Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Tasmanian relief - PART 7

(Return to - PART 1, PART 2, PART 3, PART 4, PART 5, PART 6)

Burnie. Our first taste of disappointment. Had to happen somewhere I guess. Quickly went through the cheesery and distillery. They were absolutely worth missing completely. Highly recommended by someone at Jules work. First bum steer we’d come across. At least they didn’t get to sting us with an entry fee first. To top things off the info bureau sent us to Wynyard Waterfront Motel for the night. It was crap. Don't stay here. I've stayed in better rooms at some of the mines I've been too. Over $100 a night too. Ripped off. We finally found a place that sold "turned wood items", (available everywhere), for reasonable prices so all was not lost.

Annsliegh gardens, 4 acres of landscaped gardens. Beautiful place. We spent a few hours here. Gets a tick.

Spent an hour in Devonport having lunch and looking for a bank. Didn't see much and didn’t enjoy it. Too much traffic and too many people after so much wilderness.

Latrobe, home of The Axemans Hall of Fame. Bit of a rip off. They promise platypus and deliver stuffed ones. Very disappointed in that. Good history of wood chopping but we felt they misrepresented themselves. The bloke at the tourist-fleecing counter put us onto the next place though, and managed to redeem himself.

Reliquaire. http://www.reliquaire.com/. What an experience. You could easily miss this unassuming shop front and you’d be that much the poorer for it. Actually we were quite a bit poorer for having found it but only monetarily. We were greeted at the door and offered fudge and a map. Yes this place needed the map. It was jam packed with thousands of unusual and very unique toys, dolls, furniture, lead lights, games, books, sculptures, masks, clothes, jokes jewellery. Stuff that you only ever see in exotic catalogues. I can’t fully list what this place contains. I’d hate to do a stock take. They had bought up the shops around them and kept on expanding. Walking from room to room had constant surprises and different themes. It was like being transported to the twilight zone. Absolutely unmissable in my opinion. If your kids are clumsy don’t take them in or you'll end up owing thousands. You could barely move without knocking down a thousand dollar ceramic facemask or some other expensive item. They have a web site that doesn’t do it justice. Look it up to get an idea though. I'm not exaggerating.

Ashgrove Cheese Factory. Ate a lot of free cheese here. We bought a lot too, as well as chocolates again, (supposedly for gifts this time).

Pearns Steam World. A must see for anyone who loves old, steam-powered machinery. Very well displayed and looked after. I'm really glad there are still people who give up so much of their time to preserve what could so easily be forgotten, to rust away unnoticed. Really good value. A lot of the steam engines still worked and were ready to go.

Launceston. Didn't see much here. Got in late. Booked a hotel and walked around for half an hour. Stayed at the Mercure. The rooms weren't air-conditioned and the windows wouldn't open far in case you decided to dive out. I wanted to, it was so hot.

We had to travel back to Hobart on our last day very fast. I told everyone we weren't stopping for anything, figuring we needed to keep a bit ahead of schedule in case of a flat tyre etc. So we immediately had to stop at Ross to look at another old bridge. The lead lights in the nearby church were worth a look too.

Jules decided it would be quicker to go from Oatlands to Richmond the back way. So we got off the nice smooth 110-kph highway and took a majorly hilly, run down old B-road, Targa style. Used a lot of fuel on that bit too.

Had to go past the airport so the ladies could check our 30 million dollar lottery tickets. We both won, coming out $1 ahead of the ticket purchase price. That's the only reason we got on the plane and came back to Brisbane economy class.

Managed to finally catch up with my brother Dennis and Carla and their new addition, Thomas, in Brisbane. I can report that Thomas has taken over the entire house. His camera recognition and reaction time is spot on. Got some great shots to send to Granny and Grandpa.

Tried to fly out the next day and surprise, surprise the flight was delayed. We got home hours later than scheduled, couldn't get a taxi after waiting 45mins, then, when we finally got home, the tree was still lying in the yard. Combined I can thankfully count this as No. 3. Now at least I wont be waiting for it. I think the good outweighed the bad in hindsight. Still, some good luck wouldn’t go astray.

(Like it? See - Underground Mining).

Tasmanian relief - PART 6

(Return to - PART 1, PART 2, PART 3, PART 4, PART 5)

The next day we had to get up early for the Gordon River Cruise. Getting up early on one's holiday is so wrong but we managed. We were shown to our comfy leather seats, on the Captains Deck no less, by the attractive hostess. Once more we paid for premium class and we were not disappointed. The customary champagne was dealt with in the customary way, and beer and food consumption commenced. They hadn’t even started the motors yet!

Twin V8 turbo diesels, 1500 HP each, got us moving out to sea. Yeah baby, beer and V8’s. Our Captain was full of excellent stories and he knew how to tell them. He also liked to set the cruise-control and wander around the cabin having a chat. (Obviously this party trick freaked out a few people who seemed to think he should be guiding the boat.) I hovered around the controls but refrained from touching them, although it wasn't easy. All that marvellous power and we were just toddling along. Sacrilege.

I can’t stress enough how good this trip is. Really, really, good. I’m saying this a lot but you must include this on your list of holiday destinations.

Zeehan museum. World-class. Leave enough time, (2-3 hours or more), to enjoy this place properly. Absolutely huge and jam-packed with Aussie-British history.

Hopefully by now you’ll see where the time goes. I don’t believe we would have done ourselves any favours by rushing through any part of Tasmania. I also know we missed a lot.

Cradle Mountain. Ah yes. The ‘get back to nature walks’ that I love so much. Quite a few damn tourists overcrowding the car-park made it hard for us to barge our way in, but we weren’t discouraged. We lucked out on the two-hour "easy" Dove Lake walk. Most people didn't want to do this one. Jules and I did it in 1 hour 45 mins. Just about had to run to achieve this time but we had a tight schedule. The temperature would have been around 10 degrees C but I was down to my singlet about halfway through the 'walk'. We tried to tell a bunch of people, kitted out in arctic weather gear, to leave their jackets behind. Perhaps the sight of my sweaty, fat body didn’t convince them, or maybe they didn’t speak English. Hope they enjoyed carrying all their kids’ jackets around the lake.

