Monthly Archives: October 2010

Getting out of Brisbane

This column appeared in the Gladstone Observer Monday week ago.  Funnily enough, I was in Brisbane at the time.  The ending is my contribution to the week long debate in our papers’ letters to the editor section re: which is the best trade.  Mind you it was a pleasant change from ‘Which footy code is the best’.  Yep, we live in the centre of Bohemia in my neck of the woods.

Thanks to the ‘recession we had to have’, Long Suffering Wife and I ended up in Brisbane for a few years.  We met some wonderful people, but as a tradesman, I was a social leper.  Towards the end of our time in the city, when people asked what I did for a living, I was automatically answering, “Drug dealer.”  It was a social step up, trust me. 

A Sparkie, a Boilermaker and a Fitter walked into a pub... stop me if you've heard it?

You see, whenever I announced I was a Fitter and Turner, many of them treated me like I dug through rubbish bins for a living.  Then one fateful night I learned that as a fully qualified metal worker in the city, my weekly pay was on par with the kid who delivered our paper.

We were at a BBQ that I’d been accidentally invited to; they’d thought I’d be working when they invited Long Suffering Wife to attend.  I did my best to mingle, and even tried a glass of wine, but most of it ended up watering some exotic pot plant.

Bored witless, I sat on the edge of conversations, which was how I came across Bruce the angry man.  “Look at my phone,” he said to the small crowd about him.  “Last year’s model,” he grumbled, and several heads shook in sympathy.  “And, now they won’t upgrade my car!  Can you believe that?!”  Several tongues clucked in outrage as he pointed to the near new Commodore gleaming in the driveway; my ancient Kingswood sat rusting just beyond it.

“Tell ‘em to shove it and leave!” offered someone.  “Nah,” he muttered, “they’ve given me a decent pay rise to compensate, plus some extra holidays, but I’ll be sticking it to them next year!”  Everyone agreed that this was a good thing.  “So what do you do mate?” I asked, thinking lawyer, accountant, or corporate raider.

Bruce sold carpets.  Brucey Boy was earning just over twice my yearly wage, plus bonuses, a car, a phone, and free trips to Sydney a couple of times a year just for selling dust collecting mats.  That was the exact moment I decided to leave Brisbane.  Well, it was either that, or murder Bruce the whinging rug merchant in cold blood. 

So we returned to Gladstone, a decent wage, less traffic, and a slightly improved social standing.  Gladstone, a place where tradesmen are well regarded… yes, even Boilermakers.

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Nanowrimo – It begins again…

Well, I’ve done it again and signed up for another Frantic November of scribbling in the great National Novel Writers Month event. 

This year, I actually have a plot!!!  Which will be a pleasant change from having a ‘vague idea of where the novel will go’. 

So, by this time next month, I’ll be wrung out, stressed, sick of looking at my computer, and wondering if I’m going to make it, and wondering why I do this to myself… 

I’m starting to wonder already.


Filed under Nanowrimo, Writing

Weather Woes

This column appeared in last Mondays’ Observer.  Owing to the fact that I was on holidays, and the horrendous fact that internet connection was priced at $1 a minute, I figured I’d have a computer free week… it was nice 🙂

Well, what a difference a year can make.  Exactly one year ago if I was to have sung “Rain, rain go away!” in a public gathering I would have either been thrown into a padded cell, or slapped about a bit.  Possibly both. 

It’s raining again, the grass is lush and green, and my gutters are overflowing; possibly because the tennis ball I hit onto the roof last year has jammed in one of the down pipes.

This time last year Awoonga Dam levels were so low, that you needed a cut lunch and waterbag just to back your boat down the ramp.

This time last year, starving kangaroos were wearing ‘Please Shoot Me!’ signs around their necks, and I went from wondering, ‘When will it rain?’ to, ‘Will it ever rain?’  Now I’m wondering, ‘When will it stop raining?’, and am probably a week away from asking, ‘Will it ever stop raining?’  Meanwhile, the roo’s are using machetes to get through the long grass.

