Sunday, 25 April 2010

Anzac Day Angst

April 25 is Anzac Day here in Oz, and it's big here, these days. The number of ex-servicemen is dwindling, but the popularity of the day is increasing exponentially. This year is the 95th anniversary of a dreadful and bloody rout in Gallipoli that makes me shudder. It's also the day that we commemorate the contribution of our armed forces in other conflicts, past and present.

I have always had an uncomfortable relationship with Anzac Day. When I was a kid growing up in western Sydney, I used to find Anzac Day terrifying. Seriously. I would get onto a train or bus and drunken Diggers would get on, staggering after a day catching up with their war-time buddies, and as a 12 yr-old girl I found it horribly confronting. All the lovely comfortable uncle/grandpa types were suddenly crazy drunken old men. I hated it. It scared the shit out of me.

That was back in the 1970s.

That was also the time of the Vietnam Moratorium – an uncompromising anti-war era. Vietnam vets were bathed in blood flung by anti-war protesters. Poor bastards. Those of us back here at home, with no idea of what they had been through, acted as judge, jury and gaoler.

I'm ashamed to say that my fear of Anzac Day lasted until I was in my 40s. That's when I met Derek.

Derek is a wonderful bloke. An ex Navy man, he's a Coral Sea veteran (ex Hobart), and I met him through motorcycling. He is such an inspiration. This bloke in his 80s rode a bloody Vespa from Canberra to Broken Hill and back - TWICE! He's a legend!

For years now, Derek has travelled to Melbourne to march with his old shipmates, who have become fewer and fewer each year. I haven't managed to catch up with Derek over the last couple of years, but he is the person responsible for my change of view regarding Anzac Day. I owe him a huge debt of gratitude.

Listening to Derek talking about the joy of reuniting with his wartime buddies – people who had shared and who understood the ordeals they'd been through – how could I, so many years later, and with no bloody idea of what they'd been through, judge our servicemen/women? It's that thing about walking a mile in someone else's moccasins I suppose – anyway, I felt small and mean-spirited. And yes, I felt immensely grateful for the sacrifices they had made and the traumas they had endured.

Thank you Derek. I love you, mate. You are an inspiration. Thank you so very much for your naval service. I will never truly know what it cost you, but I am very, very grateful. You're a star.

Anzac Day 2010. Lest we forget.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Blissing out in the Blue Mountains

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I did a lot of my growing up in an ever-expanding Sydney. For me, the Blue Mountains (first crossed in 1813 by Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson - geez, you never forget some of the stuff from primary school, hey?) seemed so far away back then. Now that I live in Canberra I am still afflicted by the same misconception.

The Blue Mountains are, in fact, just around the corner – an easy day ride. If you go via the highway (bleeeeagh!) you'll be there in no time. If you're on a motorbike, and if the weather's not too terrible, and if the roads haven't been cut by snow or something (which probably doesn't happen very often) I would suggest going via Oberon. It's all sealed these days!

I'd promised my friend Sheila that I would go and visit her in her new house, and then my fuel pump started playing up, and things looked iffy. And then, of course, Greg Dahlitz of Dahlitz Motorcycles, Queanbeyan, got my bike sorted for me and I could head up to the mountains after all. YAY!

It was a remarkably easy ride, although I believe some of the roads – particularly the Jenolan Caves Rd – can be a bit hairy when large numbers of boy racers get out on them. I didn't see any, so I can't say. All the riders I passed seemed to be like me - having a great day enjoying the road.

There's a fairly horrible section of road just after you cross the Abercrombie River, though. No lines marked, what looks like a chicken-wire barrier shielding you from a Big Drop, decreasing radius corners galore, and at one point, you're not even sure where the road is, because the roadside reflector posts seem to be running along the middle of the road! Weird! It's a go-slow area and a bit of a heart-rate raiser for people like me who are afraid of heights. Your mileage may vary, but I was bloody nervous!

What I can say, though, with great certainty, is this: dress for all seasons! Going up 'over the top', the temperature drops quite a bit, although there's a very long 55kmh corner near Hartley, and that seems to be the turning point. On the Taralga side of it, it's cold. On the other side, the temperature rises very quickly and noticeably.

So... I got to Sheila's lovely House of Peace in mid afternoon. I love catching up with old friends – I'd forgotten how much we used to laugh when we were at uni, but it didn't take long to remember!