Sheffield is a town of murals. Some gifted artists were apparent amongst the many over-sized pictures on every blank wall in town. Yet another good motel with friendly, helpful owners made our stay pleasant.

Tasmazia in the Village of Lower Crackpot is a little gem of a place. It has the world’s largest hedge maze. Seeing it for yourself will convince you that it was worthwhile hunting it down. If any place can make a couple of thirty-something's act like 5 year olds, then this is it. Nita and Eric enjoyed it too but I didn't see them crawling through a 'Secret Tunnel'. My knees are still wondering why they had to carry my lard through it too.

(See - Tasmanian relief - PART 7)

Tasmanian relief - PART 5

(Return to - PART 1, PART 2, PART 3, PART 4)

The next day we stopped at the Donaghys Hill walk to see the
Frenchman’s Cap. If you skip any of the other walks, make sure you do this one. Don't always believe the time estimates to complete these walks or judgments of difficulty levels on the signposts; they seem to be random. Quite a strenuous walk but well worth it for the view. Money back guarantee.

Nelson Falls. Very nice. I loved it. Excellent walk through the forest to get to it too.

Queenstown. Looking down into this town from the lookout before attempting the fearsome switch backed curves before us showed what a blasted ruin our descendants had made of the environment way back in the early 1900’s. Mother Nature is still struggling to recover from the waste and pollution the huge copper smelters churned out. The area has been continuously mined for over 100 years. We were told the steep descent into make people car I just cut all the corners for the comfort of my passengers and no one got sick or killed so no problem for our troop.

We'd booked a couple of tours around Strahan and made it our base for a couple of days. We stayed at Aldermere Estate. It was quite expensive but delivered the goods. The whole top floor was a second bedroom with en suite so it was perfect for two couples.

The next day we went on the West Coast Wilderness Railway. The extra money we paid for premier class immediately got us a glass of champagne on arrival. I don't approve of drinking vinegar that early in the morning so I threw it down to be polite and refused seconds. Besides, when beer is unlimited and included in the price of admission, what are you going to do? Eric and I started to lighten the rear wagon. Be warned, there’s no toilet on this trip until the next station.

This trip could be described as one of those once in a lifetime experiences that you should try to fit in. The construction of the railway is an astounding tale. They used no explosives so cuttings were dug to very fine tolerances. We squeezed through each one with nothing to spare. Warnings about swift removal of stuck out heads and limbs were taken literally. It rained all the way but had no bearing on our situation. Our first class wagon was well catered for with blankets, pillows, too much very good food and endless beverages. I think they served water and soft drinks although not much of that was getting about.

I did spare a moment to think about the deprived people in coach class. They had to brave the freezing wind and rain in their unheated wagons with permanently open windows. Their seating consisted of lovely period-faithful wooden slat seats. That's what you get when you’ve got kids and can’t afford to upgrade.

By the way, you know how old people are always going on about how young people are so annoying? You do? Well our wagon was filled predominantly with the older vintage person and they seemed to be having a really good time. There’s nothing wrong with this but I think they were half cut before we even got moving. I'm sure Nita and Eric won’t behave like that when they get old.

We had to swap locomotives halfway through the trip. An ABT System Locomotive is required to climb the steep grade ahead. The ABT System is a set of gears slung underneath the loco that meshes with a rack bolted along the middle of the track. It was really steep going so Eric and I redoubled our beer consumption to lighten the load even more. Jules helped a bit Nita concentrated on cleaning out the dining car. That poor loco powered on gamely until a tree fell on the track in front of us causing a sudden stop. (I didn't spill my beer so three cheers for the engineer.). With a bit of light-hearted vocal encouragement from the passengers, the fireman drew the short straw and got out with a chainsaw to cut it away.

The trip had to come to an end eventually and we get a bus ride from hell back to Strahan from Queenstown to sober us up. It must have been a wild ride down the mountain but I fell asleep, with a few of the other old people, and missed it. We were just plain tuckered out from all the excitement.

(Like it? See - Tasmanian relief - PART 6).

Tasmanian relief - PART 4

(Return to - PART 1, PART 2, PART 3)

The next day we had to have chocolate. We had to go
straight there and only just made it to the Cadburys factory before Jules and Nita burst with excitement. Predictable chocolate gorging ensued. I only had one so I wouldn’t look out of place. Oh yeah, and those Furry Friends bars that Eric brought over for me. After the tour, and the excruciating embarrassment we suffered by wearing the obligatory shower caps, some of us went to the Cadbury shop and bought a lot of chocolate bar seconds. When queried about the need for quite so much chocolate the dubious logic was, it’s half price and, it won’t melt in the boot in this weather.

We stopped at the Alpenrail Swiss model railway exhibit on the way back to Hobart. It’s an impressive display of model railway excess to a Swiss theme.
Personally I'd be a bit concerned to look back after 20 years and see that's all I had to show for it. But that's just me. He’s made a lot of people happy so good on him.

In retaliation for the chocolate binge I made everyone go to Joes Garage, a small, iconic pub in the middle of Hobart. Fortunately, the early afternoon crowd hadn’t started and any self-respecting bikie was still in bed so we had the place to ourselves. I've seen Joes Garage on a few TV shows and it had looked awesome then. Everything looks better on TV. If we’d had a few beers it might have been better but we were keen to get on our way.

Richmond has a really old bridge. That’s it. Glad we came. Thankfully my wife made us have a drink at the pub. She needed to use the toilet and felt it rude to use their facilities without payment. Eric and I weren’t arguing. Finally we were drinking beer. Nita was buying Teddy bears at the Teddy Bear shop across the road so everyone was happy.

New Norfolk. We stayed at an old place called Rosies Inn. Originally a boarding house it had been converted into a very upper class B and B. It was a bit like staying with your Great Grandmother. Everything, and I mean everything,was embroidered with roses. New Norfolk is also home to Australia's oldest church.

