Saturday, February 28, 2009
I received an email the other day -- one of those mass email 'newsletters' that I can hardly recall signing up for, if indeed I did, but can't be bothered to ditch. It's sometimes mildly interesting. Which is not a compliment I'd want thrown at my writing were I the copywriter of said newsletter, but there you go.
Yesterday, I think that copywriter was having a bad day. I can just see him (or her -- it's probably a her) thinking, "How the heck am I going to write something interesting that meets these" - waves piece of paper - "criteria?"
There was probably a meeting, in which people said things like:
- "Our demographic is showing a 3% rise in response to Spanish recipes and a 11% gain in interest-response rates to Vietnamese food", or;
- "The post-holiday season health focus is still showing strong figures (ho ho) this week, but we anticipate a tailing off after Valentine's day."
So, what we get is this:
You can win friends with salad!
Why, thank you for telling me that! Are you sure you live on the same planet as me?
Oh! Wait a minute - what's this I see?
Every recipe you are presenting includes large lumps of meat, bacon, or crackling. Vietnamese beef salad sounds nice (I must be one of those 11%), and so does the pumpkin, feta and bacon. Something healthy? How about a nice salad: Warm salad of pork sausages, potatoes and bacon with mustard vinaigrette? It looks nice. And perhaps you're right - if this is salad, perhaps you can win a friend or two.
- Failing that, the dog will always love you.
Friends, I bring you 'salad':
Isn't it just a marvel of copywriting?
Pass the chocolate buttons.
This has always been one of my favourite photos, partly due to the juxtaposition of the red jacket and balloon, the green weeds and the relentlessly grey environment.
Friday, February 27, 2009
We recently popped into the excellent Castlemaine Art Gallery and noticed a magazine sized catalogue for a 2005 exhibition entitled Venezia Australia - Australian Artists in Venice, 1900 - 2000.
E Phllips Fox, Venetian Boats 1906-7, National Gallery of Victoria.
These two sketches of working sail boats (long gone from Venice) and the complimentary palettes and structure particularly caught my eye.
The core of the exhibition was made up of paintings, sketches and photos from Arthur and Nora Streeton's visits to Venice. Streeton is one of my favourite Australian artists. Not so much for his painting (although I do like some of them very much), but for his draughtsmanship and sketching ability in ink, pencil and paint.
Arthur Streeton, Santa Maria della Salute, Venice, with gondolas c.1908. Art Gallery of S Australia.
This lovely, carefully-worked pencil sketch was developed into a bigger painting, where the boats were 'dropped' by adjusting to a higher viewpoint. Ironically, I much prefer the pencil sketch, including the construction lines on the tower.
Not the typical Aussie abroad.
What I hadn't realised was that our Arthur was a bit of a dapper dresser, and as well as obviously being able to find St Mark's Square empty (about as possible today as Venice suddenly becoming shipshape and Bristol fashion) had a moustache that probably received more care than his brushes.
"Having emptied St Mark's Piazza, for my next trick, using only my handkerchief, I will lasso the lion on a stick. Watch closely."
You never know what you are going to discover next. Arthur Streeton's moustache and waistcoat as seen in Venice, found in Castlemaine.
Anyway, the guide has just been packed up and is to be dispatched to father one (bearded) for perusal and onward transmission to father two (unbearded) for interest...
Sunday, February 22, 2009
This little guy is a whippet on a bicycle. He's probably going to a film society soiree, or down to the library to pick up some books that he's got on reserve. He'll stop and have a latte afterwards, whatever the case may be. He rolled up this morning on his bicycle in the sunshine, and by noon he was off to a new home, with two whippets and two slightly singed humans.
Enjoy your new home, Whippet on Wheels!
Thursday, February 19, 2009
"Smoke from the 2009 Victorian bushfires spreads over the Tasman Sea and New Zealand. The imagery was acquired by the Aqua satellite, and is at 500m resolution. The image was the MODIS picture of the day on 10 February 2009."
