That’s interesting….

Reported in Liberty about mass surveillance in the UK. Headline reads.. “Court of Appeal rules Government surveillance regime IS unlawful” According to Martha Spurrier, Liberty’s Director:

“Yet again a UK court has ruled the Government’s extreme mass surveillance regime unlawful. This judgment tells ministers in crystal clear terms that they are breaching the public’s human rights. The latest incarnation of the Snoopers’ Charter, the Investigatory Powers Act, must be changed.

“No politician is above the law. When will the Government stop bartering with judges and start drawing up a surveillance law that upholds our democratic freedoms?”

Well, that will put a few noses out of joint. Kudos to UK MP Tom Watson for following through.

Meantime, many UK porn sites have been pushed by new laws into creating a registration scheme for users. Although this only affects UK (ab)users from April onwards. But not those with a VPN. Or accessing the web via an offshore proxy. Stuff many tech-savvy teenage boys can do without even bending a neuron.

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Loneliness of the long distance twatterer

Reading the FT the other morning to find an article speculating upon how loneliness might be driving the very partisan and uncivil ideological war currently raging online. Well it’s hardly a revelation. But who is to blame? What is creating the loneliness of the long distance tweeter? Well the answer to that is a no-brainer – ‘Social media’. Let me explain…

Everywhere I go I see people riveted to their phone screens walking down the street, crossing the road, sitting on benches, eating, drinking. Plugged in to their little electronic blinkers filtering out what’s going on in the real world. Indeed, doing little to interact with their immediate surroundings, choosing instead to evade reality by living in another. I see these damned souls every time I’m out. Hiding in plain sight in the modern expression of the ‘safe space’. Connected, yet so terribly isolated but convinced they are living in the real world whilst stuck in their own tiny echo chambers. A sort of 21st century tribe of Lotus Eaters.

My reaction is generally ambivalent and my only irritation with these slow motion creatures is their lack of consideration to their fellow humans when they won’t get out of the bleeding way. As I’ve written before, the zombie apocalypse is here and now, and they’re all plugged into their own bit of erratically cyber-policed anti-social media. Determined to hear nothing that challenges their narrow little world view, or getting all riled up enough to shout down an opposing faction. Useful note; shutting people up that you disagree with is not an argument. Calling strangers names is not debating.

Which is one of the many reasons these cell phone addicts look so deeply unhappy. Seriously, not a smile in a trainload. Some studies indicate that the little screen in your hand is actually robbing you of any happiness life might throw under your feet. Not to mention actively reducing your functioning intelligence. Ergo the tribalism. People are slowly stopping thinking for themselves, courtesy of that oh so handy four or five inch screen. Which has the additional downside of being about as secure as leaving your wallet on the sidewalk.

Which is why I have decided today not to buy another cellphone. I’m not in on-call tech support any more and I certainly do not want to be a mindless Google or twatter drone, which is all these social media addicts are. Anyone who knows me can get in touch any time via email or my home phone. If I’m out, then anyone who desires to hear my dulcet tones (I’m often told I have a nice voice) wafting into their ears will have to leave a message on my home phone. Maybe I’ll call them back. I’ve got other things to do first. Besides, I’ll be saving fifty bucks a month, or put more succinctly, six hundred bucks a year. Plus the cost of a phone, that’s well over nine hundred. Hell, I can almost buy two laptops for that. Or a few cases of decent wine. Which will give me far more pleasure.

As for being ‘out of the loop’ and therefore vulnerable to some great public harm, I respond thus; there is no messaging system that will save us in the event of a cataclysm. If say a nuclear war is declared, regardless of whether we own a cell phone or not we’ll be casualties, because if you’re too busy watching funny cat videos or a slappy video message from someone you met last year and can’t seem to get rid of, it’s lights out either way. I cite the old nuclear air raid sirens I grew up with during the cold war. Four minute warning? Four minutes only if you were lucky and had any time to do more than indulge in three minutes and fifty nine seconds of blind existential panic. In the recent Tusnami alert we could hear the sirens going off from three kilometres away and besides, our home is built on a decent bit of solid rock, we’re way above the Tsunami line. And if old Spoonbanger does manage to drop a big one on Seattle, hey we’re all toast anyway.