The drive through Mt Field National Park will allow you the opportunity of many different walks. One features Russell Falls as a highlight and we’d already picked that one out as a “wanna see”. The Pademelons, (small wallaby looking things), were everywhere through the forest. They were very tame and camera friendly. The tranquillity of being amongst the trees caused my inner stress monster to take a rare break. I could really live in such a place permanently.

Hamilton. We had lunch at Clyde's house. I ate far too much of their excellent food as usual. They have a very nice formal garden out the back that we explored. On the road again we stopped at a few scenic lookouts. There’s no shortage of lookouts in this mountainous terrain.

Just before Derwent Bridge we found The Wall in the Wilderness. I t belongs to Greg Duncan, a self-taught artist, who is carving a massive 3 metre high frieze that will extend 100 metres in length when finished. His natural skill and artistry is truly awe-inspiring. The many carved Australian native animal pieces exhibited around the foyer are life sized and detailed to the tiniest feature. The work is still in progress so we were able to see how he approached the job and saw different levels of completion. The finished panels are incredible. The life-sized men depicted were detailed down to the veins and tendons in their hands. We were wondering when he’d be finished and estimate of another 10 years was a bit long to wait around for. It is exceptionally well presented and well worth the entry fee.

I almost didn’t go in, and even had a bit of a bitch about having to pay to get into every damn place we stopped at. I would have missed a really worthwhile bit of history in the making. You get your moneys worth here.

We decided Derwent Bridge would be our stop for the night and soon discovered that booking ahead would have been prudent. The popular pub had already been fully booked. The continued excellent occupancy rate into the low season even surprises the owners.

Luckily a few top quality cabins at the Derwent Bridge Chalets and Studios were still available at very reasonable prices. The 3 and a half star rating had been taken to its very upper limit with the comfort of their guests given the highest priority. The friendly owners had the fire already going too, which was a nice touch, as the temperature dropped quickly with the setting sun. A raging ice-cold river about 50 metres from the door made a nice backdrop as we sipped a cold beer near the fire. We highly recommend it. We also found its placement ideal to break our trip to Strahan into manageable pieces.

(See - Tasmanian relief - PART 5)

Tasmanian relief - PART 3

(Return to - PART 1, PART2)

The next day we discovered our screw up that had been haunting me. We forgot the address book. By an absolute freak of luck I had one phone number in my new phone that got us the addresses we needed. Armed with the right information I managed to catch up with my sister. She has lived in Hobart for a few years and took some time out to show us a few points of interest, like the famous
Salamanca markets. Unfortunately they’d been on the day before but we never did like crowds and the shops in the area we ample for our needs.

Hobart’s botanical garden is excellent. It’s a credit to the people who maintain it. Tulips were in bloom by the thousands and the displays were spectacular. We also got to see the plot where Peter Cundall’s does some of his Gardening Australia show. I’d always been curious about the huge, convict built walls behind his veggie garden, and I finally satisfied that urge. They are even more impressive close up.

The next day we drove south to the Tahune forest air walk. I can highly recommend it. Forestry Tasmania has made a huge effort to integrate the structure with the forest. We came back to Hobart the long way round through Huonville and Cygnet, then we zipped across through Oyster Cove and up to tick the Shot Tower off our ‘wanna see’ list. It’s a worthwhile stop. You should make the effort to climb it for the view and to say you’ve done it.

So far, the sense of history everywhere we go is a little but overwhelming. The sheer age and level of preservation of so many structures cant be compared to anywhere we’ve visited on the mainland.

The day was running out. We could easily have spent two days in the area but we had packed in enough sights to feel satisfied and were getting tired. The nice warm fireplace of our cottage beckoned.

(See - Tasmanian relief - PART 4)

Tasmanian relief - PART 2

(See Tasmanian relief - Part 1)

We landed in Hobart without incident. Being one of the first people at the baggage claim left us with the maximum time to impatiently wait for our bags. Our impatience soon turned to concern when the conveyor shut down and we continued to be bagless. Eric and Nita got
their bags, and were looking a bit guilty too. (At the very least one of their bags should have torn open with jocks and socks strewn around the conveyor. Lucky for them, their Karma must be in the black.) We swiftly tackled the last employee in the terminal who could be seen hurrying away from the confrontation bearing down on her. Her answer to our plight? We might see our bags today or tomorrow sometime. Yeah, real bloody handy, I’m sure she wont have to wear the same clothes for two days straight. I have a feeling, from this encounter, that airlines losing bags is so common that the staff cant even dredge up a bit of pretend sympathy.(This qualifies as No. 2)

We weren’t about to dwell on our misfortune so we headed over to pick up the hire car. Remarkably our reservation hadn't been stuffed up. (Must be suffering from a bit of paranoia, waiting for No.3 to hit.) We got a V6 Commodore Omega. 1 year old, 50,000 kilometres on the clock and looking like it had been washed by a kindergarten class using sand and Brillo pads. The cartoon on the hiring agreement shows no scratches or marks. I don’t like discrepancies so I wheeled the reluctant attendant over and start listing all the marks. He soon gets wise to this and writes, wear and tear every panel, on the cartoon to get rid of me. This is really good as I can practically roll the bugger now and still give it back with wide-eyed innocence and no liability. (Don't forget somebody has probably paid for some of those scratches 10 times over. Its a rort, don't get caught out.)


We stayed at a Joseph’s cottage in Hobart for the first two nights. Originally an 1840’s workers cottage with modern facilities installed. Good value, comfortable and close to everything. Very friendly owners will make your stay very pleasant.


