Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Embarassing behaviour

Mine that is!

For the 1992 birthday of my second wife Peta she decided we'd go to a particular restaurant in St Kilda. I don't remember the name of the restaurant and, given the stats for the failure of new restaurants, I doubt it's still there. It was somewhere on Acland Street and was what's called a 'chic' restaurant. That means that one pays rather more than double the value of a dish and five times the bottle shop price for a bottle of wine.

So there we went. And she didn't like the place! A few minutes and we were off. Thus followed a long evening of driving from St Kilda to Malvern to Carlton to Brunswick and eventually we ended up, at 11:30 PM, hungry and tired, at the Hyatt Hotel in the Melbourne CBD. By that time the chefs had gone home and we were left with an overpriced buffet at the fag end of the day. Not much left and what was was tired from long maintenance at temperature.

I learn. Well sometimes I learn :-) For my wifes 1993 birthday I took her out, two weeks ahead of time, to decide upon the restaurant. We did the whole gamut; hamburger joints to $300 a plate places. You understand that this was just looking; we weren't spending a cent at that moment!

We ended up at Stephanies, a restaurant in Hawthorn that occupied a very impressive old mansion. The mansion is still there, less than a hundred metres from the place where I worked in 2001 but it's no longer a restaurant; now it's occupied by wannabe semiconductor design houses who intend to offshore their fabrication to Malaysia or suchlike.

Peta seemed suitably impressed and I thought I had a winner. It was about that time that I shot myself in the foot. You see, the maitre d was a snooty bastard. Maybe it was the way I was dressed, in a jumper (sweater) with holes in both elbows. Or perhaps it was the corduroy dacks (trousers). Whatever. He seemed to turn his nose up at me. Looking back I can't say that I blame him; I certainly wasn't dressed to fit into that decor. On the other hand, I do know how to dress when the occasion suits.

So when he turned his back I couldn't resist. Up went both arms, elbows poking through those holes, waved defiantly not only at the maitre d but also at the diners.

Is it any wonder we divorced?

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Elbow Grease

Back in 1978 my domestic arrangements were rather variable. Where I called home changed from week to week for a couple of months. Youthful restlessness combined with the optimism that only a 24 year old can summon.

For a short time I occupied a room in Marg's house. I'd met Marg at the end of 1974 at the music camp where my first symphony was performed. She was quite a bit older than I and it was a purely platonic friendship but we enjoyed each others company even if I was defiantly in the Romantic camp while she preferred Baroque.

I fear I was rather gauche but she tolerated that as part of the price of being a mentor.

After a couple of weeks Kate moved in. We'd met Kate at the music camp in January 1977. Kate was a bit younger than I was; late teens. She'd been a student at one of the more exclusive schools in Melbourne, and let me tell you, some of those schools can be *very* exclusive indeed. I'm told that it's necessary, even for former pupils of Scotch College, to enrol ones offspring at birth or even at the time of ones nuptials in order to ensure a place and even then it's a crap shoot.

Nice girl. I'm not sure what instrument she played; methinks it was the flute. Whatever. We got along pretty well together, the three of us and when Kate needed a place to stay in Melbourne what more natural than to ask Marg for a room for a few weeks while she got on her feet? From which long-winded sentence you might, correctly, surmise that she was a country lass albeit from a wealthy family.

One afternoon I came home to find Kate slaving over a frying pan. Wealthy family or not Kate wasn't afraid to jump in and do her share of the housework. There she was, steel wool in hand, scrubbing and scrubbing away at that frying pan, trying to remove the brown stains. She'd done quite a good job and had already removed three quarters of the teflon!

Monday, November 28, 2005

A bob

In 1959, a newly enrolled scholar at Footscray West Primary School, I was looking forward with intense anticipation to attending a show to be staged in the school grounds by a travelling menagerie. Not that I knew that word then; to me it was 'the animal show'.

They had the usual lineup of suspects for travelling animal shows; snakes, goannas, possums, probably a dog trained to do tricks. I don't remember that they didn't have Koalas and Kangaroos but, given the difficulty of feeding those animals in captivity, I'm completely sure they weren't represented. Indeed, the Koala is so notoriously difficult to feed that the number of zoos featuring them is severely restricted in Australia let alone overseas.

Entrance to the show was a shilling. That was an appreciable sum in 1959 to a family living in West Footscray though I didn't really know much about the matter. I do remember the following year my mother scrimping and saving so she could pay the ten shillings and sixpence for my entry to the Footscray YMCA for three months. You know, I've only just realised that meant a year was 2 pounds and 2 shillings or 2 guineas. Surely the Footscray YMCA weren't working on guineas!

