Thursday, January 28, 2010

USB Wine

At last, no need to drive to drink. Finally those clever French people have found a way to make the internet truely useful - the USB Wine attachment. Cliquez ici just like it says!

Coming soon?


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Australia Day 4: Pick a flag - any flag

As Bev's said in her post here, flag waving is something that's done a lot on Australia Day, but not so much for the rest of the year. Above is a window display on Australia day at Queenscliffe. The shop was shut, and I'm sure the staff were all at the beach or the barbie, with young Shane wondering who's lifted his beach ball and waistcoat.

The flag is also seen a lot on cars around Australia day, but not often as large and frequent as on this ex-US Naval Jeep. Perhaps he wanted the nationality of the owner to be unmistakable?

One of the great things about Australia is how many things actually are a mess, and don't make a lot of sense. This includes our flag, which isn't even all ours. The Australian flag can be easily confused for the New Zealand one, both being a quarter borrowed from Great Britain's Union Flag, and with stars on. (The Kiwi's one has fewer stars, and their stars are red.) To confuse matters further I thought I'd do a quick survey of some of Australia's flags. So here's a selection.

Seen here being dropped (with accessories) in front of Melbourne to open the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Museum's Pageant, this is the RAAF Ensign. The bit with the kangaroo in the roundel is folded over, of course.

The Royal Australian Navy Ensign has a white ground with blue stars, and is similar in colours to the Royal Naval ensign.

The Merchant Ensign for civil ships is identical, to both the flag and the Navy's ensign, but on a red ground. Seen above aboard a Sydney harbour ferry and below next to the Australian flag, flying by Cape Schanck Lighthouse on Victoria's coast.

Seen by another lighthouse, Cape Ottway, this photograph by Pam shows the Australian flag again, but partnered with the Aboriginal flag.

The Aboriginal flag has an interesting story behind it, and is unusual among these flags in that although they are all meant to be cared for within a set of rules, it is actually copyright, with the intellectual property belonging to its designer. Today a hoo-hah (as reported in The Age) over Google using the flag as part of a competition design on their website brought this into focus. Winning designer schoolgirl Jessie Du, 11, is a student at Rydalmere East Public School. Her design had the koala and possum beside the central yellow disc of the Aboriginal flag, but;

"The designer of the flag, Harold Thomas, who owns the copyright to the flag, refused to give Google permission to reproduce the design on its website, Google said." The Age went on to state: "Thomas, who lives in Humpty Doo in the Northern Territory, said he refused only because Google did not approach him in a respectful way and had demanded to reproduce the flag without charge."

How very Australian. And very Australian too is flags at the cricket, as seen here at the MCG.

So you were wondering what it is made up of, right? The Australian flag is composed of three parts: The Union Flag (often known by its nickname the Union Jack) in the top left corner, the 'Star of Federation' in the bottom left corner, and The Southern Cross, taking up the right half of the flag. The Star of Federation is a seven pointed star, representing each of six states with a point on the star, and one more point for Australia's territories. The Southern Cross is a constellation that can be seen from all of Australia's states and territories, of course. The Union flag ensures that Australia carries (combined) the full set of the flags of the countries that make up Great Britain, while failing to do the same for its own states and territories. Very Australian.

As Australia is a federated country, each state does have its own flag. This is the Victorian example, with its own Southern Cross.

There is another flag that most Australians would recognise, that comes in pairs. One example is seen here, and it's the flag you swim between at the beach if you want the lifeguard's cover. I'm not sure how fast you need to pedal to stay on the water, or if it's for the fish - you know, that 'one that needs a bicycle'...

Sorry. So to finish, I'd like to introduce another nation's flag. The 26th of January is shared with India as they celebrate their Republic Day, and despite the recent sad events, most Indians share a great time and their marvelous culture with us in Australia. This final picture was taken on Australia day a couple of years ago as the Indian contingent in the parade passed by.


Australia Day 3: Doug's Short Life

The story of Doug's brief life perhaps shows the best and worst of Australia. Doug was a koala joey (baby), and while koalas don't do much, they are quintessentially cute, even to those who don't usually do cute.

Little victim: the koala joey receives medical attention at Australia Zoo (Wildlife Warriors)

Found wounded, on 19 January, sadly Doug was to die on 22nd after a sustained effort to safe his life, and after the vets had expected him to 'make a full recovery'. It appears that a person or persons unknown had decided to shoot Doug (and his mother) with a pellet air rifle.

