Monday, January 30, 2006

Australia Day

Australia Day is January 26th, so this year it fell on the Thursday. My sister Julie and I were invited to that great Australian tradition, an Australia Day barbecue, at the home of Madeleine's parents.

There were about 14 people there, which would be a crowd for some suburban backyards, but not for their place. Madeleine's parents live in a home which is right on the borderline between a large house and a small mansion; built about 1840 the grounds originally ran all the way down to the bay. It's not that big today, but there was still plenty of room for us all on the old croquet lawn.

Madeleine's brother Ashley (who's the Consul for one of the Scandinavian countries) arranged the chops, sausages and prawns with a deft hand and smoke and sizzle were soon filling the garden. Refrigeration for beer and wine was provided by the simple expedient of filling a wheelbarrow with ice and leaving it in the shade of a handy magnolia tree.

Mad's husband Joe regaled us with stories about his trip to Moscow and the intricacies of arranging rail travel in Russia. The merits or otherwise of the Orient Express were debated and stories about life in Antarctic bases were recounted.

It was perhaps typical of the city of Hobart and of the calibre of our hosts that we noted later that all the women had been to Collegiate, while most of the men were Hutchins old boys. If I'd thought about it, I would have worn my old school tie!

The food and wine flowed freely as everyone chatted freely, moving occasionally to keep their chairs out of the fierce January sun. As time went on, a few couples drifted off - either homeward or to take the guided tour of the house - and I took advantage of a vacant sunlounger to stretch out and close my eyes for a moment or two. It was all very relaxing - the hum of voices, dappled shade from the leafy tree above, the gentle breeze blowing across the grounds and the buzz of a passing bumblebee.

Madeleine and Joe leave this week to return to Canberra. It was good that they were able to be here for Australia Day; I think this is the longest time that Madeleine has spent in Hobart for a few years. We shall miss them.

At the end of the afternoon we returned home almost stupefied by our dose of high living. Fortunately we had a while to collect ourselves before switching on the television for the Governor General's Australia Day speech. Not as essential as the Queen's Christmas Message, but interesting to listen to.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

lamb for A-Day?

WE'VE been underestimating the power of lamb, news reports suggest.

Sydney's racial violence, the loss of the Ashes and model Michelle Leslie's drug hassles in Bali apparently all could have been solved by a healthy dose of one of Australia's favourite red meats.

In another politically incorrect battle cry to get more chops on the nation's barbecues, former football star Sam Kekovich has delivered another 90 seconds of TV satire in the Australia Day lamb promotion.

"Australian models holidaying in Asia would get into a lot less trouble if they carried a couple of lamb chops in their handbags," Kekovich says in the ad which went to air a few days before Australia Day.

"Lamb could have prevented the boofheads perpetrating violence on our beaches - it's bloody hard to bash someone with a cutlet.

"And we might not have lost the Ashes if our cricketers picked up lamb chops instead of mobile phones. Why on earth did they dispatch lurid text messages to English trollops when plenty of Aussie sheilas would gladly target their middle stump?"

The former North Melbourne player has been enlisted for a second year of red meat ranting in Meat and Livestock Australia's (MLA) annual push to drive up lamb sales for the national day.

His 2005 debut came close to derailing the marketing campaign when he said failure to eat lamb warranted capital punishment.

The Advertising Standards Bureau investigated but, after an unprecedented equal amount of criticism and praise, later dismissed the complaints and allowed the commercial to air.

It also was the first time the regulator received complaints that an ad had vilified vegetarians after Kekovich pilloried "long-haired dole bludging types" for rejecting lamb in favour of "all manner of exotic, foreign, often vegetarian cuisine".

This year, Kekovich insists that lamb and barbecues are at the core of our national identity.

"To be as Australian as I am, don your apron - mine says 'Chop Gun' - whack some nice juicy lamb chops on the barbie, invite everyone over - if you can't pronounce their name, just call them mate - and celebrate living in the best bloody country on earth."
MLA hopes this year's promotion would be taken in good humour and not result in more complaints to the advertising watchdog.

"There'll always be a couple of people out there that take grief at listening to Sam Kekovich, but it wouldn't be Sam without that. We'll wait and see," marketing chief David Thomason said.

MLA is hoping for another big rise in lamb consumption, with Kekovich's 2005 invective pushing up the number of lamb serves sold nationally by more than one million.

The car is booked to go in to the garage on Monday. That seems a while to wait, but with the holiday on Thursday it's a short week this week.

So it's my sister's turn to do the motoring in the family this week. What was that old bus slogan - "Leave the driving to us"?