For some reason, we left the warmth and comfort of the house and went for a drive up Mt Wellington to freeze our butts off. A little bit of snow still lay around at the top; the first real snow Nita had ever seen. She probably thinks it’s overrated now. Looking at freezing slush while huddling against a rock from the life-sapping, gale force wind, isn’t that great, is it Nita? The mountaintop recorded 138 Kph winds the day after we were there. Wish we’d been there for that. I'd estimate the winds for us were only about 80-90 Kph. That’s what my slitted, shivering eyeballs, and my inability to remain standing tells me. I must admit loved it. I have a perverse love of foul weather and being cold in particular. Jules felt she could have used a jacket, but all our clothes were still on their mystery flight. Remember that? We hadn’t forgotten. I had a T-Shirt and Jeans. Jules wore a nice summery blouse, with big openings that the freezing wind rushed into, filling it like a balloon. HAHAHAHA. Bet she froze, I know I did. To her credit she didn’t complain much. I almost forgot about the view. It was worth the discomfort; don’t miss it.

As we drove around Hobart, I soon realised how much I missed V8 torque from our car back at home. Holden had shot most of the horses that should be pulling this basement model hire car. Needless to say, it struggled to perform to my expectations with four adults, all our luggage and hills you'd swear went straight up to contend with. Full throttle overtaking is exhilarating with a real motor; this thing just made a more noise and went at the same pace. I only managed to get it up to 140 Kph on a nice long stretch before Nita twigged that I was speeding. Engine vibrations through the whole car caught me out. (I remember getting up to at least 180 in a high performance V8 before receiving a slap from Jules in the past.)

Our luggage arrived at 11:30PM that night so all was not lost. The airport gorilla had half wrenched the handle off one bag, but we were so happy to be able to change and shower we didn't care.

(See - Tasmanian relief - PART 3)

Tasmanian relief - PART 1

You know when you get to the stage of working so much to afford the things you want, that you no longer have time to enjoy any of them? You begin to wonder, what is the point? My wife, a woman who can spot the subtleties of my pointlessness levels, usually coincides a getaway before clinical depression kicks in. Her parents, Nita and Eric, had already planned on visiting Tasmania, so we decided to tag along. What’s that? Why would anyone want to go on a trip with his or her in-laws on purpose? Well I don’t seem to have the same problem as ninety per cent of the population. We get along just fine.

The wife had left this particular trip a little late as my level of pointlessness had scared away my sense of humour again. Sick of trying to overcome work pressures and an overwhelming flood of pessimism, my humour packed its gear and left. Last time this happened I had to go to Vanuatu to find it. I hope it catches up with my sense of monetary control. That disappeared in the middle of the Monaro engine rebuild a few months ago and I need it back.

I finished hating my job on Friday afternoon when the contract ended. We were departing Saturday, leaving minimal time to pack, or examine our travel options. A storm blew up a few hours later while we were packing. A loud cracking sound, and a crash that turned my guts to ice, heralded a large tree falling onto the roof of the house. (I didn't know it at the time but this is now known as No. 1). I went outside, into the raging storm, to survey the damage. The tree had squashed the fence on the way through and now rested comfortably on the laundry. I went back inside before my rum got too watered down. Nothing else could go wrong so why worry about it?

The storm must have spiked the power after we went to bed so the alarm didn’t go off the next morning. By the time we realised and got up, we had 15 minutes to get ready before the taxi arrived. I need at least an hour. The ensuing mad rush guaranteed a pervading feeling that something important has been forgotten would dominate my mind. Remembering the crucial item can only occur when a person no longer has the option of returning for it. I knew this rule well.

We pushed past the fallen tree, ignoring it as best we could. The taxi got us to the airport on time and the plane didn't crash. We met up with Nita and Eric at the Brisbane airport without me strangling any of the young adults having an overly good time in front of us. The kid that usually kicks the back of my seat the entire flight must have been unavailable so the airline got in a group of excitable teens to irritate me instead.

(See - Tasmanian relief - PART 2)

Thursday, 21 February 2008

The write stuff

No wonder people who retire don't get bored. Not that I think I'm retired, but working from home always makes people think you're doing it pretty easy. I've had an exceptionally busy week getting things done that have been pushed back for one reason or another. I might not be making any money I feel like I've achieved something.

Speaking of money, I’ve brought in about $1000 on eBay. The listing and selling process for the 4 items probably took the best part of a day when added up. That’s a $1000 a day. Pity it’s the only day. I wonder if the wife will notice if I start selling some of her stuff.

The exhaust leak on the Monaro wasn't fixing itself so I pulled the extractors off AGAIN. Had to clean out the spiders in the carport first. They freak me out and I'm sure it was amusing for the neighbours to watch me murdering them. Last time I touched the Monaro was about 10 weeks ago. The recent heavy storms washed about a tonne of dirt into the carport too, so it needed a good clean out. The interior of the Monaro is starting to go mouldy. I'll give it a scorch in the sun tomorrow then clean it properly. At least the motor started. Eventually. After charging the battery and screwing around with the plugs.

I threw the exhaust manifold gaskets away choosing to use gasket compound alone this time against all advice. The Group A heads are D ported and the standard manifold gasket were obscuring the ports. Thankfully it didn’t leak when I tested my work.

The garden has gone spastic. Everything has loved the rain. Some plants have grown over 300mm in 10 days. Exaggeration? I think not. The heavy pruning I applied will not even be noticeable by next week at this rate. Mowing wasn’t very successful. The ground is still so wet the long grass stays damp and clogs the mower. Once again I'm left with those stupid looking wheel marks that spring back up after I'm finished and make a mockery of the whole exercise.

I’ve stripped and undercoated the new bonnet. Massive exercise. I really should get a mask. I don't get why people sniff paint for fun. Just gives me a headache. Rubbing back the undercoat will irritate the hell out of me but then it’s onwards to the final coat and the fabled dummy fitting of the scoop. Still haven't worked out how to mount it yet. Every day I get a little further on the old girl so I’m motivated to keep going. The only problem seems to be when that one small obstruction totally cancels out all my momentum. I am constantly working on this flaw to maintain progress.

Still working on a 'simple, short story' that I intended submitting a month ago. Instead of procrastinating, the problem with this story is too much attention. The damn thing could become a book with the level of detail that creeps in. It's a short story, dammit. It doesn't need every slightest nuance explained. I'll convince myself eventually.

(Like it? See -Manual labourer enters virtual world).

