Monday, January 29, 2007

Dubai - Feet Vote it Better than Spain

If you copy and paste these coordinates (25° 5'22.98"N 55° 9'18.47"E) into Google Earth you will be slowly flown to a remarkable bit of coastline that, as the view sharpens up, reveals odd flowering appendages to the coast (hint: if you need to speed Google Earth up head to the general area of the Middle East and start the search from there). If you have a close look you will see these are an amazing collection of man made islands, designed in a couple of cases to look like stylised palms, while another, just becoming visible, is intended to look like a map of the world. From overhead at least.

These are in fact massive housing estates accommodating a huge collection of apartments and stand alone homes. The photo here shows the approaches to The Palm, taken from the beach in front of the Royal Mirage (I was only stopping there for an afternoon of Jazz, mixed by a backpacking Australian kid who will look back on this and realise he never had it so good!) which is a hotel story in itself. Just out of sight, to the left of this shot, massive ship borne dredges were pumping up sand from off the coast and pumping it in a long arc out onto the breakwaters, filling the building site as quickly as they could. Later as night fell the lights came on and thousands of flashing orange vehicle lights told us the project was a 24 hour operation. Dozens of cranes in operation, a constant stream of hundreds of cement mixers and other trucks. Teeming with workers from all over the world.

It is a bit hard to talk about Dubai without sounding like you are loading up your account with a load of hyperbole. But the fact of the matter is that this emirate is doing all it can to attract not only visitors but residents as well. Mind you the deals are so attractive that there are an enormous number of people from all around the world who purchase a residence in Dubai simply so they have somewhere to holiday - but in their own house. And while you might bump into Russians, Romanians, plenty of Saudis and the odd American or three, it seems that the Brits are the ones who are making this place their second home. Can hardly blame them when the year round climate hardly turns up a cloud - makes a big difference to being in Blighty. That and real beaches that knock Brighton right off. In fact, on one of my recent visits there, our trade commissioner noted that Dubai is now attracting as many, if not more English for their holidays than the number who travel to Spain. Not sure how true that is but when the local government allows you to buy freehold real estate for a fraction of what you pay at home it is pretty hard to resist.

As you head out of the airport towards the immigration folk there are numerous large advertisements pushing the attractiveness of buying up in Dubai. But if you prefer to do some homework first, before flying out there that is, this is a pretty good place to start. Dubailand


During our trip with Nigel around New Delhi we were treated to some extraordinary sights, with Nigel focusing on cultural elements of the city that a tourist probably would not plan into their day. But which are an integral part of the fabric of India and for which a visitor is all the poorer for not visiting. You might not think that a couple of hours spent at a crematorium would hold much a appeal. Yet in a strange way it formed a powerful part of our visit. Mortal Hindus are cremated quite quickly after death and the process is an interesting reflection of society. The rich parade their deceased on an open bier, covered in marigolds and send them off with a very large fire - the firewood is purchased at the entrance. The very poor, some of whom had passed away on the river bank beside this crematorium, are picked up by "social workers" and given a solemn send off. We watched both. Interestingly, in each case once the fire was under way all spectators left, and the fire was left to blaze away on its own.

It is a good place to be reminded of our fleeting passing, and while intriguing (without being morbid - India wears everything out on her sleeve and this really is a good example of death being a part of life) it also was a sobering visit. But it was a good place to see death put in perspective as well. For directly in front of us a beggar woman had been placed on a bier, lifted to the top of the pyre, and the fire lit. Immediately after the crematorium staff departed another beggar jumped the fence and rushed over to the fire. We had all just ducked out of a heavy shower but this chap must have been caught up in it. The heat from these fires is intense. Very quickly he pulled off a pair of pants (revealing another underneath) and held them up to dry while he placed another garment on his head to get the same effect. Shortly there was a cloud of steam pouring off him. Here he is, giving a new level of meaning to "recycle", while keeping half an eye on the crowd off to the left who were saying farewell to a wealthy businessman. I don't think anyone in that crowd chased the beggar off -it is not that sort of place after all.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

2007 Australia Day - On Pittwater

How we spent our Australia Day

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Terrorist Gas Bottle BBQ Builders

26 January is Australia Day. Last week the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation ran this advertisement, cast in the style of political advertisements, which has struck a chord with most Australians. Apparently it is achieving a successful "viral" advertising penetration. I am more than happy to help it on its way. You won't like it if you are a terrorist gas BBQ bottle builder. And if you are a hairy legged, sandal wearing, lentil eater you may take exception! P.S. a "hills hoist" is a clothes line. Just go along for the ride and have a laugh.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Chai Chai, Tea Tea, or Chai Tea? Or Just Chai?

The local Gloria Jeans coffee shop serves up a very nice "Chai Tea". It has not been heated over a cow dung fire, filtered to remove twigs and other impurities, nor made with a tin of condensed milk and a secret recipe of herbs and spices which are best not ask about. It all comes out of a clean machine and I have to say it tastes pretty good.

When it was first introduced to the menu I badly wanted to point out the repetition of meaning - the word Chai, as roughly simulated in the tea served up in the Gloria Jean recipe, has its origins in northern India. Though its roots go back to the Chinese where it is called cha. Interestingly the British military took "Chai" into its vocabulary and from there into the British community as "char" - exactly as the Chinese pronounce it. You will still hear the word in use in Britain.

I digress. Within the bowels of the old fort in the centre of New Delhi, where tourists rarely venture, and where we would have never visited except for the guidance of Nigel, we stumbled over a group of men and boys pondering the contents of a black, simmering pot. The moment we showed interest one of the lads started ladling out the contents, pouring it through a filter a few times. The others peered at it excitedly, jabbering encouragement at the rise and fall of the liquid. Eventually, and with a flourish, it was ladled into a tall glass and offered to us. It smelled glorious and I would have gladly partaken except that Nigel warned us off. The contents came, in part, from local cows and was known to create health problems, even when heated. We had no idea what had actually gone into the pot but as Nigel pointed out, the glass was filthy, and loudly advertising a bad dose of "Delhi Belly" - at best.

The liquid was no less than Chai. Made with local cow's milk - there are plenty around. Supplemented by sweetened condensed milk. And all sorts of herbs and spices. And accompanied by an elaborate ritual with which to serve it. Carefully filtered of any street rubbish and presented to many oohs, ahhs and other encouraging sounds. Sadly, we did have to decline - but we caught something of the sacred ritual in the photograph here. The Chai is being dispensed through a filter from an exaggerated height - but which helped create a more frothy texture. They should consider a franchise!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Venison (6)

Previous Chapter

In 2005 David Paton, good friend, mentor, example, and inspiration died after experiencing an aggressive cancer. I flew to New Zealand to attend his funeral. On the flight back I started writing some notes that were intended to capture something of what David meant to me. Taking a deep breath I thought I would share them more widely here on this blog. They are less coherent than I would like but they tell a story of what a difference one life, honestly lived, can make to those around them. These notes are offered up in 15 chapters which I will post out over the next few weeks. And in order that you can put a face to a name, here he is, on the Stewart Island ferry, catching some "zeds". Or "zees" depending on what part of the world you hail from.

