I’d love to know what she was thinking

I didn’t take this photograph (but I did crop it). I’ve seen a few very bad wedding gowns in my day but this one is a real shocker.

Some mothers do have them

It has been doing the rounds via e-mails on the Internet with the subject heading Best (or worst!!) bridal gown ever. From the Meta data embedded in the photograph, I can tell you that was taken on the 18th of July, this year.

Just looking at this image, provoked so many questions in my mind.

What was she thinking?
Did the mother help her pick the dress?
Did the groom have any say in the choice?

Did anybody at any time give her any advice that the dress may not be such a great idea?

I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that this poor girl was the victim of un-conditional high regard. What am I talking about? One of the bugbears in my life is the old, I’m okay, you’re okay, bullshit that was spread around in the late 70s. It’s sort of like an emotional transaction where people kid each other that they’re okay with each other’s delusions.

“I won’t tell you the truth about your stupidities and don’t get on my case about mine”.

I can see it now at the bridal gown store.

“So what do you think, do I look okay in this?”

“You look gorgeous!”

“You don’t think it’s a little bit over the top do you?” 

“Well, maybe just a little.”

“Oh! I had my heart set on this!”

No-no, really, it suits you, it looks fantastic!” “Really!” “If you’ve got ’em, flaunt ’em!”

Really, with friends who give advice like that, who needs enemies.

If I’d been there I would’ve said, “It makes you look like you belong in a dairy”. “You’ll be a laughing stock”.

It looks like the bride has been drinking in the limousine, and I suspect that she probably realised she’d have to be a “few sheets to the wind” to wear such a dress and to help drown out the tsunami of self-consciousness that I suspect she could feel was coming.

Nathalie with an H and  Epicurienne’s comments got me thinking about another fashion tragic who would’ve loved this dress.

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In Morocco the boys like their photo taken but the girls don’t. 1982

Years ago I used to love taking photos of people in the street. I hardly ever asked for permission and I used to take their shots whether they liked it or not. Many years later, I don’t feel comfortable with just taking people’s photo without asking for permission first.

In Morocco the boys are brought up like little kings and as a result they are usually confident extroverts who love having their photo taken. Many of them would jump in front of the camera so I would take their picture.

The girls on the other hand, either scowled or turned away when they saw me about to take their photo.


Bangkok amulet man. Thailand 2007

Back in the early 70s, when I first went to Thailand, I met some young Thai guys, who spoke English and I asked them about their amulets. I was told that many Thais believe that the amulets will protect them to such an extent that they almost give up control of their own lives and just trust the amulets will protect them. Apparently many bus and truck drivers think that if they have enough amulets that they are immune to accidents and as a result, some of them drive like absolute lunatics. I was also told that gangs of young men armed with sharpened metre long steel rulers that they use as makeshift swords, quite often got into fights with each other, declaring that their amulets gave them better protection than the amulets worn by the other gang. A sort of gang trial by amulet.

Nearly everywhere I’ve been in the world, religion is big business and this seems to go double for Thailand. It seems like everywhere you go there are temples and nearby stores selling offerings. You can buy anything from a bronze Buddha weighing a couple of tonnes to small birds that you can release so you can gain good karma.

Sometimes, it strikes me as being a bit odd that people will sell things that if they worked, they might be better off keeping for themselves. For instance, if you buy birds to release to gain good karma does that mean that the people who captured the birds gain bad karma?

In Bangkok, there is a huge business with religious amulets. The amulets are produced in monasteries and blessed by famous monks. You can buy an amulet for any purpose. There are amulets for wealth, love, happiness, health, protection, you name it.  It’s not uncommon to see people wearing necklaces with sometimes up to 30 or 40 amulets on them. There are also very big gaudy amulets that seemed to be aimed at the wealthy. I guess if you’re rich you’d like to think you could buy a better favours from your supreme being.

There is so much interest in religious amulets that there are even magazines aimed at amulet collectors. These magazines go into great detail, explaining how to look out for fakes and which amulets have the best properties or are the best investment.

When I was in Bangkok last year, I wished I could have spoken Thai, so I could’ve asked those amulet sellers why they would sell something that is so powerful for mere money?

