Wednesday, August 31, 2005

And I'm outta here!!!

in 30 minutes. Woohooo!!!!! On the other hand, there was one heck of a storm half an hour ago; I can only imagine what the road will be like. Maybe this time I won't get to the airport any earlier than I want to :-)

See you on the flip side 40 hours or so from now!

Tuesday, August 30, 2005


I was, at the time of posting, supposed to be on a plane midway between Manila and Singapore, on my way home. Pretty obviously, I'm not. Nope, no sirree, no bob.

Hardware woes held me up. I was supposed to have finished the installation of a robot and demonstrated it's operation to the customer by last Friday. When I booked my flights I deliberately included the weekend and Monday so that I had some time up my sleeve to cover contingencies.

Indeed, when I was in France the week before last the boss tried to persuade me that I should fly Nice to Manila via whatever European connection to save 2 days. I preferred to return to the US and proceed from there to Manila.

Had I followed his suggestion I'd have arrived here on Sunday morning, just in time to discover that half the hardware we needed wasn't in the country (notwithstanding my hand carry). And I'd have spent 2 days more waiting. As it is I've spent 6 days waiting.

Today the hardware was finished and tomorrow I start the first of at least half a dozen dry runs before doing the demo. I've learned that our customer misses nothing! So each of those half dozen dry runs will be performed to be certain that everything happens exactly as it should and that there will be no hole, no matter how small to trip us up.

I said I'd spent 6 days waiting. Not entirely wasted time as it happens. Our app as it stands today will not run under anything less than an administration account. Big security hole waiting for a disaster. I spent most of those 6 days writing a bunch of code to allow our app to run with admin permissions without requiring that the session be an admin session. Yeah, I know, it would be better that the app not require admin permissions at all but that's a pretty large job. I chose instead to write a framework that would make it possible for our app to logon as an admin from a non admin session. This is a much smaller job.

Naturally that requires admin credentials be presented to the local security authority; so I wrote code to allow an administrator to create a username/password combination, encrypted of course, so that the app could log itself on as a particular user. Which in turn led to the creation of three or four configuration apps which in turn led to the idea of writing a generic framework with various plugins.

Along the way I also wrote two services; one to export data from our database using various formats and one to import data to another database on another machine. And then the configuration utilities for each service followed by a rewrite to fit the plugin configuration scheme.

It's been a productive week. Now all I have to do is to get it stress tested, deployed and signed off. Oh, and I need to find a way to convert some of the work into CodeProject articles without violating the still unsigned intellectual property agreement with my employer.

I can live with those challenges.

A most amazing advertisement

The other day, over breakfast, I was reading 'The Philippine Star', one of the local newspapers.

Fascinating stuff. There's one column I won't miss when I'm here; 'A law each day (keeps trouble away)' by Jose C Sison. Most of the time he goes into some of the less obvious ramifications of some law here. Other times he almost does a blog. Thus, Sunday, he paid homage to his sister. I have to admit that part of the appeal is that what he wrote felt a lot like the stuff I blog about my own life. I really must find out if his column is published on the internet; if it is it goes straight into my daily favourites.

There are other fascinations. Did you know that the company which operates Frankfurt International Airport put up some of the capital to build the 3rd terminal at Manila Airport? I didn't. Heck I didn't even know there was a 3rd terminal.

Then there's the story of Pepsi Cola and the '349' lawsuit which has, apparently, been ongoing since 1992. Something to do with a promotion and some non winners disputing the outcome. It's obviously well known here and so the story doesn't fill in all the detail one might need to completely understand what they're talking about.

How about the misunderstanding over whether Monday August 29th 2005 is a public holiday? On Friday it wasn't a public holiday. On Saturday it was. On Sunday it wasn't. And on Monday it was, partly. It was a holiday if you were a student or if you were a government employee unless you worked for the customs service. The last Sunday in August is National Heroes day in the Philippines, somewhat akin to Anzac day (April 25) in Australia or Memorial day (Last Sunday in May) in the US or Remembrance Day (November 11) in the UK. It seems that the expectation here is that if a day that would otherwise be a public holiday falls on a weekend day the following Monday will be a de facto public holiday. That's pretty much how it works in Australia. Hence the expectation that Monday would be a holiday. The powers here couldn't make up their minds.

As I say, fascinating stuff. It helps that the newspapers I see here are published in English so I can actually read em. I can muddle my way through a German newspaper though there are things in there that baffle me. Sometimes the Philippines newspapers use Tagalog in italics, direct quotes. I don't understand those but it's usually easy to work out the meaning from the context.

There's scary stuff in there too. Reports of kidnappings for ransom of Westerners in Manila. I trust my driver and I doubt I'm in danger of kidnapping at Manila Airport so that only leaves random kidnapping if we stop at a red light. And, as I think I've said before, if I were to let every possibility stop me doing things I'd go mad from the paradox; accidents happen at home as well as outside. You can't play safe all the time but you can do things to minimise the risk. That's why we always use Ohmee's driving service. He charges about 6 times the bus fare from Manila to Baguio but he picks us up at the airport (the bus terminal is miles away) and returns us safely to the airport. If the boss can expense it so can I!

Ohmee also picks up my fags (cigarettes) for me. A carton here costs a little less than a single pack does in the US.

I do enjoy reading the papers here. Much more than I enjoy reading, for example, the newspapers in Dallas. They go so well with bacon and poached eggs on toast. Of course, for me, the newspaper of choice is The Melbourne Age. I read that daily on the internet.

On Sunday I found the most amazing advertisement. It was a full page ad for a satellite TV receiver system. It went on at some length about the advantages of tapping into the global TV stream and it finished with this line...

'The only thing more attractive is your wife!'

Oh so redolent with assumptions! That you're male. That you're married. That you find your wife, if you're male, attractive. For me all three are true but that's not going to tempt me in the slightest to check out their offer!

Friday, August 26, 2005


I became eligible to apply for US citizenship last Friday. Of course, I had other things on my mind that day; like travelling from Nice, France back to Phoenix and travelling the very next day to the Philippines.

For an event to which I've been counting down the days this must seem almost cavalier. The truth is that I don't have the US$390 application fee. It's going to be a balancing act over the next few months; I'm going to be visiting friends and family in Australia next month and need to have some money whilst I'm there but on the other hand it is important to me to get that application in 'tout suite'! (I hope I spelled that correctly).

The rules on eligibility for naturalisation are pretty simple.

If you're married to a US citizen you need to have 3 years residency; if not you need 5 years. Of that period, 50% plus 1 day has to have been spent physically in the US and for 100% of that time an address within the US has to have been your permanent home. No leaving the US on a one way ticket! (There are some exceptions - that's a very simplified version that covers most immigrants).

I'm still well within those guidelines but the longer I delay the greater the chance, given my employment, that I'll slip out of the guidelines. Indeed, my predecessor (of whos code I've complained so often :-) ) failed to meet the physical presence guidelines last year, which probably explains why he's been so adamant in his refusal to undertake travel outside the US this year.

I've touched on some reasons, in the past, why I want to become a US citizen, the most important of which is that I want to participate in the democratic process. When you've had the vote for 33 years it's hard to give it up.