Dropped in to the Chickenfeed discount store on Wednesday to look over their new stock of DVDs and movies. I was particularly interested in the Jacques Cousteau set; I found #1,2,4 and 5 without any trouble but #3 necessitated a bit of rummaging around. There's nothing more irritating than looking for that one missing episode.

Also picked up a boxed set of Sherlock Holmes movies from the 1930 and '40s, plus a double feature of two favourites from the 1960s Mr Ed and Petticoat Junction (the latter was a surprise - it features a beatnik poet played by guest star Dennis Hopper!).

It's a constant series of surprises just what turns up on DVD nowadays.

The soft-voiced bell of the Temple clock was telling out the hour of seven in muffled accents (as though it apologised for breaking the studious silence) as I emerged from the archway of Mitre Court and turned into King's Bench Walk.

And who should we find at Number 6A? None other than Doctor John Thorndyke, one of the most famous medical sleuths of detective fiction.

In The Red Thumb Mark [1907], R. Austin Freeman introduces us to his no-nonsense medico-legal consultant. Appearing for the defence at the Old Bailey, he demonstrates that finding a man's fingerprint at the scene of the crime is not an infallible indication of guilt.

There are some very effective descriptions of the grimy courtrooms and unprepossessing prison cells which have the ring of authenticity. (Freeman once worked at Holloway Prison).

Many of Freeman's novels can be downloaded for free from websites like Blackmask Online. If you have a taste for classic whodunits, they're still quite readable.

Friday, January 27, 2006

the real, the dream and the future

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Tuesday was a difficult day, though not for the reasons I had expected. I knew from the start that I had to make sure my sister made her lunch appointment in North Hobart, that I had to take Kay to the supermarket and that I had to do two days work in one this week because of the Australia Day holiday on Thursday.

I got through the morning and the afternoon without too much trouble - sometimes I was pretty busy, but we completed everything at the office on time. The car was a worry though: that noise every time I stepped on the brakes could only foreshadow some urgent and expensive repair work.

This kept me so distracted that we were almost finished in the supermarket before I realised something else was going on. I had just made a sharp left into the frozen food section and was waiting while Kay debated the merits of various ice creams when I thought to myself "I don't feel so good..."

Leaning against the deep freeze, I turned my attention inwards instead of outwards and decided I did not feel myself at all. There was nothing that stood out among the symptoms, but there was a general malaise that made me suspect my Blood Glucose Level had dropped while I wasn't paying attention.

I bought the smallest chocolate bar I could find and consumed it as soon as we got through the check-out. I stood there munching away without much enthusiasm, then wheeled the trolley out to the car.

After I loaded the groceries, Kay said "You know, diabetes is one of those complaints where it's not so much the disease itself that worries me, but the side-effects...."

My patience was at a low point and I snapped "Exactly where are we going with this?"

Kay rolled her eyes. All too often, her mouth and her brain are running at different speeds - she'll tell you that herself. "Actually I'd like to change the subject, but I wasn't sure how to do it once I'd started on this topic!"

"Let's change the subject then," I said. "That suits me fine."

I was rather downcast for a while. This is the sort of thing that I had hoped to avoid ever since I was diagnosed with diabetes.

It all made me a bit uneasy about the future.

And then....

A couple of days later I woke up early; went back to sleep and I had this incredibly vivid and unsettling dream.

In the dream I left my home and went out to do some routine errands. Everything was normal until I met up with my friend Graeme. He had just bought some interesting old books and we went into this market. There were a lot of old books that I recognized but I couldn't seem to touch them. Graeme had wandered away, and somehow I found myself going in the wrong direction and ended up going up a lot of steps into this enormous shopping centre.

It was one of these gigantic neon-lit places that went for miles and was filled with all sorts of shops. Every shop was packed with people and I had difficulty getting through. While I was trying to find my way out, I ran into my sister who told me that I had been away all day and that everything at home was in chaos because I'd been gone so long.

She told me that my mother had gone into hospital again and that I would have to go and see her when I got out of this place. I was disturbed by that, because it seemed to me I had only been away an hour or so — perhaps I had fallen asleep and not noticed that so much time had passed.

Since we were so late, for some reason we decided to have a meal before trying to find our way out. The restaurant was very crowded and we had trouble finding a seat. We had to share a table with a family whose small child scattered food in our direction.

The food seemed to hard to eat; not only did I feel awkward and crowded, but the pieces of food seemed to evade my grasp as I tried to eat them.

While we were trying to eat, I muttered to myself "I'll bet this is another one of those dreams. I seem to spend an awful lot of time in Japanese-style shopping centres in my dreams recently."

It was difficult to get about in the crowd because I was carrying some bread rolls in a bag. When we left the restaurant, we tried to get down a very steep and very wide staircase, but it was blocked by tables of people eating. In all the confusion someone picked up my bag of bread rolls and I picked up his bag of different bread.

