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Friday, September 30, 2016

The skyscraper curse


The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is going through financial convulsions as the oil price keeps dropping but that's not stopping them from building what will become the world's tallest building, the Jeddah Tower, which confirms once again what the economist Andrew Lawrence called "the skyscraper curse" when noting that the construction of record-breaking skyscrapers often coincided with economic downturns.

It is being constructed at a preliminary cost of $1.23 billion and will be the centerpiece of a $20 billion proposed development known as Jeddah Economic City that will be located along the Red Sea on the north side of Jeddah. If completed as planned, the Jeddah Tower will reach unprecedented heights, becoming the tallest building in the world, as well as the first structure to reach the one-kilometre-high mark.

It will have 58 lifts, including four of the world’s fastest “double-deckers” travelling at up to 10 metres per second, and some single-deck lifts that travel even faster and can induce bladder problems (I know I'd be pissing myself going up 200-odd floors! ☺).

I hope they won't forget to instal separate lifts for women because I remember from my time in Jeddah in the early 80s when the city's skyline was dominated by a wall of apartment blocks which had already stood empty for years. Why? Because Saudi men refuse to be in the same lift with women. Goats yes; women no!

No separate lifts for women and Jeddah Tower may yet become another Ozymandias’s ruin: “Round the decay / Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare / The lone and level sands stretch far away” - unless, of course, women are expected to take the stairs.


Thursday, September 29, 2016

Happy hour is a nap in the Clubhouse


I'm a terrible sleeper at night but make up for it during the day. There's something about the clubhouse by the pond that sends me off to a blissful sleep almost as soon as my head hits the old sofa.

Or perhaps it's something about the sofa, old and well sat in as it is. It's the first sofa I'd ever bought when back in 1985 I had given up employer-supplied cars, employer-supplied accommodation, and employer-supplied furnishings and hit my own domesticity - and my own bank balance - with a vengeance.



I had bought myself a one-bedroom hole-in-the-wall apartment at McMahons Point and furnished it all - sofa, chairs, coffee table, bookshelves, standing lamp, bed and bedside tables, et al - in one short lunchbreak by walking across to Grace Bros.'s George Street store, pointing at the various objects, and telling the sales assistant who was already mentally calculating his commission, "One of these, one of those, and two of those over there, and have it all delivered by this evening."

The sofa is all that's left of those "Sturm und Drang" years. It's like an old friend I've known for years and feel comfortable with. Rover thinks so, too. Come on, Rover! Time to put on some Mozart and hit the sofa! It's happy hour!


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Do you ever have too much shelf space?


Definitely not in my workshop! Being able to spread out and having all the tools and screws and bolts and nuts in their proper places makes for much more enjoyable and faster work. Not that 'faster' is the operative word; after all, this is retirement and pottering is what it's all about.

And what's that odd caneball hanging down from a string, I hear you ask. It's the Burmese equivalent of our rugby league: chinlone, a traditional ballgame in which the ball must never touch the ground. And in keeping with the happy disposition of those gentle people, there are no opposing teams and no winning or losing.

Now my caneball hangs in my workshop to remind me of happier times and so as not to knock my head on the tools hanging above.

You always learn something when reading my blog, don't you? ☺


Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Boy on a Dolphin


This almost forgotten film is noteworthy for two reasons: it was Sophia Loren's English-language debut, and much of it was shot on location on the Greek island of Hydra when George Johnston and Charmian Clift lived there.

Living at Marina Zea in Piraeus - see here - , just metres away from where those Russian-built 'Flying Dolphins' left for Hydra, I visited the island several times in the early 80s. Situated 70km south of Athens, the ferry would skirt what seemed little more than a bald rock in a boundless cerulean ocean when, abruptly, the town of Hydra would reveal itself like a quixotic watercolour print — its dramatic terrace of garish white houses perched enigmatically above the harbour, where pastel skiffs gently pitter-pattered against the ancient stone walls.

Beyond a few cosmetic nip-and-tucks, the island scarcely differed from the island the Johnstons sailed into in 1955. Old men still crouched over tables in the meniscus harbour playing plakoto and downing cups of black coffee, while nearby donkeys bellowed, awaiting the next shipment from the mainland.

During their years on Hydra, George Johnston and Charmian Clift presided over an extensive bohemian community of artists and writers and became Australia's greatest love story and, some 20 years later, a Greek tragedy because, within five years of returning to Australia, Clift committed suicide, Johnston succumbed to his illnesses just a year later, daughter Shane suicided in 1974, and son Martin died from alcoholism in 1990. The fate of their son Jason, who was born on Hydra in 1956, is unknown.

