Sunday, June 26, 2011


The day after I was born, the sun stood still.

Well, technically it did not stand still, but that is the literal definition of the word "solstice", which happened the day after I was born.  It probably makes more sense to say that the day after I was born was the longest day of the year for my parents.

Now that I live in the southern hemisphere, that is turned on its head. The day after my birthday is now the darkest day of the year.

I thought that was true when I wrote that a couple of days ago, but then I discovered that the solstice - which occurs on June 21 in the north - actually happens on June 22 in the south.  And yes, the 22nd here is the 21st there for much of the day, but I had just assumed that the sun ignored the international date line and more or less did its own thing.

Which is why I never did well in science, I suppose.

All of which is a very long lead-in to telling you about my birthday last Monday which was just about the longest day ever for me. We knew going in that it was going to be tiring. Catching a 5-hour flight at 11pm on Sunday from Bali always meant that we wouldn't get enough sleep. Having to wait around for 8 hours before catching the leg to Tassie, we could either snooze in the lounge or get home tired.

LK snoozed a bit sitting up. I didn't sleep but I am not sure I was conscious at all times as several times I seemed to suddenly snap to and focus my eyes on whatever it was I was staring at. Anyhow, no real dramas that day (unless you count the joys of flying Crapstar -  excuse me, I meant Jetstar). 

But I did learn that I am nowhere near as resilient as I used to be. The next morning I slept longer than I have in years. I dragged for that and the next couple of days. Bali Belly (the Bali version of Montezuma's Revenge, for you North Americans) waited until I was home to strike. As they say, my get-up-and-go got up and went.

And that may say more about this year's birthday than the solstice.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


The ash cloud finally blew off, flights were restored, and we had no problem flying back to Hobart after connecting through Sydney yesterday.

Well, technically I should say the first ash cloud has blown off because this morning we read the news that all domestic flights from Sydney are being cancelled this afternoon because a new ash cloud is moving in.

Strange coincidences. We fly from Hobart and the next day they close down flights to the island. We fly from Sydney and the next day they cancel flights from Sydney.

Of course, it has nothing to do with us. No more than the fact that the northeast US airports basically shut down for days in December the day we flew out of the only one that was still open. Or British Air went on a strike the day we flew them from Europe last June.

Or the Iceland volcano stopped air traffic the day we arrived by ship in Greece last year. By the way, that was the day before Greece had a bloody national strike that stopped everything in its tracks.

Of course, bad things don't always happen promptly on the day after we leave places. Some times they take a little longer. It was literally weeks after we left Egypt and Jordan before those places ground to a halt during the Arab spring. And we had left Tunisia a couple of months before they had their national strikes.

To repeat, of course it has nothing to do with us. Just coincidences.

But if they are not -- if we are leaving some strange karmic spore behind after we visit places - then it's a bit spooky. I don't believe there is a cause-and-effect in play here, but if it is then I have a bad feeling that the effect is coming faster lately.

In our earlier days of travel, it seemed to take longer for stuff to happen once we left. Our first big-deal holiday was in Monterrat, and it took years before the volcano blew and removed that island from the list of places people visit. But it took less than a year from our visit for Christchurch to be ruined by earthquake.

Sure, we do not have any responsibility or link to any of this. But. Just in case, there's one ongoing disaster I really feel bad about. For it was only a couple of weeks after we left Alaska that John McCain named Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential candidate.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


That's a picture at the top of this post of the beautiful sunset here at Jimbaran Bay in Bali.

Well, it would be a picture of the beautiful sunset had I charged the camera before rushing down to get the shot. Instead of capturing the fat blob of sun melting into the gold and pink waters, I got a message from the camera: "No battery power remains." I even tried to argue with it that it was impossible to give me that message if there was no battery power, but the camera wasn't in any mood for that sort of debate.

I had wanted to take a shot - and will over the next day or two so you can see it - so that everyone would understand what a beautiful thing it is to watch the sun set in the Bali Sea. But even moreso, I wanted to then tell you all that the sunset here is nothing compared to what is going on in Tassie right now.

Had we been home,  this is the sunset we would be seeing there this week as we looked out our kitchen window toward the ocean - which we do quite often:

That's a photo of Sandy Bay, which is just a few miles down from us. Here's a spectacular one taken from Seven Mile Beach, which is across the bay from us.

