Saturday, August 13, 2005

The dog and bone

A question I used to often hear when I was a kid was, 'Do you have the phone on?'

The person asking the question did not mean have you switched your phone on. They meant do you have a telephone at home. A positive response would lead to an exchange of numbers or whatever.

Ten year ago it was almost unimaginable that someone would not have a home telephone. It is quite imaginable now. There is a drop of profit forecast for our favourite big telco as people no longer feel the need to be gouged for the home telephone. This seems a bit odd to me as unless you have cable internet, without a fixed line, you can't have dial up internet or adsl. This surely is the only thing that people will keep the home phone line for. Although, much as I dislike talking on the telephone, the fixed line is far more preferable than a mobile.

It was less than ten years ago that our phone bill for three months was around $40. I expect we use the phone less now, but it is well over $30 per month. It costs us $6 a month just for caller ID. This is a ridiculous charge.

As we have cable internet, I think at some time in the future, we will do away with the fixed line, although because of bundling of internet, mobiles and home phone, the economics of it would need to be carefully studied.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

The Beast












In these time of high petrol prices, I don't miss filling my old beast with liquid gold. But sometimes I do feel a pang for the Humber Super Snipe that I used to own. This is not it, I don't have any good photos of it, but it was the same as this. I cost me $1700 about 15 years ago, plus a new motor for $1200, $400 for new tyres and little else, except for gallons and gallons of petrol it consumed, over the ten odd years that I drove it. Humbers do not take petrol by the litre, it must be gallons, unless they are holidaying abroad on the continent.

It was beautifully comfortable to drive on a motorway at the speed limit, but even with power steering, it felt heavy and cumbersome around town.

It had it's quirks. Strangely the heater was not terribly effective, very odd for an English car. If it was raining and the booster (fan) was on and you stopped at traffic light, the windows immediately fogged up. If it was dry, the car just filled up with engine fumes. So every time you stopped, the booster had to be switched off. Nightmare in stop start traffic when it was raining.

To check the transmission oil, you had to pull back the passenger side carpet, unscrew a metal plate to give access to a short dipping stick. How dangerous is this? The transmission had to be checked with the motor running and in Low gear with the handbrake on.

It was a weird transmission. It had three speeds but during normal driving, it would only use 2nd and top. If you accelerated hard from stationary, it would use 1st gear then. A modern feature of transmissions is that when in top gear, the transmission locks and it is no longer a fluid connection. The Humber had this so many years ago. The change from second to top was a slow sticky slide, otherwise it would have been quite a jolt. The gears were arranged in a different pattern, I think Park was far left, then Neutral, then Drive, then Low, then Reverse. But there was one more position. Push the gear lever forwar when in Drive, then the car would start in 1st and hold 2nd gear for a much longer time. This was usefully in hilly conditions where the transmission would be slipping from 2nd to top and back constantly. It would be guaranteed to overheat the transmission, which did not have cooling like modern ones.

It was a nighmare to service. There were a couple of dozen grease nipples and the engine took eight litres of oil to fill instead the usual average four or so. The transmission took about 15 lites of oil.

Care had to be taken when jump starting it or another vehicle as instead of the usual negative battery terminal going to earth, it was the positive one.

I had the analogue clock repaired twice and then converted to an electronic mechanism and still the bloody thing would fail. And yes, when it was going, you could hear it tick.

Although it had power assited disc brakes, it was so heavy, it was not a fast stopper. I learnt to keep my distance and I don't think I ever had to use the brakes in an emergency. A light application of the brakes was not enough to pressure to operate the brake light pressure switch. Modern cars use a simple contact switch on the pedal.

The wipers were two speed that always made an extra wipe after they were turned off and then parked themselves much lower on the screen than their operational position. The windscreen washer water container was actually a glass jar with a screw top lid and the pump and motor were part of the lid.

The boot light was operated by a mercury switch. As the boot lid was raised, mercury in the switch would run to one end and make an electrical contact to switch the light on. The boot lid often required a tap to make the switch work.

It had two rear passenger lights and one front one that was built into the mirror frame.

The engine was 3 litres and it gave quite good performance.

It certainly was not anonymous motoring and now I prefer the invisibility of a modern white car and air conditioning, but it was fun having the Humber.

Black granite

R wins this one. Keeping black granite looking nice on a day to day basis in a kitchen is not easy. If you just wipe it with a wet cloth, it is immediately smeary and does not look nice. If you are thinking of granite for your kitchen benchtops, go for the very nice brown granite that is much more forgiving.

I don't do this everytime after the kitchen is used, but maybe every second day or if visitors are known to be coming.

