The Heavy Metal Ensemble

Possum Valley today was ringing to the tunes of large machines rather than the tranquil piping of the birds.  First to arrive was the 35 ton excavator which had to come across the neighbouring block to the south and despite having tracks rather than wheels, had some hairy moments of going sideways.  The driver had the boom lowered ready to dig in the bucket if required.  It announced it’s arrival with the throbbing of a heavy engine and the crackling of smashed vegetation sounding like gunfire as the trees splintered and snapped.  It finally emerged from the forest to a crowd of spectators up near Maple Cottage.  I didn’t realise there was such a thing as ‘machinery tourism’ before, but my guests including a mob of kids, were faithful followers throughout the day.  They did perhaps have another important interest, having been imprisoned for a couple of days, escape!  The excavator then smashed it’s way down a steep wooded slope to the dam at the only possible access point to land between the bogged truck and it’s trailer on a bit of nearly level ground.  Because the truck was dug in to collapse dam wall on one side and leaning and an angle threatening to tip into the dam, the hitch to the trailer was twisted and under considerable stress.  Which meant they could not be disconnected because the pin couldn’t be taken out.  A strap was rigged from the hitch point on the truck, over the body of the truck to the excavator boom so it would lift and drag sideways the bogged wheels.  With very careful inch by inch movements this was managed.  

I always wanted a toy like tis

I always wanted a toy like this

It dawned on me how skillful these guys were, and I realised that these skills took a long while to acquire.  Starting in a sandpit at age 2, like my grandkids now, and extending to the truck driver, in his sixties.  Another revelation was the amount of halts and discussions there were between the workers, most of whom hadn’t met before.  Communication, pooling of ideas, reaching agreement, and again signalling as the work went on.  And if plan A didn’t work, a different approach was quickly worked out.  Everybody was focused on problem solving.  If only our politicians could work in such harmony.  Thanks guys, I dips me lid.

The next addition to our heavy metal band was a D6 D dozer.  Once separated, the trailer was manipulated by the dozer to the open area near Blackbean cottage.  This gave the imprisoned guests a window of opportunity for their dash to freedom.  Well done Chantall in the only 2WD on the dozer compromised hill.  There were were 3 4WDs after her, but I didn’t expect any problems with them and there were none.  The guests spotted me on the way out and offered money for their stay which I declined as I hadn’t exactly delivered the peaceful quiet stay that I advertise.  They thrust money into my hands anyway and said they would be back.  Dear forgiving guests, thank you.

some members of the heavy metal band

some members of the heavy metal band

The next addition to our heavy metal band is another dozer.  The D6 couldn’t find enough traction to tow out the trailer, so another dozer was summoned to pull in tandem.  Just an hour ago I heard them throbbing away into the distance.  Once more Possum Valley is returned to it’s tranquility.  

All gone now and silence returns.  I actually enjoyed the experience and excitement.  There are some consequences and damages to repair.  My guests responded the same way.  Deal with it.  I think there is a great capacity in Aussie culture to do just that.  In a land of drought and flooding rains.  A struggling Top End lady farmer, who won Aussie of the year, said “Don’t wait for the light at the end of the tunnel, stride down there and light the bloody thing”.  Wise words in the Aussie shorthand.

Possum Valley now open for business again.  

Living in the Wilds

I was raised in a city, but I love living in the wilds in an isolated place.  Yesterday somebody gave new meaning to ‘isolated’.  I had an unexpected visitor who had got lost.  Happened before and will happen again.  Unfortunately, he was driving an unsuitable vehicle.  On my website I have a discussion about vehicles unsuitable for the track into Possum Valley under ‘location’, but I had neglected to give an assessment for the vehicle he was driving.  It was a huge Mack truck with an equally huge trailer, both fully loaded with gravel.  Total weight 50 tons or so.  Total length maybe 30m.  I heard this behemoth grinding and screeching it’s way down the hill, and thought ‘WTF? this doesn’t sound good’.  The screeching was from the brakes heavily applied at very slow speed.  Or perhaps it was from Rodney the driver, who was freaking out by this time.  I ran over to the road and he was stopped 20m from the creek with white knuckles fiercely gripping the steering wheel.  To add to his terror, I clambered up the passenger side of the truck, popped my head through the open window and said ‘gidday’, surprising him greatly as he thought he was totally lost in trackless rainforest.  I suggested he get out and walk ahead a bit.  We did and walked into the clearing around Blackbean Cottage.  He thought he would be able to get round the 2 tight corners, pull off the track a bit and tip about 15 tons of gravel out of the trailer, somehow do a u-turn on the grass then negotiate the hill again with the gravel still in the prime mover providing traction to get up the hill.  I knew even then he said this with more optimism than conviction.  But there didn’t seem to be any other options.  Absolutely no way to back up the hill.

