New Varangian Guard. Blacktown, Sydney, Australia 2007

Blacktown council held a Medieval Fayre this weekend and whilst there I took these photos of some of the members of the New Varangian Guard. These guys are more into “living history” than the Society of Creative Anachroisms and as such they tended to look more “authentic”.

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The people running the various stalls were very friendly and offered the public a chance to try on the armour.

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Skinhead party. Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. 1988

Back in 1988 I was invited to a 21st birthday party for a skinhead.  The party was at a friend of a friend of a friend’s place and I was definitely the outsider. Immanent alcohol fueled violence was in the air and hard-core needle drug use was in the bathroom. I would’ve taken more photos but a few guys made it clear that I shouldn’t and most of the shots that I did get were of people giving me the finger or sticking their tongues out.

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Kodak had just released a new film, TMZ that could be pushed to 6400 ISO and still record adequate detail in low light. I knew that I wouldn’t be able walk around and causally take my time taking shots so I used an 18mm lens set at hyperfocal distance and maximum aperture with the camera body set for shutter priority.

Templo de Santo Domingo. Puebla, Mexico

The stunning baroque Templo de Santo Domingo of Puebla was built between 1571 and 1659.

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The bright colour of its exterior gives no indication of the hallucinatory interior. 

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The stuccowork inside, which goes from chest height to the ceiling, is incredibly ornate.

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Its best to go in and just sit down or you risk falling over as your eyes go upwards and upwards and then start traveling down a wall behind you taking you backwards.

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Happy Birthday Manfred! Niagara Falls (from the air), Ontario, Canada

Today is my father’s 75th birthday and my (ever generous) sister bought my parents a helicopter flight over Niagara Falls for his birthday.

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Since my parents live in Hamilton Ontario, which is nearby Niagara Falls, they are truly sick of going there every time somebody from overseas visits them. Flying over the falls in a helicopter is completely different matter. 

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 They loved it.

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Hot time in Nagoya, Japan

In 2005 my wife and I went to Nagoya to visit the Expo near the end of summer. In the southern parts of the island of Honshu it gets quite hot and very humid in summer. Heat is usually not so bad; it’s the humidity that makes one uncomfortable.  Give me the dry heat of the desert any day over the humidity of the tropics. Not that Japan is in the tropics; it just feels that way in the summer. Everyone was walking around as if they were exhausted. The common greeting that the locals were exchanging was, “atsui neh?” (hot isn’t it?).

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Back in the summer 1976 when I was living in Tokyo, it was so hot and humid, some long (about 1.5cm or 1/2 inch) hair-like fungus grew all over my boots in one night.

Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Colorado USA

If you are interested in paleontology, a trip to Denver isn’t complete without a visit to the excellent Denver Museum of Nature and Science. I went through the dinosaur enthrallment stage that many kids go through when they are between 7 and 10 years old and I still find fossils very interesting. I find evolution fascinating and was elated to see so many fossil exhibits in one place. The variety and depth of the fossil collection at Denver’s museum is vast and it helps one see the variations on a theme that nature has experimented with. Two exhibits in particular caught my attention. One was a diorama of a dinohyus (Dinohyus hollandi ) and the other was the fossil remains of a gomphotherium. 

The dinohyus (meaning “terrible pig”) was about 3m (10ft) long and 2.15m (7ft) at the shoulders and lived in North America between 29 million to 16 million years ago. It was basically a bison sized omnivorous super pig that looks like it was crossed with a wolf. I wouldn’t want to come across a live one in real life.

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The 3m (10ft) gomphotherium is an early relative of the elephant and it’s thought that they lived in swamps. What struck me about the gomphotherium was the specialized shovel shape of its lower jaw.

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Also of couse, there are enough dinosaur fossils to keep the little kid in us all, happy for hours.

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Kwakiutl eagle mask

I used to live in Vancouver in the early 1980s and I’ve been back there three times since. Unlike most people I know who live in Vancouver, I’m not “over” First Nations design. Ever since I was aware of the art of the indigenous people of the American Northwest, I have loved the bold stylised forms they produce and I’ve wanted to own a mask from that area. Alas, the price of native masks has been out of my financial reach for years. First Nation’s masks can be bought in Gastown for as little as $400 CAD, but they are hideous pieces of crap. Very nasty. To buy a halfway decent mask one has to spend at least $2,000 – $3,000 CAD. If you want something really nice you are looking at between $8,000 – $25,000 CAD. At today’s rates the Canadian dollar is worth  $1.12 AUD, 92 cents US or .68 EUR.

Last year I was in Vancouver with my sister in Kitsilano near the corner of Alma and 4th when I came across what I think is a Kwakiutl eagle mask in a junk shop. 

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 The junk shop seemed to specialize in old salvaged door and furniture fittings.  There were a few masks, mostly of poor quality, strewn about the place as well. I’d almost given up hope of finding anything interesting when by chance I looked up and saw the eagle mask suspended on a wire with an eye screw, screwed into the top of it’s dusty head. I asked to have a closer look at the mask and noticed that not only had it been “used” a fair bit, it also had been completely painted rather than the partial painting that is practiced nowadays to show some of the original wood.