Alas my YMCA days were numbered though Mum didn't know it. Even at the ripe old age of 5 my aversion to organised sports, indeed, sports of any kind, were manifest. That's not the same as saying that I sit around the house; I walk at least 5 miles every day. I just don't get excited over fighting for an inflated ball.

The day of the animal show I was handed my shilling by my grandmother with strict instructions to guard it and hand it over to the teacher. Off to school I trotted, shilling closely guarded in my hand. At this distance of time I don't remember the circumstances of its loss; all I remember is that it was lost!

Sometime during the day those kids who'd fronted up the dosh were herded into the tent pitched on school grounds. I vividly remember walking across the school yard, tears streaming down my (then) cute little face and wailing like a banshee. One of the teachers, doubtless steeling herself for yet another emotional encounter with a child, stopped me and asked what was wrong. I explained.

And somehow a miracle occurred. I was allowed into that tent. Maturity tells me she either contributed a bob or she did some special pleading (or maybe the school had a slush fund for such emergencies). I can't even remember if she was young or old or what her name was (she wasn't my teacher) but she had and has my undying gratitude.

Oh, this is my 500th blog entry. I never imagined when I started, over there in The Philippines last year, that I'd be able to come up with enough rubbish to fill 500 entries! :-)

Saturday, November 26, 2005


I made it into wikipedia[^].

Not sure what else to say :-)

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The stuff of nightmares

If you're not an Australian it's quite possible you haven't had the opportunity to know of this[^] case.

I'm not going to canvass the rights or wrongs of the case as such. But I've had nightmares about it, all of them about how the poor bastard sitting on death row must feel. There's an overlay of the mechanics probably brought about by too much reading about the process of executing someone by hanging. Not even the process so much as the grinding of time. We all of us live with the knowledge of mortality but very few of us know the exact moment and method of our exit from this world.

I've been setting off for my nightly walk, unable to not count how many hours Nguyen has left in this world. Unable to stop thinking about what I was doing on December 2 of year 19xx. Some of the reports in the Herald Sun or the Melbourne Age have reduced me to tears.

I don't count down the hours as desperately as he must do and I think I have a reasonable chance of being alive on December 3 this year but I'm sure I'll never be able to pass through Changi Airport Singapore again without thinking of Nguyen.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

It's the day before Thanksgiving

and we're looking forward to a four day weekend sans little bastards (the kids are off to Palm Springs for a weekend with Grandmother). Neither my wife nor I are really into Turkey so we're planning some baked Salmon with Dill and dirty rice. We're also planning a visit to Prescott Arizona, a few miles up the road. It was the capital of the Arizona Territory back in the days before statehood and on the one occasion I passed through it (December 28th 2001) it looked very interesting. I have fond memories of some steak fajitas consumed there. We're going back to take a more relaxed look.

So naturally one of my bosses who is in The Philippines right now decides that he needs me there tout suite! My other boss thinks otherwise. My other other bosses opinion is, at the time of writing, unknown.

We shall see what happens. It's been an almost novel experience not travelling. Apart from that one nighter in Dallas a month or so ago I haven't had to do company travel for almost three months. I'm not sure I remember how to do it. While we're on the subject, have I got a deal for you! Slightly used bridge, excellent river views.

Cross your fingers for me. I suspect I'll be in The Philippines next week but it'd be nice to get at least three of the four days this weekend off. It'd be even nicer to spend some time with my wife without the little bastards! :-)

On the other hand, my feet are starting to itch and I'm thinking it may be time to reaquaint myself with the drive from Manila to Baguio. Decisions decisions!!!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

They really meant it

when they said Visual Studio 2005 needs a gig of memory. I've been using VS6 since it was released way back in 1998 and VS.NET 2003 for about 2 years; they both work well on my system, which is a 3 and a bit year old dual Athlon MP with half a gig of memory. The IDEs run smoothly and I never wait more than a split second for em to notice that I've changed views. Indeed, VS6 positively screams on a dual proc 2GHz system.

Not so for VS2005. I like what I see; the problem is that I get to see it for far too long whilst waiting for the paging subsystem to catch up. Its slow enough in half a gig that I'm going to hold off on actually using VS2005 until I can afford to double the memory space. That's not as high in the financial queue as finding the US$390 for the citizenship application!

On the other hand I don't want to sound like a luddite. Visual C++ 1.5, when it came out, probably required resources beyond the average; I don't remember. I do recall that in those days 16 megs was high end and installing VS 1.5 from floppies (all 20 of them) took over eight hours if you hadn't had the foresight to install Smartdrive. Installing Smartdrive cut the install time to 2 hours!