Somebody directed us to another exit. This was a smaller staircase, but it was only one flight above the little side street that led out of the shopping centre. A lot of people were trying to get out through it at the same time, and nothing seemed to be happening.
At last we got on to the stairs and tried to get down them. I lost my packet of bread, which didn't concern me a lot since it wasn't mine. But the way ahead was almost impassable because the stairs were steep and narrow; every step was cluttered with piles of books and the long line of people had slowed almost to a stop while they tried to work out where to put their feet.

I could see down the stairs to the little side street. It was quiet and almost empty and I knew that if we could just get down the staircase we would be all right.

Looking at the precariously balanced piles of books and papers (the titles of many of which were familiar to me), I realised that nobody else was going to be able to make a decision and I called out for everybody to stand still.

I began picking up the books and (as gently as I could) dropping them into the street below. After a while there was enough room for everyone to get past and the stairs were empty in a very short time. My sister and I were free to go home now.

I walked off the stairs, into the street and that's when I woke up.

For a couple of minutes I lay there stunned. The dream seemed so powerful and charged with personal meaning that I felt I'd received a direct message from a higher power. I was disoriented, trying to adjust to the real world, which seemed a pale imitation of the universe I'd just left behind. A fly landed on my forearm and I flinched, thinking this was the start of some new manga-style fantasy. The images were so fresh in my mind that I immediately went to the keyboard and typed this out.

The other day I was leafing through an old issue of Reader's Digest and skimmed through an article about a doctor who had started a group for the study of dreams. In her opinion, all the people we met in dreams were symbols or messages for our waking minds.

That didn't impress me, because I knew that a lot of my dreams were either incomprehensible jumbles or straightforward blends of real memories in a new form.

But after this dream I began to believe that she might have something. Maybe reading the article had primed me to be receptive to this brainstorm of a dream. Not to mention the large number of people in the various books of the Bible who received messages in dreams.

But unlike Pharaoh in the Old Testament, I didn't need to call in consultants to interpret my dream. My life was the shopping centre, full of noise and motion but with little real significance. The only exit was the narrow way, but it was cluttered with things that I had let build up there. I was the only one who could help myself – I just had to make the decision to do it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

hot chicken


Lots of people have trained falcons to sit on a glove. How many people do you know can do this with a chicken?

Two of Julie's chickens are living outside my backdoor and she often has to move them about. The rooster has turned out to be unusually tractable and with very little effort she has trained him to stand on her wrist while she walks from one part of the yard to another.

She is planning next to train him to perch on her shoulder so she can have both hands free. I must get a video of that when he learns his new trick.

You will remember that I was apprehensive about the barbecue on Sunday. The weather forecast was worrying. We took all the precautions we could at home, even making a special detour to move the chickens from the back door into a shady nook in the backyard, before setting off across the river.

Drove across the Tasman Bridge, through Lindisfarne and turned towards Rokeby, then up a side road through the gum trees. It was fine and sunny but not unbearably oppressive yet. We found our way to the right address, notable for the number of cars parked in the bushland around the house. In the shade of some of the taller trees, the members of our congregation were lolling about consuming sausages, salads and punch.

The afternoon unwound pleasantly enough. The lady of the house and Julie trekked across to the hen house to inspect the new additions to the chicken population resulting from last week's trip to the poultry farm. I trailed after them, though I don't know a Polish from a Rhode Island Red. Then it seemed to be growing warmer and we moved inside into the living room, where we divided our time between jostling for position in front of the electric fan and casting about for a lost contact lens.

When we finally set off for home, the air seemed to be charged with heat. As soon as we stepped outside I could feel the perspiration start from my pores. Down the side road and back on to the highway, with the windows down for maximum ventilation. ("Is the bonnet supposed to wobble like that when we hit 100kph?")

The heat got worse every mile. As we came through Bellerive, we saw the traffic banking up in the road leading to the Tasman Bridge. "I'm not sitting in a traffic jam in this heat," said my sister decisively as she swung the steering wheel. "We'll circle round to the Bowen Bridge.":

It took a few minutes extra, but we were thankful to avoid the trail-back of cars. We felt washed-out by the time we reached my house, and no wonder - while we were on the road, the mercury had hit 39° on the Celsius scale (a blistering 102°F in the old measurements!).

We checked the animals were all right (the cat went outside then came back and stretched out on the coolness of the linoleum floor in the kitchen) then I lay down for an hour to recover my strength.

Surprisingly, the temperature dropped steadily after that and it started to rain lightly about 9 p.m. It must have dropped twenty degrees by the time I went to bed that night. I was afraid that might mean a storm but apart from a single bolt of lightning around midnight things seemed fairly normal.