Wipe it down once with soapy water to rid it of grease and other cooking detritus, refill sink and wipe it down a second time then dry it with a clean cloth. The cloth must be unused, if not, it will just smear. It takes quite a bit of time.

R just sprays with Windex and then wipes it down. Much quicker.

After three years of my method, I now just wipe it down, spray with Windex and dry it. It is so much easier and quicker and bugger the extra cents it costs for the Windex.

The Finns

We Aussies don't know much about Finland. I found this article fascinating.

9 August 2005
By Therese Catanzariti

Finns don't talk much.Finns are sparse and sparing in conversation. If they have to speak they use the minimum amount of words. Long sentences in English language movies are reduced to two or three words in the Finnish subtitles.This gets more extreme the further north you go. A friend in Oulu describes morning coffee at his office. Ten men sitting silently drinking coffee. Perhaps someone will flick through a newspaper. Every now and then, someone might say “sokkeri” (sugar). Not “can you please pass the sugar.” Too many words. He says sokkeri. Someone passes him the sugar. And then it's back to silence. There is no word for please. Think about that.

There is no small talk. One of my husband's colleagues met him near the photocopier one afternoon. “Hello, how are you today?” she said. “Fine,” he replied. He was a little surprised since he had already said hello to her that morning. “And how was your weekend?” she continued. “Great,” he said, although it was Thursday afternoon. “And how is your wife?” she asked. She had never met me and had never asked about me before. Then there was an awkward silence. “I'm studying small talk” she said. The inanity, the empty politeness of small talk is revealed by its absence. You get into a taxi. The taxi driver asks you where you want to go. And then doesn't talk again. Shop assistants and waiters don't want to be your friend. No noise, no clutter.Still, stripped down interaction can be challenging, particularly at work. There's no water cooler, and every individual is a silo.

A Brazilian postdoc at the University of Oulu shares an office with a very northern Finn. Every morning the Finn comes in at 8am. He says “huomenta” (good morning). He sits down. He goes for lunch at 11am and leaves the office at 4pm. And he doesn't say one more word all day. For the first few weeks, the Brazilian thought huomenta was the Finnish word for eight. Finns answer the exact question asked. They will not volunteer information.

We have moved to Tapiola, a suburb of Espoo, which is a commuter city just outside Helsinki. The swimming pool in Tapiola is closed for renovations. I asked at the library next door how long it would be closed. “Two months,” they said. Silence. “Where is the next closest swimming pool,” I asked. “Leppavara,” they said. Silence. “Do you know what time it opens?” I asked. “It is not open,” they said, “it is closed for the whole of July.” Silence. “Are there any open swimming pools in Espoo?” I asked. “No,” they said. Silence. “Are there any open swimming pools in Helsinki?” I asked. “I think so,” they said. “But you'll have to check in Helsinki.”If Finns don't have to speak, they don't. Finns are comfortable with silence. They don't need to fill up the space.Finns can go out for dinner in silence. Watch them in the restaurants – entrĂ©e, main meal, dessert, silence. Metros, buses, trains, silence.Silences are an important part of Finnish conversations. Sometimes you ask a Finn a question. And there's silence. And even more silence. This is especially disconcerting when you are on the phone. Did they hear the question? You ask the question again. The Finn will reply, a little annoyed “I heard you the first time.

I'm just thinking.”Finns don't ask questions. At seminars, lectures, presentations. The presentation ends and there's silence. Any questions? No hands.In Australia, I used to lecture on the Solicitors Admission Board and at UTS law school. The classes were at night and most of the students worked full-time and came to class after a very demanding day. And yet the classes were lively and spirited with lots of debate. Last year, I lectured in entertainment law at the University of Oulu. It's an interesting subject. And the students were film-makers, people who want to tell stories. I talked. The students listened. No comments. No questions.Because Finns rarely talk, when they do talk, they choose their words very carefully, and what they do say is incredibly loaded. They mean absolutely every word they say. A different word here and there is significant. Finns are also understated. If they say someone is sick, they are probably dying.Finns also listen very carefully and easily pick up subtleties and nuances. Finns put everything you say under the microscope. There's no such thing as the throwaway line, enthusiastic exaggeration or poetic licence. I once casually mentioned I was annoyed with my husband and wanted to wring his neck. A work colleague said I had only been married a short time and I should give it a chance and think seriously before separating. I said that wasn't what I meant. They asked if I didn't mean it, why did I say it. Clinical Finnish logic. Gets you every time.

