Archive for the ‘random observation’ Category

Nobody told me there’d be days like this.
– John Lennon, 1984

Are there strange things afoot at a Yass cafe?

On a flying road trip to Melbourne to see the paternal factor, Bald Man and I paused for an early morning coffee hit at Cafe Dolcetto in Comur St.

The coffee was, well, warm and brown, and there was bookshelf with an remarkable selection of second-hand agricultural titles for sale, but that’s not the point. The point is that I left my handbag hanging on the back of my chair when we left.

And didn’t realise until I went to pay for petrol at Albury, three hours down the road.

Thankfully a quick call established the cafe staff had the bag, and would hold it until we drove back through on Monday. So apart from the minor inconvenience of being separated for four days from my purse with all cards and two phones, and the humiliation of having been so stupid (I’ve only ever left a bag behind once before, more than 20 years ago) all was well. A happy ending in the making.

Now here’s the odd postscript.

We pulled into Yass late this afternoon, I introduced myself to the cafe staff, and asked for my handbag.

The girl reached into a draw beneath the counter and, smiling, produced a very ugly brown vinyl clutch. My heart sank.

“Um, that’s not my bag,” I said.

She reached up to a shelf above her head and drew out a small, nasty gold-cloth handbag.

“Is it this one?” she asked.

“Er, no…” I began.

The lady making the coffee said, “No, no, it’s not that one…” while a man from the kitchen came out, rummaged on another shelf and pulled out a third handbag and handed it to me – which I refused, because it wasn’t mine, either. What the?

“Exactly how many handbags do people leave at this cafe?” I asked.

The man shook his head, and the coffee-lady said, “Don’t ask. You’ve no idea.”

A bit more shuffling, and they eventually produced mine. Phew.

So what’s with the handbags at Cafe Dolcetto? Bald Man reckons it’s a ghost who hides handbags. Well, it’s no less likely than a minor wormhole in the space-time continuum.

Whatever the cause – stop at Cafe Dolcetto and enjoy their coffee with impunity, but make sure you take all your things when you leave.


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“I could hardly believe my eyes
As a big limousine rolled up into Alice’s drive”
– New World 1972, Smokie 1976, Gompie 1995

We have something that looks like this outside our humble home:

That’s because it’s seller’s season in the Berra.

There’s nothing more hateful for a tenant than to let a bunch of strangers troop through your home twice a week, examining your most private spaces without even taking their goddamned shoes off. Looking at your home as a mere commodity. No-one likes waiting to see if the new owners will take away the roof over your head.

But there’s doubtless a lot of tenants like us around the Berra tonight, because property is hot and everyone’s selling up.

Housing affordability in the Berra is the lowest it’s been in more than 20 years, making the Berra the third most expensive city in Australia. And prices are predicted to rise by as much as 14 percent in the next two years. Consequently a lot of running-dog landowners are keen to cash in – including ours.

The little weatherboard cottage next door sold for a king’s ransom late last year, making an absolute bomb for our old neighbours.

The new neighbours haven’t been very forthcoming. We had good over-the-fence relations with the previous neighbours, who told us their house and all furnishings were bought by a film production company from Melbourne.

We thought about this for a while. Who makes films in the Berra? What films would require a fully-furnished house, and a new shed out the back? … and,

Why do we always have to think the worst of people?

We put our unsavoury, unworthy thoughts aside.

The real estate agent dealing with our house, aside from being a little too tanned and a little too blonde, has been pretty decent. On the phone last week, settling the details of the next open house, he was keen to talk about other things.

“Have you met the people next door yet? Do you know what they do?” he asked. He sold next door too, and clearly knows our neighbourhood quite well.

“We haven’t met them yet. They keep to themselves,” I said.

“But there’s a lot of loud door slamming at night, and there’s been a few large trucks moving furniture in and out lately.”

Real Estate could hardly contain himself.

“I’ve found out,” he squeaked. “They’re making porn!”

[sound of crickets]

The Bald Man and I had joked about it, of course. But it’s one thing to make a joke, another to find out that you really are living next door to Alice XXX.

“It’s tasteful porn, not the bad stuff,” Real Estate added quickly.