From the ABC reports; "Animal hospital manager Gail Gipp says the mother is expected to survive."

You would have to go a long way to find something as inoffensive as a one kilogram baby koala. Even the bigger ones (as seen here in a photo by Pam) are very teddy bear like.

Koalas sleep, eat the poisonous leaves of certain gum trees, and are mostly stoned as a result due to the poisons and digestive requirements of eating gum leaves. Not fast movers, the height of a koala's ambition is to find a good nook between branches in a tree, ideally within easy commute of some leaves - and that's it. Hopes had been raised for Doug when one of the vets reported that Doug "was giving me a bit of attitude". They are wild animals and should be treated as such, not teddy bears, despite the cute shiny nose, but they certainly don't deserve to be shot.

Australia Day 2, eh?

Q. What is the difference between Australia Day and Canada Day?
A. Hemispheres.

At dinner, James asked me this question. By now, I am used to my husband asking me awkward questions when I have my mouth full of linguine. I have also learned that I am unfortunately unlikely to get away with 'Mrrf' as an answer.

So, what exactly is the difference? Well, not much, apart from the obvious bits: flag, day, month, country, large bouncing marsupial, small determined chewing mammal, mate!, eh?, and degrees of mild social difference aside.

Canadians celebrate the anniversary of the British North America Act, which formed the Dominion of Canada in 1867; Australians celebrate the anniversary of the First Fleet's arrival (essentially the first moment of what became the nation), as James said in his previous post.

But here's the jazz. Both celebrations are in mid-summer, they're national holidays involving picnics, beer, sunburn, barbeques, going to the cottage/the beach, and an unusual preponderance of flags.

At sundown there will be fireworks. The Prime Minister, in a ceremony of tact, names a carefully-selected group of national 'heros' who promptly turn around and use the media time to criticise the government's policy on immigration/health care/aboriginal and native rights or the environment.

Children and adults wave flags and sport inaccurate renditions of same flag (if we can see through the sun-screen smears) on one or both or all cheeks. More sausages char as barbeques go up in a swirl of smoke. (Headache tablet and antacid sales are healthy the following day.) Music festivals. Street parties. Protests, particularly about our Commonwealth heritage and uncomfortably memorable moments in the treatment of indigenous peoples. Citizenship ceremonies and the handing out of certificates and trees in little pots, soon to languish in backyards everywhere. It's all there.

The differences? A few. The Australian flag is older, has more colours (so I was reliably informed), and is, I suspect, harder to accurately depict in face paint - never having tried it myself. Pavlovas versus pancakes. Beach cricket vs softball. Parched plains versus Great White North. (Great White Shark versus Growling Grizzly Bear -- but don't believe the locals, they wouldn't know what to do if they saw the real thing, really.)

That's about it, but here's one final difference: if a Canadian were to take offense because I said they were basically the same festival, I would probably never know because they would be so polite, tactful and overtly nice about it ('Just smile, Cathy.' - 'I am, Doug!')

But if I'd annoyed an Aussie, on the other hand, I'd hear about it. 'Wotcha, mate?' They'd probably crack a grin and settle in for the favourite national sport: having a bluey (a barney, a ruck; a fight). Great White what?

Australia Day 1: 1788 and all that

Today is Australia Day. It's the 222nd anniversary of the First Fleet arriving in what was to become Australia on 26 January 1788, starting the European settlement of Australia that has continued to this day. The Sydney Museum has an excellent model of the First Fleet ships on show (below) and I wonder how many of those aboard realised they were arriving in mid-summer?

Understandably, there is a view that the Aboriginal peoples who were already living here may have a rather less positive perception of the arrival of these convicts, sailors and marines. Although it has no effect on the tragic history of Aboriginal rights and life since that day, it's often forgotten that Australia really is entirely a land of immigrants as all the humans arrived from overseas - the earliest remains found in Australia are Mungo Man from 40,000 years ago. Estimates often giving a remarkably recent figure (in pre-history terms) of between 40,000 to 50,000 years for the first colonisation of the continent, although some believe it to be much earlier.

Of course the First Fleet was a direct result of the arrival of Lieutenant James Cook in His Majesty's Barque Endeavour on one of the world's great voyages of exploration. (The introductory image at the top shows the replica of HMB Endeavour sailing up the Yarra in Melbourne.) Again, an aspect of Cook's exploration of the Eastern coast of Australia and the arrival of the First Fleet is that it could so easily have been a French story, as the French Navy were literally on the spot - or in the natural harbours - at both events. While there are a scattering of French names (particularly in Tasmania - itself based on a Dutch navigator's name) it's a monolingual Anglophone culture in law. Yet it could have been like Canada, with a foot in both French and British culture and language, or a member of the Francophone world like -er- Monaco.

