Posts Tagged ‘Australia’

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‘The Phyla Laff’

We’ve been in this wonderful country for just over three months now, and we’re settling in fine. Jane has started her job at the University, and I’ve a few gigs under my belt – in Perth and Fremantle to the north, and Mandurah to the south – and, in tandem with the ebbing chaos of the move, I’m getting the time to do a little more writing. It’s all a bit Pleasant Valley Sunday here in Safety Bay – suburbia forever, with very little going-out culture. No wonder Aussies like their Barbeques.

There is a type of ‘club’ culture but, quite frankly, not the one I’m used to? There’s the Swimming Club, the Tennis, Club, the Bowls Club, the Watercolour Painting club, the Jewellery Making club, the Motor Mower Appreciation club, the Crystal Healing club, the Psychic club, the Barbie club, the Catholic Church…

Basically there is nothing to do.

As well as discovering what there isn’t to do, we’ve been trying to get a handle on the local fauna and flora, so last week we signed up for an evening Frog Walk – organised by the local Environmental Centre – around the historic, and brackish, Lake Richmond. Apart from being a nature reserve and home to numerous species of birds, as well as five species of frog – including tree frogs – Lake Richmond is world famous for its community of Thrombolites.

Thrombolites may sound like a lost tribe with clogged arteries due to overdoing the barbies, but no, they’re far more interesting than that. Thrombolites are clumps of accreted matter thrombolite formed in shallow waters by the photosynthetic actions of early life-forms – specifically Cyanobacteria – and we’ve a lot to thank them for – everything, in fact – even the very air that we breathe. They are probably our oldest common ancestors and they, along with their close cousins, Stromatolites, oxygenated the planet and provided food for the more complex carbon-shifting life-forms which came after them.

So, no Thrombolites, no Frogs. No Frogs, no Environmental Centre. No Environmental Centre, no Frog Walk.

We turned up at the Centre next to the Lake at 7:00pm armed with a torch, stout footware, and clothing suitable for inclement weather. What we had forgotten, apparently, were children. We were the only adults there without any.

We’d paid our eight dollars, however, and were not to be deterred so, after eating our Sizzler (a type of Aussie hotdog) and collecting our Bag of Sweets, both included in the price, we switched on our torches and set off into the darkness taking up the rear of the giggling screaming group of children, for all the world like some child-snatching paedophile couple hoping to catch a healthy looking straggler, or at least failing that, the one with the taped glasses and the limp.

We went home via a Bottle Shop and laughed our way into drunkenness.

Yes, basically there is nothing to do.

That said, I walk Molly, our Collie, every day along beautiful, and deserted, Indian Ocean beaches with Dolphins frolicking a few metres away (do Dolphins frolick?). At the end of our road (Penguin Road – check it out on street-view) is Penguin Island – no cigar for guessing what lives on that. If there was a competition for the best place in the world in which to have nothing to do then this would win first prize for the place to not to do it in.

There are three small (and very good) restaurants, but we’ve used them extensively already and have realised that to stay sane in suburbia you either drink, copiously, or use the facilities – to wit, the beach and the ocean. So, in order to achieve perfect mental health, we’ve just bought a little sailing dinghy called a ‘Mirror’, and three months’ supply of ‘Coopers Pale Ale’.

Our Flagship, as yet unnamed, was built in 1968/9 and I’ve been working on getting her ready for sea all week. tubby 3Jib and mainsail have been repaired, and I’ve finished re-rigging her in between the occasional tea-break to catch up on ‘Sailing For Dummies’ – it’s an old book that advises tying cassette tape to the mast stays (they’re called ‘Shrouds’, don’t ya know) to alert you as to wind direction. ‘Course, we download all our wind direction these days…

Provisional launch date is this Sunday, but sadly the Queen had already said she’d babysit and now can’t get out of it – you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family, eh, Liz. Still, Eric – Jane’s father – will do as honoured guest, along with her elder brother David, and his family. As for naming, we were going to call her ‘The Free Trade’, or ‘The Cumby’, or ‘The Broken Doll’, in honour of three great watering holes from our own, sadly missed, going-out culture back in Blighty, but we’re now thinking of keeping it in the family and calling her ‘The Phyla Laff’, after my Mother.  She’d love to be known as ‘The Face that Launched a Dinghy and a Case of Pale Ale’.

