Saturday, February 22, 2014

Recommended Exotica

An English woman heads to the Galapagos Islands and an Australian woman heads to Kenya. Both are great reads, full of photos and lively descriptions.

As Molly was fond of saying, do yourself a favour.

Being ported in Portland

I hear rather a lot of good things about public transport Portland in Oregan. It has an expanding system of trains, light rail, street cars (trams), buses and even an aerial tram (overhead cable car) .

Now, who do I know in Portland? Ah, Rubye Jack of course. I don't know too many American bloggers, but there was also Stephen with his blog, Post Apocalyptic Bohemian, who is or was in Portland. Alas, he has not posted since October last year. It is quite remarkable that out of maybe half a dozen American bloggers, two live in the same city.

Like wherever there is intensive public transport, the street cars/trams have very calming effect on the population. Portland is also named as the twelfth most walkable city in the US. Portland sounds like a rather civilised place to live.

But sadly they have done away with their cute little reproduction trams, built in 1991. In the late nineties they were running every day, but over the subsequent years, their usage has been much reduced and the last have now been sold to St Louis. Aren't they a delight?

Friday, February 21, 2014

Poirot Places

The last place Freddie Mercury lived before he died was in an apartment in Montreux on the shores of Lake Geneva in Switzerland. It looks absolutely gorgeous to me. (Waves to Kath in Geneva. Miss you, Come back soon)

It was Piorot who dun it. Saturday night's episode, Labours of Hercules, had the most gorgeous scenery of Swiss Alps and a wonderful hotel in the mountain village of Rochers de Nay above Montreux. Piorot travelled up to the hotel on a funicular. I have spent some considerable time this Sunday past establishing details about the Hercule Piorot tv show episode titled The Labours of Hercules.

The funicular was not the one to get to Rochers de Nay which is serviced by a cog railway train*, but the one at Saint Hilaire du Touvet, the closest large town you may know being Lyon in France.



It's been a while since I have posted a funicular. Switzerland is full of them, hence much distraction looking at various funiculars. Remember how they work? They are cable hauled by a motor at the top and one balances out the other as one goes up a hill as the other descends. There is normally one or two passing places. They are used where a train is unsuitable and the hill is too steep for a conventional tram.

As for the hotel that was shown as being at Rochers de Nay, I say no. But how gorgeous to breakfast in the sunlight on the terrace overlooking the snow laden Swiss Alps.

Ok, it is Halton House in Buckinghamshire that was used as the Swiss Alps hotel.


My attention span is usually about 90 seconds for a You Tube video, but this one of the train up to Rochers de Nay as far as Glion had me mesmerised by scenery, especially at 3.52 where Montreux comes into view.



*Cog railway is a train assisted by rack between the tracks and a cog under the train to engage with the rack. As well as the normal power source and braking, the train also uses the rack and cog. Such a system is necessary when a train has to ascend or descend a very steep hill. The alternative used in both New South Wales in days of old and in India even now, is to zig zag a train up a hill. Zig zagging does take time.

Later edit: If you think you might like Switzerland, have a read of Bill and Diane's travel in the country. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Trivial Pursuit

I am here to help with interesting facts for your next game of trivial pursuit. Of course I have not verified them and facts can only be facts if they are facts. The Funk and Wagnells is packed away (the title of the encyclopaedia amused me as a kid, and still does).

1/ The organisation with the largest number of employees in the world?

2/ The largest power user in the State of Victoria in Australia?

3/ The second largest power user in the State of Victoria in Australia ?

4/ The organisation with the largest number of civilian employees in the world?





Answers.

1/ The Chinese Army. Foreign Minister Bishop and Defence Minister Johnston, take note.

2/ The aluminium smelter Alcoa, except it is closing down in Australia. All these foreign companies that paid huge prices to buy our electricity generating infrastructure are no longer seeing growing demand for electricity.

3/ The Victorian suburban and country trains. While the energy equation is very favourable as against private motor car travel, the trains do use a lot of electricity. Fortunately we have a huge supple of hard to burn and polluting damp brown coal to generate electricity.