Often overlooked near the Circular Quay in Sydney is this mosaic map (above) showing the very first developments of what was much later to become the city of Sydney, Australia's eternal second best conurbation.

Of course, the First Fleet was the beginning of a social experiment that failed at its origin - to export 'the criminal class' from Britain, and to develop colonies with these prisoners. No one has yet managed to export their 'criminal class', so that part was a failure, but we seem to have managed to build quite a habitable country on this unprepossessing foundation. The convicts would try to escape from the marines and soldiers (obviously to get to what would become Victoria and Melbourne from the rather inferior Sydney and New South Wales) as seen above at Sovereign Hill historical re-enactment. But to get away they would have to get through the Blue Mountains (below) one of Australia's natural wonders which is essentially untouched except for the viewing platforms and coach parking (not included in the picture).
And when it's been another great Australia Day here, and we are rolling home with a beaut sunset to the West, it's the start of another cold, winter's day in Britain. We've just celebrated five years and one day here, and it's bonzer, mate.

James (a Melburnian)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Last night's catch

I think I'm obsessed... but I can't decide whether or not it's an obsession about cooking and food, or about painting and drawing.

Last night, the beginning of a long weekend, I raced through dinner and sat down to paint, as I do most nights now. I'd been idly flicking through a Cucina Italiana magazine issue we picked up last year in Canada, and I came across these beauties, which I wanted to paint. Or cook. And eat!

Sardines (click to enlarge - the image, not the dinner!)

First attempt was somewhat tentative, but I was startled to see that it was working. What astounded me about the photo was the incredible colours of the scales. I could see shiny patches of rusty-red gold, some emerald green, and along the bellies of the fish, perfect bright blue like the colour of the sky. (Is that because when you're a big fat tuna looking up, they will be camouflaged? Maybe that's a bit simplistic.)

This morning I added some washes of ink and some fine pen-and-ink cross hatching. I do prefer India Ink to lamp-black watercolour, for the greys and blacks. It's lovely. I'm quite pleased with the delicate look the pen-and-ink scratchy lines add to the watercolour. It looked a little wishy-washy before.

After the first attempt was frying - no, drying -- on the side, James suggested I try again by masking out some of the sparkly white highlights of the scales and then just go for it with a black wet brush and lots of water.

This is the second try.
It feels a little unfinished. I might add some pen lines today -- or maybe some wet fine lines with a very thin paintbrush, to keep it loose.

This one's definitely more impressionistic.

So that's last night's catch. No, well actually, there was another painting, but that's coming in another post (hee hee).

Today it's gone cooler and grey, a respite after yesterday's stifling muggy heat. I think I'll paint a stew!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Airlifts - Berlin to Haiti

Image by C-130 Hercules Flight Engineer Mark.

I'm sure all our readers will be well aware of the tragic events over the last week in Haiti. Over on my aviation writing blog here, I've put up a comparison of the current airlift into Port au Prince with the 1948-9 Berlin Airlift. While they are very different events, the historical comparisons and the importance and limitations of aviation in these airlifts is, I think, of interest.

Berliners watching a C-54 land at Berlin Tempelhof Airport, 1948. United States Air Force Historical Research Agency via Cees Steijger.

There has been a good deal broadcast over the issues at Port au Prince, but I was privileged to obtain some aircrew first hand accounts of the current efforts in Haiti, particularly in detail from my friend Brad Pilgrim, a loadmaster on a United States Air Force (USAF) C-17 transport aircraft. These insights are not the kind of thing that makes the news - the news version's nice and tidy (and perhaps less technical) and those trying to address Haiti's problems haven't got time to hear the stories. But you might like to gain an insight what it's like to ride alongside some of these crews, and what are some of the real problems and successes.

Above: The ramp at Port au Prince Haiti. (US Defense. A high res version of the image is available here.) On this ramp area is a remarkable variety of aircraft. Some are familiar to us all from airports, others, like the US Coast Guard Hercules less so, and in the middle of the photo is an upright white tail between two grey ones. That's a C-54, one of the types used over half a century ago to save Berlin - as seen in the black and white image above.