I don't think I've seen a day as hot as this one for about twenty years; I ended the evening sleeping naked under a sheet, exhausted from the extreme temperatures.

There were about twenty bushfires around the state, but they were all under control by Monday except for the one near Zeehan on the west coast. It was warm in the afternoon but nothing like it was on Sunday.

Is it just me or is the Australian Open tennis dragging on even longer than usual? I know nothing about tennis championships, but this one seems to be going on forever.

I'm not bothered by it normally, but they tend to give it priority on the ABC radio, disrupting a lot of my favourite programmes. Curiously, it seems not all radio stations are taking the tennis broadcast, so many of the shows are still going out as normal over the Internet. I was able to hear The Idlers and The Coodabeen Champions normally on the web.

The numbers of people listening would be well down though. The midnight quiz segment The Challenge on the late show started the other night with only three contestants; normally people from all over the country are fighting to get through to the switchboard.

The host (Lisa Forrest filling in for Tony Delroy) could only advise people to assume the show was on even if they couldn't hear it, and to try dialling in at the normal time. I guess this is a definition of faith: you can't hear it or see it, you just believe that it's there and act accordingly.

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Saturday, January 21, 2006

hot times

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The summer weather continues to be ... interesting.

7:45 on Friday morning I woke up to a thunderstorm in full swing. It was the first time I/'ve ever heard the often-mentioned "rolling thunder"; it started out with a dull rumble then built up to a roar. I saw my sister Pauline the next day and she'd been on the Bowen Bridge during the storm. Yikes! I can think of places I'd rather be during an electrical storm.

About a dozen fires were started around the state by trees that had been hit by lightning.

When we stopped in at Café 73 in Moonah later in the day they said the power had been out twice during the afternoon. Thank the Lord neither problem had affected our part of town.

The storm at least meant that the morning wasn't as hot and sultry as it has been some days this month. However the temperature climbed up and up after lunch till it hit 33ºC [91º F in the old measurements] — quite hot enough for us thank you very much!

Saturday wasn't much better. After we'd been to Julie's house to feed her menagerie, I had perspiration running into my eyes and I spent half my time pivoting to face into any breeze that sprang up. What worries us is that we've been invited to a barbecue by one of our ministers on Sunday afternoon and the forecast temperature is a worrying 36°, followed by rain.

A bushfire crisis is being predicted for Tasmania, Victoria and South Australia.

If this is the last entry for a while, you'll know it's because we're recuperating from sunstroke and/or escaping from fires and floods.

This month the BBC7 website are running a series of H.G. Wells short stories on Saturday afternoons. Last week they started off with the chiller "The Sea Raiders"; next week we'll hear the whimsical "The New Accelerator".

I've been an admirer of Wells' short fiction all my life. Their potential for radio was something I'd always been aware of, and if it wasn't for the collapse of radio drama in this country I might have tried my hand at a script.

I think the first book I ever bought by mail order (back in 1967) was a massive volume of The Complete Short Stories of H.G. Wells, printed on that thin grey paper they used in Britain during World War II.

Back in 1996 I started a one-man campaign to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Wells' death and contacted every major media outlet in the country. Philip Adams and Robyn Williams wrote me nice letters, the Sydney Morning Herald turned my press release into a column, I was interviewed on ABC radio and the State Library of Tasmania staged a display of my H.G. Wells collection.

Something that not many people think about is that nearly all the main themes of popular fiction were foreshadowed by Wells:
  • atomic bombs
  • alien invaders
  • germ warfare
  • time travel
  • mutants
  • genetic engineering
  • moon landings etc etc.

There's more to Herbert George Wells than just The War of the Worlds.

Julie and a friend went off to see an acquaintance who breeds chickens in a big way. She came home with six fancy-looking chooks. Photographs to follow.


Wednesday, January 18, 2006


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Ocean liners seem to be getting bigger and bigger. The summer months in Tasmania mean a series of cruise liners calling at various ports, and some of them are mind-boggling in their dimensions.

Driving past the waterfront on Thursday, the centre of all eyes had to be the Diamond Princess, the largest liner ever to dock at Hobart. Three times the size of the Titanic, it checks in at 116,000 tonnes, it would be taller than a 60-storey building if you stood it up right.

As we drove past it, we were impressed not only by its sheer bulk but by the strange design features like the turbine-like objects on the roof which made it look like something out of Thunderbirds or Transformers - if it had suddenly taken off, we wouldn't have been completely surprised.

The 2700 passengers had only one day in Hobart; the ship sailed at 6 o'clock that night, but will be back for eight visits during 2006. We may have to get used to seeing it here.

