Sunday, July 17, 2011

Hardware Hardship

We went out to lunch today en famille, and then Marius and I went to wander through the local nursery, drooling over the colour in pots.  We made a mistake afterwards, because we visited the giant hardware superstore.  In other circumstances I would be lamenting the demise of a proper ironmonger and timber yard, the sort of place you could buy nails by the pound and hand-made tools, and sixpence worth of woodscrews, and there was a man in a leather apron who knew your grandfather, and would grant you 40 years of wisdom with your order of 6 yards of hemp rope - do you know the sort of place I mean?  

Well in contrast to my ususal hankering for 'the way things were done when I was a boy' ...   Marius and I wandered about the aisles of the superstore, feeling like we had reached Eldorado, and excitedly reminding each other of what would be useful to look for.   I have moaned elsewhere of the impossibility of finding practical objects in the place of Exile - if Carrefour doesn't sell it in a plastic wrap it is nigh on impossible to find in the land of dust and gravel. 

First we wandered up the aisle that sold 'watering fitments' such as hoses, and connectors and sprinklers and watering systems.  Marius spied an old-fashioned brass hose nozzle that he fell on with joy.  Definitely would fit in the suitcase.  Then he started looking for one of those wire hose-holders that you screw into the ground - we even asked someone.  No, only modern spikes.  Let's face it, that would have been tricky to pack. 

Then we found the section selling barbecue parts - Marius said you could rebuild a whole barbecue with what was on offer.  We picked up a new cover for ours. 

Do you remember the post about the fountain pump?  They had a whole wall devoted to building your own fountain: pumps, hoses, fancy lights and foam-makers. My bottom lip began to tremble.

I wandered outside into the garden plant section and tears began to gather in the corners of my eyes.  Marius was off looking at secateurs and itching to buy himself a bushsaw.   So much abundance, so much practical stuff ... not a diamond-encrusted watch to be seen and no sneering gentlemen out in their white nighties being haughty and offensive.

When we finally dragged ourselves away, I said to Marius:  'I know if we moved home, after two months I wouldn't care that the biggest hardware store in the world was on my doorstep, but right now I just don't want to go back.'

It takes me like that, exile.  Designer clothes shops, jewellers, Lamborghini dealers ...  couldn't care less, but a decent hardware store breaks my heart.


Friday, July 15, 2011

Released on Good Behaviour Bond

Well, you may have gathered that we've escaped for a few weeks respite from the heat.  The jet-lag is fading - although the 3 am trip to the regional airport 180 kms away to deliver Primus for a flight back to Melbourne on Thursday did not help.  All rather a blur.

We all went for the drive to the airport:  Marius driving and Prima and I to keep him company.  We arrived at Newcastle at 4.45 am, and had time for a coffee and bacon-and-egg sandwich with Primus before he left.  It is 'layout' week at the magazine and he couldn't be away for the week we had booked.  After we waved him goodbye, I asked Prima if she knew why I had come too, even though she had volunteered to keep her Dad company on the drive back.  I told her: 'If you were all going to get killed in a road crash, I wanted to be with you.'  She replied 'I figured it was something like that.'  She knows me too well.

I am pleased to report we were not killed ...  we got back to Forster about 7.30 am and all went back to bed.  I didn't want to wake up at 11, but we were going out to lunch to celebrate Marius' mother's birthday so I was forced to.  Last night I went to sleep at a more sensible hour and woke up this morning at 8.30, so I am getting there.  Jet-lag and the 7 hour time change always knock me around.

The view from the front verandah:

I can hear kookaburras having a giggle in the garden; there have been currawongs chortling and the chainsaw massacre bird (don't know the common name) has been conducting a road crash from the eaves.  It is chilly - winter time.  We are all rugged up against the cold: no swimming.

This is the first time I've been back since my father-in-law died nearly 18 months ago.  Marius was here in December, on a long-planned trip,  but I was in hospital in London so couldn't come.  Marius' uncle has come down from Queensland to see us too, and when Primus was here it was a bit of a family reunion.  It feels a little odd not having Ron here, but at the same time he is everywhere:  he built the house and after 58 years of marriage, his life is so inter-twined with Joan's that it doesn't really feel like he's gone. 

Joan is a great tidy-upper and during the week he died we were helping her have a clean out.  Still, there are a few hats hanging -- Ron was never out without a hat -- and photos of him.   Some of his tools are still where he left them hanging on neat rows.  Marius locked up the ones he wanted to keep.  I am pleased that we tell stories about Ron and discuss whether he visits -- Joan says she is sure he does sometimes.  He is not the 'elephant in the room'.

