Army day at Eagle Farm Racecourse. Brisbane, Qld, Australia 1988

As I was looking through my old colour negatives (hence the crappy grainyness) I came across the image below that was taken 20 years ago (gee time flies).

Mother with her Razzbuffnik

The picture is of my mother and I at the ANZAC day (25th of April), “Army Day” races at Eagle Farm Racecourse on the outskirts of Brisbane.

We had gone to the races to test out some tips a guy I knew gave me. This guy wanted me to join a gambling syndicate so I asked him for some tips to test the infomation that he said he’d give to me in the futre if I joined. Although we have legal off track betting here in Australia, I thought that since my mother was staying with me for the 1988 Expo that she might enjoy a day at the races. I had no idea that the army would be at the race track in force with soldiers, tanks and recruiting tents.

At first it seemed a bit odd.  What was the connection between horse racing and the army?

There were a few guys dressed up in old WWI lighthorse uniforms on horseback wandering about, but they weren’t a main attraction. There were also a few armoured vehicles with soldiers standing around them near the almost empty recruiting tents, but I still couldn’t really understand why the army was there at all.

That is until I saw a few large army tents off to one side away from the grandstand. I thought it must have been an exhibition of some kind until I got closer and saw a sign that read “Army Officers only” and soldiers on guard outside controlling who went inside. My mother wanted to turn around because we wouldn’t be allowed in. I was curious though and insisted that we go on. As we got closer we could see the tent was packed with what looked like a party for officers and their families. So that was it! It was a nice little, tax payer funded, day at the races junket for the officers. There were way more officers in the tent than regular soldiers in the whole of the rest of the racecourse.

My mother still wanted to go back but I said “just act like you belong and we’ll just walk in”; and with a nod to the soldiers as we went by them, that’s what we did.

I was definitely the odd one out as far as dress was concerned, (they probably all felt sorry for whoever was my officer father) but no one bothered us as we walked up to the bar. I couldn’t believe it when I saw they were selling a sparkling white wine for three dollars a bottle! So I bought three! Needless to say my mother and I got quite tipsy but we sure did have a great day together.

To top it all off, all the race tips I’d been given came in and I made about $130 from $20. Thanks to the Australian Defence Force with their subsidised alcohol, plus a few good tips, it was the best day that I ever had at the horse races.

Epilogue:

After winning at the races I asked the guy who gave me the tips to give me some more to try to see if my success on Army Day had been a one off fluke or not. He said O.K. but that it would be the last time he’d do it for free. So instead of going to the race track I went and placed my bets at the local TAB (the state controlled off track betting agency).

Not only did all the tips not come in and I lost my little bets (wich I didn’t really care that much about) but I found the experience of hanging around a betting shop all day with a bunch of heavy smoking losers very un-aesthetic and I lost all interest in “investing” in the gambling syndicate.

This post was first post of Feb 11 2008

Cluless in the snow. Panorama Ridge, Garibaldi National Park, B.C. Canada

doug.jpg

Before I met Doug in the picture above I hadn’t done any real full on wilderness activities other than go camping when I was in the Boy Scouts and then later, when I was in the army cadets during my early years in high school.
 
Doug introduced me to snow shoeing and snow camping back in the early 1980s, when I was living in Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada.  One of the first hikes we did together was the Black Mountain loop in West Vancouver during the summer.  This fairly easy hike emboldened us to try hiking and snow shoeing the same area during the spring, while there was still a lot of snow on the ground at the higher altitudes. 
 
During the summer, the Black Mountain trail is fairly easy to follow, as there are psychedelic orange plastic trail markers on the trees.  During our spring trip, we had decided to go to the top of the Black Mountain (which required snow shoes) and then down through to a pass to lower altitude to where there wasn’t any snow so we could camp over night.
 