Things have changed a bit since I saw the Oriana on my first visit to Sydney and thought it was a pretty big ship - she only carried 1500 passengers I think, and it wasn't nearly as luxurious as the modern superliners.. This is, of course, not the same liner that sails under that name today. (I think the one I saw was built in 1959).


ABC Radio's Nightlife programme has completed its survey of listeners to pick their top songs for summer.

1. Sounds of then - GANGgajang
2. Summertime - various versions of the Gershwin song
3. Boys of Summer - Don Henley
4. Under the boardwalk - The Drifters/Bette Midler
5. Good Vibrations - The Beachboys
6. Capricorn Dancer - Richard Clapton
7. Friday on my Mind - Easybeats
8. Long Hot Summer - The Style Council
9. Come Said the Boy - Mondo Rock
10.Island in the Sun - Harry Belafonte

I know all those except for #3, which was a bit of a surprise since I haven't paid much attention to popular music for the last 25 years. Haven't they written any songs about summer during the 1980s and 1990s?

Listen live in:

Windows Media

Real Media

[10pm - 2am Mon-Fri Australian Eastern Time]


I visited Essentially Mobile about my new laptop and they say that this model doesn't come with a DVD drive, but for $200 they can get me an external drive that will not only play DVDs but burn them as well. That doesn't sound too bad (I can remember the days when a CD burner was an expensive luxury add-on!).

The price includes the enclosure. The what? It's not in the Oxford Dictionary of Computing 1994 edition but apparently it's a fancy name for the box the drive sits in while you connect it to the laptop's USB port.


Reading an old Doc Savage thriller The Exploding Lake originally published in Doc Savage Magazine September 1946: "This months Doc Savage novel takes you to the mystery land of Patagonia, where nature plays curious tricks and the schemes of evil men conspire to make it a country of dread."

A mushroom shaped cloud spotted in Argentina - could it be related to Nazi war-criminals who escaped from Europe at the end of the war? That would be enough of a plot for most thrillers, but with master pulpmeister Lester Dent at the helm, you can be sure there'll be more than that involved by the end of the story.

In fact the whole business turns out to be a carefully-laid trap for Savage.

These post-war Doc Savage stories are shorter and slightly less extravagant than the heyday of the 1930s, but still remarkable for their pace and inventiveness.

You can read them for free on the Blackmask website.

Monday morning I was so tired after the weekend I didn't get up very early. Unfortunately this meant that when I stepped out the back door for the first time that day it was already a hot and sultry 27º [about 85ºF in the old scale]. It was like being hit in the face with a hot towel.

It was so hot outside the back of the house that before we went out that day we had to move the two chickens that live in the box near the back door. We put a cage out under the trees in the backyard and they sat out in the shade and the fresh air.

The white rooster has become quite tame; my sister Julie can pick him up and he'll sit on her arm like a falcon perching on his master's glove. I must try and get a photograph of this one afternoon when she's moving him.

The clear hot day gave way to a clear night with the full moon lighting up the suburbs like a cosmic floodlight. Julie noticed that the frogs and crickets up by her place were unusually quiet that night – perhaps they find it prudent to keep a low profile when it's so easy for predators to zero in on their position in the moonlight.

ABC radio presenter Barbara Pongratz was muttering about having to struggle out of bed and reach for the hose to save her tomatoes from shrivelling up. (Saw her in the supermarket last week — Hi Barb!)

By Tuesday morning things had clouded over a little and the climate felt much milder. It was less intimidating outside and we didn't feel so overwhelmed. I put on a short sleeve top to help Julie feed her animals before she went to a luncheon at the museum, then changed into a business shirt when I arrived at the office.

Things were fairly busy at the office, with a couple of jobs including typing a long handwritten report for one of the church groups. It was all about a project that had come spectacularly unstuck and words like "oversight" and "responsibility" came up with some regularity. Oh dear.

I gave Kay a lift to the shops while I was out. She hasn't bought any blank videotapes for a couple of weeks but she made up for it today, tottering home under the weight of 30 three-hour tapes. That should last her at least a week. (I suppose I can't cast the first stone; I bought two jars of Vegemite in a sale, making eight jars we have in reserve on the pantry shelf now.)

Drove home and served up tonight's dinner: Scotch Eggs on a bed of spinach with home-grown tomatoes and a slice of Molenberg swiss bread, washed down with a Barossa Valley Semillon.

Wednesday morning I felt better than I have most mornings this month. The last couple of weeks I've been so tired that it's been an effort to get anything done. For example, some people complain there's nothing on breakfast television worth watching: first thing in the morning I am so out of it that I run on automatic pilot for the first hour. (I always eat the same things for breakfast in the same order – it's like a mild form of sleepwalking.) It never crosses my mind to turn on the television; it's all I can do to listen to the wireless.