Back in 1974 to 1975, when I was living in Cambodia during the war, I used to know a wise old Chinese man called Mr Heng who used to teach me Cantonese and I taught him English. I once introduced an antiques trader from Australia to Mr Heng who had quite a few beautiful objects in his house. The antiques dealer offered to buy some pieces from Mr Heng, but Mr Heng declined to sell the statues of his household gods. After the dealer left, I asked Mr Heng why he didn’t want to sell them because the money that he had been offered was quite considerable. Mr Heng said, “that if I was to sell one of the gods, like the God of long life, then I would be saying to the heavens that I didn’t want long life”. It would seem that some things are worth more than money. 

To some people.

I don’t think the guy selling the amulets in this photograph was doing all that well. 

A Bangkok amulet trader

I don’t think sitting on your backside on pavement in the stinking hot sun all day, seven days a week is a very good outcome for someone in possession of so many allegedly efficacious talismans. Perhaps he just didn’t have the money to buy the really powerful medallions. Perhaps it’s part of the karmic reincarnation cycle that only the rich get the best protection that money can buy.

 All this amulet business seems so far away from the compassionate teachings of Buddha who also wanted us to let go of our attachments.

Australia says “get knotted” to Starbucks.

It was announced in the papers here in Australia last week that Starbucks is going to close about 75% of its stores in this country.  The fact that of the 84 Starbucks locations in Australia, 61 will be closed, is a resounding slap in the face to an arrogant multinational giant.

Lousy coffee and crappy cakes

Over the last several years I have been back and forth to North America, and I have constantly been amazed by the amount of people who think that Starbucks makes a good coffee. It used to bug the shit out of me when locals over there used to drag me into Starbucks for a coffee like they were doing some poor clueless bumpkin a favour. I’d always go kicking and screaming, saying that “don’t you want to support a smaller business that actually makes good coffee?” My protests were usually met with blank stares of non-comprehension and embarrassed mumbles of, “but they make good coffee”.

“NO THEY DON’T!” I would impotently counter.

Saying that I hated Starbucks produced on my host’s faces, expressions reminiscent of a puppy being smacked over the nose with a rolled up newspaper. I’d try to explain how bad the coffee was, and they just didn’t get it. I’d just get that hurt puppy dog eyes thing. Then I would try to explain that it is better to support small local businesses than some large chain. They still didn’t get it. More sad little eyes. I also tried to explain that the insincere and obsequeious “crawling for tips” demeanour of Starbucks staff wasn’t actually good service.

It’s demeaning to customers and staff alike. It pains me to see people grovel.

I even tried pointing out to them that the cakes that they offered were very poor, but to no avail. It was like trying to explain what an orgasm was to plankton.

My wife has a poster above her desk at work that shows a pig sitting in mud, with the caption, “never try and teach a pig how to sing. It’s a waste of time and it irritates the pig”

Not only is the coffee at Starbucks very mediocre, but all the stupid names that they name their coffee irritates the hell out of me.  

“Just give me a fuckin cappuccino you grinning crawler!”

Here in Australia we have a large Italian population that has thankfully dragged the Anglo Irish majority into an appreciation of what a good coffee should taste like.

It always seemed to me, an incredibly arrogant act of hubris that Starbucks tried to sell their bland crap here in Australia. One would have thought that a business which has all the resources of such a large company would have done a little bit of market research.  We have a very well established and sophisticated coffee culture here.

The only reason why Starbucks does so well in North America, is that outside of the very large cities, it is incredibly hard to get a good cup of coffee. A couple of years ago I spent a week in Santa Fe, and to my consternation I wasn’t able to find a decent cappuccino the whole time I was there. One would think that in Santa Fe, which is the second-largest art market in North America, there would be some demand for a decent coffee and that demand would be catered for.

In a week in Santa Fe, I did not have one single decent cappuccino.  

One time, when I asked for a cappuccino, I was brought milkshake glass full of whipped cream and extremely weak coffee. I was getting so sick and tired of getting such stupid concoctions that I asked to see the manager and I thought I’d straighten him out.  Perhaps I could give him a lesson in how make a real cappuccino, after all, I have a espresso machine at home. 

How hard could it be?

When I told the manager that a milkshake glass full of cream wasn’t a cappuccino and that I was willing to show him how to make a proper one, he indignantly retorted, “but I was taught how to make cappuccinos by Starbucks”, as though it was something to be proud of!

Oh, well at least I can be happy with the fact that there is only 23 Starbucks stores left in Australia.  With any luck they’ll go belly up as well.

It’s too bad that McDonald’s have smarter marketing people, and they have researched the local market so that they produce some products that at least gives a nod to the local demands.  I’d like to see McDonald’s and all those other horrible fast food chains go the same way as Starbucks.

Stormy trip to Canberra and Tallong.

