Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Reasons to be Cheerful [Part 2]

"Hello-o, Ian speaking."

"Hello, Ian mate, moi name's Ralph, 'aht in Reservoir. We're havin' a few probs, about thirty pigeons stuck in our canopy. Just wonderin' if you'd be free to pop over an' give us a hand?"

Somehow, strangely apt to get that phone call the day after I'd re-commenced my career as a Mental Health Nurse. Getting pigeons out of canopies a speciality. I think it was a wrong number rather than a cryptic cry for help, but you never say never, and expect the unexpected in my job...

So, anyway, my first day was fine. People were nice, friendly, and easy-going. Good place to work, professional, good attitudes. It helped that I was supernumerary and had no specific role, which allowed me to float, observe and take it all in. Good job too, as it was all a bit baffling at times, with different systems, new practices etc.

But I soon realised that people are the same wherever you are, and more specifically, psychiatric illness is the same the world over too. Some confrontational behaviour/conversations, but by and large the place is prett calm, and very much patient-focused, collaborating with the patients in their care as much as possible.

It's looking good. Got to go, as I've got my next shift starting in 2 and a half hours, and it'll take me a good portion of that to get there. Back home for midnight, up at 4.30 for my early tomorrow. We really do need an apartment soon. In fact, I'd even tolerate a few pigeons in the canopy at this point.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Melbourne Art

I've mentioned graffiti [and Melbourne's attempt to clean it up] here before, and have included a link to Banksy, whose sometimes breathtakingly witty and political stencilling has both inspired and amused the anti-establishment part of my character.

I can understand the arguments against graffiti and have some sympathy with them, but there's a real beauty in some of the stuff [mindlessly repetitive "tagging" is both boring and irritating, to my mind]. I also really struggle with "zero tolerance" attitudes against things, especially when there is a real alternative - such as sanctioned graffiti-permitted areas in this case.

Yes, probably part of me is simply kicking against the pricks [you mean you didn't realise that that was from the Bible? Shame on you!], but I think it's also pretty darned pragmatic. Let's face it, zero tolerance is usually used as a political statement for the Daily Mail reader mindset, but rarely works. Why? Because it gets people's backs up, is often ill thought out and practically unenforceable. But it makes a great headline and the powers that be are "seen to be doing something". Even when they're not.

Anyway, the reason I bring this up is that The Guardian has today combined the two here, as Banksy comments on Melbourne's street artists and the recent Commonwealth Games "clean-up" [or throwing a ton of money down the drain, depending on your viewpoint].

Reasons to be Cheerful [Part 1]

A few things we're looking forward to over the coming months...
Lots of links to click too, Bridge!

1. Aussie Rules footy ["AFL"] starting in the next month. Hopefully Carlton [my team] will fail to pick up the wooden spoon this season, unlike 2 of the last 3 seasons. And as for Collingwood [Claud's team], the most positive thing I can say is that they were in "The Club", seminal 1980 Aussie flick directed by Bruce Beresford [nearly a nice name there, Bruce].

2. The Whitlams in May, at probably our fave venue in Melbourne, The Prince. Claudine thinks we may be eating at their fabulous restaurant, Circa, some time soon too... best get the budget sorted out then, wif...

3. Our friend Jenny returning [only to visit, sadly] in May

4. Australia v Greece at the MCG in May [proper football]. Yes, The Socceroos [sic]. Quite why every national team in Australia has to have a silly animal-related nickname I'm not sure - Wallabies, Kookaburras, Wallaroos, Opals... well, mainly animal-related. Good job there are lots of obscure marsupials here... so, anyone want to join my over-40s 5-a-side fat and lazy footy team, The Kwokkas?

5. Split Enz at the Rod Laver Arena in June - third row seats, whoo hoo!

6. Rugby at the Telstra Dome - England v Australia if tickets are forthcoming...

7. A visit with Claud's siblings and associated family to the Victorian mountains in Winter [UK's summer] to show the kids the snow for the first time... And yes, it does get cold in Melbourne too - just not that cold.

And if you needed further confirmation of Melbourne's status as one of the world's most liveable cities, just ask the Commonwealth Games Athletes. Well, these ones,if you can find them...


For those of you who are occasional visitors and/or a trawl through our typing loggorhea is too daunting [Hi Bridge!], this is a quick update re: our lives here in Melbourne so far. Keep tuned, things may change fast!

* We're settled generally, acclimatised and happy. I'm even wearing long trousers when I don't need to, rather than my usual shorts, so my body's core temperature must have acclimatised too.

* Claudine has been working as a temp at a large Bank here in Melbourne for 4 weeks now. A large Advertising Agency were very interested in recruiting her, but the timing was a bit off. Hopefully, something permanent will come out of the Bank job soon. Watch this space.

* Ian starts his new job [finally!] on Monday next, working in the psychiatric adult department a large hospital in a funky part of Melbourne [are there any other parts, I hear you ask?]. I'm really looking forward to starting, getting some regular routine, some of my own friends etc. Time to start crossing those digits, touching that wood, lighting those candles or casting your eyes heavenwards that he likes it, folks... your supplications have been pretty successful so far, thank you!

* Our stuff from the UK is now waiting for customs clearance in Adelaide, and will be delivered as soon as they've sniffed/torn apart/burned/laughed at whatever they need to check out. At this point, everything bar essentials will be living in Anna & Kev's garage [friends from the UK] as...

* ...we're still living in Hurstbridge with Claud's brother & his wife, Stephen & Lisa, and their 19-month old, Harrison. Hurstbridge is about 33km from the city, a little bit country ["bush"] and a little bit feral and hippy - in fact, it's so hippy-dippy-la-la [click the link above or here and you'll see what I mean] that when I saw an ad for "Atom Welding" a few weeks back, I naturally assumed that it was some sort of Alternative Therapy. Turned out it was a welding firm with the motto "No job too small". Oops. My mistake. However...

* ...our living arrangements may be changing soon... we're simply too far out from the city - an hour to by train on a usually-packed train [those of you in London may remember the name "Connex" and nod in understanding and pity when we say they run the train services here now...]. I'll be leaving for work at 5.15 AM to start work at 7 and won't be back home till 5.30 PM, and can't even get to work by public transport on a Sunday. My late shift means I leave at 11.15 AM and won't be home till midnight. Claud's day is often 12 hours door to door too. So...

* ...we're now looking at renting somewhere closer to the city [in fact, possibly in the city] for 6 months,with another 3 months of house-sitting already arranged after that]. We've done the sums and can still save for a deposit despite paying rent. As much as we like it out here, and love being with Stepehn & Lisa, we need to look after our needs and get our own headspace too. We spend a lot of our time in and around the city, so the prospect of leaving the city in the evening with an-hour-plus journey if we manage to catch the hourly train isn't exactly a thrill. And there are some groovy pads to be had for not much money... going to view a few places over the next day or 3, so again, watch this space.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Big in Zambia?