Vehicle not recommended for Possum Valley

Vehicle not recommended for Possum Valley

To my surprise he got the trailer (the truckies call it a dog), around the first corner, but trying to get round the second, the dam wall collapsed under the weight of the prime mover dropping the right side driving wheels almost into the dam and bottoming out the truck and the hitch to the dog.  The truck is leaning at an alarming angle and threatening to tip over into the dam.  That is the situation as I write.  

A day has passed and plans considered and discarded.  The local heavy equipment contractors (Kidners) have been called and come down to assess the plans for ‘equipment recovery’.  My guests now trapped here have been making their own plans for abandoning their vehicles and goods so they can call friends and relations to get them back to civilisation and how they can manage until their cars can be liberated.  

drive wheels buried, fuel tank grounded

drive wheels buried, fuel tank grounded

Dear guests, if you should ever read this, my sincere thanks about how calmly you received the news you were trapped, and how practically you adjusted and planned your escape, is a tribute to Aussie resilience.  It was a moment from the Eagles “Welcome to the Hotel California” where you can “check out, but you can never leave”.  Though greatly inconvenienced, you saw there were no villains in the piece and acted immediately to calm the shaken truck driver’s nerves.  I brewed him a cup of tea, my dear guests offered him some chocolate birthday cake.  He had bravely volunteered to come along with me to brief the guests of the situation in case anyone wanted to punch my lights out, so he could be there as scapegoat.  Not required.  You all came through as champions of forgiving and coping.  This was a practical demonstration of the universal rule “deal with the emotions first, then together plan the solution”.   

truck falling into dam

truck falling into dam

Now the solution isn’t all that easy.  Any attempt to tow out the truck will likely result in tipping it further right into the dam.  A very savvy guy from Kidners, the local heavy earthmoving contracting company, has come to look and determined that they have to get a 35 ton excavator between the truck and trailer and lift/tow the mid point sideways away from the collapsed dam.  There is a patch of flat ground slightly larger than a jacuzzi from which they might be able to do this.  Of course they will have to clear it first.  Then disconnect truck and dog, then tow and back the dog into the jacuzzi space, drive the truck back around and re-hitch.  Oh, I have just thought of something.  At this point it may be advisable to dump the trailer load of 13 tons.  Once connected to truck, it will have the hydraulics to do so.  Then the dozer tow up the hill has 13 tons less to battle.  They will likely destroy the track on the way out.  

Just learned from BOM that the weather window is closing and rain expected Sunday.  For the first time ever I have informed future guests that their bookings were cancelled due to circumstances beyond my control.  Services will be resumed as soon as possible.  I just don’t know when that might be.  

Getting the vehicle recovery machines into Possum Valley is already a challenge.  Required 1 dozer and 1 excavator of 35 tons.  Can’t get along the track because of the bogged truck, and great difficulty getting round because of the creek on one side and a dam on the other.  Best bet for getting the machines on site is through the neighbouring farm to the south and a couple of kms through his paddocks.  But my neighbour says that the recent rain has made 2 creeks impassable, possibly negotiable by Saturday.  This would be reopening the route I used for the first 10 years at Possum Valley with 7 gates to open and close.   But the width of the bucket on the excavator is 3.5m and might not fit through some of the gates.  It would have to clear some regrowth of 20 years and widen some abandoned tracks, but it could do that in third gear on the way in.  

I will post another report when Possum Valley is again connected to civilisation.  If the rains come back before a resolution, it may be some time. 

Just stand back and I’ll show you how it’s done.

I’ve done it before with years of experience in the parenting game.  A slight gap of a generation, but how hard can that be?  Just pick up the reins and back in the saddle.  So I’m a grandfather charged with looking after a couple of boys for a couple of days while my daughter resumes her career as a nurse in ‘accident and emergency’ at Atherton Hospital.  They are aged one and three with completely different skill sets.  The younger quite aware that negotiating a flight of stairs going down head first has already resulted in negative results and much pain, but persists anyway, and the elder quite sure he is master of the universe and can’t go wrong.  Until it does.  I really can’t remember my girls being so reckless.  