One bizarre measure of the current and recent Victorian bushfires is the fact that the smoke reached our trans-Tasman neighbours, the New Zealanders, as I said before, over 2,000 km (1,200 miles) away.
Photo from here, and the Wiki page is a good summary of the story as it continues to unfold.
One bit of 'good' news is that the current expectation of the death toll will be less than the 300 expected - still much greater than (for instance) the 52 killed in the 2005 London bombings. Obviously only a fool competes in disaster, but it's worth mentioning, I think, as many people overseas don't realise the severity of shock across the Australian nation.
(On a practical, quantifiable level, the Australian Parliament was suspended, currently over 500 people have been injured, one firefighter, from Canberra, killed, nearly 2,000 homes destroyed, countless cattle animals etc. and over seven and a half thousand people rendered homeless. It's on a war scale.)
And as I write, those in Queensland and New South Wales are facing weather and water problems of their own.
However the stunning generosity from within Australia and overseas has shown a big positive. If that's you, thank you.
Monday, February 16, 2009
You mix crafters with plenty of space and a keen desire to do something for the bushfire survivors?
- Fabric, food, and fast-action fusing. (Eh? Read on if you're not 'au fait' with fusing.)
- The hum of many sewing machines, whirring along.
- Toys, toys, books and notepads.
- and a gentle buzz of concentration.
Saturday's sewing bee was a great experience. Nikki and her friends threw open the doors at her studio, where craft spilled out into the hall and the bags of goodness were assembled.
About 50 crafters turned up in a marathon day-to-evening sewing session, and assembled 80 bags (of three different styles for different age groups), 23 t-shirts with stuff on them (this is the fusing bit: you cut out a fabric butterfly, for example, iron it to a t-shir, and sew around the edges to hold it secure), 21 hairbands and pretty hair ties, and many, many more projects part-completed and pledged back by the end of the week.
If you haven't already read here about the Rainbow Comfort Packs, they are little bags for the kids whose homes and communities have been devastated by the bushfires. The latest count says 7,000 people are homeless, and so many more are affected, with friends, family, and neighbours gone. Some will return to a house, but nothing else: a garden and landscape of ash. Schooling in strange suburbs, staying with friends. A very strange, unsettling time - whatever age you are.
So the comfort packs are meant to provide a little bit of cheer and something for the youngster to be occupied with while the reality of rebuilding sinks in. Mums and Dads and the rest of the community will have a lot to do - perhaps some colouring books and jigsaws, games and skipping ropes, will give them a breather, too. Notepads, pens and crayons, coloured paper, glue and sparkles - for crafty kids to get creative, and perhaps heal some of the grief that's washing around.
James and I had a super time, and met some lovely, inspiring women. Leah and Bronwyn, Beccasaurus and her daughter Siddie, Karen, Cathy, Kitty - and so many more new faces to meet.
Is that a BLOKE in there?? (My goodness.... didn't I have some Ikea furniture to put together....? OH - and he can design Appliqué motifs??!! Come in, Mr Tacc!!) - Nikki
James was told many times that he was brave to come along. After assembling tables, he discovered a talent for designing and cutting fabric patches to go on t-shirts (watch out Zach, you'll be wearing pirate ships, cowboy hats, cool cats and bombs before you know it!) - thus inspiring some delighted teasing.
- And I fused the fabrics to a seemingly-endless pile of donated t-shirts, passing them on to the zig-zag team for stitching, and the yo-yo fairies for embellishment. (A yo-yo is a little fabric puffed circle).
We were pleased with the day, and the crafting will continue. I'm cooking up a quilt for a craft blogger I know whose everything is gone, and there are little sewing bees popping up all over the city. I'm sure I'll be back out there on Saturday, sewing up a storm.
Don't forget - even if you are reading this from afar, there's lots you can do, starting at Handmade Help. Please go and have a look - bid on a fundraising item on ebay or Etsy, send in a recipe, make an apron.