This time last year, walking the family pooches was a daily adventure as we encountered dust storms, thirsty snakes, fires, and most terrifying of all, falling tree branches.  On one memorable occasion, an entire gum tree fell over just as I passed it, frightening me so much that I’ll never need laxatives again.

This year the trees are still dropping branches because they’re waterlogged now.  Honestly, Australian trees are deadlier than snakes, crocs, spiders and sharks combined, and they’re patiently watching you…

This time last year, our washing took a full five minutes to dry under Gladstone’s baking sun.  This year, in order to buy a clothes dryer, you have to put your name on the bottom of a very long list, and hope that it arrives before Christmas.  Or, you could pay a small fortune to get one delivered to your door tomorrow by a couple of shady characters; organised crime having discovered that this money spinner is much more lucrative than drug trafficking.

And twelve months ago, a Brisbane Water Board employee was anonymously going about his business, watching his job drying up as dam levels plummeted like a stunned duck.  But this year, Mr. Dan Spiller, the chief ‘Dam Spiller’, is praying that the torrential rains will stop falling, and that the sniggering media will leave him alone.

He’s not the only one.

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Art Work

The Littlest Princess announced the other day that she had volunteered me for a job… nice. 

They are learning about the planets, and this week it was the Moons’ turn.  Because the moon was rising early in the morning, they couldn’t see it in the evenings, so TLP offered my services, “My dad can draw a picture of the moon at work when it comes up!” 

What could I say? 

So, at 4am the other night I stood bleary eyed on a platform 4 storey’s up, waiting for the clouds to disperse.  I had a piece of paper I’d wrestled from our photocopier, and my blue work pen.  The clouds moved, and I quickly set to work.

Then the magic happened.  Instead of gazing about looking for trouble spots, signs of damage, or problems, I found myself looking at my workplace through an ‘artist eyes’.  The long conveyor runs, the tanks, the towers, the stacks, the pumps, the stockpiles and the way the moonlight enhanced their shapes.  The reflection of our lights over the harbour, and in a way the refinery actually looked quiet pretty

I finished the sketch, and in the semi-darkness of where I was standing, took a look and felt quite proud of my efforts.  I spent the remainder of my break sitting alone just appreciating the view.  

Since then, I’ve been seeing this place in a different light.  Literally.

BTW: the teacher liked my work… I’m eagerly awaiting my mark out of ten 🙂

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Money Never Sleeps – Wall St. 2 Review

Last week, I pedalled up town to go to watch an ‘big person’ movie.  These days, when I go to the cinema’s it’s usually with the Littlest Princess to see the latest kids show.  The week before, I sat through Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which was entertaining enough, but, like all American kid films they can’t seem to break away from the school setting.  I’m starting to wonder if American children have any other life/interests apart from school, and ‘trying to fit in and be cool’.  In this day and age, kids should be learning to be comfortable with who they are, and no matter what you’re tastes, there’s a club, group, or social set ready made for you.  Unlike my time in school when it was sporties and nerds, or sometimes a third group, the just don’t give a damn and float between the two groups, set (consisting of me and three mates!)   


A couple of weeks ago I caught the original Wall Street on tele, and was suitably impressed.  It was a genuinely interesting, enjoyable, and educational show.  It was also a bit of a history lesson as the original was made 23 years ago.  My interest was piqued, and the next day I noted that the 2nd instalment was screening at the cinemas.  So I waited a couple of weeks (to let the crowds die down) and trundled off to see it.

I was very impressed.  Now, it’s true that I impress fairly easily, but I actually did enjoy the yarn, the various subplots, and the view ‘from the top’ of the financial ladder.  Michael Douglas’ reprised role as Gordon Gecko was great to watch, and his opening speech after being released from jail was funny, true, and rang warning bells. 

I gave it 4 thumbs up, and recommended heartily to family and friends.  In fact, I’ll probably buy the DVD’s soon, which is always a good guide to how much I enjoyed the show. 