I googled their site as we talked. The front page is very wordy and sepia toned, with some very un-porn-like vintage pics.The large block of text includes comforting assertions like,

[We] ensure all contributors … have a positive experience, engage the mind in the sphere of erotic experience, [and] make erotica which is culturally valuable and equally appealing to both women and men.

[more crickets]

Flabbergasted, I went round to see my colleague and friend Caro in her office.

“We’re living next to porn stars!” I shrieked. Don’t suppose she hears that every day.

When the Bald Man got home we had a bit of a look in the website – just to see if we could spot next door in any pictures, you understand. All we did see was a lot more text, and (a very few) artistically cryptic photos. No familiar lounge suites.

I’m not sure what to make of the business, let alone the new neighbours.

But thankfully we’ll have time to find out. Real Estate just called – the house has sold to investors, and they want to talk about a new lease. Looks like we still have a home.

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“When the leaves burn, summer ends”
– Buffalo Tom, 1994

Leaves are falling around Canberra, a reminder that all things, good or otherwise, must come to an end.

Strange things were afoot in Dickson last Monday night.

Walking from the autoteller next to Woolies around to Canberra’s mini-SouthEastAsiaTown to meet the Bald Man for a cheap & cheerful dinner, the first thing I noticed was that MacDonalds was shut. More precisely, I noticed dozens of bewildered would-be customers loitering about, peering through the windows at the deserted dining room, wondering why a 24-hour junk joint would be closed.

Not to worry; the notice on the door said it was just a temporary closure for Drive-Thru renovations. Tough luck loiterers, wog food for you then.

Just down the street there was an almighty racket. Outside the Dickson Tradies, another era was passing under big spotlights, to the sounds of shouting workers and the straining of a giant red crane.

The old tram, long a feature of the Tradies’ dining room, was being extracted from a maw knocked into the club wall.

For years children climbed over its wooden seats and swung from its lights while their parents tucked into the schnitzel with salad, chips and a beer, grateful for a Friday night break.

Early into our Berra residency, Bald Man and I had dinner in that very tram. The steak was quite forgettable, but as I stood in the street last Monday with a gathering crowd of locals, I was glad to have spent that $12. Never guessed I could say I’d experienced a special bit of suburban Berra.

It’s ANZAC Day this Sunday. According to local wisdom, the day to turn on your heater. In my view, most locals must be hypocrites; everyone I know turned their heater about two weeks ago with the first light frost. But this week just gone has been a glorious balmy autumn, the kind of thing that makes living inland attractive. The rain forecast for ANZAC Day will bring a smart end to that.

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Be running up that road,
Be running up that hill,
With no problems…
Kate Bush, 1985


Now, where was I?

Oh yes. The hole that is winter, mid-year, mid-contract, mid-life terror-inertia, just opened up and swallowed me whole a little while ago. It was either write rubbish… or take a short break. So we ran away to a foreign land for a few weeks, then came home and I turned my brain off and slept in for a few more weeks, and now here we are and it’s spring.

The Berra seems determined to put on a proper spring, too, showering us with warm days and thunderstorms, lush overgrown lawns, rogue oak seedlings infesting naturestrips and battalions of magpies. 2009 is a great deal more fecund than last year.

Melbourne Cup Day, marked in the Berra as the universally reviled Family & Community Day public holiday (it’s in fact a day when families and the rest of the community just go down-the-coast) saw the Bald Man and me achieve a little local milestone: we finally climbed Mount Ainslie.

If you’re local, you won’t be fooled by the disingenuous use of “climb”. It’s actually a brisk walk up a hill that’s 842m high. Some people reputedly jog to the summit each morning, using the paved track from the rear of the War Memorial. But we started round the back end at the site of the old tip in North Ainslie, went up the fire trail, came down the more usual path and then walked back around to our starting point.

On the way up there were regular pauses because it was pretty warm, and steep. But on the way down the path was so tame, I actually jogged for short periods, maybe up to a km total. That’s the fastest I’ve moved my legs (and fat ol’ arse) in several years, so you’ll forgive me for being so pleased with myself over such a little thing.

The other milestone from this period is a d’ohmestic goddess one. You may have noticed that the pizza reviews have petered out; the taste tests and reviews were fun at first, but the exercise quickly became depressing. Thanks for your suggestions, but after a passable but pricey pizza at Il Covo, one average and two rubbish pizzas at Firestone, and a truly horrible experience at Pizza Arte*, I’ve given up and started to make my own.