But there are other reasons, most of which are probably unknown to most Americans. For instance, my wife is my immigration sponsor. As part of her sponsorship she was required to sign a binding contract with the Feds that she would support me without the aid of any federal welfare for herself, her kids or me, for an indefinite period. The things that terminate that indefinite period are my death, my having worked for 120 months in full time employment, my leaving the US permanently or my becoming a citizen. I know I'd think more than twice about signing such an agreement!

Another reason is that for good, or for ill, I now live in the US. Doesn't mean I either want to or can spend 100% of my time inside those borders. But as a foreigner I have to run the gauntlet of immigration every time I want to return. I've written long and often (and probably boringly) about the perils of that process. But once I take that oath and get the certificate I can and will apply for a US passport. Then the only peril I'll run is the risk that my name duplicates that of a 'person of interest' to the Department of Homeland Security.

Actually, should that happen I'll be better off in some ways than Americans born in America. Unlike them I've provided extensive biographical and biometric details of myself. I've been fingerprinted to within inches of my life and the naturalisation process involves a repeat. So there will be lots of evidence on file to prove that I was born in Melbourne Australia and have never been to whichever hotspot is the current focus of interest. (I better hope that neither the Philippines or France are the source of some terrorist atrocity).

There are other requirements. I need to pass a test on American history and political structure. It involves such questions as which were the 13 colonies represented by the stripes; how many stars on the flag; who are the senators from my state of residence (Flake and McCain if you're wondering if I know); who succeeds the Vice President if both he and the President are taken out in a hit and so on.

Then I need to pass a written and oral English test. Not sure I'll pass that. If they ask me to recite the alphabet that last letter is going to trip me up!

So financial pressure has held me up. Heck, financial pressure holds up a lot of things. But I'll get there.

I've written enough for now. Time I went and watched a Russian movie here in the Philippines! Cheers!

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Rites of passage

We say, where I work, that if you haven't been to Baguio City, The Philippines, you can't say you work for us. A little over a year ago I was of the outer circle but within two weeks of joining the company here I was in Baguio City.

When a new chum joins we emphasise the arduous nature of the journey. 28 to 30 hours just getting to Manila and that's the easy part! After you arrive you have to travel from Manila to Baguio and we go on at length about the journey. Sufficient to make the new chum extremely apprehensive.

Indeed, last month, the way I knew I was travelling to Baguio yet again was the boss ribbing me about the 8 hour drive. He thinks the last part of the journey is the worst part, which shows how he and I differ about certain things. I think the journey from Phoenix to Manila is dull. Hours spent on planes or sitting around in airports waiting for the next flight. Where it gets interesting is when I emerge from the safety of the airport into the Manila smog, for there it is that I get to see things I would never see in the safe sanitised world of Australia or the US.

People who accept it as natural that they should travel with a face mask to filter out the smog. Tiny houses with dirt floors, no glass in the windows and a large screen TV set. Jeepneys and trikes overloaded. Roadside markets selling the largest crabs I've ever seen and street vendors strolling through heavy traffic selling cigarettes by the piece.

There are things I'd rather not see; the wet markets and trucks overloaded with livestock but as one who eats meat I know I'm being a hypocrite. Animals go through a horror we don't want to think about; but go through it they do.

I've done the journey seven times and each time my driver points out that I can recline the seat and sleep. It's tempting given that I don't get much sleep on the plane but it's just so damn interesting watching Metro Manila and all the other towns on the route to Baguio.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The death of a friend

Away back when, in 1968, I was in form 3B. For my tech school career that was the highest I managed to achieve; I'm not sure why. Well I do know actually but let me play the innocent for a moment before confessing that I was a lazy bastard. I always came second in class because I couldn't be bothered playing their game to become first. If came to the choice of doing my own thing and coming second; or doing their thing and coming first, doing my own thing won.

Anyway, in 1968 I found myself in form 3B. Occasionally, when they were a teacher short, they'd amalgamate the two forms, 3A and 3B. Thus I met Peter, smart achiever in 3A. How could I not meet a fellow geek who was sitting there on the science bench between two bunsen burners reading a copy of Electronics Australia?

We were automatically mates in the Australian sense of the word. Hours spent arguing the merits of Beam Power Tetrodes vs Power Triodes! Much the same as the arguments these days over Mac vs Windows and almost as pointless. I was in the Beam Power Tetrode camp.

We both ended up in Form 4E in 1969, which was the closest option to our interests; the electrical stream of instruction. We did such things as machine our own armatures and wind the wires to make an electric motor; something achieved in the 19th century but it was still a thrill to see our own motors work! Electronics was beyond that class but we taught ourselves.

I left school at the end of 1969; he stayed until matriculation at the end of 1971. We remained friends and I used to get Misery Guts to drop me off at the corner of Somerville Road and Severn Street, Yarraville, on Saturday mornings in 1970. When I bought my first house in 1993 it was about a hundred yards from that intersection. Many's the time I went for a walk in the 1990's through that intersection, remembering 25 or so years before.

Life goes on, and so do I. Peter met a girl and, when he felt comfortable with the relationship, I had the chance to meet her. A pretty girl and smart as two pins. That means she was smart if you're wondering. And so they were betrothed and then married, on April 13th 1974.

I was a guest at the wedding and I was placed at a table with various people, one of whom was a youth with long blonde hair, youngest brother of the bride. I'd met him maybe 4 months previously and, with the arrogance of 20 years and short hair I said 'get a haircut'. He didn't. I wasn't inclined to resent the disobedience; I'd heard him play the piano and the guitar and he was good!

My friend Peter's betrothed was a teetotaller (still is as far as I know) and she mandated that the only alcohol to be served at her wedding was champagne for the toast. I, at the time, was also a teetotaller (stop reeling in shock - it happens :-) ) so the long blonde haired youth drank my moiety of champagne along with his. I won't swear to it in a court of law but I do believe he drank another three moieties of champagne.

Need I reveal who the long blonde haired youth was?

None other than Heino, my best mate. It's a long story about how he became my best mate and you know I'm going to tell it :-)

Alas, my friend Peter is no longer in this world. He died on April 16th 2003 and I was fortunate enough (if fortunate be the word but you know what I mean) to be in Australia that week and able to be at his funeral. I'm glad I was able to be there.

For various reasons, mostly my fault and which I'll go into in future, I hadn't seen him but once in 20 years. That once was on the occasion of my fortieth birthday, when he presented me with a joke that only he and I understood; it was a tone arm made of dowel with a couple of lead sinkers as a counterweight and a large thorn as the needle. (Tone arms were used to play LP records).

I've always been ambivalent about funerals. Yes, we're there to regret the loss of someone we loved. And yet we're also there to celebrate the fact that they once existed. Let me tell you right now; anyone silly enough to weep at my departure deserves what they get. I've been to funerals of incredible dismallity and to funerals that celebrated a life.

I know which kind of funeral I prefer and which kind of funeral I want for myself.

Apart from his parents and his sister I was the person there who had known him earliest in his life. I made his father smile fondly when I remembered to him how Peter had the first remote control TV set in his street; he'd made a long pole with a claw that could grip the TV tuner knob and turn it.

My friend Peters funeral was of the kind I want for myself. We celebrated his life, nevermind the reasons he was no longer with us.

Rest in Peace, Peter.

Donkey engines

I have no idea what the phrase 'donkey engine' means to you. To me it means a small steam engine.