And if you think this outpouring of help is too much, or futile - then read the open letter from a bushfire survivor. And get crafting.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
There are too many stories coming out of the bushfire disaster. But for every miraculous escape there are those that had no escape. Then there's those that can't tell stories because they are too much. It's a reminder that the real world and nature doesn't provide a package warning, like those who think we can organise our world into safe compartments.
One friend (safe) writes how their granddaughter shouldn't have seen or heard the things she did while fighting to defend her house (successfully) with her father - and on the journey into town afterwards with the burnt cars and dead in them.
(The death toll has been halted at 181 for four days now, with no press comment or official update. The official estimates are still in the order of 2-300. Less than a week ago, we thought 20 was too high.)
Maybe the countryside should have a warning on it. Do people need to qualify to live there? It's clear that if you knock down the trees to clear what you decide is a reasonable firebreak, you can end up paying A$100,000 in costs and court fines - but you get your house - the only one in a 2km area. The Sheahans have a doubly bitter victory.
It's clear that we didn't do enough to stop people dying in unimaginably horrible ways - what should have been done different by who - remains open, but lots of people paid the biggest price.
Just one article among many. The Age.
On the hill, it's too soon to talk, drink or cry
Chris Johnston. February 14, 2009
Irish Maggie has lots of parties. Her pig survived the horrific fire that destroyed most of the town a week ago by digging a hole and getting in it....
The Kinglake CFA firefighters, 12 of whom lost their homes, saw horrible things — some of the most horrible things imaginable involving people and fire. The latest count is 39 dead up here, about 1000 homeless. A street called Pine Ridge lost 21 people. You hear stories. They tell you things but ask you not to repeat them — things about children, about the state half-alive people were in when they stumbled into view through the fire and about what happened next.
We already know things happened too fast in Kinglake. The wind changed and the fire gathered force up steep hills. Not bushfire but firestorm. No vegetation left, no leaves, no rustling. Dead silence.
But there are some facts of physics that might illustrate what really happened. Things melted. A Kinglake West potter returned to find the moulds she puts in her kiln had been destroyed through heat that was too intense. At Kinglake, part of the trailer of Glenn Dawson's truck, made of aluminium, dissolved. It's just silver rivulets on the ground now. The melting point for aluminium is 660 degrees. Glass headlights on his ute melted too — that happens about 1400 degrees.
He got the three youngest of his four kids out early in the day and saved his bluestone house, even though his fire pump melted. At one stage he edged open a sliding door to chuck water onto flames and the whole door blew off. Embers rushed in and the ridge capping on his roof exploded.
Ask him if he's lucky and he just laughs, because around his place people hid in wombat holes to survive.
What about the coolroom story? No one's told that one yet. Dennis Exton has a market garden. At one point 12 people sheltered in his coolroom — nothing more than a big fridge in his shed. Two had two broken ankles because they had been in a car crash in the dark, crawled into a burning paddock, then got helped up to the Extons. He had his kids, aged six and 13 months, in there too, plus their mother, while he fought the fire.
In the coolroom, no one spoke. Mr Exton was running around outside sucking air out of empty plastic bottles to keep breathing within explosions and that jet-aircraft noise everyone talks about. Inside, silence. An hour they were in there — kids, strangers, the injured.
This was going into last Sunday, the damage done. No ambulances, no police, no fire vehicles except the local ones, no way up or down the hill, no helicopters or rescue aircraft. Corpses in cars beside the road. Unimaginable horrors yet to be found. No birds in the sky.
...As the sun came up, Mr Exton heard a clanking sound coming up the road. It was a DSE fire truck, the first one he'd seen. It had no rubber on its tyres, but on it went, through the carnage....
Quite a few up the hill have raised Australian flags. Maybe on a piece of steel or a bit of fence or the chimney, something useless now that is all that remains of their previous life. None are at half-mast, not one. Despite everything.
While they decide, we can offer our hope. We need to learn from the their losses, and we can offer help. Today we got to do something worthwhile, as I'm sure Bev will describe. That made it a better day.
