Sunday, October 28, 2007

Holy Ship!

Yesterday decided to go down to Circular Quay and the Bridge to retake the photos I lost when my USB drive went walkabouts.

Completely forgot about the "Rhapsody Of The Seas". Don't know if you saw this is in the news, but it's the biggest ship ever to grace Sydney Harbour and only cleared the Harbour Bridge by 2 metres when it arrived a few days back.

So as well as grabbing some good images of the bridge, I also snapped off a couple of the ship. And, yes, it's big. Very big.

And embarrassingly, even though they were moored in Circular Quay, the still decided to hold an evacuation drill. This meant those on the quayside could watch and snicker while various blue-rinsed septugenarians in luminous orange lifejackets trundled out to line up along the side of the ship like the world's longest police identity parade.

Look at these photos. I am the new Patrick Lichfield.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Blame Canada

One upshot of living in a hostel, or indeed travelling, is that your preconceptions tend to be challenged. That's quite a heady statement to kick-off with, but it's true. I am a big believer in speaking as you find. But also it's important to find out as much as you can before you speak about it.

The case in point: The perception is that Canada is a sensible country; less coarse than the States and devoid of their neighbour's hopelessly overly-schmaltzy, highly-commercial Coca Cola culture.

But, so far, and against type, the cleverest man I have met was American. And the biggest idiot, a Canadian. The American was a 25-year old Cornell University graduate who resembled a cross between an Arabian Vizier and Ming The Mericiless, was gay, and was engaged to Paddy Ashdown's son. I am not joking about the last part - intriguingly, he knew that Ashdown was some kind of English politician, but didn't quite appreciate how prominent he was.

Conversely, however, we are currently in the midst of an invasion by Canadian Idiots. Or as they now known around the hostel, Can-idiots. These are the kind of bellowing, baseball-capped doofuses parodied and loathed the world over, although more readily associated with USA. When they are not wearing said baseball caps at a jaunty "rap" angle, or punching the air and going "Wooh, Yeah!", they are busy displaying a startling lack of geographical knowledge, saying things like "Ryan, you are, like, so awesome, dude" or drinking heavily until one of them "barfs". It's like watching some cheap, straight-to-DVD knock-off of American Pie, or some other risible "frat-com".

Furthermore, the pre-existing Canadian contingent have now become mortally embarrassed about the presence of these new, loping jackasses. Yesterday, my friend from Montreal, Etienne, was giving me a Canadian geography lesson and, amongst other things, describing the differences between Provinces (eg Saskatchewan, Manitoba etc) and Territories (eg Yukon) before going on to discuss that the joke amongst Canadians, from British Columbia to Quebec, is that people from Toronto are idiots. And where are this new lot from, I asked? Yep. Toronto. Thus confirming all of Etienne's suspicions.

They had everyone's backs up on the first night when, after neighbours had complained about noise coming from the hostel courtyard, Miranda's continual bout of late night shushing seemed pass through one Can-idiot ear and out the other. "Seriously. Shut up!" said Miranda "We could get fined $600 because of the noise". "Well why don't we all chip in, and then we can make as much noise as we like" bellowed the drunken Canadian. "Shhhhhh!", shushed Miranda before adding "Doesn't really work like that, Ryan", knowing the council can close down hostels with just the stroke of a pen.

Meanwhile, I was on the sidelines tutting disapprovingly and wondering which unlucky person had to share a room with them that night. Turns out it was me. And is their behaviour in the bedroom any different? Well, if I told you they came in at 2am, turned the big light on, whooped and brayed at full volume, snored and then in the morning woke everyone with their alarm at 7am, even though they didn't hear it and didn't need to get up, I think you'll understand why I hope a mysterious and agonising plague is released upon Toronto.

Since I wrote the above, there has been another development. I wearily plodded home yesterday evening after two night's continually interrupted sleep, and not looking forward to that night either, only to be met at the front gate by the Can-idiots, fully backpacked up and steaming out towards the airport shuttle pick-up point. "Are you leaving?" I said, barely disguising the optimism in my voice. "Yeah" whooped one, before adding that uniquely North American goodbye, "Peace!". Well, actually, for me, peace and quiet.