These photos are published by our local newspaper, The Mercury, and they have lots more (and credits for the photographers) at this address.  It's worth clicking through because there are some really spectacular things going on.

It's great being here in Paradise, but what a light show to have to miss. It reminds me that two years ago Sydney had a similar spectacular light show from dust storms blowing in from the desert, and we were a day away from landing back home and had to rely on friends' photos.

In this instance, Tasmania's show is caused by the dust spewed by the Cordon Caulle volcano that went off in Chile last week. That dust has managed to go east across the Atlantic, past Africa and over the Southern Ocean to end up blanketing Tasmania and other southern parts of Australia.

And besides creating spectacular sunsets, it's also put our little island state into virtual isolation as flights have been cancelled for the past couple of days. In fact, we were very lucky to have left when we did or we wouldn't be basking in the Bali weather.

It gives you a sense of the power of vocanoes and the amount of debris they send into the air when you think that that much dust could travel that far around the world and still be so formidable that it disrupts air travel while putting on great light shows.

It's not the first time this has happened again. Check out the sky seen at sunset from Mount Wellington, which looms over Hobart. It reminded me of the sky in Edvard Munch's famous painting The Scream.

There are many experts who believe this Norwegian painter saw a sunset very much like those in Tamania as the ash from Krakatoa filled the northern skies in 1883.  (Other experts say that is far too literal and he was not depicting something he actually saw when he painted. Which, I guess, is their way of telling us to ignore him when he wrote in his diary: "I was walking along a path with two friends – the sun was setting – suddenly the sky turned blood red.")

Anyhow, that brings us full circle. Many of you will recall the movie "Krakatoa, East of Java" - or at least the title. It is notorious for being astonishingly incorrect, since Krakatoa is west of Java. What is east of Java, of course, is Bali. And that's where we have been watching beautiful sunsets even if they aren't the technicolor shows going on at home.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


The story you are about to read is true. No names have been changed to protect the innocent, because we never really learned anyone's name. Besides, I'm not sure any of them are innocent.

We boarded the flight to Bali in Sydney having done all the usual overseas travel stuff: completed and turned in immigration cards, had passports scanned, bought duty-free booze, then sat in the lounge drinking free booze and snacking until they announced the plane was boarding and we move there for more free booze and a snack.

The flight from Sydney to Bali goes south, even though Bali is north. That's because Qantas stopped running the route and gave it to its cheap-as-chips low-class (oops, that probably should have been low-cost) subsidiary Jetstar. Jetstar pretty much runs its schedule as if the planes were just very big and very fast buses. The Sydney stop, then the Melbourne stop, then the Bali stop, then do it all over again. And please stand clear of the driver.

In Melbourne we had to get off the plane even though it was the plane we were taking to Bali. But they had to clean it and didn't want annoying things like customers getting in the way. We were also told to take all our belongings. I am pretty sure this is because seeing a bottle of duty-free booze would probably prove too much temptation to anyone actually working for Jetstar.

As we disembarked, a typical Jetstar customer service rep stood at the end of the jetway, barking out every few minutes that people who were going on to Bali had to step aside and wait with her. She then led about 20 of us to a subterranean security point that screened transit passengers to make sure we somehow hadn't acquired weapons on the flight from Sydney.

OK, so far this isn't all that unusual. However, as we waited to put our bags on the belt to be x-rayed, a slight commotion started near the front. When I looked up, the security guard was taking a bottle of bourbon out of a passenger's duty-free shopping bag and announcing that she was confiscating it.

The booze was purchased in the international duty-free shop in Sydney and was perfectly permissible to carry on any international flight leaving from there. But by getting off the plane in Melbourne, it became just another example of liquids they won't allow through security. Good-bye to our Johnnie Walker Black and Ciroc vodka. Farewell, in fact, to all the bottles in all the bags of our travelling companions.

You need to know a few things about Aussies. They love bargains. They love travelling on holidays. And they love to combine the two by buying cheap booze for their holiday. Most of us going to Bali were watching liter after liter of booze being taken away as if we were a bad episode of Boardwalk Empire and wondering how much we could drink on the plane to make up for it.

But there's some other things you need to know about Aussies. First, they really, really, really don't like anyone taking away their booze - especially if they just bought it and the bottle is not even open yet. And oh yes, most Aussies don't give a crap if someone is wearing a uniform and acting as if they're in charge.

