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The Rules of Illustrated Facebook Sing-along

  1. Do not talk about Illustrated Facebook Sing-along.
  2. Illustrate one line or phrase of the song at a time. Multiple pictures are permitted.
  3. Perverse and obtuse interpretations of the lyrics are encouraged.
  4. Mondegreens are permitted.
  5. Do not keep singing successive lines. If no-one has sung for an hour, you may sing another line
  6. If two people sing the same line, the second entry appearing in the list should be deleted by the poster
  7. Chatting and making comments while people are singing is rude.
  8. Only sing the chorus of the song the first time through. At other times write “Chorus repeat” and sing the next line
  9. These rules are subject to change without notice and will be interpreted in accordance with the laws of the State of New South Wales
  10. Do not talk about Illustrated Facebook Sing-along

Catholic Church abandons merit-based appointments to canonise two ex-popes

We are used to seeing ex-Prime Ministers and other retired politicians getting cushy jobs such as Ambassador to the US, but now the Catholics have blatantly jumped on the “jobs for the boys” bandwagon by canonising two ex popes.

It is not as cushy as an Ambassadorship, because you have to be dead to take up the job, but as Christians are wont to say, the fringe benefits are out of this world.

But there is some concern about the way the process has been fast-tracked. With John Paul II barely cold in the grave, the phrase “patience of a saint” may soon have to be reviewed.

Within weeks of JPII tossing his gaily coloured slippers there was already talk of making him a saint with some suggesting  the number of people who turned up to his funeral could be his first  miracle.

Now, having seen Roman traffic and experienced the general terror of Italian driving, I am the first to admit that getting a large number of people moved anywhere in Rome is a great achievement. I am just not sure it enters the supernatural realm of miracle.

Even if it is a miracle, it is a rather egotistical one. Most miracles involve things like curing a village peasant girl of cancer, where the prospective saint does something for someone else. Getting lots of people to your own funeral seems to have the same altruistic social benefits as gathering ‘likes’ on Facebook.

Prior to John Paul II becoming pope, it was necessary to attribute three miracles to someone before they were recognised as a saint. He lowered the bar to only two miracles and has been one of the first to benefit from the relaxed rules.

Pope Francis lowered the bar even further by allowing Pope John XXIII to be canonised after being associated with only one miracle. Apparently his contribution to the Second Vatican Council allowed his to get advanced standing. This mainly involved rewriting some of the company policies and procedures and coming up with the revolutionary idea of talking to your customers in their only language instead of a language understood only by company insiders. (Butchers learnt this lesson years ago).

 

Following the premise that a man must have standards, no matter how low, there is talk that Pope Francis will canonise Pope Pious XII, despite the latter having no miracles attributed to him. Although I don’t normally use the ‘slippery slope’ line of argument, if this keeps up, they soon will remove the need for a saint  to be dead. This might make the collection of relics problematic.

 

But what of John Paul’s miracles?

His first miracle was curing French nun Marie Simon-Pierre of Parkinsons disease, which meant he could be beatified. The second miracle was Costa Rican woman Floribeth Mora Diaz who was conveniently cured of a brain aneurism on the day of his JP’s beatification.

I don’t want to question the validity of these miracles by bringing up media reports suggesting that Marie has had a relapse, or pointing to articles in the British Medical Journal that document spontaneous resolution of cerebral aneurysms that’s not my real point here.

 

However I am puzzled by the mechanics of the transition into sainthood and the attribution of miracles.

According to the Catholic Church, they don’t ‘make’ saints they only recognised them. That is, John XXIII and John Paul II were already saints, the church has merely looked at the evidence and confirmed it to be true.

The first four of the ten commandments explain how God suffers from low self-esteem, irrational jealousy and wants to be the centre of attention. You can only worship him and no one else. While the Catholic Church has the ‘only pray to one God rule’, (sometimes in the guise of the Holy Trinity) you can pray ‘with’ Mary, Francis, Anthony, George and over 10,000 other saints.

 

The church also says that the saints themselves don’t perform the miracles, but merely intercede. This is obvious, because if the saint themselves did the miracles, that would make them demi-gods and you would have the whole first commandment palaver again.

It is not clear what intercede actually means in real terms. It seems to be something like having a lobbyist in heaven that can bring something to God’s attention. Why an omniscient god needs something pointed out to him is not clear. But apparently that God would have overlooked Marie Simon-Pierre Parkinsons and Floribeth Mora Diaz’s brain aneurism if John Paul hadn’t have given him a quite nudge in the ribs.

 

But if God really is too busy noticing that the people to whom he has given diseases are actually suffering and would like a cure, than what is he doing? If he really is working his way through the list of people to cure and will get to Marie and Floribeth in due time, then isn’t it cheating or queue jumping to have a heavenly Graeme Richardson slip him a bottle of Penfolds communion wine to get some preferential treatment?