We’ll see. It really depends on how drunk we get? Not that I’m condoning ‘Drink-Sailing’ or anything like that – but it is Sunday, so there won’t be much traffic? Probably take the neighbours kids out for a spin.

It’s in our blood, see, sailing. I served on an aircraft carrier during the Cod War – yeah, the ‘forgotten war’. Even to this day the British government fail to recognise Cod War Syndrome yet after all these years I still can’t walk past a chip shop without breaking into a cold sweat. Jane, on the other hand, was brought up racing sailing dinghies in Anglesey, crewing, with her brother at the helm. She tells a great tale of him screaming at her for not bringing the jib in fast enough after a particular tack across the wind, and with their boat only just in the lead. She bailed and swam directly back to shore ensuring that David and boat were disqualified.

Jane reckons that the good ship ‘The Phyla Laff’ will need some TLC on the water and, due to her age, will probably need some running repairs. I’m not that worried. Jane, her brother Dave, and her father Eric, are from North Wales where they have a tradition of make-do-and-mend.

I’d love to give you an example of a nautical bent in order to keep with the theme, but the one that instantly comes to mind is this: During one of those rare total solar eclipses that wasn’t bedevilled by British cloud (Jane recalls this as 1983, when she was fourteen, I think?) teachers at Jane’s school asked parents to purchase one of the many proprietary viewing appliances available for this once in a life-time school yard spectacle.

Whilst all Jane’s classmates were provided with such appropriate eyewear, Jane was deposited at school, by Eric, welders maskreplete with a welders mask.

I can’t wait for Sunday. I’m going to be Captain and Jane will be Crew – there will be heavy sanctions for abandoning ship.

Anvil Springstien.

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Links to previous: Pom De Terre IPom De Terre II

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Link to previous: Pom De Terre I

Pom de Terre II

We’ve been in Western Australia for a couple of months now, and we’re still very much enamoured both with the place and the people. The beautiful weather seems to instil a smile that fronts a relaxed and easy attitude in most of its citizens – though I’m left wondering if such attitudes will survive the recent onset of winter here, or, like in the UK, move its populace into the sunless misery of Seasonally Acquired Depression. A pallid nation of sixty million smack-heads, desperate for the methadone of spring?

I hope not.

Regardless, as we have edged into the cold season my daily walks along the Indian Ocean with our Border Collie, Molly, have shifted into the appropriate mode for such an inclement time of the year. Gone is the ‘Factor 30’, relegated to deep hibernation at the rear of the bathroom cupboard, replaced in its stead by something altogether more appropriate for these wintry climes – it’s called ‘Factor 29.9’, and it works a treat.

Winter, eh. Don’t you just love it? I’ve also swapped the Speedo’s for Bermuda shorts – just to retain a bit of heat.

We’ve been in forced isolation for nearly six weeks now. Inoculated from the ills and misfortunes of the world. No phone, no mobile, no internet this side of the local library. Not even a radio or TV. Mind, it’s surprising how easy one adjusts to the absence of the constant bombardment of data, and, let’s be honest, it’s hardly a tribulation being incognito on a sunlit tropical beach, waves lapping gently at your feet.  More ‘Enterprise Hologram Suite’ than ‘Sensory Deprivation Tank’.

All that, though, has (somewhat sadly?) come to an end.

From the shores of our (admittedly rather large) desert island we spied a ship on the horizon. On its deck was our shipping container from the UK – in our excitement we waved and jumped up and down and built fires to try and get their attention. It worked. Our belongings finally arrived in Perth ten days ago. We are now officially ‘Cardboard Rich’. We’ve got a phone line, too, and an internet connection. The computers, TV’s, and Dab radio’s are out of their packing crates and the last lead has been plugged into the final socket… Ah, it’s good to be back in the loop.

Expect some sparks to be flying off the keyboard anytime soon. For the moment though, I’m immersed, submerged, drowning in wonderful, glorious data; TV’s of various dimensions are on in two separate rooms, radios blah loudly all around whilst Microsoft Office downloads its own container full of emails with an almost imperceptible movement of its progress bar.

I’m trying to make sense of it all but can’t yet quite focus, happy to be hit by the zeros & ones whilst staring blindly, unsure, drunk with it all – a picture reminiscent of the bar scene in ‘Ice Cold in Alex’.