Whilst waiting to watch Tim Freedman from The Whitlams play in a cental Melbourne music store, I noticed a Zambian Official [surely not an athlete unless a weightlifter or shotputter?] in full shiny-tracksuit-with-flags-and-logos, seeking out choice DVDs to take home with him...

His choice bizarrely included old-school British sitcom "Keeping Up Appearances"... Yes, the Hyacinth Bucket thing.

Now, that's not something I'd imagine would translate terribly well to Zambian life [or any civilised society, for that matter, but that's my snobbery coming through again], but it clearly has some transcendental qualities hitherto unidentified...
Blimey, that sentence was a bit of a mouthful, wasn't it? It's staying in though, as I quite like it...

Perhaps it was some sort of a bribe for a Games official with British heritage?

p.s. Don't miss Claud's 2 new posts which have just appeared below my Whingeing Pom one... Here and here.

Whingeing Pom Mode

Seems like a loooong time since I last posted. The Commonwealth Games have, of course, taken over my life as I try to fill the time before I start my proper job, rather than simply Manchester's Cultural Attaché to Melbourne.

So what have I been doing, you ask?


I got to the second day of the Rugby Sevens, which was again pretty entertaining, though I've been struggling more than a little bit with the prevalent Australian attitude to the English. This was most apparent at the Rugby when the only team out of 16 nations that not only didn't get any applause, and in fact were booed when they came to warm up, was... guess who? I would previously have said there was anti-British rather than anti-English feeling here, but it's patently a cricket thing that allows what could under other circumstances be described as prejudice to prevail.

When interviewed after his Gold Medal on Channel 9, the most one-eyed and biased TV coverage you could ever have the misfortune to see [as one letter-writer in The Age sarcastically asked of Channel 9: "The other nations in the Commonwealth Games? Where the bloody hell are they?"], Wales' David Davies commented that the Australians had been gracious in their reception of him in beating the local heroes, but that he thought that they were just happy that it wasn't an Englishman. Robert Barone lookalike Nicole Livingstone responded in amusement that yes, indeed that was the case. Ha ha ha.

Yes, I probably am being too sensitive as I try to settle in here, but my second day at the rugby was again spiked with more anti-Pom vitriol from the crowd who were otherwise appreciative and supportive of other nations, of good play, and of victory. No such grace for the English, nonono, and it was actually pretty uncomfortable at times.

It reminded me of one of the darker days of football in England [in Stoke or Sheffield, say], when ignorant and prejudiced opposition fans try to provoke a response as you sit there to simply enjoy the game. As I say, it may be 95% my perception of the situation, but there's definitely an undercurrent of hatred out there, and it was little surprise to me that an England fan was both threatened with being thrown from the stand and given a beating at the hands of 2 other supporters at the Finals of the Sevens.

I found myself, backed into a corner, becoming more English, more vocal, and more one-eyed... it felt like injustice, to be truthful, and made me close to reacting in ways I didn't particularly like. There's a fine line between supporting the underdog, of humour and banter, but I felt it was repeatedly crossed, and that it's actually socially acceptable to do it... Grrr. Rant over.

Thankfully, the Athletics has been free of any sort of bias and hostility on the two days I've been to events at the MCG, and the crowds have been supportive overall, appreciative of battlers and winners, albeit a little complacent if there's not an Aussie involved in the race. But that's something that would probably happen anywhere, though I'm wondering whether Australia's fixation on sporting excellence is a good thing in the longer term. This is an area I'll no doubt return to, but there was one example that I found a little unpalatable [yes, I really am in my Whingeing Pom mode today, aren't I?] on Monday.

The Mens' Decathlon was drawing to its finish, the last event of the morning, when news came through that the 20km Mince... sorry, Walk, was coming to a close over in Docklands [i.e. well away from the Stadium] and that there was a likely "Aussie Trifecta" [yes, it's a new word to me too... it means 1,2 and 3] so they cut to the event on the big screens. They then proceeded to show and commentate on the Walk, which was by this stage a foregone conclusion anyway, whilst the Decathletes continued to plug away at their shot put event.

I felt this was really disrespectful to the athletes who were still in the stadium, not to mention pretty blooming distracting for them, not to mention the spectators who remained in the ground. It simply reiterated the fact that many Aussies only seem to be interested in sport where they win, not in sport itself. Discuss...

More Later... not moaning, hopefully.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Edward Gough Whitlam

I met one of my heroes today.

It is not every day one can say that.

I arranged to meet my friend Liz today for lunch. I met Liz when I started working at ANZ Trustees many moons ago. Liz is one of those people you meet in life and are eternally gratful that you did. Liz gave me the self-belief I lacked at 23 and mentored me through the next 10 years of my career. She is a wonderful woman. While she is one of my heroes, she is not the hero I speak of now.

I was waiting for Liz in an old Melbourne institution called, Pelligrinis. Being the coffee snob that I am it embarasses me to remember my first Pellegrinis experience. Liz took me there for pasta and coffee one day when I was still buying my coffee from McDonalds. (Yes, I know. Forgive me for I was once young and stupid. We sat down and I mentioned quietly to Liz that I'd never been to Pellegrinis before. Well, Liz thought that was hilarious and although quite diminutive she managed to alert the entire place that I was a Pellegrinis Virgin. Thank you and good night...

So, roll forward to today I am waiting for Liz as the place is quickly filling up. I nabbed 2 stools along the back counter and order a latte. Sisto, the owner, is rushing around in a flap and I over hear him say When he was Prime Minister he used to stand here and drink his coffee. Today he is 80 something so I need to seat him at the table in the back! My ears pricked up and my brain whirred into action and deduced that the only person he could be speaking about, in fact, the only person who would illicit such a reaction in an Italian cafe owner in Melbourne, was Gough Whitlam.

I admire and respect Gough for many things. He was a dynamic man who, in my everso humble opinion, in the early 70's, dragged Australia from a the backwater, small-minded, post war colony that was still entwined in England's apron strings into the stirrings of a nation in its own right.

He introduced free Univeristy education for he felt that a student's merit rather than a parent's wealth should decide who should benefit from the community's vast financial commitment to tertiary education. And more, it's time to strike a blow for the ideal that education should be free.

Many baby boomers benefited from a free university education and no doubt, payed through their noses for their children's university education as the next conservative government, unsurprisingly reversed Gough's policy and re-enstated fees which are in place to this day. Shamefully the next Labour government did not reverse that policy, or many others that the Whitlam government had tried to push through in the early 70's.