If praying with these supernatural lobbyists really is a fast track to having your prayers answered then which one do you choose? Surely not all saints hold the same sway with God. Isn’t there a danger that some of the more popular ones like Mary, Christopher and Anthony might have too many clients  to keep up. Might it not be better to pick one of the more obscure saints because you know when they finally get to have a quiet word with God they will only be lobbying on behalf on a few clients.

One argument often brought up against the existence of miracles is that it only seems to be those things that the body is able to cure for itself that become miraculous cures. It seems no matter how hard or who an amputee prays with, God is not interested in letting them grow a limb back. I think I know the answer to this.

The Patron Saint of Amputees is St Anthony of Padua. Unfortunately he is also the patron saint of lost things, shipwrecks, starvation, boatmen, elderly people, expectant mothers, fishermen, harvests, horses, mail, sailors, swineherds, travel hostesses, travellers and watermen. He is simply too busy asking God to help people find their cars keys to have time to attend to the amputees.

If you think that all sounds a bit ridiculous, it’s because it is.

How to name a fire

What is a bushfire and how do you name it?

With cyclones, we give the storm a name and then we track where it goes. We say where it is moving and where it is likely to impact of people. We give alerts by saying what towns or areas are likely to be affected, but with fires it seems we take a different approach and it is potentially deadly.

Bushfires are named by their place of origin. But as we know, (like cyclones) bushfires move.

A huge bushfire which started near Lithgow was originally the “Track….something” fire (not sure of the name) then the Marrangaroo  Army Base fire” (named after a  former chemical weapons storage area still owned by the army and used for explosives training) before becoming the “State Mine Fire”. Notwithstanding that the ‘State Mine’ closed in the 1960s and is now only a (well worth visiting) mining museum.

The “State Mine” is on State Mine Gully Road (oddly enough) which leads of to the delights of the Newnes Plateau, the not yet officially named Lurline Jack Lookout, and the Glow Worm Tunnel.

The fire passed here on Wednesday and continued east (under the power of a 70kmh westerly wind) to take  out over 20,000 ha of bushland. The fire front is now near Bilpin, about 50 km (by road) from the origin of the fire and at least 30km as the slightly singed crow flies.

But the new bulletins still refer to it as the ‘State Mine’ fire and say there is a ‘Watch and Act’ alert (the second highest alert) on the ‘State Mine’ fire. To put this in perspective, it is like referring to the “Sydney CBD fire” when it is threatening homes in Blacktown. Continue reading How to name a fire

What Happened To Climate Change?

Climate change is very much like evolution. The science is in. It’s a fact. There is no argument in scientific terms. But those who don’t accept the facts seem to get an equal voice as if it is a balanced argument when it is not. And with both, as more evidence comes in, it is always supporting the scientific side of the argument.

The scientific approach is to observe a phenomenon, come up with a hypothesis, then gather data in the real world to see if it agrees with the hypothesis. If it doesn’t, you review your hypothesis. Scientists don’t mind being wrong because it means they have eliminated a possible cause and have therefore learnt something along the way.

Dogma however, starts with a fixed position, often espoused by an irrelevant authority such as God or Alan Jones and then either cherry picks, or presents updated or deliberately false evidence to support its position.

But why is this so? With evolution it is understandable. Some people have invested so much effort into following the teachings of bronze age desert tribes that when it collides with modern science they have no choice but to put their fingers in their ears and go “La,la,la”.

With climate change, the opponents usually have something to lose from the policy implications of climate change action and rather than only opposing the policy they also attack the science.

Let’s face it. If the science showed that the best way to tackle climate change was to stay in bed and alternate between eating ice cream and having sex, there wouldn’t be an argument. Continue reading What Happened To Climate Change?

The Broken Senate and Tony Abbott’s ‘mandate’.

Well the election is over and four of the strangest years in Australia politics is now relegated to the dustbin of history. The unprecedented removal of a Prime Minister in their first term of office was the start of the downhill spiral. It was a harsh move, no doubt brought on by the difficulty that members of the Labor Government were having trying to work with Kevin Rudd, who by most accounts, doesn’t play well with other children and is not averse to throwing his toys out of the cot.

But the outrage at his removal also demonstrated that most Australians don’t understand how their own system of government works. It is not a presidential system. We don’t actually vote for a Prime Minister. In fact the term Prime Minister doesn’t even appear in the Australian Constitution. Not once. We vote for a party and the winning party’s leader becomes Prime Minister and that party can change leader if they want. It has happened many times before in Australia’s history.

But of course, of all this left a sour taste in the Australian public’s mouth. Julia Gillard was seen as an illegitimate Prime Minister, although this hadn’t happened when Keating took over from Hawke in similar circumstances. The popularity of Labor fell to the point where the election resulted in a hung parliament and previously unconsidered alliances had to be formed.

