodigal Tongue - Dispatches from the Future of English". And the last is "The Dictionary of Wimps" (should that have been 'for Wimps'?) from which I cite a few definitions:

accountancy: a profession absolutely crawling with wimps. A chicken and egg situation ... did they become accountants because they were wimps, or did they embrace wimpotence because of accountancy itself? Whatever the answer the fact is that they became accountants because they lacked the balls to be lawyers and associate with criminals or cut people open like surgeons.

celibacy: a vow a wimp pretends he has taken to conceal the fact that he couldn't get laid if he was a shagpile.

culture: a collection of wimps growing on a camembert.

Hitler: a much-misunderstood Austrian painter. Between bouts of painting, Hitler managed to conquer most of the known world. More, we venture, than can be said for Gainsborough or Van Gogh.

keepsake: an eternal reminder of a wonderful holiday romance. Often resistant to penicillin.

Koran: basically the same yarn as the Bible, but with better imagery, tighter plot and more action. Essentially the Bible as written by Robert Ludlum.

monk: a man who takes vows of poverty, chastity and obedience when he enters a religious order. Wimps do the same when they marry.

one night stand: the first night of a wimp's married life and the last he will get for a long time.

swastika: one day Goering drew one of these squiggly shapes on the pad by the telephone. It caught the Fuhrer's eye, and the rest is history.

Thermos: the Greek god of hot water.

zen: a word used by German wimps when talking to their canaries, as in 'Hullo, who's ein pretty boy, zen?'

If you want to read more, stop being a wimp and go and buy the book!


Checking my vital signs

The German 'Rentenversicherung' sent me their once-a-year form in which somebody of authority has to confirm that I'm still alive and entitled to receive my German pension of €88.

I drove to the local court house where a friendly lady took my pulse and confirmed that I was still alive - but only just!


Saturday, July 25, 2015

I give up!

To my Moroccan viewers: only TWO visits per day allowed!
This is your last one! ☺


This guy had his dog Wendy for nine years and taught her to talk, meow and sing. We've had ours for thirteen years and only got them house-trained - just!

P.S. Want more? Here it is:


Friday, July 24, 2015

Why die here when you can die there?

Here's the full movie; enjoy it before they remove it from YouTube


We went to watch "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" and enjoyed it a lot. Then we went to watch "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" and enjoyed it   ---   well, enough to want to watch it again.

So we went out and bought the DVD and tonight is Movie Night at "Riverbend" - if my sight and my hearing hold out until then!

For a preview click here.


More memories

Yours truly as an eighteen-year-old paymaster in a mobile construction office in 1963 or 1964 somewhere in northern Germany. We were building the 'Autobahn' from Hannover to Bremen and every couple of months our mobile office would follow the work crew up the line. Visible in the background is a double-decker bed and a kerosene heater on which I cooked and washed up because my office was also my home. 'On-the-job living' and 'sleeping on the job' taken to extremes! ☺


Today's generation, thanks to free digital photography, will be able to look through hundreds, if not thousands, of photos when they get to my age. We in post-war Germany needed every 'Pfennig' just to feed ourselves and there was little left for anything else, least of all photography.


In the Harz Mountains near Königslutter with my stepsister Karin,
my stepbrother Borkhardt, and my stepmother. I'm on the right.


I can count on one hand the few photos I have of my own childhood.


I am on the left behind the 'Beetle"; Borkhardt and my sister Bärbel
are sitting on top of the car.


With so few photos left, even the not-so-decent ones have become precious. ☺



Ah well, not much to look at, is there? ☺



Sunday, July 19, 2015

Another John Pilger classic


John Pilger's television film The New Rulers of the World debunks of the myth of globalisation.

I've just read the book of the same name which collects both his original work and expanded versions of his recent essays and illuminates the terrible nature of modern imperialism.

The book is a beacon of light in our very dark times when "Airstrip One" rules the entire world.


Saturday, July 18, 2015

The only death we experience is other people's

The bar at the SAVOY HOTEL in Piraeus in Greece


Insomnia and I have been uneasy bedfellows for many years. Last night was no exception: still awake at two in the morning, I'd taken the dogs (and myself) for a pee and then tried to get some sleep. But sleep wouldn't come. Instead, I started thinking - I don't know why - about my old friend Hans Moehrke in Cape Town.

Hans and I had met when he stayed at the SAVOY HOTEL in Piraeus where I was a permanent resident during my "Greek days". We breasted the bar on many nights and over many drinks, bemoaning the state of the world and our place in it.

We were both in commodity trading: I mainly in grains, in lots of 20,000, 30,000, even 50,000 tonnes at a time - click here - , whereas Hans was more into pork bellies for which there wasn't much demand from my Saudi masters in Jeddah.

We stayed in touch after my return to Australia in 1985, sometimes through an occasional phone call but more often through letters which became more sporadic after Hans had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease which made it impossible for him to write.

Anyway, with all this going through my mind, I was wide awake by then and thought I might as well get up, make myself a cup of tea and switch on the computer. And then - I still don't know what made me do it - I Googled for "Hans Moehrke Cape Town" and found this:

Hans Horst Moehrke was born on 30 July 1934
and passed away on 27 May 2015 in Cape Town.
Posted by Remembered Admin, 10 Jun 2015

OH MY GOD! And it happened less than two months ago!

Then I remembered his last "message", quite some time ago, which was a small parcel containing a paperback book. It had been some sort of detective novel which I don't usually bother with and which I had tucked away for a rainy day when I might be short of something to read.

Well, it wasn't so much a rainy day as a very sad early morning when I went across to my library to pull Hans's book off the shelf. It was an Inspector Morse novel with the now very prescient title
Death Is Now My Neighbour.

Had Hans tried to tell me something?

Rest in Peace, Hans.
People die only when we forget them.
I shan't forget you.