Domesticated animals, even those that are let to run feral are one thing. But two exotics are part of my memories of David as well. Deer. And Pigs. We were always scanning the hills for deer but they were far too cunning for noisy kids. But on one occasion I went out with David and my father after a hind that had come down close to the house but had moved on before David could grab his rifle. A quick call to Dad and we were off up the valley to David’s place. I was twelve or thirteen and was soon left behind as we climbed up into the high country. They had spotted the hind as she propped on a high point and watched us approach. Their hearing and eyesight are acute so there was no possibility we could approach her from the front. So we dropped over a ridge into a parallel valley and hiked up there as fast as we could. Soon I was on my own as David led the hunt back over the ridge and the last I saw of them on the climb were two bobbing heads vanishing through the snow grass. I assumed they were still climbing but had a wary sense they might have stopped to sight her up, and the last thing I wanted to do was walk into their field of fire. So I walked on and on until I was so far up the mountain I was sure I was safe. Carefully broaching the ridge I looked down but couldn’t see the two of them. Let alone the deer. Just as I was thinking I needed to get back into the neighbouring gully least I get a hole in the head, far below me three cracking booms split the air. In that open air position the rounds seared the sky for ever and I could hear them rip the air apart as they scorched down the mountain. Followed by faint stains of white smoke which flowered from the tussock below. The hind was still watching her front and never saw the rounds coming from behind, one breaking her back but not stopping her launching into the air and propelling herself downhill for a few hundred yards. David had loosed the first round but it had been deflected by the top wire of a three strand fence which he had not seen. Two wires makes for a low step obstacle for cattle so he no choice but to repair it. It was along walk up there and he spoke for years afterwards about the need to go back and rewire that fence the next day. We ate venison rolled with seasoning for a while after that. David wanted to know why I was perched so far above them and was puzzled at my safety reasoned response. I thought his effort with the wire more than justified my care.

As a minor aside the occasional deer would turn up in winter time seeking forage around the house David shared with his brothers. If that careless they were shot from the kitchen window. A booming domestic .303 would have been quite something. I never did see that. But I did witness something similar years later when David was married and the house renovated. On a November 5th evening as the fireworks were being fired off by the youth group in his backyard a number of extra large explosions got our attention. Those quick enough saw the shadow of his .303 being withdrawn from the louvers of the toilet window. He really was a bad example. Inspired by that, and freshly arrived at a new congregation in 1983 and invited to a fireworks night I took my own .303, pulled some rounds and fired ten cartridges inside a small aluminium garden shed. The effect was thunderous, I suspect my hearing was impaired for a while, I would have been a classic gunpowder residue CSI case, but a few of the matrons were appalled. I don’t think I have seen them since.

Next Chapter

Taxi Story (mine) - Singapore

Where you go?
Furama Hotel.
Which hotel?
No Furama.
Actually there are a few of them.
Not in Singapore.
Oh, you mean Furama!
Yes please.
Which one?
Singapore is Chinatown
(thinking "don't be cute with me buster...)
Downtown Chinatown.
Downtown or Chinatown?
The Furama in Chinatown.
You know address?
Eu Tong Sen Street
Eu (oh) Tong Sen...Chinatown
You show me...
OK (you bastard)
(long silent drive from airport, with attempt to get him talking again)
Nice taxi.
How old is it?
How old is that?
One week.
(looking around to see what make of car, I could see no branding)
What make of car is the taxi?
Who makes it?
(long silent pause)
Ah, I see from the steering wheel the car is a Volkswagen.
No, this is "Vee Double U"
I thought they are the same thing.
No, this is "Vee Double U"
Made in Germany (or Brazil) by the same company.
No, this is better "Vee Double U". Make in Singapore.
Not a Volkswagen?
No such car.
(I spy the Furama on the horizon just before he is beaten to death with a nodding Buddha wrenched from off his dashboard)
There we go, the Furama.
I know.
You know?!
Yes, Chinatown Furama.
(said very slowly) I thought you said you did not know this Furama.
I live in Singapore fifty years. You think I know Furama?!!
(silence until we arrive)
That will be $14.65
(I hand him $15)
$15 please?
You said $14.65.
35 cents please.
Sorry, no tip. 35 cents please.
You safe to Furama
Sure, but you nearly not so safe! I'll be having that 35 cents please - I have earned it and you sure have not.
But you not know Singapore like me for fifty years.
True, but I know most are not like you here. Bye. (With my 35 cents).

Storm Over Singapore

The humidity seeps into and out of everything. From out of the lowering sky. Out of the damp ground and dark foliage. The light gray sky of the morning has given over to an angry gray which is hanging like a curtain and being drawn across the jungle horizon. The sun has long vanished although its background effect is to add a silver sheen and gold mist to that curtain. Thunder crackles in the distance and the roof over the shelter creaks in anticipation of being hit. The temperate seems to rise and the roof complains some more. As if in placation a few large, warm and soft drops bounce of the roof and scatter to the ground.

The rim of gold suffused cloud rips apart and the mirror flat reservoir of water in front of us loses its steel grey stillness as the rain dances off its surface. The thunder clumps a bit closer and in the distance continues to crackle as the wall of water makes its steady way towards us. The one or two vanguard drops become a scattering of drops and anyone still in the open head to shelter. Behind us the monkeys leave their foraging and climb into the trees, pausing every now and then to look up and check the sky. Or to check a fellow is not in their sheltered spot.

Distracted by the churning reservoir, the noise of the rain approaching us is initially lost. But soon it is unmistakable as it hammers the jungle foliage off to our right. Drilling down hard the sound of rain becomes as noisy as that on a tin roof but still there is no deluge over us. But you can hear it coming and the rising crescendo creates an anticipation that everyone can feel. The monkeys are now well hidden under leaves and branches. I can see the tail of one hanging out from under some leaves. Suddenly the drumming rain is on us and we are caught up in the silence it demands. There is too much noise for sensible conversation and all you can do is be lost in the effect of it all. Thundering rain, sheeting across the reservoir, the lawn, the mud, bouncing off the canopy above us and creating a small storm of leaves, petals and twigs that are dislodged and float to the ground. A stream of rain runs off the roof of our little shelter in a steady curtain of water and runs away downhill.