He abolished conscription and dropped Australia's controversial White Australia Policy and to be honest, if that was all he managed to do I'd still applaud him. Vile piece of legislation, that.

These are a few of the Whitlam government's other accomplishments;

* established formal diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China;
* cut tariffs across the board by 25% and abolished the Tariff Board;
* established the Schools Commission to distribute Federal funds to assist non-government schools on a needs basis;
* introduced a supporting benefit for single-parent families;
* abolished the death penalty for Federal crimes;
* reduced the voting age to 18 years;
* introduced language programs for non-English speaking Australians;
* mandated equal opportunities for women in Federal Government employment;
* appointed women to judicial and administrative positions;
* set up the National Aboriginal Consultative Committee;
* amalgamated the five separate defence departments;
* instituted direct federal grants to local governments; and
* established the Order of Australia, Australia's own honours system.

Not bad eh?

When I think of Gough I find the story of Vincent Lingiari is the first story comes to mind. Vincent Lingiari was an aboriginal rights activist whose plight got the attention of the Whitlam Government and in 1975, after a 7 year struggle, the Commonwealth Land Rights act was passed.

This was the first time indigenous Australians were recognised as the true owners of ancestral land and gave them freehold title to traditional lands in the Northern Territory and, significantly, the power of veto over mining and development on those lands. An important and symbolic event in Australian History history occurred when, during an emotional ceremony in 1975, Prime Minister Gough Whitlam poured the local sand into Vincent Lingiari's hands and handed the Wave Hill station back to the Gurindji people.

It's a great story - for a precis of it see Paul Kelly's lyrics From Little Things Big Things Grow.

On November 11, 1975, Whitlam's Government was sacked by the then Governor-General (the Queen's representative and Australia's figure head of state) Sir John Kerr. You can read the background andt he lead up to the dismissal here rather than plagerise then entire wikipedia entry.

I believe it was a sad day for Australia but Whitlam had his detractors too. I admire him cause he was gutsy, he wrought sweeping changes to Australia at a time when it was stuck in a parochial, jingoistic furrow and which looked to continue for years had he not stepped up.

Anyway, all that said and done I had the great honour of meeting Mr Edward Gough Whitlam and his wife Margaret in the kitchen at Pelligrini's today. Liz introduced me to him, I shook his hand and he smiled at me. I told him, trying hard to sound articulate, that it was an honour to meet him. And it was.

I have in no way done justice to the man but I can only write so much. One of my favorite bands, The Whitlams, went a step further and wrote a song, named themselves after him and brought him to life for a whole new generation.

The only original band member is Tim Freedman. I love his music and his style. Oh, and I met him on Monday as well...

While I was out...

Many things have changed since I last lived in Melbourne. So much so that even after 3 months (to the day!) since we arrived and 4 weeks of work in the city, I still feel a little bit like a newbie.

Obviously, there are things that have not changed. Coffee for starters. Yes, yes I know but this is my lonely furrow so bear with me. As I rode up the escalator at Parliament Station this morning, the heady aroma of fresh coffee wafting around me, a thought leapt into my head ... What if I was told I could never drink coffee again? I shuddered, threw up a quick prayer and headed with purpose to get my morning strong, skinny latte, deftly ignoring every side-effect that prolonged caffeine consumption induces.


So, things that have not changed. Women in their droves still trot around before and after work in their sneakers (trainers) which makes an amusing accessory to their corporate attire. Eating out is still affordable. You can still spend a day wandering around town and find lots of free or cheap things to do. People are still friendly and happy to help although I can't help but perceive a very slight paranoia that seems to have seeped into the national psyche but that is fodder for a whole other post.

The differences are slight but obvious. Here's one. Australia seems to have become a no-plastic-bag zone. If you go to the supermarket here without your own green bags (in colour and in purpose), you get the feeling that those around you, checkout chick included, are frowning subtly at your environmental ignorance.

These bags are fabby really, provided you get into the habit of taking them with you when you go grocery shopping. Which we have. Sort of. Anyway, these bags (which I should explain are made out of some sort of strong but light fabric) are not just picked up from supermarkets where you pay from 99c - $1.00 each. No, many clothing stores use them in lieu of plastic bags and even places like hospitals design trendy tote bags and sell them for a dollar each. So not only are you being environmentally responsible, you are supporting a charity. Well done you!

So on the train this morning I observed many well heeled women, suited and sculpted carrying lovely leather handbags that matched their shoes who also carried a variety of these enviro-happy bags. Each of these bags were loaded up with all the paraphernalia needed for a train journey and the working day ahead. For example, books, magazines, spare pairs of shoes, make-up bags, lunch boxes, snacks, water bottles etc. etc.

Methinks designers and makers of handbags have missed out on a huge opportunity here to create a bag-for-the-things-that-do-not-fit-into-your-ridiculously-small-and-outrageously-expensive-handbag. For let's face it ladies, there is NEVER enough room in your handbag for everything you need and plastic carrier bags are so, well, baglady-ish.

Okay, enough waffling. Back to coffee. Again on the train today (I have a lot of time to think as it takes an hour to get from Hurstbridge to the city) I was thinking about my first coffee of the day. I had been buying a large skinny latte but found it was too milky even if I ordered a strong. So I went to Cafe Alcaston as per usual and the guy there pre-empted my order and asked if I wanted a large. I said no, as all that milk took away from the taste of the coffee and he heartily congratulated me on coming to my senses, seeing the enlightened path to true coffee drinking and had he been on my side of the counter, I am sure he would have slapped me on the back.

Told you people here are a bit mental about coffee...


Just composing a nice lengthy but pithy blog about the Rugby and what happens? Weird stuff happens and the whole lot goes *poof* Gone! Autosave? No such thing. Bugger. Start again.

Suffice to say that England beat the Aussies 14-12 at the end of a thoroughly entertaining day at the Telstra dome. The Aussie coach predictably whinged about it in a "it's so unfair" Kevin The Teenager stomp after their overly-physical approach resulted in 2 yellow card sin-binnings, but the real highlights were the battlers from Tonga who mugged South Africa, only to find themselves overrun by a willowy and previously ineffective Uganda team to earn the hugest cheers of the day.

Great that the crowd got so behind the underdogs throughout, roaring them on when they flattered to deceive - Spirit of the Games and all that. Pity the poor Sri Lankans though, pointless and inept, largely due to the genetic lottery that meant they can't build sufficient muscle and also seemed to cede a good 5-8 inches in height to most of the other teams. They still got a rousing send-off by their audience for their sheer pluck.