So I’ll leave Twatter and Farcebook alone. They’re nothing but vacuous echo chambers anyway. I have no use for them. Apart from something to point at and go WTF? occasionally.

Am I just being anti-social? An embittered old blogger railing against smarter (Guffaw), prettier people? Perhaps I’m simply expressing a preference for real life human contact, which, at least I think it is, far more conducive to improving my quality of life.

Earwigo again

“It was the worst of times, the best of times. the age of tech, was the age of feelz, the epoch of meme and trolling. It was the era of Pepe, the rise of Kek, the season of Autism, a spring of hope, the winter of lies.”

Which Dickens misquote (From the opening lines of a ‘Tale of Two Cities’) rather sums up how I feel about the online world at the moment. Either that or it’s the last vestiges of jet lag. It’s all academic anyway. All my ‘social media’ accounts are either deleted, dead, or weed strewn and abandoned.

Now we’re back in BC, in the not so frozen north the Trudeau government looks ever more like becoming a kind of soft fascist regime with it’s focus on Justin’s cult of popularity and the Liberals determination to control everything, including thought and speech. Which certainly ticks at least three boxes on the ‘Are you a fascist regime’ checklist. After hearing Justin’s performance at Davos, I’m thinking it might even be time to think about bailing out while the getting is good. I’ve also overheard people in the streets bitching about price increases and my eyes tell me they’re not far wrong. As for Trudeau, his sockpuppet popularity is slipping and no-one outside of Canada really takes him that seriously.

The trouble is with Canadian politics that there’s no statesman with enough balls to stand up to all the wishy washy PC crap which is driving a lot of really bad legislation. There’s no one who seems to want to stand up to all the vested protectionist interests and touchy feely bollocks prevalent in Canadian Society.

Anyway, non existent Tsunamis notwithstanding, I’m back flying a desk again and Mrs S has delegated a few tasks to me while my line of work is slack, of logging on and off this Worksafe BC malarkey for her. Despite me being less than thirty feet away, she is classed as a ‘lone worker’ and must be ‘protected’ by phoning in every four hours to an automated service that takes a monthly fee. According to the operational terms, if she misses a call, she’s supposed to get a callback by a human operator to see if she’s okay. Which doesn’t happen by the way, it’s a completely automated system which just calls back repeatedly, as we found out yesterday when I missed a check in. Some ‘protection’ eh? Mandated by a BC Government agency that won’t check out less safe work environments like up island logging operations. At least this is what Mrs S’s contacts tell her. Yet because she works from home, she must be ‘monitored’. Yeah, right. Because she’s ‘at risk’ of getting a paper cut or stubbing her toe at home within ten metres of a husband (Me) who has had proper medical training and real life experience of assisting in real emergencies and almost half a dozen means of calling for some form of assistance. Voice, cell phone, home phone, skype, email, as well as yours truly popping by every hour or two to make tea or coffee. So an automated callback system which doesn’t really do anything apart from ring off if there’s no response is, as I am wont to say, “the next best thing to useless.” But we have to have it by law. Or else we get fined. Is that ‘fair’? You tell me.

Another annoyance since I returned from the fabled land of Oz, is Google and my cell phone company being a pain. I’m not receiving calls or text messages despite my phone bill being paid up to date. Then Google wants to do stuff ‘to improve my security’ and every time it does, and every time I get on a plane, it fucks with my email. Which I resent. I have good security. I run VPNs, a full range of anti-virus, anti-spyware and change my email password intermittently. Yet still I have to put up with all their ‘security’ crap when I won’t let them know if I’m taking a figurative shit or not or which bathroom I’m using in which country. So Gmail has to go. All my accounts. Sorry guys, it’s been fun but it’s time for me to move on with all the other grown ups.

Given the aggravation with my cell phone, I’m also shopping for a new one as it looks like Canada will be shutting down the GSM network in 2018, leaving my old Nokia 6310 useless for anywhere within North America, but I’m also looking for a multi-Sim phone which isn’t Google dominated. Or at least lets me use non-Google services and apps. If my last remaining reader has any suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

A shadow on the soul

Over in the comments thread at ‘The Last Ditch‘ the subject was Solzhenitsyn, whose work I am currently revisiting, having been introduced to that author during my latter school days with ‘One Day in the life of Ivan Denisovich‘. Tom, thoughtful gentleman that he is, warned me that too much reading of that particular nature makes for a ‘dark soul’ and introduced two authors he recommended as a counterpoint.