4/ The railways of India employs a huge number of staff.  It is a complex beast. The son of a former Bengali Station Master explained some of its intricacies to me.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Little Brown Jug


This morning on ABC Melbourne radio, broadcaster Red Symons was talking about a song he found in his old copy of The School Reader. I vaguely recall it along with other Education Department publications. I also recall an ABC radio programme broadcast for children that came through the large wall mounted speaker. Sometimes, it was a folk dancing. Naturally we altered the first word to something that amused us. There was also a boys and girls question time. I don't think it was the pre pubescent me, but a school mate who suggested we write in a question in to the ABC to ask why our dicks get stiff? I did subsequently find out.  

Note the first verse. I've heard it has been changed to She loves Coffee and I love Tea, And therefore we don't agree.  I remember singing it, but I really can't recall what we sang. Meanwhile, it has been a flea in my ear all day.
Ha, ha, ha, you and me,
Little brown jug, don't I love thee!
Ha, ha, ha, you and me,
Little brown jug, don't I love thee!
Me and my wife live all alone
In a little log hut we call our own;
She loves gin and I love rum,
And don't we have a lot of fun!
Ha, ha, ha, you and me,
Little brown jug, don't I love thee!
Ha, ha, ha, you and me,
Little brown jug, don't I love thee!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Surreal

I rose at 4am to take ABI Brother to the airport to fly to South Africa for the Third Cricket Test. Correct me if I am wrong about it being the third test. Last night he spent hours fussing over paper work for the trip, but I think he got it right in the end. I told him to keep the paperwork together. While it might be muddled, it will all be there. He had bits of paper everywhere. Bags, pockets, passport folder, plastic folders. Lordy.

I drove straight from the airport to work. I thought I might have had time for a nap in the car, but no. I arrived at work just before 6am, in time for work but no snooze time.

Oddly, it was no problem travelling on the strange freeway to the airport, but once back on familiar roads to work, I went into a weird place in my mind. 

Tomorrow is my day off and fortunately or unfortunately, I will journey to the far east of Melbourne and take Mother out to the shops.

Oh yes, R gave notice of finishing up at work today too, entering into official retirement.

I function, therefore I am.

Evening out, fail

We arranged to meet four friends in Victoria Street, Richmond, for dinner. The trip in the car should take 15 minutes, we allowed 20 and it took nearly 30. How I hate Punt Road and Hoddle Street. There are too many people in Melbourne for our trains, trams and roads. We entered our favourite restaurant, Tran Tran, but there weren't any tables available. The Mama San, who remembers us, was very  apologetic. 'Why you no book? Just quick call and I could have fixed it'.

Richmond is an area where many Vietnamese refugees settled in the 70s and 80s and the street has a very Asian feel to it and is well known for its cheap but good meals. Unfortunately over the past decade or so, it also became a place for drug dealing after dealers were pushed out of city. I think it has improved a bit of late.

But the character of Victoria Street is changing. Across the road is a bar called The Vic, I think, with most of the customers white people. The bar had taken over the side street and behind a cyclone wire fence, patrons listened to very loud music. Thump, thump, thump.

We should have headed the other way along the street, but instead entered the huge restaurant Tho Tho, within what was once a pub. It was so hot inside the sweat was pouring from us, we could barely converse because of the level of noise in the restaurant, it was chaotic and R did not receive his soup. In the background was the constant thump from the music across the road. The hand written bill was unintelligible when we wanted to work out who owed what. I will say though, the food was ok but we couldn't wait to get out of there.

We were home by 8.30, out of the humidity and away from the noise and we concluded going out was a bad idea. Usually we enjoy ourselves when we go out for dinner, even if it is an effort at times. Often before we go out, we say, it would be nice to be staying in. This time, I really wish we did stay home.

Monday, February 17, 2014

QM2 Departs

Lord Sedgwick would expect me to describe it no less. One queen stood on his balcony and watched another queen depart, the Queen Mary 2. She has travelled to Melbourene from Perth and I would guess she is now heading for Sydney. Perhaps another queen might see the queen arrive there.

She certainly made a stately departure, the slowest sailing of a cruise ship I have ever seen as she left Station Pier and began the southerly sailing of Port Phillip Bay to Heads before entering Bass Strait.


Cheaper Electricical

I have been meaning to do this for ages and was finally motivated to do so by a piece in one of our daily newspapers.

When I was but a lad, electricity was made, and reliably and efficiently distributed by our government owned electricity company, the SEC, State Electricity Commission (of Victoria). The Evil Kennett State Government sold off the electricity assets owned by the people of Victoria in the 1990s and then it all went so wrong. We are now at the mercy of privately owned overseas companies.