The Blue Mountains region is a very popular tourist area, so Sheila is extremely lucky to have it all practically in her back yard! We went walking, and omigod, my near-dead hamstring went ballistic. There are stairs – yes, truly – stairs carved along various parts of the Blue Mountains – and tour groups from all over the world pay money to torture themselves on these stairs. I wonder how many people have heart attacks on those interminable bloody stairs! My healthy little heart was thundering, my quads were screaming and the sweat was pouring off me after a while on one of the 'easy' walks – but gee it was fun!

Those stairs are pretty, but just remember, what you climb down, you have to climb up again on the way back - eeeek!

If you have any breath left, allow it to be taken away by the views!

After the hard work on the stair-climb we went for a bit of a trek through Katoomba itself – I love that place! The Blue Mountains community is made up of quite a diverse set – quite apart from the original, long-term residents, there are lots of highly educated tree-change types, but there's also a big alternative community – serious hippies. Makes for an interesting mix. It's a bit like the weather there – real four-seasons-in-one-day stuff. In the middle of Katoomba itself you have a lovely mix of old architecture and new businesses – old-fashioned residential hotels and so on - and trendy lifestyle shops. It's lovely!

I went berserk in a hippie shop called Incantation – got some t-shirts and incense – but must go back there when I have a bit more money – and there are lots of lovely antique shops to explore as well.

We spent the evening at home, and Sheila's magnificent five-bean soup gave me a turbo-boost for the ride home the next day – eeeek! When we were at uni we used to laugh our heads off about farts – it's so good to know that some things never change! (Grown-ups R Us!)

Global weather is changing, but it was good to see that the leaves in the high country are turning, as they should. It won't be long till the Blue Mountains may be too chilly an option for a day ride, so I'm glad I went when I did. Catching up with friends (hi Sheila, hi Stu!) is a lovely reason for a ride, though, no matter what the weather, and when I go back I'll make sure I catch up with other friends who live out that way!

What a beautiful outlook, especially at this time of year as the leaves are turning.

Between Jobs

I shouldn't be gleeful, really I shouldn't – but between jobs is a nice place to be! I guess it helps that I actually have a new job to go to, otherwise I mightn't be feeling quite so jubilant.

My last day in the Public Service was spent filling out exit thingies and getting signatures from all over the place to say that I didn't have any library books, didn't owe the department any money and wouldn't blab any secrets (like I know any!)

After a lovely farewell afternoon tea I walked out of there for the last time, handing in my access pass to the security guards downstairs.

The Public Service is weird. There's always someone on leave and someone at work, so my feeling the next morning was not of unemployed glee – it was more like being on leave. How very deflating. I keep telling myself that I couldn't go back there even if I wanted to, but until the new job takes the place of the old one I think I am doomed to feel as if I am still just having a week off.

I've had a whole week to clear my head now, and in that time have: had a weekend in the Blue Mountains; spent a couple of days in Albury celebrating a 'significant' birthday (not mine!); done some reading; had a flu shot; pottered round the house - and the biggie - tried to clear a study space.

Hah! What a joke that's been - there is no space in my house! None! Every available cupboard is full. Every available surface is covered. My 'Chuck Ten' decluttering exercise several months ago was a dismal failure, and I have expanded to the limits of my space. In fact, the outer limits are bulging rather dangerously. My hovel is a bit like Mr Creosote, the World's Fattest Man, (cf Monty Python's Meaning of Life) and the most wafer thin addition to the clutterpile may well set off a hideous and messy Big Bang. Aaaargh! There goes the neighbourhood.

But now, despite all that, it's onto the next chapter. Next week looms. Next Tuesday morning I will walk into my new workplace, not knowing where the rolls are kept, where the photocopier is, who the kids are, where I'm supposed to be, who is who, what is what and what the heck my part in all of it is – and have to hit the ground running – adventures ahoy!

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Snooze Button

I don't understand the lure of the Snooze Button. I'm usually awake long before the alarm goes off anyway, but even if that were not the case I should think being woken by the alarm just once would be quite enough.

Boomerang Boy is a Snooze Button fiend. I don't know how he does it (or why, frankly). Why would you set an alarm to wake you half an hour before you have any intention of getting up anyway? Why not set it for the later time in the first place and have an uninterrupted final half hour of slumber?