I bumped into some Aussies at the end. Young, anti-English and chock-full of booze, but thankfully not so concerned with Pom-bashing that they couldn't enjoy a bit of banter. Compare with the vitriol and bile from some of the older Aussies in my earshot, hateful and graceless even before a ball was kicked. England could have peed gold and sent them each home with a million quid and they would not have given even one us a bit of credit for anything. Ah well, welcome to my home. A real home from home, at times.

Anyway, one of the guys saw my QPR badge and shouted his mate over, whose family were originally all from West London and all QPR mad. A soulmate? A brother? Er. Nope.

"I f@#$ing hate soccah [sic]," was his opening gambit, "and I hate the f@#$ing English even more." O good. "In fact, can you take the f@#$ing Queen home with you and tell her not to come back?". Uh huh. "And while you're at it, take the f@#$ing abos and the f@#$ing gays with you too?".

Telling him that I wasn't actually responsible for her majesty, and was actually rather hoping that, as so many Aussies seemed so keen on Queenie [see Claud's post], that they might offer to have her settle over in Perth with the other Poms, didn't really seem to help. Or maybe Queensland, that sounds perfect for a monarch, eh?

More invective resulted from this approach, so cue gracious exit. I moved on to trying to persuade his mate that his idea to streak on the pitch wasn't perhaps the best idea at this point. There was a fine of $6000 to consider [don't ask me how I know that], although he may strike lucky and they may charge by the inch. Thankfully, my distraction technique hasn't waned whilst I've been off work, and though this took his mind off the naked dash idea, this was then replaced by lots of talk about his more sensitive regions and their similarity [or not] to ladies' more private areas. Ho hum.

End of game, whoop, celebration, quick shake of hands and a dash for the train.

They spotted me at Southern Cross Station as I waited for my train, shouting to everyone in earshot [good-naturedly and to general amusement with no actual physical reaction, thankfully], "Oi! He's a bloody Pom! He's English! Bash 'im! Bash 'im!" Trying to acknowledge their engagement with a witty response, whilst not drawing attention to the fact that they "knew" me was a little difficult, but I was saved by a bloke next to me, in his luminous work gear:

"You beat the Aussies, did you?" Erm, yeah, the Rugby. "I f@#$ing hate the Aussies!" Noticing his Australian accent, I asked where he was from. "Here. Born here." Okay. So the whole Aussie mentality thing, is that what you hate? Cronulla and the riots, all that? By his features, I guessed he may have been Lebanese or middle eastern in origin. "The South Africans beat the bastards at cricket too. I f@#$ing hate the Aussies!"

Well, I do seem to have struck a rich vein of erudition this evening. He then lost his [ahem] train of thought, as his train was announced to be delayed by 10 minutes. Shouting down the platform, "F@#$ing shit trains! I want to go home! Why are the trains f@#$ing late?" This was repeated every couple of minutes or so. My shoes became very interesting for the next few minutes until my f@#$ing train arrived.

Whilst still on the subject of the Games [yes, yes, ploughing my lonely furrow again. I'm unemployed, okay?], there's a great article here about the opening ceremony in HERE, and a potential alternative that maybe should have been considered. I really do like The Age.

And finally, after all the complex chatter... I think I heard the most damning evidence for those who curse mobile phone technology and advocate a ban on their use in public places. A young girl chatted to a friend and, as I like to do, I eavesdropped:

"Wow, cool. So erm, what flavour doughnut are you eating then? Woooow, cool."

And, just like his previous blog, *poof* He was gone.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Open for Business

Well they have begun. The Games that is. What is it about Opening Ceremonies that elicit such diverse reactions in people?

As Ian mentioned in an earlier post, we watched the proceedings from the 30th floor of my current place of employment. To be honest, we could have charged $2,000 a pop for the view we got and people would have paid with impunity*. It was nothing short of fabulous.

We had a large screen on which to view what was happening at the MCG, which we could just make out the corner of if we crossed the floor and crooked our necks, but below us lies the Yarra River where the metal fishies live. And, unbeknownst to us, on the roof tops of the half a dozen buildings around ours, was loads of black exploding powdery stuff that goes BANG when lit.

The advantage to being up so high is that we got the total picture which included the fireworks on the river, the fireworks across the roof tops of the skyscrapers around us and the reflection of it all it the glass building in front of us. It was smorgasbord for the eyes!! Apologies for that rubbish euphemism but I am extremely brain dead

Sadly however I made the mistake of sitting near a woman who exuded that special kind of cynicism that made me want to stuff her head into the chilli cream cheese dip. I hate it when people are cynical simply because they can not accept that something that means nothing to them (or they refuse to accept that it could) could actually hold meaning for someone else. So what if the duck seemed a little obscure at the time.

Had she shut up for a moment we would have heard Michael Leunig explain what it all meant and how wonderfully engaging it all was. I love Leunig's cartoons for they are always simply profound. See for yourself.

Anyway, aside from Leunig's duck the rest was over pretty quickly and the fireworks continued. It was a pretty good night but I found myself wanting to speak to my friends in the UK. I wondered if any of them were watching the ceremony. I also threw my mind back to 2002 when Manchester had the Commonwealth Games and I could not work out where the last 4 years had gone.

We tried a whole host of friends (you all know who you are) and we spoke to a lot of voicemail. Only Annette was at her desk and sounded as excited as I did to be speaking to someone halfway across the world. I felt a little more centred after our chat - I so miss my mates in England...

We got a cab home with 2 of my colleagues which was thankfully paid for by a nifty little piece of paper called a Cabcharge. Firms use them a lot as they are a cheque book type system where no money changes hands, so employees are not out of pocket. Great when used on a trust system - not so good when your work experience students get hold of some and take a cab to Perth.

It was a fun night and a great start to what Melbourne is finally realising might actually be, an enjoyable few weeks.

We will post some photos from last night later this week.

*not sure if impunity is the right word in that context. If I've erred can someone let me know?

To Queen or not to Queen...

Well now the opening ceremony is over, and people stop bickering over should we or shouldn't we play God Save the Queen (we didn't if you must know and HRH did not seem particularly bothered. I'd even argue that she did not know which corner of her Commonwealth she was in last night but that is my uneducated and heavily biased opinion...) some Australians still seem to be intensely interested in whether or not we should finally become a Republic.

In a refreshing, and to be honest, alarming turn around, our PM, Little Johnny as he is unaffectionately referred to here, has been reported as saying that he did not think Australia would remain in the Commonwealth when Betty's reign ends.

Well turn me over and paint me purple! According to reports Little Johnny is an astute reader of the mood of the Australian people (and I'm a quietly spoken, demure debutante folks) and apparently told two British newspapers in separate intervies, that he did not know if Australia would cut its ties with the monarchy if Prince Charles became King.

I always knew the fawning little bastard had a thing for old Betty.


I told you I'm not demure.