A domestic oven and little kitchen notwithstanding, after about five attempts I’m making headway. Less is truly more with toppings – I recommend seasonal vegetable matter and smallgoods sourced from from the EPIC Farmers Market or your own garden.

But the base is definitely the key. I’m now working from a very old recipe that comes from a Good Weekend about a hundred years ago that I tore out, tucked away and fortuitously found again. Like toppings, less is probably more – this ace base uses little more than flour, olive oil and yeast. It works better now after a little modification, a result of trial and error. If you’re interested, the recipe’s on the other, sporadically updated blog i made you this. If you try it, give yourself at least three goes to get a feel for the dough (so to speak) – and let me know how it goes.

* I think we got Pizza Arte on a bad day – Victorians now call that day Black Saturday, and it felt at least 60 degrees in their kitchen – but really, the pizza was terrible. Burned and undercooked patches on one pizza, overcooked base and dry toppings that just fell off the other one. I don’t have words to describe how disgusting it was.

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Since I found out about it
I’m gonna make my point and shout it
– Mince Meat / Spencer P. Jones, 1994

couchI noticed this couch out on the naturestrip recently. Gorgeous vintage vinyl, I was quite prepared to install it in my loungeroom in place of the ageing beast lurking in the corner (the present couch, not the Bald Man). Sadly, closer inspection showed why it was abandoned – the timber and horsehair insides were literally rotting, the legs snapped off, the stitching unravelling. It was beyond my rudimentary furniture repair skills to save.

As well as tragic neglect of a marvelous bit of vinyl history, the couch represents an informal disposal/recycling phenomenon unique to the Berra. If one has an item that’s no longer wanted but which could reasonably be appreciated by someone else, one leaves it out on the naturestrip. Passers-by are free to take the item, gratis. In my immediate neighbourhood in the past 12 months I’ve seen office chairs, lounge suites, prams, desks, and electonic equipment of indeterminate age and dubious functionality all offered up this way. All of them eventually disappeared, presumably to good homes.

It took me a while to cotton on to this silent swap system. At different times I thought I was observing a) an early start to hard rubbish collection; b) untidy neighbours; c) people moving house; or d) white trash extending their living area. The silent swap is a lovely example of people acting to fill a gap, but the more I think about it the more it emphasises this gap we have in the Berra. Everywhere else I’ve lived offers local residents either an annual hard rubbish collection, or else reasonable tip access for disposing of large items (ie. one or two tip tokens for free disposal per annum). Here in the Berra there’s no collection, and when I asked the real estate agent for tip tokens she looked at me like I’d asked for a month’s free rent. I’m not sure where Berran residents’ rates go, but it isn’t into hard waste management (nor footpaths or potholes, arguably). It’s no wonder an informal recycling system has started up.

Mind you, it makes it very easy for the Berran Government to trot out a very green line. They’re proud to be the first Australian Government to set a goal of sending no waste to landfill, by 2010 no less. That could be possible, given how hard they make it for residents to throw things out.

You’ll excuse my sceptical tone, but refusing to take people’s rubbish isn’t actually reducing waste, it’s just ignoring it and hoping it will go away. Waste, like emotional conflict or things in the fridge, does not improve by refusing to deal with it. I was amazed, and envious, to discover how much better they have it up the road.

Queanbeyan is a town just that side of the ACT border; local Berrans typically look down their noses at Queanbeyan, and of course it’s governed by the basket case government of NSW and a local council. Yet on a recent visit there I learned that Queanbeyan Council works a lot harder to deal with rubbish, recycle and minimise landfill, use water resources more wisely, and really encourages locals to do the same. Things Queanbeyan residents get for their rates that we Berrans don’t, include:
* a three-bin system that includes a bin for green waste, as well as one each for recyclables and rubbish;
* up to two large/hard rubbish collections per year, which you book according to need;
* an annual hazardous waste collection;
* a plain-looking website with straightforward and useful information about how the systems work.
Queanbeyan residents are also entitled to a range of benefits under Council’s Waterwise program, including:
* a free dual flush toilet;
* a free AAA-rated shower rose;
* various subsidies for rainwater tanks, washing machines and other water-saving devices.