Abbott’s cry of “this parliament has no mandate” was a bit rich, considering that had more independents sided with him, he would have happily taking power and presumably believed he had a mandate. One of the compromises that had to be made to appease The Greens was the introduction of the carbon tax. (The politics of the carbon tax is a whole different post, coming soon.) Gillard’s statement prior to the election that she would not introduce a carbon tax was then interpreted as a lie. This was unfair, as the circumstances had changed and she had to move with them. To be a lie, and to legitimately call her a liar, she would have had to have been contemplating introducing a carbon tax before the election and telling the public otherwise. The fact that an ‘r’ could be conveniently attached to her name to make Ju-liar, didn’t help.

Prior to the last state election, Barry O’Farrell promised he would not introduce shooting in National Parks. When the Shooters and Fishers Party held the balance of power Barry had to roll over to their demands in over to get his electricity sales bill through the house. This is just as dramatic a turnaround, but Barry-liar doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily and Barry being the darling of the Sydney right-wing shock jocks was allowed to let this one go through to the keeper.

But what has all this got to with last Saturday’s election?

Well it was just a bit of history to show why Labor was so on the nose. But despite Julia Gillard and later Kevin Rudd being so unpopular, the Coalition (often called the No-alition due to their ceaseless negativity under Tony Abbott) weren’t fairing much better. Malcolm Turnbull was regularly polling the highest rating for preferred Prime Minister and he wasn’t even in the running. For both Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott, their disapproval ratings were higher than their approval ratings. This gave the Australian public the choice of shitty and shittier (you can decide which is which) and the choice was not much different when Kevin Rudd regained the Labor Party leadership.

So much of the election was thinking “Anyone but Labor”, but a sizable number of those were also thinking “As long as it’s not the Liberals under Tony Abbott.” And this bears itself out in the poll. Although the Liberals has won a landslide in the two-party preferred stakes, most of the swing away from Labor didn’t go to the Liberals. It went to other minor parties. Through the subsequent distribution of preferences the Liberals come out on top. Overall, almost 21% of the vote for the House of Representatives went to minor parties. The swing towards the Coalition was only 1.7%. The Palmer United Party secured 5.6% of the vote on its first time out, which is three times the number of votes in the swing to the Coalition. A swing of only 1.7% is not what I would call a clear mandate.

If you look at the Senate, it is a similar story. Up to 30% of the vote in the Senate was directed towards  minor parties. The proportional representation nature of the Senate means that this 30% means that more of the minor parties will get a seat. An additional 11 seats will go to the minor parties in the Senate and they will hold the balance of power.

The Senate has always been the ‘check and balance’ of the parliament. It is a place where the states get equal representation and minor voices get a say. The proliferation of minor parties in the new makeup means two things, firstly the Coalition can’t use the Senate as a rubber stamp to past through all of their policies and secondly, the negotiations to secure the votes of some of the minor parties may mean that the Coalition has to go back on some of the promises it made before the election. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

The abnormal result in the Senate has also called for reforms in the voting rules for the Senate. Ricky Muir in Victoria polled only 0.5% of the vote but looks likely to win a Senate seat after distribution of preferences. If this happens he will beat a Liberal candidate who polled 10% of the primary vote. This is because of all the other minor parties who preferenced the Motorsport Enthusiasts Party above the Liberals. This seems to confirm my theory of the electorate thinking “Anyone but Labor, as long as it’s not the Liberals under Tony Abbott.”

Whether or not the Senate really reflects the intent of the voting public is up to debate, but the mechanism of voting does have room for improvement. In the Senate you can vote “Above the line” or “Below the line”. If you vote above the line, you vote for the party you want and that party distribute the preferences. For example the Pirate Party had the Motoring Enthusiast Party as preference 29 with Labor at 34, the Nationals at 37 and Liberals at 39. All of these were lower than the “Coke in the Bubblers” party at 27. Very few people would have studied these preference sheets before voting.

Ideally people would vote using their own preferences rather than those of the party, but this means voting below the line. In NSW there were 110 candidate and the instruction to people was to “number the boxes 1 to 110 in order of your preference”. The reply to this from most people was  “Yeah, right!”. To be a formal vote they didn’t actually have to number 1 to 110, but they did have to number over 90% of the boxes. With only six seats up for grabs, this is a bit ridiculous. If the rules was changed so you only had to number, say, 12 (twice the number of seats available) then a lot more people would vote below the line. In the booth I worked  at, of the 473 votes cast, only 14 were below the line.

Another reform would be to have a minimum primary vote in order to pass through to the next stage. This would mean that the candidate at least had some support (albeit minor) in the electorate rather than simply being the least worst candidate for the majority.