My impatience at the performance of VS2005 in half a gig of memory merely tells me that it's time I added memory; I'm not, for the nonce, at the cutting edge!

Sometime in the early 90's the first Pentium machine arrived at Unisys Melbourne. I think it was a 60 MHz box. At the time we had a saleswoman, Sue Anne, on the team. Most unusual for those days. Some of the younger guys grabbed the new machine and ripped the covers off so they could gaze their fill on that purple ceramic wonder. No cooling fans need in those days!

I remember watching Sue Anne watching them crowing over the new processor. She was moving her hips back and forth in a deliberately suggestive manner, chanting "Pentium, Pentium". She knew I was watching. We laughed.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Tonto National Park

Today we decided to visit Goldfield Ghost Town[^]. A fairly typical specimen of reconstructed mythology though it certainly does look real. As befits a ghost town from the wild west they do re-enactments of cowboy gunfights in the main street. Lots of smoke and noise and everyone looks suitably impressed. I say that with rather more snideness (is that a word?) than it deserves; it's a lot of fun to watch and I'd certainly recommend going to see one if you have the opportunity. I've seen the re-enactments of the shoot out at the OK Corral in Tombstone; well worth seeing.

As an aside I remember when I was six years old or so watching a western on TV. Afterward I asked my grandmother how she'd rather die; in a cattle stampede or a gunfight. It never occurred to me that maybe she'd rather it wasn't by either method!

After the mock gunfight we did the mine tour. A bit of a fake; they herd you into a tin elevator that takes forever to descend 20 feet! You emerge into darkness and get a lecture on mining conditions in Arizona in the 1890's. Andrew was particularly taken by the description of the Honeywaggon. A euphimism for the necessary office of portable latrine. The guy who runs the tour is well worth the admission price; a born showman who sounds like he knows his stuff. His description of working conditions underground was harrowing and totally believable. It went straight over Andrews head but then, why wouldn't it? Andrew has no experience of such things. My own experience is but peripheral.

After lunch we decided to follow the Apache Trail through the Tonto National Park. A great drive. Lots of scenery; all of it impressive. Rough road unmade in places but lots of places to pull over and whip out the camera. My gallery[^] shows 11 shots; I must have taken 200!

This excursion did answer my question about the source of the water at the Arizona Waterfall[^].

On the way back we had a little bit of drama. My wife did the Apache Trail a decade or so ago in the opposite direction; she started out at Saguaro Lake and ended up in Mesa so that's how she remembered the drive. We started in Mesa going north and she imagined we'd emerge onto the 87 (Beeline Highway) at Saguaro Lake. Uh huh. We must have missed the turn off because by the time we hit the 87 we were 72 miles from Phoenix with an eighth of a tank of petrol and sunset imminent.

I had dire images going through my head of how I'd manage to hitchhike from where we stalled to the nearest petrol station; fill up a can and hitchhike back. It was the hitchhike back that had me worried; how would I find them again?

I have no idea how we managed it but we made it from there to the Fort MacDowell Casino (about 40 miles) on that eighth of a tank. As we pulled up at the first set of traffic lights we'd seen in 6 hours I glanced to the left and there was a Conoco Petrol Station. Saved!

I reckon it was sheer willpower that got us that far; all three of us urging the car on!

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Sheer willpower

I remember 1995 as a cold year. It seemed like someone had opened the fridge door in early March and we shivered all the way through to November with the exception of one day in June where the temperature hit 30C. Doubtless an inspection of the meteorological records for Melbourne would reveal 1995 as a year much like it's siblings but that's how I remember it.

Ten years ago this week the weather picked up and suddenly it wasn't cold any more. One evening Heino, Joe and I were on our way from the office to the car park. Heino remembers the day as somewhat dark but warm. I remember the sun shining through a gap in the cloud cover and the usual Melbourne late spring gusty winds. Before us was a young lady wearing the kind of skirt susceptible to sudden lifting. A gust and up it went but she was too quick and we were treated to the sight of a young lady walking along with her hands stiffly by her sides, holding that skirt down! The wind died down and she relaxed her grip on the skirt. And we waited for the next gust!

If sheer willpower could have done the trick I'm sure her skirt would have been up around her ears.

Saturday, November 19, 2005


A few weeks ago we went visiting the Phoenix Museum of History[^]. Not a bad museum as museums go though I've seen better. I was fascinated to count how many members of the one extended family were named on the benefactors board; I counted 23.