I digress.


Well, it seems Johnny will have at least one person to convince of that if he ever tackles the issue with another referendum. The woman in question was seated beside my friend Carolyn and I at lunch today. I had just finished explaining to her that Ian was at the Rugby 7's and finding the Aussie fans a little [sic] vitriolic in their unappreciation of the English. The woman, obviously missing part of my explanation, interrupted by asking if it had anything to do with the Queen's presence last night.

I explained to her that no, my English husband was presently at the Rugby and the fans were give the Poms stick. And besides, he is not a monarchist himself as he feels they should be put out to pasture and their wealth distributed to those who actually need it.

She then asked if his feelings (and ours for by now Carolyn and I were freely expressing ourselves regarding the monarchy) were solely related to the fact that she was a rich old lady. Well I spluttered something about irrelevance in today's society and Carolyn (who is a bit like me but without the filter between brain and gob, if you can imagine that) flung around words like inbred and ugly to which the woman, in a clear and pronounced Australian accent declared that she had British ancestors.

I wanted to say so what, I sleep with a Brit but even in my head, that sounded a little crass. She then packed up her things and left, much to the amusement of the remaining diners at our communal table. I confess I felt a little bad for a fleeting moment however, as Carolyn rightly pointed out, she was earwigging on our conversation and if she invited our opinions, should have had to grace to accept them even if they differed with hers.

Yes, we have a long road to go before we stand on our own Republican feet. I just find the fawing and adoration certain elements of the Australian population offer old Betty a little nauseating. I know I have probably offended at least one of you who actually read this but hey, its my blog! If you violently disagree with me - post a comment!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

It's Heeeeeeere!

Yes, the Paranoia Games have begun!

Choppers are circling the CBD, more police than you have ever seen in one place are patrolling the city [or stood around in packs looking slightly embarrassed], and there is that weird hush about public spaces that you get when there's just a hint of unease about... along with an irritability at the sheer numbers of people on the streets. Melbourne is usually a pretty laid back city, with its inhabitants having a carefree and welcoming attitude, but the anticipation of transport chaos as people make their way to and from work is almost certain to shorten a fuse or two.

There were one or two at the Ticketbastard® Office in Federation Square too, as people turned up to collect their tickets with apparently neither reference number or credit card for the online tickets they'd bought. D'oh! I got mine, of course, because I was both organised and retrospectively smug.

The sense of anticipatory dread was the same around the time of Manchester 2002, although that was a lot closer to 9/11 of course, the potential that some group of lunatics could be tempted to try to make some spectacular statement for their cause, using some means of explosives or gunfire.

It is nice to see so many different nations mingling together about the city though, and there is also a sense of anticipation, excitement and joy around, with people chatting, laughing and giving each other a helping hand. There are a lot of accents, a lot of national flags and logos on tracksuits, bags and assorted sports/casualwear, and so much so that I keep finding myself stopping and staring at them, trying to suss out where someone is from.

As an aside, I think I've been here long enough now to say I think I'm pretty acclimatised, as I can now pick out the Kiwis amongst the Aussies without resorting to asking them to say "fish and chips", which NZ-ers pronounce as "f'sh 'nd ch'ps" to the amused delight of the obviously far superior [sic] Aussies.

Actually, I loved Viggo Mortensen's quote from Peter Jackson [Lord of the Rings & King Kong director], that there really was no need for him to visit "The West Island" i.e. Australia, as opposed to NZ's North Island and South Island. Geddit? Many Aussies seem to generally regard their nearest relatives over the Tasman as a bunch of sheep-shagging inbreds and that they are like some sort of mere Antipodean colony, a runty cousin; so that was a nice rejoinder by the beardy one.

Viggo was on Rove Live to promote A History of Violence, which has inexplicably only just been released here, several months after its US and UK release. Rove is one of the few shining lights in an otherwise pretty dire and sensationalist TV output Down Under, a subject to which I will no doubt return to as Autumn unfolds into winter and rugged-up nights in become more frequent.

I've also started to see store logos and my first reaction is "O, they've got them here too!" before realising that they've only got Officeworks, for instance, here in Australia. Perhaps I can now call Australia home? Perhaps brand recognition is the o-so-modern requirement for accepting a place as your home in this globalised age...

So where was I? Ah yes, the Games. I'm off to Claud's workplace shortly, to watch the opening ceremony from the 30-oddth floor of her building, which they've kindly opened up to friens and family as it overlooks the River and [with a squint and a serious crane of the neck, so I'm told] the MCG, where the majority of the action will be taking place. They're providing a big screen, a ton of food, and plenty of gratis booze. Always nice to have a freebie, of course, though I'll have to take it a bit easy if I'm to make it safely to the Telstra Dome for the Rugby tomorrow at 10.30.

And just while I remember, I'll leave this with a quote from a couple of Canadians [not Athletes, by the look of them] that I overheard on the street today. They're clearly a couple of people who are not totally enamoured with this city, and I was dying to stalk... erm, follow them to find out what they meant, but ultimately quite liked the mysterious aspect of what they said, or didn't say:

Woman 1 : Gah! Again! If I stay in this country any longer, I think I'll become completely stupid!

Woman 2: Yup, there is something abood 'ett, isn't there?

Monday, March 13, 2006

The Language Barrier

Apparently, the UK have banned the ads for Tourism Australia previously linked here, because of the offensive language in "Where the bloody hell are you?". Pretty strong stuff, I'm sure you'll agree. Errrr.

The language here is quite different at times [e.g. my reaction to "we shat it in"], but I do find it quite funny that the laidback attitudes here mean that, other than in more genteel circles [largely old-money Aussies with British ancestry], the use of mild swear words is totally acceptable and in everyday use almost eveywhere.

Australian TV has a number of ads that are cheap, cheerful and decidedly no-frills. My favourite was a TV ad for a big heavily-discounted carpet sale that was on just after we arrived. The final tag-line was:

"90% off!?! Bugger that! Prices start at just ten bucks!"

I felt eversobritish all of a sudden.

Update [Part 94] - Jobs & Games

Well, I was due to start work tomorrow [Tuesday] after the Public Holiday today, but it's now been delayed for another two weeks as the staff member whose shoes I'm stepping into doesn't start their community job till then...

I may get a bit of work on the "Bank" [i.e. reserve staff to cover for sickness, illnesses etc.] but I'm not holding my breath. Still not signed my contract, but it's coming, I'm told.

Ah well, it does at least give me the chance to catch some of the Commonwealth Games. Although it would have been useful to know I wouldn't be working at an earlier stage, as all the good days of athletics have sold out, other than the expensive seats. Bum.