I have nearly finished personalising my new laptop. I not only had to transfer the data from my old increasingly-unreliable machine, but I had a whole list of software I needed to install.

I covered a sheet of paper with 22 programmes I would like to use on it. In the end I installed most of them, I didn't bother with Foxit Reader because the machine came with Adobe Acrobat 6 already installed. Ad-Aware and Spybot are less necessary since I started using Spyware Blaster – prevention is better than cure. And I prefer the slimmer Real Alternative to the various Real Player versions.

All these are freeware of course, as are the rest of the software: AVG anti-virus, Audacity sound recorder, Wordweb, Fresh Download, Microsoft Reader, YBook, and a neat little collection of Oxford Dictionary reference works I got off a disc many years ago. And I've previously mentioned Rough Draft 3 which I use for word processing.

Just about got it exactly right....

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Old Timer's Disease?

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I have been slowly getting my new laptop personalised, adding the software and adjusting the settings till it’s just the way I’m accustomed to. I had a page almost filled with a scrawled list of freeware that I wanted to load, from Audacity to YBook Reader.

bIt was four or five days before I twigged to the reason why this machine was a couple of hundred dollars cheaper than I had expected.

Placing a disc in the CD drive, I went to read a classic Doc Savage thriller off a disc from the Blackmask website. Nothing happened. After a moment the truth dawned — there was no DVD drive on the machine.

“Ah,” I thought.

At first I was taken aback at how stupid I’d been. I’d asked what I thought were the necessary questions in the shop, but it had never occured to me that in 2006 a new computer could come without a DVD drive. A quick Google search threw up some contradictory results: a couple of references suggested the Thinkpad R50e did come with a DVD, but most described it as CD only.

Ah me, I don’t seem to be off to a good start this year.

Monday night we were out at the monthly pub quiz at the New Sydney hotel, where our team The Amnesiacs won the gold medal for the second time in three months in spite of an inexplicable mistake made by yours truly.

When the category Science & Nature came round, my colleagues just handed me the sheet and more or less sat on their hands. The last question “What does the acronym Laser stand for?” was simple of course. Light Amplification by Stimulated Emmission of Radiation.

But when the answers were marked, we got that one wrong. I insisted to my team mates that I had written down the correct words, but when I looked at the sheet I saw in my own hand-writing that I had put down as the final word “Radio” instead of “Radiation”.

I sat there for a moment bewildered; I clearly remembered writing down the correct word, but here was irrefutable proof that I hadn’t. Somewhere between my brain and my fingers, something had gone off the rails.

Nevertheless, victory is victory and we were quite pleased as we drove home afterwards. I put the car keys down and went into my room to change. Five minutes later I returned and began a futile search for the keys. I even got down on my hands and knees and searched the carpet in case I’d knocked them off the table without noticing.

An hour later I discovered them still in the pocket of my trousers from earlier in the evening. Apparently I had put them down then absent-mindedly picked them up again and replaced them in my pocket.

I felt discombobulated and retired for the night with mixed emotions. I sat up for a while in bed flicking through a magazine without actually concentrating. 55, I thought, is a bit young to enter the doddering-old-man stage of life.

But facts are facts and obviously I am a small but perceptible step closer to going gaga.


"In writing fiction, the more fantastic the tale, the plainer the prose should be. Don't ask your readers to admire your words when you want them to believe your story." — Ben Bova, American science-fiction writer.


I have tried out a couple of free word-processors over the years. OpenOffice grew larger and larger with every new version and I eventually gave it up for the 602Suite word processor. That worked well for about a year, but I began trouble with some of the settings.

The release of a third version of Rough Draft seemed an opportune time to try it again and I’ve been quite pleased with it. It’s made available freely by its creator Richard Salsbury.

You can download it at no charge whatsoever from his website. “RoughDraft is a freeware word processor. Although suitable for general use, it has features specifically designed for creative writing: novels, short stories, articles, plays and screenplays. It's designed to be as practical as possible, offering all the features you need, but without being complicated or awkward to use.”

It has spell-checking and automatically saves your writing every ten minutes. Few authors will ask for more. That reassuring little signal in the lower left corner of the screen that says your file has been saved gives you a warm feeling all over.


My back has been troubling me since the week before Christmas but it seems to be slowly improving. Julie has a whole pharmacopoeia of pain-killers available in her medicine cabinet, but I’ve found that what seems to work for me is to take paracetemol before retiring at night and ibuprofen around lunch-time.

Otherwise it takes too long to have any effect if I take pills with breakfast and wait for them to work.

And there are other factors that make starting the day difficult. The other night I must have slept lightly, because I woke with memories of a series of vivid dreams, as though I’d spent the night in the front row of a movie-house screening a double feature. This happens now and again, and it take a while for one’s mind to settle down afterwards.

