Saturday, February 25, 2012

Sydney versus Melbourne

I've got Sydney on the back foot just with the subject line. It has to take an active position against the superior Melbourne.

You may have noticed on occasion some bantering between Victor and myself over the supposed merits of our respective cities, mine being Melbourne and his being Sydney. If you are from Melbourne or Sydney, you will understand. If you are not, like from overseas or even worse, one of the BAPH cities, maybe you don't.

This brief article explains the rivalry and its origins quite well.

One year on, plus a day or so

Bit slow off the mark here but it is just over one year ago that an earthquake took a terrible toll of life and property in New Zealand's Christchurch. A memorial service was held on the day one year later and naturally a song was performed that seems to mean so much to New Zealanders. I reckon it is the kind of song that could make a drunk Kiwi in London get very teary.

While I am not keen on the performance at the memorial, sound system matters I think, after hunting around I found a performance I like that includes a male choir. I am not sure who the performer is, maybe Dame Kiri Te Kanawa herself. I not keen on the graphics in this one though. Aren't I so fussy about what I get for free. Whatever, here is Pokarekare Ana.

Damn it, no one does it better than Kiri.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Big silver bird in sky

Not sure that it was so smart to book a mid year holiday before I had my holidays at work arranged. It never used to be a problem, but different times, different management.

We are going to Malaysia this year. We have booked with Air Asia. What a trial that was. Their website is not so friendly and they use Verisign for extra credit card protection. R was paying the air fare, so he had to put in some hard yards sorting it out, but we are now booked.

Why Air Asia? They are cheap. A friend who is fussy recommended them. They are the only cheap airline that flies directly to KL.

A friend of a proper friend offered us accommodation in Kuala Lumpur, but we would really prefer to stay in a hotel on our own. We will spend a few days in KL and a few days in Penang, an island off the west coast. Malaysia is quite a cheap country, and others have confirmed that it is literally, in a geographic sense, and figuratively, in between the chaos of Thailand where little works well, to the efficiency of Singapore where everything works.

Our Euro holiday is off the agenda for this year because of the London Olympics.

Malaysia is in parts a strongly Muslim country and R asked me if we could drink there? Of course we can. Malaysia is a practical country too. Dollars are welcome, even Aus dollars at the moment. A friend urged us to buy the buffet breakfast when booking our accom. But, he said, you won't get bacon. That is fine with me because Asian hotels usually cook bacon American style, where it shatters into a million pieces as you approach it with a knife. It must have been in Bangkok where we heard an American tourist yelling at staff in a long drawl, I wan ma crispy bacon.

There is no end of hotels to choose from, quite reasonably priced for four and five star. The first person who says 'what about backpackers/capsule/YMCA' will get a slapping. We plan to stay in Kuala Lumpur for a few days and Penang for a few days. Penang is an island off the west coast, its principal town being George Town and nearby on the mainland is Butterworth, the place where there has long been an Australian Air Force base.

Of course I want to take a train sometime, and we are looking at an express from Butterworth to Kuala Lumpur after our Penang visit. All still a work in progress. We have done Thailand a few times, Vietnam too and Cambodia and Laos briefly. Singapore is nice and that is ticked off, although we would like to visit again. Apart from the airport, we haven't seen Hong Kong or Indonesia, including Bali. Maybe next year it will be the grand European tour, the retirement trip before I have retired.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Just one Theramin will have you regular

I'd not heard of it until it was talked about on ABC RN. The Theramin is the first electric, or electronic if you like, music machine. It was invented by a Russian Doctor by the name of Leon Theramin. It has long been used for horror movie sound tracks and while I suppose modern electronic machines can do wonderful things, the Theramin is still used today.

Do you want to hear something modern that uses a Theramin? Click here.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

High Rise to Houston

We have a problem.