BB's morning routine goes something like this. The alarm - which is about the same volume as an air raid siren - goes off at 5.15am. And again at 5.24am. And then again at 5.33am. Somehow, amazingly, he goes back to sleep in those short minutes between alarms. This is even more amazing when you consider he has to get out of bed and run to the other end of the room to hit the Snooze Button, then get back into bed again. He apparently does this because otherwise he would fling out an arm in his sleep and never realise he was hitting the Snooze Button, and would never get out of bed. Of course. Boy logic.

Now, if someone or something kept waking me up every 9 minutes and making me run around the room, (a) I would punch them/throw them out the window, and (b) it wouldn't happen anyway – once I am awake I am awake, usually for the next 16-18 hours. In 9 minutes I could never get back to sleep, even if I desperately wanted to. Especially if I had been cruelly snatched from sleep by something louder than AC/DC and shriller than a two year-old in tantrum mode.

Fortunately I am always already awake by the time BB starts his daily Snooze Button routine – but even in my wakeful state, the blast of his alarm every 9 minutes is enough to drive me mental. Boomerang Boy, poor pet, is one of those unfortunates who sleeps soundly for hours on end, any time of the day or night, and could sleep through a bomb blast. Not for him a gentle wake-up to the soothing strains of ABC Classic FM. Oh no, that would never work. For him it's got to be the air-raid siren. At least three times every morning.

Saturday, 10 April 2010


For the last five years I've worked in an office in the middle of the city. All that is about to change, and I'm doing that inevitable thing that I suppose everyone does when they know something is about to come to an end - taking stock.

Things I will miss:

The early morning crowd:
- the man who drives the street sweeper car who gives me a cheery wave every morning
- the man with the limp who delivers newspapers, and who always says hello
- the security guards at the front of my building
- the magpies in Garema Place
- the pigeons who do a great job of cleaning up puddles of drunken vomit (are they looking for the inevitable carrots as they paddle and peck through it?)

The interesting inner-city characters who haunt Garema Place:
- Rudy the Poem Man
- The Crouching Man. I never did discover what he was doing all day every day, crouching in the street, taking notes. I peered over his shoulder once, and he was looking at a sheaf of notes in his hand, written in red and blue marker pen. “They will see something that looks like the Flight Centre”, said the notes. They? Who? The returning Mother Ship? Invading aliens?
- The Statue Man
- The Backwards Walking Man
- The Crying Russian Lady

The egg & bacon rolls from Jina's Cafe
The salads from Chicken Gourmet
The L'Occitane shop

Things I won't miss:

The beggars in Garema Place who sit on the ground talking on their mobile phones, sipping coffee/coke and smoking cigarettes, while calling out to everyone who walks past "Excuse me, do you have any spare change?"

The people who try to sell you things in Garema Place - Jesus, Socialism, Gym memberships...

The broken glass/mess that litters the streets early in the morning

Puddles of drunken vomit

My Public Service job (although I will miss a lot of the lovely people I work with)

After next Friday, it's Onwards and Upwards, so long to the city, and starting the next chapter in my life. Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! Adventures ahoy!

Warranty Woe

The Bomber (my Suzuki SV650S) started making a peculiar whistling sound after my last big ride, back in late March. Turns out it's the fuel pump. This is not a good thing. What's worse is that in the time between noticing the peculiar noise, asking various people what they thought it might be, and getting it looked at by my busy mechanic, the 2 year, unlimited kilometre warranty expired.

A new fuel pump is not cheap. The lovely people at Dahlitz Motorcycles, where I bought the Bomber, are waiting to see whether Suzuki Australia will come to the party and allow the warranty claim. It'd certainly be a nice move on Suzuki's part. Think of the goodwill it would engender.

The Bomber is my second Suzuki, and I've been so happy with it that I fully intend to keep buying Suzukis. Ok, maybe not the Gladius (ickypoo!) – but I have said before that I would happily keep buying SV650Ss for the rest of my motorcycling life.

So now I play the waiting game. My Betty Paranoia is growing to epic proportions, and I'm too scared to ride far in case the fuel pump gives up the ghost altogether while I'm out on some road in the middle of nowhere. I finish my Public Service job at the end of next week, and have 10 days 'between jobs' when it would be really nice to be able to go for a few rides.

The alternative, if Suzuki won't play along, is to fork out the $900 (plus labour) - OUCH - for a new fuel pump, to ensure I'm back on reliable wheels before I have to start my new job. Did I mention I got the teaching job, by the way?

Sigh. Timing.