blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Back to winter

I'm in the departure lounge at Vancouver airport, en route to Ottawa via Toronto. Our holiday's nearly over and we're returning to an early and severe winter in Ontario, with deep snow in the garden already. Here in BC it's mild, but damp and grey. There's a picture of the Sydney Opera House and harbour bridge on the TV with Australian voices on the commentary-- a golf tournament taking place there--sounds like the cricket on ABC radio. We were swimming in the breakers on a Sydney beach three days ago, which seems as incredible and as unreal now as the wall painting of tropical sands with palm trees around the hot tub at the Accent Inn airport hotel that we sat in for half an hour last night, relaxing our back muscles in the stream of bubbles.

We spent another pleasant afternoon walking around Vancouver yesterday, on a cloudy day that suited our mood, winding down after the goodbyes in Sydney and the very long trans-Pacific flight, two thirds of which was in darkness again. Our seats were over the wing, not allowing us much of a view beyond a brief glimpse of Bondi beach in the rain on takeoff, choppy waves below us, a few anvil shaped cloud tops at sunset, south of the Equator, and the dark mountain tops near Seattle at dawn before we came in to land on the Vancouver runway right beside the water again. There are so many similarities between Sydney and Vancouver that it's hard to remember which place you're in, after experiencing two November 29th dawns within 24 hours. I felt rough during the second one and hardly had the brainpower to order breakfast at the IHOP, but a couple of hours sleep and a late lunch at an Italian cafe on Prender Street helped. Chris bought his second hand book about Emperor Julian that he'd spotted on November 8th and we walked right round Canada Place and by the Lost Lagoon again to English Bay where 14 container ships lay at anchor in the gloaming, some with their lights on. It was very romantic to see them there beyond the pine trees and the beach. Might cross the Pacific by ship one day!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

An evening of music and thunder

After our trip to Narrabeen, I went out in the evening with George to the home of a lady who befriended him some years ago--they play together in the 'cello section of the Beecroft orchestra--and who is a most excellent pianist. Gaby, a young mum who lives nearby and plays the viola, drove us to Maureen's bungalow in her car along the winding, up and down, Delhi Road, and when we arrived, Maureen was already practising her piano part for the music they were going to rehearse, the Dvorak piano quintet. We went into the kitchen first where I helped to slice the chicken to go with the salad she'd prepared. Prawns and wine goblets were ready for us too. The other members of the ensemble turned up: Katrina, Liz and Nicole, and we all sat down to supper, but I could tell that they were all dying to get to the musical part of the evening, so I offered to wash up while they began to play.

From the kitchen sink I was quite startled by the quality of their playing and soon came in to observe at closer quarters. In the background a long and noisy thunderstorm raged, with rumbles and flashes that punctuated the music, but it didn't seem to bother the players. They were concentrating so hard that I don't think they noticed. Nicole and Liz were doubling the second violin part. After the first movement (that they played once again at the end of the evening) I turned the pages for Maureen. It took some concentration, being the page-turner!

Scuttling back to the car with the instruments from Maureen's porch we got drenched again.

On the lagoon at Narrabeen

(Friday, November 15th)

With George's car at our disposal, we drove along the Pacific Highway and other highways through Chatswood to Narrabeen. The roads in and around Sydney always seem very busy, whether or not it's the rush hour, but there was a pretty stretch of the Lane Cove / Mona Vale Road that wound up and down through the Bush and crossed a ravine; then we started to catch glimpses of the Tasman Sea (Pacific Ocean) through the eucalyptus branches and beyond the tiled roofs and palm trees. The last stretch of road skirted the Narrabeen Lagoon. From the car park by the shops we could walk on the other side of that lagoon to a place that rented kayaks and other watercraft, such as paddle boards for standing on. Chris and I took a double kayak, left our shoes and valuables with the man at the desk, we set off to circumnavigate the island at the business end of the lagoon, getting increasingly wet from the drips off our paddles. Later, someone told us we'd have got less wet had we paddled more vigorously, but we preferred to drift slowly along and look for wildlife.

The water was clear. We saw fantails, a white-faced heron, cockatoos, ducks and a few fish. No jellyfish. On the shore of the island were tiny sandy beaches framed with palm trees.