All last week, my wife (a senior analyst specialising in computational fluid dynamics) had to work late to get ready a tender that was due in Canberra on Friday at 2 p.m. Due to various hiccups involving upper management not being available to sign off on various documents and contracts due to vacations and various other commitments, the last courier down to Canberra was missed.

After a discussion between my wife and her boss at about 8:30 on Thursday night, it was decided that the tender was to be delivered by hand.  Both my wife and I didn’t mind being asked to take the tender down to Canberra because we are always happy for an all expenses paid, drive in the country.  The other pluses were that we could stay at my wife’s parents holiday home in Tallong on the way back and I would get to take some more photographs with my new camera.

Since it is the middle of winter here in Australia we had fairly stormy weather nearly all the way down. I kept wanting to stop and take pictures of the dramatic skies but we didn’t because we wanted to make sure the documents were delivered in time. We reached our destination, with one and a quarter hours to spare.

Just outside of Canberra is a fantastic little restaurant known as the Poacher’s Pantry, which specialises in smoked meats. To reward ourselves for our dash to Canberra we had a very delicious lunch that consisted of a smoked duck ragout as an entree and a red curry of smoked chicken for a main all cooked and presented in the style of “mod Oz” (modern Australian, which is a blend of European and Asian cooking).

After lunch, the weather, alternated between pouring rain and brief moments of light drizzle.

Since our car is continuous four-wheel-drive, I don’t really mind that much driving in the rain, but I was being constantly distracted by how dramatic the skies looked and since we’d already dropped off the tender I was able to use a bit of time to take a few photographs.

Every now and again the rain would ease off enough for me to get out of the car and take a photo

Every now and again the heavy cloud would open up to reveal little patches of an almost electric blue sky.

I only adjusted the levels in this photograph and I have not increased the saturation of the colour

About 30 Minutes Drive northeast from Canberra, the highway to Sydney passes by Lake George. Due to the weather conditions here in Australia, Lake George is quite often dry and usually just looks like a grass covered plain.

The rainy conditions turned this usually bland vista into something a little more interesting

After about another hour and a half,  just as the light was beginning to fade, we arrived at the small village of Tallong. My in-laws holiday home is 10 km down a narrow and winding dirt road, which really isn’t that big a deal in the day time, but at night, there is a very real hazard of hitting a wombat. Wombats are sometimes described as being the “bulldozers of the bush”.  Although they are not very big (about the size of a very fat corgi), they are solid muscle and gristle that will badly damage a car if you hit one.  Driving down the dirt road is always stressful at night due to the chance hitting one of those brownish-grey, gristly speed bumps, as it darts and out in front of your car.  In the past we’ve had to dodge about 6 in one night and there are always dead ones on the side of the road.

Another little known hazard here in Australia is that eucalypt trees are made up of extremely hard (much, much harder than oak) but very brittle wood and the branches are known to break off during high winds. Every year, there are a few people who are killed by falling tree limbs. It is common knowledge here, that you never camp under a tree.

By the time I got to my in-laws holiday home I was absolutely shattered. The pouring rain had made visibility especially bad and my nerves had been racked by the noise of falling branches, hitting our car. Only last year some unfortunate guy had been crushed while driving his car by a falling tree.

I cooked a dinner of rolled chicken (chicken breast and prosciutto with basil wrapped around weisswurst) and wine sauce on a bed of wilted English spinach. My mother-in-law made a delicious crumble for desert which we had with some of my homemade calvodos sorbet.

The rain poured and the wind shook the house all night but by the time morning came around, the weather had eased off and the skies were once again clear and blue.

My in-laws holiday home

The view from the guest bedroom window is spectacular.

The property backs onto a large national park

I got up early and drove the 20 km round trip to Tallong to get the weekend paper, so we could have a nice relaxing Saturday morning.

This is one of the more open parts of the dirt road

On Sunday, my wife and I helped her parents remove noxious weed (fireweed, poisonous to livestock and fast spreading) and retrieve logs for firewood from the bottom of their property.  As we would move the logs with the aid of a tractor, little Eastern Yellow Robins (Eopsaltria Australis) would appear to take advantage of the uncovered insects.

I couldn't get any closer than about 10 m

As we walked back up the hill towards the house we came across this poor old battered Swamp Wallaby (Wallabia Bicolor).

I was able to get about 20 m away from the wallaby

It had chunks of fur missing from the base of its tail and from its shoulder plus its ear was torn up. My guess is that it had been mauled by feral dogs.