Now generally speaking, whenever I’m feeling a little gloomy I gravitate to my Terry Pratchett collection, or pick up some P J O’Rourke, Tom Holt, sometimes Peter Ackroyd or even the Satires of Juvenal, but I’m always willing to look at new sources from the lighter heart of literature. So, off to the library I will trot later this week for a scan of some John Irving or Haruki Murakami, to see if I like their style or not.

As for darkness, well, we all have a trace of that don’t we? At least, anyone who has stared down both barrels at life and noticed that the safety catch is most definitely off. It marks you, but then I’ve always tended toward the gloomy or stoic. With my family background I think I came ready stained, as it were.

But the question I’d like to raise is this; can reading really darken your soul, or do your literary choices simply reflect who you really are? Or is this just my jet lag still talking?

Trip planning redux

Well, now here’s a thing. No sooner have Mrs S and I returned to Vancouver Island than we’re talking about another trip overseas. This time back to Europe.

At the moment we’re talking about flying direct to that shopping centre with an airport attached, Schipol, and using good old Amsterdam as our base to go gallivanting around Northwestern(ish) Europe. However, this is purely the discussion phase; we have to cost out the trip and keep track of our funds. Germany will be expensive, if we decide to include parts of it. I have business to attend to which cannot be put off any longer in the UK, and Mrs S is going to pop into London to visit with Youngest for a few days. By the end of the week we’ll have a better idea of where and when, although my UK visit is going to be limited to the northwestern Midlands. I’ve found out one of my Uncles is still alive and sinning, and I’d like the old boy to know all is good between our respective branches of the clan before he slips into the long night.

Not much else happening otherwise at El Sticker’s Hacienda. I’m already missing Australia, or rather the sunshine and warmth. And the awesome Asian fusion food. Tip for my last remaining reader, in Canada, Gourmet means with extra cheese. In BC most ‘curries’ are just big, very chewy chunks of meat in sauce, not a melt in the mouth spicy sensation at all. In Oz, getting a decent genuine curry is no problem. Why, in some places one almost might be in Manchester’s famous ‘Curry mile’ the quality is that good. Although that’s changing. Which is slightly saddening.

Nevertheless, one thing did tickle my funny bone this afternoon. Mrs S and I went out to purchase a slow cooker for preparing winter curries etcetera and noticed that you can purchase a marriage license at a store called London Drugs. Which kind of begged the question, where do you purchase a divorce? The spares department at Canadian Tire? (Although I daren’t look, herself is watching) You can certainly buy fishing and hunting licenses at most semi-rural grocery stores here on the island. So why not?

Hang on, she’s finding this just as funny, so in the word of the old joke*, I’ll just risk the one eye. Holy Maracas Batman! Divorce for as little as three hundred and thirty bucks? Two hundred for filing with the court plus ten bucks for registration. Eighty for the final registration and another forty for a certificate. Bloody hell, that’s quite a… sorry dear. I’m getting a look now. If you’ve been married for over ten years you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Returning to the less domestically dangerous topic of slow cookers, or ‘crock pots’ as they are called this side of the pond, the smallest we could buy was four US quarts capacity. Which is a tad over six and a half Imperial pints or a large gulp under four litres. That’s a lot of Chicken Madras and no mistake. So batch cooking a few stews will be on the agenda too. Our freezer can handle the overflow. Set everything going first thing and be ready for a substantial supper around six. Well, that’s the plan. Whether said scheme survives contact with reality is another matter.

There is such a concept as too much of a good thing.

TTFN.

* From the old English folk tale of Lady Godiva. The legendary Peeping Tom and a friend are lurking behind a fence with a large knot hole in it as the naked form of Lord Leofric’s wife rides through the streets of Coventry in her one woman tax protest. “Tom, don’t do it mate! Don’t look!” Urges Peeping Tom’s friend. “If you look at her naked flesh, you, you’ll go blind!”
To which the errant tradesman ties a strip of cloth over one side of his face like a crude eyepatch and replies. “Well in that case I’m only going to chance the one eye.”