Following the trail markers during spring when there is very deep snow was a different matter entirely to summer as the snow on the ground was so deep it covered many of the trail markers. Unfortunately, during that particular hike in the snow we lost our way and ended up being benighted at higher altitude in the snow.  This was the first time that either of us had camped in the snow.  Back in those days, I thought that insulating sleeping mats were for weaklings and I used to camp without them. Doug didn’t have a sleeping mat either, so we decided that we would tear off as many small branches from the surrounding conifer trees as we could to make a layer of insulation underneath the tent.  It was very difficult to tear off the branches that we needed because our nylon covered gloves didn’t allow a very firm grip, so we had to take our gloves off to do it with our bare hands and of course it was freezing cold. To make matters worse, the tree branches were quite strong and flexible and were very difficult to remove.  It was getting dark, fairly fast, so we were only able to spend about an hour gathering material to put underneath our tent, to make a dismally ineffectual thin layer of insulation.
 
What followed was probably the longest and most uncomfortable night I’ve ever spent camping.  We’ve both didn’t get any sleep at all, because we couldn’t stay in one position long enough due to the fact that the point of contact of our bodies with the base of the tent was so intensely cold.  It was the pits. So much for my first snow camping experience.
 
In the morning we finally made our way back down to the highway and went back into town.  The first thing I did that day after I got back home was to go to an outdoor equipment store and ask them what was the best thing they had for sleeping on snow and money was no object.  The salesman showed me an extra large Thermarest for $82, which was a lot of money for me back then, and I bought it without hesitation.  Doug also brought a good sleeping mat a short time later, and with our new purchases, we decided that we were now equipped to go snow camping somewhere a little bit more ambitious.
 
 
For our next snow camping hike decided to go snowshoeing in Garibaldi National Park to Black Tusk via Panorama Ridge while there was still snow on the ground in late spring.  Garibaldi National Park is a spectacular wilderness park on the way to Whistler about 70 km (44 miles) from Vancouver.  The trail to Black tusk starts at sea level, where there wasn’t any snow on the ground at that time of the year, and goes up to about 2,100 m (6,900 ft) at Panorama Ridge.  At the lower altitudes one passes through fairly dense temperate rainforest. At the higher altitudes there are far less trees, but there was lots of very deep snow. 
 
Being Australian, I didn’t have very much experience with snow at all and although Doug was a Canadian he didn’t have much experience with snow in the wilderness.  Whilst we both knew that avalanches were a risk we both had no idea of how to detect high-risk areas and what to do in the event of an avalanche. 
 
On the way up to Panorama Ridge, some of the slopes were quite steep, and it was fairly heavy going with the snowshoes.  As we were walking up one particularly steep hill we could hear cracking sounds as large sheets (about 10m or 30ft in diameter) of the fairly fresh snow about 30 cm (approximately 1ft) thick beneath our feet was breaking off and sliding over the top of the older compacted snow below.  We found it amusing to turn around and ride the small avalanches down the hill. This happened about three or four times and some of the rides went for about 100 m (about 100 yards) or so.  Of course, now many years later with the benefit of experience in hindsight, I realise how dangerous those conditions were and how lucky we were not to have killed ourselves.
 
On the way to the meadows near Black Tusk, were we planned to camp I passed a small tree sticking up out of the snow.  Before I could realise what was happening, I had fallen about 5m (about 15ft) below the snow and was tangled up in the top of a large pine tree with my snowshoes and backpack, making it difficult for me to move. 
 
It had been snowing quite heavily, and there was lots of light fluffy powdery snow covering everything and what I thought was a small tree sticking up out of the snow was in fact a large tree in a snowdrift.  So there I was, tangled up in the top of the tree under the snow.  Doug of course, was trying to help me get out, but he couldn’t get near the top of the tree, as the snow was too soft and he was in risk of falling straight through the snow, just like I had.  Matters were further complicated by the fact that I had to somehow undo my snowshoes and get my backpack off, whilst tangled in the branches. 
 