The first day I had them in my sole care went pretty well, though I had forgotten how constant the demand for attention is and the possibilities of disasters if you look away for too long.  Even when to go to the loo has to be artfully chosen when the kids are asleep, or well engaged with some activity.  But I thought I things pretty well under control, and when Alice got back from her shift, both kids were asleep and I had restored some order to the house and had dinner mostly prepared.  I was pretty pleased with myself and trying desperately to impress my daughter with my domestic skills.  No problemo!  Alice and the kids stayed at Possum Valley overnight and I rediscovered the fun little kids have in the bath, although constant vigilance was required to prevent Henry from accidentally drowning his little brother.  I ended up nearly as wet as the kids.

Second day started pretty early before 6 am with Henry awake and cracking up because Alice was going off for her early shift.  Her solution was to stuff the complaining infant wrapped in blanket into my bed.  It worked.  The novelty of the situation stunned him to silence and nearly an hour passed quietly, though he was awake and wriggling frequently.  Then Philip cracked up and the hustle-bustle of the day was on with changing nappies and getting some breakfast into them.  I thought I might have my breakfast a bit later at a convenient moment.  You parents out there are way ahead of me here.  With two little kids there is no such thing as ‘a convenient moment’.  Another thing forgotten.  No breakfast for me.  

By now my novelty value with Henry had worn off and he thought he had my measure.  He started testing me.  When I politely asked him to not do something, like grabbing his baby brother’s clothes in his teeth and dragging him round the floor like a dog, he looked me straight in the eye and did it again.  I did a more forceful reprimand and he did it again.  I did remember the first rule of parenting.  Avoid conflict, let little things slip, but when important issues come up, win.  To give in to an infant emotionally bullying you is the road to ruin.  He had backed me into a corner so I smacked him.  Not proud, and it hurt me more than him, but he is never going to know that.  I had Alice’s support and permission for that last resort.  When Alice came back after her second shift, neither of the kids had had an afternoon sleep and I didn’t feel as though I had best managed the day.  As Alice and I were talking Philip let out an almighty howl from under the table.  Henry had deeply bitten his foot so that you could see the forensic evidence of his every tooth.  There was considerable contusion and instant bruising.  I was very surprised that the skin was not broken.  By now you probably think I am painting Henry as the villain, but no, he is responding to his feelings of jealousy as the baby seems to get more attention.  This is an example of the complex minefield that parents negotiate on a daily basis.

I have had another couple of days of child care since then.  I think I have remembered what it is all about and I have been able to get down and dirty.  There are no perfect days, but I think I am getting up to speed.  Let chaos reign and fun begin.

New Venture for Possum Valley!

Your host Paul, has launched into a new venture to start early June.  It will be only part time, but very exciting and challenging.  Please be assured that accommodation services will be maintained to the highest standard, or at least to the highest standard I am capable of, which is what you have been getting so far.  My eldest daughter has volunteered me for a day care centre.  She is returning to work as a nurse in accident and emergency after a lengthy period off with the feeble excuse of looking after her kids now aged 3 and 1 and a bit.  So she has been lazing around, taking advantage of maternity leave with the occasional chore of washing an infant and feeding them now and again.  I mean how hard can that be?  And now she is back to the real world of gainful employment.  I hope she can handle the pace and get back up to speed after the life of leisure she has been enjoying.  

So I will be looking after them for a day or two to fill in the idle time I have operating a B&B.  I intend to get these infants organised as soon as possible along the lines of Baron Von Trapp (Sound of Music).  Get them used to a strict regime and able to obey every command in an instant.  Eating and sleeping to a schedule, and saying ‘thank you’ at every opportunity.  Shouldn’t be too hard, I’ve done it before, though memory is hazy and I don’t think it went quite like that, but I do have a much more developed brain and vastly more experience.  What could possibly go wrong?  A couple of infants with a proclivity for grovelling in mud, which I will quickly stop despite mud being freely available around the property, and a belief that every material is potential foodstuff will surely be easy to curtail.  I will report back to you my successes and triumphs in child raising.  