I understand why most Americans bow their heads slightly and put up with whatever the security screeners do to them at airports. One of America's great national fears is having our lives messed up by insecure people suddenly thrust into positions of some power -- small town cops, assistant principals, airport security people.

So Americans wait until they've cleared security before grumbling about the screeners. Deep in every one's mind is the likelihood that if you tell these minimum-wage, poorly trained, previously unemployed people that they're not doing a good job, they are likely to retaliate by pulling you aside, questioning you, frisking you, perhaps calling others to see if there is some way to make you miss your flight. So in America, when they confiscate the booze you bought inside the security zone, you just sigh and live with it.

Not quite the same here. Faced with injustice - and the loss of our holiday booze, we passengers became one voice, demanding they give us our grog, refusing to accept that there was any logic whatsoever in what they were doing, arguing that it was our right to keep it. Kind of like Arab Spring, only on a scale we were more comfortable with.

Anyhow,  a supervisor came and sorted it out. Let us know that it wasn't something he should do, but since we were all obviously good people (albeit with some of us starting to show evidence of DTs), he would let the booze through. Our Jetstar customer rep moaned that she could be fined for helping us do this but she would do it and wanted us to know what a wonderful person she was. And, by the way, could you please write to Jetstar and let them know they should tell you not to buy booze in Sydney but to wait until you get to Melbourne.

Which is a good idea, except I would expect that in a good company you wouldn't need customer complaints to adopt a good idea. It might be just enough to have an employee suggest it. Oh wait, this is Jetstar. Never mind.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


So there I was, lying on the concrete and thinking several things simultaneously.

First, I was replaying in my mind just what exactly had happened to make me fall so heavily to the sidewalk. I also was taking an inventory of what hurt and what didn't and deciding that my wrist might be sprained (it wasn't) and my ribs on the right side were hurt (they're sore).

And let's be honest, I couldn't help hearing that little voice in my brain saying, "A fall is often the beginning of the end for the elderly."  Oh please, I thought, I am only going on 63, please don't let that be elderly. Please, dear Lord, just let me be middle-aged.

Then the most serious thought entered my head. How am I going to get up? Oh not because I had done any damage to my hips or shoulders. Just the general issue I would have any time I was lying flat on the ground and had to figure out how to get upright without anything to grab hold of.

Turns out it wasn't difficult at all this time. Perhaps because the concrete was so damned cold or perhaps because I noticed that the neighbors would see me sprawled out there if they looked out their windows. No matter, I was vertical wth nary a grunt.

I had been carrying large empty packs used to ship our pictures, which we are finally starting to hang. The shipping packs are large and I couldn't see the ground, and in particular hadn't seen that there was a fairly significant drop-off beside the footpath just as it turns toward the trash bins. So that's how I put the tumble into stumble.

Anyhow, not much damage done. I am quite sore in one precise spot halfway up the ribs on the right. I don't think I cracked a rib, but then again if I did there isn't much they can do for me. Of course it hurts if I laugh or cough, and strangely enough for the past couple of days LK has been very, very funny. I do not, however, believe she is doing this to hurt me.

I put off telling LK for a while, knowing what would follow. Finally, though, I figured I would have to explain why I was wincing every time I took a deep breath. I thought I would make light of it, and told her that because the packing material was padded, I had actually bounced a few times when I landed.

She shot back that I probably would have bounced even without the packing material. Which, come to think of it, is how I learned that it hurts when I laugh.

She did, of course, have a few choice thoughts about all of this. After asking at least ten times whether I really wasn't hurt badly, she then reminded me of the time my Wii exercise program had asked me if I fell a lot when I walked. I did recall that.

And then she reminded me that we had recently discussed that I don't tend to notice the sort of things that tend to trip you as you walk. I remembered that discussion. In fact, I remembered it so well that I hadn't even told her how I tripped over the curb at the shopping center the other day.

And then she played the trump card. "I know you think I nag you about being more careful and taking better care of yourself, but I worry about you and I don't want you hurt."

After only a couple of days, the pain in my side is already much better. However, I am quite sure its long-term effects are going to last well into my old age.

Monday, June 6, 2011

GUEST BLOG: Three Degrees of Separation


It's been almost two years since my last guest blog. (That sounds a bit confessional, doesn't it?) The circumstances were extraordinary: I was basically blackmailed into it because I wanted to spend the morning shopping and Don didn't. I blogged. I shopped. Don came along.