Friday, February 13, 2009
I've been leaving the floor to James a bit, as he has some idea of how to express how both of us feel about this dreadful week. We, like many, feel overwhelmed.
But I wanted to pop in to make a quick mention or two. The publishing company I work for, like so many other small to medium businesses, collected money for the Red Cross and pledged to match every employee donation, dollar for dollar. Of course many people have given through several channels, but in just three days, the company's able to pledge over $3400 - that's a bit of wow!
Tonight we're getting ready for the sew-in tomorrow. We'll be making book satchels and filling them with things to keep little ones occupied while the rebuilding starts. Colleagues dropped off bags of school supplies, stickers, crayons and pencils today. We'll do packs for young kids, mid-age and big kids: drawing pads, colouring books, reading books, diaries, pens and keychains, plus fun stuff appropriate to the age groups. We'll be sewing, stuffing, sorting and packing tomorrow. I want to do something - make something - and this is all I can do.
Please check out the links that now appear on the side bar. There are some super-amazing fun and dandy fund-raising art auctions, and you can get yourself or a friend a designer gift while helping us out. Please look.
- Art Fights Fire - tickets available Monday
- Handmade Help - craft auctions and seedling starters for regeneration
- Rainbow Comfort Packs
It was eerily quiet in our suburb, because there was no wind - a good thing for the firefighters.
The sky was blue, but there was an orange haze in the air, making everything slightly unreal, like a tobacco filter was being used. But this wasn't a special effect.
There was the subtle smell of next-door's barbique, or maybe a homely woodfire, normally a pleasant sensation. It wasn't next door, it was everywhere. The occasional helicopter going over, and the emergency sirens are particularly poignant at the moment.
The wind that had been directing the smoke and ash from the fires had dropped at last, after taking that smoke as far as New Zealand - over 2,000 km (1,200 miles) away.
Melbourne, south east of the fires by only 50 to 100 km (30 - 60 miles) has finally got some of the fallout.
We continue to hear stories from the fires, and are doing what we can. We can't give blood (to my not-so-secret relief - needles are not my favourite things) because we were living for six months in the UK between 1980 and 1996. I've never quite felt so 'tainted' before.
e-bay decided to shut down various fund-raisers because they weren't properly certified in the US.
We offered to house a dog - one good piece of news is that they think they've got enough offers to house all the animals they've got, so Toby won't have to budge up on the bed. Sadly some of the owners won't be coming to collect their pets. I've signed up as an RSPCA volunteer.
The Australian Defence Forces have made a range of housing available, including at RAAF Williams, Point Cook, the home of the RAAF Museum, where I volunteer. A good use of barracks normally empty.
Echidna at Healesville in happier times. The animal cull in the virgin bush will have been massive, random and uneven by species - but natural. JDK.
This morning Healesville, home of the famous animal sanctuary, where thousands saw their first platypus, roo or koala, was under direct, immediate threat. Thankfully, this afternoon conditions are more stable, and the threat's receded - for the moment. The sanctuary's closed to the public and the staff and volunteers are working overtime with injured wildlife. Some of those staff and people have lost homes, friends or family, but work on. Even the sanctuary may be no sanctuary if the winds change and the temperature climbs again. But the CFA have made great strides in protective measures.
Surviving Marysville residents have been bussed through the remains of their town. They aren't allowed to get off, as the forensic investigations continue. There's been no update on the death toll numbers for several days, but official estimates of the losses in Marysville are in the order of 100 - a fifth of the population.
A small town near where my family came from in Gippsland, Callignee is also 'just gone', and twelve of it's residents didn't make it out. The survivors are feeling forgotten because of the bigger stories.
An understandable focus on arson is being pushed by the media, particularly from the overseas press. One man has been charged, two released after interviews. (The multiple fires that have been investigated and 'aren't suspicious' don't make good headlines - but already they outnumber the 'suspicious' fires.) Both the Callignee and Marysville fires are 'suspicious' or 'arson' partly because they were unexpected or extreme.