Mr Abbott is already talking about such reforms. Although doing it so close to the election seems like sour grapes for not winning full control of the Senate, it is a change that must be made. When joke candidates make it into politics, politics becomes a joke.

This is not to say that all of the minor parties are jokes. The Pirate Party, quoted above had a comprehensive list of policies over a range of topics. The Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party policies mostly concentrated on aspects of road safety, which is primarily a state issue anyway. Its “core values” included statements such as “We take pride in our vehicles, pride in our Nation, and promote the notion of a “fair go for all””. Vehicles, nation, fair go. In that order. When someones thinks their car is more important that the future of their nation, they don’t deserve a seat in parliament. The best they should get is the opportunity to park their car at Parliament House as listen on their radio to the real representatives of the people during question time.

Tony Abbott is not a particularly good negotiator and it is not a strength of his leader in the Senate, Eric Abetz. Controlling the recently elected Senators will be akin to herding cats and it will be interesting to see how the government handles it. The new Senators with no electoral experience may well let power go to their heads and demand concessions to their pet hobby-horse to allow the government to pass more important legislation. Like the shooting in National Parks predicament in NSW, it will be interesting to see what laws pass that weren’t mentioned before the election, or even worse, policies promised against, that might now become law.

Before Tony Abbott can stop the boats, he might first have to stop the cars, or at least, the car enthusiasts. If a troublesome Senate doesn’t allow him to exercise his ‘mandate’ and he makes good his threat to call a double dissolution election, he’d better make sure that these reforms are in place first. When all Senate seats are up for grabs, it is even easier for minor parties to get a seat and he may end up with an even bigger group of cats to herd.

 

The Joy of Winter

If there is one thing about living just off the Blue Mountains, it is that we really do get four seasons. Often in the space of an afternoon.

a-snowy-track-through-the-forestI have become more attune with the seasons while living here, for several reasons. When we were doing the ‘super-commute’ to Sydney you really noticed when the sun came up and set because for months on end, much of your commuting time would be in the dark.

But also with the variety of plants growing about the property it is great to see when things start to flower and die off.

Our house is  passive solar. On 21 June, the sun comes all the way through our living area and touches the back wall. On 21 December the sun doesn’t enter the house at all. I could actually draw a line from the deck to the back wall of the dining room and mark it with the dates. Then in later years, simply by looking at the line of shadow on the floor at midday, I would be able to tell the date.

It does get cold here, not as cold as it might down the imaginatively named Snowy Mountains, but cold enough to let you know you are alive. It has snowed twice since we have come here, but at an elevation of only about 650m, it doesn’t hang around for long.

The road on the hill behind us is much higher and gets closer to 1000m about 10km down the road.

snow-on-a-tree-fern-leavesThe other day I saw on Facebook that Jenolan Caves reported it had snowed overnight. The caves themselves are quite low, but the road to them is subject to snow and ice.

So the next morning I got into the car and went for a drive.

By the time I got to the high points of the road, the snow in the surrounding forest was about 4cm thick. I could tell by the amount of snow piled up on the picnic tables.

I pulled the car to the side of the road and walked into the forest.

The first thing that hit me was the noise.

The snow has a deadening effect on noise and the forest sounds much quieter than usual. As I walked, each footfall made a pleasant crunching sound. It is the unique sound of walking on fresh snow. It is a sound that brings back memories on the first time you ever saw snow and the joy and wonder associated with it.

There was a gentle breeze blowing through the forest and it was blowing some of the snow off the leaves, making it seem as if it was snowing again. During the time I was there, not a single car went past on the road and the only thing to break the silence was a kookaburra. It too was laughing at the joy of being in a snow filled forest.

wallaby-on-jenolan-caves-roadI stopped at several places along the road including one stop to admire the sight of snow resting on a tree fern (living up to its name Dicksonia Antarctica). At a rest area there were two small wallabies and I pulled over hoping to get a picture. As I got out of the car I thought they would hop away, but one started coming toward me instead. I crouched down to take a photo and it stopped less than a metre away. We both looked at each other for a while before it hopped away up the hill. It was a special moment.

Back in the garden at home the plum tree is in blossom, the apple tree is starting to bud and the Eucalyptus is showing signs of new growth. After the brief cold snap, spring is on its way.

Facts that few people know.

In the true tradition of the Internet you should send these facts to everyone you know so that these facts become more widely known.