Henry at work

Henry at work

A couple of days ago I was chatting to a guest on the veranda, when his gaze went over my shoulder and I could see he wasn’t listening to a thing that I said.  Don’t you hate it when that happens and you realise they haven’t the slightest interest in what you are saying?  As I spluttered to a stop, he pointed behind me and there was a cassowary about 30m away.  It was a juvenile looking a bit uncertain about its exploration of the world.  It stayed around for a few minutes and I am pleased his family got to see it before it disappeared into the forest.  

Also the platypus entertained the guests over the weekend just around Blackbean Cottage.  I am pleased to say after a couple of years absence, they are now well ensconced in the pool next to the cottage.  Tonight as I was having dinner of chicken satay with rice, homemade coleslaw and avocados stuffed with hommus (I’m sure you wanted to know that), I heard the GALUMPH GALUMPH of a wallaby hopping across the veranda.  I’m used to the pitter-patter of tiny feet on a wooden floor, and it is usually possums, but the sound of a wallaby on a wooden floor is a magnitude louder.  It paused for a moment at the entrance to the dining room before hopping across and under the table.  Now you may consider this a bit wussy of me, but it was within a meter of my naked legs and feet and I couldn’t see it, so I moved.  It scrambled for the exit.

Wish me luck in my new venture. 

Operating a B&B Part 2

Ok, having recently written a blog (see “Operating a B&B”), but failing to get round to the subject, I had better continue.  In short, it is great.  I get to stay at home in a beautiful place, people come here, give me money and leave again.  What a sweet deal.  I once had a guest tell me I had the second best job in the world.  I thought for a bit and knew I was being suckered into the asking the obvious question, but asked it anyway.  “OK, who has the best job?”  “David Attenborough”.  Fair enough, I don’t mind coming second to the bro.  

Nearly 100% of my guests are really good people I am pleased to meet and I have enjoyed the chats I have had with many.  Nearly 100% treat the place with respect and some are even too diligent and collect the linen and some even mop their way out the door.  For the record, I actually prefer guests not to strip the beds or remake used beds, but I do appreciate the kind thought.  Just take everything you came with, so I don’t have to forward things all over the country, and leave all my stuff.  It’s my role to do the bed stripping and cleaning and stuff.  Do guests pinch stuff?  Quite the reverse.  I have missed a few pillows, probably because some people bring their own and mistake the ones they take home., but the number left accidentally or deliberately, far exceeds that paltry number.  And kitchen equipment!!!! Some guests have remarked about the range of pots pans and kitchen utensils and I modestly blush and mumble something about trying to do my best, when in fact most of it has been left by guests.  I could open a shop for secondhand frypans and utensils, but somehow doubt the market would be strong enough.  

The nicest thing is that some guests have become people I consider friends.  Hi Martin, Robert, Chantall, Sue & Iain, Ross etc etc and many have given me so much help and equipment over the years.  Of the array of IT equipment before me for instance, I was given the desktop computer (and installation and setup), the screen, the modem, the router etc.  I bought only the $39 printer which I barely use.  I had guests/friends diagnose a tricky problem with my tumble-dryer just before Xmas dinner.  I doubt you can imagine the scale of the catastrophe of having a B&B at the busiest time of the year, in the wet season, in a tropical rainforest, if you don’t have a working dryer.  Civilisation would cease.  I was able to order some special solenoids from the US over the internet that arrived in time to avert the collapse of my business.  Thanks guys.  My world would be a much smaller place without you.

General notes on operating a B&B.  Modest income well below national wage levels.  Must have no mortgage, or have another off-property income.  Must actually like people of all ages, shapes, colours, nationalities, political persuasions and abilities.  Must have sense of humour to handle odd-ball situations.  Also a sense of humour highly recommended for guests and travellers as well.  From experience, a very robust sense of humour required for travelling in Africa.  You will find it more than matched by the beautiful African sense of humour, well developed as a survival strategy.  That is if it isn’t trumped by the need to earn a crust, an even more important survival strategy.  The operator must also be flexible in working hours.  Actually, it is a pretty slack job, but with bursts of activity according to guest comings and goings.  