I've already snaffled cheap tickets for the Rugby Sevens qualifying rounds and quarter finals, though the semis/final is sold out. I'm not really a rugger bugger as I prefer my balls to be round, but it's an exciting experience, by all accounts. That's at the piddly* 53,000-seater Telstra Dome, formerly known as the Colonial Stadium. Don't you just hate it when a venue is named after a sponsor? Like the MEN Arena (formerly Nylex), Arsenal's new Emirates Stadium etc. etc.

Also seeing the athletics a week on Monday - no finals, just qualifying stuff, but Claud and I really enjoyed the experience when we saw a couple of sessions in Manchester 2002. Might take in some hockey too, and then there is the marathon, the cycling time trials, triathlon etc. And it'll be in the newly-refurbished MCG [Melbourne Cricket Ground], which seats 100,000 [*piddly is relative, isn't it?].

In fact, they're updating their ticketing in half an hour, which may mean that more tix will be released for other events... here's hoping [update 45 mins later: Nope, I didn't get any!]

There are still allegedly around 400,000 tickets available, although they seem to be mainly for the top-priced seats at the weekday morning sessions, so it's not really the flop that some people seem to be making out, althoughthe number of overseas visitors expected is being constantly challenged in the media.The statistics remain pretty impressive:

Nearly 400,000 more tickets to the Games have been sold than for Turin's Winter Olympics.

More than 1.3 million tickets have been sold so far.

More tickets have been sold here than at any other Commonwealth Games, and in fact nearly double the amount sold at any previous Games.

Interestingly, I recently read that Manchester is now the third most-visited UK city [after London & Edinburgh], a fact that local tourism/council people attribute in no small part to the increased profile Manchester attained following the 2002 Games. They reckon that Manchester is now getting an extra 300,000 visitors per annum. I'm not sure how many of those are international visitors, rather than Brits on day/weekend trips, but that's still an impressive figure.

It's also believed to have contributed to London getting the Olympics, having proved that the UK can hold a successful international event, and do it really well. Dunno if that's a proveable fact, but those in the know seem to think so, which is pretty amazing.

Melbourne is actually currently talking Manchester up, saying that they're looking to build upon the revitalisation job that Manchester did on what had of late become the struggling Commonwealth Games "brand". I feel strangely special, and inordinately proud of my home town.

Now, just make sure you watch the Games on the BBC, and check out Melbourne. You'll be impressed by both the venues and the city, I promise you. O, and do look out for some bloke in a red-and-black hooped QPR shirt, sitting way up in the cheap seats, dreaming of Manchester. Well, maybe.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

We have grey days too...

I got an email today from Anita. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you will know Anita and I enjoyed many pointless, multitudinous and hilariously random email exchanges during working hours. It is sad to think that the instant gratification of emailing each other during working hours, whilst in the same time zone, brought is no longer... Alas, I will have to make do with lonely, solitary emailing knowing that Anita will not read my often funny emails for at least another 10 hours. *sigh*

So, Ian says I should blog as this has turned into a cross between a David Attenborough nature doco and a twisted version of A Place Down Under... Not that Ian is half as crass as that one English woman who moved from London to Queensland then proceeded to slag off everything about the place from people who went about barefoot (shock horror!) to the fact that Australian's swear (Good God what is the world coming to!?).

In an effort to stop myself ranting at her seemingly unending ignorance I tried to understand why this woman bothered to move here if she could not accept anything at all about the people, or the place with any grace at all. I came to the conclusion that living in another country successfully is not about accepting the differences in culture, food, language (although that does help). No, it is more about leaving those things you draw comfort from behind successfully. What do I mean? You've heard it before - the Aussie in London who craves Tim Tams or the Brit in Sydney who would give their right arm for proper fish, chips and mushie peas.

The things we miss when we live in another country are not intrinsic to our survival - however, if we let them, they can ruin the reward that a search for an alternative can bring. I spent the first year in London trying to find a decent coffee. Six years along I can not honestly say I found one in all of England. Especially now I am back in Melbourne and coffee here is just simply the best. Well, except for the coffee in Spain which is truly scrumptious. Having said that, I drink more tea now than ever before and people, the English do it best.

Living in another place should be an adventure where you go from one exciting discovery to another. I know my main focus in terms of differences between places tends to be centered around food. It may be something completely different for someone else. But what we draw comfort, a sense of familiarity and belonging from is important to recognise if you plan on living somewhere else for a long stretch of time.

I watch Ian with interest as he navigates the things around us that I easily accept. I got a text from him yesterday which made me laugh. A Labor politician called Simon Crean, who won a preselection vote to retain his seat declared his win a shoo in using the expression "we shat it in". Ian's comment was "Your country is not like my country" True. It would be unlikely to hear any British MP speak a similar sentiment in language like that. Then again, would a British MP have been the head of a major union at one time in his career? Who knows?

The guy who sits over the partition from me at the moment is training a young woman from Bangalore. I overheard him declaring that to use terms like 'Dear' or 'Yours sincerely' in any form of written correspondence is outdated and old fashioned and while we in Australia stopped using them some time ago that practice seems to have continued on in India. The undertone there was that we, over here, are a little more enlightened and relaxed.

I had to stand up and gently say that terms like that are certainly not outdated and that during my time in England I found they are used constantly and generously. She was overjoyed to have a little support and he looked rather sheepish and simply dropped the subject. I have no idea what that was all about but it struck me that perhaps Australians are just a little too relaxed for their own good. And is that, in and of itself a good or a bad thing?

I could go on but I won't at this point for if anyone still does read this blog I want our life here in day to day terms to be what you read about. Not my opinion.

I am having lunch today with my friend who works here and helped me get the job and a colleague or hers. I am looking forward to some girly chatter but also for a little advice and direction regarding the potential role I may have here. I have a meeting tomorrow to discuss what part I could play in the new structure and I do not want to sell my self short or take the soft option. Too many friends would kill me if I did that!

It was actually a bit grey out there when I started this post but it seems to be clearing up. I can see a lovely sail boat on the bay this morning, white sails aloft against the blue of the water. Melbourne looks pretty from here. Pretty and silent. I can see the trains, trams and cars moving but can not hear them. Its an easy perspective from up here you know. However I know the ugly side of Melbourne is there, the more I dig the more I see. I'm glad I set down my rose coloured glasses a long time ago, I think I would be very disappointed in my hometown if had not done so.

As it is I know Melbourne, Australia is like every other city in the Western world. Full of promise and excitement for those who can afford to partake. I do not like what the present government is doing to my country and I hope that one day soon, there is an alternative for at the moment there just isn't.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Not Quite The Olympics - Part 2

Sorry, ran out of time on the Library computer I was using, so got caught short. Which leads me nicely to...