Finns don't trust big talkers. Finns are suspicious of extra words and wary of passion and emotion. Finnish conversation is even and measured. Finns don't raise their voice. This suggests Finns are gentle people. Finns are not gentle. Gentle people don't play ice hockey. In Australia and many other countries, just-contained anger is an effective tactic in hostile negotiations. In Finland, anger, passion and emotion suggest you're not in control. If you raise your voice, you immediately lose authority and credibility. Finns lose respect and you lose the argument.

Cultural differences are not just amusing anecdotes, but can have a real impact with real consequences. A colleague once said if you send an email and the Americans don't reply, there's something wrong, but if the Finns don't reply, everything's OK and often implies agreement.Minor detail can become dangerous minefields. Once I was busy at work and had to reprioritise some tasks. I sent an email to some internal clients saying I was sorry I couldn't complete their work at the moment, but I hoped to get back to them soon. This surprised some of my colleagues. Why was I sorry? Why did I hope to get back to them? Didn't I like the other work that I had to do?Another asked why I sent the email. I said it was to explain that I was busy. They replied that I didn't need to explain I was busy. If I didn't get back to them, they would guess I was busy, and if this caused problems because they needed help more quickly, they would let me know. I sent the email instinctively. The Sydney legal market is a tough market. The partners drummed client service into junior lawyers – we had to keep the client informed, structure the client's expectations. But does sending such emails inform, explain, add, structure client's expectations? Or merely seek absolution?What are the client's expectations? The exercise exposed a fundamental element of the Finnish psyche that underpins the Finnish workplace. Trust. Your colleagues trust that you are doing your job properly and thoroughly, expect you to do your job properly and thoroughly. People don't check up on you, don't look over your shoulder. The result of this is not rampant fraud. The result is accepting responsibility and trying desperately to live up to the expectation – you are scared witless that everyone is relying on you and no-one is checking that you check everything twice. Your colleagues don't send emails chasing you up because they trust, they expect, that if you have not replied there must be a good reason. And you don't clutter up inboxes explaining that there is a good reason. Italian conversation is an elaborate baroque church – full of flourish, colour, and passion. English conversation is a stately home – formal and elegant, but with many hidden rooms. Australian conversation is a simple beach shack – casual, honest and laid back. And Finnish conversation is conversation is an elegant glass/steel high rise – spare, stylish and minimal.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Trams

I travelled on many trams yesterday. The system worked well, except for the farce at the Elizabeth Street Terminus. I do know a bit about trams, but I had no idea which tram to get on at the Elizabeth St Terminus to get to Latrobe Street, that is which tram goes first. There is no point bothering the driver with the question. They know what time their tram leaves, not what time the other tram leaves. Real time passenger information displays are sprouting like weeds around the city. Would it not be a good idea to make the Elizabeth Street terminus a priority for a display for intending passengers coming across from the railway station? Just a simple arrow pointing to which tram goes first is all I ask.

Public Art #72


Rainman in St Kilda Botanical (Blessington St) Gardens. The water is pumped using solar power, so when it is raining, it is not on him. The day was bright and sunny, and so he was in a downpour.

Charitable Acts

Unlike R who does things, or agrees to things or helps someone and then later regrets it and whinges and moans, I do not. He is such a nice person and would do anything for anyone. I seldom do anything for anyone, so if I do, I do it with good grace, and whatever the result, it was my decision, so I have only myself to blame if it goes wrong.

That sounds a bit extreme when written and perhaps not entirely acurate, but there are certainly grains of truth.

'Please help me', she asked in a heavy accent.

She was a very old heavily made up Chinese woman. While I often feel like kneecapping old people with their walking sticks, I must have been a good mood that day. Obviously not a working day then.

She was not terribly steady on her legs, so I fulfilled her request to go across the road and buy the Chinese newspaper for her. She carefully examined the change I returned with in case I had stolen five cents and gave me a brief nod. No effusive thanks, no smile. It was her right to ask and she would have been surprised if I refused.

I am now thinking of the fuss and drama had the request come from an old Anglo Saxon Australian. All the buttering up talk before hand, the over the top gratitude afterwards. The imagined conversation later with family about how wonderfully kind gay guys can be. (it was in Commercial Rd)

Some time later I saw the same woman on a tram. An Asian girl was getting off at the same stop as this woman. The lady pointed to her shopping jeep and the girl lifted off the tram for her. The girl only got a half nod, whereas I got a full but brief nod. I did better.

Yep, I will do a lot for folk like that old Chinese woman.