  • Cold water boils quicker than warm water and a saucepan of solid ice boils quickest.
  • Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) once won a karaoke competition in Berlin singing the Mel Brooks song “Springtime for Hitler”
  • All the buildings in the World Trade Centre were closed from 1 September to 10 September 2001 for ‘maintenance’. This was when rogue CIA operatives planted all the demolition charges.
  • Bicycle lanes are mentioned in chapter three of “Das Kapital” as a means of turning the proletariat towards socialised transportation systems.
  • It is possible to catch a bullet with your teeth, but only if it is less than .22 calibre and fired from over 30 metres away.
  • In 1974, the Shell Oil Company left the balance sheets out of its Annual Reports in all Middle Eastern subsidiaries for fear of insulting Muslims. They were replaced the following year after it was discovered the phrase “Images depicting the prophet” had been mistranslated.
  • Mixing Coca-Cola, vegemite and white vinegar produces a drink with mildly hallucinogenic effects.
  • Bears only defecate in a designated section of the cave in which they hibernate. This means they do not “shit in the woods”.
  • A study by material scientists from the University of Innsbruck in 2001 measured the lengths of string used in over 10,000 household and industrial tasks. The average length was 17.3cm, thus answering the question “How long is a piece of string”.
  • In 1957 Ford briefly released a “four-speed” manual car to compete with a rumoured Dodge model. On closer examination it was actually a three-speed with the numbers, 1,2,4,on the gear knob.
  • From 1926 to 1931, the Northern Territory was divided into Central Australia and North Australia with the border at the 20th parallel of latitude. During this time, Central Australia dropped import tariffs on left-hand drive cars and drove on the right hand side of the road.
  • The high pitched “Woo” in Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” was performed by Michael Jackson.
  • After Michael Jackson’s death, his pet monkey “Bubbles” was euthenased and placed in the casket with him.
  • Coca Cola will  soon be releasing a brand of Amazon Cola where the coca leaves are collected after passing through the digestive tract of a White Faced Capuchin Monkey. It is expected to cost over $2,000 a can. Continue reading Facts that few people know.

Smokers in denial over plain packaging

Plain cigarette packagingThe government introduced plain cigarette packaging on 1 December 2012, although the graphic pictures have been on the packs for a while.

Over the last few weeks, several smokers have told me “You know that skinny guy on the cigarette packs died of AIDS, not lung cancer and now his family are suing the government “(or sometimes it is the tobacco companies).

That story sounded a bit suspect to me, a rumour made up to try and deny that these illnesses can be caused by smoking. So I did a bit of research.

The man on the packets is Bryan Curtis. He was from St Petersburg in the US. He had been smoking since he was 13, building up to two packs a day. On 2 April 1999, at 33 he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer that attacked his lungs and liver. He died on 3 June 1999.

The story is well documented in the St Petersburg Times. There is no mention of AIDS. Continue reading Smokers in denial over plain packaging

Skype hype and FUD

I recently started a job where I encourage doctors, aged care facilities and Aboriginal Medical Services to take up telehealth. For the purposes of the job, telehealth is simply a video conference between a patient and a specialist. This saves them having to travel long distances to get treatment and is very handy in rural and remote areas.

But I found that  there is an IT battle raging more fiercely than the long-running Windoze vs Crapple> It is the fight about Skype.

This highly successful, functional and near ubiquitous program is the devil incarnate for some IT/telehealth workers and I wonder why.

Far from being a Skype evangelist, I am technologically agnostic. I like the advice given by the Rural Doctors Network which basically advises people to use something they are familiar with, whether it is Skype, Google video, Facetime or Facebook’s video client.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners  (RACGP) who were originally a bit cold on Skype have now warmed a little saying that it is suitable for telehealth if you take reasonable precautions. The precautions they suggest are a little strange and demand a level of security that is not expected or enforced in alternate methods of communication.

For example, the RACGP says “Skype has an open access address book (directory), which means that anyone, anywhere with an internet connection can search for anyone published in the Skype directory. The RACGP advises that if Skype is used for video consultations, you consider creating a slightly encrypted user name (ie pseudonym) and avoid a username like Dr John Smith, Townville.“ (Their emphasis)

There exists a resource called the white pages. This is a telephone directory that anyone can pick up and read and dial anyone listed in that telephone directory. I wonder if the advice of the RACGP in the 1880s was for GPs to get telephones registered under a pseudonym? I think not.

But of course the RACGP seems to ignore the fact that, unlike the telephone, just because people can see your listing in Skype, doesn’t mean they can call you. You can set the privacy settings in Skype so only people in your contact list can call you. Something I wish could be done with a telephone.

The RACGP also advice “Medical content, such as still images or desktop screen shots are not exchanged during a video consultation using Skype.” There is no real satisfactory explanation for this advice. Skype is a point to point communication system that uses 256 bit encryption for all its communication including video, IM and file transfers. As well as being encrypted, such information can also be easily de-identified. If you are talking to the specialist and about to transfer a file, you can say “I am just sending you an image of Mrs Smith’s colon” without that image needing to be labelled as such. The alternative is to send the message using Argus-encrypted email which offers the same level of security (although you will probably need to have some identifying data in the email). If both options are just as secure, why is one of them not recommended? Continue reading Skype hype and FUD

Comedy by Numbers

I was looking forward to “An Evening with John Cleese” and seeing  the creator of some of the great Monty Python sketches, Fawlty Towers and A Fish called Wanda.