And finally the operator must get satisfaction from providing a generous, relaxing, renewing, educational, enjoyable experience.  In other words, my happiness depends on yours.  Having just written that, I think it could be a catch-call for world peace, but hey, I operate in a small sphere and only apply it to myself.  I take particular satisfaction in providing a wild experience for kids.  A few kids can’t handle it and may get technology withdrawal symptoms, but most like the wildness and the mystery of what is over the ridge? behind the next tree?  Dr Suzuki has remarked (paraphrasing) that kids these days get 90% of what they know about the natural world from the television but there is no substitute for touching, smelling and feeling.  It engages the emotional parts of the brain and has a much more powerful influence.  Now that there is remote sensing of brain activity without the inconvenience of drilling holes in kids heads and shoving wires into the brain, the research seems to be getting greater approval from the ethics committees.  Can’t imagine why.  Anyway, it seems that kids brains really light up in all areas and prioritise memories that have emotional content.  A BGO.  Blinding Glimpse of the Obvious.  Scientists should have saved the expense of machines costing a million dollars each and just asked Mary Poppins.  

Very relaxed wallaby

Very relaxed wallaby

I took this pic a few minutes ago just outside my kitchen window.  A very relaxed wallaby just 4m from my kitchen sink.  I have seen a lot of wallabies , and today I have seen at least a dozen without looking for them, but I have never seen one sitting on it’s bum before.  Nothing to do with the blog, but I thought you would like to see it.

Operating a B&B

I have been operating a B&B continuously now for a quarter of a century now, so I guess I am getting close to being qualified to say something about it.  I do so with a little trepidation as many dear readers will be regular guests and will think I am giving them a report card or something.  So let me say up front ‘I love youse all!’  Am I out of trouble yet? Well nearly all.  I might get to some horror stories.

Like most things in my life, I got into the business accidentally.  Everything important to that has ever happened to me has been an impossible outside chance that swept me along before I could even think about it.  Which is somewhat galling for a logical guy like me who thinks you should always sit down and carefully scrutinise your options.   Put somewhat better by Shakespeare in Macbeth “Can such things be, and o’ercome us like a summer’s cloud without our special wonder?”.  Don’t you hate that guy?  He always said it first.  Even emigrating to Oz was a quick decision as a result of freak meeting with a guy in a shower.  Don’t ask.

So I met this guy (Mike) doing exploration in the deserts of WA, got persuaded to buy some land on the Atherton Tablelands where I had never been, put up a house, got married, had kids, built other houses to keep this menagerie in, then his wife wants to move to Bris and I buy him out.  By this time you will have realised I am a straw in the wind without any self-determination.  Things just happen to me, and other people make the decisions.  When I first heard the phrase “path of least resistance”, I instantly knew what it meant, having trodden down it for a few decades.

Pardon my ramblings, comes with advancing years I’m told.  Which seems to be confirmed by my grandson Henry aged 3, whose years are advancing at exactly the same rate as mine, and he rambles all the time.  Meanwhile back at B&B I ended up with 3 dwellings.  Here I may draw the wrath of young families priced out of housing, asking how this idiot pom can accidentally end up with 3 houses when they are struggling to even raise a deposit for one.  Here I can only plead that not only have I been deprived of choices in my life, I have been dogged by good luck.  I seem to have been at the right place at the right time even though other people chose both the time and the place.   

So I leased the other 2 dwellings to families such as agricultural workers in the district.  Really nice people until I had the tenants from hell.  I totally failed to detect the whiff of sulfur and brimstone at the interview.  Or in Freudian terms, egotism and paranoia.  Relations went from bad to worse when their chooks died and my dog was accused of predation.  No blood, not a feather out of place.  Actually their kids and mine had fed them play dough.  Massive amount of salt, and they had died from dehydration.  Amazing how evidence cannot convince the paranoid.  I cannot imagine their convoluted thoughts as they constructed my motivation for such a heinous crime.  The result of this unfortunate confrontation and considerable stress for my wife Hilary was to totally forget leasing and consider B&B where people would only be here for a few nights.   By now you know me and I do what I am told, so B&B it was.

OK, so I seem to have gotten round to talking about how I got into B&B, but not actually talking about what it is like.  Part 2 sometime later.

Water Water Everywhere

“Nor any drop to drink”.   Samuel Coleridge from the “rime of the ancient mariner”.  Well that was the situation here at Possum Valley recently.  Showers or storms every day adding to the abundant flow in the creek.  As major parts of the globe fight politically or militarily for access to water here in North Queensland we enjoy the beautifully abundant season called “The Wet”.  Sure there are inconveniences, but having travelled the globe a bit, I can tell you that the lack of clean water, or in some places any water, is one of the worst catastrophes a society can face.  Even where it is available, distribution can be problematic and contentious.  Look at Israel/Palestine, or don’t, for those of you with delicate sensibilities.  The Israelis have appropriated the lion’s share of the water by force of arms.  