At least my Blood Glucose Level readings have been satisfactory this month. This last fortnight they have been around 6.5 in the mornings and sometimes as low as 5.4 in the evening. If I could just lose some more weight, my endocrinologist would be a happy chappie.


SBS doesn’t produce much original drama but they kicked off 2006 with a typically offbeat offering RAN: Remote Area Nurse. Susie Porter stars as nurse Helen Tremain who returns to her post in the Torres Strait islands after caring for her dying mother. She expects to be able to pick up where she left off, but life is never that simple.

Porter - who starred in the Australian movies Better than sex and Little Fish - returned from London where she’d been in a West End play to spend four months in the islands. She praised producer Penny Chapman and the local participants: “Penny’s a producer who brings heaps of integrity to a project and the scripts were so well-written. The islanders who star in the series are all untrained (actors) and they were so good. At times I’d look at them work and think ‘God, they’re better than us’ because they acted on nothing but instinct.”

The first episode was interesting and the photography in the Torres Strait is jaw-droppingly beautiful. This may be one of the few series worth watching during the Silly Season month this summer.


Monday, January 09, 2006


Sometimes you get a surprise from life, just when you have everything planned out for the day ahead.

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After a few weeks you becomes inured to the constant warnings from the Weather Bureau about strong winds, gales and storms. But now and again you realise that it does affect you.

Tuesday morning I discussed what I was going to do today with my sister, who was going to go down to the final day of the Taste Of Tasmania while I was at work. I walked out to the car and got behind the wheel.

I adjusted the rear view mirror. Must be out of alignment, I thought, I can’t see anything but the trees next to the driveway. Moved the mirror. Still nothing but trees.

Got out of the car and looked down the driveway. The tree at the mouth of the driveway had keeled over in the high winds and completely blocked any exit to the street.

I walked back inside and said to Julie: "Change of plans. Neither of us is going anywhere."

So, while Julie took a cab to her house, I walked down to the nearest bus stop and arrived at the office only 30 minutes late.

Using my mobile phone, I managed to co-ordinate with the Trees R Us company to go out with chainsaws and chop up the tree. They were so busy that they couldn’t cart it away straightaway, but they could clear the driveway.

Quite a sight greeted me when I returned home. The entire left half of the front lawn was covered in foliage. Somehow the tree took up more room horizontally than it ever did vertically.

But that wasn’t the only thing that crashed.

The last few days I’d been having a lot of trouble with my laptop. The machine had been crashing more and more frequently, to the point where I suspected that the problem was with the hardware, not the software. Julie, who’s of a more practical bent than I am, tried adjusting the casing of the machine, attempting to tighten up any loose panels.

Wednesday morning I packed up the machine and drove into the city to visit the Essentially Mobile shop in Collins Street. I had spoken to the guy behind the counter about possibly upgrading the memory of my laptop, so he was aware that it was an older machine, an IBM Thinkpad. But when I mentioned my suspicion that the casing itself was actually broken, he shook his head.

Not worth repairing, was his verdict. What he could do was sell me the equivalent machine, a Thinkpad R50E, for $799.

I thought that over for 24 hours, then went back and said I’d take one. My previous machine was over five years old, which is fairly ancient for anything electronic. I had inherited it from my sister, who had bought it second-hand herself. So I guess it didn’t owe us anything.

(If you want a comparison with previous generations, we have a very old laptop in the household which used to belong to the schoolgirl daughter of one of Julie’s friends. It runs Windows 95 so you can guess its vintage. It’s very clunky and slow, but it still runs. The hard drive has a total capacity of 680 MB. It cost $5,000 new. Just think about that the next time you complain about what it costs to upgrade your computer!)

I had to go to work that day, so I took the laptop with me. Things were too busy for me to do anything with it, but several people in the office were curious about it. "What sort is it? Where did you buy it? How much was it? How much?" I should be on a commission for Essentially Mobile - I may have drummed up quite a bit of business for them.

Thursday evening I was very tired after a busy day. It seemed almost as though this was an omen - perhaps this new year was going to be full of crashes - trees falling and laptops self-destructing. What was going to be next week? My health and finances were a little wobbly and I’d made the occasional mistake at work. Was I on some sort of downward spiral?

Or was I just being unduly pessimistic? I’m nearly always tired in recent months, and after a while it makes me rather glum and moody. I guess that’s only natural.

Lisa Forrest is filling in for Tony Delroy over summer. Tony's back 30th January 2005.

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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Taste of Tasmania

The end of the year brings with it the Hobart Summer Festival and the jewel in the crown of the festival is the annual Taste Of Tasmania. Food lovers and gourmands from all over the southern states head for the Hobart waterfront. Over 70 different stalls selling food and wine of every description.