After our kayak ride, we walked over the hump of land where Narrabeen's houses are, and had our first proper view of the sea, with rolling breakers and miles of sand, morning glory and yellow sea flowers (climbing guinea flowers?) growing in the dunes. There were no shops or lifeguard stations here, so this beach was fairly deserted. I don't know whether or not it would have been safe to swim here.

For lunch we discovered a really good South Indian curry place on the main road, that opened just for us, when they saw us coming.

Friday, November 22, 2013

To the Forestry Trail, koalas and 'roos.

We shook the sand off the bed sheets after our swim in the waves on Tuesday. Our first visit yesterday was to "Athlete's Foot" in the Macquarie Centre where a politely assertive salesgirl took Chris in hand and insisted that he replace his old shoes, ruined by rain puddles and overuse. Then George drove us to Cumberland State Forest for a walk among the skinks in the arboretum, under the giant hoop pines and bunya pines which grow massive, green pinecones weighing up to 10 kg apiece. At this time of year they are not fully grown. We saw some leopard ash trees too with splodge patterned bark. Wonderfully tall and straight eucalyptus trees with white trunks were marked for chopping down. I was reminded of the white pines of Canada. Both these species were chosen for masts in the days of sailing ships on the high seas.

"Once they get their tails up against Australia, there's no stopping them," said the cricket commentator on the radio, referring to the England side at the start of the current Test Match.

We were back in the car and on our way to the Koala Park, where we fed wallabies and kangaroos handfuls of dried grass and saw dingoes, parrots and peacocks at close quarters as well as miniature penguins being fed whole pilchards---they refuse to touch them without the heads.

For the first time in my life I stroked the ears of a live koala and of several tame kangaroos. They are soft and warm, their faces a sort of cross between a sheep and a rabbit. Some of the females had "joeys" in their pouches, with a head or feet sticking out for proof. It seems a shame that we have a pack of kangaroo meat for stir frying in the fridge, chosen by George.

Koalas, so were learned, are not called koala bears in Australia. That's an English mistake. These animals live in the wild not far north of Sydney, though they are not numerous. They only wake up for 4 or 5 hours a day; the rest of the time they're curled up in the fork of two eucalyptus branches, somewhere high in the trees, sleeping. I was advised to watch out for their sharp claws.

P.S. (later) I hate to say it, but the kangaroo meat was very lean and tasty.

Come hell or high water!

Whale Rock in the rain
Today I waded barefoot across three fords of Lane Cove River and Devlin's Creek, carrying my shoes and socks, while following the Great North Walk through Lane Cove National Park. I am giving up all attempts to keep this blog chronological. Normally it's not necessary to wade, but all the waterways are full at present, after the latest bout of thunderstorms that came through at daybreak this morning, and there were more this evening. Here's a description from one of George's guidebooks of the local area:
The river valley is shaded by steep wooded slopes with stands of tall Blackbutts dominating the hillside and valley ... Among the 97 bird species found in the National Park you may see or hear whip birds [we definitely heard them!] scrub wrens, Grey Fantails, thornbills, Crimson Rosellas, White Cockatoos, Galahs and Rainbow Lorikeets.
This is all within a few minutes walk of George's house and I've noticed most of the above. A lot of today's walk was like a sandy riverbed, Chris soaking his feet again well before we reached the extraordinary whale rock (among other dramatic sandstone rocks) on the way up the hill to North Epping and so back to suburbia. Never mind that it was raining again and my umbrella was broken in two places. We continued 2 km down the side streets, Chris' left foot squelching as we went (because he hadn't bothered to remove his shoes to cross the fords), and found a coffee shop with outdoor tables near the station where we could watch some more of the Test Match from Brisbane on TV.

Then we came home on the 295 bus and played with the baby again who has now mastered the skill of grasping things after reaching for them, and is thrilled to find out he can throw things too, and let other people pick them up for him so that he can do it again. He makes ecstasy noises as he's doing this, especially with his jingly ball. The piano keyboard is another such excitement.

Baby Eddie sang a duet with me the other day.