I am not going into the details of what the modern issues about privately owned electricity companies are. I will leave that to smarter people than myself. But we are urged to shop around for the best and cheapest electricity provider, which is of course nonsense. The power all comes from the same place and through the same wires. But many companies have taken over the, shall I call it 'billing'.

Changing electricity companies is fraught with danger, with my mother being exhibit A. She thought she was signing a two year contract with her usual provider, but no, it had the same name but was based in a different state. She found out and cancelled within the two week cooling off period, and then did not receive a bill for almost a year.

I did not want to change companies but I checked at a couple of online power bill comparison sites. I've done it before and I think back then we could have saved $150 per year. Given how it could easily go so wrong, I thought it was not worth the bother. This time when I checked, $450 a year could be saved. That is at least a good bargaining tool with our company. I did actually do some proper research, looking at service charges, prices per kilowatt hours and where there was a jump in tarrif once you reach a certain point in consumption.

What put me off the cheapest was that you sign a three year contract but the cheap price is only guaranteed for the first year.

I called our present company. She asked who the company was that offered such a good deal but I forgotten the name of it. She immediately offered an 11% discount on our usage if agreed to a one year contract. Better than nothing. She was having computer problems, don't we all, and put me on hold for a few minutes. I used the time to check who did offer that significant saving of $450. When she returned, I told her who the company was and how it was calculated. She then offered 21%, 22% if I allowed direct deduction of the electric bill from my account. For the 21%, it was just paying the bill by the due date. I don't like to allow other people to take my from my bank account with my say so. It probably comes from a time not that long ago when I may not have had enough money in my account to cover automatic payments.

I thought the woman I dealt with over the phone was lovely, until the next day when the documentation arrived as four pdf files. Not everyone would, but I diligently checked them and to my dismay they were for only an 11% deduction.

Back to the hated telephone options buttons and an equally lovely woman sorted it out and the following day the correct documentation arrived.

So, it is a one year contract with our existing electric supplier and a 21% deduction from power usage. I checked, and before the expiration of the contract we will be notified via mail that it is about to expire.

I suppose, including research, I spent about two hours on the matter, spread over a few days. I am not about to promote the company by naming them, but fill in the gap if it may be of use to you, Charles Darwin's ****** of Species. Piss on them though. We have been customers of theirs for a couple of decades and they have never called us to discuss our electricity usage.

Tip, if you are thinking of going down this road, do your research online and make notes that you can refer to when you call your supplier to tell them that they are ripping your off. Don't go with the phrase 'I heard somewhere...'.

If you are in Victoria, this is the comparison site I used.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Changing Weather

The smoke has gone, the air is clear, the sky is bright and it is deliciously cool. Melbourne is back to normal.


Sunday Selections

See River's Sunday Selections. Maybe Elephant's Child will have one and perhaps Jackie.

Slim pickings this week. I do have some other photos to post over the coming week though. I may have a a different attitude to magpies if I had been swooped by one, but I never have. I like them a lot. I will post some more about them one day as they are nothing like the European magpie.


I did once say I would not post any more balloon photos, but there of couse must be an exception and it was a balloon newsy week. I am sure there were nine balloons but I can only see eight in the photo. This is the most I have ever seen in one morning. Melbourne is one of the few cities in the world where balloon flights take place over the city, because our airport is quite a distance out and morning breezes are quite calm.


Monday last week two balloons were not too far away and heading directly for our building.  I snapped away as they came closer and they came as close as any have ever, and sailed straight over the top of our building. I snapped away but in my haste the camera did not focus properly so this is the best I can do when one was still a distance away.

The next day, well, a balloon landed in someone's small front garden. See a picture here.


I don't remember sleeping with the door or windows open yet this large moth managed to get in. I thought it was an Emperor Gum Moth, but I think it is too dark. He/she died a day later. It was big.
 

Australia Day has been and gone and there is always a large display of old cars at the King's Domain for the public to ooh and aah over. Here are a couple heading towards the gardens. I had to work, otherwise I would have gone to see them.


Four days of 40 degree heat and then a few days later our distressed elms and plane trees had a massive leaf drop. It was like Autumn. There are still plenty of leaves left to fall in Autumn.