The evening started with a rant about how this tour was basically to make money to pay alimony. $14M down and $4M to go. This gave the impression of a bitter old man who was just going through the motions for the money and didn’t really want to be there.

I thought it would really be like having an audience with him. Maybe people could ask him questions and he could amuse us with a series of off-the-cuff reminiscences. Alas it was not to be.

Questions were certainly asked. The first half of the show was Cleese being interviewed by Richard Glover. When I say ‘interviewed’ I mean he asked questions in the same way that members of the government ask questions of their own ministers in question time. “Can the minister tell the house what the government is doing about improving literacy” “I thank the honourable member for his question and will now read out five pages of answers prepared by the same public servant who wrote the question.”

Glover was merely providing well placed segues to enable Cleese to jump from one topic to another. “Tell me about your mother”, “Funny you should mention her and how amazing that before you had even finished the question, a picture of her came up on the screen.” Having been in the country for months and having done countless shows the answers came out flawlessly but sounding so contrived. As an audience member I felt cheated and somewhat embarrassed for him and me. It felt as if I had walked along the street and seen a disheveled Cleese standing on a street corner with his hat on the footpath and a cardboard sign saying “Will silly walk for cash”.

The second half on this one man show finally became a one man show, or one man and a projector.

When I say second half, I actually mean 2/3 of a second half, as the first act was one hour, but the second a mere 40 minutes, the majority of which was a series of clips from the Holy Grail, A Fish called Wanda and Fawlty Towers.

We have all seen those episodes of a popular series where the writers just get a bit lazy and the opening scene is the entire cast in some contrived situation. One cast members says some like “Hey, does everyone remember when…….” and the rest of the episode is a series of flashbacks to other episodes. It is one of the signs that the series is starting to “Jump the shark” and is entering an idea free zone.

He tried to string it together by making it a mini lecture on black comedy, but it was a lazy and ultimately unsuccessful effort. “One of my favourite scenes from Fawlty Towers is when …… Let’s look at it now”. The video runs for two minutes, then Cleese comes back on stage and says “But what happens when Sybil finds out? Let’s have a look” and runs another two minutes of video. It was like watching Bert Newton doing that “Top 20″ show. What was even worse, was that from our perch in the front row of the dress circle we could see the extent to which his laziness extended. On either side of the theatre was an autocue from which Cleese was reading word for word. I felt so tempted to start reading along with him, but half a sentence ahead.

Finally the autocue showed three refreshing words “End of Show” which Cleese ad-libbed into “That’s the end of the show” and walked off. Cue Monty Python theme, bring up the house lights and leave the audience feeling as valued as the ex-wife whose alimony they had just contributed to.

I give the show two dead parrots out of five.

 

The year begins

It is the first day of the working year for me and I am sitting in a morgue. Not literally. I am on the train, but I have never heard it so silent. No one is talking or even making a sound apart from the occasional cough. The sound of me tapping the keyboard of my laptop is reverberating throughout the carriage. I am almost reluctant to continue. In getting the laptop out of my bag, the sound of velcro opening was like the sound of the very space-time continuum being torn asunder. As if I was opening a wormhole in time and we would all be sucked to oblivion. This is surely what the Mayans had predicted.

I suspect the sombre outlook of my fellow passengers is because for many of them too it is the start of the working year. Burdened by new year’s resolutions and the thought of spending the first half of the day telling their fellow workers what they did over the holidays and the second half of the day wading through accumulated email. This includes the 157 emails showing little known colleagues head superimposed on dancing elves and singing some climatically inappropriate song about snow and eggnog. Continue reading The year begins

The journey home

Post holiday - Pre shaveI am now on the plane home, having watched the award winning safety video starring Richard Simmons and some of the All Blacks. The Francophones are somewhere on the plane, but as yet they have not started singing. My final Au Revoir with them will probably be at the baggage carousel in Sydney.

As we came up through the clouds this morning and I looked out over the vast sea of white I felt for a moment I was back in the ice.

The aftershocks from the earlier two earthquakes continued and there were five tremors before I arrived in Christchurch. Apparently there was another at three o’clock this morning. I did wake up around that time but didn’t realise we had had an earth tremor. There was another one just after I arrived at the airport, although, once again I didn’t feel it.

So now it is all over bar the shouting. And customs, quarantine, duty free and the drive home.

So what of the recap?