The other activities of today were cleaning the bathroom, Chris devising a way of getting the garden hose through the upstairs window by means of a ball of string, then making a chili beef with tacos for supper, which Sha seemed to relish, followed by apple crumble and ice cream by request from George, followed by the washing up.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Eddie's routine

Eddie at breakfast time, Zigzag Cafe, Marsfield
This isn't at all like our previously trip to Australia, our activities being circumscribed by a six month old baby's needs. It's a restful mode of existence, I find. George takes Eddie for an early morning walk (while Sha catches up on some sleep) down Waterloo Road past the local shops and then a lap or two of the playing field. Everyone he meets says hello to George: "They're all Chinese," he says, "apart from one Indian man." The influx of Asian people to Sydney is very striking, with the younger generation wearing British style school uniform, with sunhats, and talking in Australian accents. Even so, we hear as much Mandarin being spoken as English, and at Macquarie University a large proportion of the students seem to be from China. Yesterday afternoon I went for a swim at the outdoor university pool, open to the public-- next time, to avoid quite so many children, I'll go at a time that isn't just at the end of the school day.

If everyone is ready in time we can have a sit down and a little something at the Zigzag Cafe by the shops with its outdoor tables in the plaza, circa breakfast time. The owner knows us now. Next door to it is the clinic where we took little Eddie for his 6 months old checkup. He also went with all of us to the West Ryde town hall with all the other babies for his inoculations.

There are several walks per day with Eddie in his pushchair. He looks at everything with great fascination: the traffic and people going by, the trees moving in the wind, the raindrops on his pushchair cover. Seeing the pushchair from a distance, I see his legs kicking up and down with enthusiasm. Sometimes he sits very still and falls asleep. The day is a pattern of sleep, play, feed, play, feed, sleep ... Sounds give him great pleasure, especially rhythmical music. George has been finding recordings of children's songs in different languages on the internet; Bulgarian, English or Korean, they're all surprisingly similar and familiar. We heard "The wheels on the bus go round and round" in Chinese. I love watching Sha sing Chinese nursery rhymes to her baby, some of them action songs.

At the end of the day, if the weather's fine enough, Eddie says hello (in his way) to one-year-old Eva next door, over the fence, and his parents read to him on the patio, sitting in the big wicker chair. He stares at the picture books with concentration, but doesn't point at things yet. At supper time he sits in his own rocker chair to watch us eat and goes "Mmm, mmm, mmm!" meaning, I think, that he'd like some supper too. Then comes the bath and bedtime drink routine.

All four adults are near enough exhausted by then, so our evenings haven't been very full of activity. We watch a few videos after sorting the washing, and washing up, and feeding the guinea pigs spinach and cucumber. Chris has been working on some maths problems for George's work and reading Aristotle's Physics written ca. 330 BC in a modern translation from the ancient Greek! He found this two-volume gem of a book at Abbey's bookshop on York Street, opposite the Queen Victoria Building. And I have been trying to summon up the energy to add to this blog.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

In the Bush

Unexpectedly, we've had rain, unremitting, heavy rain on our second day in New South Wales that flooded the roads and drenched us thoroughly on a walk to the local Woolworth's supermarket and back, showers that have rinsed the patio and watered the pot plants, and, last night, hours of noisy, flashy thunderstorms while George played the 'cello part of Dvorak's Piano Quintet at Maureen's house. More about that later. It's pouring again as I write this on Saturday evening: George and Chris have taken the umbrellas on their after-supper walk.

Burnt area of bushland
The good thing about all this moisture is that it has soaked the forests and dampened the possibility of more bush fires springing up, next time the wind blows on a dry day. We're very close to the steep hillsides along the Lane Cove River, here, with miles of dry Bush to explore---a wilderness within the city where you can see many eucalyptus trees with scorched black barks. George drove us to the "wildflower garden" at St. Ives last Monday and for part of our walk through the Bush there we went through a post-fire regeneration area where all the trees' remains were black. All the same, the forest seems full of life, wild turkeys scratching at the undergrowth with their feet, and cockatoos (mostly white ones with yellow crests, but we saw a flock of the rarer black cockatoos as well) squawking away as they fly past, more musical ones calling too. I saw the Australian equivalent of warblers and a fairy wren with luminescent blue feathers on its head and back. Apart from the eucalypts, palm trees and oak trees, Banksia trees are ubiquitous, their bottle brush flowers full of nectar for the long-beaked species. There are termite nests up the trees and on the sandy ground.

