Friday, April 27, 2007

Another year??

If I'm typing a little slower than my last post, it's probably because I'm a year older than I was last time. Wednesday I celebrated the 36th anniversary of my 21st birthday, if that's the word I'm looking for.

Even the cat gave me a break for once and let me sleep in for a few minutes without insisting I get up and feed him at the crack of dawn.

That evening we went out for dinner at the Mexican restaurant on the waterfront. I was joined by ten friends and/or relatives who toasted my health. I had my first Margarita, which my dictionary describes as "a cocktail made of tequila and triple sec with lime and lemon juice". Madeleine tasted hers and said it tasted just like a soft drink; yes, I said warily, a couple of those and we'll find you under the table moaning that your lips have gone numb.

I scored the usual round-up of gifts -- a CD from my favourite radio show, the DVD of a movie I missed on television last week, a bottle of French wine (from Caroline, natch), some home-made biscuits, some tomato relish and a new science-fiction paperback. The last came from Steve, who made a point of mentioning it came from K-Mart; I thought at first he was expecting kudos for his frugality but he actually meant it was an unusual place to find cutting-edge fiction.

Overall it was an enjoyable enough birthday, though if I had my druthers what I'd actually have liked as a present was an extra hour of sleep every night.

It never ceases to amaze me what you can find on the Internet. My newish hobby of collecting old radio shows has gone from strength to strength as I have discovered whole networks of fellow aficionados of this form of entertainment.

In the beginning I started out buying things over the net, but now I have but to ask "Does anyone have a copy of Jack Benny for May 4th 1948?" and somebody will instantly respond with "Sure, I've got a nice clear copy of that; I'll send it across to you tonight." No money changes hands - merely a combination of barter and sheer goodwill.

This is the way that the Internet was supposed to work before the Spam merchants and the sexploitation tycoons moved into cyberspace.

Speaking of IT, it was amusing to notice the chain of events when my boss wanted some letters sent out urgently last week. He wrote them out at home by hand, then scanned them into his computer. Turning them into a PDF file, he e-mailed them to the office, where I printed them out and typed the resulting manuscript to be printed out on our official letterhead so they would be ready for signing when he reached the office.

It worked, but it did seem to me that there must be a shorter way of doing this somehow!

The mouse problem continues. We have two traps in operation and have now captured and released 35 little rodents. I have been taking them down to the railway bridge and releasing them there, so if you see a news item about rail services to the northern suburbs being delayed by a plague of mice on the tracks, don't say anything.

It's reaching the point where the first thing you do in the morning is switch on the kettle, fetch the newspaper in and check the traps for little visitors. They are very small mice -- "tiny" would not be overstating it -- and while I can't bring myself to poison them wholesale I am not happy about the damage they do to anything edible we forget to lock up.

I haven't been game to ask the neighbours if they are suffering similar problems. If they are, that's one thing, but if they aren't then they may look at me askance, wondering what unhygenic conditions prevail in my household.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

south by southwest

I threw a tantrum last week that would have done credit to a two-year-old. It was just too much to bear.

With the mouse problem in my place this summer, we've spent weeks using a humane mousetrap to catch and release dozens of mice. They've eaten every piece of chocolate in the house and I have to lock up the bread before I go to bed every night.

So you can imagine how I felt when I discovered my cat had a new hobby: catching mice outside and bringing them into the house alive!

I lost it completely. I ranted and raved while he looked unruffled.

Finally I levelled a finger at him and bellowed "That's it. You're fired!"

The cat yawned.

One saturday recently we took a family trip down the Huon and drove down to Cygnet.

The Cygnet area was first explored by Bruni D'Entrecasteaux who sailed up the Huon River in 1793 and named the narrow bay Port des Cygnes (the Port of Swans) because of the large number of swans he observed in the area.

The first European settlers arrived in 1834. In 1836 orchards were planted and by 1840 Port Cygnet (as it was known at the time) was surveyed and land blocks and streets were laid out. My ancestors arrived there in 1851 and prospered in the apple industry.

We ate lunch in the hotel that my great-grandfather had owned; there's a framed photograph of him in the back bar. Julie was impressed that she got ten different vegetables with the roast. Then we drove around the town while my cousin Winnie told us stories about her childhood. Stopped to photograph the little school where my father was educated during World War I.

Just out of town was the little farmhouse that used to be our family's home. It looks smaller than when I first saw it as a five-year-old, but that's not unusual. The property feels very different because it's no longer surrounded by apple orchards, but it was good to see the house looks smart and well cared for.

There are oak trees just next door, and Julie stopped and filled her pockets with acorns even though I don't think she'll live long enough to grow an oak tree from scratch.

historians' discussion
We had an appointment to see local historian John Dance. He has a house full of memorabilia including a couple of photographs of my grandfather that we hadn't seen before. A few questions produced the unsurprising news that he was in fact a cousin by marriage.

Julie's genealogical research seems to be providing us with a never-ending supply of new cousins. So far two of her oldest friends have turned out to be distant cousins. I guess that isn't surprising on an island like Tasmania -- Iceland has a similar set of circumstances.

The drive there and back was enjoyable. The wooded hills looked as though they had changed little since my grandparents lived there. It didn't take much imagination to picture them making their way through the orchards and down Slab Road to the village of Cygnet, a long way from Hobart on those twisty 19th century roads.