I instantly hugged Miranda and Etienne and Dan before Miranda told me that even if they hadn't left, she wouldn't have extended their rent past Wednesday anyway. As a result Etienne, Matin and I celebrated by going to bed at 10 o' clock for a good night's sleep. Not all in the same bed, obviously.

Monday, October 22, 2007

No Light At The End Of The Tunnel

Last year I wrote a blog entry about the piss-poor performers in Akabane town square and, actually, seeing as Lou is over there at the moment, I've half-a-mind to ask her to just swing by to see if that "modern dance" prat is still there, whirling his arms around like a windmill on crack.

Anyway in the meantime, in lieu of the demented Japanese street "performer", I have the ones in Sydney to keep me entertained. Unintentionally entertained, obviously. Every day I take the pedestrian tunnel leading under Central Station to my office, and every day down that tunnel I run the gauntlet, darting between slow-moving pedestrians and busted-up buskers.

Most are bog-standard. Two or three are good. Two or three are so bad, they're good. So then, the ones who immediately spring to mind:

1. The Fortune Teller:

Ageing, bearded, floral-skirted Orc, clearly pushing triple figures. She sits on a small foldaway seat at the side of a dinky table scattered with all kinds of dog-eared paraphernalia. I have only ever seen her have one customer: a large Afro-Caribbean woman in an equally bright frock who, in fairness, looked as batty as she did. Perhaps they were friends. "Alright, Glenys...can you tell me my fortune?", "Course, Rita, but I doubt it will have changed since I saw you this morning...."

Most of the time she sits perched on her little seat reading at the newspaper, gurning elastically at passers by like something out of Bo' Selecta. If she really could see the future, she should perhaps find out what days she's likely to receive any customers and then only turn up on those days. See? She's not thinking ahead.

2. The Chinese Puppeteer

Ageing, Oriental prune with a permanent rictus grin, clearly pushing triple figures. The actual puppet itself is a rather splendid Oriental doll complete with embroidered Kimono-esque dressing gown, porcelain face and also is meant to be playing some kind of flute-like instrument. Similarly, attached are multiple strings from every conceivable body part, tied up to two crucifixes above the puppet's "stage". In theory then, you have so much control over it, you could make it alternate between the Moonwalk and the Macerena, in between getting it to pick out the raisins from a bag of Revells.

Why then does the old gimmer only make it turn left and then turn right in time with the music, which incidentally is some generic Chinese pan-pipe music crackling through a ghetto blaster at the side. Christ, you could make that thing do anything: solve a Su-do-ku, rewire a plug, write a letter to the Radio Times. But no, just left and right for me. And all the while, the man as this permanent look of amazement, as if to say "Look! He's dancing in time to the music. Watch this.... Left!.... Amazing. Now watch this..... Right!...... Can you believe it?"

It's still better than Thunderbirds though.

3: The Fake Rolf Harris

Ageing, Aussie one-man band, clearly pushing quadruple figures. The best one of the lot can be found right up the top end of the tunnel - yet for him, alas, I don't think there's any light at the end of it. He's a grizzled Aussie Cowboy-type figure armed with a guitar and a didgeridoo which he attempts to play simultaneously and fails. Usually (and I will have to get a bit technical here) he tunes his guitar to an "open chord" position which means he doesn't have to use his left hand to fret any notes, rather he can just strum/flail away and get one decent chord from the guitar.

His other hand which under normal circumstances would be on the fretboard is used for holding some Aboriginal woodblocks. Then on top of that he has a didgeridoo resting on his chin but, as his other two hands are busy, he faces the wall of the tunnel (with his back to the audience) to props up one end of the didgeridoo against the tiles.