I'll hand over to Brad. These views are his own, not official USAF or similar, and certainly worth sharing;
I landed there last night. I unloaded 130,000 pounds of rolling stock and food. We expected to carry out 250+ passengers. We were told that no passengers were on site. While we were getting ready to leave, a guy ran up and asked how long we could wait. I checked with my pilots and told him we had about an hour. He said a bunch of passengers had just shown up unexpectedly and they wanted to put them with us. I told him to get me as many as they could. ...

Brad Pilgrim.
I'd just like to publicly thank Brad and the others who responded to my request for feedback, and for their work in extraordinary challenging times. Read their stories in my other post here.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

How do you like your cherries?

The recent extremely cold weather in the UK in particular has had a number of odd or unusual effects. My friend Rob Leigh was recently surprised in the morning:
"I opened my car door this morning to find what looked like a shower of broken glass all over the back seat and around the centre console. There was also a strong smell of cherries.

It had got so cold overnight that a couple of cans of coke had exploded. Luckily the contents weren't liquid and it was easily brushed up. That's the last time I leave cans in the car when it's that cold.
I'm up in Congleton at the moment. I don't know what the overnight temperature was but at nearby Woodford it was -16 C." [3 F]
I was reminded of Rob's experience when Bev went to fish in our car's centre console for some sweets on a journey home. As you may recall, we had a 44C (111F) day here recently, and that's the shade temperature. Inside a dark grey car parked all day in direct sunlight, it would have got a lot hotter. However there was a graphic demonstration of quite how hot it got coming up. Instead of a bag of hard cherry sweets, there was one, big, bag-shaped example. We are all familiar with the chocolate that ends up melted like a juice in a bag, this must've got to a similar liquid form, but if you had picked it up, it would've burnt.

These sweets are basically sugar and a little cherry flavoured syrup. A quick check by Bev in Stephanie Alexander's Cook's Companion reveals that sugar melts in this form at 112 - 130 C (233 - 266 F).

That's HOT.

More seriously it's been interesting that we've had several responses from UK friends, family and correspondents regarding the 40+ temps as being in some way enviable. Temperature, like other things has often to be experienced to be taken seriously. I don't have stats, but it's fair to say that the heatwaves here in Australia are as lethal as the current below zero conditions in the UK. Unprepared people outside have just died, and numbers of the elderly and infirm haven't made it through even in their own homes - in Victoria from heat, in the UK, from cold. Costs and demands for heating or air conditioning have caused spikes and shortages in both places.

Most of the debate on the issues to do with climate change miss one essential point - we are going to have to get better at coping with weather extremes than we are now. I like my cherries fresh or in Amarena, not burnt or frozen.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Produit d'Australie

The world may not be desperate for Vegemite, but thanks to Canada's language laws, it is available in French. One side of the Canadian jars point out that it's tartinare de levure concentree, which just proves that some things aren't sexier or more attractive in French. Thanks to Pam & Jim for ensuring the jar was available for my Canadian visits. I suspect it'll last until the 22nd Century.


[Much is written about Vegemite's addictiveness or repulsiveness. Only three things matter though: No one's indifferent to the taste. If you didn't grow up on it, you are unlikely to like it. Anyone claiming to be an Aussie outside of Australia can be checked for authenticity by finding their jar of Vegemite in the cupboard. No jar, not an Aussie.]

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Glad that's over!

For those currently facing sub-zero temps in Europe and wanting some warm thoughts, we've got 'em.

'Lonely Cloud'. Crop from a picture by Bev.

Here we had just under 45 C (113 F) yesterday and at midnight it was 37 C (99 F, and just under the highest ever recorded temp in the UK, I understand). Thankfully, after it got to 35 (95 F) today we got the cool change through mid afternoon, and it dropped from 31 (88 F) to 24 (75 F) in an hour. More thankfully still the predicted high winds didn't occur and there were only a few grass fires, no bushfires, despite the first use of the new 'Catastrophic' fire warning. Fingers crossed for the next few months.

Warm or cold, be safe, folks!


Friday, January 8, 2010

Night sketching

We've both been laid up with a bad virus / chest cold this week, so it's been quiet chez Tacc.

So this drawing is one that happened before Christmas -- on the evening of the 21st to be exact -- after we went out at 10:30 to have a cold drink on a hot, hot night.