Misery Guts (my stepfather) gave me one in 1963. A small thing consisting of a brass cylinder for a boiler with a space beneath which one could light a fire and a tiny piston fed with steam from the boiler. It had a flywheel to store enough energy to keep it going and it was perfectly useless as a source of power for anything at all.

I can't remember any toy giving me half as much pleasure as that donkey engine. Just the having of it accrued status among my friends. We'd gather fuel of various sorts ranging from sticks to candles to methylated spirits (Methyl Alcohol) and we'd overheat that poor piece of brass almost to the point of melting it's solder.

We'd couple it to our mechano set constructions and marvel at the breeze a few spokes could produce in summer. We got more pleasure from that slight breeze than I ever got from air-conditioning.

I wish I knew what happened to it. I don't remember having it after 1965 and I suspect it was thrown out. My folks were like that. Mum would, about twice a year, go through our stuff and throw things out if she suspected we hadn't used them recently. I remember one book in particular that I had to save from oblivion at least half a dozen times. It was 'Frontiers of Astronomy' by Fred Hoyle. I suspect that part of why I had to keep on rescuing it was that it was one of my fathers books. I can't blame my mother; she wanted to lose all traces of my father in her life.

It was a narrow line I trod for the sake of that book. In order to prove that I'd read it recently I'd recite parts of the text (I remember describing Chandrasekhars limit and why Iron is the heaviest element produced in stars) but that carried it's own risks. If I knew the subject that well why did I need the book?

Catch 22 and eventually it caught me. One day in 1969 I saw that book disappear into the rubbish bin.

So yeah, I give Andrew hell about collecting empty coke cans and milk bottles in his room but I will never ever throw out something less perishable that he wants to keep.

The trumpeting of elephants

We all know what a trumpeting elephant sounds like. An absolutely unmistakeable sound!

I'm pretty sure elephants aren't indigenous to The Philippines; nor have I seen a sign pointing to the Baguio City Zoo so it came as somewhat of a surprise to hear one trumpeting quite closely as I ate dinner tonight. And it didn't trumpet just the once or twice; it kept on trumpeting.

I'm a curious bastard and I had to find out what it was I was hearing. Was someone listening to a CD of elephant song? So I went poking about and discovered it was the hinges on the door from the kitchen. Everytime a waiter entered or exited the elephant trumpeted.

Quite a remarkable hinge. It'll be a pity if someone decides to oil it!

Monday, August 22, 2005

It came as no surprise

that the large box concealed inside my suitcase attracted the attention of the TSA (Transport Security Administration).

One of the many things I hate about the place where I work is the 'hand carry'. Someone fails to plan ahead and thus I get sent on a day or twos notice halfway around the world. And someone else also fails to plan ahead and I find myself being required to hand carry the parts needed to complete the task; parts which should have been dispatched the day they arrived rather than languishing in limbo for six weeks. Or alternately, they weren't ordered early enough though we've known for months we were going to need them. You get the drift...

Annoyingly, in this case I knew four weeks ago that I'd be coming here to the Philippines this week. I knew that the parts would be needed before I could finish my task. And I tried, honestly I tried, to ensure that they had been delivered and installed before I embarked.

Naturally I found myself handed a heavy unwieldy box with the request that I take it with me. Fortunately, this time, the box was small enough that it would fit inside my suitcase (though it was a tight fit). I have no idea what's inside the box, which fact would, if I didn't know the people involved, cause me to refuse to have anything to do with the transaction.

The problem with this is multifold; I already have to cope with my suitcase and a 10 kilogram laptop (by the time you factor in the power supply, the leather case and my novel of the week). The last thing I need is an awkward cardboard carton added to the mix.

And then there's getting it past customs! I don't know the value of what's in the box and I'm certainly not carrying enough cash to pay the duty if it's demanded. Lest you be wondering why I don't know the value - if I were in a position to know the value that would imply a certain amount of organisation around here; certainly enough to ensure that I wouldn't have to hand carry it in the first place! And of course, merely knowing the value isn't enough; one has to have documentation to support that value.

This of course places me in the invidious position of filing an, at best, dubious customs declaration form!

So it was with relief that I discovered that the 'hand carry' was small enough to fit in my suitcase. Arrived here in The Philippines I opened my suitcase and there the box was, opened and resealed in TSA tape! Which doesn't surprise me at all. As far as I'm aware it contains a couple of large metal bars and some small machined parts; I can imagine the start of alarm when the suitcase went through x-ray!

A matter of coordination

On a cold, wintry day in mid 1979 I was working at a car radio joint. We did sales, repair and installation of car radios and I was the one doing the repairs.

In walked two people wearing overcoats. Jim, the salesman, scenting a mark, launched into a long spiel extolling the virtues of the latest cassette player. He really seemed to be making progress with the first guy, to the extent that, though he was unable right now to strike a deal he was willing to leave his name, address and phone number for later contact.

A few minutes after they left we noticed that the latest cassette player display model was missing!

A quick though not hopeful phone call netted success! And the police were dispatched to the address.

I can imagine the scene a minute after that phone call. The second guy archly opening his overcoat to reveal a stolen cassette player. And the first guy remonstrating 'why didn't you tell me you'd nicked it!'.


Saturday, August 20, 2005

They do have the power

if they choose to exercise it.

Today's trip from Nice back to Phoenix went Nice to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to San Francisco and San Francisco to Phoenix. At San Francisco I ran into the usual problem with my green card. He scanned it and it came up flagged with a 'missing' duplicate. By now I'm inured to the idea that I'm going to be spending some time in secondary immigration inspection so it came as one heck of a surprise, having answered the usual questions, to see him flip through my passport, notice the temporary greencard stamp issued at Phoenix in March this year, and stamp me on through!

Apart from that first hiccough back on April 14th[^] that's been the usual procedure except that it hasn't been done by the front line guy; they've always shunted me off to the waiting room to cool my heels (this at a time when I'm dying for a smoke!). The secondary inspection guy then flips through the passport, notices the temporary stamp aforesaid, asks me the same questions each time and stamps me through!

I'm thinking that when I return from The Philippines week after next at LAX, I'll hand the passport and greencard over, with the passport open at that page. Not that it'll work; he'll flip to the biographical data page and shunt me off to secondary inspection when the greencard comes up flagged. But I have to try!


A Jaffa, to an Australian, is a lolly (candy) consisting of a chocolate centre covered with a hard orange flavoured sugar shell and coloured reddish orange. I just went looking for a link and discover that the word is used in Britain to denote a cake/biscuit with orange jelly filling so it seems we might have nicked the idea from the poms and improved on it.

Opinions vary about the best way to eat a Jaffa in Australia. Some grab em by the handful and chew em but I maintain it's better to pop one or two at a time into your gob and suck em slowly. You get that orange flavour to start with but eventually that hard shell cracks and you get a blast of almost liquid chocolate (it's almost liquid from your own body heat). Marvellous!

It used to be the tradition, back in the days when movie theatres didn't have carpetted floors, for urchins such as myself to take three or four Jaffas and roll em down the aisle. They made a satisfactorily rattly sound. One usually waited until a particularly dramatic or mushy moment in the movie.