Since I was at the thinner top of the tree, my weight caused the tree to sway underneath the very soft snow.  After about a half hour struggle I was eventually able to remove the snowshoes and backpack and throw them to Doug, who was waiting about 3 m away (about 10 feet) at the edge of the hole in the snow.  This wasn’t a very easy thing to do because every time I tried to throw my pack, the tree would sway in the opposite direction and I couldn’t throw it very far.  Luckily, Doug had brought long handled ice axe with him and he was able to retrieve my backpack before it fell back down into the hole past me to the bottom of the tree, which was about another 10 m (30 ft) below me. 
 
I tried a few times to jump from the tree to safety but as I tried to do so, the force I was using caused the tree to sway in the opposite direction, canceling my efforts out.  I eventually got out my predicament by swaying backwards and forwards in the top of the tree causing it to sway it towards Doug, who was waiting for me at the edge of the hole with the ice axe extended for me to grab on to.  I don’t know how I would have got out of that situation without Doug.
 
Since those first few snow camping experiences in Canada with Doug I’ve probably been snow camping over a hundred times and have learned how to do it much more safely and comfortably.

this post was first posted on 5th of January 2008

Tangy pear and mint sorbet recipe

Here’s a recipe for a delicious original sorbet I made up last night.

sorb.jpg

Ingredients

1 x 800gr tin of halved pears in juice (not syrup).
100gr of sweetened condensed skim milk.
50ml Southern Comfort (optional).
I handful of finely chopped mint.
3 lemons juiced.
1 tbls glucose (this stops the sorbet from freezing into a solid ice block)

Method

To ensure quick foolproof churning in your ice-cream maker, it’s best if all the ingredients (except for the condensed milk and glucose) are chilled over night before using.  The lemon juice can be frozen.

Place all the contents of the tin of pears into a food processor and puree.  While the food processor is running add the other ingredients to the pears to combine. Once all the ingredients have been completely pureed, empty the food processor contents into the ice-cream maker and churn until your machine stops.  Place the churned sorbet in the freezer for a few hours firm up it’s consistancy. If the sorbet is too hard to scoop, just let it sit for a while before serving.

This post was first posted on the 11th of January 2008

Jalan Alor, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia . September 2007

One of the best places for flavour and value to eat in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia is Jalan Alor. Jalan Alor (Alor Street) is a street lined with food vendors (they are known locally as hawkers) who cook their food in semi-permanent stalls that are backed onto shop fronts.

jakl.jpg 

Night is the best time to go as it is much more comfortable after the sun has gone down and Jalan Alor really comes alive as the locals and tourist come to feed. Good food, fast and cheap.

This post was first posted on the 22nd of  January 2008

Melbourne tries harder than Sydney

If I were to compare Sydney and Melbourne to people, I’d say that Sydney is one of those naturally beautiful but vacuous people who just sits there expecting everyone to adore them just for how they look and Melbourne is one of those plain looking people, who has been forced to develop an interesting personality to attract people.
 
I not only live in Sydney, I love Sydney, but I also have to say that during my recent visit to Melbourne, I was left with the feeling that Sydney is somewhat lacking.  Sydney just seems to be relying on its natural beauty, which comes from being located on a spectacular harbour.  Although Sydney has the world-famous Opera house, and the clunky Sydney Harbour Bridge, it’s not a particularly nice city, to walk around.  Once one gets away from the harbour, most of Sydney is merely functional rather than beautiful. 
 
There have been articles in the Sydney Morning Herald describing a recent visit by a Danish urban planner, Jan Gehl and his comments about Sydney. Gehl was quoted as saying that Sydney “is a doughnut, because it has nothing in the centre.” I couldn’t agree more.
 
Melbourne on the other hand has instituted changes suggested by Prof  Gehl after studies his team conducted in 1994 and 2004, that have completely transformed that city into a much more liveable place. 
 