Things Berran residents get for their rates that Queanbeyan residents don’t, include:
* a nice-looking website that’s chock-full of a lot of words, fact sheets and some ‘useful’ hints, including how to donate unwanted goods to charity (in case this is a new concept to you), and a number to call if your ‘no junk mail’ sign is being ignored. (I did try to find some more good things to say here but the TAMS website kept timing out.)

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to see who’s getting the better deal. The Queanbeyan system certainly isn’t perfect, but it’s much more hands-on and practical. It’s not a load of rubbish.

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When I die I don’t want no coffin
I thought about it all too often
Just strap me in behind the wheel
And bury me with my automobile
– James Taylor, 1977

The old Volvo got Berra numberplates today. Suppose that means I’m really here now.

numberplateI took the Tasnarnian ones in to Territory & Municipal Services and sighed a little as I handed them over. I’ll miss the slogan, Tasmania – Your Natural State; it’s suspect on so many levels. The bloke at TAMS then requested a sum that would have been funny if it wasn’t true, and after I stopped choking and handed over a credit card, he handed over new plates with a slogan pointing to the ACT Centenary in 2013. At least other drivers will no longer curse me for a “bloody Tasmanian Volvo driver”.

The Berra is a city of cars and driving. Almost nowhere is walking distance, and that includes from one end of Garema Place (the main mall in the CBD) to the other. True, there’s not a lot of traffic most of the time so nowhere is very far away – if you have a car. Before re-registering the Ovlov, we had decided to become a one-car household, which would have been manageable if at times inconvenient. As it turned out the car market isn’t quite depressed enough for our wallets just yet, so that project is on hold.

But all the research did make me think about how many people in the Berra feel about cars. They loooooove them.

In the Berra, you can pick where the party is by the dozens of vehicles parked outside, littering the naturestrip. Colleagues with teenage children routinely moan about how many cars they have to maintain, just so their kids can drive themselves to their a part-time job. One of the most bitter arguments fought by Berran couples is over whose turn it is to be the designated driver, because unless you’ve saved for a month for the taxi fare, you need a designated driver. The house across the road from us has three adults, but seven vehicles (okay, two are up on blocks. But still.) Large tracts of open land in the busiest suburbs that would have developers elsewhere tearing each other’s limbs off to acquire are in the Berra tarred and used for carparks. There is almost no incentive to give up one’s car, apart from the punishing registration fees. Public transport buses are universally inconvenient and you can’t walk anywhere.

For someone who didn’t feel the need to get a driver’s license until I was 24, this motor-centric way of life seems dreadfully indulgent. I hear many people say they’d rather not drive all the time, but there’s a deep apathy towards transport reform in the Berra too; everyone seems to be waiting for someone else to do something. And no-one wants to refuse their employment-packaged car.

While we’re talking about what the Berra is (and isn’t), as someone said to me recently the Berra is a city of clubs. (It’s certainly not a city of pubs, to my lasting disappointment.) It’s been fascinating to watch the slow disintegration of the Cronulla Sharks Club in Sin City in recent weeks, as it crumbles under the weight of its amassed, generational block-headedness. I’m unaccustomed to this club culture that pervades NSW and the ACT as it doesn’t exist in the Australian suburbs where I grew up, yet barely 12 months in the Berra and I am a member of no less than three clubs. I think my memberships are mostly about food (yum cha and seafood feasts) but for most locals they’re about sports, or gambling and inexpensive drinks.

Anyway, just days before that 4 Corners story aired, I found myself at the Berra’s night-of-nights for clubs, their annual Awards for Excellence. Wow, a chance to glimpse the inner workings of this juggernaut that involves so many Berrans. It was no small matter. There were more than 700 people glammed up and crammed in to the Southern Cross Club, one of two giant club edifices perched on the edge of the Woden shopping centre precinct. As you might expect, it was cheesy but pleasant. The night was 60s-themed, with waitstaff dressed in retro gear and a Beatles cover band on the stage. The people on my table, a mix of local pollies, sportspeople and club people, were really lovely. The food was good, you didn’t want for a drink, the assembled crowd of men and women of all ages were having a good time. It was clear that for many the club can be a lifetime commitment; from the time you pull on your boots aged five, through your job, your family’s social life, a career path in multi-million dollar hospitality management for your daughter, to your post-retirement hub of activity, the club is there. These were all elements of stories told through the awards.

dancerBut there were two things that bothered me about the night. The first was the pair of cages at the sides of the stage, in which danced two girls; weird, but perhaps it was something to do with the theme, I thought. Then, at a point later in the presentation, the MC jock paused to chat with a sponsor about the women in low-cut dresses who were handing awards to the recipients.