On December 26th 1979 Sue and I were at the Valhalla Cinema, at that time on Bridge Road Richmond. A stinking hot day and no air conditioning. It was a Marx Brothers marathon; 7 or 8 Marx Brothers movies in a row. We were in the midst of The Big Store[^] when Tony Martin[^] launched into yet another tiresome song. This was about the sixth movie of the marathon and the audience heaved a quite audible sigh when that song started. And some wag at the back of the theatre launched some Jaffas upon the floor. The entire audience literally roared with laughter and applauded. It would have been worth a thousand Jaffas to have been the one who thought of it!


Today I saw Iceland. Admittedly it was from 11 KM's above but nonetheless I saw it.

Remember that to a lad growing up in the antipodes places like Iceland, Scotland, Germany and France seemed unimaginably far away. Probably as unimaginably far away as Australia or New Zealand might seem to a Scotsman.

So it was with a certain amount of delight that I rubbernecked my way from Frankfurt across the North Sea, seeing Scotland far off to the left. I wrote[^] some time ago about how my grandmother, being Australian born in the days when Australia was still a collection of British Colonies, thought of England as 'home' even though she'd never been there. I find myself not entirely devoid of those sentiments, though the thought was provoked by watching, from a great distance, the South of Scotland pass by. Well, I'm pretty sure, based on the 'map' that what I was looking at was the South of Scotland. The great grand paternal side of my family originated in Peebles. Was the land I was seeing the land my great great great grandparents had known?

I upgraded from economy to business for the flight. When I checked in at Nice I asked for a window seat and got one from Nice to Frankfurt and again from San Francisco to Phoenix. But all the window and aisle seats on the Frankfurt to San Francisco leg were taken by then. The thought of being stuck in a middle seat for 12 hours just didn't appeal so I used some of those frequent flyer points to upgrade. What else am I going to do with them? Here in the states you get two weeks leave a year and the only place I'm likely to use my points to travel to are Australia. I already have enough points for two more return trips and we both know that with this job spending 15,000 points for a business upgrade means nothing much; by the end of 2005 I'll have travelled enough to replace em. Heck, I'll have replaced em just by travelling tomorrow to Manila!

So I got a business upgrade and a window seat. And there, far below was Iceland. It's the northern summer so I accept that it was black. My wife expressed surprise; she'd expected it to be permanently covered in snow. I had to tell her that was Antarctica! One of these days I'm really going to book myself a flight to Keflavik just so's I can say I've been there!

Tuesday, August 16, 2005


If ever I needed to be disabused of the idea that all the French know good food when they see it tonight was the night for it to happen. I pass lightly over the existence of at least two MacDonalds outlets here in Nice; that I can ascribe to tourist pressure. But when I see a French family tucking into steak and chips liberally covered in Heinz Ketchup I know it's time to throw in the towel and acknowledge that there goes another fond illusion.

Not that the chips are all that bad; they're far better than those sad things served in North America as 'French Fries'. I had some last night because I didn't know to say 'non, legume' when the waiter was asking me what I wanted to accompany my duck. It was quite the shock when those chips turned up. But if I want real chips I'll wait until I'm back in Australia at a fish and chip shop; those are chips!

Monday, August 15, 2005

Fragments of history

I've been watching this movie[^] again. I say that like it's the second time but it's actually about the 13th time. Indeed, only one night has passed since I borrowed it from the Phoenix Public library that I haven't watched it. For me, it's that good!

My wife is long since inured to the idea that I enjoy odd movies; when I told her that Friday night I hadn't watched it she laughed. As for why I didn't watch it Friday, I was watching this movie[^] instead and you can only watch so many movies a night!

Wait, you say, how is it possible that I watched it tonight when I'm on a different continent? Well my DVD travelled with me of course. I must admit to taking a perverse pleasure in being an Australian in France watching a 1928 Soviet movie with a soundtrack written in 2002 by an Englishman.

So why does an ancient movie fascinate me so? I hope the title gives it away. If the movie was made in 1928 it's about 30 years older than almost all my oldest memories yet it's well within the time frame of things my grandparents talked about. Actually, it's mostly what my fathers mother talked about; my mothers parents seemed singularly taciturn about anything that happened to them before the age of 50. My fathers father died in 1942 so it's not surprising that I don't remember him talking about anything at all!

Not that she talked about life in Odessa. She talked about the times she'd lived through. I can vividly remember mishearing my grandmother talking about the time the 'wall' broke out and envisioning a brick wall collapsing. Later I realised she'd meant the 'war'.

My grandmother had the wonderful ability to talk about what she'd lived through without a trace of self pity; nor did she try and make it into a grand heroic adventure. She just told it the way she had seen it. Not once do I remember her serving up a wonderful meal whilst trying to make me feel ungrateful for her sacrifice. I do remember the wonderful meals!

And one other thing I remember of my grandmother, something I will always revere her for. She had an immense interest in whatever happened in the world. I can remember her taking me outside in October 1957 to lie upon the ground and stare at the night sky. We were watching for Sputnik and I can remember her taking a childlike delight in seeing that tiny dot fly far overhead. It meant far more to that 66 year old woman than it did to the 4 year old child by her side.

So, whilst I have no connection whatsoever with Soviet History so far as I know, I find it immensely interesting. I can't watch this movie without wondering at the faces; who found themselves in the Gulag and who didn't. Who was a party member and who wasn't? There are faces that I recognise only I cannot. One who looks exactly like my cousin but can't be; one who looks exactly like my grandmother and who might have been.

My grandmother has been dead these 39 years but as long as I can still picture her in my my mind she's not completely dead. And, I hope, as long as you can read my poor tribute to her and picture a feisty old woman intensely interested in life, she won't be completely dead.

And that is the final reason why I like old movies like that. They show us fragments of history. It's up to us to put them into context.

121 Tote

was the uninspiring headline on a German language newspaper in Frankfurt Airport today, complete with front page photo of an airplane. I certainly read enough German to know what that meant. On the same newsstand was another paper with a front page photo of a hand in a glove and the headline 'Frozen at 35,000 feet'. With another 1 hour flight ahead of me over the Alps to Nice I chose not inquire further. I'm a nervous enough flier as it is; I don't need to know the details.

Of course, once I was safely at my destination curiousity got the better of me and I tuned into BBC World, to learn it was about a Greek flight that went down Sunday while I was somewhere over the North Atlantic. Early reports indicate that it was a pressurisation issue and, due to oxygen deprivation, the victims probably didn't even realise what was happening. On their behalf I'm glad to hear it. I hope you read that the way I meant it.

I arrived safely, of course. I still don't know what the reason is for the public holiday here in France; I'll ask tomorrow. I can't place August 15th as a day of significance in French history. The nearest I can come up with is August Bank Holiday but I doubt the French are celebrating a British holiday. The only other date that springs to mind is the exile of Napoleon Buonaparte to St Helena but that was last week and I'd be about as likely to believe the French celebrate that particular anniversary as I would believe that Americans celebrate the birthday of Benedict Arnold.

Doubtless when I discover the reason I'll smite myself on the forehead for not remembering and want to come back and edit this. I won't though. What I write and publish stands, errors and silliness notwithstanding.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

More magic

A while ago I wrote about the day Heino's second daughter[^] was born.

She's one cute kid let me tell you! Cheeky, bright, full of life. I get on pretty well with her. I've always had the knack of getting along with young girls. And, if you've read the previous post, you'll have noticed that she's just had her 11th birthday.

