Sunday, February 26, 2006

After and Before photos

It's very unusual for me to get off my bum and do some of those pesky jobs around the house. So, to finally get some progress on my "studio" is an occasion as newsworthy as the rebuilding of the Frauenkirche in Dresden, or Hamas members attending a bar mitzvah for social reasons. So, like all good renovators who post senseless indulgent blogs, "before and after" photos are compulsory.

But I only thought of this halfway through the day's work. So we have "during and after" photos.

This is basically what it has looked like for almost a year

Now for those of you I haven't already told more than fifteen times I have a small, birdsnest-infested and smelly timber frame outbuilding which was used as an implement shed. For some reason this creaky little creepy-crawly outpost inherited the name "studio". This name came from my big and way too ambitious plans to convert it into a place where I can escape from the harshness of life and paint pictures of naked women and call it "art". Plans which have thus far never seen the light of day due to more pressing projects, a.k.a. sitting down and watching sports on telly.

Which is why, when the kids would call it "the Studio", I would get cross with them for reminding me that it's really a smelly, crappy shed which is nowhere near being a studio because I have willfully neglected it.

Inside. This probably won't change within a year

And for those who havent heard me whinging recently, this thing has been the bane of my existence. But this weekend...progress at last!! Unbee leeevubble.

I finally got to wear that Toolman belt Mark Baker gave me five years ago

Thanks to a generous donation of weatherboards from Brenda and Pat there wasn't a great deal of expenditure involved in my current blaze of enthusiasm. However, you always find there are little tool-type thingys lacking so a trip or two to Bunnings is always on the cards.

After five trips to Bunnings I discovered that if you actually write down all the things you need at once, it can save some petrol. Revolutionary, that.

Either that or you can leech tools off your next door neighbour. If you're lucky your neighbour has recent health problems rendering him inactive, which ensures that you seldom get no for an answer and can stock up on tools which he won't be needing for a while. It's known (to Simpsons Fans) as "Flanders' Revenge". Especially since I too am a tasteless Christian stereotype.

hard to find good help these days

Lulu even pitched in and helped by swinging aimlessly around in a little toy bucket

The weatherboard cladding operation was kicking along nicely. I had even managed not to dismember myself with the (borrowed) circular saw despite best efforts. Before and After photos were an afterthought, as opposed to a forethought, so they became a duringthought. If that is a real word. And I doubt it is.

The sweet smell of progress

The next step will be re-roofing, which I expect to be underway some time in 2008, if I can get through those darn union problems.

not 'arf bad if I can say so myself

The bit at the end of the day where you just plain run out of enthusiasm

Monday, February 20, 2006

Joanna Griggs- is there anything she cannot do?

There's not much family stuff to report, but as usual I will try and exaggerate enough...sorry, "poetically licence" some goings-on enough to make them appear interesting. First up, it's finally happened, and I'm not even 40 just yet. My eldest daughter Naomi is expecting. I am going to be one of those types privaleged enough to experience grandparenthood at a relatively young age. I hope that is more fun than being an actual parent.

Naomi is expecting a litter of guinea pigs some time next Sunday. It will be a proud day for her.

To celebrate the occasion Sharon went into Melbourne with old friends Libby and Brenda to indulge in excesses such as drinking, going out, buying shoes and playing with each other's hair. Like a good hubby I ran the household all weekend, and kept a very tight ship if I may say so myself. Dishes were done, meals were home cooked and an entire back yard of rubbish was cleared up.

I don't remember Sharon actually returning home, although I did go to the train station and pick up a similar looking woman with different clothes and reddish hair. I was assured this was actually Sharon after a makeover from her fellow nurses. If it wasn't, I have some serious infidelity issues to deal with after Sunday night.

I am still a little miserable since there is still no motorsport and Top Gear has stopped screening on SBS, the station where "multicultural" means "muslims and gays". I have nothing against Mythbusters, in fact I enjoy watching scientists throw pieces of buttered toast from tall buildings, but I sorely miss Clarkson, May and Hammond thrashing cars and making it all funny.

I have, however, found a surprisingly un-Patrick like TV replacement for all this; the Winter Olympics.

Okay, yes, I admit that I would eat broken glass just to hear Joanna Griggs commentate at a dwarf-throwing championship. But that's not the only reason. Some of the actual sports are enthralling. How about that Luge thing.

Who could not possibly be entranced by the sight of humans wearing little more than lycra and a horrified expression on their face, hurtling down a frozen chute sitting on a matchbox car at 100km/h or more?