In a few moments the wall is past us. The noise of approaching rain on leaves is now the noise of departing rain and it slowly subsides into the distance. The canopy continues to shower water and foliage, and monkeys are triggers for the same as a scattered family uses the respite to regroup. The thunder continues to rumble and the silver clouds and golden mist wash around us and the hills. But it is safe to get back to the car, wipe most of the mud from off our shoes and get on to our next appointment.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Chinese Translation of English Movie Titles

So while we are thinking about Chinese movies (previous post refers) you might enjoy the following "top 15" Chinese Translations of English movie titles.

15. "Pretty Woman" -- "I Will Marry a Prostitute to Save Money"
14. "Face/Off" -- "Who Is Face Belonging To? I Kill You Again, Harder!"
13. "Leaving Las Vegas" -- "I'm Drunk And You're a Prostitute"
12. "Interview With The Vampire" -- "So, You Are a Lawyer?"
11. "The Piano" -- "Ungrateful Adulteress! I Chop Off Your Finger!"
10. "My Best Friend's Wedding" -- "Help! My Pretend Boyfriend Is Gay!"
9. "George of the Jungle" -- "Big Dumb Monkey-Man Keeps Whacking Tree With Genitals"
8. "Scent of a Woman" -- "Great Buddha! I Can Smell You From Afar! Take a Bath, Will You?!"
7. "Love, Valour, Compassion!" -- "I Am That Guy From Seinfeld So It's Acceptable for Straight People to Enjoy This Gay Movie"
6. "Babe" -- "The Happy Dumpling-to-be Who Talks And Solves Agricultural Problems"
5. "Twister" -- "Run! Ruuunnnn! Cloudzillaaaaa!"
4. "Field of Dreams" -- "Imaginary Dead Baseball Players Live in My Cornfield"
3. "Barb Wire" -- "Delicate Orbs of Womanhood Bigger Than Your Head Can Hurt You"
2. "Batman & Robin" -- "Come to My Cave and Wear This Rubber Codpiece, Cute Boy"
1. "The Crying Game" -- "Oh No! My Girlfriend Has a Penis!"

Having enjoyed the list you need to know the Chinese usually do better than that and that this list was invented by a couple of guys with a sense of humour. But that did not stop the NYT, CBS and the LA Times publishing these as gospel. Apparently this list is in fact copyright by Chris White and Ziff Davis, Inc. And there are more like it at

The Skinny Hamster and the Otter

A colleague in Singapore is known as “Mr Otter” – reflecting his penchant for fish. Especially pepper crab. And turning into a shopping mall this evening we were confronted by a sign that encouraged us to visit the health club on the third floor. A treadmill of a day comment morphed into the image of a skinny hamster on a treadmill. Indeed, the pair of us in the health club seemed like a clash of images, but was remotely hilarious when couched in animal terms. But it did seem like a nicely poetic title after the fashion of book and movie titles about Chinese themes that assailed us throughout the 1980s and 1990s – and I have to confess that I am bit of a sucker for them.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The art of the title lies in the four word poem this title creates. Tiger and Dragon grab your attention and are linked in an obvious way. Lethal and beautiful. Elusive and powerful. Crouching and Hidden link up as well. Crouching can imply something that is hidden, perhaps in ambush. Waiting for prey. Or perhaps the Tiger and Dragon are pitted against each other, both in some sort of Mexican standoff. Both hidden from each other but aware of the presence of each, nonetheless.

“First Love the Litter of the Breeze”. “Fallen Plum Blossoms” “Scared Fire, Heroic Wind.” “Bloodshed on Mandarin Duck Mountain” (OK, a bit different). “Wolves Crying Under the Moon” “House of Flying Daggers” are titles that are evocative before you get to the story itself.

OK, most actually don’t cut it. Try “Father and Son are Both Great” “Special Anti-Gangsterdom Action” “Bomb Disposal Officer Baby Bomb”, “The Haunted Cop Shop II” “Hai Rui Swears At Emperor” or “Beyond Hypothermia” and see what sort of response you get from your local video store.

Or ask for “Skinny Hamster Outtreadled by Otter” and get a completely blank look. I guess you had to be there.

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Stones Bar

I have been coming to Singapore for more than twenty years now and there is something that remains elusive about the place that defies accurate description. Sure there are the usual comparisons everyone wants to make about this city state – how controlled it is, how constrained, how contrived. But I have to confess that such accusations could just as easily be directed at most other Western cultures. Perhaps the difference is that we see all this in a Chinese, South East Asian context and are secretly hoping that we won’t. That somehow we will find something different to our own contexts.

So in Singapore there is a certain amount of valid comparison that can be made, along the lines of “same but different”. But rather than jump into anything too deep and meaningful about Singapore perhaps we can start with some thing that is a refreshing example to me of the enigma that is Singapore. It is the Stones Bar. Run by a very youthful 54 year old Singapore Chinese character called Andrew. I stumbled over it three or four years ago and have been coming back here since. In part because of the nature of the bar, and in part because that nature is dictated by Andrew.

On my first visit here the place was deserted and I was looking for something to eat. Andrew cooked up a whole fish lashed with chillies and garlic and ginger. Then he put on a mix of Van Morrison and the Stones, gave me a beer and left me to get on with it. As the evening wore on, and I tried to recover from a severe case of gluttony, the bar slowly filled up with local Singaporeans, of Chinese and Indian origin. Hooray, there was not an expat to be seen. This was clearly a local watering hole and everyone behaved like family.

Since then Andrew has decided that cooking up fish requires a days notice and that, for locals only. Fortunately for me he counts me as a local so is happy to rustle that speciality up if I think I need it. Otherwise he rings the food in. He has revamped the bar to better accommodate live music. But he still lets me run the music desk if the live muso is not around (sometimes I come in and have to remove ABBA from the playlist!) and is the same hearty, good natured chap he has ever been. Mind you there is an iron streak in him too – for all his good humour if you cross him and you have reason to play pool with him he will whip you dry. I watched him shark a visitor and his wife from the US one evening – they rubbed him up the wrong way so when a bet on a game of pool was up Andrew was on in a flash. Let the visitor get to within one ball of winning before sinking everything of his and collecting the cash. The locals who were there that night still talk about it.