Turkey on the bird feeder
Today, after a fish 'n' chips lunch by the water at Bobbin Head, we visited another nature reserve, the Kuringgai Chase National Park above Cockle Creek, traditional home of the Guringai people, some of whose photos we saw on the information boards. We walked part of the Birrawanna Track, starting from a Discovery Centre with a display of the local flora and fauna (stuffed), and the first thing we saw was a turkey on the bird feeder and a wallaby sitting beneath it. It hopped off when we tried to take its photo. A family of kangaroos was gathered in a grassy enclosure, lolling on the ground or standing on their hind legs, boxing.

Cockle Creek from the top of the hills
Sydney is far hillier than I remember it and in the nature reserves are sheer sandstone cliffs and rocky outcrops that look as if they might hide all kinds of dangerous beasts, but we haven't spotted any. This is black snake territory. I found some big lizards in the "Eden" garden centre near Macquarie University this week, but none in the wild as yet.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Arrival in Sydney

November 9th never happened, unless you count a few hours of darkness while we tried to sleep until south of Hawaii. South of the International Date Line we went through an area of turbulence and cloud at 37000 ft. that lasted a good half hour, perhaps distantly associated with the disastrous typhoon over the Philippines and Vietnam. The day (Nov. 10th) had dawned by then, with a fiery sunrise. No sign of Fiji or the other Pacific islands, and we didn't see anything of the NSW coast, where it was raining, till I caught a glimpse of the Sydney Harbour bridge just before landing. At the gate we had to remain seated for 10 minutes while the crew sprayed everything in the luggage bins to eliminate any stray bugs that might have hitched a ride. That had happened on our previous arrival in 2003, as well.

Chris with his grandson
Immigration and baggage reclaim was smooth and easy; we were singled out for the sniffer dogs as we came through the customs / quarantine area, which entailed some more queuing, but then we were through the barriers and George could greet us with a Welcome to Australia balloon. We bought a "flat white" coffee and a coke to keep us awake, then splashed along to George's car through the puddles of rainwater. It's a 40 minute drive along the motorways to his house in Marsfield where all the streets are names after British battles. He and Sha live on Waterloo Road. She gave us a most affectionate welcome and we all tiptoed upstairs to see little Eddie fast asleep and spreadeagled on the bed. When he woke up he greeted us with smiles.

The streets are full of jaracanda trees, covered with purple blossom.

In the afternoon, Jonathan, Alyssa and Vikram came round to visit, as well as the rainbow lorikeets, tame enough to perch on our hands, noisy mynah birds, and a lizard. We had a walk in the rain, and supper, and an early bedtime. In fact all our bedtimes have been early since we arrived in Sydney.

Monday, November 11, 2013

On the way, in Vancouver

We chased the sunset west from Ottawa, and a very dramatic sunset too, like a red ink blot seeping into the grey clouds on the horizon. The flight to Vancouver was less romantic, with a baby screaming at its poor mother a couple of seats in front of us all the way. Thank goodness Chris had his noise reducing headset with him. I watched the documentary Industrial Landscapes about Edward Burtynsky's photography of the modern industrial revolution in China.

From the train ride into Vancouver
In Vancouver (Richmond, really, near the airport) we stayed at an Accent Inn on the road to Seattle, with shuttle bus service to and from YVR airport, comfortable and convenient except for the lack of nearby restaurants open after 9pm, except for MacDonalds, which didn't appeal. In the morning after a hearty breakfast at the IHOP diner--now open!--we were able to leave our luggage at the hotel, take the shuttle bus to the local station and catch a train that became an underground one after the first couple of stops, to central Vancouver and the waterfront.

Our views of the coastal mountains couldn't have been better, in clear weather with clouds swirling over their ridges and a bit of snow on top. Vancouver's a beautiful city that we haven't seen since 2003. We followed the seawall paths and lingered near the sea plane base to watch the takeoffs and landings.

Houseboats in the marina, Vancouver
Once we reached Stanley Park the sun was warming us, so we sat on a bench by Lost Lagoon to watch the birds in the bushes. There were semi-tame raccoons being cute, and pestering passers by for food. We wandered on to English Bay and then back to the streets where we discovered a French restaurant serving well cooked, well presented food (fish and chips, actually).