Trying to describe the combined effect is quite difficult, but if you imagine a man dressed like he fell into the props cupboard on the set of Blazing Saddles, facing a wall with his back to you, farting through a didgeridoo, thwacking out one single monotonous chord and rapping some woodblocks on the tiles, and hopefully you'll come to the conclusion that, really, you should carry on walking.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

"I", Said The Fly

The mosquitos are back. And so are the flies. And the flies here are arseholes.

Here they bathe in the light of an Insect-o-Cutor when they fancy topping up their tan. Here, when they smash into the window for the third time, the window usually breaks. Here the flies don't say "bzzzzzz", they say "what are you looking at?". Here when you swat them with a newspaper, they grab the newspaper, tear it into a fetching paperchain and hand it back to you, together with a precis of the main stories.

A few of us had decided to go to the Fountain Cafe for breakfast - so called because it's a cafe and it's by a fountain (presumably, the same theory was employed when they named the Snowy Mountains). Within moments we were being divebombed and aerially bombarded by what seemed to be a whole swarm of flies, but in reality turned out to be about 3.

The persistence and aggression of these little buggers is impressive and as we peppered our conversation with the frequent "bugger offffffs" and "piss offfffs", angular elbow movements and absent-minded swatting of brows, I realised the development of the traditional Aussie corked hat must have been a boon for the early settlers. It certainly wasn't a fashion statement, anyway.

Running On Empty

Is this the most boring email ever to grace an inbox?


In a situation where:

* we have been to the RailCorp panels of professional services providers (P07001 - P07005) to secure a Type 1 professional services resource but have been unsuccessful, and

* we now propose to go to the State Procurement 881 panel,

do we need to prepare a separate submission for approval to invite a tender from the 881 panel or will it be sufficient to go straight to the 881 panel explain and explain this in the submission for approval to award the contract?


I don't know who Peter is, but he sounds like a lot of fun. Yes, never a dull moment with the P-Meister. He is Krazy. Yes, Krazy with a "K".

Every now and again, despite his wife's advice, he wears his navy tie, not with his navy suit, but with his cornflower blue suit. What a rebel. And sometimes on his way to work, he plays his INXS CD out of sequence - just to mix it up. Man, someone stop that guy - he's out of control.

This place continues to amuse me. The last thing I want to do is come across as snide or unjustifiably vindictive, but I there's something amiss here. I could be afflicted by a terrible naivety, but I just don't know if what these people do has any point to it. Well, it has a point in that it buys them a cornflower blue suit, and pays the Foxtel bill, but I mean what does it actually do?

Most of these people are contractors, hired management consultants who sit in silence, all day, updating documents, chuntering in a subdued yet overly-businesslike fashion down mobile phones which, incidentally, double as PCs, cameras and TV remote controls.

Listening in on their conversations and talking to them about their tasks, it almost seems as if they are trying to build some kind of castle from thin air, vaguely waving their arms about as they direct where the invisible bricks should go. And to the casual observer, the result is a still an empty plot of land. I'm reminded of a famous Goon Show sketch where, whilst in the desert, Eccles, Neddy and Bloodnok encounter a house which they find to be mirage, only to see Eccles fall out of the sky, remarking "I went upstairs".

Was that a useful analogy? Probably not. But, in short then, I am saying that any minute now I expect people to start falling from the sky, realising their job doesn't consist of anything tangible; nothing they can hold, see or touch. Today's charts relay and condense the results of the last set of charts, which were in fact a forecast of what was to be in today's charts, anyway. This spreadsheet is a spreadsheet about other spreadsheets, all of which referenced this spreadsheet. "Maybe we should touch base and have a discussion about what needs to be discussed next time we discuss how previous discussions have gone"; "We're currently undertaking a Stage 2 feasibility study to discover whether the Project Management Team can effectively forecast for Contingency Budgeting, so we can go straight ahead with implementing a Solutions Matrix to address the issues raised in the Test Summary Report. I think you'll agree, that's pretty exciting. Also my wife's left me and I feel so alone....".