This led me to think that maybe it was made in the late seventies when there perhaps wasn’t as much attention paid to what the tourist market was demanding. The mask almost looks like it’s a prop for a movie but I doubt that it is, because the movie industry would go and rent something like a mask, rather than carve one out of wood from scratch. I also suspect that it was painted all over to disguise what wood (it is made of wood) it was made from, due to the fact that yellow cedar is the wood of choice.

Despite my thoughts about the paintwork, there was no doubting the beautiful proportions and design of the carving. I’d say, that it is without a doubt one of the best eagle masks I’ve ever seen anywhere at any price. I was shocked that the storekeeper only wanted $500 for it and then dropped the price down to $350! Since it was about a month before my birthday, my sister (bless her generous heart!) offered to pay half the asking price as a way of giving me a birthday present. So there you have it, I now have a fantastic eagle mask. I’m so happy to own such a beautiful object that I don’t care that it’s probably not “authentic”.

Today is my Birthday!

Today is my Birthday!

The date of my birth, May 21st 1956, has only one major claim to fame (other than my birth of course!). On this day 51 years ago, the U.S. exploded the first airborne hydrogen bomb over Bikini Atoll. So I guess one could say that I came into the world with a bang….

Tish! Boom!

1956 is also a notable year because that’s the year that the Olympics were held in Australia (Melbourne) for the first time and television was introduced so the Australian populace could watch the games. So I’m among the first Australians to grow up with TV. We didn’t get colour television in Australia until 1974. The advantage of the late introduction of colour TV in Australia is that we use the PAL system, which is higher quality than the older NTSC  (jokingly referred to as Never The Same Color) system used in the US.

Other interesting, things that happened in that year were:

The first Eurovision contest (yay!)
The Hungarian Revolution and the invasion of Hungary by the USSR
The Suez Crisis

So here I’m, glad to be alive, despite all the dumb things that I’ve done, counting my blessings and enjoying la dolce vita with my perfect wife in our back yard.

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How to get arrested in Houston Texas redux

Since I wrote “How to get arrested in Houston Texas.” I’ve had some interesting input from friends about Houston and their experiences there.

Patrick Ready (of the mid seventies “HP Show” on Vancouver radio and fellow kite lover) sent me this little story via E-mail after reading my tale.

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Just read your Houston piece.  Similar thing almost happened to me.  I was taken around by these well-to-do Houston hosts in ’78 to various bars.  1st one had a sort of large Dixieland band called the Heart Beats, except that they weren’t particularly good musicians, would play a page of music and then stop playing.  Turned out they were all heart surgeons. Then we went to a place where cowboys and girls did line dancing with little signs over the dance floor that said “Girls, if a cowboy asks you to dance, don’t say no.  These shit kickers are shy.”  Then to a bar filled with very wealthy black people.  We were the only white people in there.  Very polite with a trio from Detroit performing, and finally a Tex-Mex bar with lovely accordion music. That’s when the cops came in.  I was warned to just look at the table, not look up under any circumstance.  One by one Mexican clients were taken outside while the accordion played on.  They weren’t coming back in.  Finally someone shone a flashlight in my face.  I looked up to see a woman cop holding the flashlight, and I couldn’t help but smile.  Then a voice from behind me said, “Please get up, sir.  And hold your hands away from your sides.”  A hand started feeling my pockets then.  When it touched my chest and felt something in my inside coat pocket the voice said from over my head and I’m 6′ 6″, this was a big cop, “What’s in your pocket?”  I said I didn’t know and brought my hand over to see what it was. He yelled,”Don’t move your hands!”  He reached around and pulled a calculator out of my pocket.  After that I was allowed to sit down, and we left shortly after that.  On the drive home I was told I had behaved well and that I was very lucky.  From your story I can see I was.

Last week, while I was at a dinner party at a friend’s place I met one of my host’s co-workers. Both these guys are academics that teach at Macquarie University here in Sydney and talk swung around to travel and the obligatory horror stories. My host mentioned my Huston story that he’d seen in this blog, at which his co-worker asked me what year, the incident happened. When I told him it was back 1980, he told me that he was working in Houston as an advisor to the Chief of Police in Houston at the same time.  He said words to this effect, “you were very lucky, the police in Houston were out of control at that time.” “They were dropping people off bridges and planting evidence”. This fellow dinner guest then went on to tell me that it was common practice in those days for the policemen to carry “throwdowns”.  Apparently a throwdown is an illegally obtained gun that can be “thrown down” at a crime scene to make matters worse for suspects. Like, “I had to shoot because he pulled a gun on me”.

So there you go. I wonder how many other people have had similar experiences in Houston? I also wonder if they, like me, have told hundreds of other people about what kind of place Houston is? When I hear people say they are going to America, I always warn them about Houston.