Accompanying the fanfares, the rebuilding and restructuring, and the cynicism, there are scare stories emerging, such as emergency blood supplies not being sufficient [those discuses have sharp edges, you know... and as for the javelins...], transport inadequacy [despite the fact that the venues are public transport only, with no public parking in an effort to reduce the potential congestion], not enough taxis... and most bizarrely, not enough toilets. Melbourne is having to import portaloos from overseas, screamed the headlines over the wee-kend.

Now, public toilets are a bit of an area in which I have expertise, although not in a George Michaelesque way, of course. Holding on [ahem] to the adage that, having attained a certain age, it is foolish to turn down any opportunity to use the facilities when they are available [safety first, fun last], I can confidently say that public loos are easy to find here, with lots of shopping malls, train stations and other places having adequate [sometimes spectacular] and abundant venues with which to powder one's nose or other protuberances. And, as my ever-wise spouse rightly commented, if Manchester can manage it...

The gentrification process has included spending something in the region of a million dollars [£420,000] on cleaning up graffiti. This follows Australia's recent banning of a Playstation game that encourages players to "tag" a fictional city, lest it encourages its advocates to take up the physical challenge and get out their aerosols. The counter-argument is, of course, that shoot-em-ups and driving stolen cars very fast [GTA etc.] are all sold here, as its consumers are presumably too smart to try to do the real thing once they have a taste for guns/speed. Perhaps a more symbolic ban of a niche game with a limited market than something that is consistently maintained against what is deemed anti-social behaviour.

Now, Melbourne has a thriving and well-organised alternative / anti-establishment culture that does not trust, and actively opposes, "The Man" [i.e. governments, rich people, or anyone who has disproportionate power at their disposal], and part of that includes graffiti artists. The laneways of Melbourne have an abundance of often witty and creative [although, it must be said, not always so] "urban art", that eschews much of the random and repetitive "tagging" [kind of like marking your territory with your name or initials] that appears around much of the world's major cities. See Banksy for really fantastic examples of a [UK-based] graffiti artist who challenges the status quo with his political art. His book is also recommended, and available here [ah, but you have to pay The Man to get it. Tricky business, anarchy].

So, can you guess what their response is to the clean-up, or more specifically to the Victorian Government's trumpeting of its zealous "zero tolerance" to any form of urban art? Yep, they've declared war, of course. More specifically, they've declared a competition called the "Graffiti Games 2006" [can you see what they've done there?], with [presumably symbolic, or perhaps painted] medals for stencil, slogan and graffiti works about the city centre, particularly rewarding complicated, humourous or daring art, including caricatures of... you guessed it, local dignitaries. "The Man" has, quite inevitably, gone utterly ballistic, describing the artists as "Neanderthals, losers, mindless idiots". Oo, get her.

The fact that the quite appalling, tacky, sanitised and terribly 70s-retro brown-and-beige-with-a-bit-of-glitter [and actual no glamour] monstrosity that is the Crown Casino, the star [piece] of Melbourne's South Bank, continue to exist, makes you think that perhaps these graffiti chaps may have a point after all. A carbuncle, a blot on the landscape, a vision of hell - none of these descriptions captivate the sheer appallingness of the place.

So I say, and I think I'm unanimous, not to say unilateral, in saying this, Let The Games Begin!

Not Quite The Olympics - Part 1

Melbourne is currently being shaken by Commonwealth Games Fever!

Well, sort of. Like Manchester, the local populace seem to be taking their time to be impressed with the millions of dollars being spent, the proactive gentrification of venues and major landmarks, and the likely huge disruption that is anticipated. Like Manchester, restrospectively they will probably view it as a good thing, but at the moment not everybody is convinced.

It doesn't help that within months of the Sydney Olympics finishing the fabulous new stadium had seemingly gone to rack and ruin [a fact that was somewhat overstated, but there was some truth in this], and they were struggling to find something to do with the thing. Maybe Manchester got that bit right, even if the running track had to be sent to Birmingham [What did it do to deserve that?].

As well as my bushwalking, I've been doing a fair bit of walking around the city centre, usually in an effort to find something that has been affected so utterly by the public works currently being underatken that it's the proverbial needle in a haystack. After a curious runaround from venue to venue, I did eventually manage to get my Split Enz tickets from the Games area [various venues around the MCG] today. I also had serendipitous meeting that produced a mask of Bert "moonface" Newton, with which I frightened Claudine when I met her after work. I think the man's bloody funny and self-deprecating, but opinions seem to be divided in a sort of Bob Monkhouse kind of way - comedy genius or a bit of a dick? You decide...

So... there is absolutely tons of work going on, including the totally remodelled and newly renamed Spencer Street Station - now known as Southern Cross Station unless you actually use it, in which case it's still called Spencer Street , or "that building site with a leaky roof that cost millions and why couldn't they get it right first time or certainly get it ready in time for the Games as it's supposed to be a world class transport interchange Station".

The MCG does appear to be taking shape, the Yarra River is once again full of fish [albeit metal ones that spout water - see I'm getting Melbourne-cynical too now], Flinders Street Station looks not far off, and local politicians have been trading heavily on the Commonwealth Games "Brand" by including the logo illegally on various publicity bits and pieces ["I brought the Commonwealth Games to melbourne, everybody! Well, sort of..."].

Monday, March 06, 2006

Oink, Oink Too...

Mine's here. Not giving up my day job.

Oink, Oink...

Silliness on a Monday...

It's Official!

My references have all come back positive, so I got a call from my prospective boss at 9 AM today to say that they can now formally offer me a job. Yes, it was really a technicality, but it's quite a relief to know that in about a week's time I'll be officially employed.

Start date is provisionally Tuesday 14th March, the day after the Labour Day Public Holiday [subject to the paperchase that will now ensue].

A BIIIIIG Thank You to my referees for their positive feedback and support.

I'll obviously keep you abreast of the job as it progresses and give you some more details. At the mo', I won't spill any more beans other than to say that it's at a large teaching hospital, and the facilities, staff/patient ratios, and [apparently] opportunities, appear excellent.

The only minor fly in the ointment is that the Commonwealth Games start here the day after I'm due to start working, which means that I can't plan to go to any of the events at this stage, and that the city is likely to be gridlocked as tens of thousands of visitors descend.

More about the Games later...

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Get Yer Blunnies On!

This week, I've been mostly walking in the bush [countryside] around Hurstbridge, given my lack of routine /incentive to get off my fat arse, and the subsequent risk of one day finding that I can't get up unless I get some exercise.

And, well, it's been quite a revelation. I now realise just quite why the bush around here is so prone to suddenly erupt into fire. The amount of bark, branches and leaves that drop from the gum trees is quite phenomenal. Add to that the arid-dry grasslands, sun and frequent temperatures in excess of thirty celsius, and it's a literal tinderbox.