But while it's vital to minimise arson attacks by every means possible, they are just one of the ignition sources, and it is the conditions and fuel that make the fires the size and ferocity they are. We can't stop all fires, we can only minimise those that occur, and we need to protect people and homes better.
Lessons are coming out of the disaster, but societies are still poor at making fundamental changes even when as hard hit as this.
Tomorrow we will be going to make care packs for kids. One of a million small efforts that show someone cares. There are other things to talk about, but in Victoria right now, none of them are as important.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
It might be a one-night wonder on the news there, but overseas reaction has been heartening. Practical help too - US and Kiwi firefighters are on their way. Thanks mates. A worthwhile ANZUS treat.
The usual interstate bickering and rivalry has been put aside when it counts, and Victorian firefighters have been relieved at the fronts by their fellow men and women from NSW, SA, ACT and elsewhere, so they can catch a break. Many haven't slept for days. Many won't be able to sleep easy for a long time - if ever.
Now more than ever I'm afraid a head of state who is on the other side of the just world isn't enough. Nothing against the British royal family, but the Governor General, our first woman in the role, Quentin Brice, is the woman on the spot, and making the difference by being there.
There's been a hundred stories - tragic, sad, amazing, all scary, but what caught me today was the arrival of the Australian cricket team and Shane Warne in the rescue centres. Cricket is Australia's sport, they are the national team, whatever any other sports might like to say, and while the cricketers are all too human, to use a metaphor from the other bat and ball sport, they stepped up to the plate. Just hearing a mum and kid getting Ponting's signature made it obvious it was the best thing that happened to them for a long time.
Warne was a genius sportsman with feet so clayey he could make a pottery, but he's still a hero to many kids.
From The Age:
Shane Warne sees one of his deliveries dispatched.
Warnie may just have played the innings of his life for his native Victoria, and the score doesn't matter at all.
It wasn't till the game of bush cricket started that he managed to really crack the ice. A skateboard was the wicket and a cardboard box the stumps. He bowled, an effortless graceful curve, while a determined small boy with a tight face and a bat waited. Every now and again one managed to thwack the ball. "Run run run!" Warnie would yell. While the batter kicked up a cloud of brown dust racing to the wicket, fellow bowler Garry Lyon yelled to the crowd, "We need some fielders over there!" One fielder came to grief after colliding with the towbar of a parked car. He picked himself up and kept right on running.
For the next batter, a small boy who doubled over in his hapless effort to intersect with the ball, Warne had a diagnosis: "Head before wicket!"
To another, who failed time after time to come within cooee, "You took it well though, champ, well done."
Warne wouldn't have known it, but one of the little boys there to see him had just lost his best friend. Another had lost his home and the rest of his street. The lucky parents there had cameras to capture their child's moment with their hero. The unlucky ones had the clothes they were standing in.
Sunday, February 8, 2009
It has not been a good day in Australia.
One of the things we've been learning about since returning to Australia is how to live with fire risk. We live in urban Melbourne, so face the same fire risks most of civilisation does. Not a great problem, perhaps encouraging complacency.
It's not the same up country.
If you live in country Victoria, in almost all areas, you've got to be realistic about the fact that there will be a bushfire - not if, but when, and how bad. Unlike in Canada and the USA, Australian bushfire principles are based on stay and defend, or pack and go. If you stay and defend, you are betting you can protect your home by fighting for it - you can't rely on external power, and you've only got the water you've kept in your catchments. You'll be defending your home with your own strength and betting your life.
Don't change your mind. If you are going to stay, stay. Many deaths occur when people decide they can't do it and try and drive out.
This weekend at least 84 Victorians lost that bet and died. There will be more. Others hoped that their houses might survive without them to defend. (Your chances of saving your house are good if you are trained, prepared and do the job. Most houses burn down from ember attack either before or after the fire front has gone through.) More than 700 houses have gone. Marysville, a pretty mountain town in the bush, where we've stayed for a weekend away, has gone.
The week before last we had three days in Melbourne over 43 degrees C; four over 40. But that wasn't bad because there were no high winds. Yesterday was high winds and 47 degrees C. That's a killing combination.