In a town that has a preference for shiny chrome, polished timber bars populated with preening girls or strutting blokes, bar girls out of European or Taiwanese fashion magazines, and London cocktail bar or New York wine bar prices, Andrew’s pub is appropriately dark, noisy, smoky and atmospheric. Beer is cold and about the right price, the place is a local watering hole with character and music with some punch is usually on the menu. Andrew is either behind his bar, shouting encouragement to his live act (who tonight did some great Deep Purple and Eric Clapton), messing with the sound desk, playing cards with some locals, livening up a game of pool or otherwise shouting with laughter at something that just eluded you - but you laugh anyway, having caught his infection. It is a place that hints at being a little out of control, in a very controlled place. I like it for that.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Heart Attack on the New Jersey Turnpike

I am sitting on the edge of an oval overlooking the Hudson. The buildings of West Point are behind me, while down the road and appropriately out of sight and sound is the tawdry little roadside hotel I signed into earlier this afternoon. There was precious little accommodation around the area given an Army football match was on and everyone seemed to be up here for that. With only one side of the wall framework actually lined and the studs and lining from the neighboring room's wall painted a bright enamel blue I think it is easily the worst hotel room I have ever set my eyes on. I can’t complain when I am paying $22 although the loud and graphic sex that started up through that single wall lining has forced me out of the room to drive up here and have a look around. Hopefully the young Army stud will be done in a few minutes and we will all get some sleep. She did not sound too receptive ("don't you do that to me!") so it might all be over one way or another very shortly.

The day started out simply enough. I drove down to the golf course at McGuire where a bunch of enthusiastic golfers were charging around on golf carts through the fog and trying to have a serious accident. As the fog burned off the carts slowed down – probably because it was now easier to see which senior officers were being the most childish. After a quick breakfast there I got on the road. My plan was to drive around New York and arrive at West Point without having endured driving through that city. I can have that adventure some other time. The plan remained intact for most of the day. I managed to stick to the back roads and wound my way through some picturesque country. It is pumpkin season and I have never seen pumpkins the colour and size of these. But people seem to collect them for the sake of collecting them. Houses are covered in them. They are stacked up around mail boxes. Piled on verandas. Stacked along sidewalks. None are cut for Halloween as I might expect. Just stacked everywhere. Very odd. But very colourful. It added some drama to the drive.

I wound through a series of single lane roads and passed through very small towns, just taking in the sights and not really paying too much attention to where I was going. It was a nice way to drive. Suddenly, without any warning it seemed, I was on the New Jersey Turnpike and with more cars in my view than I have ever seen in one place. I quickly turned into a petrol station located in the middle of 16 lanes of traffic pouring in and out of New York, that town now being very visible on the horizon. I took a slow check of the map and got my bearings. And wandered up to buy some lunch from a fast food place but the queue deterred me and I bought a bag of apples off the back of a truck instead.

As I took the apples back to the car a woman pulled up in one of those excessively large cars Detroit loved to build in the 1970s. Square edged, wallowing suspension. A horrible mud brown colour. But clean and well kept. It pulled up beside me and a middle aged woman staggered out of the car and leaned on the bonnet. She gasped at me that she thought she was having a heart attack. I asked if she was sure. Her response was along the lines “Don’t be stupid boy, I have had one before and I know what it feels like”. Fair enough. I asked her if she had medicine. She said she had some and that she had just taken it. I then offered to call an ambulance. She shook her head. “No, I just need to get home”.

In one of those surreal moments in this trip she then named a small crossroads of a town in New Jersey and asked me how to get there. Her pain had confused her and she claimed she was momentarily lost. Here I am from the other side of the world and she asks directions to her house. What chance I would know? Ironically I had just driven through that place about 30 minutes before. How about that? So not only was I able to give explicit instructions but was able to draw her a map and highlight the turns. I watched her car drive off up the ramp in a rather hesitant way. I hope she made it home. Nothing that ever happens in life is an accident is it?!

I threw the apples in the bin. They were terrible.

And to cap the day off – at least until I was driven out of my room (sorry “den”) by the sound of rutting army animals – I was picked up by the telephone operator. I had rung through to New London where I hope to stay tomorrow night. The operator, based in New York, connected me but before my call was finished she cut back in and asked what I was doing for the evening. She finished her shift at 11pm tonight and wanted to go out on the town tonight. On the basis of my accent. Bizarre stuff. I demurred. Told her I was at West Point (was that a mistake?) and that I did not want to drive into the city. She encouraged me to get the train. Persistent. Sounded cute but…!

So here I sit with the Hudson River silvery bronze and dead still. The sun has gone but the sky is metal grey and highlighting the leaves that are starting to change colour. It is a peaceful scene and there is no one around to disturb the stillness. A bit odd given this is a military academy. Back to the hotel I guess. Hopefully the blue Pontiac has departed the car park and the rutting is over. I hope that lady made it back to her house.

October 1989

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Friday, January 12, 2007

Whale on Toast

When building a company there are more nights than I care to remember when I lie awake wondering how this or that will resolve itself. Or be resolved. I learned early on that attempting to deal with issues as I perceived them in the dark hours was never a clever thing to do - some things just never get a proper perspective without the sun being up. That perspective usually presents problems in a significantly reduced magntude. (Mind you there are some sparks of inspiration that happen in the middle of the night as well and some answers have hurredly been written down before I drop back to sleep - and potential forgetfulness).
So I laughed out loud when I saw this from cartoonist Leunig. He hits the nail on the head nicely. I can relate to his whale of the dark hours being the sardine on toast at breakfast all too well.
(Clicking on the image will get you a better resolution version)

Taxi Story - The Chinese Indonesian

"I have a wife and son. I am very proud of my son. He has worked very hard at university and in this second year of his study he has three distinctions. He is doing better than me in this crazy taxi adventure. I was born in Indonesia but I am part of the Chinese minority. It was hard where we lived, to make a living. So when I was eight my father took me to Singapore. He was buying textiles for making clothes but he could not sell them in Singapore. He had to ship them into Singapore and then on sell them to Jakarta. He was always busy and always worried about his textiles not arriving or being stolen. But we were never able to fit into Singapore. We were viewed as migrants and not really welcome. So my father sent me to England to finish my schooling. I went to a college in Liverpool. I was very lucky but what a terrible town. And I could not stay in England. I could not live in Singapore either. I had to go back to Indonesia, where my Liverpool certificate meant nothing. I could not get any work in Indonesia. One day I heard the Australian Minister for Immigration say "if you want to come to Australia just knock on the front door" He was talking about the boat people who thought they could come in the back door. So I knocked on the front door and to my surprise four months later I and my family were allowed in. Now I drive a taxi by day and I clean by night. My wife does not drive so we live close to everything we need, including the university my son attends. He is very clever and I am proud of him. But I should have bought a taxi plate when I had a chance - they were only $160,000 then. I missed an opportunity. Now I am 42 and I drive and clean. But my boy is doing well. I am very lucky and have nothing to fear."

On That Farm They Had a Cow (5)

Previous Chapter

In 2005 David Paton, good friend, mentor, example, and inspiration died after experiencing an aggressive cancer. I flew to New Zealand to attend his funeral. On the flight back I started writing some notes that were intended to capture something of what David meant to me. Taking a deep breath I thought I would share them more widely here on this blog. They are less coherent than I would like but they tell a story of what a difference one life, honestly lived, can make to those around them. These notes are offered up in 15 chapters which I will post out over the next few weeks. And in order that you can put a face to a name, here he is, on the Stewart Island ferry, catching some "zeds". Or "zees" depending on what part of the world you hail from.