This is not good but the internet is my friend. Both times R wanted to get a new dryer. Nonsense, said moi. I think the belt we replaced a few years ago cost $20 and this time the door hinge will cost $18. There is even a YT video showing how to do it, not that it is hard. Our plan for when the washing machine fails is to get a front loader combined with dryer and cut our water consumption, so we would like the dryer to keep going for a bit yet as the washing machine is only seven years old and has never failed yet, touch wood.

Some of the components are not built to last more than a few years of normal use. Most commonly, the plastic belt to run the fan will break after a couple of years use. Some people have actually thrown away their dryers when this happens, not knowing that they can fix it themselves for about $12. Another weak part is the plastic hinge cover on the front. An el-cheapo plastic part, when it breaks the door sags and almost falls off. (Never mind almost falls off, it did and I was left holding the door) Cost about $16 for a new one. Again, people have thrown away their dryers in disgust, when this happens.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Dream on

'Ohhhh, I so like him', I said to R as Hugh Sheridan from Packed to the Rafters appeared on tv. 'He gives me serious tingles'.

'So what happened to Firass Dirani?'

'You stupid old man. That was last week.'

Down Below

"It was a difficult birth. I am small down below", so said a friend's mother quite a number of years ago. It was far more information than we wanted to know.

Anyway, I am talking about down below us in St Kilda Road. The craziness that we see is unbelievable at times. Occasionally I will take a photo. Here are three.

I think this was Australia Day. There is always a large gathering of vintage, veteran and classic cars at the Domain, so it is fun to watch them come and go. Or occasionally, not go, but fail to proceed. These are relatively modern.

Minor collision. The van ran into the back of the 4wd which then knocked over the motorbike and broke the bike's pannier.

Not a bad night shot by me. I must have altered settings. We have two idiots in one photo. There is a car waiting to right in the left of the photo. He or she has stopped with the front of the car well past the stop line, thereby not having the car sitting on the road loop to bring up the right turn arrow. The taxi behind as stayed well back, so it is not on the loop either. The motorists usually sit there for a couple of sets of lights without the right turn arrow coming up, and then in exasperation, drive on straight. If only they stopped with the front of their car at the stop line, all would be well. Sometimes they think they by creeping their car forward, magic will happen. If they go too far forward and foul the the tram track, you can expect much gonging from a tram.

Then travelling the other direction and wanting to turn right, another car is sitting well past the stop line. In fact so far over the line that he or she set off the red light camera. Flash!!! Less tax I have to pay.

This stopping your car at a stop line when a traffic light or arrow is such a difficult concept for some motorists.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Electric

In the good old days and for once, as far as I am concerned they were so far as electricity went, we had the SEC, the State Electricity Commission of Victoria, a statutory authority which generated and supplied electricity and everything in between including poles, wires, transformers and also the sales of electrical goods and even cooking lessons, on an electric stove top of course.

Now it is mostly in private hands and there are so many companies needing to make money, it is hardly surprising that electricity has become a very expensive part of our household bills. Let's have a look...

Who generates your electricity?

Most of Victoria's electricity is generated by burning dirty brown coal. These are the principal power stations where brown coal is mined

Yallourn, owned by TRUenergy, owned by CLP Power Asia, or if you like, China Light and Power company. Looks overseas owned to me, principally Hong Kong.

Morwell (Hazelwood), owned by International Power, owned by Mitsui of Japan and IPR-GDF Suez. IPR-GDF Suez is mainly French and English owned but more research in required.

Loy Yang, owned by Loy Yang Power, owners as above.

Anglesea, owned by Alcoa. Do you know what Alcoa stands for? Aluminium Company of America. Enough said.

Who distributes your electricity?




SP Ausnet

United Energy Distribution

They all get together under the banner of Energy Networks Association, ENA. I won't check who owns all these companies but you can bet there is a fair share of foreign ownership.

Who do you buy your electricity from?

Australian Power and Gas
Click Energy
Country Energy
Diamond Energy
Dodo Power and Gas
Energy Australia
Lumo Energy
Momentum Energy
Neighbourhood Energy
Origin Energy
Power Direct
Red Energy
Simple Energy

Who do you go to when things go wrong?