He would have loved lunch today.  We had fish and chips, prawn culets, salad.  Perhaps devoured is more correct than the weak 'had'.  The fish is 'flake', which is actually shark.  Boneless, sweet, light and very tasty. I was brought up thinking only halibut was fit for fish and chips but I never see it now; I think perhaps it has been fished-out with the cod.





No need to eat for the rest of the week then ...   sadly, being Australia, there were no mushy peas.


Saturday, July 9, 2011

Peacocks Calling

The peacocks seem to know that there is food at our house for cats.  Sometimes the cats leave a few crumbs behind and the peacocks always try their luck.  To begin with we had this chap snooping around:

We have also had a peahen - now sadly with only one chick.  I hope it is a different hen and she hasn't lost a chick in the last few days:

These last pictures were taken through the windows with my phone, in a hurry before the birds left so they are not very good.  In this one you can make out the little crown sprouting on the top of the chick's head (or maybe not).


Friday, July 8, 2011

Care for a Date?

This is the date palm in front of our house.  We have a nice food chain happening:  the birds eat the dates and the cats eat  ...  no they don't, because I feed them.  Although I wouldn't mind if they ate some of the myna birds.

Or perhaps you would prefer one of these?

Beautiful isn't it?  The blossom, or fruit,  smells faintly sweet and grape-like.  I am not sure what the fruit is called  - and the bees love them:




Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Brief Adventure with Time

We have a 1930s Scottish longcase clock, which has been all over the world with us.  It plays the Westminster chimes and strikes the hours and its gently ticking has kept me company on many long lonely evenings when Marius has been travelling.

The ultra low humidity here does not agree with it, nor the packing up and moving, I suspect.  It has become tempermental in its old age.  Occasionally, it stops and catches its breath, which it did last night at 10:55.  Because of the complicated chimes, usually we leave it alone until the hour has caught up with where it stopped, and then we re-start it.   I did this morning.

Afterwards, I was sitting by the window writing in my journal and I heard a moan by the back door.  I went to investigate, thinking the new cleaner might have shut Macc out in the garden.  No Macc and no further noise.  I went out and called him and then had a look in the kitchen for him.  I called some more - he usually responds to me calling him - no answer. 

The new cleaner had just left and I wondered if somehow Macc had snuck out the side door when she went?  I checked upstairs in all his favourite hiding places and then put my hat and sunglasses on, pocketed my key and went outside.  Next door is packing a container for a move to Abu Dhabi - could he have got in amongst the packing boxes?  I called some more and feeling somewhat ill, went back inside.

I need lots of rest right now so after my exertions, I had a lie down, still worried but knowing that is what I needed to do.  I figured if Macc was out having adventures he'd come home soon enough and I couldn't go chasing after him.  I stretched out on the lounge and took a couple of deep breaths, thinking this is not the time to get yourself lost Mr Macc.  I closed my eyes.

I heard the cat moan again.  I knew it was Macc, and that he wasn't far away:  no, he was right behind me, trapped:

You see, I'd opened the door of the clock to advance it to 11, then went away while it struck the hour and had come back to adjust the time and then ...  I closed the door and walked away.  In the meantime, Macc had hopped in for a sticky-beak and was too silly to tell me he was there when I shut the door.

He was very pleased with himself - and a little pleased with being released.  What I don't understand is why cats don't keep telling you where they are trapped - but let you search all over for them and get yourself into a lather?

not bothered


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Flashing Colour

A few weeks ago I showed you our indoor fountain:

which has served us faithfully since 2006.  Recently the pump started to complain, drowning out the musical water sounds with pump-groans.  Rather than waiting for it to expire entirely, we retired it and then set about trying to replace the pump. 

It is very difficult to find practical items here.  Once there were fountain pumps at one of the 'plant souqs', but when they were sold out - about 18 months ago - the stock was never replenished.  Typically a new business brings in a container load of stock and everyone is excited by the choice, and then it dwindles, gets covered in dust, shop worn and disappears: never to be seen again. 

The other complication is there is no adequate 'yellow pages' type of directory, either in hard or soft copy.  And there are no street addresses, even if you find a likely business.