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Mackay floods

As everyone knows by now, Mackay has flooded. In hours people have lost everything they own, having had no time to even move their cars. Complaints about there being no warning seem a little ridiculous as the flooding started at around 3AM while most people were asleep. I guess recriminations are to be expected as people need to blame their misfortunes on everybody but themselves. I heard something about Mackay having an early warning system that wasn't used but haven't heard anything more yet. Sarina got around 800mm over the last 10 days but not in the very short time periods that effected Mackay so badly.

An interesting story has been revived, sparked by this flood. A man named Inigo Jones who died in the 50's predicted this flood. He is said to have predicted Australia’s greatest drought would break in November 2007, with its greatest flood and wettest year in 2008. Inigo based his calculations on sunspots and how the magnetic fields of the planets influenced the sun. Proof of sunspot activity affecting the weather is accepted now but Inigo's claims at the time world have been seen as closer to Astrology than Astronomy. He rejected the title of Astrologer basing his predictions on science. The Bureau of Meteorology, on a few occasions, tried to discredit him. Possibly they felt his methods weren't founded solidly enough. He had the backing of the government though and his respect as a meteorologist was not affected.

Interestingly for us we discovered CSR was in partnership with the Inigo Jones Seasonal Weather Forecasting Trust and built an observatory in 1935 that he operated for many years. He was also sought after by many major newspapers for his predictions.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

The whole world is against me - PART 4

(Return to - PART 1, PART 2, PART 3)

I don't really want to get under the house either, but I'm motivated. I run the new cable and only zap myself once while crawling awkwardly under the lowest part of the house. We just had 500mm of rain and its real wet under there. The mozzies think it’s awesome that I've crawled in to be with them too.

Fast forward past the rest of this experience. Just so you know, it sucked.

Back in the house and I yank the new line up and connect it. It doesn't work still. Brand new line, what the hell? My feet and ankles are upset too. I’ve got so many mozzie bites they look like novelty condoms, and all for nothing.

I disconnect the extension and suddenly everything works. I connect the extension and the line drops out. What the hell?

I pull the Internet line filter off and it works. The ah-ha moment. My extremely slow, plodding method of troubleshooting was getting somewhere. Now why was the bloody filter affecting the line like this? That would have been a question the BLOODY PHONE TECHNICIAN could have answered, wouldn't it?

I'm hot and dirty and annoyed. It still feels like spiders are running through my hair even though I smashed my head on enough floor joists while under the house that I don't think any could have survived.

I took the phone line filter to my operating room (garage) for a bit of in depth surgery. I persuaded it to open with my No. 3 engineers hammer. It explodes into pieces which I pick up and examine. There, on one of the tiny little gold connectors, is an even tinier bit of green corrosion.

So thanks for nothing current phone service provider, we're changing back to Telstra, and we'll never be back. Hopefully Telstra has forgotten we said the same thing to them a few years ago.

I swear these are factual events. Names have only been omitted to protect the guilty and save me facing slander charges. Maybe I don't need to write alternative fiction or horror stories. I should just write a diary, it would amount to the same thing.

(Like it? See - Sex)

The whole world is against me - PART 3

(Return to - PART 1, PART 2)

Tuesday. Telephone repairman doesn't turn up. I'm not going on hold again so I swear at the cat instead. The wife has gone to Melbourne. Good timing.

Sparky No. 2 turns up on Wednesday. They’re here on the right day. Didn't call to check if anyone was home, but they’re quick and neat and don't break anything.

One of the A/C's comes out of the box with the side kicked in, but they actually have a spare one and replace it straight away. That's a good thing; I prefer to put my own dents in my stuff.

For some reason I look in the front yard and blow me down there’s some dude yanking wires out of a hole in the front lawn. My thongs almost catch fire as I run out. Yes, it's a Telstra contractor. He seems to think the problem is in the pit. He won’t go near the box dangling under the house even after I pint to it and admit some retards have dislodged it recently. He looks up at me real slow. I can already see there's no way he's even contemplating crawling under the house.

He fiddles around for a bit. It’s fixed, he reckons, and drives away saying he'll ring me from down the street to check the line. I feel a strong urge to make him leave his wallet with me so he has to come back. He rings up and the phone line’s still crap. Amazingly he actually comes back but still won’t look at the box. Not even a little side long look. He comes inside the house instead and pulls apart the phone line.

'Yep, I've fixed it this time.'

Bugger me the main phone does work, but now the extension has shit itself. That's the one that runs the Internet connection. The Internet connection that was still working before he started fucking with the line. The same line that I really need for research my articles and make submissions. I ask him if he’s going to have a look and he says:

“Gonna cost you $33 every 15 mins (plus this and that) but I've only got 2 days left on this job and I really can’t be fucked.”

If only I had my steel caps on, I'd kick him fair in the nuts.

I carefully explain my need to have the connection working and I don't care how much it costs. He can’t be persuaded. He tries to get me to ask the blokes putting the A/C’s in to do it.

“Fuck it, I’ll do it,” I say.

He has a think and decides it’s better than him doing it so, ok, whatever.

“Look, it’s pretty easy, I'll give you some wire and you can run a new extension and hook it up yourself.”

So he goes back to his van and cuts off a handful of wire. I stand forlornly by the kerb, holding about 100 metres of telephone cable in my hand, watching him drive away to not help the next customer.

(Like it? See – The whole world is against me – PART 4)

The whole world is against me - PART 2

(Return to – The whole world is against me – PART 1)

Woke up the next morning to all the power going out. Sparky No.1 has come back and shut off the mains without checking to see if anyone was on a heart/lung machine. Didn't get angry, at least something is getting done.

Just after he left I discovered the phone’s on the blink, it'll only ring once and the lines crackles louder than...well, louder than the guy that always sits in front of me at the cinema with the oversize packet of chips. I search around where the electricians have been working and see a box dangling underneath the house.

The phone connection. Sparky No. 1 has knocked it off while he was cutting the earth wire out. Son of a bitch.