Canada Place at dusk

Vancouver skyline seen from the sea bus from N. Vancouver

Still having hours to fill, but too tired for museums, we wandered via a second hand bookshop on the corner of Richard and Prender Street down to Gastown with its famous "steam clock" then back to the Canada Place, waterfront area where we caught a ferry (sea bus, for commuters) across Burrards Inlet to North Vancouver and back, just for the sake of the ride, and another sunset.

Eventually, unlike the clock in Gastown, we ran out of steam, so rumbled back on the self driving train to the airport, caught the shuttle to the hotel to pick up our luggage, picked it up and hopped straight back on the shuttle, back to the airport. The international departures terminal was almost deserted which made for an easy passage through security and a quiet supper at the restaurant in the departures lounge.

Then we boarded the plane for Sydney and sat on it for something like 17 hours.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Relevant numbers

We're flying from Ottawa to Vancouver on Thursday, in order to continue travelling from there across the Pacific Ocean (from Friday night to Sunday morning, over the International Date Line), to visit our youngest grandson and his parents. Here are the numbers to bear in mind:
The flight distance from Vancouver International Airport to Sydney Kingsford Smith International Airport is 7777 miles (12515 kilometres, 6758 nautical miles).
Estimated flight duration, 15h 13min.
Time difference between Vancouver and Sydney, 19 Hours.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A hike in the morning sun

After the rain and scudding grey clouds, today's blue sky has been a blessed relief. This morning we drove into the Gatineau hills and went for a walk from the O'Brien parking lot to the carbide mill ruins near Meech Lake, stopping for a coffee at Chelsea on the way back. The air is cold––best wear a hat and gloves––there's ice underfoot in the shadows, but it's a super time of year for hiking, with hardly any leaves on the trees to obstruct our view of the scenery from the trails. Plenty of people were out, like us, enjoying the Gatineau Park.

Red berries on the shore of Meech Lake

A series of waterfalls above the mill on Meech Creek

Mill ruins and the adjoining waterfall

P.S. We saw a sad sight on the way to Chelsea. At the side of Highway 5 were the remains of a black bear that had been run over by a vehicle on the road: the first time we've ever seen that particular example of road kill. On the drive back home we witnessed someone's unpleasant job of clearing the body out of the way.

To report an animal killed or injured on the road, dial 311 and ask to speak to an animal control officer.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The stream of day-to-day

On our living room walls we have three framed photographs by Raymond Aubin, a one time colleague of Chris' at Nortel. Since 2008, Raymond's work has become more experimental. He has an exhibition of his more recent work running at the Ottawa City Hall until November 17th, and you can pick up a leaflet about the show if you go to see it, explaining that
Aubin is interested in public places and the ways in which we connect to them. He sees organized chaos within them, where the unfamiliar overlaps with the familiar.
An image from Au jour le jour, by Raymond Aubin
Because this notion of juxtaposing the familiar with the unfamiliar appeals to me, I went to hear him give a public lecture about it last weekend. His exhibits are images reproduced on vinyl: selected photographs of webcam shots taken by a webcam (Earthcam) positioned above Times Square, New York. At any moment of the day or night, a viewer, from anywhere in the world, is able to look at Times Square from different angles, zoom in and pan the camera (click on the symbols in the bottom left corner of the virtual screen) and this fascinates Raymond, as does the way the colours of the scene change through the changing seasons, even in this urban environment. Of 7500 momentary images he captures from the continuous display, Raymond keeps about 320, then from these he carefully and deliberately selects perhaps eight pictures, invariably rather blurred but having an interesting composition, and aligns them along a scroll-like strip. He says he's influenced by ancient Chinese art that tells stories by means of paintings on a scroll. As for the subject matter, "I look for strange situations," he says, and adds that he has no difficulty in finding them, every hour, every day, asking himself, "What breaks the stream of day-to-day?"

On his website, Raymond puts it this way:
Comme artiste, j’explore la phénoménologie du quotidien dans les lieux publics. Je m’intéresse à leur désordre organisé. Je suis attentif à l’interstice entre l’ordinaire et l’étrange. Je travaille la plasticité de la photographie et sa mise en espace.
During the lecture he told us that his preference for a long, thin picture format, where the normal rules of composition do not apply, was influenced by photographers like Geoffery James whose Utopia/Dystopia * was shown at the National Gallery in 2008.