I had the bright idea of looking up aquaria because I had a vague memory that keeping tropical fish was a popular hobby amongst the locals (as well as keeping cheetas and jaguars and other unsuitable pets which escape occasionally).  We found 10 suppliers listed in an online directory - but none of them gave a street address, only a PO box number, as is usual.  I decided I would go through and phone them in turn, hoping someone would speak enough English to give directions.  Eventually I found one who not only had pumps in stock, but could also give me directions.

It took us over an hour, with several phone calls enroute, to find them but we were rewarded with success.  While Marius was busy dealing with the technical side of things and actually purchasing the pump, I was mesmerised by the displays:

Our world is veiled in khaki-coloured dust, washing out all colour and definition.  I was quite uplifted by these beautiful fish, putting aside any considerations of the morals of keeping fish in boxes.

The pump is replaced and is burbling away happily.


Saturday, July 2, 2011

Poet vs Engineer

I feel like I am coming out of the closet here ...  there is traditionally so much animosity between the Arts and the hard Sciences, especially engineering, including in my soul at times, I fear.

My first degree was in English Language and Literature, at Queen's University Kingston.  It was a classic survey course covering everythig from Pearl and Sir Gawain in the original Old/Middle English through Chaucer, the Elizabethans, Dryden, Johnson and the 17th century writers, the Romantics and the Victorians.  It stopped dead at Hardy:  no modern poets, novelists or essayists.  I was a passable student who filled her elective courses with mathematics and microbiology.  Definietly confused. 

When I began my final year of English, I panicked at the available career choices:  teaching, government or insurance companies seemed to be the offerings.  So I negotiated with my generous parents and applied for Applied Science.  Amazingly, I was accepted, into a class of about 5% women.

I fell in love with geology but pragmatism reared its head and I plumped for Civil Engineering instead, thinking that way I would avoid spending my summers in a tent.  I specialised in traffic and transportation. 

All the time I was studying, I was torn: frustrated by the lack of the concrete in Arts and the lack of the mystery in Science.  This continued in my working career.

The best jobs I had as an employed engineer were ones in strategic planning, where I was trying to forecast future trends and develop ways to modify traveller behaviour.  I felt I was finally combining the two sides of my brain, and I was writing poetry in my spare time.  Not that I had much spare time as I was completing my MSc, mothering two babies, squeezing in a husband and working full time.  I used to write on the train going to and from work.

I really miss the intellectual challenges of working and the sense of being 'in' on many of the big development decisions in government, but working full time was exhausting and the move to Malaysia - which in many ways was incredibly difficult (a subject I will save for another post) - gave me the break from the rat-race I needed.  I couldn't work in Malaysia as the government there does not support accompanying spouse employment and the logistics of having young children in boarding school also did not favour the time commitment a job would entail.  I did do a few freelance studies 'privately'.

This is very long-winded and I still haven't answered Tim's question: do the mental pathways of engineering, or the language, influence my poetry?   

Yes, I think so.  You may have noticed I'm not one for fluffy pink goo and I tend to be a little tough and realistic (I hope).  But engineers aren't alien creatures, they do have souls, love music and art and poetry (Marius is a violinist) and well ...  if the human mind isn't smart enough to understand itself, how should I know?


Friday, July 1, 2011


This evening I was out feeding this chap:

Beowulf until we come up with a better name

who has been hanging around for about 6 weeks or so.  We are sure this cat has been abandoned as she (?) is definitely not one of the ferals.  To begin with, Floyd saw her off, and I used to feed her in secret, but lately they have been getting along fine, eating together and curling up on the doorstep together too.  Floyd has been AWOL for a few days - perhaps he has returned to his previous household?  A worse thought is that he has been packed up in one of the containers for international house moving, that have been littering our street in the last few weeks.  Anyway, Beowulf has been on her own.

Marius has done some research and thinks maybe she is related to the Norwegian Forest Cat;  she has a lovely nature, very timid but also very friendly once she trusts you.

I was sitting outside talking to Beowulf and feeding her when one of the peahens came by with two chicks.  Of course I didn't have my camera with me and by the time Marius had given it to me, they were spooked.  I chased them down the road and managed a few snaps:

Peachicks are quite ugly, prehistoric looking creatures.  They always remind me of baby dinosaurs.  Unfortunately in these pictures you can't see that they are beginning to grow their own little crowns:

The peahen escorted them across the street away from the camera and the trailing Beowulf:

Beowulf wasn't interested in stalking the chicks, rather she was interested in following and talking to me:

The peacock was bringing up the rear:

It is very dusty today.