I rang to wish her happy birthday on that day. 1 AM or so my time, 6 PM or so her time. Fortunately she answered the phone. Not all that surprising really, many times when I ring Heino his second daughter answers. So I wished her a very happy birthday and we chatted briefly about this and that. Well, what does a 51 year old man and an 11 year old girl chat about for hours on end? Nothing if the 51 year old man knows what's good for him!

At the end of the conversation she asked if I wanted to talk with Dad. And I said no, I made this call to you to wish you a happy birthday! So we hung up.

I was on the phone to Heino today and I asked if she'd enjoyed the call. She had. And it seems that the thing she liked most was that I'd made the call to her and only her; not to her and then Dad. She felt special. Which she is. I had planned it that way. Heino and I speculated on whether she'd gone to school the next day and casually announced to her friends that she'd recieved a personal call from a friend in America. We can both see her having the chutzpah to do exactly that! :-)

I'm looking forward to renewing my friendship with her next month! She's a credit to her parents.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Changing plans

I'd planned to do 'underpants on the head day' this coming Sunday. Perhaps the joke's wearing a bit thin but, on the other hand, I can imagine Andrew telling his kids about this strange Australian guy, long since dead, who started that tradition here. And then his grandkids changing the story so that the underpants were always on the head, even at the local supermarket. Stories have a way of mutating like that. Who knows; a century from now there may be a widespread belief in the US that all Australians wear their underpants on their heads!

Tonight over dinner I said 'I won't be here Sunday'. Andrew applauded (cheeky bastard :-) ). 'So you know what that means don't you?' They didn't twig. 'It means it's Underpants on the Head day' followed by the inevitable. Perhaps the joke isn't all that thin yet; after my wife stopped laughing she admitted that she thought it was well done. Even Andrew was grinning like a jackanapes.

Nope, on Sunday morning at the disgustingly early hour of about 5 AM I have to be at the airport, to go to Nice, France again. Actually, apart from the hour, I'm pretty happy about it. I'd concluded just this week that I was unlikely to be sent there again on the company dollar so to have a short trip drop out of the sky into my lap is just gravy!

Strangely enough, it just so happens that my sister and her husband are in Europe even as I write this, for her 50th birthday celebration. She's even going to visit Nice as part of her itinerary but I have no way of contacting her and I suspect that she'll be there somewhat after I've departed. No biggie, I'll catch up with her in Melbourne next month and we can compare impressions of Nice.

It's a short trip, arrive Monday Nice time, depart Friday morning. It's a public holiday in Nice on Monday and I arrive at the start of the day so that's even more gravy! You have to admit it, being on the French Riviera in summer does sound attractive.

Of course there's a downside. I get back to Phoenix late on Friday evening and on Saturday I get onto another plane, this time to the Philippines. A week there installing some old stuff, demoing some new stuff, getting emails sent back and forth that agree that we've implemented various features. All being well I'll be back in Phoenix at the end of August, just in time for my wife's birthday.

But even that return's only for a couple of weeks. Not that I'm counting but I'm off to Australia for a holiday in 33 days! To be precise, at the time of writing, it's 32 days and 15 hours until takeoff. But I'm not counting! :-)

For the record, this stay in Phoenix, of 26 days, has been the longest time I've spent at home since mid December 2004. But it's an interesting life and you wouldn't be dead for quids[^] would you?

Friday, August 12, 2005

Pink lemonade

Whenever we dine out and I'm not having a glass of wine with dinner I order lemonade. Pink Lemonade to be precise. That request sometimes gets a raised eyebrow, especially if I enthuse over it in the ordering process.

So tonight we ate out at a very cheap place, Village Inn. And I asked for a Pink Lemonade. The waiter said, 'we don't have pink lemonade, we've only got strawberry'. 'Well', said I, 'that's pink isn't it?'.

Maybe I've missed a subtle nuance in the language but, given that all the Pink Lemonade I've drunk here has been strawberry I'm not sure I understand why the waiter responded as he did. My wife also doesn't understand why. *shrug*

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Another use for paint tins

When I was a kid we lived at my grandmothers house and every night when we went to bed we had a china vessel placed underneath our beds. Each morning that vessel was emptied. After my mother remarried and we moved into our own house we had analogous vessels placed under our beds but, being poorer than church mice, those vessels were actually empty paint tins. Truth to tell, my grandmother was as poor as we were but also a lot older; somewhere along the way she'd managed to collect some china piss-pots.

I remember that paint tin beneath my bed as late as 1967 though I really don't remember having one later than then. Given that we had no sewage until 1978, when I'd long since departed that house, I'm not sure why. Let me tell you, living in a house with no sewage or septic tank was the pits. My folks hadn't opted for the septic tank because 'sewage is just around the corner' in 1966, when they signed the contract for that new house. Oh, and this was in a suburb 7 miles from the Melbourne Central Business District.

What we got instead was a small shed a few metres from the backdoor. A large can changed weekly and a simulacrum of a toilet seat over said can. You'd better hope that everyone takes a dump a few times a week away from the house; if we didn't the seat cover didn't close properly by the 6th day. (Think about it). In winter it was bad enough, a small unheated outhouse. In summer we'd pour bottle after bottle of phenol into it to allay the stench.

Once a week a smelly truck pulled up outside the house and a man wearing a special hat, not unlike a top hat, would march up the driveway. He'd knock politely, lest someone be inside, and failing an answer he'd open the door, raise the seat and grab that can full of excrement by two handles and hoist it up above his head and carry it on top of that hat. I remember him as a thin man but my god, he must have been strong!

Apochryhal stories abounded about him missing a step and spilling his load of excrement down the path but I never saw him miss a beat.

It used to be the tradition that each house would leave some beer outside at Christmas for the postman, the milkman, the garbage man and the dunny man. The dunny man always got a round dozen bottles; twice his nearest rival. He earned and deserved every bottle he got!

I didn't live in a house with an inside dunny until I was 23. By strange coincidence, I was the same age when I first lived in a house with a telephone. That might explain why I don't much like the telephone but I surely do like the inside flush toilet!

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Now you see it, now you don't

Andrew's been slacking off of late. His room is starting to resemble a disaster area again. He justifies it to himself because of the imminence of school; the dire, to him, necessity of reading books again.

So of late I've been doing the random inspection of his room a little more often than usual. On Sunday an empty milk bottle appeared on the floor, along with the seemingly obligatory 3 bowls, 7 glasses and 4 empty coke cans. Words were exchanged and a reluctant promise to remove all the junk.

Some hours later a second inspection. All the crockery and glassware were gone but neither the cans nor the empty milk bottle aforesaid. More words, of a more imperative nature. Truculent defiance followed by a backdown (and I'm not talking me).

On Monday when I got home from work another random inspection. Would you believe it? That damn empty milk bottle was still there. Loud protestations that this wasn't the same bottle; it was a different one. I might have believed that had he at least made the effort to move the thing but it was in the same place, same orientation.

Tuesday. The milk bottle was still there. He was in the shower at the time of that inspection; the wooden door is all that saved me from a glare I'm sure he intended as lethal :-) More protestations that it was a different bottle. Uh huh. So I picked up the entire mess (this time it was 2 bowls, 2 glasses, a plate, a fork and 3 coke cans, oh and an empty milk bottle) and sneaked downstairs, quietly rinsed the permanent stuff and threw out all but the milk bottle.