Couldn't do anything with the phone line myself so I ring our provider. 26 minutes on hold until someone picks up. I try to explain the problem. He says he'll check the line and ring back.

Never rings back.

I ring again and this time I'm on hold for 24 minutes. I get some Indian dude. It’s clique city for Gods’ sake. The line's really bad and I can’t understand what the hell he's saying, there's no way I'm hanging up and trying again. I manage to convey the message that I've already reported the fault, and I just want to talk to the same guy. He wants to go through the whole procedure again.

I am very close to screaming. Seriously.

Finally he says someone will come and take a look...in 5 days...they'll turn up whenever they want. And no, they can’t call first, you’ll be on a priority list. At the friggin bottom most likely.


Days later, Sparky No. 2 turns up out of the blue and does a quote for the A/C's. (Do they really rely on people just staying at home waiting for them to turn up?) He can have them in at the end of the week. Nice. Pretty expensive, but we check his price against some companies on the web and it looks close. We ring back to confirm our order.

“We can do it week after next.”

“What happened to getting them in this week?”

“Oh no, we’ll have to order them first.”

I'm gritting my teeth so hard I think a piece flew off. Probably just plaque.


“OK. When? Can you give me a day and a time? PLEASE.”


“Well..maybe Wednesday, sometime, maybe.”


I get on the net, somehow it's still working, and have a look at the stock market. It’s crashing. We lose $17,000.

(Like it? See – The whole world is against me – PART 3)

The whole world is against me - PART 1

This post is about a bad week I had a while ago. I’ve only just managed to find it funny now.

I made a decision to quit my job, registered as a sole trader and started my own business as a freelance writer.

Now a writer needs to be comfortable so he can 'get into the zone'. This is reasonably difficult to achieve when living in the tropics, particularly when your house is stupidly designed not to cool itself efficiently. I decided we should air condition the computer room. This way I wouldn't be able to play the 'it's too hot' card. I’ll use any excuse not to write.

Immediately my crafty plan encountered a problem. We couldn't get another air conditioner fitted as the meter board was way out of date, (1960's), and couldn't handle any extra load. Strictly speaking we shouldn’t be using the existing lounge room A/C and the stove at the same time or we could trip the power.

No problem we said, let’s get a new meter board that can run four A/C's. Maybe they could even put in a 15-amp plug so I can use the welder I bought a year ago.

Good, the plan is in motion.


Meter board goes in. (Imagine wavy lines as I gloss over the problems of getting approval from the landlord and getting the Sparky to quote then actually turn up to do the job. They have forgotten about quoting for the new A/C's. They have forgotten to bring a genset to run the fridges. They turn up without calling to see if anyone is home.)

They’re almost finished. Yay. Luckily I have a look before they finish speed-packing their truck and leave.

“Oh...umm...excuse me, where is the extra A/C switches and why isn't there a 15 plug on here?”


“Duh...the boss didn't say nuffink about that.”


“It’s only the whole and entire reason for getting the new board in.”

Shrugs.


I jump up and down and he reluctantly unpacks his tools to put in the A/C switches. He wants me to ring his boss about the 15-amp point. I'll ring all right.

I ring another Sparky, I’ll call him Sparky No. 2, to quote for installing the new A/C's. I’ve lost faith in Sparky No. 1.

Sparky No.2. will drop in sometime next week for a look. He won’t give time or date so I can make sure I’m home and can explain my needs.

It’s a friggin conspiracy.

(Like it? See – The whole world is against me - PART 2)

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Preventative list writing

Creating lists is a great exercise to bring organisation to your life. All those individual items marching down the page in sequence, ensuring your next event will unfold without additional stress. Unburdening your memory has allowed you to enjoy your outing without constantly double checking yourself, and others, that certain tasks have been done. There's no need to be anal about it, just be uncompromisingly rigid with its use. (That also can easily become an annoying trait.)

Let me supply an example where the failure to make a preventative list causes unnecessary stress. Imagine you’re going on holidays. A nice relaxing, getting away from it all, holiday.

Scenario one: You're half way there and some annoying person says, 'Did you turn the stove off?' There's no way the stove's on. Why would it be on? You left early in the morning and got Macca's instead of making breakfast. But there's going to be an annoying niggle in your brain that your house is burning down. It can ruin ones digestion.

Scenario two: 'Gee, I hope the washing machine hose doesn't burst like I heard happened to what’s-his-name.' Great. Thanks for that. At least it might put out the fire caused by the stove.

Alleviating this problem needn’t be complicated. A ‘leaving the house’ list should be short and only contain the heavy-duty stuff. The smaller stuff will fall into line. You must accept that you can't plan for every eventuality. If someone really wants to break in, they will. If an electrical fault burns the place down, you'd have the same result whether you were down the shops or half a world away.

Here's an example of a list I prepared earlier to give you an idea of how simple it can be:

HWS, A/C's and Stove off at switchboard

Washing machine and Dishwasher off at taps and GPO

All GPO's off except fridges and phone

All windows closed

All doors deadlocked

Hide remotes (if electrical goods are stolen the thieves will have to get up every time the want to switch stations. God, I'm so crafty. In my mind they are too dumb to get replacement remotes so don't try to spoil it for me.)

I can now drive away feeling reasonably secure that I've done all I can. All other occurrences are now judged non-preventable and cannot be cannot be prefaced by, 'Oh, why didn't we...' or, 'we should have remembered to...' These new, and now glaringly obvious, things are added to the list for next time.

(Like it? See - Tanami desert diary)

Friday, 8 February 2008

The Revhead's inner gardener

The fact that I like gardening often surprises people. I'm sure they can’t visualize me pottering around lavishing love and attention on plants and flowers. That's good, as I don't garden like that at all. I approach gardening like most of my other pursuits. Hard and fast. Get results by the application of copious amounts of labour in a short period of time so you can stand back and enjoy the serenity.

