Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Seven Years

Seven years can stand for many things - a wedding anniversary, or a child's age, years spent in high school and college, or the time you've worked with an employer or been in business for yourself. Or been a member of a club or team. Long list of possibles.

Well, today marks exactly seven years since I bought the hundred year old stone house that I now live in, on its wooded acre lot, here in a small country town on South Australia's Yorke Peninsula. It was in a pretty run-down state and, after the low-rent tenant moved on (his lease was due to end) I spent a couple of seasons fixing things up; main big-ticket items were salt-damp treatment throughout and a gleaming new bathroom. At one time I'd envisaged retiring - again - this time to Tasmania. But no, too cold over there, I finally realised. Great for holiday trips.

Truth is, I have become very attached both to the house and the district. It'll do me. Once a month I hop over to the state capital city, trying to remember what traffic lights and parking meters look like, and then am darned glad to come back to the rural delights of barley-growing country - not that I grow any of the stuff. But they make beer from it, don't they? That's good enough recommendation for me.

It was Saint Andrew's Day, November 30th, back in 2002 when I actually took up residence myself in this old place, so I will celebrate another anniversary in two month's time, for that.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Woodhenge, Stonehenge, and a lunch

Lunch in Adelaide yesterday was with Margaret H. at La Piatta, to catch up before she heads to Scotland next Wednesday. She then took the O-Bahn back towards Golden Grove while I went across the road to the Nova Cinema for the 2pm screening of the Pixar film Up, whose review so impressed me, And yes, it was worth it. Glad to have seen it.

On the way to the Magareys and a meal with them, I called briefly at 154 Greenhill Road which is the Haigh's Chocolate visitors' centre. But the last tour of the day is 2pm. I'll go again. I bought a box of their scorched almonds for Enid, our hostess at RTS. Kevin M. was recovering from a cold and elected to stay in and have an early night, but Margaret accompanied me to the meeting; it was Rosemary's leading of discussion on the Stonehenge monument on Salisbury Plain, England, and its history, with mention of the nearby Woodhenge. I set up the camcorder to make a record of the evening. It has turned out O.K. despite low light.

At Heartbeat House, Hans (from Holland at age 10) and his wife who is totally deaf (their home is in Mt Gambier) was still in residence from my stay a month ago. They are daily at the bedside of their adult son who has been in a coma for six weeks because of complications from the swine flu virus. Also arrived yesterday were two sisters from Darwin whose mum has had a heart bypass op, and that appears to have gone well.

For some reason I slept very poorly last night - in the top storey room. During the night there were rain flurries many times - plus at one stage heavy hail. Not well rested, for the journey home I took several breaks; Dublin, Ardrossan, Stansbury.

Today is the AFL Grand Final between Geelong and Saint Kilda, a matter of major interest to 99.9% of the population.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Up and Away

Goodness ... another five days just got away. All I can show for the elapsed time is the planting out of six Roma tomato seedlings and eight snowpea ditto. That's a bit sad.

Just read the review (Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton) of the Pixar animated film Up. Four and a half stars each. Must see. Thanks to Bill B. for pointing me to the review - plus his own endorsement.

Yesterday's rehearsal at our singing group (we still don't use the C word) was for next week's mini concert at one of the nursing homes where we perform: a re-run of most of the numbers from our stage show a month ago, proving to us how much you forget in a month. Mind you, our dear pianist was away recovering from a knee-op, and her replacement did not have the same magic accompanist's touch. Today I deliver to the recovering one a DVD from my camcorder's remorseless capturing of the event, by order. There shall be no secrets from our musical director.

And, oh yeah, the English cricketers deserve applause for their last match win in the One Day-ers, saving a whitewash to finish 6-1 down to Australia in the series. By now both sides have winged it to South Africa to compete with the other few cricketing nations: to the rest of the sporting world a matter of no interest whatsoever.

Friday, September 18, 2009

More cricket. The amazing dodo ... who knew?

5am Got up early to see the last play of the sixth One Day International from Nottingham, England. The most convincing Australian win yet (by 111 runs) to go 6-nil up. The last match in the series is in two days time. Will the tourists achieve a 7-0 "whitewash" - something never done by any team in this form of cricket? With today's result Australia goes back to world number one in the rankings. Youngster of the squad and wicketkeeper Tim Paine hit 111 - his first century in international cricket - and was Man of the Match. Looks like he may be "the new Adam Gilchrist", that is, a specialist wicketkeeper who is also a top-order batsman. I am aware that this is gobbledegook to all who don't follow cricket. I have a similar non-comprehension of many ... well, most! ... sports.