When he emerged, weight of the world on his shoulders at the prospect of having to clean up his own mess, he was gratified to find it already done. I, of course, knew nothing about it. Nor did Mum!

So tonight I did the inspection again. Surprisingly, there was nothing in his room that oughtn't to have been there. So I waited until he was in the shower again and sneaked back upstairs to place that milk bottle in the exact same place, same orientation.

When he emerged a couple of minutes later he couldn't believe his eyes. And again, I knew nothing of the matter :-) Nor did Mum. He did the two bob watch routine for a few minutes and eventually subsided, after bringing it down and putting it into the rubbish bin. Once he'd closed his door I took the bottle out of the rubbish. I'm going to do the same trick tomorrow night. I'm sure that this time he'll make the effort to walk it out of the apartment and into the communal rubbish bins.

We shall see whether I make the effort to retrieve it to run the same trick Thursday!

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Orange marmalade

I hated marmalade when I was a kid. Jam I loved. But that strange icky stuff with texture (orange peel) just tasted and felt wrong. The thing that I hated the most was that orange peel; it had a strong flavour that didn't appeal.

I mostly have memories of my second wife that I'd rather not have but I did take at least two positive things away from that failed experiment in optimism; the first was an introduction to wine, the second an introduction to marmalade. The wine you all know about; indeed I probably overdo the enthusiasm for it.

In February 1988 Peta and I had just started sharing a house with Claire. Totally platonic you understand. Uh huh. That was the month and the day that Pink Floyd came to Melbourne for their second tour in Australia (Saturday Feb 13, 1988) and I was there. Great concert. I've written about that concert before.

When I got home Claire had gone to bed but Peta was still up; we shared a cask (box) of red wine. At the time I hadn't the taste for red wine; it went down rather like Listerine but Peta was an interesting person and...

So one thing led to another and we became drinking pals. And I got quite the taste for the red wine. Late on Thursday Feb 25th 1988 we sat down to drink wine and listen to Philip Glass. Time passed and wine was drunk and early the next morning we set off for a jog around Brunswick, Melbourne. I was a dozen years older than Peta but I was damned if I was going to let a little thing like that slow me down.

And so I paced her. I have no idea how I survived that experience but I did. When we got home I wanted to fall exhausted into bed but she wanted breakfast. Which I cooked. Bacon and poached eggs on toast. And then she took out her jar of Orange Marmalade and spread it on a piece of my toast. It was delicious.

On February 26th we kissed for the first time. And on the 6th anniversary of that kiss we were married. On the 7th anniversary plus 9 days the marriage ended. You're going to have to wait until February 26 2006 for the rest of the story.

Monday, August 08, 2005


I've mentioned a few times that I worked for Unisys Australia through the 1990's. And, as I've said, for the most part I enjoyed working for them. But there was one thing that was hard to cope with and that was the periodic waves of redundancies. Yeah, I know it wasn't only Unisys, but I wasn't working for the other companies.

The financial year ran January to January; as a consequence the redundancies always seemed to happen in the first week of December. Way to spoil Christmas for those who enjoy it!

And some years they were conducted in very hamfisted ways. The 1993 wave for example. As always seems to happen, rumours of yet another culling were circulating during the week before. I varied my usual routine enough to arrive at the office at 8:30 AM. (I usually don't stick to the advertised hours; any employer who has a problem with that has the choice; quantity or quality - fighting words wouldn't you say? :-))

For the first half hour of that day there were periodic pagings; could so and so go to reception on the 7th floor? It didn't take us long to realise that these were those getting the chop. As time wore on those of us who hadn't been called became more and more tense. If you've ever been through such an experience you know exactly what I mean; if not, I hope you never do!

And then, at 9 AM, they paged the rest of us, all of us, to go to the 7th floor. Disbelief. Surely they couldn't be closing the entire branch office? No, they weren't. We were herded into the large conference room and, when the door was closed behind us, those who had been culled were led from the small conference room to their desks, thence to the front door and off the premises.

Another time they killed the email accounts of everyone affected without taking into account the 3 hour time difference between Melbourne and Perth. Those who turned up early to work in Perth found themselves locked out and that only increased the anxiety level over there.

And so I survived cull after cull. I'm not sure why. By the August 2000 cull (an off cycle cull) I'd not had any productive work for almost 2 years. The rumour had gone around that anyone with less than 80% billable hours was for the chop; when I checked my stats I was at 13%!

Amazingly I wasn't culled!

Picture us in our office as that morning proceeded. At 9 AM I was sure I was going to be jobless by noon and worried about the prospect. By 10 AM I hadn't been called and we'd been discussing the size of redundancy payments. With almost 12 years under my belt I would get a reasonable payout. By 11 AM I was hoping for the call and by noon I was disappointed :-)

Not long after I was assigned to a new boss. She'd started with the company 3 days after I did in the same department so we knew each other pretty well. And her first management type question to me was 'well, what does Rob want in the next year'. Few things annoy me more than some arsehole doing the third person on me in that way so I answered 'Rob wants to be made redundant in the next round'. She was shocked! 'You can't volunteer!' I shrugged.

A couple of weeks later I was enjoying a smoke in the basement with our HR rep. I told her that she should consider my name for the next round of redundancies. Same shocked answer. Well you tell me, what is better? Sack some poor bastard who doesn't want to be sacked? Or sack someone who wants to be on the list? To me it's a no-brainer. Either way you reduce the headcount by 1.

A couple of weeks later my new boss wanted me to go to Perth for an indeterminate period of time that was probably going to be close on a year. I had a new girlfriend at the time and I was only willing to go if they'd pay her airfare to accompany me. They weren't. So I knocked the assignment back. And my new boss made a mistake! She suggested (I don't remember the exact words) that as we weren't married I couldn't refuse. Ah, I said, so you're going to discriminate against me on the grounds of my marital status. Aha! I had her! She couldn't force the issue without falling afoul of equal opportunity legislation.

So it should come as no surprise that in December 2000 my name was on the redundancy list, exactly where I wanted it to be!

I was called into the small conference room on the 7th floor at 8:30 AM. Indeed, my name was the first called.

They hadn't coached the poor bastard who had to tell me. He approached it in much the way I think I'd approach it if I had to be the one to sack someone. Some mumbled words about what a great contribution I'd made over the years to the company; regrets that the time had come for us to part ways. He was unprepared for what followed. Because what I did was leap out of the chair, in much the same fashion as those people in the Toyota Yes! ads, fist in the air, and I did a little war dance!

And the first words out of my mouth after that were; 'how much?'

If I'm gonna be blamed anyway

I might just as well be guilty!

I'm talking about teenage step-daughters and how it is that we olds are a constant source of embarassment; from our haircuts to our bellies to our tastes in film, music and art; and that old standby of teenage rebellion, rules.

You'll remember a couple of weeks ago how my wearing a hairnet rapidly escalated into my wearing a pair of underpants on my head. That was on Sunday at dinner. The following Sunday I sat down to dinner again and, when they least expected it, I said 'guess what day it is?'. 'Sunday' was the unanimous chorus. 'Yes,' I responded, 'but it's also underpants on the head day!', whipping said garment out and planting it on my bonce. A chorus of disapproval :-)

You'd think they'd remember wouldn't you? Because here it is, Sunday night again. Morgan announced that she and Sarah would deign to dine with us. So as they sat down to eat the apricot chicken I'd cooked I said 'guess what day it is'. 'Sunday' they chorused as aforesaid. 'And you know what that means don't you?'. Blank stares.