There have been problems involving somewhat unrealistic expectations on my part. Poor plant choices for instance. I like fast growing plants. I don't have time to stand around waiting for a hedge to grow. If I've decided to screen off that part of the yard I want it screened off NOW. Why don't I just build a screen? Well, I could, but spending money on rental properties is against my religion. Against our landlord's religion too.

I like the high-powered plants that give the tropics its fearsome reputation for sheer growth. They are the Big Block V8 equivalents in the plant world. You chuck them in the ground and stand back. I swear, if you listen closely, you can HEAR them growing. The trouble is they get out of control so quickly. You've also got to be mindful of power lines and limbs falling on the roof, etc.

When we first arrived at our latest house the whole State was fried and dead. We drove through a waste land to arrive at Hell's backyard. The lawn crunched under foot and even the native trees looked crook. The locals told us it hadn't rained in 10 months. I remember looking at the garden and saying. "I'm not doing this one."

I'd just finished a 3 year long overhaul of the last garden. From automated watering systems, gravel paths and lush greenery to burned crispiness was very hard to come to terms with. Anyway, we settled in and started working, as you do, and the drought broke about a month later. I couldn't believe that such devastation could rejuvenate so quickly. The growth seemed to be exponential with every barrow loads of branches and weeds I hacked out being replaced the next day. If I stopped I feared we'd be overrun.

I was reminded of that Dr Who episode where the plants were fed ground up humans. You know the one. Blood and bone is nothing new but the way that big plant thing with flailing tentacles ended up destroying a huge stone mansion gives new meaning to accelerated growth. Whatever. The point is I got my enthusiasm back when I saw how quickly the dried up mess transformed into tropical lushness.

We rarely water anything these days. Fertilizer is a rare treat for the select few plants that aren’t coping. If something does dies, it wasn't the right plant for this garden.

I've increased my repertoire of garden tools in an effort to cut my workload. Now I've got 2 loppers, (ones a ratchet lopper, it’s really cool, you could take someone’s arm off with it), 2 secateurs, most variations of shovels, spades (they are different, so I'm told), hoes, weeders, rakes, pickaxes, crowbars, dinky little gardening tools and a bunch of taps and fittings for reticulation. I also bought a wheelbarrow, something I should have done many years ago instead of using a plastic laundry tub. Marvellous things wheelbarrows.

(Like it? See - Bloody Monaro)

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Changing Internet providers

This is something we all go through at some time. We see a better deal and we jump for it. We forget how difficult it was to set up last time and we blindly hope all will be well.

All was not well. Our previous Internet Provider shut us down well before our new provider was ready to get us on line. We were not aware they intended cutting us adrift without notifying us. It wasn't long before I began getting withdrawal symptoms. Our new provider didn't really want to help me get online until their modem turned up. I needed access now though. Now dammit! I managed to talk a tech into running me through the process using my old modem. Bloody hell I really couldn’t tell who was getting more frustrated.

It actually isn't that hard to put in the new user name and change a couple of settings in the modem. It should have been a matter of 2-minutes max. There's no way anything will ever be that simple for me. The old modem wouldn’t talk to me no matter how I held my tongue and Mr Helpful soon got tired of trying and left me to it. I tried a hundred different variations of our passwords and log-ons’ in a desperation only seen in true cyber-addicts. The modem was blissfully unaware how close it was drawing to heavy duty adjustment by my Engineers hammer. (It's like Thor’s hammer only smaller).

Eventually my brother took pity on me and led me through the procedure in depth with only a small amount of long distance frustration. He discovers most of the incomprehensible settings, (to me), have been wiped. (I'm guessing that was when the Indian fellow told me to reset the modem manually, thanks buddy.) Anyway it's working again and my stress levels and depression is back to normal.

I'm actually glad to be locked into a 2-year plan. I don't want to go through that for a long, long time.

(Like it? See - Cognac)

Monday, 4 February 2008

Painting panels

Boy, have I forgotten how much work is involved in stripping and painting vehicles.

The last time I attempted the art I was still a kid of 18 living a home with my poor, long suffering, parents. I bought an HQ Holden ute, with a completely knackered 308 V8 engine and worn out M20 gearbox. Many different people before me had tried to improve it cosmetically in the most superficial way possible. I decided, naively, to have a go repairing the defects myself.

I approached the problem head-on, deciding to start with a fresh canvas. The easiest option was to have the ute tray sand blasted. The sills, on both sides, disintegrated as the blasting media hit them. Wadded newspaper had been used to save the cost of bog by some dodgy bastard. The resulting mess looked really expensive. Having no welding skills, I rebogged the panels, increasing the ute's curb weight by about fifty kilos. Over the next year I poured massive amounts of money, time and effort into the project but the end result reflected the level of expertise involved.

Finally I sold it, Lost about $15,000 on the deal. The last panel beater I used told me the ute had terminal chassis rust and would never see the road again. Utterly discouraged, I took the pittance he offered and moved on.

About three mouths later I saw my ute driving past. With a few inquiries I discovered that my ever-so-helpful panel beater had slapped a bit more bog into it and sold it to his mate. Life can be a hard road when you're young and stupid.

None of this explains why I have just spent hundreds of dollars and two days of my time stripping and painting a bonnet 20 years later. It would seem the memory of my previous experience has faded sufficiently to have another go. The job still sucks. Paying a professional to do it would have worked out to be cheaper in the end but I just can’t help having a go myself. I hope the end result is worth the pain and suffering.

Everyone says 'Oh but the satisfaction of doing it yourself...’ etc. Personally I think the satisfaction of dropping it off and picking it up from a panel beater would be fine by me.

(Like it? See - Preventative list writing)

Sunday, 3 February 2008

eBay

Allow me to give you a few pointers and share a few experiences I've had over the years on eBay.

For a start, I'm not bagging eBay. I still enjoy buying and selling stuff on it. The fees are reasonable and my transactions have been hassle free so far. The few times I didn't get what I expected was usually traced to my failure to read the description properly.