Go see it.

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Going Viral

My computers’ anti-virus programme was daily downloading massive updates, which were killing my computers’ speed.  Now, I’d bought the programme in the first place to stop my computer from slowing down, so I disabled the update function, and voila, my computers’ speed returned to normal ie: bog slow, instead of dead slow.

Of course, I got a virus.  As unwelcome pop-ups started filling my screen with rude pictures, I sipped my coffee and thought, “No worries, don’t panic, you can deal with this…”

An hour later I burst through the door of a computer repair shop.  “She’ll be right mate,” said the smiling youth, “We’ll get rid of the virus without losing your precious files.  Well, most of your files… probably.”  Back home, I sat in a corner and chewed my nails.

My daughters were carted off for counselling upon learning they couldn’t contact their online friends.  They returned later in the day looking like shell shock victims, but the nice counsellors had shown them how to pick up a telephone and talk like folk did in ‘ancient times’.  They opted to text each other instead.  So while they clicked away, I carried on with my scribbling using a notebook and pen, cursing the day I dropped my faithful old typewriter in a St. Vinnies bin.

Later, to prevent getting permanent hand cramp, I dragged the girls through the Art Gallery.  “Look Dad!” cried The Littlest Princess pointing to a typewriter exhibit, “an olden days computer!”  Now, you’re not allowed to touch the displays in the gallery, but if you could, then I’m sure you would be very surprised at how hard you have to press the keys on a typewriter just to make them move, and how noisy a typewriter is in the quiet environment of an art gallery.  You may also discover that some untrusting person had bolted it quite securely to an incredibly heavy stand.

Fortunately, my computer pulled through unscathed and I vowed never again to complain about how long anti-virus files take to download.  In fact, I’d happily wait longer, and pay a little extra, for any programme which not only stops electronic bugs, but tracks them back to the source they originated from, and blasts the computer and the hacker, into smouldering piles of radioactive waste.

That’ll slow those ‘buggers’ down for a change!


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KLE and Me :)

Well, it’s been a long time since I took Rentareck, my old KLE 500 motorcycle for a ride.  For various reasons, I’ve been reluctant to throw a leg over the old girl.  Possibly because she needs some serious work done before I go crazy.

The front fork seals are weeping, as is the front brake line.  The rear shock is starting to sag, and I really should change the oil.  Instead, I parked her in the shed, and let ‘other things’ chew up my time.

Every week I’d shuffle past her, and think, “Yeah, better get her fixed up.”  But every week, something else would distract me, and the work remained undone.  That’s how it’s been for months.

But this week, I thought, “Nope, let’s make a start.”  And I did, sort of.  I got her going, and as she sat there rumbling merrily away, I blipped the throttle a couple of times, and thought, “Oh yeah!”  Then I thought, “Should I?” 

Can you see me? I'm the rapidly accelerating dot on the horizon...

Well, my intention was to take her for a run up and down the road, then bring her home and start taking her apart.  But one thing lead to another, and over an hour later, I rode back through the carport door feeling windswept and delighted. 

Ok, the work still needs to be done, but sometimes, you’ve just got to ride.  And maybe ride some more.

And some more…

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The Gladstone Country Music Mob

I make a lot of fun at other peoples’ expense (as well as my own), but this group deserves all the support they can get.  Never have I been involved with such a supportive, encouraging, and dedicated group of people.  People who are putting the ‘try‘ into Gladstone’s country music scene, and every week they motivate someone new to ‘try‘ getting up and having a go in front of the mic, usually with amazing results. 

They’ve won me over, and I’m not all that big a fan of country music 🙂

Of late I’ve been spending my Tuesday nights down at the QRI Hall in Off Street, where a large group of fun loving, and talented, people gather to play country music.  These poor sods have become the latest social group that I’ve foisted myself on.

He sings! He plays guitar! He tells bad jokes...

