Dec 30

Watching the cricket yesterday Rach and I commented on the high level of security surrounding each player as he comes in to bat. Presumably this is to provide protection from overzealous fans. Not so in the old days, when it was common for spectators to invade the ground at the end of play, or even during a match.

Those of you with a few grey hairs may remember the famous incident involving Australian fast-medium-pacer Terry Alderman at the WACA in 1982, when a scuffle with an English fan during a pitch invasion resulted in Alderman dislocating his shoulder and missing a year of cricket.

Watch the video of the incident below. The fan clips Alderman around the ear and then takes off. He is quickly caught – Alderman is a fast bowler after all – and wrestled to the ground. That’s none other than Dennis Lillee who jumps in to give the offender a good going over, aided by Aussie opener Graeme Wood. Where are the police when all this is going on?! Rod Marsh wanders over, notices Alderman is injured and signals for assistance.

I think it’s a bit rich of the commentator to chide the Aussie cricketers for defending themselves. “It’s a job for the police, not the players. The players are to play cricket and cricket alone, and the police are there for protection.” What police, you dimwit?!

Anyway, Terry Alderman couldn’t play cricket for a year after this, at a time when he was 26 years old and had recently been named Wisden Cricketer of the Year. In 1985 he chose to take part in an unsanctioned “rebel” tour of South Africa, a decision which cost him a further three year ban from the Australian Cricket Board. However, he did return to play for Australia in the late ’80s, retiring in 1991. He is now part of the ABC Radio cricket commentary team.

In case you were wondering, the 1982 WACA test against England fizzled to a draw.

Dec 19

Do you long to play your old vinyl records but don’t own a record player? Well, your favourite discs need gather dust no longer.

The generally accepted means for playing a vinyl record is to place the disc on a rotating surface, then lower a stationary needle on to the revolving disc. This concept is reversed with the Japanese invention known as the Record Runner. Talk about thinking outside the square; with this device, the record is placed flat on a surface and the Record Runner scoots around in circles. Watch this:

At first I thought this might be a hoax, but here’s a better example (not sure about the heavy breathing from 0:36 onwards … a little creepy):

A few things to note about this whacky invention. Firstly, it will surely ruin your precious vinyl faster than a baby with a sharpened Milk Arrowroot biscuit. Secondly, because the Record Runner contains the speaker, and it is moving relative to the listener, the music suffers from fluctuations in pitch owing to the Doppler Effect. Or what I call the Mr Whippy Van Effect. The thing even looks like an ice cream van! Brilliant!

To anyone wondering what to get me for Christmas, one of these will do nicely, thanks.

Dec 18
Food, Glorious Food!
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Rach and I have just returned from what was essentially a three day eating trip to Melbourne. Here’s a rundown.

Day 1

Having risen at 3:15 AM to get the 6 o’clock flight from Newcastle, we arrived in the city around eight feeling peckish. Eggs and bacon were required so we located the nearest cafe and chowed down – scrambled for me, Benedict for Rach. A quick nap after checking in to our hotel and we were ready for more.

Rach wanted to have lunch at the Mekong Vietnamese restaurant in Swanston St, a place she had eaten previously. Mekong is famous for having a sign on the window that says:

President Bill Clinton Had 2 Bowls
How Many Can You Have…

Sadly, the sign – which refers to Clinton downing two bowls of phở, the Vietnamese meat and rice-noodle soup - is only a half-truth. Clinton has never eaten at the Mekong, although he did make a pig of himself at Phở 2000 in Saigon, Vietnam.

Anyway, the food at Mekong was underwhelming. Rach gave her phở the thumbs down and my broken rice and chicken was so-so.

In the late afternoon we saw the film American Teen, which was great, as were the choc-tops at Dendy Kino! For dinner we stopped in at an Irish pub and had Guiness and beef pie (yum!) washed down with a rather enormous looking pint glass of Beck’s.

Day 2

Breakfast of eggs and bacon at a great little diner style cafe in an arcade opposite the Town Hall. Then to Prahran and a hit of record shopping before setting off to St Kilda. There Rach introduced me to my new best friend, the churro – a delicious Spanish doughnut – which we dipped into melted dark chocolate. Lawdy mama. Then a lunch of sushi washed down with an ice cream.

For dinner this night we decided to splurge a little as a Christmas present to ourselves. We decided on Greek and had a look along  the restaurants on Lonsdale St before deciding on Tsindos. Good choice! I hadn’t eaten a lot of Greek food, so was pleasantly surprised to have one of the best meals I’ve had in years. We started with melinzanosalata, a zingy eggplant dip, served with fresh pita bread, and the absolutely delicious saganaki, which is pan fried kefalograviera cheese. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. For mains Rach chose the slow-baked lamb kleftiko (amazing!) and I had Cypriot meatballs known as sheftalies (stupendous!). For dessert I was desperate to try the galaktobouriko, but was disappointed to find out it was all gone. That didn’t stop the waitress from spending ten minutes describing how mind-blowingly delicious it would’ve been. I settled for the best baklava I have ever tasted. All this – with beer and wine – for under $100. When in Melbourne you have to go to this restaurant!

Day 3

We were starting to tire by this point. After a sluggish start to the day we stopped in at a tiny cafe in a lane off Little Flinders St, where we had toasted sandwiches and tea/hot chocolate. Then walked it off in the National Gallery of Victoria before heading to Fitzroy for a last bout of record shopping.

For our final lunch we decided on Italian, so headed for Lygon St and were almost dragged into one of the many eateries on this strip. Luckily the food was pretty good, I had risotto and Rach had pasta. A yummy cup of gelato a few blocks later signalled the end of our trip. Before heading for the airport we ducked into the Bull & Bear pub for a farewell beer. I hesitate to mention what we ate for dinner at the airport, but I will for the sake of completeness. Rach had a $6 slice of pizza while I played food poisoning roulette with a tray of airport sushi. 