You know what followed. Sarah laughed herself sick while Morgan was mortified! Hey, I might just as well be guilty and have some fun along the way.


When I moved from Melbourne to Phoenix I had a lot of decisions to make regarding what to bring with me and what to abandon. As it happened I abandoned almost everything. And whilst I could abandon my LP collection (What are LP's daddy? :) ) I couldn't bring myself to abandon my CD collection.

On the other hand, 800 or so CD's are pretty bulky when packaged in jewel cases and rather expensive to ship. So I made a good bad decision. I grabbed a few empty CD recordable spindles and stripped those CD's down to the bare essentials; the CD itself on the spindle and the paper inserts from the jewel cases.

The plan was, of course, to buy jewel cases on the other side of the ocean and reconstitute em. Perhaps it would have worked if all that was needed was water. First problem is what does one do with 2 or 3 CD sets? If you can purchase those kinds of jewel cases I haven't found where.

More, it's the sheer amount of work needed to assemble em. It was bad enough breaking the sets down over there in Melbourne on the 3rd and 2nd last nights. Reassembling them is a much bigger job. One can go through the spindles to find the CD and stick it in a jewel case. But then one has to search through the paper inserts to find the right one. Same problem if you do it the other way.

As a consequence I haven't really done much about it. Being blessed with both a good memory and the internet I find I don't really need the paper inserts; if I really want all the information on the Michael Nyman Songbook I can hit Amazon and there it is.

Meanwhile, my CD collection has become an amazing grab bag. Time was I'd think to myself 'I'm in the mood for some Delius' and there I'd go, CD at my fingertips. Now it's more a case of 'what CD will I find if I grab that spindle and grab the 37th disc from the top?'.

To my immense surprise, the random choice has overwhelmingly turned out to be a Bax Symphony. Which is good because he's just what I need to listen to right now!

Yeah, someday I'll reassemble all those CD's and their paperwork but for now it's just not all that important.

The Footscray Public Library benefited. I donated all those empty jewel cases to them. Which is only fair; I borrowed quite a few books from them in the 1960's.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

All lined up in a row

In November 1988 I was looking for a job. One afternoon I attended an interview with a placement agency in a 4 storey building on St Kilda Road Melbourne. Arrived at the building I couldn't help but notice it was almost devoid of tenants.

During the interview I remember looking at the building next door and thinking it had to be one of the ugliest buildings I'd ever seen. Of course, my next job was in that very building; I joined Unisys Australia in January 1989 and, apart from a 3 year sojourn at another Unisys site at Collins Street Melbourne and 3 months in Canberra I spent almost 12 years working out of that building.

Good times. Heck, I even scored a trip to Boston travelling first class all the way. Another trip, to Taipei, was also a score.

A couple of months after I joined Unisys that building next door lost its last tenant and up went the signs announcing yet another office tower. Demolition was, it seemed, imminent. They even took every toilet bowl in the building and lined em up in the lobby in a row.

At the end of 2000 I was made redundant at Unisys (that's the subject of another story). And as I left the building for the last time I passed the condemned building next door. There it still stood, patiently waiting for the wreckers ball, empty for 12 years and it's lobby still proudly hosting a row of toilet bowls, all lined up in a row.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

My first girlfriend

Her name was Elizabeth, though I can't, for the life of me, remember her surname. Hardly surprising given that the year was 1961 and I was 7. I fancy she was about the same age. Strangely enough, I can remember the house she lived in, on Dongola Road, Footscray.

This was the grand passion of my life :-) Or so it seemed at the time. Of course I've had a few 'grand passions' in the years since then.

I remember playing with her in her backyard and gravely assuring her mother that I was going to marry her as soon as I was 'growed up'. Her mother pegged the washing onto the clothesline, nodding sagely, barely able to conceal her amusement.

For the brief few days it lasted we canoodled at lunch time. Canoodling, to a 7 year old, meant kissing. That's all we'd ever seen in the movies. Of course, a 7 year old doesn't really know what kissing entails; a meeting of lips is what it looks like and that's what it was for us, along with copious amounts of saliva spread indiscriminately across the kissee's face.

My first romance ran it's course in a very few days and I returned to my male friends. We linked arms and marched across the school ground singing 'We won the war, in 1954'. Historically innacurate but it rhymed.

Being difficult

In 1973 I was a fourth year apprentice radio mechanic. I don't even know if the apprenticeship system is still in operation but it surely was in the 1970's in Victoria, my home state. The end result of said apprenticeship was a tradesman certificate.

The way it worked was that if you left school at 14 you had to do 5 years as an apprentice. If you left school at 15 you did 4 and a half years; if 16 or older you did 4 years. I had to do 4 and a half years, so I was due to graduate in mid 1974. Of course, they hit us up in 2nd year for the higher education treadmill. I signed on for 3 nights a week of night school.

All of which is a long winded intro to the fact that in 1973 I was doing 3 nights a week night school in addition to the standard 5 days a week work, where 1 of those days was also dedicated to trade school. A pretty good education as it happens. We covered everything from basic soldering skills to technical writing. Along the way we learned now obsolete technology such as thermionic valves. I could still describe to you exactly how a beam power tetrode works!

There were rules governing how an employer of an apprentice had to behave. One of the rules was that if the apprentice was enrolled in night school said apprentice had to be allowed off work early enough to attend the classes he was enrolled in. My boss at the time would always shave it rather close; mostly, by the time I'd negotiated peak hour traffic, found a parking space and walked to school the class had already started. Being late didn't bother me much; we had the curriculum in hand and I was usually ahead of the teacher.

So I established a tradition of being late to class. (Not much has changed since then :-) ). One of our teachers was a Mr Anderson. He would have been pushing 60 in 1973 so I doubt he's still alive. A stickler for punctuality was Mr Anderson. Never mind if you were going to pass the exams; if you weren't there on time you were on his shit list. In the intervening years I've learned not to care about the day to day punctuality; if the result is on time and accurate that's what counts.

Thus began a battle of wits. I'd walk in, briefcase in hand, late. He'd stare at me and deliver some witty comment about punctuality. And I'd retort.

After a couple of weeks of this I decided to retaliate. My approach to the classroom afforded me a view of the rubbish bin. I'd switch the briefcase to my right hand, walk through the door and knock the rubbish bin over with the briefcase. Laughter from the class and frozen disapproval from Mr Anderson. This went on for months.

And then one night, as I approached the classroom I could see that the rubbish bin wasn't there. Aha! Abrupt reversal to approach the door from the other side. Brief case in the left hand. And there it was, on the other side of the door. I knocked it over as I entered, apologising profusely but with the telltale smirk on my face. Loud laughter from the class and impotent disapproval from Mr Anderson.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Bowling with the boys

Though I use the word boys in it's loosest possible sense. :-)

Last Wednesday night Vern, Lamont and I went bowling. It had been getting toward time I did some blokey stuff again so I sent out an email almost begging for blokey stuff. Buoyed up by my semi success the other night at bowling with the family it seemed to be a good idea to suggest that perhaps this time, rather than meet at a local bar, we go bowling. You can combine the two experiences; copious beer and bowling.