Cattle were another story altogether. Even as a child I had a sense that the horses, though alarming, were random, flighty and without malice. David sported wild cattle that had nothing but a malicious streak in them and were to be avoided at all costs. David had a Suzuki 125 which was a dodgy machine to be riding in the first place. I was pillion. We had ridden up through a recently ploughed and scarified paddock and the earth was soft and loose to a significant depth. The mission – a foolhardy look at a wild cow which had recently calved. A white and red long horn, she was a massive thing that crashed through his fences and had on a number of occasions been considered for .303 target practise. We approached very close and at the point that she lowered her head and started pawing the earth David swung the bike around and presented my back to her (So far, I had derived some small comfort from the fact that David was between she and me. I also completely failed to understand the point of the exercise.) At which point the rear wheel bogged and the engine stalled. In what seemed like an unhurried couple of kicks David tried to get the thing started. I refused to look but I could hear Madame Bovine thumping up behind. At the last moment the bike kicked and reared, we shot forward to crash up against a fence. The bike conked out again as we did so but we were already evacuating it and tumbling over a very scanty fence of only four saggy and loose wires. Tumbling over and rolling away from the bike as quickly as we could. She head butted the bike a few times while we lay still and waited for her to walk away. She would not, so we snuck away through the matagouri thorns trying to not draw any attention to ourselves. David retrieved his bike at some other point. He never spoke about it – I think it must have put the wind up him. It sure put the wind up me. After the event I had bit of a laugh to myself when I recalled my primary worry as we went over the loose and low fence was that this fence was hardly going to slow her up at all, given she had a reputation for ignoring even David’s best fences. Of which there were few! Fortunately she tried to take things out on the bike.

Other cattle were much more benign and I have a Streeton painting in my head of David milking a cow. I watch him wander out across a frozen, frosty, flat, white paddock, back dropped by a white muslin fog through which the arcing silhouette of a bare branched willow is faintly visible, and breath steam misting and drifting behind him in lazy coils. The cow looks up so slowly you would swear it was being careful not to crack in the cold. Squatting on his heels David tucks the bucket between his bare feet, tips forward until his head is leaning on her flank and balances there, and in a half sleepy torpor he swishes the milk into the bucket in slow steady streams. I stay under the eiderdown, curtain corner lifted enough to watch and my breath being caught by the cold glass and turned into flat icicles. David has earned himself the scoops of warm cream from the top of the bucket for his breakfast and none of us begrudge him that.

Next Chapter

A Picture Paints a Thousand Words

This is my all time favourite shot of an F-111 - even though it cannot actually be seen. In fact it was taken by the F-111. We had cleared a small country airport with air traffic control and the local flying club. Nothing in the air in the local circuit in order for us to have a low level practise run up the length of the runway. But no one thought to tell the local painting contractor, who obviously thought that a "non flying" afternoon was a good opportunity to get out and paint some of the runway markings (the hard way!!). What this poor contractor was thinking a second or so after this photo was taken ...Well, I would love to know.
(In case you miss the point of the photo, that is the shadow of the nose of the aircraft appearing from the left hand edge of the frame - one jet bomber at low level is about to distract him for a moment or two).

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Same but Different

Ecoli left a comment at Backyard Beasts. He referred to the thong as an effective weapon in the control of and, if necessary, the destruction of potentially lethal spiders. For the sake of clarity for our US readership it is worth noting that “thong” in this part of the world means a piece of footwear. Something you might wear in summer. Something with which to beat up on spiders. As these pictures show, they are entirely different pieces of clothing. And, reference the Victoria's Secret model, I am not talking about the wings, bracelets, stockings or shoes.

But they are similar in some respects as well. For example...

Both are spelled the same way.
Both can be worn to the beach.
Both should be worn to the beach.
Both get sand on them.
Both are, from my personal experience, popular in Waikiki.

I am just never sure which piece of clothing I prefer.

(and just to expand the cultural dimension of this post, New Zealanders call the said piece of footwear a jandal. Huh?!)

Thanks to Victoria's Secret. And to ecoli for sparking the thought. Our next post will be on the difference between scones and biscuits. If anyone can find some artistic pictures for me.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Coronation Park

Poking around in Hanklyn Janklyn last night had me dragging out photos rather than diaries this evening. Coronation Park. King George declared this to be the site of the new capital of India. In 1911 if my memory serves me correctly. He did so to a large crowd of Indian rajahs and other important rulers and bureaucrats without realising that when it rained this place turned into a swamp. The capital was moved from Calcutta to the present day site while this proposed site remained an amusing story at the expense of the king.

Nigel introduced the park to us on his little tour as it has since taken on a peculiarly Indian flavour, and a light joke at the expense of Indian Independence planners. After Independence a call was made to remove any symbols of British rule. And the most obvious (collective) symbol were all the statues around the country dedicated to this or that English character. King. Soldier. Merchant. Philanthropist. Civil Servant. It would probably be a safe bet that there are more statues to Brits in India than anywhere else. Even Britain.

Anyway, the call went out. Pull all your statues down, but because we are an ancient people and proud civilisation we won't be so Vandal as to destroy them. Rather we will gather them all in this park on the outskirts of New Delhi where all can come and wonder.

The great part of the story is that Indians decided that they liked their British statues. None came from any of the state capitals, or any other city for that matter, apart from the new capital. In fact only four turned up. So in this overgrown park there are dozens of plinths, all set up in anticipation of a flood of statues. But all save four stand empty. It is, I think, a powerful testimony to the power of the Empire and the thoroughly ingrained nature of that culture in present day Indian culture. They are proud of it. Mostly.

The four statues stand alone, missed by almost every visitor. Courted by stray cats and pestered by noisy crows. And smiled at on occasions by Nigel and his guests who understand the irony of this lonely and overgrown park.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Hanklyn Janklyn

Sometimes life just throws up little gems that get more lustrous as time goes on. In this case a gem called Nigel Hankin. Far too much of him to tell in a single blog (I know, some of them are far too long). But here is a taste and I will add some other pieces in later blogs.

Nigel was a young officer who was sent to India to fight the Japanese in the Second World War. The war ended before he saw any action and he has stayed on in India ever since. He served with the Foreign Service for some time but has of course been long retired. If you can land a day with him he will take you for a tour of his Delhi. A most remarkable day off the tourist track but rich in culture and people and places you would not ordinarily see. Above all he takes you to meet the "ordinary" resident. You get some history but above all you get how they live. Here he is at Coronation Park - another story, another blog- on a hot and steamy day, taking a break while we looked around.