The whole thing is so circuitous, so self-referencing, so tautological that you wonder if any work has any influence on anything in the real world. Like a self-contained, Mobius-strip-shaped little universe or a snake eating its own tail, until it feeds itself into nothing.

Yes, I worked in the advertising industry, which is not exactly the most laudable of professions, but the end result was for all to witness; on TV, on the radio, in a magazine, on the internet. And I'm not knocking them . They have kids to feed and Audi's to fuel, but I remain fascinated by the fact that what they do is so artificial, so invisible, so ethereal that no one has ever noticed their output doesn't actually consist of anything.

No "Non-PC" PCs

Received this email today:


The ICT policy prohibits you using the RailCorp email system to send sexually explicit or otherwise inappropriate material.

In considering whether material is inappropriate, you can ask yourself:

“If I printed out that picture, would it be acceptable to pin it on the wall in front of all my fellow staff, my managers, and in public view as representing the image RailCorp wants to present to the NSW community?”

Examples (not an exhaustive list) of inappropriate items are:

· Nudity, both male and female
· Swimsuit, lingerie and underwear pictures
· Images/text/videos/jokes/cartoons which may offend on racial/ethnic grounds or on religious grounds

. Pictures/cartoons:

o which show or concentrate on human genitals/sexual anatomy
o of animals apparently engaged in sexual acts
o involving bodily functions (eg: vomiting, urinating, defecating)
o of medical/surgical procedures or of wounds/injuries

All of these items may cause offence and/or discomfort for someone in our workplace, and therefore they are not appropriate.

You should have no expectation of privacy in relation to your use of email in the workplace.

Bloody spoil sports...........

This Sporting Life

Now I'm not a fan of sport as you know.

In fact, I'd rather spend my Sunday watching the Antiques Roadshow and then Last Of the Summer Wine because, even if Henry Sandon had undervalued a particularly nice teapot, and even if Cleggy failed to launch a rocket made from a bathtub, the combined duration would still be shorter than a football match.
But this last two weekends have been big dates in the Australian sporting calendar and I thought it only fair I celebrate this with my post-colonial cousins.


First up, the Aussie Rules (or AFL.) Grand Final which myself, Lou, her Melbourne friend Jude, Brian, Franc, Claire, Etienne and Martin all headed down to a bar in Darling Harbour to watch. Obviously, I knew next to nothing about the sport and even with an Aussie, Jude, attempting to explain the rules I was none the wiser.

So how was the game? Well, allow me a digression. Imagine this: when it used to rain at school, we would be confined to the classroom for a "wet-break" where dinner ladies would wheel out reams of blank paper and big stubby Crayola crayons in an attempt to keep us amused for an hour.

If the rain let up, the kids would be let back into the playground and the joy upon being free from the inside of the classroom would result in every child hyperactively zooming around in an impossibly tight turning circle as if just having received an intravenous injection of Kia Ora. From the air it no doubt looked like the physical representation of 2 dozen catherine wheels, spinning wildly and chaotically.

Now, if you'd chucked a ball in while you were at it, you'd have yourself an AFL game.

It's unfathomable: some people are running this way; some people are running that way; there's someone running diagonally for a bit, then back this way. Players dart over there for a while then come cow-tailing it back, then they get tackled and hare it back round and head off in other direction. What's going on?
The whole thing looks like a 22 sprint races being run simultaneously, one for each player, and each with their own unique criss-crossing start and finish point.

And this goes on for ever. 4 quarters of 30 minutes each with a 10 minute break in between means the entire game is pushing 2 and half hours. And that's a long time to be racing around like you've taken an entire packet of Pro-Plus washed down with Red Bull.

I tell you what though. I'll readily admit that even though the game appears an indecipherable hyper-steroidal free-for-all, those players are very, very physically fit. They have to be, being forced to spend two hours of legging it about like they're on fire. They run more than footballers do, and for longer. And, even though tackles are far less brutal than rugby, they run more than rugby players too.