Officialdom, an object lesson

Well, as with any return to home base, there’s always good and bad news. The snail mail contained a number of not quite unforeseen bills and the usual round of things which had to be paid right now. A couple of difficult to reach taps had stuck. The phone wouldn’t work until I’d spent half an hour with tech support on the line while stripping out the modem for several hard reboots. And sadly my Tomato plants have died. That’s right, all of them. The watering device worked, but the recent BC cold snap took it’s toll and there is nothing to be done but recycle as compost. Such is life.

Still recovering from jet lag, but one item of personal news had me pumping my right hand and saying “YES!” in a loud triumphant tone. Let me enlarge. Just before we were due to leave for the fabled land of Oz I had a run in with a minor branch of Canada’s bureaucracy. What they were demanding would almost certainly have demolished our travel plans and they were quite willing, one would say even eager, to wave the full force of authority in our face with threats of fines and even imprisonment. Over a relatively minor matter, but that’s bureaucracy for you. Even though I thought we had done nothing wrong and was gearing up to fight these faceless fuckers to their last breath. However, Mrs S tapped me on the shoulder and reminded me of advice which I have so often given to others. “Don’t get mad – get devious.”

Now after my last run in with British bureaucrats two years ago I knew there was no point in taking their Canadian counterparts head on. Public sector employees love those who resist emotionally because they have the law, well at least their interpretation of it, on their side. So they think they can just tick a few boxes and hey presto, you’re up before the Judge, fuming with outrage and struggling to put together a defence while watching lawyers fees chew merrily through your hard won resources.

Now for those of you who think that butting heads with officialdom Ranty-style is the right thing to do, take a tip from your Uncle Bill. Don’t. Don’t ever play the bureaucrats game because they make up and interpret the rules as they go along. Seriously. I’ve worked alongside these people and this is how they think. They’re right, you’re wrong, so pucker up buttercup. You will lose because they have a full house of two’s and fours against your piddling pair of threes, and they know the house rules better than you do. So don’t play their game.

What you need in these troubled times is a big friend who can ring the bureaucrats boss and say; “Your people are out of control, stop it.” For UK local government there are ombudsmen and all sorts of referees who will listen if you can take a deep breath and a slow step back before playing the victim trump card oh so carefully. Over here we have our local politicians. Federal Members of Parliament and Provincial Members of the Legislative Assemblies. These are the people who make the rules. And guess what? They work for you. Find one hungry enough for your vote, make your case without getting too histrionic and and there is a strong probability that they can get the mindless machine of bureaucracy to back off. Because that’s what a bureaucracy is, a barely-accountable brainless behemoth that follows set rules, no matter how square-headed and insane those rules might seem. All you have to do is find someone higher up the food chain to push the right button. The idea being to make your oppressors dinky little jackboots do a smart about face and quick march in the opposite direction. Away from you.

In short; when in doubt, escalate. Field your problem upstairs. Don’t shout, don’t threaten, don’t, whatever you do, simply get angry with the forces of dead-headed conformity. Because when you’re angry you’re not thinking straight exactly when when you most need to have your mind right and firing on all cylinders. And if you start shouting, any message will immediately get lost in all the emotion. The best you’ll get in that case is being put on hold as the person who really doesn’t need your shit buggers off for a coffee. If you get mad, they will win because all they have to do is nothing while you rail on at a dead line or some poor zero hours contract call centre drone on little better than minimum wage. Oh, and it goes without saying that you should record everything and refer back to any minor concession on their part in painstaking detail. Better still, speak softly, and let someone else wield the big stick on your behalf.

Furthermore. Don’t bother with junior management or departmental heads because they are the very people who would cheerfully sign the Dalai Llama’s death warrant if it meant they could finish early on Friday. So immediately go over their heads to someone with a little real power and make a carefully worded complaint, detailing how you think these public sector pen pushers are out of order. Which is what we did. And bless me Vicar, this time it worked. Hence my minor celebration. A letter has even arrived apologising for the ‘misunderstanding’. Although they can’t guarantee it won’t happen again. So, only a partial success. Just a reprieve.