A somewhat precious momento of that day is a (signed) book he wrote called Hanklyn Janklyn (after the older Hobson Jobson) which looks at the origins of words, especially those that have come out of the sub continent. You can find it on Some teasing samples are as follows (with my abbreviated notes):

Gu (n): Hindi. Excrement, but since gu is not used in polite Indian company, "shit". In English, "goo".
(n): Hindi. Interestingly, the English "yoke" is linked to the Sanskrit root word. Self discipline of the mind with the intention of uniting ones soul with the infinite, or the supreme soul. Hence "yoke".
Pant (n): Hindu word for European type trousers
Verandah (n): Indian origins but no one quite knows from where.
Paisley Pattern (n): named after the Scottish town of Paisley that copied a stylised juniper design which had its origins in Kashmir (which the Scots had copied to cut into the Kashmir shawl trade)
Swastika(n) Hindi. A symbol of good omen and prosperity. And yes, adopted by Hitler's Germany.
Jungle(n): Hindi
Widow (n) An Indo-European word linked to the Sanskrit widh/vidh, meaning lacking, bereft, alone. In today's Hindi, a widow is widhwa.
Chit (n) anglicised version of chithi - letter.

You can easily lose yourself for a while in this book. I love it.

Gratuitous Aardvark

A gratuitous shot of a Royal Australian Air Force F-111 cleaning up. Actually, in RAAF service this aircraft was affectionately known as "The Pig". I don't think anyone ever called it the Aardvark. In fact even that nomenclature only happened long after it was a front line success.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Drug Arm - Round 1 2007

Our first "patrol" for 2007 this evening. At the end of a week in which our press announced the largest discovery ever of ecstasy chemicals - worth more than $500million. Apropos nothing except we are out there aiming to do something to ensure people on the other end of that drug pipeline have the means to extract themselves from its seduction, or avoid it altogether.

There is simply no rhyme or reason to where and when we might have contact with people - mainly teenagers, but ranging right through to the elderly homeless person. At the height of summer, you would think that there would be plenty of young folk out and about. But even the bus stops were deserted and our regular haunts turned up nothing. We suspected that we are experiencing some post Christmas and New Year lull. Here are some of our crew at one of our regular stops. The best we got here were adult couples heading home after dining at the local restaurants. But some of these stopped to ask what we were doing and were very complementary when they found out. That little pat on the back goes a lot further than they would imagine.

After numerous other stops on our prowl around the beaches we stopped at the place we met "Shrek" a few weeks ago. See previous blog. By now the wind was whipping off the ocean and we were feeling the cold (!). But we soon had young people emerging from the shadows of the beach. The wobbly shot is appropriately blurred - not sure if many of those we help would appreciate too much clarity in these photos. Two young fellows were keen to have as much milk as they could - to assist a friend high on ecstasy. You are never sure about the veracity of these claims (is there a friend? is there a high? is it ecstasy induced?) but this is not an exercise in passing any judgement whatsoever. So they happily jogged off with two or three cups of milk.

In the end a quiet night which started out with the prospect of no interaction whatsoever but saw us help our milk fiends, chat with a group of wandering girls, have an interesting discussion with a young man from the Sudan (out for a stroll), assist a mother and her two boys, laden down with camping gear and fishing rods, looking for a camping ground (- at midnight!?) and interact with a group of young men. A quiet start to the year but not atypical in the range of demographics that we engage.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Ship Breaking - Using Hammer and Chisel

As you approach the beach, the first clues that you are in a unique part of the world, more so than usual, are the large numbers of small roadside stalls selling second hand (and new) ship's stores. Everything from brass fittings to boxes of toothpaste. The second clue, uncertain at first but rising to a background percussion is the noise of metal on metal. Soft, and in the distance, initially I was not sure what I was hearing. But as I walked over the dune and onto the beach I realised it was the sound of thousand hammers on steel. A remarkable tinging chorus of blows ringing across the water and mud in a rolling cacophony of sound, all blending into the one note but clearly made up of innumerable parts.

And there is no hyperbole when I say thousands. Look north and see dozens of tanker hulls pulled up on the beach. Look south and see an equal number. And learn that these ships are being broken up by hand. Hammer and chisel. On some ships the smoke lifts off the deck where a line of sticky bitumen is burning to help soften the steel before the wedges are driven in.

At my feet is a jumble of metal I don't recognise at first. Then it slowly dawns on me that the jumble is the remains of the diesel engine. The ship it belonged to has been dismantled from around it, piece by small piece and carried away. As the ship has shrunk it has been dragged further and further up the beach by large winches until all that is left is the engine. In this case, the block was pretty much gone and all that remained were the pistons. Enormous things about a metre wide and three metres tall. And those are finally smashed to pieces big enough to carry as well. (I was warned away from a couple of steel ropes lying on the beach. Hooked up to 300,000 tons of ship they regularly snap and the whipping rope takes out two or three people at a time, cutting them in half in the blink of an eye).

Truly extraordinary. It is a place to simply stand and absorb. Even the fact that the movement on the ships is made up of thousands of figures beavering away takes a while to sink into your consciousness. If you are in Chittagong for any reason (there are few good ones aside from doing business with the textiles industry) take a look at the ship breakers, and stay away from the steel ropes. In the meantime you can see some detail on Google Earth - copy and paste these coordinates into "Fly To" and let GE take you there. 22.4218444854 N 91.7348982087 E
August 1999

Backyard Beasts

No, not the teenagers and young adults who come over with my son and drink my beer and raid my fridge - and worse! But some of the animals we live with in Sydney. And specifically those that we have in our backyards here. Some are ornery and keep you on your toes. Others can scare the daylights out of you if they take you by surprise. All are entertaining. A quick list in anticipation for a short series of blogs on these. The Funnel Web is up there - a potentially lethal spider and the one that keeps me most alert when I am in the yard. Whitetail. Nasty bit of gear. Spider as well. Redback spider. Part of a family of spiders common across the world. A friend who is wheelchair bound was bitten on the butt by one of these few weeks ago - it was on the toilet seat! True story! Really. Water dragon - a large lizard that loves living around the pool. They are fast runners and if you startle them they can get up a gallop very quickly. From 0-100 in 3 seconds (well, it seems like it) and can scare the daylights out of you. But harmless. Blue Tongue Lizard. A stocky lizard with, well, a blue tongue.They can tame up quite well and come inside looking for food. As does the magpie, a talkative bird. Sulpher crested cockatoos. Rainbow lorikeets. Honey eaters. Skinks. Pythons. And so on.

Let's get going with the Sydney Funnel Web. According to the US Military Field Guide on invertebrates around the world that are nasty and can ruin your day (it is a fat guide) the Sydney funnel web is arguably the most toxic of any spider. Period. Until an antivenom was cooked up bites from these ugly things were often fatal. Trouble is at certain times of the year they want to wander inside, especially if there has been heavy rain. Or if the converse is true and they are looking for moisture. They fall into the pool and can survive for days on the air that is trapped in a bubble around their body so the pool has to be carefully checked before you get in. And that chlorine had better be working since you don't want to to get into murky water only to discover one of these having a swim along the bottom.

