Thursday, July 31, 2008


Here's a lesson we all need to learn about the inherent injustice of life:

This squawking idiot probably earns more in a month than I do in a year.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


SMS from "unknown caller": Just to let you all know that Jo's pregnant & is due early 2009 ... love, Jo

SMS from me: Fantastic! Who's the lucky guy?

SMS from "unknown caller": Eh? You? Not sure ... will get back to you after the baby is born :-P ... Jo

Now if only I knew who Jo was, I'd be delighted. Or possibly worried.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


A few weeks ago some friends of mine who are in a band asked if I'd MC the launch of their debut EP. I resisted for a couple of days, since it's not the sort of thing I usually do, and while I can generally fudge my way through public speaking with my equanimity intact, I know that if I falter I will lose it completely. However in the end I agreed to do it, for the same reason that I decided to buy my scooter: I can't allow being a complete wuss to stop me doing new things.

So on Friday night I ventured out into a wild thunderstorm that had blacked out several suburbs and lashed the rest of city with driving rain and howling winds, and somehow made it to the Floreat Hotel. Besides my friends' band there were three support acts, and while they differed in style they all somehow complemented each other, and I enjoyed them all so much that I bought every CD on offer.

Anthony Nieves

On stage Anthony reminded me of soulful Irish genius Luka Bloom. On CD he reminded me of Matchbox 20. I really like Luka Bloom and I really don't like Matchbox 20, so I guess we have something of a quandry. Of course a lot of other people who aren't me love Matchbox 20, and the band themselves could buy and sell Luka Bloom's sorry arse a dozen times over, so Anthony is probably moving in the right direction career-wise.

Perhaps a really good producer could bring together the best of both worlds. Anthony's voice shares Luka Bloom's warm depth, and his musicianship is creative and assured, so said really good producer would have a lot to work with.

Syrian Rue

Syrian Rue play what might be described as Geek Rock. In recordings they sound like a bunch of university students who stopped playing Dungeons & Dragons just long enough to form a band and write Songs To Slay Orcs By. In person they are cooler, in ironic ties, vinyl jackets and retro hats, and the music is punkier. It still has a moments of swelling, soundtrack-style grandiosity, but mostly it's guitar rock with an impressive sense of the left-field.

According to their keyboard player, the greatest accolade they ever received was being heard and liked by people who were sober. I liked them and I'd only had two scotch and cokes, so I guess I can be included in that select critical group.

The Jade Diary

The Jade Diary were the stars of the show, launching their debut EP 'Landscape of Dreams'. Their influences include Jewel, Joni Mitchell and Sarah McLaughlan, and it’s easy to hear them. Listening to it calls for red velvet cushions, wrought iron candlesticks and floaty silk scarves, with the ghost of Stevie Nicks twirling around in the background. It's rich and beautiful, with a subtle elegaic quality that pushes it a little deeper into your heart than you'd expect.

On stage lead singer and songwriter Cheryl’s voice is fairly small, but like all the best small things it's perfect: exquisitely pure and clear with an immaculate clarity. As such it works best on the gentler ballads when she’s not having to make herself heard over louder, more aggresssive instruments. Most importantly, it comes into its own in recordings, and as such I don't think I'm being biased when I say that any radio programmer who doesn't play their songs is an idiot.

Phillip Ragan

With a keyboard player and a cellist, Phillip was the last performer of the evening, and in some ways the most interesting. He was almost painfully nervous on stage, his whole body tensed as if he were awaiting attack by music-hating ninjas. He bobbed his head slightly to sing into the microphone, rather than adjusting it to a comfortable height, giving the impression that it required a summoning of all his will every time he approached it. It was the conflict that all performers feel between the need to express oneself and the need to flee the terror of the stage.

That said, I'm very glad his desire to perform triumphed. His words are more like poetry set to music than lyrics, creating a literary effect, and the complex melodies suggest both classical and retro influences. Overall there's a sense of mellow sweetness, with deeper nuances that one might miss the first time around. It's hesitant, quirky and off-centre, and there are any number of reasons why it shouldn't work. And yet it does.