It was the best of trips and the worst of trips. Continue reading The journey home

Bluff/Invercargill – Terra Firma

Container ship in BluffMy day started a little earlier than intended when Ira decided to get up at 0340 to edit some photos. Over the course of the next two hours he was in and out of the cabin so often I was about to suggest he have a revolving door installed. As predicted we sailed through the night, but being in the lee of Stewart Island the whole time it was a very smooth voyage

The pilot came on board at 0500 and I re-awoke just before 0600 when we were settled into the port. I looked out the porthole and the first thing I saw was the word Italia. “Shit,” I thought, “they’ve taken us to the wrong bloody country.” Luckily it was merely the name of the ship tied up beside us.

We had breakfast and just after 0700 the customs and immigration people came on board. Until they had cleared the ship and the passengers, no-one was to leave the ship. Much to the annoyance of Helen Mawson’s husband who was pacing up and down the dock. (I found out who he was later, until then many people were wondering who the dodgy looking character was. Most suspected a drug dealer.)

Once we were free to leave the ship, we had a group photo on the wharf and the first of many goodbyes. Not just goodbyes from many people, but many instances of goodbyes.

We of course said goodbye to the crew and staff on the ship, but many passengers said goodbye to each other. Then promptly all got on the same bus to go to town or the airport. Continue reading Bluff/Invercargill – Terra Firma

Boxing Day – The Snares

Zodiacing in the Snares48° 24 minutes south 166° 36 minutes east

So begins the last full day on the boat.

The trip from the Aucklands has been relatively smooth, but for some reason I am feeling a bit queasy. It is not a hangover, since I actually didn’t drink that much on Christmas Day, plus the feeling is in my stomach not my head.

The sun woke me this morning around 0630, so I got up and had a shower. I had seen some birds flying past my porthole and went outside to take some photos, but the wind almost blew me off the deck. So I went back to bed to await breakfast. I am not sure how sheltered it is at The Snares and wonder if the wind will alter our ability to do a Zodiac cruise. Assuming we get breakfast tomorrow, I am about to have my second last breakfast, but every meal after that will be the last. I will save the post-mortem of the trip until tomorrow when I potentially have many hours to kill at the airport.

Snares Crested Penguin jumpingThe wind persisted but dropped a bit, enough for us to go on a last Zodiac trip. It was an incredible trip. The seas meant that it was a bit of a wet trip but the wildlife was abundant. We saw the Snares Crested Penguins, which really should be called Mountain Climber Penguins for the steepness of the rocks they were climbing up. We cruised through a natural arch that was long enough to be called a tunnel and found a small freshwater pond where the penguins seemed to be having a bath. Being the last group through we stopped there watching them for about 15 minutes bathing and jumping from rock to rock. Continue reading Boxing Day – The Snares

Joyeux Noel – Port Ross

Leaves in a stream50° 32 minutes South 166° 13 minutes East.

This morning at some ungodly hour of the morning we began moving from our little sheltered inlet around to the north part of the island and another inlet called Port Ross. It is here that we will have our penultimate landing (the last one being the landing of no return).

Everyone on the boat is happy and wishing each other both Joyeux Noel and Happy Christmas. The Russian (Orthodox) Christmas is not for a few weeks yet.

Soon after I awoke I listened to Sue’s Xmas message, which consisted of a song and instructions about the three numbered presents. One was a novelty Christmas ear-ring, two was a pair of novelty Christmas boxing shorts and three was a 5cl bottle of 21 year old Poit Dhubh Gaelic Whisky. I was instructed to wear the first two all day and drink the third at lunch time. There was also a card that Sue had made with pictures of her and Jules and scented with her perfume.

Although there are two sleeps to go, there are really only two days to go as well, since the third day is basically wake up, have breakfast and get off. Continue reading Joyeux Noel – Port Ross

Auckland Island déjà vu

50° 43 minutes South 166° 10 minutes East

Bark of the Rata treeI have experienced the strangest of things, a full nights sleep. The bed was dead still. It neither pitched nor rolled nor yawed and there was no underlying bass thud of the engines to pound my brain into submission.

There is now only three sleeps to go. We spend all day today somewhere in the Auckland Islands and will have Christmas anchored in another sheltered fjord, of which there is no shortage provided the weather is coming from the right direction.

These are the frustrating days. Coming home is always like that. There is always a point in a holiday where you stop going away and start coming home. It is not the half way point, or the point where you change direction, it is a psychological point where the holiday is over and you are now travelling home. On my 1988-90 world trip it kicked in in Perth. I had flown there from London via two weeks in Zimbabwe. I thought I’d stay in Perth for a few days, since I hadn’t been there before, but this was a mistake. The journey home started in Perth and the days spent there were frustrating delays. On the 2001 family world tour the kids started coming home when we left London. For them, the intervening days in Canada and the USA fell into this ‘frustrating delays’ category to the extent that Belinda must have been the only 11-year-old on the planet that didn’t enjoy a trip to Disneyland.