To resolve disputes between you and you electricity retailer, go to the Energy and Water Ombudsman, EWOV.

Who is actually in charge?

The state government is for major decisions and setting policy and there is AEMO, Australian Energy Market Operator which controls things on a day to day basis. They unscramble and rescramble the spaghetti above, buy and trade electricity, set standards and many other things.

All these companies and authorities with fingers in the pie.

It all used to be done seamlessly by the State Electricity Commission of Victoria. Sorry ex Premier Kennett and Treasurer Stockdale if I don't seem too grateful.

Sunday, February 19, 2012


Long before Zara the Spanish clothing shops opened, there was another Zara in the lives of
Australians of a certain age.

I just remember Prime Minister Menzies, or Pig Iron Bob as he was known. I wouldn't dare refer to him like that when I was a kid. I could not be so disrespectful. I do recall my father lambasting him for the early 1960s credit squeeze, which slowed the construction of housing, my father's business. Menzies received his nickname because he authorised the sale of iron to Japan before WWII, which the Japanese turned into guns and bullets to shoot back at us a year or so later.

Menzies retired in 1966 and was succeeded by Harold Holt.

Harold wife's name was Zara and the first I remember about her was she owned a dress shop in Toorak Road called Magg. Zara was a larger than life figure and certainly not a retiring Prime Minister's wife.

She was educated at posh private schools as her family, Dickens, were very comfortably off with their chain of grocers, S. E. Dickens. I remember Dickens grocers. Dusty timber floored and narrow aisles with groceries stacked on shelves either side. There was a certain smell about such grocery stores. I would know it straight away if I smelt it. It wasn't unpleasant, but very distinctive. I've just been reading about Dickens. Coles launched their food stores by buying Dickens in 1958.

Zara married Colonel James Fell but after having three children, one set of twins, they divorced. She then married Federal politician Harold Holt in 1947, who turned out to be the real father of her twins.

Harold Holt became Prime Minister in '66 and ye shall reap what ye sows. Harold was not very faithful to Zara, but she tolerated his dalliances.

One such woman with whom he dallied was a Portsea neighbour and in December '67 he was in her company with a couple of friends when he went for a swim in the sea at Cheviot Beach, Point Nepean. The water was very rough and he was not a good swimmer and he soon disappeared, either drowned, eaten by a shark or taken by a Chinese submarine*. Initially the public were told he was on his own at the beach, but it did not take long for that to be found out to be untrue. His funeral was attended Prince Charles and English Prime Minister Wilson, and United States President Johnston among other world leaders.

Zara was now a widow and two years later she married Jeff Bate, a farmer. My grandmother was quite critical of her forming such a quick relationship after the death of her husband. Zara did not retire from public life to the farm. She remained in the news in her own right. She had received a Damehood in the late sixties, but that didn't stop her from being in tv ads for Maxwell House coffee in the 1970s

After her third husband Bate drank himself to death, she retired to the Gold Coast where she died at the age of eighty in 1989.

I've done a bit of reading for this post and Zara doesn't sound like she was a bad sort at all. She was quoted on Harold:

"There were dozens of women in his life". "I loved him. I don't think he loved me. But I suited him. I ran my business well. I looked tidy and neat. I was a good public speaker."

Here is an anecdote I came across. Did anyone actually like President Johnson? Australian students of the time certainly did not. LBJ and Prince Charles met at Harold's funeral.

"Oh your Highness", gushed LBJ, "I thank you for coming so far to honour the death of my friend Harold Holt".

"On the contrary", said Charles, "It is I who should thank you. And indeed I do so on behalf of my mother who is Queen of Australia". Marvellous!

I am advised this photo is circa 1950. I doubt it. Her outfit looks very Hyacinth Bucket.

Talking to the authorities at Cheviot Beach as they searched the seas for her husband.

* The Chinese sub was of course nonsense, but the theory certainly received a good run in the media.