By coincidence, Vern had posted on his Phoenix meetup site[^] a suggestion that maybe this week was a good week for a get-together. Combine that with bowling and we had a winner.

So up I fronted, to find Vern already ensconced in the bar with a pitcher of beer. You have no idea how difficult it was for me type 'pitcher' there. It's a jug of the amber fluid and don't you forget it! Halfway through my first beer Lamont arrived, carrying his own bowling ball. Vern revealed he had his own ball and it was about that time I realised that I'd been snookered. These buggers have years of experience bowling.

We cope. I don't remember the frame by frame breakdown but I came last in each of the four games. Not by much come the last game though that may have more to do with the fact that, whilst I enjoy a drink, I don't drink much if I have to drive. Vern, knowing that I would drive him home, was not so limited.

About three frames into the first game Vern asked me the killer question. 'How are you aiming the ball'. I had to confess that I wasn't aiming it at all; trusting more to luck than to skill. He pointed out the dots on the player part of the alley and the arrows on the ball's part of the alley. Well bugger me drunk! I'd never noticed em. Suddenly it all fell into place.

After that I found it much easier to actually aim that ball at the target. I still guttered a few times but I also managed to Brooklyn a couple of strikes! Indeed, in the last game (in which I still came last), I got two strikes to Vern and Lamont nill.

We're bowling again next week. Oh the pressure!

A happy, giddy drunk

If I were to tell you that I enjoy a nightly drink you'd probably say 'well duh!'. If I were to tell you how much I drink you'd probably want to run the intervention routine on me. Indeed, yesterday at the office we were discussing drinking and I mentioned having consumed a whole bottle of wine at one time. The admission that I would or could drink a whole bottle of wine in a 24 hour period raised many eyebrows. On the other hand, this is America...

A couple of years ago, on a Saturday night, I was watching Barry Lyndon[^]. At 2 AM I was up to that scene where Lord Bullinger and Barry Lyndon have their duel. (Great movie BTW) And in walks Morgan with her friend Sarah. (Let's not get into the discussion of whether it's a good idea to let 15 year old girls wander the streets at 2 AM - I'm very conservative on that question).

This was the first time I'd met Sarah and, politeness personified, I paused the movie to say g'day. Of course, by that time, I'd had more than one glass of wine and Sarah, somewhat cautious, raised an eyebrow at Morgan.

'Oh, don't worry about Rob' she said, 'he's a happy, giddy drunk'.

I take that as a compliment. She has had experience with drunks who would not qualify for that description!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The Phoenix Public Library never ceases to amaze me

Every so often I do a random (online) search through the DVD listings at the library. With 8000 or so titles they're bound to have some gems I've never heard of. I pick a title that seems interesting for whatever reason, plug it into IMDB[^] and go from there. Thus I found Man with a Movie Camera[^]. Looked interesting so I placed a hold and picked it up tonight.

You can imagine my delight when I discovered that this 'silent' movie has a new soundtrack written by Michael Nyman. That's an interesting recent trend; take a classic old movie (preferably silent) and write a new soundtrack to go with it. They did it for Fritz Langs Metropolis[^], Philip Glass did it with La Belle et la Bete[^] and I have to say that if it's done well I'm all for it. In all three examples I've cited it's done well!

Man with a Movie Camera is a movie without a plot, dialogue, actors. Just random shots taken around the city of Odessa in 1928 intermixed with shots of the cameraman himself and the editor of the movie. We see the process of selecting a sequence and how it's put into context. Heck, we even get to see parts of the movie screened to an audience; there the movie is up on the screen and there's the audience watching it!

Well, the very fact that it was shot in the Soviet Union in 1928 automatically roused my interest. Both from a fascination with the history of that troubled era and from the fact that the Soviets did some very interesting stuff musically and visually in the 1920's.

One interesting detail from this movie (remember it was shot in 1928). One sequence shows a girl at a shooting gallery at an amusement park. One of the targets has a swastika; when she hits it a sign opens that says (translated) 'The father of fascism'. I hadn't realised that, nearly 5 years before he took power in Germany, Adolf Hitler was regarded so dimly in the Soviet Union.

How many movies have you seen where the camera itself plays a part? I don't mean in terms of the camera capturing the scene; that's a given. In this movie we see a stop frame sequence where the camera itself is the actor we see up on the screen.

I've ordered my own copy. Higher praise I cannot give!

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

It was 20 years ago today

that I tracked down a copy of Bax's 3rd Symphony. Quite the elusive recording at the time though it's easier to get these days.

I discovered Bax in late 1974 via his 1st Symphony. Dark romantic music that totally blew me away. I can still remember standing in Williamstown Cemetery on a cold winters evening in 1975 as fog rolled in, hearing that symphony playing in my head. I liked his 2nd Symphony even more. By the time I got to his 7th (skipping the unavailable 3rd) I was, and still am, a confirmed Bax enthusiast.

So on this day, 20 years ago, my first wife and I married. A simple wedding at the registry office which was, at the time, in the old Royal Mint building on William Street, Melbourne. In 2002 the registry office was at the old Queen Victoria Hospital building (the part that's still standing). I know that because that's where my current wife and I married. Whether or not the registry office is still there I can't say. I can say that registry wedddings have changed a lot in the intervening 17 or 18 years; the first one was almost an assembly line production whilst the later one had much more input from us.

I wish I still had a photo of that wedding. We wore matching socks, one iridescent blue and one iridescent red each. I wore a suit and she quite a fetching dress.

After the marriage ceremony we were expected at my sisters house for an afternoon of jollity and good cheer. But in the meanwhile there we were in the city, a couple of hundred metres from the ABC shop and I knew they'd just received stock of a newly released recording of the aforementioned symphony. So I asked Robin, who was driving, if he'd swing by the shop which had just relocated from Collins Street to the Commonwealth Bank Building and let me race in and get a copy. As I left the car I remember commenting 'We're just married and already I'm leaving you'.

New vinyl copy of the symphony secured we repaired to my sisters house.

That marriage lasted 2 years. Well, we'd been living together for 6 years at the time of the wedding so I count it as 8 years in total. For me, good times. For Sue? Well, we got divorced didn't we? But we're still mates (in the Australian colloquial sense of the word) and she has been an honoured guest at all 3 of my weddings; the first as the bride, the second as the Matron of Honour and the third as a friend. If I'm still blogging on February 26th next I'll tell the story of her Matroning...

Monday, August 01, 2005

Lamb chops

I do enjoy a nice lamb chop but they're amazingly expensive here. So there I was watching this[^] on PBS tonight. During one long scene with dialogue Jean (Judi Dench) was preparing a meal; obviously to give her hands something to do while the scene progressed. And I suddenly realised I'd been watching her prepare lamb chops and had no idea what they'd been talking about!

I think I need to splurge on some lamb chops.

I am

Grammar God!

Congratulations! If your mission in life
is not already to preserve the English tongue,
it should be. You can smell a grammatical
inaccuracy from fifty metres. Your speech is
revered by the underlings, though some may
blaspheme and call you a snob. They're just
jealous. Go out there and change the world.

How grammatically correct are you? (Revised with answer key)
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