I now closely resemble the Goodyear blimp and vow not to eat again until Christmas Day.

Dec 12
Santa Is Coming Again
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“Santa is coming again…”

So begins the leaflet that I found in our letterbox this morning. I knew at once what it was, as we had received an almost identical note last year. 

Here is the opening sentence:

“Well it is that time of year again, if you are interested in your household participating in Christmas morning Santa please let me know so I can work out how much it will cost each household.”

What? I always thought Santa appeared on Christmas morning through his own goodwill and love of children.

Not in our little suburban nest of cul-de-sacs. Each year a number of residents band together in Christmas spirit by arranging for “Santa” (presumably a local subsidiary of Santa Claus International Pty. Ltd.) to make a personal appearance at participating households.

Let me register my distaste at the insinuation that unless we join in with this neighbourhood event – at significant expense, mind you – our household is somehow bereft of the spirit of Santa. I fully intend to participate in my own personal “Christmas morning Santa” and it won’t cost me a penny!

It continues:

“For those new to the area, we arrange for Santa to come on Christmas morning and give each child (it can be your own children, nieces, nephews or grandchildren), a gift (bought by parents approx $10.00 in value).”

Hang on. “We arrange for Santa to come…” So Santa is at your beck and call? I don’t think so.

And he only gives gifts that have been bought by parents in advance … so what does the author mean in the first sentence by “so I can work out how much it will cost each household”? On top of buying gifts for our kiddies – which Santa will then take credit for – we must also contribute to an appearance fee?

What sort of mercenary has Santa become? Does he now visit only those children whose parents have paid upfront in cold hard cash? Fuck you, Santa, and the sleigh you rode in on.

Dec 7

Recently while exploring a dusty, long-forgotten wing of the Snubian archives, I came across two interesting pieces of memorabilia.

The first appears to be a printed receipt from an early form of Automatic Teller Machine, or “ATM”. Printed on a piece of cardboard approximately 6 x 8 cm in size, this relic from the late Pre-Internet Era is a quaint reminder of a more innocent time.

One can imagine a fledgling Snubian, face as yet unlined from the rigours of adult life, rushing to the bank to retrieve a few pennies from his trifling savings account, in anticipation of an evening of late night Christmas shopping (the 15th was a Thursday).

Note the archaic “dd/mm/yy” date format – the terror of Y2K was still twelve years in the future. Ominous instructions printed in bold on the rear of the card instruct the bearer to “remember to allow for this transaction on your balance of account record”. The consequences of forgetting this arcane command go unrecorded.

The second item I present here is what appears to be a pair of tickets, or passes, perhaps for a long-extinct form of public transport.  

A variety of cryptanalytic techniques were employed in an ultimately futile attempt to discover the meaning of the five-digit numeric codes. Nevertheless, it is my opinion that they represent encrypted Cartesian co-ordinates which when mapped onto the Earth’s three-dimensional surface indicate the ticket-holder’s destination.

Interestingly, the place names printed on the tickets appear to be in such a seemingly random order that no single trip could feasibly visit them all. (See also the Travelling Salesman Problem.) It has been suggested that these tickets may date from an era prior to the break-up of the Gondwanan landmass, before tectonic movements had significantly rearranged the local geography.

Dec 4
Christmas Time is Here Again
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Each December a strange phenomenon occurs. Australian Bureau of Statistics records show an annual spike in household energy consumption, and a concurrent rise in hospital admissions owing to falls from ladders. The reason for this is obvious. Christmas lights.

When I was a kid, Christmas lights went on the Christmas tree and that was that. Then some enterprising individual realised that those long chains of fairy lights could be tacked up pretty much anywhere. Soon they were appearing around front doors, then the window frames and roofline. The spools of lights got longer and longer. Fifty, a hundred, a thousand globes! Now anything is fair game: trees, shrubs, letterbox. The family pet is getting nervous.

The coloured Christmas lights I loved as a kid are now old hat. The limits of yard illumination are being pushed to the extreme. Trees glow an unearthly blue, pulsing silently like an alien spacecraft ready for takeoff. Perched on a rooftop, Santa’s sleigh is outlined in red and green neon, flickering at three frames per second in a crude depiction of reindeer-powered flight.

The number of man-hours spent erecting these modern art masterpieces must be staggering. But thankfully dad can enlist the kids to lend a hand. Nothing gladdens the heart more than seeing a six-year-old struggling up a ladder with a spool of Christmas lights and a staple gun.

Almost every house in our street has a Christmas display in its front yard. And it keeps ramping up each year, like a kind of Yuletide arms race. In the case of one neighbour, it is literally a competition; a large hand-painted sign in their front yard requests that passers-by vote for them in the local radio station’s “Best Christmas Lights” contest. Their incandescent abode can be seen from space and has the carbon footprint of a small Pacific island nation.

But there is something captivating, even for an adult, about the Christmas displays. A primordial excitement is stirred in the belly when the Christmas lights appear, a sign that presents and eggnog are just around the corner.

On Christmas Eve we go for a wander around our local streets and take in the spectacle. One street in particular is well established as the local hub of Christmas illumination. Here the footpaths are crowded with people. Cars slow down to walking pace to gaze at the lights and to avoid wayward toddlers. Dogs run from yard to yard in a photon–induced frenzy.

By the New Year it is almost over. A few houses hold out, refusing to admit that the fun must end, but by mid-January even they have flicked the switch. And by then I am thankful that Christmas comes but once a year.

 

This video has been floating around for a few years now, but it still makes me smile. Be sure to watch it all the way through.