Buying blindly on eBay is a bit of a problem for me. I’m definitely a see it, feel it, twist it sort of buyer. I hate ordering from catalogues or pamphlets or off tiny little pictures on a computer screen. I like to research my purchases around town or on the Internet then, when I know exactly what I'm getting, I'll buy it. If I can get someone local to match an eBay price so much the better. Buying locally is important to me and is more convenient if something has to go back.

I'm yet to be ripped off either buying or selling on eBay. Had a close call once from a buyer who suddenly didn't have the money after winning a set of mag wheels. I wish I hadn't bothered chasing them up as a huge drama unfolded, first to get the money and then convince Auspost to deliver the item. (They were on the edge of their maximum dimensions). While I got it sorted eventually the stress and fuss wasn't worth it. Luckily it didn't result in negative feedback being left by either of us as that would have ruined the whole experience and I'm sure I would never have used eBay again. We live and learn.

I have decided not to leave feedback until I receive positive feedback first. I am a fair dealer and can be pretty sure that negative feedback directed towards me will be undeserved. I’m confident none of my actions will be the cause of a dispute. If problems do arise I'm willing to work out a reasonable compromise without resorting to name-calling or the blackmail of negative feedback. I will only leave negative feedback in cases were I have received negative feedback unfairly or believe that I have been ripped of. It’s only fair to let others in the eBay community know when a person is not on the level. Positive feedback will of course be matched with sickeningly sweet positive feedback.

If you are selling, I have worked out a few ways to maximize my exposure and minimize ludicrous questions that you might find useful.

List your item for 10 days. This ensures the maximum amount of people, the weekend crowd and the weekday crowd, get a chance to see it and bid on it.

Make sure as many keywords are in your description as possible. With car parts for instance, list all the models and makes that part will fit and include the names of accessories that can be attached to it. You will pick up people who are searching for similar stuff and would never have located the item you are selling.

Try to think of every stupid question people will want to know and cover those questions in as much detail as possible. If your item is clearly purple and you say it’s purple someone is going to ask if it’s black. You can’t do anything about these people. Don't ignore them though; they might turn out to be the highest bidder if you continue to be polite. Just tell them the item is purple and copy the question to your listing so everyone else can make fun of them. In fact copy answers to all pertinent questions onto your listing. This might prevent another fourteen people asking the same question. It’s also a good way to add information you originally forgot to mention.

Only list the highest postage and always refund extra money if the winning bidder is located at a cheaper post rate. People love the honesty and you will make them very happy. You can use part of the overpayment to register their item to prove you sent it and ensuring AustPost is liable if they lose it. $2.50 isn't much for peace of mind so in the past I have sprung for the extra cost if I make a profit. Without registration you can’t prove that you actually sent the item and in the case of a dispute you will look guilty no matter how honest you are.

The buyer has shown a lot of faith by putting hundreds of dollars into my account so if their item goes missing I would prefer them to know Austpost is at fault, not me.

I still hate PayPal. My experience with them was unsatisfactory. When eBay forces me to use them I’m finding another auction site.

Friday, 1 February 2008

The boss' perception

I’m writing this for managers who amaze me with their naive concepts of what they think they are getting away with in their work places. I have gained an intimate knowledge in the way middle and upper management perceive their labourers and base my views on this experience.

I've been a contract labourer all my life. In this time I have been exposed to varying levels of responsibility and had offers of advancement on numerous occasions. I learned to refuse promotion after several forays into leading hand roles that soon showed the inconsistencies between expected responsibilities and the compensation offered. I also knew my workmates would continue doing the things I did behind my bosses back. Often I made more money than my supervisors in the lower casual position anyway. Taking a pay cut for the opportunity to climb the corporate ladder isn’t much of an incentive.

During any stint of labouring I tried to stay well informed on what was happening on site and made sure the information got passed along as required. The workers on site have more than one set of eyes and ears and lots of tongues. If nothing much was going on we'd make something up but that's another story.

I remember on occasion when a manager and I were having an argument regarding whether the "workers" at this particular industry knew the specifics of the upper and middle management bonuses. Their perception of the workers blissful ignorance seemed a little condescending and very naive. Were we all stupid? Were we being underestimated because most of us hadn’t been to Uni? Maybe most of us didn't even finish high school but as far as I know most people can read.

How many times has some employee wandered into the boss’s office while he wasn't there? And how many times had that boss inadvertently left his pay slip, or memo regarding lay offs, or some other interesting piece of paper lying on his desk just begging to be looked at?

Do you really think that information isn't going to be spread around site faster than tinea in a communal shower?

Maybe some workers are too stupid or lazy to properly utilise their information conduit, (the cleaner usually), or their management is simply too clever to leave anything important lying around. But, in my experience, the workers know what is going on well before the manager does. Who's having sexual relations with whom? Who's screwed up and cost the company a shitload of cash? Who's robbing the place blind?

On the other hand I wonder if management are aware of what is happening while they laugh at us behind their hands. I've worked in places where the entire nightshift goes home early and leaves one poor bastard to swipe them all out. I've seen truckloads of gear stolen right under the nose of the boss who are more than happy to ignore what their lowly slaves are up to.

Neither of these scenarios are sustainable in the long run. People get pissed, brag to their mates and dob each other in. There’s always someone to pick up indiscreetly divulged information and spread it around. It’s human nature. I’ve been told horribly personal information that I really could have lived the rest of my life not knowing by people who barely knew me. While I’d like to take the higher ground here, (don’t I always), and swear I kept this information to myself but some of this stuff was just too good not to share. It happens, nobody’s perfect.

To sum up, workers might wear dirty clothes and not be very articulate without resorting to swearing but they aren't stupid. Take care you middle and upper managers. You’re only fooling yourselves by treating workers with contempt. We should both remain wary of each other while honouring the status quo.

Breaking the underlying ‘us and them’ culture, a cause management pays a lot of lip service to, can’t be realised unless everyone on site is equal. Who’s going to push a broom or dig a hole then? The ‘us and them’ culture is not meant to be broken, leave it alone. Workplaces as we know them can't function without inequities and unfair practises. Oh yeah, and I hope you remember who got you that bonus.

(Like it? See - Painting panels)