Not that I believe the oily platitudes, but like someone who has been stung by nettles, or a bully who has just been kneed in the unmentionables, they will leave us alone for now. They may be back, but in the meantime I’m changing my phone number and migrating to a new email address. Which will do. The trick with bureaucrats, like with petty criminals, is to make their life just difficult enough so that is not worth the effort to bother you, but not so tricky as to make your life awkward. Or for now, which in our case will be long enough before we slip away into the mists and out of their reach. Which may just take the Sticker family even further than it has gone to date.

Which is another happy thought.

On a jet plane

Well we’re back in soggy old Vancouver BC with our body clocks threatening to send their mainsprings twanging off into infinity. It’s a fourteen and a half hour flight from Sydney to Van, but what really catches you out is crossing the international date line. Now all of this shouldn’t have been so bad, we could have got some sleep on the flight but for two modern parents who didn’t have the skill to stop one little girl grizzling and crying very loudly for over twelve solid freaking yours. Wail, wah, moan, bitch went mommy and daddy’s little fucking princess. She was unhappy and everyone was catching a slice.

Personally I’d like to see a complete ban on children under ten years old on long haul aircraft. Especially if they haven’t been properly sedated first. Or fitted with some form of sound suppression.

Then there were the insomniacs in the row behind who chose to have a less than considerate conversation, along with lots of wriggling and thumping on my seat back as they played with their tray and in seat entertainment as they got up and down to continually visit the lavatory or stretch their legs. Should the tray be up? No I’ll put it down. Oh hello Mrs Miggins we’ll have the lights on and what was that crossword clue again? Sorry, could you say that more loudly, I don’t think the other ten rows heard you. And this was in Premium Economy. You’d think people willing to stump up the extra for a ticket might have more consideration. I did try to get some sleep, but to no avail.

The resultant lack of repose means that since landing I have been less than my usually sunny self and even positively hostile to any Vancouverite ill advised enough to cross my path. Maybe I should be wearing a t-shirt which says “Warning. Jet lag.”

Notwithstanding, I will be returning to the Fabled land of Oz despite all these travel teething troubles. There is talk of happy tidings if a certain young gentleman can get his act together and ask Eldest the right question. They’re doing plenty of horizontal jogging if all the clues I observed are any guide, so I’ve already given eldest my tacit approval. Nothing verbal, just a candid bit of eye contact and a gentle nod over his shoulder at her. However, we will see what we will see. Their friends all seem to know whats in the offing, so it’s probably one of those open secret thingies.

Note to self. Add decent set of noise cancelling headphones to travel kit.

In the immortal words of Mr Schwarzenegger:

If you see Sydney….

…. Don’t tell him we’re passing through again. Busy embarrassing Eldest’s friends and have just done doing the beach barbecue thing with Kangaroo meat. Aside from that we’re just pootling around, going to outdoor opera events, learning our way around the local trains, buses and bars. The usual tourist stuff. Walking Sydney Harbour Bridge, but not paying to get vertigo at over 150 Australian dollars a pop. With the help of native guides and spent a day at the beach. Our native guides are a complete gas by the way and have treated us with grace and generosity. Despite all the ballistic missiles failing to rain down on Hawaii. We’re all cool. Figuratively

The thing I really, really like about Aussies is their complete lack of ‘side’; generally speaking they either like you or not and aren’t shy about letting you know. Which is very refreshing.

The automotive news is interesting, with talk of ‘million mile cars’ specifically vehicles designed to be continuously upgraded and maintained like modern airliners currently are. Cars designed for leasing for ride sharing rather than individual ownership. Not there aren’t private cars which have actually done a million miles already. Wonder if this is a bid to sidestep the proposed bans of private vehicle sales of internal combustion engined vehicles. Riight. We’ll see how that works out.

Off time travelling tomorrow back to BC where we will land four and a half hours before we took off from Sydney. Don’t ask.

Bunyips

There is a mythical monster in Australia, one that is even feared by the biggest killer of humans, the Estuarine Crocodile or ‘Saltie’. I write of course of the Bunyip, that terror of tourists, ravager of ‘Roos and consumer of the cutest Koalas. The name appears to have devolved into slang, where having ‘a case of the Bunyips’ is a minor but undefinable health inconvenience akin to being a bit upset or nervous about something.