An hour later I’ve settled somewhat and begin filtering information that’s relevant – to me at least; The G8 beginning in Northern Ireland; Chaos at Knowlsley Safari Park in the English North West; Syria continues to burn, and Luis Suarez’s teeth are still offside, allegedly.

Here, on the Far Side of the World, apparently all is not quite as rosy as I’ve been painting it, either – though there is still that slight glitch in the matrix:

The W.A. Terrorism Alert Status was increased two whole levels this week, jumping from ‘No Worries’ to ‘Bit of a Furby, Mate’, before dropping back to ‘No Drama’s’ following an incident with an alleged non-halal kebab in the Fremantle area.

All joking aside, the Perth regional crime-wave gathers apace according to last night’s TV News, with a Hit & Run in Subiaco, a man entering a curry-house in Collingwood with an axe, and the confiscation of a home-made sub-machine gun – replete with three rounds, in the Mandurah area… the Police narrowly avoiding a very rapid shoot-out, there.

All in all, this is rather more than half a world away from Liverpool, or Manchester, or London, were the Rice Krispies are now more likely to go ‘Crack, Smack, & Bang’ than ‘Snap, Crackle, & Pop’, and where Pensioners Hearing-Aids have long been attuned to the difference between an M16 and an AK47:

“The ‘Akky’  ‘avin’ a distinctive clackin’ sound ‘cos of its slow rate of fire, d’yer know worra’ mean, Son, innit, sorted, wicked… like. I remember when this was all trees an’ yer could leave yer doors open… Eh, was that a fuckin’Baboon? Eh, don’t go, d’yer wanna’ buy some Blow?”

It might be my age, but I’m appreciating much more than just the weather in W.A. D’yer know worra’ mean… like?

It has its downsides, of course. Real downsides that’ll drive you mad. I’ve already mentioned that mobile phone coverage is abysmal, and the internet was – until we instantly upgraded to the cutting edge that is ‘ADSL’ (remember that?), equally pathetic. Also, pseudoscience is everywhere, with Chiropractors, Homeopaths, Naturopaths and Acupuncturists on every street corner alongside other peddlers of nonsense. My local Sunday morning market regularly has stalls selling a cream or ointment that claims to cure baldness, teenage spots, lower back pain, and cancer – as well as a proven and effective aid to stopping smoking.

Yes, you heard me right… a proven and effective aid to stopping smoking!

Nonsense of course, but now I’m back in the news loop I’m thinking of getting Julia Gillard to send a crate of this shit to the G8 Conference in Northern Ireland, as even a placebo effect may be useful when the ‘Big Hitters’ get round to discussing Syria in the morning.

They’re all big puffers, too, and the last people we want experiencing nicotine withdrawal at this crucial moment in time.

Obama’s been caught more than once having a sly fag at the back of the Oval Office, and whilst Merkel is supposed to have given up, she’s in a bit of a state, isn’t she? Just look at the kip of her nails, and she’s obviously been hitting the fridge.

Thankfully Hollande is there instead of Sarkozy, who always stank of Gaulois whilst denying he ever smoked at all, and then there’s Putin, of course, who wouldn’t be a real Russian male without ploughing through his full quota of Duty Free fags – lung cancer being a sign of masculinity and heterosexuality in the former Soviet state.

Cameron, who doesn’t count (he’s only allowed there as the UK is paying for the food and accommodation), probably had a fag at Eton, but it’s the cigarette variety we’re talking about, here, and his family probably had working class folk to smoke their cigarettes for them, anyway.

Hold on, more data coming through? Wow, look at the state of the British economy? Surely Mindless Austerity was going to work, wasn’t it? And look what’s happening in Greece?  Oh, no, even here in Paradise there’s this fool called Cory Bernardi who thinks he’s proved that legalising same sex marriage will lead to bestiality… hold on, he may be right? Look, more data from the UK: ‘Man Shags Baboon’? No, sorry, I heard that wrong, it should say ‘Man Shoots Baboon’. Ah, well, Cory, another imbecilic theory bites the dust. Shit! Look… there’s a new Pope!

STOP!

ENOUGH!

Phew, sorry… I’ve had it up to here with data. I’m switching everything off and taking the dog for a winters walk along the beach. This zeros & ones thing is so stressful? I may have to visit a Naturopath on the way back – maybe stop off at the market, buy some cream.