And you must love the imagination and variety that goes into creating different Luge formats; 3 people in a bathtub-like contraption/ one person face down on one of those trolleys Grandpa once used to slide under the car and change the oil/ same again but face up feet first, etc...

If they ever run out of Luge ideas, they could always just shoot the lycra-clad Luge Competitor out of a cannon and whoever gets to the bottom with the least broken bones wins.

Or maybe that's already been thought of- the ski jumping. This is even better than the Luge by virtue of its simplicity. This merely requires a person, preferably one who has lost the will to live, to hurtle down a near- vertical slope at speeds more suitable for a snowmobile. All this with no brakes, therefore the point of no return is pretty much the moment they leave the starting gate. Channel 7's camerawork is so crisp you can see the skijumpers changing their minds. These masochists obviously like having those nightmares where you are falling and wake up just before you hit the ground.

Then there is the bi-athlon. Despite the skin-tight lycra it is not, as the name may suggest, a multicultural thing. It involves skiing around without the aid of gravity, for what seems like forever. Then, when the competitors feel like their thighs are about to explode, or they are about to drop dead from exhaustion and hypothermia, they unleash all of their anguish and pain by pulling out a whopping big gun and shooting something. Being a judge at a bi-athlon event is not a difficult job, but for some reason there are many vacancies.

The ice skating pairs; I'm not sure when this stopped being a beautiful and graceful form of expressive art and became sport, but I'm sure it's well received by loud, beer-swilling, sports-mad yobbos. I suppose in ice skating people can still crash and get hurt.

And, just in case you have overdosed on the near-sensuality of lycra-clad European atheletes or young Russian women in skimpy ice skating costumes, there is always the snowboarding. Snowboarders agreed to join the Olympic sports provided they could continue wearing grungy, loose-fitting, impractically dangerous parachute-pants in order to stay true to their roots. Their roots being the great unwashed who bum around after school, communicate only with "Whoa....'know", and break out in spots at the first sign of any kind of achievement. There is nothing quite as un-erotic as that.

Having said that, I like snowboarding. Really. It IS pretty cool. I'd learn to do it, except there's no snow where I live, um, dude....

Soon this winter wonderland will all be over, and I'll be back to having nightmares about armies of guinea pigs. Except this time they'll all be wearing parchute pants and I'll be falling, falling falling, and I wake up just before I hit the ground...

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Back to School and more Germans!!

At the same time US Vice President Dick Cheney was discovering there is no right way to shoot a friend in the face, we had the dilemma of how to deal with the period of post-Christmas financial survival. Do we conserve or lash out, since we were eagerly awaiting having the well-travelled Jörg and Claudia stay with us for one short but beautiful week and wanted to make it special for them.

At least Sharon was breathing again, as Naomi and Sam were back to School. Most of January has been about waiting for that. Oh, and a nasty experience on Ebay which I am too annoyed about to even mention here. Let's just say I lost some money.

As most tourists do, the two Germans know more of Australia than we do. They have been from Sydney to Perth via Coffs, Brisbane, Townsville, Whitsundays and more. Sadly, after the week with us...they were going home... to ice and snow.

Since we were spoiled rotten in the land of the long flat autobahn I figured the least we could do was pick them up from the airport in a stretch limmo, then take them out for Japanese on Collins street, courtesy of Cam.

Dress up, I said...Jörgy looked resplendant in his trendy dress shirt and...boardshorts.

I do wish I could remember what we were discussing in this photo. It appears to have caused us all some confusion

The next day we made like tourists again and took them to Sovereign Hill. It was one of those strange days when you realise that you arrived with more children than you when you left. The likelihood of us having bred during the 45 minute journey was low, since Sharon and I were in seperate cars. And, as far as we know, Claudia had not adopted any Australian children as part of some plot to stay longer than her visa would allow. So I presumed the extra child was a friend of Naomi's that Sharon told me was coming and I just forgot.

I explained that Sovereign Hill is the Aussie equivalent of Neuschwanstein Schloss in Bavaria- not really a real castle and not really historic but it's made up to look that way. I got sunburnt and I will also admit, that when those redcoats fired those big loud muskets, I jumped. But at least I didn't squeal like so many of the little kids there. Bunch of little crybabies.