As the name implies, it's a museum of the history of Phoenix though not just Phoenix; it tries to cover all of Arizona. I have to admit that Arizona seems to have it all in terms of natural wonders. Geologically it's one of the most interesting places I've ever been to. Culturally it often feels like a wilderness though the extensive collection of Russian Movies at the library helps a lot.

My wife and I were both intrigued by a particular photograph on display at the museum; a waterfall in Phoenix a hundred or more years ago. They gave the address, the north eastern corner of Indian School Rd and 56th street. Naturally, as it was but a minor detour from our route home, we went to see if it was still there. Actually, even if it had been 20 miles out of our way I'd have wanted to go see; the major river running through Phoenix, the Salt River, is a bed of sand most of the year and I wanted to see running water if such existed.

And sure enough, there's still a waterfall at Indian School and 56th. Whether the waterfall predates the canal I can't yet say though the history of the canal running through Phoenix interests me enough to want to follow it up. What particularly puzzles me is that the flow of water is from east to west; I'd assumed that the canal was funneling water from the Colorado River to Phoenix but if that were so then the flow would be the other way.

It's not just a waterfall anymore. There's a tiny hydroelectric power station there. The sign proudly proclaims that it generates the power for 750 homes in the area. Not much compared to the size of Phoenix but every little bit helps.

I didn't have my camera with me at the time so I went back last weekend to take some shots[^]. I was halfway through shooting when it occurred to me to worry that the security guy on duty might assume I was taking shots in preparation for some terrorist activity. I half expected the local SWAT team to descend and impound my camera. Such is modern paranoia!

Friday, November 18, 2005

An Aha moment

As you've noticed I'm rather fond of silly gags and jokes. I've been repeating them for almost as long as I can remember (I must have been an annoying kid). For instance, one cold winters morning in 1967 Misery Guts (my stepfather) discovered, in a hurry on his way to work, that he had a flat tyre. I, of course, pointed out that it was only flat on the bottom!

Andrew's rather fond of pretending that he's confused. Maybe it's not pretence; only time will tell. He's been pulling the 'I'm a naive kid, I'm confused' act for a couple of years now. I suspect it's a blind; if he can convince all those around him that it's true he hopes it'll buy some slack. Which may work, for a while. But that's hardly the way to approach his not so distant adulthood. Thus, as the caring stepfather, it behooves me to snap him out of it. My first approach was to try ridicule. I remember as a kid that the one thing I hated above all others was ridicule.

So out I came with the old gag; 'How do you confuse Andrew? Stick him in a 44 gallon drum and tell him to piss in the corner!'. Blank looks. Okay, that didn't work. Let's think of something else.

Today at the office in conversation over a smoke out the back of the building someone mentioned a 55 gallon drum and suddenly the penny dropped. What I'm used to thinking of as a 44 gallon drum is a 55 gallon drum here. The same size drum because the size of the gallon[^] is different. So maybe that's why Andrew didn't understand the joke!

Over dinner the perfect opportunity arose to repeat the gag; 'How do you confuse Andrew? Stick him in a 55 gallon drum and tell him to piss in the corner!'.

Blank look!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Three years

Today was a mixed day. Most days are of course; it's seldom that everything goes exactly the way you'd like but, thankfully, it's also seldom that everything goes awry. And this particular instance of today was much like any other day; some things went well and nothing went particularly pear shaped.

But today is also the third anniversary of my leaving Australia and my third anniversary of living in the USA. For the most part it's been good though there have been bad moments. I always knew I'd go through periods of homesickness but periodic visits back home combined with this blog have helped immensely. The odd trip to France helped too; when I was a kid I never imagined I'd travel as much as I have.

On my first night here in Phoenix after the move my wife and I disappeared from view for a while :-) (We'd been married for half a year but living on different continents...). Morgan noticed, after a few minutes, that we were absent and called out for Mum. Mum answered 'we're in here'. We could almost see the penny drop!

And yes, I do still think of Australia as home. I'm not a visitor here anymore as my last visit to Melbourne showed me but deep down in the way that I think and see the world I'm an Australian no matter where I live. You can take the boy out of Melbourne but you can't take the Melbourne out of the boy!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Purple Haze

Not, as it happens, the Jimi Hendrix song, good though it is. Nope, this evening I had the good fortune for my drive home from the salt mines to coincide almost exactly with sunset and moonrise. My route takes me north along the Hohokam Expressway (the nearest thing to a freeway I'm prepared to drive on here in Arizona). To the left is Phoenix Sky Harbour Airport, to the right a vast expanse with a mountain range in the middle distance, sharp edges revealing their geological youth.