Having been encouraged to get up and sing, I’ve noticed that a strange phenomenon occurs on stage; at home in the shower, my voice can only be described as ‘Godlike’, but on stage it seems to lose its’ tone, pitch and quality.  Apparently the stage is where the rubber meets the road; which would explain all the skid marks on the floor around the microphone stand.

Fortunately, an extremely competent backing band covers any little mistakes I make, even when I play my guitar like a drunken chimpanzee banging a drum.  And the audience is usually very stirred by my performances; because I’ve never heard a crowd clap so hard when I finish singing and wander off stage.

It’s a far cry from my earlier musical career.  For a short time I was in a rock band, but frankly, they were pretty hopeless.  Among other things, they couldn’t keep proper time.  I’d finish playing a song, only to discover that the rest of them were a long way behind me, so I had to stand about like a dill while they caught up.  Instead of picking up their act, they blamed my timing.  Unbelievable! 

The final straw came after I played them a classic heartbreaker I’d spent weeks composing.  As the last note rang out, and tears flowed down my cheeks, one of them said, “Now that you’ve finished tuning up, how about playing us that song you’ve written?”

Also I’m pretty sure that I’m the only guitarist in town who didn’t play in Country Sound, a local band that has been around longer, and had more people go through it than Madonna.  Anyone who could play a guitar, banjo, or a piece of string tied to a broom got to join, yet, for some reason, I was never asked.

 Which is why I’ve been enjoying the enthusiastic support from the Country Music mob, and they’ve even asked me to compete in the Gladstone Country Music Festival next February.  Apparently, if I go on first it will relax the nerves of my fellow competitors… although I’m not sure how?

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Filed under Gladstone Observer Columns, Here In Gladstone

Leaf by Niggle

The next instalment of the Tolkien bedtime stories was trotted out the other night: Leaf by Niggle. 

This is a wrap up from Wikipedia:

In this story, an artist, named Niggle, lives in a society that does not much value art. Working only to please himself, he paints a canvas of a great Tree with a forest in the distance. He invests each and every leaf of his tree with obsessive attention to detail, making every leaf uniquely beautiful. Niggle ends up discarding all his other artworks, or tacks them onto the main canvas, which becomes a single vast embodiment of his vision.

However, there are many mundane chores and duties that prevent Niggle from giving his work the attention it deserves, so it remains incomplete and is not fully realized.

At the back of his head, Niggle knows that he has a great trip looming, and he must pack and prepare his bags.

Also, Niggle’s next door neighbour, a gardener named Parish, is the sort of neighbour who always drops by whining about the help he needs with this and that. Moreover, Parish is lame and has a sick wife, and honestly needs help — Niggle, having a good heart, takes time out to help.

And Niggle has other pressing work duties that require his attention. Then Niggle himself catches a chill doing errands for Parish in the rain.

Eventually, Niggle is forced to take his trip, and cannot get out of it. He has not prepared, and as a result ends up in a kind of institution, in which he must perform menial labour each day.

In time he is paroled from the institution, and he is sent to a place ‘for a little gentle treatment’. But he discovers that the new country he is sent to is in fact the country of the Tree and Forest of his great painting, now long abandoned and all but destroyed (except for the one perfect leaf of the title which is placed in the local museum) in the home to which he cannot return — but the Tree here and now in this place is the true realization of his vision, not the flawed and incomplete form of his painting.

Niggle is reunited with his old neighbour, Parish, who now proves his worth as a gardener, and together they make the Tree and Forest even more beautiful. Finally, Niggle journeys farther and deeper into the Forest, and beyond into the great mountains that he only faintly glimpsed in his painting.

Long after both Niggle and Parish have taken their journeys, the lovely field that they built together becomes a place for many travelers to visit before their final voyage into the Mountains, and it earns the name “Niggle’s Parish.”

Anyway, it’s a good yarn, with some great life lessons.  and the The Littlest Princess enjoyed it very much. 

Ol Tolkien had quite a gift.  Next week, I’ll read her Farmer Giles of Ham.  Another favourite!

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