And since the blooming cricket finished early - ten available overs not required after Brett Lee clean bowled the last hapless Pom - I was forced to proceed to my toast and marmalade and pot of tea while catching the tail end, so to speak, of a NatGeo doco on the famous dodo. Genuinely fascinating to learn that recent DNA results, from the sole partial specimen of that extinct species, reveal that it was a ... pigeon. Not a turkey-like separate avian family. Nope. Your actual pigeon, but of course a distinct species of that family, and one isolated on Mauritius for - they reckon - ten million years, its ancestors having arrived originally island-hopping from south east Asia, NOT from Africa. With no local competitors, it evolved into a larger flightless ground dweller. The characteristic heavy beak was about fighting for territory and mating rights.

It gets even more interesting. Our popular image of the bird is mistaken, based upon 16th and 17th century sketches, really caricature drawings, which suggest a clumsy creature. New study of the single remaining partial specimen tells a different tale. We have, it seems, a well-coordinated creature with a strong thrust-forward chest, head and neck developed for a fighting role, and strong legs. Two other areas of research shed light. An on-going archaelogical dig of the fortified Dutch post on Mauritius has shown absolutely no kitchen midden traces of dodo remains, while ships' logs contain specific mentions to confirm that the bird's meat was unpalatable and generally unsuitable as a food source. Hence it was not harvested for on-voyage stores, and over-hunting by humans was NOT a reason for the extinction. The species persisted for about a hundred years of human visitation, until the 1660s. The culprit is inferred to be feral pigs, from animals introduced by the earlier Dutch ships. Pigs would eat the eggs or chicks, and probably disrupt breeding patterns. The recent researchers are pretty certain that the birds could give a good account of themselves, and adults could drive off direct attacks. The ship log evidence also attests that unarmed humans were not feared, and a dodo could strike and bite painfully.

The final insult was that the one museum specimen in England was so daggy and moth-eaten that in 1755 a spring-cleaning curator THREW IT OUT. Some nameless history-saviour souvenired it, and the head, neck and one leg which remain today are from that source.

And the name? Dodo was the name bestowed by a man who was put in charge of the live crated bird when it first arrived. It was suggested by the sustained churring doo...doh call of the bird which, we may assume, was not a happy chap. With good reason, all things considered.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

More cricket and Butler's Beach

O.K., I stayed up late and then rose at 6am yesterday to catch the exciting last overs of Australia's run chase to reach 302, with four wickets in hand and 10 balls remaining, and win their one-day match against England at Trent Bridge. That makes it 5-o in the seven match series. Ricky Ponting, the Boy from Mowbray, had a magnificent "captain's knock" of 126 which included the longest six he'd ever hit. At the death there was all-rounder Mitchell Johnstone hitting another six to win the match. It was sad in a gratifying kind of way to see dejected England supporters starting to leave to ground with two overs still to play, at about the time it became clear that the tourists were cruising to a win.

Only problem with not getting much sleep was that I was heading out that day for a brisk three hour walk down on the coast just east of Marion Bay, where there are remote and beautiful beach coves on private land. One is known as Butler's Beach (often seals are to be seen), the other as Salmon Beach where there is good fishing for - who would guess? - salmon. The Butler family's land includes four miles of this coast. My companions included one of the family members, who took us to view what may be signs of the former aboriginal (Nurrunga) presence.

Sunny and magnificent day at the start - turning to dramatic lightning and thunder and rain, which eased off for our mid-walk picnic lunch. Then once we were safely back to vehicle and a fifty kilometre drive to our country town, the rain set in again and continued much of last night.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Win is a No-Win? And a Dummy Spit. Not so serene.

So ... the ODI cricket was an easy-looking win for the Australians at the MCC Lord's ground two days ago, for an unbeatable 4-nil lead in the best-of-seven series. ODI stands for One Day International - a crisper format of the game than the 5-day Test Matches which must bemuse followers of other sports. What kind of game lasts five days??! MCC stands for Middlesex Cricket Club. The win was against "the old enemy" - England - as viewed by Aussies from Down Under; slight revenge for losing the Ashes (another story) to the England side earlier in the year, contested every two years in a series of five of those 5-day Test Matches. That's a lot of cricket.

But here's the rub. If one is a "cricket tragic" - I'm not, really - then what is there left in life when the contest fizzles out? When the series is won and lost and three remaining games are to be "dead rubbers". The TV commentators said the English would use the games as practice for an upcoming tournament against South Africa. Oh, dearie me.

But all was well: the jaded viewer was able on this occasion to switch attention to the semi-finals of the U.S. Tennis Open, just in time to learn of Serena (ha!) Williams' dummy spit (tantrum) and obscene abuse of the lineswoman who called a footfault, costing her the last two points, and hence the match, against the amazing come-back Kim Clijsters who then went on to win the Ladies' Championship. Williams later (next day) huffily conceded that "an apology was warranted" - but somehow held back from actually voicing one. One commentator said that this prominent player had "indelibly tainted her reputation". Amen to that.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Joseph Campbell 1904 - 1987

Jane came round today bringing with her a VHS video released in 1988 featuring the great Joseph Campbell interviewed by media personality Bill Moyers. Campbell did this interview shortly before his death at 83, in 1987, on October 31 - Halloween - a kind of magical day of the year. Is that significant? I guess it might be. Campbell dealt with myth, ritual and magic in his famous writings in anthropology and comparative religion, and it struck me as we watched the video that he was the American counterpart for the late 20th century to my fellow Scot, Sir James Frazer (author of The Golden Bough, 1922) in the early decades of that century. Wikipedia told me that Campbell was born on March 26 of 1904. Hmm. Exactly a month after my dad was born.