During 1963, amid the partying and the drinking, George began to write his iconic Australian novel My Brother Jack but confided to his friend Leonard Cohen, "I just don't know what to call it". "What's it about?" Leonard said. "My brother Jack," George replied. Leonard said: "There you are."


Island of Love. Charmian & George are best seen in the wedding scene as they are coming out of the church. Charmian in big straw hat is directly behind the groom; George is to her left and the man on her right is Gordon Merrick, best-selling US author who also lived on Hydra. The children, Martin (in black-rimmed glasses) with his sister Shane, are clearly seen in their own full-frame shot walking along the port, and in the next shot Jason with his friend Evangelina.


The filming of "The Boy on a Dolphin" and two other movies, "Girl in Black" and "Island of Love", caused great excitement on the island and got a mention in both George and Charmian's writing. The whole family were extras in these movies. See if you can recognise them.


Girl in Black. The Johnston children are extras in this film.


Charmian writes most Charmianly about this invasion of their little island by the people from Hollywood in her book "Peel Me a Lotus" in the chapter "September". You won't be able to rush out and buy a copy as it has been out of print for a long time but you might find a second-hand copy on ebay.

One of George Johnston's friends was the LIFE magazine photographer James Burke. James came to Hydra in October 1960 and photographed the expat community. His photographs of that era are all on the Google LIFE archive and can be viewed here. To this day the locals call the house the Johnstons lived in, the "Australian House".

As for me, as soon as I hear Zorba the Greek's theme music - oops! sorry, wrong version! try this one - or see the movie's opening scene, set in a Piraeus taverna just a few streets up from where I lived, I'm right back in Greece, long before "the full catastrophe" happened ☺


Saturday, September 24, 2016

Our floating neighbourhood


The Bible tells us to love our neighbours, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.

It's easy for us to love our neighbours because they're usually here today and gone tomorrow. These ones anchored their houseboat just across from "Riverbend" two nights ago.

They obviously like the location and are welcome to it because that's as close as they will get.

Howdy, neighbours!


Friday, September 23, 2016



A woman in the United Arab Emirates has sought leave to have a sex change operation - see here. Ever since she was three, the woman felt that she is actually a male and wanted to be accepted by others as a male.

I could imagine that half the population in the Middle East - presuming that half the population is female - would like to be accepted by others as male, if for no other reason than to be able to pose for more meaningful happy snaps.


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

We didn't invade Poland in vain after all!

"Zere is no vay ze vool you are pulling over our eyes."


Now that the UK is BREXITing, the European Commission has announced that it will phase in a new "Euro-English" over a five-year period.

In the first year, "s" will replace the soft "c". Sertainly, this will make the sivil servants jump with joy. The hard "c" will be dropped in favour of "k". This should klear up konfusion, and keyboards kan have one less letter.

There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the sekond year when the troublesome "ph" will be replaced with "f". This will make words like fotograf 20% shorter.

In the 3rd year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be expekted to reach the stage where more komplikated changes are possible.

Governments will enkourage the removal of double letters which have always ben a deterent to akurate speling.

Also, al wil agre that the horibl mes of the silent "e" in the languag is disgrasful and it should go away.

By the 4th yer, people wil be reseptiv to steps such as replasing "th" with "z" and "w" with "v".

During ze fifz yer, ze unesesary "o" kan be dropd from vords kontaining "ou" and after ziz fifz yer, ve vil hav a reil sensibl riten styl.

Zer vil be no mor trubl or difikultis and evrivun vil find it ezi tu understand ech oza. Ze drem of a united urop vil finali kum tru.

Und efter ze fifz yer, ve vil al be speking German like zey vunted in ze forst plas.


The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago


The second-best time is now - and so I planted a number of trees which will eventually transform Riverbend into a park with shady spots and sunfilled corners.

Some of the trees I planted are a native rainforest tree called Tuckeroo (a.k.a. cupaniopsis anarcardioides, but, of course, you knew that already ☺), the NZ Christmas Tree or Pohutukawa, several flowering ashes, a small-leaved fig tree which will grow to 40 metres, weeping lilly pillies (waterhousea floribunda), several Australian frangipani trees, a Cape Virgilia, and some silver birches to remind me of the (c)old country.