On that subject; Mrs S woke me the other morning while we were staying in a pleasant little off the beaten track B&B to confess that she had felt a ‘presence’ which had disturbed her otherwise unblemished repose the previous night. I knew what she meant, as I’d felt the same thing too, as a vague sense of unease, a sense of something not quite right drifting across the room. She characterised it as an unhappy feeling with no material stimulus of connection that clouded her consciousness. For myself I had a sense of a disturbance in the unseen just as I was drifting off. Then it was gone. All sins forgiven.

Rather like the Interweb being on the fritz across Southeastern Australia. Which has something to do with lightning strikes over the last few nights, so we’re told. Lots of fried routers, or should that be routers with fries. Thanks Telstra. Mobile phones seem to be working though. At least they haven’t succumbed to the heat and rain. Although our recent heat wave has apparently been ‘boiling’ Fruit bats alive not far from our current location. Someone should have told them about drinking plenty of fluids staying in the shade and slapping on the SPF 50 sun cream.

Oh yes, we actually had rain yesterday afternoon en route to last nights picturesque little lodging. First big drop hit our windscreen like a paintball round with a loud ‘Spack!” Then another and another for twenty seconds until it was like automatic fire. After about a minute this bombardment settled down to regular rain which the windscreen wipers could cope with. That lasted about thirty minutes then everything dried up again until the evening when the wind it blew and the rain it did fall, but by then we’d consumed a couple of bottles of a very quaffable Savignon (Not Sauvignon, it’s a hybrid grape) and couldn’t have cared less. Temperatures have now returned to the mid to high twenties Celsius. So the Fruit bats will be back to their normal habit of shitting out of the trees instead of falling out of them.

In the wake of the recent brief heat wave have come brief but very intense storms flooding over the Blue Mountains, which is where we rest our weary heads this very eve. Thunder, lightning, high winds and torrential rain have paraded past our windows in the last three hours. In the wake of these storms followed an almost ethereal sunset and a single truncated pillar of a rainbow.

The local Aboriginal peoples claim this land has magical powers, and after the last few hours, I’m inclined to believe them.

BTW: There is nothing ‘intrepid’ about this trip. Indeed I have gone to great lengths to avoid any hint of derring-do, knight errantry or bravery against hostile elements of any shape, form or substance. Indeed, we have employed all the magical arts of modern techno-magery such as air conditioning, bug repellent, booking websites and the financial assistance of Mister Mastercard to avoid having to be even slightly courageous or resourceful. Courage is a fine thing and a useful tool, but should be kept in reserve for those occasions when you cannot help but need it. Let it be known that if the Bunyips come calling again I will have made strenuous efforts not to be there when they arrive.

That’s all for now. Back in Sydney to begin our last week in the Fabled land of Oz tomorrow. So perhaps we’ll have a more reliable Interweb connection by then.

On the road again

Well we’ve waved TTFN to Melbourne for now and are now on the fourth leg of our Australian Jaunt, dodging ‘roos and Drop-Bears with the added threat of bush fires today. We hope to dodge any large scale fires by hugging the coast as much as possible. Which has paid off so far as we’re heading toward sundown.

Rather ticked off at the car hire company for being a bunch of chiseling cheese parers. Decided to have a go back by painstakingly highlighting every last single fault which they had not spotted in their pre-rental checklist, photographing every single ding or rock chip, as I’m sure the bastards will try to charge my credit card for every last tiny scratch. They didn’t even wash the bloody thing properly. However, I’ve already spoken to my credit card company, and they agree there’s dodgy dealings afoot.

A stern but polite letter will also be going out to the hire company’s head office like the previously mentioned franchise practices I’m not happy with. I did ask them to countersign my updated damage report, but the staff refused. That too will be in my very detailed report to their head office. People who try to cheat me nowadays tend to lose. My ducks are all patiently sitting in a row, each carefully recorded piece of evidence awaiting every attempted incidence of overcharging. You might say I’m being a bit paranoid, but my attitude simply reflects previous experience with car hire companies. Trust does not figure largely in the relationship.