Once again, circumstances are extraordinary, in fact, dire. Don is making noises about not blogging for awhile, or perhaps not at all. Last night I mentioned he hadn't blogged recently. He said he wasn't inspired and cited some blogger who had observed that 500 or so postings was pretty much the limits of most blogs.

I'm not happy with this possible turn of events.

Yes, I'm a big fan, and our families look forward to his blogs, however Don's blog yielded an unanticipated benefit. Since he started blogging three years ago, I discovered I didn't need to write newsy e-mails. All I need to do is drop a note, which says “Hi, how ya doing?” along with the URL to Don's blog. “This is a good way to keep up with what's going on in our lives,” I add. Presto, the ball is in their court and I'm sans guilt.

This has to be fixed. I need to get Don rev'd up about blogging. And to do that I evidently have to guest post (his suggestion last night). So I'm writing about the weather, or current temperatures in Hobart to be exact.

Winter started officially here on June 1 (I know, that's not the scientific date but Don's already covered that one). April and May (our autumn months) had been largely sunny with reasonable temperatures. Yes, the nights were coldish, but the days seldom required more than a jumper (sweater).

Today that all changed. This morning I got up and saw another beautiful blue sky. While pouring my coffee, I mentioned that it looked like another nice day, Don demurred. “It's three degrees out,” he growled. “I froze my butt off getting the garbage cans.” Then later in the morning I discovered him warming that same butt next to the radiator.

In five days we head to Bali for a week of 29+C (88+F) temperatures. This afternoon Don observed that Bali was was looking better every hour.

I figure if his butt continues to freeze and his knees don't give out, come June/July we'll be heading to a warm spot somewhere for quite a few years.

This is a turn of events I am happy with.  And worthy of a biennial blog.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


"Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
"To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
"The dog did nothing in the night-time."
"That was the curious incident," remarked Sherlock Holmes.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Silver Blaze

LK and I are foreordained, I believe, to live near howling dogs. Here in Tassie, our neighbor's dogs erupt in yipping and yowling several times a day. In Greenwich our neighbor's dog lived up to our name for it - Little Yappie - by barking pretty much every few minutes. And before that, it was our own dog, Sadie, that barked and yelped so much that in desperation we called in an outfit called Bark Busters.

Even Maddie Faye, our beagle in the US, could lure a pack of wolves to our doorstep when she decided to let loose baying at the moon. But her barking and baying was inconsequential to her chief bad habit - chewing everything in the house. And I mean everything from table legs to sofas to books to album covers to wallets to - well, you get the picture. (She drove us mad, but we at least got some small satisfaction when we moved to Oz and convinced a pair of lawyers to adopt her.)

As to our immediate issue, much like Sherlock Holmes' famous hound, the dogs next door are quiet over night. But when our neighbors put them out on the patio when they go to work the pooches also go to work ensuring that everyone knows it is their turf and they are there, ready to defend.

One of the dogs is a doofy looking labrador-type that stands up only to drink water, eat and howl. I call him Butch. 

The other one is a curly-furred thing that looks like a french poodle had a brief fling with a chihuahua. If the name on its doghouse is to be believed, this thing is called Pepe. So maybe the chihuahua idea isn't that far-fetched.

When Pepe howls - and Pepe howls a lot - he does his best to sound like Butch but, bless him, his little throat just can't make those big wolfy sounds. So instead Pepe sounds more or less as if he's being strangled. Or as LK said the first time she heard them, "I think the big dog is eating the little one."

It's difficult to figure out how to deal with this. Or even whether to. First of all, unlike Little Yappie in Sydney, we go hours on end without hearing Pepe and Butch. But when they do go off, they inevitably startle us with a sound that is about as pleasant as listening to Yoko Ono rehearse at full volume.

Despite having evil thoughts, I just don't have it in me to throw poisoned meat over the fence so I have looked for more socially acceptable alternatives. One solution that has a bit of appeal is a device that lets you emit a sound that only dogs hear whenever they bark. Oh, did I mention that apparently it hurts their ears when you emit the sound?

So it's kind of a Bark! Ouch! Bark! Ouch! Bark! Ouch! until Butch and Pepe figure out there's a connection to the noise they're making and the noise they're hearing. Being dogs, of course, there's absolutely no guarantee that they will ever figure that out.

I will probably buy this audio zapper and try it. Even if it doesn't stop the racket, it will give me some small comfort to think that Butch and Pepe's ears start hurting whenever mine do, too.