I won't see them grown up because, as I said, the best time to plant them was twenty years ago but the second-best time is now.


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A true story except for the parts that are not

"Declared open on 19th April 1987 by Mr Jack Myers
an employee engine driver & fireman of the Co.
from January 1937 to December 1973."


Whenever I visit Ulladulla and happen to walk past this plaque where Mitchell's Mill once stood - see here - , I can't help but think of a couple I used to know in Townsville - let's call them John and Elizabeth, because those were their names.

John had come here in 1957 as a young man, leaving his small country Austria to see the world. He took a job in Sydney and, on his first holiday, bought an old motorbike and drove north to explore Australia.

He got as far as Home Hill which, just a hundred kilometres south of Townsville and with a population of no more than a thousand at the time, was a backwater of a backwater.

John put up at the local pub where he met a young buxom barmaid who fell for his Viennese charm and accent, and they eventually settled in Townsville where John became the papercutter at the local newspaper.

He was still the papercutter at the local newspaper when I met them almost three decades later. By then, they had swapped their dreams of seeing the world for six kids and a small house in the suburbs. As Elizabeth wistfully remarked, "I married John in the hope of leaving Home Hill to see the world and got as far as Townsville."

That was in 1985 and today the only plaque with John's name on it is in Townsville's cemetery.



Monday, September 19, 2016

If it's Monday, it must be Ulladulla

The finger points to the Ulladulla Bowling Club


It's fifty clicks there and fifty clicks back, but our weekly trip to Ulladulla is always enjoyable. It was another day of shopping and dining and wining, followed by an hour in the pool and almost the same time in the spa. And that's about all I want to see of the outside world.

Now it's back to the peace and quiet of Riverbend until next Monday.


Sunday, September 18, 2016

Keep breathing as long as possible!


Thank you for all your good wishes! I had a beautiful dinner and even received a birthday card - just one!



Want to know what it says inside? "Keep breathing as long as possible!"



Ponder those wise words as you listen to this rendition of my favourite tune. Until next year!


Saturday, September 17, 2016

There's a corner of a foreign field that is forever ...


When in a moment of badly misdiagnosed "homesickness" I decided in 1985 to turn my back on the expatriate life and return to Australia, I forgot that not only had I changed but also Australia. Like other returning expats before me, I found it difficult to settle back into an "ordinary" life and moved from place to place in an attempt to recapture some of the old lifestyle.

And yet, at no time did I ever consider not to return home at all. Other expats did. Even after their work was done, they remained overseas, hiding out in some exotic backwater in small and ever-shifting communities of the planet's "homeless", languidly killing time like characters in a Graham Greene novel. Some had been so ill-treated and badly wounded by life that they stopped the whole struggle and decided to stay away from home indefinitely, live in a gorgeous house for $200 a month, perhaps take a young local woman as a companion, and drink before noon without getting any static about it.

All they were doing was seeing to it that nothing serious would ever be asked of them again. They were not bums, mind you. They were a very high grade of people, multinational, talented and clever. They used to be something once (generally "married" or "employed"); now they were all united by the absence of the one thing they seemed to have surrendered completely and forever: ambition. To quote my favourite writer Joseph Conrad: "... in all they said - in their actions, in their looks, in their persons - could be detected the soft spot, the place of decay, the determination to lounge safely through existence." Needless to say, there was a lot of drinking.

Many had made a mess of their lives back home, and so they decided they'd had it with Western women and married some tiny, sweet, obedient local girl. They thought this pretty little girl would make them happy, make their lives easy, but it was still two human beings trying to get along with each other. Some had their hearts broken, others just their bank balance.

Of course, those exotic backwaters aren't the worst places to putter away your life, ignoring the passing of the days. Most expats, when you asked them how long they'd lived there, weren't really sure. For one thing, they weren't really sure how much time had passed since they moved there. But for another thing, it was like they weren't really sure if they did live there. They belonged to nowhere, unanchored. Some of them liked to imagine that they'd just be hanging out for a while, just running the engine on idle at the traffic light, waiting for the signal to change. But after several years of that they started to wonder ... will they ever leave? Conrad again: "Their death was the only event of their fantastic existence that seemed to have a reasonable certitude of achievement."

Long Sunday afternoons spent in their lazy company, drinking beer and talking about nothing, could convince you that theirs was not a bad life. Just as long as you didn't fall asleep like Dorothy in the poppy fields of Oz and dozed away the rest of your life with them!