One of the eucalyptus trees is known as the "strinkybark tree" [in fact, a few varieties] as it's bark strips itself off, leaving a nice bit of dried-out, thin wood, just ready to burst into flame. And some gum trees actually rely on the burning-off process in order to begin a new stage of re-growth. Another of God's funny little jokes for humanity...? "Don't even think of living here, whitefella"...

One of the ironies is that many bushfires begin when the hot weather actually breaks and a thunderstorm ensues. Despite the rain that usually accompanies it, it is the lightning strikes that often create the spark for the tinder. The fire soon takes, overwhelming the rain's effect, and given that it may rain hard but rarely for sustained periods, and the flames are off and running.

The picture at the top of this may show the result of a lightning-strike, or it may just be a tree design fault, as some trees just sag under their own weight [rather like myself] and their top half falls off [hopefully not like myself].

Even more bizarre is the fact that many of the fires are apparently started deliberately, presumably with people with some sort of latent attention seeking behaviour, but that's a story for another time. I'm off on a tangent already.

So, back to the program: I'm communing with nature, remember. My walk follows the creek that leads from Hurstbridge down to Diamond Creek, about 6 km away, towards the city. And once I've made my way through the crap that's fallen off the local trees, shrubs and grasses, I get to large open areas of grassland, gently rolling hills with wattle and gums in the distance, not a house to be seen.

And suddenly... I feel like I'm breathing again [and breathing quite heavily as I climb those same said hills]. I'd forgotten what it was like to be in the countryside. I've always been a city boy: I love the buzz of cities and its infinite distractions; and although lacking in incentive to initiate my own walks in the UK [more to do with my fear of getting myself lost, unable to read an Ordnance Survey map and compass], I also love the wildness of the great outdoors.

There's such a peace here, and a different type of wilderness to that back home, with the concerns of heat, dehydration and being bitten by something nasty being the terrible alternatives to freezing cold, creeping damp and hypothermia.

I've already confessed to an ornothological bent, and here I am in a country full of largely exotic and colourful birds, sparrows and pigeons notwithstanding. And it's been fantastic to see some of the blighters at fairly close quarters. The parrots and cockatoos are particularly tolerant and friendly, putting up with the leaden-footed oafs that disturb their peace. As long as they can sit in their bush or tree, tearing it apart whilst feeding on the fruits and berries, they don't really seem to mind how close you are.

Multi-coloured Rainbow Lorikeets, beautiful pink Galahs [There goes Alf's voice in my head again, although Galahs make a sort of creaking sound], Sulphur-crested Cockatoos and the pseudo-punk Gang-Gang Cockatoos [yes, really - apparently because of the sound they make] are only too happy to cock ['scuse the pun] a knowing eye to me as they playfully act up for me. Well, perhaps they're just oblivious to my presence and are just playing, but it's not uncommon to see the cockys [as they're known] hanging by their beaks from a branch, or upside down with one claw holding on with apparent ease.

In fact, a couple of weeks ago, Stephen suddenly pulled up sharply as we drove along a main road, only to see that the bird he thought was hanging by its neck from a telephone wire, was in fact just acting the fool and gripping the cord in its beak. Yet more attention-seeking behaviour. Maybe the little buggers like to set fires too?

As well as that, there are so many bellbirds out in the bush too. If you've been taking notes, you'll know that these are the birds that sound as though they are pecking at a bottle [click here for the sound]. The effect is quite spectacular when there are 6-10 birds all doing the same throughout the bush, in apparent call and response, making a weirdly-echoey and strangely pleasing single-note melody.

I was also lucky enough to spot the Eastern Yellow Robin, the White-Browed Scrubwren and the delightfully- named Superb Fairy-Wren, the male of which is three shades of blue. And yes, I do have a book.

After a while, it did strike me as I walked through an area of grassland that I was perhaps foolhardy in my choice of walking shoes, as I heard various rustlings in the undergrowth. Most probably the noises were emanating from small birds, large insects or lizards, but round here there's always the possibility of a snake.

In my imagination, of course, each movement I heard was most definitely a brown snake, a violently poisonous and aggressive beast that is both neurotoxic and can make you bleed like a stuck pig. I had to use a touch of CBT to think myself out of that particular state of mind, as, rather than walking, I was now prancing daintily like a show pony. Mental note: wear your Blunnies next time. And yes, to my former workmates, those are the Chelsea-boots-on-the-cheap that I always wore.
Once my mind was off the alleged snakes, I became aware of other sounds. The alternatives were also a bit worrying. Was that creaking sound a galah, the gently swaying gums, or one about to split in half and fall on my head? Boots and helmet next time, maybe? Yes, you could say things can be just a little bit different Down Here.

A Great Galah, yesterday

Do you wanna be in my Gang-Gang?

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

How to Divide Your Friends and Irritate People

On the day that the State of Victoria bans smoking in "enclosed workplaces", which includes bus, tram & train shelters [though bizarrely, you can move a few feet to a uncovered part of the platform and be exempt], I thought I'd share with a snippet from the Guardian which tickled me this morning. It's an article in which poor old British American Tobacco tell of the injustice [sic] of the impending smoking ban in UK pubs and clubs:

"...it will not invest in China after an announcement that no new cigarette factories, including joint ventures, would be allowed"

Well, it made me laugh.

It's not yet part of the law in Victoria, funnily enough, although restaurants and shopping centres have been smoke-free since 2001.

And I can't tell you how refreshing it was to spend time in Ireland and be able to sit down in a pub and enjoy a pint, free of fumes. It has been suggested that pubs there are having to close down or build "lean-to"s, due to the huge financial impact of the ban there. Friends in Ireland poo-pooed this idea, but they are non-smokers, which seems to determine which "truth" you want to believe...

[You can click here for an interesting article by George Monbiot for some interesting stuff about some research into the effects of smoking, and its influence on the media]

Anyway, I'm looking forward to a pint in The Crown in Didsbury next time I'm home, long since abandoned as a drinking-hole due to the "swallowed-a-box-of-razorblades" throat the morning after the night before.

No doubt some will see me as upholding old, outmoded ideas about the "nanny state", a viewpoint I can understand. But where does one draw the line about what consitutes "fair" legislation, particularly if you consider the health benefits?

What is perceived as "freedom" for one person may feel like a violation for another, and frankly, that's how it's always been for us non-smokers. Being told "well, you have a choice - you don't have to drink there" has always been seen as somehow fair for us, but now not for smokers - well, it's "undemocratic".

If my non-smoking does impact on your health, please do let me know. I can't promise the same for my drinking, of course. Stand well clear after I've had a few beers... just in case.