Hard to believe that it all started 17 years ago as a stop-gap to amuse the public between the beginning and finish of the Sydney-Hobart yacht race. Now the yachties are still part of the festival, but no longer the main part.

My sister Julie is a great enthusiast for the taste, as was her mother before her. She had me down there last week, but my enthusiasm was muted because of my bad back. I was more interested in finding a comfortable position to stand in than in perusing the banners over each stall.

So we went down to the docks again Monday after Julie returned from her trip to Launceston where she attended the races (and was snapped by the press for a colour photo in the local paper -- fortunately the picture doesn’t show the cowboy boots she was wearing because of the bad weather!)

Things were more comfortable now that a cool change had come over. It was pretty crowded - it was after all the last day of the long weekend and a lot of people were having a final fling before going back to work tomorrow. But I enjoyed it a lot more than last time.

I dined on some delicious foods, washed it down with a refreshing glass of wine and finished off with some locally grown fresh fruits. Julie, as she traditionally does, finished the visit with an oyster shooter. (I’m surprised the stall that sells them doesn’t give her a gold card or something as their most regular customer.)

One of the extra attractions at the waterfront on Sunday night was a broadcast by those stalwarts of ABC weekend radio, the Coodabeen Champions. Greg Champion played the guitar and sang, while his three colleagues mingled with the crowd, interviewed celebrities and recounted the story of their cruise up the Derwent River on Saturday.

The 2½ hour programme even included what may be the world’s first live broadcast from the back of a merry-go-round horse when one of the Coodabeens rode into history with his microphone.

It was a long time between drinks — the last time they were here was in the early days of the Taste, back in the 1980s — one of their most enjoyable broadcasts, I thought.

Speaking of radio, Anne Fitzgerald and Lisa Forrest are standing in for Tony Delroy while he’s on his annual leave. It’s always interesting to see how the summertime stand-ins handle the most demanding part of the show, the midnight quiz. Listeners are always quick to point out any errors in handling this long-running segment.

While my sister was away for the weekend, I was responsible for feeding her livestock. It’s not the first time I’ve done it, but the weather this summer has been very favourable for plant growth and I could hardly get down her driveway without bending double.

The day before she left, I got out the gardening equipment and cut a path down the side of the house so I could get to and from the hen house and the creek. Getting down there after dark the last thing you want is a branch or a blackberry cane across the face.

Each visit begins with being greeted by the cats, then comes feeding the ducks and geese who are free to range over the property but are always there for dinner. The majority of the roosters are shut in overnight, to avoid aggravating the neighbours. Some of the chickens have their own quarters too because Julie wants to breed from them and preserve their bloodlines.

Then it’s time to ford the creek and up to the shed, where the horse is invariably waiting for his food. If you’re too slow, he gives an impatient whinny that carries from one side of the duckpen to the other.

The final sequence is feeding the dogs, who are always very excited at the thought of dinner. They can hardly keep still long enough for you to put the dishes down. (One of these days they’ll knock me down and grab the food from my supine body.) After they finish licking out their dishes, I throw them a carrot and sneak out while they’re munching on them — cheaper than dog biscuits and just as popular.

Then (after saying goodnight to the cats) I can go home.

For Christmas, Julie gave me a 100GB external hard drive for my laptop computer so I could back up all my stuff without ending up with a pile of CDs.

This is a very useful gift and I was quick to start using it, but this weekend I thought for a while that I had received it just in time. My laptop became increasingly unreliable, finally becoming almost unusable -- it crashed about every two minutes at that stage.

It sounded, a friend pointed out, like the effects of the Blaster worm. But my anti-virus defences were up to date, and it felt more like a hardware problem. I googled the problem and the suggestions broke down into three possibilities: the Blaster worm, power problems or overheating.

I sought Julie’s advice when she returned from up north and she listened attentively, especially to my comments that I thought there was something loose because the lid no longer closed properly. She went over it and pushed everything back into place that seemed loose or out of place.

So far it seems to be running all right, though I’m being very careful of the plastic casing. I am typing this on it now and everything seems OK. We shall see...

Unhappy to discover that last week’s episode of Theatre of the Mind on community radio was the final show. I knew that there was talk the series was coming to an end, but I hadn’t realised that last week was it.

It’s a shame, because a lot of the old radio shows they covered are available nowhere else. With the American radio programmes you can easily buy MP3 discs or even download them for free from sites like Otrcat or Otrfan. But the comedies and serials from the great old days of Australian radio are heard infrequently if at all.

Television star Dawn Lake died this week and the obituaries discussed her career highlights, mentioning in passing that she once worked with radio superstar Jack Davey. I suspect that a lot of Australians under 50 would have said “Who?”