Well, the Australian cricketers are 3-0 up in the best-of-seven series in England, in the one-day format against the host country, play starting in five minutes for the fourth match. Gotta go!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Farewell Colin Norris, South Australia's "Mr UFO"

This is an appreciative note - rather too late to be an obituary - on the passing of one of Nature's real gentlemen. Colin Norris (1920 - 2009) died in Adelaide on 13th July this year, loved by an extended family and known for decades informally to the media and public as South Australia's "Mister UFO". For over sixty years Colin compiled and collated hundreds, nay, thousands of reports from those who said they had witnessed sightings of unidentified lights, or objects in flight - and less commonly "landed" or even emerging from the sea. Much of Colin's archived material was in the form of tape recordings of witness statements. He maintained for years a newsletter latterly named Australian International UFO Flying Saucer Research.

Here is Bill Chalker's excellent obit.

Those who got to know this man, including myself, judged him to be sincere, modest, practical and open-minded. His interest in the subject stemmed from his time in WWII as turret gunner in Liberator bombers when - as he often recounted - his aircraft was "buzzed" repeatedly by disc-shaped craft. He went on to a technical career including working for Australia's CSIRO, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. Not your average "dreamer"!

In the mid-1990s Colin spoke to a group of more than a hundred on an occasion when I chaired the meeting, in the main hall of Fullarton Park Community Centre. He was a frequent and generous speaker for many groups. Our audience included half a dozen self-styled Skeptics who had come in order to disrupt the evening and (if they could) ridicule Colin Norris, merely because the topic was to do with Unidentified Flying Objects. The speaker's mild mannered charm and openness - I like to think also my chairing style :) - won them over to ceasing the hostile disruption, and over coffee and biscuits later everyone became pals, nobody seeking to force opinions on anyone else. A happy memory.

More rankling is a memory of a conversation with author Keith Basterfield at a time later in the '90s when he, Basterfield, was actively preparing material for publication - also on the topic of reported sightings or experiences (or claimed experiences) especially in South Australia, often involving accounts of car-engines being affected by "close encounters". You know the sort of thing. Learning that K.B. was in the business of sourcing such material, I remarked brightly "Well, you must surely know Colin Norris!" - expecting some admiring response along the lines that he knew Colin to be the Main Man in the field, at least locally, and was indebted to his work as a great pioneer of archived evidence. Not a bit of it. Not only was Mr Basterfield lukewarm in any acknowledgment of Norris's role, but he revealed or let slip that he HAD approached Colin Norris and had asked - or demanded? - to have full access to his records. This sounded to me like saying, You've done the work: now let me publish and take the credit. What a cheek. Colin Norris declined, courteously because that was always his only mode of communication.

The last part of the story tells far more about the other man than about the late Colin Norris. Basterfield, so far as I can determine, appears to have tried to make Colin a "non-person" by failing in his own published work to mention Norris's huge achievement as a documentarist spanning half a century. If I am mistaken in this - and I have not read every word written by K.B. - then some justice may have been done to the real hero in the tale, Colin Norris. But if I am right in my suspicion, then it is a sad and sordid example of petty spite, undermining the validity of the culprit's own research or pretension to thoroughness and truth in this quite interesting area which continues to intrigue the public.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Now THAT is a Tall Tale: salute Mike Perham

Imagine. A seventeen year old sails solo around the world. Nah. Tell us another.

But you read it already, or saw the reports on the box. August 31, back to Portsmouth, England, his starting place, after 158 days solo circumnavigation, the boy wonder is MICHAEL PERHAM. I salute him.

Yes, he's 17 and took time off from his studies in sports sciences in the town of St Albans in Hertfordshire, for this extraordinary adventure in his yacht with several repair stops en route (mostly to do with the auto steering gear) so his record for youngest-ever stands but as a "with assistance" entry in Guinness World Records. Michael was still just sixteen when he set out last November, and 45,000 kilometres later his first wish after hugs with family was ... steak and chips.

His repair stops were in Portugal, the Canary Islands, Cape Town, Hobart and Auckland. The Hobart call-in was on April 9, 2009.

Michael follows the wake (can't say footsteps!) of the first man to sail alone around the world, JOSHUA SLOCUM, born 1844 in Nova Scotia, who did it in stages between 1895 and 1898 supporting himself by lecturing on the way. His book title Sailing Alone Around the World (1909) rather gives the plot away :) But sadly this pioneer Slocum disappeared without trace after setting out in 1909 in an attempt at a new circumnavigation.

We are all glad that Michael Perham made it safely.