Melbourne has many kilometres of cycleways that encourage people to get exercise, and reduce the amount of cars on the road.  There is also much more public art in Melbourne.  I really enjoyed seeing Duncan Stemler’s “Blowhole”,

Blowhole by Duncan Stemler

a 15 metre (50ft) high wind powered sculpture set in a children’s playground, and John Kelly’s joyously quirky  “Cow up a tree”, not only put a smile on my face, it brightened up the rest of my day.

Cow up a Tree by John Kelly

As a matter of fact, many public structures in Melbourne exhibit beauty in their design, more than mere functionality.

Cycle path bridge

When I told my friend that I was going to Melbourne, she recommended that my wife and I take our bicycles.  Luckily, I took that advice and spent a few days cycling around Melbourne’s beautiful art filled streets.  We’ll be going back to Melbourne again, we loved the place.

As for Sydney… get your act together, Melbourne’s kicking our collective butts!

This post was first posted on the 29th of January 2008

I’m off to Bali and Lombok.

This afternoon, my wife and I fly to Bali for 18 days of holiday.

Since we blew so much money last year, we thought we’d keep things financial down to a dull roar and go somewhere closer to home that is not so expensive.

Bali is to Australia, what Mexico is for Canadians. A place in the sun with a different culture and where everything costs less. Just like Mexico, Bali gets more than it’s fair share of ignorant tourists. As a matter of fact, I think it can be safely said that there a few nationalities who can be more obnoxious overseas than a drunken meathead from Oz.

Many people here in Australia will roll their eyes when you tell them you’re going to Bali. Most Australians automatically think of the Kuta beach area and its bars with Australians behaving badly and the incessant street peddlers. Bali is actually way more than Kuta and while parts of it are fully infested with us Aussies there are still plenty of beautiful places to get away from it all. To my mind, Bali is still one of the nicest places I’ve ever been to and the people are lovely, despite the fact that their home has been a tourist destination for the last 40 or so years.

I won’t be taking a computer, so that means I won’t be posting for the next couple of weeks. As a way to make amends, I’ve scheduled some older posts, that I’m sure some of my more recent visitors haven’t seen but might enjoy, to automatically show up again.

The Alcázar of Segovia, Spain. 2009

The Alcázar of Segovia was for me, the best grand building I saw on my European trip last year. Most palaces and their selfish and clueless ostentation leave me feeling cold. 

Warning bells went off in my head when I read that the Alcázar of Segovia was one of the buildings along with Neuschwanstein in Bavaria, that inspired that great exponent of kitsch and schmaltz, Walt Disney, to design the Wonderland entrance to his amusement parks. I was surprised how much I disliked Neuschwanstein and I wasn’t too optimistic about enjoying Segovia’s main tourist attraction.

We stayed in a very beautiful hotel right at the back of the castle, and as soon as I clapped my eyes on it, I was gob-smacked. Appearing through the early autumn foliage was, what has become for me, the epitome of what a castle could be. 

Neuschwanstein rankled me so much because it was so ersatz; tacky in such a mad and over the top sort of way. A pure folly of  brainless selfishness.

Segovia’s castle is obviously a defensive structure where some very powerful had people lived, but for me what saved it from being dismissed as yet another monument to greed, was that as far as the palaces I’ve experienced, it was relatively restrained.

Sure, the form of the Alcázar follows function, but there is also plenty of evidence of a desire to build something beautiful that not just the owners will see.

One of the things that struck me about Europe, was the fact that architectural beauty is important. I guess it’s a sad thing about wages becoming more equitable in the first world in this modern age that we live in.  No more cheap labour to suck the life out of and exploit. No more decoration, just for the sake of it.

So many buildings (here in Australia at least) are built for a price nowadays and aesthetics have largely been abandoned in much of the public architecture I’ve seen sprouting up lately. For every Renzo Piano or Frank Gehry there seems to be thousands of tasteless architectural versions of Myrmidons, ready to churn out  as many eyesores as they can.

Although most of the Alcázar is comparatively modest and functional, compared to so many other royal residences I’ve been to, there has been a fortune spent on the ceilings. It’s obvious where so much new world gold was spent. After all, this was the home of Isabella and Ferdinand, the alpha couple of their time.