I was sitting at my desk at the home PC one afternoon and movement across the carpet caught my eye. It was one of these things making its way to my desk. He ended up dehydrating in a specimen jar - must have been looking for water since he keeled over quite quickly. Checking shoes each morning, if I have left them at the door, is a sensible precaution.

The Farm (4)

Previous Chapter

In 2005 David Paton, good friend, mentor, example, and inspiration died after experiencing an aggressive cancer. I flew to New Zealand to attend his funeral. On the flight back I started writing some notes that were intended to capture something of what David meant to me. Taking a deep breath I thought I would share them more widely here on this blog. They are less coherent than I would like but they tell a story of what a difference one life, honestly lived, can make to those around them. These notes are offered up in 15 chapters which I will post out over the next few weeks. And in order that you can put a face to a name, here he is, on the Stewart Island ferry, catching some "zeds". Or "zees" depending on what part of the world you hail from.

There were other memories around that house that evoke memories of David. Animals and vehicles. Creeks. Gates. Offal pits. Old machinery. Single wire clothes lines propped up by pieces of timber. A long row of macrocarpa trees. Tumble down old sheds, rusty red paint beaten off over the years by the weather and never repainted. And housing a familiar musty smell of horses generations dead, old leather harnesses which had now been hanging for more years than they were ever used, sparrow droppings, dry as dust sheep manure, possum smells. All shot through with dry aroma of hay. Decorated with pint bottles with sump oil last drained in 1948 and wearing an equally aged necklace of dust, broken chainsaw chains, rusty scythes, sagging tractors smelling of perished rubber and oil and metal and dirt, mower blades with teeth fused from neglect. In the background the knocking clunk clunk clunk of the hammer head water pump which lifted water from the trickle creek up the short rise to the house. A creek that I always thought magically swayed its way down hill, such was the effect of the cress and weed in it, moving gently from side to side as if moved by a caressing wind. Inches shallow as it dribbled across the road but deep enough for us to find an enormous eel scything its way upstream one afternoon. Trinkling down across the road, through the trees and across the paddock where David’s brother built water turbines and other projects that intrigued and fascinated us. And where the water would slow and pool and be messed by ducks and geese which would leave their eggs in the soft mud of the bed, some of which were rescued for some of those famous sponges.

Just off from one of those pooling ponds were the pine tree redoubts of cranky geese that would hiss and honk and deter us but as we grew wise to them the tables were turned. But for many years they would barricade themselves into little timber forts built between three long rows of pine trees. Turkeys and ducks and hens. David always did an excellent imitation of a duckling and he would tease ducks with his whispered sibilant frantic, desperate, duckling calling for his mother. David showed me how to do it and, though a poor apprentice, I did manage years later to have an Air Force instructor look around his class for a lost duckling, chiding us all for bringing one into the room. Only one colleague twigged, a farm boy from Dubbo but he kept his counsel. The trick lay in keeping your lips and throat from moving. Looking the sergeant in the eye as you kept the duckling calling helped as well. David would have enjoyed that.

More sinister beasts than premenstrual geese scared the daylights out of us at David’s place, so much so that for some years we would refuse to stray up into the higher country of their farm. Once farmed with the assistance of horses machinery had displaced those animals which were simply turned out onto the mountains to fend for themselves. A mob or two of them ran wild out there somewhere. No respecter of fences, or small children they would occasionally appear out of nowhere, the silent, lark in the sky stillness of a sunny afternoon instantly transformed into a thunderous, galloping dozen or more apocalyptic plunging, roaring horses, all arched necks and flying manes and rolling eyes (they are still burned into my mind), that always seemed to breast a ridge just in front of us and to the best of my recollection always came onto us at a dead run only to veer away at the last minute. Caught in open country it was frightening, and for a long time we would only climb into the hills by walking along the fences, ready to hop to the other side if we were threatened with being trampled to death. On one occasion we bolstered our courage with a lightly lifted .22 rifle but what we thought that would achieve I am not sure. We never did see a horse while clinging to a fence, or when armed.
Next Chapter

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

RAAF F-111 Belly Landing

Nothing that can be said here really - check out a recent F-111 landing sans wheels - just an arrestor hook. A handy piece of gear hung over from its orginal Navy design!!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Panickers Travel - New Delhi

My diaries are full of notes on India and it is a bit hard to know where to start, especially if extracts are going to make any sense. But India is a bit like that - a montage of experiences, assaults on the senses, moments that make you cringe, followed by moments of pure exhilaration that make you want to laugh out loud. Above all, India for me is place in which life is so precarious for many that every moment that they have is lived to the full. Life is so cheap, and yet as a result it is grasped with both hands with a fervour that can be infectious.

Perhaps the best place to start is in what many in the expat community in New Delhi call the Stinky Markets. Want a haircut? Easy. Want a current New Jersey drivers license? Even easier. How about one from, say Bolivia? "Very easy sir, we can do that" chorused at you in their sing-song lyrical tones. Need some number plates made up to look like a foreign diplomat's plate? - there is a fellow in there tapping away with a ball peen hammer and a steel punch who can help you out. "But very sorry sir, you will have to wait a day for that." All that plus seafood that is starting to get a bit stiff and slippery, goat meat, paper mache trinkets from the north, seasoning and spices from the south. All mixed up with a crowd of people doing nothing except milling around and looking like, well, they are milling around doing nothing. Need someone who can spell? Best go to another market for that!! But be assured that most travel in India is just as the sign advertises - PANICKERS travel. They do indeed.

Bestest Blog

I am not sure how kosher or otherwise it is to be placing site traffic analysis up on the blog but I thought some of you might be interested in the dramatic difference a very small investment in Bobby's site has made. Specifically it started with the Premium Blog promotion that was responsible for this spike, since a lot, but not all of the traffic was coming via Bobby's new Random Blog button. And of course the more visible promotion of the Pickled Eel blog across his site helped, as has the "Best Blog of the Month" promotion which went up on his site later today. The graphic here shows traffic past and through (not everyone has a rummage around) the Pickled Eel Blog. It will be interesting to see what the trend looks like in three months but improved traffic is a good start. Now let's see how to make this site a little more "sticky" - feel free to pause a moment and leave any comments. Thanks Bobby.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Racial Tension in Maryland - A First Hand Experience

I cleared the D.C. area and crossed the Bay on my way to Wilmington and took the first ramp off the freeway that I could find. It took me into fields of autumn crops, narrow lane ways, red painted barns and very little traffic. I was thankful for that today since it takes a day or two to get used to driving on the other side of the road.