No trip to Sovereign Hill would be complete without novelty wanted poster. At least we found one that was reasonably well type-casted

Despite the long hot day I could see Claudia was itching to go pubbing in big old Melbourne town so Sharon volunteered to stay home and allow me to partake in an experiment to see if I could recapture my lost youth and survive the evening with two people 8 years younger than me. Considering everything our little friend has been through (and she wasn't always that little), Claudi is a powerhouse of positive energy. Jögy and I spent most of the evening watching her and feeling tired. We got home at 3am and were forced to eat icecream with tim tams.

if they forced all the tourists to wear period costumes you'd almost believe you were in 1846

Sam discusses the trials of being an out of work actor wearing authentic 1840's Colonial Australian garb

Next day Pat and Bren and clan came down with their little speedboat, a jetski-on-steroids thing powered by a two stroke inboard motor which goes like the clappers. At first we tried Avalon beach. It's advantage, is that it is close to our home. The disadvantage is that it is an ugly, stinky, stagnated area with no sand for the kids to play on and views over the scenic Shell refinery. Fortunately the boat agreed and simply made lots of noise, refusing to go fast until we cleared all the seaweed and bits of toxic waste from the prop.

The boat wouldn't work until we took it somewhere nice

So we went for a cruise down to the much more scenic Portarlington where the kiddies could play on the beach and the water was actually blue. It was a perfect day and you could see Melbourne across the bay. The Germans had a blast with Patrick's maniac driving. Since boating is only for licenced drivers I will state categorically that Claudi and Jögy did NOT at any time drive the boat, but mentioned that they would have really enjoyed it if they did.

When it was my turn to go for a spin the boat died. But not before we had jetted off into the bay as far away from land as possible. So, we just sat there fiddling with a dead engine, watching the pier get smaller and smaller and listening to two children say non-stop "Are we gonna die??". If we had floated for much longer the girls thought they may as well drive to Saint Kilda and meet us there.

We got towed in by a JET SKI, the height of humiliation for a boat.

Fortunately that evening after Pizza and beer Claudia did not have any plans to go nightclubbing. On Monday we walked around Geelong, and just chilled.

That's not to say that the frivolous pubbing ended there. On Thursday night the girls left Jörg and me at home to go out in Melbourne. We rented the movie Sahara. I leanred that even the action packed blokey shoot-em-up movies nowadays have an environmental message. Isn't that nice. Instead of making the bad guys evil despots, bank robbers, or Islamic terrorists (which would just be plain unrealistic) they make them nasty capitalists who dump toxic waste in the middle of a desert. I'm sure they also drove fast expensive cars and given half the chance, would have clubbed some baby seals to death.

The boys had a much better time at home with some Pringles and a forgettable movie

Friday night we took Jörg to the Melbourne Motor Show. Strange, because I thought that Germany itself is like one big motor show. But he seemed curious about all the interesting sensibly-priced Australian cars. Or maybe he was just amused when realising that Australian motoring has only just discovered four valves per cylinder. Yeah mate, learned that off the Germans, we did. It only took 40 years.

Alright, I admit there is futility in paying money to stare at cars I could never afford. Better to tease yourself with a nice car that is only slightly out of your price range. Hence, the VW Golf GTI was my cup of tea. There was a nice red one which you could sit in and pretend to drive and push all the buttons. I had to wait my turn, because there were a couple of men wearing turbans sitting in it, and I didn't want to appear impatient lest I upset them and cause more international outrage than a Danish cartoon.

I did, however, manage to derive some satisfaction that Australia was getting it's first look at the spectacular BMW M6 coupe, when I saw it high speed at the sacred Nurburgring four months ago...

After that it was time to spend the Germans' last Friday night trying to keep up with Claudia. Another late one with music, dancing (of sorts) and my favourite, meaningful conversation at 3am over tim tams. Poor Jögy however, was not up to it and dragged us home at a childish 3.30am for more tim tams.

This rare photo is rare because it was taken in the sports bar in the casino. You know, the place where you are not allowed to take photos. We were allowed to keep this one because the security guards were happy that we did not snap any ashamed, embarrassed-looking problem gamblers who might not come back because we took their photo.

In preparation for their sad departure on Saturday I dug up our favourite photo of the two from our German travels, which seems like oh-so-long ago, to get a big print done. I always liked this one of them afront the colourful Schloss Pillnitz near Dresden, looking spontaneous and natural. Problem was, there was this rather disinterested-looking large bloke standing in the background.

So, with the miracle of modern technology I painstakingly made the unwanted blemish disappear. I don't know the guy and mean no ill-will toward him, but he was spoiling the whole young-couple-in-love-in-front-of-a-romantic-palace ambience. And the result...

Much better. Yes, I am an image genius.

On Saturday 11th Feb we sadly watched them disappear into the very same bowels of Melbourne Intl Airport where Sharon and I disappeared more happily five months earlier. We didn't just give them a parting gift of this photo. We sent them away with as much love, hugs and tears as we could muster and the hope that it was only "Bis Später"...