I have fogotten about all the old people I may have helped that probably involved lots of conversation and effort on my part, but for some reason, this simple and uncomplicated request has stuck in my mind.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The newspapers

In Melbourne we have a little paper and a big paper. Often forgotten is that we have another big paper that has a national distribution. At the urging of a friend I bought the weekend edition of The Australian for the atomic bomb anniversary supplement. I am the type who reads the Vegemite jar label at the breakfast table, so over four days I have waded through the rest of the paper.

In days before the internet took so much of my time, I used to read both the big paper and the little paper every weekday and Saturday, and also The Australian on Saturday. I cannot imagine how I found the time. I also had a big house to renovate, a garden to look after, pets requiring attention, and we had a busy social life too. That shall forever remain a mystery to me.

The Australian was always a very 'conservative' paper but if you wanted to hear a right wing point of view argued well, then it was the paper to buy.

It has not changed but what I immediately noticed was the quality of the writing in comparison to our local big paper. What I noticed later was the volume of reading in the paper. I don't read everthing in a newspaper, but there certainly was plenty to grab my attention. I was very impressed by the coverage of news of the Australia's BAPH cities.

I don't know anyone who reads The Australian regularly, but I will bet that if I meet someone who does, they will be a very knowledgeable person.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Ear

In the vein of the nipple post, there are also ears. I don't mind mine being played with, but really it does not do much for me. I think tongues and orifices generally make great mates, except for the ears.

It is absolutely disgusting to stick a tongue into an ear. Yuk, yuk, yuk. I don't want your wet slobbery saliva in my ear and nor am I going to clean the ear wax out of yours with my tongue. If you are a 20 year old, handsome, hung, muscled Adonis, I still ain't doing it.

Gross.

Nipples

Ok, you blokes who typed 'nipples' into google and arrived at this post probably are not interested in what follows as I am mainly talking about men's nipples. I think it is sad that woman must cover theirs in public, but wonderful that men are free to flaunt theirs. I have very limited experience of women's nipples, so I am no authority at all on them, but maybe it sort of works in a similar way.

What works? It has always struck me as odd that half of the male population seem to get absolutely no pleasure from having their nipples stimulated. I certainly am not one of that group. I like nipples, my own and other guy's nipples. To me they are a sexual organ and possibly should be covered up in public. A tight shirt or tee with two little bumps on the chest will get a second look from me. Bending forward with a loose shirt on and I get a glimpse is most kind of you.

First meeting: "I have very sensitive nipples", he said. Ohoh, what does this mean I wondered. Does he mean they are tender and it will cause pain to him if they are touched? Does it mean it is a no go area for him? He was 27, lean, hard bodied and smooth. I am going to find out.

What he actually meant was that if they were even just slightly brushed with just the back of the hand, he was immediately hard. While they weren't his only 'g spot', they certainly seemed to be his prime one. I won't go into the details of how I took advantage of the this cute young man's sensitive area, but took advantage I did and he came back for more and more.

But he is not the only one. There are many guys who like attention to their nipples to varying degrees. I hope not to offend, but I am really puzzled by those guys who have 'dead' nipples. Perhaps it is mind over matter. They feel they are being too feminine or submissive if they enjoy it. No one ever told me that guys can get pleasure from having the nipples stimulated. I had to learn that for myself. You won't see it in the general media. Maybe some women don't get excited by having their nipples stimulated?

I will leave you with this little question and answer.

How do you titillate and ocelot?






Oscillate it's tit a lot.

Sunday

Before sleeping last night I planned our Sunday to the last letter. But I also knew the weather was iffy. What a great word iffy is, seldom seen written. The day needed to be flexible. The dark cloud of having to start work at 3,30 hovered as well. I want bacon and eggs. I have not had bacon and eggs for ages. We will go into town and have bacon and eggs at that Asian outdoor place in Swanston St. Sorry, no breakfast Sunday. Oh, then we will go to one of the other outdoor places that always try and cheat you. They add an extra egg, and charge for it when that is not what your ordered. These really are places for people visiting the big smoke from country Victoria.

The very nice couple next to us who we had a chat with ordered their food.
"Darls, what are you gonna have for dinner?" I cannot remember the last time I heard lunch referred to as dinner. They were very nice. Salt of the Earth you might say. I would say they just very common. Swan Hill maybe.

Up to Pricaleni for some product.

Down to the mall. How much work is happening in Melbourne. The mall is chaos and the tram stop is on the wrong side of the street. Ah, immediately an 86 tram arrives showing Docklands. Sky looks to be clearing. Worst case is we have coffee at Docklands and come back into town. It is nice and warm in this B class tram.