In the end, I was left with three conclusions about the evening:

1) All of the performers were unusually good, and I think that everyone who bought their CDs will have them on high rotation on their iPods, as I do.
2) Being a complete wuss must not be allowed to stop me trying new things, and,
3) There are so many people out there who are way cooler than me.

Monday, July 21, 2008


After months of weekend work I've finally managed to finish the main part of my garden renovations. The last major phase - pouring a crushed limestone path - was completed on Saturday, and I spent Sunday replanting the plants, clearing the debris and adding the finishing touches.

The original garden was more a creation of luck than design, with a pointless path edged with random plants. It accentuated the inelegant nature of the extensions built by the previous owners, and bore no relation to the shape or spaces of the house.

Stage One was the deck, which defines the space outside the extension and creates a visual destination (and a nice spot to sit under a new wisteria trellis). I considered building the deck myself, but I eventually decided that it was a little beyond my abilities and paid someone else to do it. And I'm glad I did, as he did an excellent job with a level of finish that I never could have achieved.

Stage Two was the gravel court, edged with recycled red brick pavers and framed with raised limestone garden beds, which echoes the size and shape of the living room windows and provides a formality that suits the space.

The quartet of lilly pillys screens the garage and provides a backdrop to the court. Once they are established they'll be clipped into an aerial hedge, underplanted with clivias.

Now all that I have to do is wait for Spring to launch the plants back into life... and turn my attention to the arboreal trainwreck that is the rest of the garden. Dammit.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


On Saturday I took The Flatmate out car hunting, and we were both disturbed by the treatment we got at various car yards large and small around the city. Possibly it’s a form of reverse psychology, but they seemed uniformly disinterested in selling us cars.

The classic used car salesman was an oily fellow who sidled up to you and tried to make you think that he was your friend. The used car salesmen we met, however, gave every indication of considering us to be a thorn in their collective side.

At the first car yard we visited, the salesman refused to let The Flatmate take a car for a test drive because it was up at the back of the lot and he’d need to move half a dozen cars to get it out. This might have been understandable if it was a cheap little rustbox The Flatmate wanted, but it was a $25,000 Saab convertible. He gave us the distinct impression that unless we wanted to just give him a big wad of cash and take whichever car happened to be closest to the exit, we were being more trouble than we were worth.

At the second car yard, I saw a car I liked and asked the salesman what he'd give me for a trade-in on my Golf. He told me he wasn't interested. Not that there was anything wrong with my Golf, which he thought to be a lovely example of its kind, but apparently he believed that it wouldn't be worth his time when there were plenty of people who could turn up and simply pay cash.

At the third car yard, we actually managed to convince the salesmen to let us take a test drive… and they gave us a car than ran out of petrol less than five minutes into the drive. We had to walk three blocks back to the yard. When we got there and the salesmen had a choice between a) apologising profusely for the inconvenience and b) giving us suspicious glares, they chose b).

In all of these cases, you’d think that it would be an excellent opportunity for us to say, “Well, we'll take our business elsewhere then!”, but unfortunately all we’d receive would be a shrug that suggests they're happy to see the back of us.

I get the impression that they all want the big score and nothing less. They expect every single customer to be a dim-witted mining company employee flush with cash who'll walk in, slap the asking price on the table, and then tuck a spare hundred into the salesman's pocket to buy a little something pretty for his wife. No one seems to want to deal with ordinary people who might "um" and "ah" and haggle and then only offer a modest profit on a deal.

No doubt well-heeled splurgers exist, but surely there can’t be that many of them? Not enough to base a business model for an entire industry?

At the end of the day all I really know is that it’s more than a little galling to be considered beneath the attention of a used car salesman. It’s like having your ethics questioned by a journalist.

Friday, July 11, 2008


Thanks to the power of the internet, whatever change you want to believe in, Barack Obama will endorse. Which is uncannily like real life!