This time of year at that time of night a gentle purple haze settles to the east. Let's not dwell on it's likely provenance; sufficient for now is that it has it's own beauty. And, to crown the beauty, there, just grazing the mountain tops, was the full moon, many shaded, bloated, aircraft on their landing approach dotting the sky around with untwinkling lights. It was quite the struggle to concentrate on speeding traffic instead of gazing my fill.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Yeah, I didn't believe it either

You'd expect that if I write the kinda stuff I write here relating some of the sillier things I've done that I'd also relate those stories over dinner. Which I do of course.

Tonight we were discussing some of the sillier fashions of todays youth and somehow or other I got into relating the stuff I used to wear back in the mid 1970's. I used to wear a top hat and tails. Well, to be honest, it wasn't a real top hat; I couldn't afford one of those, but it was a reasonable fake seen from a distance. I kid you not, I used to wear a tailcoat as everyday wear. I can't remember when I stopped; I suspect it was sometime around 1976 though I still had those tails as late as 1994.

What Andrew heard was something rather different. I said 'tail coat' and instantly he started with the old familiar ewww ewww. I thought not much of that; it's a common enough sound in these here parts. But in the spew of words coming out were some seemingly unrelated ones to do with cats. So we probed a little deeper. It seems that he thought I had once worn a coat made from the tails of cats.

Disbelief! He hadn't applied the most basic plausibility test. He knows I'm a big cat fan so one can only imagine what was going on in his head. Of course, I might have muddied the waters a little earlier when I mentioned the tombstone of Alice Cooper I stole from Williamstown cemetery and that resided in my room for a couple of years. I was younger then. A pretty poor excuse.

Oh, the tombstone was returned to it's rightful place though, strangely enough, I couldn't find it when I was last in that cemetery a couple of months ago. Methinks some other idiot has abstracted it.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Andrew's getting good

that or he knows my jokes by now. The other day we were at the zoo and we saw some hummingbirds. I didn't know they were native to hereabouts but apparently they are; you learn something new every day. So, setting up for an old joke, I said...

'Hey Andrew, why do hummingbirds hum'.

Little bastard replied 'because they don't know the words!' :-)

I've been a bad influence on that boy!

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The unexpected

If you've been following my writings for any length of time you'll have realised that my interests are not, perhaps, mainstream. Most of the movies I really enjoy, most of the music that excites me, even my preferred literature (late 19th century British). That's not to say that I can't enjoy other things; Shrek, The Lord of the Rings and Aqua's 'I'm a Barbie Girl'. But, for the most part, I'm happier in the more obscure reaches of Soviet movies, Minimalist music and long forgotten authors.

One thing I can't stand is Disney. I could launch into a diatribe but sufficient unto the day is the observation that I prefer my entertainment to be the sort that makes me think.

So today Andrew, my wife and I were playing Hearts on Pogo. Somehow the conversation veered into the forthcoming Harry Potter movie and I, having suffered through the first two, announced that they could go and see it without me. My wife asked me if there was any mainstream activity I was interested in. Andrew chimed in with a 'yeah'. I thought a moment and replied, well, yes, I DO like sex!

My wife laughed and Andrew went ewww ewww :-)

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Your knowledge domain isn't mine

and, conversely, mine isn't yours.

Back in 1988 I had the misfortune to be assigned as a 'resource' to Geoff. Life in the corporate environment is like that if you're not a manager; one finds oneself being reassigned at the raise of an eyebrow. Then follows a round of breaking in the new manager. Most of the time, if you can deliver, you manage to train the new guy but sometimes you run across some ungrateful bastard who doesn't understand the principle of 'you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours'.

Geoff was just such a bastard. In addition to the usual traits exhibited by such managers he had the rather irritating trait of needing to prove that he was the source of all knowledge and, more importantly to him, that if you lacked his special knowledge you were a useless turd. Thus, one afternoon, in a discussion totally unrelated to work, it came to light that I had never heard of some, at the time, popular musician. I think it was Jimmy Buffet but I certainly wouldn't swear to it in a court of law.

Failing to recognise the name Geoff sneered. 'Oh', I said, 'you're familiar with Berg's violin concerto[^]? Do you think he managed to pull off the 12 tone system?' Baffled look in reply. Being a vindictive bastard when provoked I went for the kill. 'oh, and what do you think of Szymanowski[^]?

Moral of the story? We all have individual interests. What interests me might not interest you (but I'm going to write about it here anyway :-) ).