I had departed Washington with the vague notion that I should get a haircut at some point. It was a beautiful, clear day and I deliberately drove through as many back woods roads as I could. I wanted to get a feel for the US, not through the rarefied air of political Washington (though heck, that was something else as well). So I plan to fill my journal with as many anecdotes of the people I meet across as much of America as I can find. I have three weeks. Today I got off to a good start.

With the need for a haircut in mind I slowed into a small crossroads town of only three of four buildings. So small it was not marked on my Rand McNally. All very shabby and lacking paint. A hardware store. And a grocery store. And wonder of wonders, a barbers pole. I backed up and parked the car. It was very quiet. No one on the streets (all two of them) so I walked into the hardware store, which was also a second hand store. Can’t afford that new axe? Well, buy Grandpa’s old one. The old chap behind the counter greeted me with a friendly hello but I stepped back onto the porch before I got started into a conversation I would not be able to finish.

I then walked across the road to the barber shop, stepped across the small porch and pushed into the shop. On my left were three chairs with three African Americans under the towels, each being clipped by three African Americans. On the floor were two small children, about four or five years old. The girl had her hair down in those tight, numerous pigtails that these folk seem to enjoy. The chatter and laughter I could hear on the street was instantly silenced when I walked in. And everyone kept that silence as I stood and tried to read the “menu” of styles they offered. As I turned to sit down I realised that they were all looking at me and that the silence had continued. And as I sat down I realised this was not something they expected, or perhaps previous tolerated. Not that I felt threatened. But it was clearly not something they expected. I figured I would stay sitting down and picked up a magazine to flick through it. The kids sitting on the floor sat and gazed at me with their mouths open, and the clipping started up again over my right shoulder. But the silence continued.

After a few minutes I was signalled over to one of the chairs. One of the existing customers had paused half way through his haircut and signalled for me to take his place. As I did so one of the barbers asked what sort of style I wanted and pointed at the menu. I had no idea what they meant and stood to get a zig zag pattern zapped into my head if I took a random guess so asked him to keep it simple and tidy up the mop that was there. After he strapped me he asked (and stated) “You’re not from around here are you?” The accent had given me away. So I carefully explained where I was from and what I was doing driving through their blip on the map. Instantly the chemistry changed. The kids rapid-fired questions about snakes at me. And all sorts of bizarre questions came thick and fast from the other barbers and customers. It was pretty obvious that in the minds of some, Australia was Africa. Or vice verca. But it made for an interesting and lively discussion.

Half way through the haircut the bell above the door tinkled and a VERY LARGE woman walked in carrying a stack of pizza boxes. She waddled in with cries of hello, turned and locked the door and flipped the “open” sign to “closed”. This was lunch being delivered and this was the mother of the three barbers, and grandmother to the two children – who had greeted her with squeals of delight. My towel was whipped off from around my neck even though we were only half way through the haircut. And I was invited to sit on the floor of the shop foyer with them all (including the other customers) and share pizza with them. The air, crowded with barriers only a few minutes earlier, was now an atmosphere of family into which I was warmly welcomed.

I had the haircut finished under the stern gaze and hilarious guidance of mother before she took the grandchildren off somewhere. I wish I asked which town I was in – I know one day I will be looking for that place again. I am now settling down for the evening at McGuire AFB, and even this purely functionary establishment has taken on a glow that is hung over from the thoroughly pleasant experience with which the day started. If I was looking to get a feel for what the US is about then today’s haircut bodes well.

October 1989

Sartorial Splendour (3)

Previous Chapter
In 2005 David Paton, good friend, mentor, example, and inspiration died after experiencing an aggressive cancer. I flew to New Zealand to attend his funeral. On the flight back I started writing some notes that were intended to capture something of what David meant to me. Taking a deep breath I thought I would share them more widely here on this blog. They are less coherent than I would like but they tell a story of what a difference one life, honestly lived, can make to those around them. These notes are offered up in 15 chapters which I will post out over the next fortnight.
And in order that you can put a face to a name, here he is, on the Stewart Island ferry, catching some "zeds". Or "zees" depending on what part of the world you hail from.

He took the same mix of earnestness and provocation into his teaching. On Sunday evening he would lead a Bible study class in the refrigerator chill of a room that is the so called vestry of the church in Palmerston. There we busied ourselves with the golden tassels which edged the Presbyterian blue crushed velour of a table cloth and tried to pay attention. For a long period we were being walked through the Old Testament during which he once shot at me the question “What is circumcision?” I knew the answer but stumbled around – it was a mixed group. Deciding I did not know the answer he proceeded to tell us in excruciating detail what was involved in the removal of the foreskin. With such effect that I am sure girls in the group refused in later years as mothers to have their boys undergo the procedure. And a Bible Class lesson that is etched into my mind.

In the early years of the Bible Class a group of older teenagers would meet in the manse in the evening, before church. David would usually squeeze with Butch and other young men onto the couch but as the group got bigger they would sit on the floor and give over space to the girls. Some of the girls would play guitar, later Philip would play saxophone, and Mum always played the piano. In the confines of the manse lounge room that group’s singing seemed thunderous. Maybe it was really more subdued than I recall it but the hearty, bellowing singing led by David and Butch is most vivid.

But not as vivid as the bright orange/red suit David appeared in one evening. I bet that ended up in a bin sometime shortly thereafter. David was more well known for his plain, functional dressing, not for flared, lurid, sartorial splendour like this. How long he managed to wear that suit I am not sure but it certainly left an enduring impression on us. More typically he wore loose woollen clothing, including woollen shirts and woollen pants. Makes sense given the climate. The loose pants were famously held up by baling twine and that even made it in to church. Loose woollen clothes made for creating interesting habitats. The kitten of a possum killed after running foul of David’s dogs was nursed with a dropper and wrapped up in an old sock and kept in the hot water closet in Mrs Paton’s house – David and his brothers were living in a badly run down but exciting place that he would renovate later and turn into his family home. It had no mod cons like electric hot water so this little marsupial, eyes still swollen shut in purple lumps, lived in a sock in the closet a short walk up the road. Hand fed warm milk via an eye dropper, it rapidly grew into a wide eyed little creature that clung closely to David. We loved sitting behind him in church while he had this lodger. We would watch a little lump move along under David’s shirt and make its way to, say a collar, after which a small head overwhelmed by marble black eyes would peek out. Then it would move down his sleeve and appear from under the sleeve cuff. Sometimes it would climb out altogether – up onto his head, or down a trouser leg to sit on his foot. Too marvellous for words really. As an adult possum it hung around Mrs Paton’s house and was treated like no other possum before or since. I seem to recall Mrs Paton telling me it had finally been caught by the dogs which had long been driven mad by its tame presence.

Next Chapter