The hills above Cygnet

Collecting old radio shows in the Internet era means you can graze freely through all genres and levels of entertainment, from the most banal comedy to the most engrossing drama.

Even different episodes of the same programme can be notably different.

Take for example episode #152 of DRAGNET 52-05-08 "The big gamble" -- in this one detectives Friday and Lockwood are on the case when a cop is shot during a raid on a gambling club.

Observe the three act structure marked by three differing styles of dialogue - first the detectives are shown in a low-key, almost sympathetic conversation with an informant.

Then after the shooting, the interrogation of a suspect is conducted at a sharp staccato pace, the words being shot out like bullets from a machine gun.

Finally the confrontation with the man whose negligence caused the shooting -- outwardly polite but their words practically drip with disdain.

Much imitated and often the subject of parodies, this is still a show that repays listening.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

into April

Easter Tuesday there was a narrow window on ABC radio between the end of the cricket overnight and the start of the afternoon football broadcast. Tim Cox's morning show took the opportunity to throw away the playlist and have some fun with their music.

I don't think I've ever heard Cole Porter's "Let's Do It" sung by Louis Armstrong with the Oscar Peterson Trio till that morning. And when one listener requested a Johnny Mathis ballad "The Twelfth of Never", Tim found it on his producer's i-Pod!

Along with a re-run of their visit from talented Canadian vocalist Serena Ryder, it made for some entertaining radio.

The Wine List for last month:

De Bortoli Sacred Hill Traminer Riesling 2006

spicy fragrant Traminer blended with fresh citrus Riesling to make this pleasant medium-sweet wine

De Bortoli Sacred Hill Rosé 2005

raspberry fruit flavours with a crisp finish, a medium bodied wine for all occasions

McWilliams Inheritance Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2006

blend displaying floral and herbaceous aromas with hints of lychee, displaying ripe peach character and a crisp finish

Jabiru Classic White 2005

blend of Colombard, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc from fruit grown in the Adelaide Hills region of the state of South Australia

Warraroong Estate Long Lunch White Wine 2005

blend of estate grown grapes from the Hunter Valley producing a light easy drinking wine with a fruit driven palate

Red Poppy Vineyard Riesling 2006

classic Riesling with touches of lemon, lime and citrus blossom from South Australia

Snowy Vineyard Snow Bruska 2005

soft red from Australia's coldest climate winery

De Bortoli Sacred Hill Semillon Chardonnay 2006

blend of mature Semillon and ripe melon Chardonnay has soft oak character and rich dry finish

Have you heard Tasmania's seas are three degrees warmer than usual -- oceanographers are saying it is a good time to go swimming.

Waters on Tasmania's east coast are the warmest they have been for this time of year since daily records began 14 years ago.

CSIRO oceanographer David Griffin says satellite images show the east Australian current is travelling further south than usual, bringing the warm water with it.

Researchers also want biological evidence of the warming and are keen to hear from any beachcombers who find unusual species washed up. (Sounds just like the first reel of an old horror movie doesn't it?)

Thursday, April 05, 2007

quizzed by the under-13s

horsing around

Equine misadventures continue. Julie was still tending the wounds from where Shadow fell off the bridge, when she got a phone call from one of the neighbours.

I'm going away for a couple of days, he said, but I thought I'd better let you know that your horse's eye is all swollen up. Aaaaagh.

We went over and examined him. He must have run into a branch or something, we thought. Julie had a bottle of saline solution that she thought might be useful for washing out the eye.
horsing about

The horse didn't think much of this and it took us a while to work out that he was much happier if we took some warm salty water and bathed his eye. It makes sense -- would you like it if somebody sneaked up on you and squirted cold water into your eye?

After a few days the eye looked a lot better. Julie sent a text message to her neighbour to let him know that things were going OK.

I hope it's not true that things come in threes. Two mishaps like this are enough.

Meanwhile we were out at the monthly quiz night run by the Irish Association. The content of the quiz depends on who is setting the questions, and we've found in the past that the younger the quizmaster the worse for us old codgers.

You can imagine our feelings when we saw the two girls who were in charge of the questions. One of them looked about 12 years old (though I guess she must have been older than she looked). The second of the eight categories was The Wiggles!

After the first couple of rounds we were trailing the field. I think we were next to last.

You get to choose what you think will be your best category and play your Joker, meaning you get double points for that round. We looked at the list and went for Capitals And Cities, figuring that good old-fashioned geography might be safest. And in fact the Amnesiacs (our team name) didn't do too badly.

The night went on and one of our team went up to examine the scores on the blackboard. She came back and said we were equal second.

"What??" I said in disbelief.

"We're equal second," she repeated and everybody's jaw dropped. Had we really gone from second-last to second place? It seemed impossible.

After the last round, the figures were added up and we were tied for first place with a team of young women who called themselves The Beach Girls.

The organizers went for the tie-break questions. These turned out to be all sports related, which would have scuttled my chances but we did have one sports expert on the team.

One question. Both teams got it right. A second question. Both teams scored again. A third question. Both teams had the right answer, but our expert Caroline gave such a detailed answer that they declared us the winners.

Incredible. Somehow we had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. The Beach Girls took their defeat in good part, declaring "Next time you're going down for sure!"

I couldn't believe it.

It just goes to show the truth of Winston Churchill's speech which said "There are three things to remember. Never give up. Never give up. Never give up."