As R told me umpteen times, we should have alighted at the corner of Latrobe Street and Harbour Esplanade. Instead we went one stop further that must have been a mile further on. We were smack bang in the middle of Docklands New Quay. It was cold, wet and had the atmosphere of a cemetery. We need to walk south if we want to walk over this Webb Bridge. A heavily Italian accented older man asked me if I knew where the green grocer was? A green grocer at Docklands, get real papa. I said sorry, we are not local people, I have no idea.

Walk south at a brisk pace on shared bike path. Ding ding, ok, I strayed a bit to the right on the path. R comments that all cyclists should be shot and all bikes destroyed in response to me saying I should get a bicycle. Yep, there is Shed 14, the home of so many infamous dance parties that we attended. One night I recall was 6000 gay and lesbian people having a fantastic dance party in this shed. It seems so long ago.

We deviated into Docklands Park. It was quite nice. It would have been very nice if the sun was shining and no wind. Oh, look. There is a public lavatory, just as my fluid reduction blood pressure medication has kicked in. Nope, locked up. There is a huge amount of mosquito breeding territory in Docklands Park. Waterways everywhere. Stagnant looking waterways. Have I dissuaded anyone for buying an apartment at Docklands and driven the price of our place up?

I recalled some person complaining about buying an apartment at Docklands that was promised that it would be gold clad, and it was not. I think she had a point as we could not work out which building was supposed to be gold.

We walked across Webb Bridge, very boring and next to Webb Bridge is Charles Grimes Bridge and we could see the tops of heads walking across that on their way to the footy at Docklands Stadium. This new link 'finally linking the north and south banks of the Yarra' seems somewhat superfluous.

We walked along the south bank of the Yarra, which was most interesting, to the Casino. We recalled what a beautifully sunny day it was last Sunday when we were there to see a movie. We walked futher to Queensbridge St and caught the inaugural Sunday 55 route tram home. R only validates his ticket the first time and won't do it again, but I insisted so that the powers that be know people are using this new service.

R had a call on his phone with a dinner invitation. His contribution was desert, so we ended our outing at our local 711 buying a sticky date pudding.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Big night out

It was arranged a week ago that we would go ‘out’ this Saturday night. Out? Oh, not sure about that, well if you insist. I have forgotten how to go out to a bar. What does one wear? We discussed this in the lift with a neighbour and concluded that at our age it does not matter what would wear and if you are young it does not matter what you wear. The late twenties and thirties must be the critical age for clothes.

Ok, the tight white tee is pressed along with the flannelette shirt. There is nice sharp crease down the faded and slightly torn jeans. No, hang on, that was the seventies. Since I have never ironed jeans, I would not even have had the crease.

Now tram or car? Decided on the car and my turn to drive so only light beer. Boring.

We had jokingly suggested we would start at DTs for one show, then The Laird, Trade Bar, The Peel then end up at Club 80 (just to watch a movie of course), just like we used to years ago.

We had a drink before showtime at DTs in Church St. It was packed, hot and smoky but a great atmosphere. There were three performers and the host Dulcie De Jour. Magnolia Thunderpussy (that name always amuses straight people no end) wowed the crowd with River Deep, Mountain High and she looked suspiciously younger that the last time I saw her.
Dulcie: “I have two words to say to you all, Maria Korp. There will be a memorial car boot sale tomorrow at the Shrine followed by drinks and a sausage sizzle at Mickelham where we will watch Joe Korp get a decent haircut.”
Yep, she has not changed, still very bad taste humour. Apart from the guys who were with us, we did not know anyone except for the bar manager Bruce and a real estate agent who R nearly biffed twenty years ago.

Another friend turned up from his dinner at Le Meridian and wanted to go to The Laird for a drink, so after the first show, we followed the winding path from the end of Church St to Gipps St.

While DTs had not changed, The Laird certainly had. There is a second bar now, the interior has had stuff removed to create a more open space. The open fire has been converted to a gas fired fake coal fire which was warm to stand in front of without getting burnt like the old open fire. Lighting was excellent and flattering, the music, with a dj was good and not too loud for conversation and still the buckets of peanuts to feast on.

The venue’s customers seemed to have not changed at all.

Now what about the courtyard? Vine covered pergola, feeding the possum with peanuts, standing around the burning brazier is what I recall. Nope, retractable roof, overhead gas heating, no possum in sight. I was pleased to see fire safety equipment had been installed both inside and out.

We left at 12.30, tired and we were in bed by 1.30. This morning I feel crap, even though I had almost nothing to drink.

Might go and investigate this new Webb Bridge over the Yarra. That should clear the head.