As I looked up at the ceilings, I found myself thinking about Christopher Columbus going cap in hand to the King and Queen as he promised to make them so much richer.

The ceilings are proof that Columbus was a man of his word.

Perhaps this heavenwards manifestation of wealth was an early form of prosperity preaching. Go with the right god and you’ll hit the big time. Jesus is my main guy and his co-pilot the pope, let me take all this great stuff  from those heathens.

So watch your step, or your arse will be mine!

Despite thoughts about what was done in Isabella and Ferdinand’s names, my wife and I never tired of seeing the Alcázar rising like a beautiful Renaissance stone battleship, out of the rocks.

Art is for playing in. Cockatoo Island, NSW, Australia. 2010

Choi Jeong Hwa’s installation at this year’s Biennale brought out the playfulness of most of the children who saw it. The adults stood back and looked at it and the kids just raced around inside of it chasing each other, banging it all about and having fun.

Years ago I remember reading an article about how people’s educational background affects the way they perceive art.  According to some research done in the past, people who have very little education tend to see art galleries as temples and approach them with some reverence and awe, whereas people with a high level of education are much more comfortable in experiencing art.

Watching the children play in amongst the “art”, I found myself thinking about the study and it occurred to me that what the study doesn’t acknowledge is how we are taught to respond to art.

Perhaps in the past the less educated have been made to feel that art was beyond their understanding, whereas today’s kids haven’t been as oppressed by such elitist claptrap and just respond in a freer way.

William Yang gets photographed. Cockatoo Island, NSW, Australia. 2010

Last weekend, I went to the Sydney Biennale again, with Engogirl to meet up with our friend Mai Long and her boyfriend Stuart. Even though I’d been to the biennale exhibits on Cockatoo Island before and hadn’t thought much of them, I figured it might be more interesting in the company of Mai.

Mai is an artist and she had a list of works that her artist friends said she must see. Needless to say, I found the exhibits far more interesting this time round. I’m not sure if it was Mai’s choices or that I’m so suggestible to being led.

Memo to self: Don’t ever volunteer at a hypnotism show.

In the afternoon we had the pleasure of meeting up with Mai’s mentor, the talented photographer and artist, William Yang. Mai had said to William earlier over the phone, that I was keen to photograph him and at first he said yes.

William Yang is very famous here in Australia as a photographer of the Sydney artist scene for the last 40 years and there is hardly anyone of creative note he hasn’t met or photographed. I thought it would be great to get a shot of William the chronicler who is usually the one who is photographing other people.

When I finally met William and asked if I could take his photo he said he’d changed his mind and didn’t feel comfortable about it.

At first I was taken aback, but then I said to him, “it was going to be very confrontational and I was going to get right up in your face like this” and I got within about 30 cm (about a foot)  with my 10mm lens, and quickly snapped a shot.

William, a bit surprised, said, “oh, that wasn’t so bad! Some people stuff around for ages”. So I then I showed him the shot and he nodded and smiled. I then went on to explain how I wanted to get a shot of him the unobtrusive photographer responding to me taking his photo in such an obvious way.

Later on we all went for a bit of a drinking session and I got to spend some time with William and his friend Glen. It’s no wonder William Yang has captured so many private moments of other people’s lives. He’s a quiet person who carefully chooses his words but also seems to enjoy noisy company. I’m sure there have been plenty of occasions where people have totally let down their guard with William.

Pink Martini, “Let’s Never Stop Falling In Love”

Sorry for not posting for so long. I’ve been sorting out my study and organising a trip to Bali. My disorganised and messy study has been driving me nuts for the last couple of years and I’ve finally gotten around to getting rid of a lot of old clutter and buying new office furniture.

At the moment, there seems to be so many other things to do besides blogging.

I’ll be back soon, and until then I give you this.

[youtube Ldxn6aq2GCc]