Friday, September 16, 2016

God bless America!


PNG's Independence Day 16 September


It was in the dying days of 1974 when I received an urgent telegram from TOTAL - Compagnie Française des Pétroles to fly to what was then called Burma to take up a new position as chief accountant in their exploration office in Rangoon.

I was at the time working in the Territory of Papua & New Guinea, putting the finishing touches on Air Niugini's internal audit department, as the country was hurdling towards independence the following year. When the then Chief Minister Michael Somare - soon to be Sir Michael and Prime Minister of the independent country of Papua New Guinea - heard of my impending departure, he expressed his regrets that I wouldn't be there for this momentous occasion. "However," he said, "the least we can do is make our Independence Day the same as your birthday."

And so it came to pass that my birthday and Papua New Guinea's Independence Day are celebrated on the same day each year.

P.S. Of course, if you believe this, you'll probably spend the rest of your life doing a convincing impression of a cabbage! ☺


Thursday, September 15, 2016



An Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report says Australia now has 580,000 young people who fall under the classification which stands for "not in employment, education or training".

An army of young Australians "unwilling to work" spends the day sleeping, watching TV or playing computer games — meet the NEETs.

The Daily Telegraph interviewed two NEETs from Mt Druitt - remember Struggle Street? - who'd rather spend their days "chilling at maccas" and taking their old Holden Barina on "off-road tracks" than look for a job.

One of them told The Daily Telegraph she would never get a job. "I don’t want to work my whole life and just die ... I want more than that", she said from the car park of the Mt ­Druitt Centrelink office. "I would tell you it’s hard to get a job but to be honest I don’t even try. Centrelink pays my rent and that’s all I need".

What next? An annual Honours List for the 'Longest Unemployeds'? Am I an optimist when it comes to the future of this country? No, sorry, I don't know the first thing about making eyeglasses.

P.S. With such huge social challenges to be solved, our politicians fritter their time away in bitter and heated debates about same-sex marriage and whether or not we should spend $75 million having a plebiscite about it - a non-binding plebiscite at that whose outcome would still need to be approved by Parliament anyway! Like Oscar Wilde, I have no objection to anyone’s sex life as long as they don’t practice it in the street and frighten the horses. If those people want to get married and be as miserable as the rest of us, let them! Already, schools in Sydney allow boys to wear girls' uniforms and use the girls' toilets - see here. So who cares if lesbians like to do it with women? I like to do it with women! Maybe I'm a lesbian, too? ☺


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

An Island To Oneself

to view some clippings from the Pacific Islands Monthly, click here


An Auckland-based German documentary-maker, Ulli Weissbach of Pacifica Productions, wants to make a film about Tom Neale, the New Zealander who spent several years alone on Suwarrow Atoll in the middle of the South Pacific.

Until the film comes out - if it ever does! - , here's Tom Neale's book An Island To Oneself. Enjoy!

Click here to open online book in separate window


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

We're paying top dollar and get monkeys. Where did we go wrong?


We have some of the world's most highly-paid politicians and yet we still get monkeys.

As Australians struggle to balance household budgets and pay off debt, the government could demonstrate it will live within its means by taking a salary cut. A proposal to reduce politicians’ salaries would send a clear message that the government believes the business of austerity is everyone’s business.

And while they're at it, they could reduce their retiring colleagues' life-long perks and fancy supers; indeed, why not reduce the number of federal, state and local politicians altogether? For a country with fewer than 25 million people, we are vastly overgoverned.

Take Canberra. Here we have a territory with a population less than one third of that of London and we have a separate government. Why not a Lord Mayor and City council? Carry this across all states and territories and you will get the drift. Federation was great in 1901 but has now passed its use-by date. All we need to do is retain the State boundaries but dispense with all state parliaments and divide the country in so many federal electorates.

But could you ever imagine any of our governing or opposition MPs utter the word 'austerity' when it comes to their own 'entitlements'?


It's one of those adagio days


Warm and humid but cloudy and still - it's one of those days that goes well with Mozart's Clarinet Concerto In A Major (K 622) Adagio.

Throw in a few scenes from one of my favourite movies, and things don't get much better than this.

P.S. The K in (K 622) stands for Köchelverzeichnis, which is a list of all of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's compositions, compiled by - you guessed it! - Ludwig Ritter von Köchel. These blogs aren't just for your idle entertainment, you know; you're supposed to learn something, dammit!