Regardless of the aforementioned, we are now well on our way and have been doing even more “Oohing” at the big sky scenery and deliciously turquoise seascapes. Yes it’s hot, with me taking plenty of roadside time-outs to snooze through temperatures topping 42 Celsius according to the cars thermometer. Well, we’re not in a rush and have made lots of time for this trip, so an impromptu snooze is just the ticket. Tomorrow the temperature is predicted to drop to something more comfortable in the mid 20’s as we round the corner into New South Wales and decide upon whether we’re going to bother with Canberra.

Wildlife sightings have been reduced to spotting roadkill, with two ‘Roos and a couple of Wombats today. Wombats are about the size of a Vietnamese pot bellied pig covered in dark brown fur. There was one bloody smear that could have been an incautious Koala, but it was hard to tell. All we’ve seen of live Australian fauna is cattle and sheep. Oh, and the many Parakeets and Lorikeet variants with the odd Fruitbat around dusk. Beware the Fruitbats, they’re like Socialists, they shit on everything.

Reading has been restricted to my rather dog eared copy of the Gulag Achipelago, Alexandr Solzhenitzyn’s chronicle of his arrest and imprisonment in the Soviet Prison system. It should be compulsory reading for anyone studying ‘political science’ at University. Full text pdf here if you want your eyes opened about totalitarian collectivist government. I first read it in 1975, along with his fictional follow-on “The First Circle” having cut my teeth on the disturbing A day in the life of Ivan Denisovich at school. Hardly holiday reading, unless of course you’re me, but interesting first hand perspectives from someone who survived the Soviet system of thought crime and punishment. Anyone thinking of creating thought crime offences should take careful note.

More cheerfully I can report on my first experience with the notorious Australian “Meat pie” which is as close as the Aussies have to a national dish. The flavour, for my last remaining British reader, is akin to one of the old “Fleur de Lys” latterly “Pukka” steak and kidney pies with a smidgeon of Bovril, encased in pastry that would probably sink a German WWII pocket battleship. Quite tasty, although a little heavy for a hot day.

Anyway, that’s it for now as supper time beckons and I’ve been saving my appetite. TTFN.

Glad to be here

We’re enjoying Melbourne, even if it’s a tad on the expensive side. The food? Lots of Italian, Vietnamese and Chinese, but if you get a chance, seek out one of the little Fusion eateries just off the main tourist trails. Stay away from the tourist traps along the Yarra, they aren’t worth the price. Seek out the unusual and your taste buds will thank you for it.

Sleep patterns are being a little messed up by phone messages going off at (to us) odd hours from Youngest, who has returned to her job in the soggy old UK and is already missing the warmth and suffering from the ravagers of jet lag, poor lamb. All we can do is urge her not to sign anything important until she’s fully compos mentis again.

What we’re also enjoying are the pleasant temperatures, currently around 22 Celsius, which we’re told will peak out on Saturday after we’ve left Melbourne to Sydney on a little road trip at a scorching prediction of 41(Yikes!) Celsius. Which is warm for even Victoria, where we will hide from the heat on a boat ride or so before wafting up the coast for our last week in the sun. All ahead SPF 50 Mr Sulu and mind those photon torpedoes.

North America on the other hand, seems to be not enjoying any heat at all, with sub zero Celsius temperatures as far south as Mexico and Florida. Which happened last year and the year before that. Can’t speak for Australia of course, because we weren’t here. However we’ve enjoyed our time down under so much that even now plans are afoot for another antipodean Xmas. At least if I have any say in the matter. Cold is nice occasionally, but only if it comes as a breeze from the air conditioning unit. I think I’ve outgrown any emotional attachments to White Christmases, because aren’t they supposed to be racist or something. Not that it’ll stop the snow falling. Weather’s like that, very politically incorrect.

As far as weather is concerned the old tune “But baby it’s cold outside” is appropriate in the Northern Hemisphere at present. Which song is annoying all the right people because it’s about ‘rape culture’ which some neurotics out there have transposed onto normal human courtship behaviour. Weirdo’s.

All the above notwithstanding. Before we push off, I’m going for a pamper at one of those fancy mens grooming places for a spiff up with hot towels to clear the pores, the whole nine yards.