For me, I started coming home on 15 December. The day we found out we were not going to get to Mawson’s Hut. (This failure now apparently publicised in national newspapers.) Every day since has psychologically been a step closer to home, but touring west along the ice edge for a day only to return west the next day has fallen firmly into the frustrating delays category.  Waiting for Santa at the Auckland Islands, ditto. Continue reading Auckland Island déjà vu

Land Ho

51° 07 minutes East 165° 57 minutes South. Close to the Auckland Islands

Rodney Russ

Rodney Russ

Well, land is near, not sure about the ho. Last night was an incredibly smooth night of sailing and I was able to sleep almost all the way through. According to the chart (because you can’t just call it a map when you are on a ship) we were travelling in 3500 whatevers (feet, metres, fathoms, the chart didn’t say) last night and now we are in only 500, so the swell has picked up a bit.

Today is my birthday and I finally got to look at what Sue had given me. She recorded an audio message that I had to listen to. Half way through the message I had to open the present and then listen to the rest of the message. I got a block of chocolate, a piccolo of champagne and a small empty cardboard box. The box once contained a diamond ear-ring, but with my record of loosing them, Sue decided to keep it at home and I can pick it up there.

The program for today has been put up and the only activity is a Zodiac cruise at 1345.

It is only two sleeps till Christmas and four sleeps before my own personal Marie Celeste ends its voyage. At least it will be four days of activities.

Ahhh, breakfast beckons! Continue reading Land Ho

Some relief

54° 44 minutes South, 161°33 minutes East.

The sea calmed down overnight and we have only 26 hours until we get to the Auckland Islands.

Of course, that is not home. It feels a bit like “Lost in Space” where they wanted to go back to Earth, but first they had to make it to Alpha Centauri. The Auckland Islands is our Alpha Centauri.

I have done the pre-alpha edit of the video and can already see a few missing shots I need to get. I will grab Matt shortly and tighten up the existing edit, before going to film some more (victims), stars.

The ocean remained very calm during the day to enable some more filming and editing. All of the footage shot so far has been put into the final product and so we know the gaps to fill and have a fair idea of how to film them. We hope to get a group shot on the bow of the ship tomorrow. This activity kept me busy and I had a very enjoyable day. In fact it is amazing how quickly a day can pass when you are doing something varied and enjoyable and not lying down watching the minutes tick by on your watch. (Not that my watch actually ticks, but you get my drift.) Continue reading Some relief

The Longest Day

58° 15 minutes South 156° 00 minutes East

It is mid-summer day, the summer solstice, the longest day. However it is only the longest day in terms of daylight, it is still only a tedious 24 hours like any other day and yet another full day at sea. Actually in terms of daylight it is probably shorter than other days we have had, since the days get longer as you go south and we are a long way north of our southernmost point on this trip.

The sea is slightly calmer, although not into the category of calm that I could spend hours at the computer editing a video.

The lectures are back on again and start with part two of the seven part series on Scott and Amundsen, followed by (wait for it) a lecture of the language of ice, definitions of snow, ice and icebergs. (This really is going to be the longest day.) The day concludes with a lecture on Antarctic artists and art. Spare me. I think this is all a bit cruel since we didn’t make it to Antarctica. It is rubbing salt into the would, like saying “Here’s some other parts of it you didn’t see.” (Katya gave a talk the other day on whales, where the description of every species was preceded with “This is another one we haven’t seen”.) I would like some information on where we are going. How about “Port of Bluff – Southern Excitement”, “Stewart Island for Dummies”, or “Interesting Street Signs of Invercargill”. Or even the passengers giving travelogues of their home towns. Anything but another fucking talk about fucking Ant-fucking-arctica.

There must be something pagan we can do to celebrate mid-summer. And pagan things usually involve nudity, so that might be interesting.

The cabin-fever is truly settling in and the only alternative to bitching about it on the computer is to curl up is the foetal position on my bed and hope it will go away. Continue reading The Longest Day

Into the washing machine

61° 24 minutes South 150° 58 minutes East.

The sea picked up overnight and the ship is bobbing like a champagne cork in a Jacuzzi. There is a 24 knot wind whipping up the chop and we are only making about 6.5 knots which is half our usual speed.

I did a little bit of filming and had breakfast, but I think I will take a horizontal approach to the day until conditions improve.

Lunch has just concluded and in our dinning room an entire table was empty. People are simply not up to eating at the moment. The captain has engaged the second engine so we are going a little quicker, presumably to get to the calm water quicker, however this has made the ride a little rougher. Damned either way. Rodney has deemed the lecture room too dangerous to use and he has postponed so the lectures. The weather is not expected to improve until tomorrow. It if does, then filming and other activities can recommence. In the meantime my mattress is looking attractive.

We just finished our last Tuesday dinner. Next Tuesday our only meal on the boat will be breakfast. Continue reading Into the washing machine