It had been 38 degrees all day, and late after dark even though it was still well over 30, everyone was out, moving slowly, strolling or sitting in front yards. As we sat at the end table at the cafe, I drew this group of very merry Greek neighbours having a drink and a loud, enthusiastic gossip session. Like an early Christmas party, all back-slapping, out-out-OUT-doing, and all in very happy Greek.

First the pen sketch.

Then, after a couple of days to look and think a bit, washes of India ink added. I washed in the darkest areas several times, and chose the light areas to make the wall recede and the people the centre of the picture, but not too close. Shadows, several layers of grey, and speckles of ink for the cement sidewalk.

It looks really different, doesn't it? I wanted the sense of how dark it was, and the ambient light from the wall-lamps in the cafe, but all the shadows truly black.

I enjoyed drawing the hanging heat lamps (obviously not in use that night!) and the structure of the porch. I can do better people studies, so I would do that again, but it's a nice start for the first attempt at a night scene. I have some others in mind, so it will be fun to apply what I learned.

Is it finished? Not sure. I'm wondering about a few loose lines of charcoal over top. We'll see.


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Mr Cricket's back.

To the rescue . . . Mike Hussey scored his 11th Test century. Photo: Dallas Kilponen. The Age.

M. E. K. Hussey comes through with a terrific and concentrated 134 not out, remarkably supported for the latter half by Aussie bowler and part time wombatsman Peter Siddle, and taking away what should've been Pakistan's wrap up in the morning session. With two wickets to get the Pakistanis let Hussey and Siddle take their run chase from a straightforward 80 to a more challenging 176, putting Australia back in the game in Sydney at the SCG.


'Mr Cricket' - a nickname given due to his encyclopaedic knowledge of the game - is a Laing favourite after a good game at the pastoral Bellerive Oval in Tasmania where a group of small Hobartian boys hung over the fence soliciting autographs from the hero. One tyke was feeling under pressure: "Hussey! My mum says I've got to go soon..."

One wonders what Yabba a pre-war fixture at the SCG (seen here in a fine example of public sculpture) would've said...

And it's getting better - stunning catches by Hadden, Hussey and a caught, bowled and blooded Hauritz.

Test cricket, there's nothing like it.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

When 'boats flew with elegance & style

All I wanted for Christmas was a new two-hundred mile an hour two-deck Imperial Flying Boat!

Two posters from the Smithsonian: 'Fly Now: The National Air and Space Museum Poster Collection'. This one is an interesting variation on the period's aviation posters with a forced perspective to imitate the unbelievably high bow of the luxury transatlantic liners of the day, most famous with the Normandie poster.

The Smithsonian's blog about this collection is here, and the posters are here.

The right crowd and no crowding. Glad to see the little girl has to stand on tiptoe to see the elephants stampeding below. As you'd expect, while the physical shapes of some of the passengers are biologically impossible, the decor is absolutely accurate.

Sponsor: Imperial Airways
Artist: Severin
Inventory Number: A19901003000
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Dimensions: Unframed: 100.97 x 63.5cm (3ft 3 3/4in. x 2ft 1in.)
Materials: Offset Lithograph
Physical Description: IMPERIAL AIRWAYS Multicolor commercial aviation print. Seaplane (Short S.23 Empire Flying Boat, G-ADHL) in harbor with what appears to be tugboats on either side of it. Rear view of seaplane. Multicolor, but mostly blue and white image on paper. Partial text: "Imperial Airways Europe Africa India Far East Australia"

Sponsor: Imperial Airways
Manufacturer: Haycock Press
Artist: Chandler
Date: 1936
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Dimensions: Unframed: 49.53 x 31.75cm (1ft 7 1/2in. x 1ft 1/2in.)
Materials: Offset Photolithograph/Letterpress
Physical Description: Interior scene of Short Empire flying-boat (Short S.23); well-dressed passengers read, drink wine, look out window at a coastal scene, text block at bottom; multicolor image on paper. Full text: Luxury in the new Emprie Flying Boats Imperial Airways Europe, Africa, India, China, Australia

Friday, January 1, 2010

Wild New Year Sky

The first of January 2010 in our area gave a remarkable and somewhat Transylvanian evening of weather.

Firstly we had lowered clouds and weird light - gold to yellow.

Then the fruit bats started to head home with the first rumbles of thunder before we had an impressive array of lightning storms around us. While the bats evaded my camera (they move too fast - honest) after many abortive exposures, I managed to catch one cloud to cloud bolt of lightning.

With the thunderstorms on new year's eve in Melbourne, clearly the weather intends to start the year with a bang!