“I understand you provided the girls for this evening,” said the jock to the sponsor. “Very nice. Very tasty.” The sponsor laughed.

He used just the tone two blokes might use to discuss meat, or similar bought object or commodity. This was all on the main stage, through microphones, before an assembled crowd of 700 which included smart, switched-on women and their husbands, brothers and fathers.

I nearly fell off my chair. “Did I really hear that?” I said, very loudly, to my colleague. No-one else on that table of 10, men and women alike, paid me any mind.

Which strikes me, now, as exactly the kind of attitudinal rope by which the Cronulla Sharks are now hanging themselves.

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I’ll be a big noise
with all the big boys
– Peter Gabriel, 1986

autumn leaves 1It must be autumn in the Berra. Pedestrians wade through drifts of leaves, or skid down footpaths carpeted with acorns, and the Australian War Memorial has had its warehouse open day.

Big Things In Store is the clever name for the annual opportunity to go and have a look at some of the stuff the AWM has collected but can’t put on permanent display at the main complex where the actual memorial is at the top of ANZAC Parade.

On Sunday we went out to the warehouse at Mitchell. It really is a warehouse, and packed full of big things from concrete floor to soaring ceiling. The open day is popular; even some ten minutes before opening time a hundred or so people were already parked and streaming in for a squiz. If you’re not a former serviceperson or military buff, it can be an odd experience. I had to engage in some rigorous doublethink in order to admire the machinery on display for its design and historical interest and ignore the reality that it’s all built for the singular purpose of large-scale killing and/or causing havoc.

AWM plane 1Once I got my doublethinking cap on, I was very impressed by some of the items they’ve preserved. An actual German V2 rocket. Woah. I had no idea a V2 was so BIG. Its direct inspiration for the space race was evident. The V2 was displayed next to a prototype of another experimental rocket that the Third Reich never got to deploy across the Channel – one of only two such prototypes in the world, apparantly.
AWM plane 12A fully restored Centurion tank, repainted to original specs – who knew that inside all that steel, the bench seats and sections of the floor were still made of wood? All manner of aircraft – a Dakota, a Beaufort, a Canberra Bomber and a M*A*S*H-type helicopter all in a row. Anti-aircraft guns – the engineering differences between the German and Japanese weapons were so great, it was difficult to see that they served the same function. Transports, cannon, radial engines, field kitchens, shells, torpedoes, sea mines, a Salvation Army tea-and-cordial truck, modified farm vehicles turned to combat, ancient portable barbecues, a Singer sewing machine. AWM plane 2My doublethinking cap slipped momentarily when I turned a corner and saw tucked up on a shelf some little tin boats used to land troops on beaches; thoughts of Gallipoli mixed badly with images from the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan (an otherwise terrible movie, those opening scenes still give me the horrors). To fight back is sometimes necessary, but war is a dirty business, and it’s good to remember that at both ends of all these machines – the pointing ends and the pointy ends – there are real human beings.

hand-made noticeSome of the items showed the social history of combat and service, and they spoke of a culture in which teamwork and getting on with the job were paramount. No doubt the ability to pull together meant the difference between life and death in combat. There’s both harshness and humour evident in those unofficial communications.

It was a family day for Berrans, and folk of all ages were out. A fellow helped his elderly dad out of a car and into the warehouse. A bloke talked to his friend about using ‘one of those’ in Vietnam. A father explained all the machines to his two little girls and took photos of them posing seriously before impressive items; on one hand it seemed inappropriate, but on the other hand the man evidently had only daughters, and he treated them just as he would have his sons. Food for thought.

a very disconcerting notice

a very disconcerting notice

Out the back there was the inevitable sausage sizzle, but the line there was even larger than that for the Centurion, so we passed.

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