At the end Geelong (near Melbourne) had beaten Port Adelaide by 119 points clear, the biggest ever margin in a Grand Final. Back at the hostel Alex (or Mr Tumnus) was sulking. He's as Australian as drinking Castelmaine XXXX from a billabong, and is a die-hard Port Adelaide fan and little did we know at the time, he was to be disgruntled yet further by an even bigger sporting humiliation........


The following weekend was England vs Australia and, despite everyone expecting a thrashing, we headed down to Darling Harbour again to watch the match. This time, however, the bar we had visited the previous week had turned into a meat market complete with gyrating slappers with belts for skirts. Clearly not showing the rugby then.

So we ended up in an old man's pub round the corner, together with a healthy gathering of Aussies and Poms alike. To be fair the Aussies were very gracious singing God Save The Queen as well as their own national anthem, and banter between opposing supporters was light-hearted. The only dissenting voice came from a 70-year old git who looked like he'd been kicked awake in a shop doorway, who routinely barracked the screen with chants of "Break their hands, boys" and was so obnoxious that the other Aussies in the room told him to shut up.

He later fell into conversation with two of our party, Chris (now fully recovered from the train vomitting incident) and Claire. He told them both he had a phD in Econometrics despite looking like a pin up for The Real Ale Drinkers Calendar circa 1974 with his chunky lambchop sideboards and pot belly. Clearly a bit mental.
In fact, after speaking to him for 4 minutes Claire had started surreptitiously kicking me as if to say "rescue me". Martin (from Koblenz) and I wondered how best to do this. "Perhaps I should just go over there and kiss her" he suggested. "Don't think Claire would like that" I responded "Perhaps you should go over there and kiss him".

The game was very exciting, as you no doubt know. So much so that the two German girls, Alischa and Julia, who had never seen a rugby match before, were instantly hooked. The tension built towards the end and the final victory sent the English contingent diving for their mobile phones to send text messages to friends and enemies across the world. The Aussies didn't make a fuss and slunk away quietly, until only the English were left.

I arrived back at the hostel to see Alex (Mr Tumnus), freshly-miserable from Port Adelaide's defeat the week before, being harrangued by three drunk Englishman. "Your team lost at Aussie Rules, and now your rugby team lost as well....dear oh dear oh dear" barracked Noel from Nantwich. "You didn't even score a try" countered Alex, barely containing his rage. "Doesn't matter" said Noel "You still lost". "Yeah, well stop going on about it" retorted Alex "If the Aussies won, I wouldn't have been taking the piss. At least we're modest in victory". "What?!" said everyone in unison "Are you joking? You'd have been banging on for weeks".

And, for someone who doesn't like sport, it was all rather entertaining.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Helter Swelter

It's October. And today it is 36 degrees. I'll write that again - this time in words for the deaf aids - Thirty-Six Degrees.

It's like being in a wind tunnel with a blast furnace. If I was on a beach I think I'd be mopping at my brow with me hanky like some Midlands Pavarotti.

I'm so hot I'd wrestle naked with Eskimo in a freezer full of icepops.

No duvet for me tonight, then.

All's Well That Ends Whale

With only a few days to go until she returns home, Lou, my lovely missus, decided to arrange a mystery trip for us.

Despite my constant questioning she refused to give me any clues as to where we were going, and it was only when she hinted "You need a jumper and a camera" that I guessed correctly; it was pushing a sweltering 27 degrees and in this weather only the sea could be that cold. Turns out, we were going whale watching. Good stuff.

I immediately began brushing up on my Moby Dick quotes - "To the last, I will grapple with thee" and "From hell's heart, I stab at thee" - ready to deploy them in case I became accidentally entangled with the harpoon and found myself trussed to the side of the beast. Obviously, that wasn't likely to happen, but I just wanted to show Lou how cultured I was.