No. It’s good to be back.

Really.

Anvil Springstien.

 

Link to next: Pom De Terre III

Pom de Terre I

Posted: April 23, 2013 in Pom de Terre
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To say this has been one of the busier weeks of my life would be somewhat of an understatement. I’ve moved. We’ve moved. Jane and I, and Molly, our remaining dog. Shifted. Relocated. Swapped hemispheres. Exchanged a beautiful suburb of Newcastle upon Tyne, England, for Shoalwater, an equally beautiful suburb of Perth, Western Australia.

They’re different of course. One green, tinged white with late spring snow, cold, harsh, built up, dense, city edge, lively, redbrick, old, familiar. The other, tall, evergreen, eucalyptus, coastal scrub, beaches, post colonial, hot, open, young, relaxed – yet also, and somehow not quite unexpectedly, equally familiar.

The differences though, are, as you might expect, stark. We awake here not to blackbirds and hedge sparrows, but to parrots of various hues. Huge pelicans glide gracious, effortless, almost pterodactyl like across a Simpson’s sky. 28Signs warn of snakes and other dangerous creatures whilst the eye is drawn to pods of dolphins playing in the long sweeping curve of Shoalwater Bay – its calm waters protected by an archipelago of Australian understatement, Bird Island, Seal Island, Shagg Rock, Penguin Island.

The starkness is heard long before it is seen. The English dawn chorus replaced by a veritable amusement arcade of noise. Hoops, hollers, and squawks interspersed with long looping cries that start low and accelerate to a high pitched screech – others, the same, but this time in reverse. Another unseen creature provides an almost deafening staccato ‘zing zing kapow’ that could have been the inspiration for Space Invaders or Asteroids.

Amongst the electronica, only the craw of the ever ubiquitous crow provides an anchor to an English ear bound within the flora and fauna of this antipodean paradise. Totally different, yet somehow the same? Of course, what provides the bulk of familiarity in this most incongruous of settings are the continents two legged residents, Australians.

They’re brilliant. Or so it would seem.

It’s not that they are in any way English or British – far from it, they are definitely, definitively, Australian. Yet somehow I can’t help but feel I’ve met them all before?

Perhaps it’s the language, which is English, well, almost – again, different, but the same. That said, I get the impression that I could be Swiss, rather than British – or German, or Angolan, or Ecuadorean, or Canadian – Martian, even – and I’d feel exactly this way.

In the week we have been here we have opened bank accounts, purchased a used car, applied for Medicare, bought sim-cards, eaten in cafes, swam, canoed, sailed, driven on roads – slowly, and on the left – and watched an Aussie Rules footie match. In all his time only one person has been rude to us – an estate agent who presumed Jane’s dreadlocks to associate her with whatever stereotype she’d been burdened with, rather than that of a university professor.

Big deal. One eejit amongst a sea of welcome. All others have fallen over themselves to offer help and advice, or add instantaneous personal detail: “Wife’s a Pom. Came over when she was eleven. Never looked at another woman in fifty seven years. Still talks like a bloody Pom?” It’s been like this since our arrival; passing through Immigration Control, the Officer smiled broadly as she handed back our passports, “Three years, eh? Welcome home, then!

Was that really just one short week ago?

On Saturday we went to Mandurah to see the guitarist John Butler, not just a great act, but an activist and supporter of aboriginal rights. A timely reminder that even in the midst of paradise we have echoes of how, as a species, we got to where we are. It is a past that needs to be dealt with. It was good to see that some, like John, were doing exactly that.

Yesterday, I thought I’d heard a blackbird? A memory? A glitch in the matrix? Perhaps, though unlike Neo, I’m in no hurry to take the Red pill. Blue’ll do me. By tomorrow morning, amidst the hoops, hollers and squawks, my flipflops, shades, and warm beers will have successfully transposed to thongs, sunnies, and cold’uns. Order restored, the matrix secure, different, but exactly the same.

It’ll be hard to avoid going native, though I’m told that some Poms persevere. Me? Well, what can I say? It’s a wonderful country, exactly the same, but completely, utterly, totally, fabulously, different. A place where, in stead of our home, we’re very grateful to be.

Really?

Yeah mate, sure mate, no worries.

Anvil Springstien.

Link to next: Pom De Terre II