We've looked at houses with a view to moving to the countryside. In due course, I'm sure we probably still will - we can choose a good building on a good site, with a viable defensive plan, and we won't have a poor legacy site. When you've looked at a landscape with a view to fire risk, you don't regard shady trees as good news. You place your bets and you make a plan. You've got a good chance. But some people didn't get a fair go this weekend.
We hear a lot about 'heroes' in the military and so forth. Real heroes are those ordinary people that do extraordinary things. This weekend the CFA (Country Fire Authority) a volunteer body; are the heroes. Like real heroes many of them have sacrificed their own for their community - saving a neighbour's house while losing their own. These local communities have done their best in the face of untamed nature. Sure there's professional fire fighters, and we can't do without them. But there's never enough of them. Since the fires of 1939 and 1983 people have learned a lot. We know how to fight fires and defend property, but nature has still got the whip hand.
Meanwhile in Queensland, flooding is doing as much damage as the fires here. If there was a way to move the water 500 miles.
Here, yesterday's sky was a bit brown. The temperature today was a cool 20 degrees, and we even had a bit of drizzle (still less than 1mm in three months). There were a fair number of helicopters going over - but otherwise there were few clues that many areas of Victoria (a state the size of England) were facing devastation only equalled by war. The rest of Victoria is on high alert. Which can't be any nicer than actually facing the real fire.
There are other places I'd be happy to live, and have. But Victoria is my place - here and now. People think their home is worth fighting for.
Next time you find yourself grumbling about the weather - be grateful it's unlikely to kill you and destroy your town.
Thank you for listening.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
So here I was, minding my own business in the garden, when Mr. Ant crawled onto the laptop and started running around on the keyboard. I tried to brush him off, but that didn’t work, so I took a deep breath and blew a big puff … upon which he popped under the 'F' key and has not been seen since.
I sat and looked at it for a while, thinking he would soon notice his mistake and pop back out again. No ant. So I turned it over a shook it gently. Three sandwich crumbs: no ant.
Should I be worried about this? Clearly, judging by the crumbs, there's plenty for him to eat in there. Does this count as a sort of physical computer virus with the potential to do great harm later, like shrapnel? With every keystroke, am I possibly squishing him, leaving dead ant to fester and destroy my computer?
Oh deary me…
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
This was found by Bev. Now you are a grown up, so you don't need one of those annoying warnings on the packet, that points out that there's no punchline, and it's not entirely serious, or sensible. Do you? Good.
After we got the hottest week of our lives (and the hottest week in Melbourne since records began) the UK (well the south of the UK) was hard hit by snow. It was only a few degrees difference, but caused chaos. See here where Max illustrates her view of London's experience.
I was reminded of when Oxfordshire was hit by an unexpected snowfall (UK: 'Blizzard' Can: 'snow-shower' Aus: 'What was that?!') with a pretty result quickly followed by road chaos as numerous drivers tried to power out of the problem.
The wooden stocks in Woodstock.
Neither extreme is significant in climactic trends, being a peak and a trough, respectively, but the effectively complete collapse of transport services in both cities, plus other effects (the near total failure of the Victorian electricity grid being one) clearly illustrates how close civilisation really is to disaster.
Nature still has the upper hand.
Monday, February 2, 2009
"Let's grab the camera and go down to the museum!" said James.
What a clever husband I have.
The light was clear and the backdrop stunning. And with big ledges to stand on, no trouble to get those big quilts out and about.
Most of the photos reside on the laptop, and James is writing hard for a deadline tonight, so I am not going to ask to edit and post them just yet. There will be more, and some over at Taccolina, too.
It's a wrap!
Photos in this post by James, of course! Assistance provided by Toby.
Sunday, February 1, 2009
But then we had a special outing. And something most puzzling occurred.
I had to watch very closely.
I wonder what it could be?
PS: the humans suggest that you stay tuned to see what's the pack's been up to, sometime tomorrow they are plotting a post here and over here.