So after I'd been put right on the differences between whale watching and ....well, whaling .....we set off. At Darling Harbour we loaded up onto a double decker boat about the size of a small corner shop, and buzzed-off Eastwards out to sea, passing under and past the ubiqitous opera house and bridge. About 1 hour 30 minutes later, Sydney's skyline was pencil-feint in the heathaze, and with the boat pitching and buckling in the Pacific, I began to feel rather queasy. Lou had taken her travel sickness tablets and so was zonked out on the back seat, but other people were surreptitiously making use of the windsock-style honk-bags distributed at departure.

Just when the sweat was beginning to pool in the small of my back and my mouth had gone dry, the driver - who was an Englishman and a Christopher Ecclestone lookalike - spotted two blowhole sprays and made off for a spot about 200m away. Predictably, there was a mad dash for the top deck where several people were already poised with their digicameras, together with one big black American guy and his missus, who had some kind of proper super-duper, hi-tech, ground glass, long-lensed Olympus effort.

With the engine off and drifting aimlessly, the whales began breeching closer. Now we could see them arcing and curling through the waves, the instantly recognisable Y-shaped tail signalling their departure from the surface. At was at this point, however, people who were attempting to take photos were beginning to discover all they had was a series of snaps featuring just the ocean; it was impossible to know where they would surface next, and when they did breech, in the time it takes to fire off a shot, they'd surged off in another direction. Usually down.

Nevertheless we did have one very close encounter. About 20 minutes in one whale pierced the surface metres from the boat, eliciting a chorus of oooohs and aaaahs from the throng. I scrabbled for my camera but completely bungled it - first by turning it off and, then, after I'd turned it back on, by accidentally selecting the wrong mode. Bugger. To my right I heard the big American with the expensive camera chuntering as well ; he'd obviously missed the moment too. Luckily, Lou got off a few shots from a crouching position with her old-style Nikkon, but as she's a photographer and uses good old-fashioned film, I don't know yet whether the encounter exists on record.

Then it was over. We'd had our allotted time and so turned tail and made for Sydney, now obscured by a brilliant blast of late-afternoon sunshine. Actually, it wasn't over. About 40 minutes out of Sydney, a fellow passenger descended the stairs to announce: "look....dolphins" and again there was a mad scramble to the top deck, and to the front of the boat. We peered over the edge to see a dolphin just feet in front of the bow, scything through the foam at incredible speed. To the casual observer it could have looked like we were chasing it down, but we most definitely weren't. No, the dolphin was playing. Apparenty, they often join the returning boats, racing along with them across the ocean. And, sure enough, after a few moments they had peeled away and disappeared.

Another great trip, then. But next time I'll need to be quicker with the camera.

One Day My Prints Will Come

Last week I was charged with printing out 720 CountryLink training manuals (CountryLink being the OZ equivalent of, say, Intercity). Truly, a job worthy of my talents. Each print run had 84 pages, so that was 60480 pages. It was 122,398 seconds of my life I wasn't going to get back.

So I invented a new game to entertain myself.

If it was a Japanese gameshow it would be called (adopts shouty/grunty Oriental voice): "Super-Printout-Treasure-Hunt-Charrenge!!!!!!!!!!!", accompanied by epilepsy-inducing flashing limegreen captions.

The game is thus: because it's too much for one printer to handle, and because people waiting for one piddly printout are held up by what appears to be an entire tree's worth of paper, I have to stagger the workload.

This means finding other random printers in random parts of the building, installing them on your PC and then sending your Bible Of Dross to print out possibly across the other side of the building. Of course it's not always obvious where these printers are. And so when your print is complete you can go on a little treasure hunt around the labyrinthine corridors looking for any printers with a two ton wodge of paper sat in its out tray.

Strictly speaking you shouldn't do this. Each department has been assigned a printer and has a discreet budget for paper and toner etc. and so today I got rumbled:

"Hi Philip

It appears that what you have been printing has turned up at our printer – level 4 south side facing the tracks.

As this is a large document can you please pick it up instead of reprinting the document.

In future please try to double side print large documents


Note how the email is poilte, yet subtle in its recriminations.

"CountryLink"? More like "Cunt Really, Inc."