Help Obama with your spare belief change here.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008


In my last post I mentioned that I’d hit a couple of snags in my plans for global garden domination.

Snag number came when I planted my aerial hedge. The trees had rootballs slightly larger than a basketball, so they needed fairly decent-sized holes. But just a couple of inches under the surface of the soil I ran into a line of jagged concrete chunks. At first I thought they might be the footings for the garage, but they seemed too haphazard. I eventually managed to unearth one of the chunks, and discovered that it was, in fact, most of a cinderblock.

Once again I’d run into the curse of my garden. When the house was renovated by the previous owners about eight years ago, they decided that hiring a skip to take the rubble away was unnecessary when they could just bury it all in the garden instead. I’m constantly finding lumps of bricks and pieces of glass whenever I do any digging. This, however, was my biggest find yet.

After I’d pulled up five or six broken cinderblocks, and discovered that there were still more of them buried lower down, I lost patience and just planted the trees anyway. I’m trusting that their roots can find the many gaps between the blocks.

And now, of course, I have to find a way to get rid of the big stack of broken cinderblocks sitting on my front path. Perhaps I should bury them in some out of the way spot in my garden?

Or better yet, in my neighbour’s garden…

Snag number two came on Friday, when the limestone blocks I’d ordered a week earlier finally arrived. While the Golf has on various occasions carried four trees, a two metre by one metre sheet of plywood, and two armchairs, I realized that asking it to haul more than 600kg of limestone blocks was probably out of the question. So I had them delivered, at vast expense and an inexplicable delay of six days.

When I helped the delivery man unload them from the truck I was sort of alarmed at my apparent lack of strength and fitness. The last time I bought the exact same blocks for a different garden project they’d felt heavy but manageable. This time I felt as if my back was going to snap like a frayed piece of bungee every time I lifted one.

It wasn’t until after the delivery man had left that I double-checked the measurements, and discovered that he’d brought me the wrong blocks. The ones I’d ordered and paid for were 500mm by 250mm by 100mm. These were 500mm by 250mm by 150mm, or basically 50% wider. The original blocks weighed 20kg. These weighed 32kg. I had more than a ton of limestone sitting in my garage waiting to be manhandled into my garden.

Still, the new blocks were probably better suited to the job, and I realized that I could get The Flatmate to help me get them into place. He has the benefits of being a) young, b) fit and c) bereft of a social life offering him better things to do. So I did as much as I could (nine blocks’ worth) on Friday, and The Flatmate and I wrestled the remaining twenty three blocks into place on Saturday.

I suppose, however, that these snags are fairly minor when I consider the lucky breaks (like discovering that the reticulation lines didn’t need to be moved) and the fact that the new design looks better than I’d imagined. Now I just have to grind my teeth and wait impatiently for the weekend so that I can finish it.

Sunday, July 06, 2008


If you’ve been wondering why I’ve been silent for the last twelve days, the reason can be traced back to my previous post. I’ve spent the last week blitzing my garden, with such unrelenting gusto that I was too exhausted at the end of each day to do more than flop into my Eames chair and moan quietly.

Each day was more or less the same. I got up, went to a local café for breakfast and a browse through the newspaper, ran a few errands and then, around late morning or early afternoon, I charged into the garden.

Over six days I cut down four trees, pegged out the new garden layout, dug up most of the plants, uncovered the reticulation lines, repaved the edge of the main path to the front door, cut the redundant lines off the reticulation, installed some new sprinklers, planted the new bed under the living room windows, pulled up two hundred paving bricks from the old path and stacked them at the top of the yard, moved my apple and pear trees to their new locations, created a series of retaining walls out of just over a ton of limestone, and bought and planted some lilly pilly trees that will form my new aerial hedge.

I don't pay for delivery unless I have to. As a bonus, the Golf is now carbon neutral.

Before and After photos will be posted in due course. Right now we're still in During, which I don't think anyone wants to see. It's all gone very well, except for a couple of small snags which I will go into later.