Meanwhile, back in Possum Valley, the “nor any drop to drink” was the imminent threat for Maple Cottage as the ram pump failed to deliver any water to the top tank.  There is no rainwater input to the top tank.  I had tried to set up a system using rusty old tin sheets from the tip, but found it had to be out in the open as under the canopy, it clogs with leaves on a weekly basis.  I suspected a leak in the delivery pipe to the top tank caused by rodents or melomys or such.  The delivery pipe goes about 600m some parts buried in the open spaces, and some parts through the rainforest on the surface.  It is not possible  to dig a trench in the rainforest as there is a mass of surface roots.  A ditchwitch would be jammed up in the first meter, and to use hand tools would be a project comparable to the pyramids with a workforce of one.  However, the rainforest does the job of burying the pipe for you if you leave it for a couple of decades.  Also for a couple of hundred meters the pipe is buried deep, 600mm deep where I convinced a Telstra worker that the trench for a telephone line he was installing would be really suitable for my water pipe.  

So I set about a search for the leak in the pipe on the exposed parts.  I found two minor leaks caused by animal/pipe predation, and was hopeful that fixing them would restore some water to the top tank (45m above the pump and a considerable friction head as well as only 19mm pipes).  No result.  I spent days doing tests to find the flow rates at various places.  I tried to flush the pipes with reverse flow by carrying water up to the top and running it back down the pipe to check for a blockage.  I installed an outlet at the top tank to back-flush the whole pipeline.  I spent days grovelling through the rainforest digging up the sections the rainforest had covered getting so wet and muddy in the rain.  I thought it could be the rubber non-return valve in the the pump so I refurbished it, then replaced it with a new one.  I honed the clapper valve with valve grinding paste using my pillar drill at slowest speed.  I replaced the top 50m of pipe with new pipe in case there was a blockage.  

For 10 days I got muddy and bloody from scratches and leeches before I reluctantly concluded it was my worst nightmare, an underground leak in the 250m of buried section where I could never find it.  So yesterday I resolved to totally replace the pipeline, and chose the shortest path that would require the least trench digging.  This would require much effort and expense.  I macheted a path through the rainforest so I could pace out the distance hence the length of pipe required.  About 550m I determined.  As I came near the end of  my survey, I noticed a patch of moss and boggy ground only a few meters square.  And a little spring in the middle.  I dug down and 200mm down found the pipe with a fountain of water blasting out.  You beaut!  I had left the pump going for the 10 days in the hope that it would give away the leak, and it finally paid off.  The pipe was nowhere near where I thought I had laid it 30 years ago.  After 10 days hard labour, it took 20 minutes to fix.  

I took my flowmeter (an old battered saucepan) up to the top tank and recorded 5580 litres of water per day.  Top performance.  

I love living at Possum Valley, but as anyone living out in the sticks will tell you there are moments of frustration and difficulty.  In the city you can can pick up the phone to get an expert to deal with utility problems, at some or considerable cost.  In my situation, I am the expert.  I have to fix it and there is nobody better equipped.  

Another way of looking at it is that I could have decided on day 5 that I couldn’t find the leak.  That would have been a reasonable decision.  But I didn’t, and got lucky saving heaps of effort and money.  It is curious how what people call luck, can take a lot of hard work.

Catching Up

I have had a 2 month visit from an old friend, Richard from the UK.  Leeds to be precise.  When I say old, we both have to admit to that, but also old in the sense that we haven’t seen each other in 45 years.  Like many people we rediscovered each other by web search and e-mail and have been in contact for the last few years.  6 months ago his wife of 30 years died after accident and medical mishaps piled up and a decision to end pointless life support had to be made.  Though on the other side of the planet, I could tell how hard it was for him and daughter to make that decision, even though the facts were clear and the answer plain.  After dealing with the formalities and other changes, Richard decided to come to Oz to see how things look from the other way up, take a break, and perhaps adjust perspectives.

Yes, I have been gassing on with Richard quite a bit as we catch up on a 45 year gap.  We did the same course at uni, lived in the same flats, drove to Turkey in an old Thames van donated by his parents, and I even dated his sister for a short while before she dumped me.  That was after I went in Richard’s mini to Italy with her and another girl.  That trip to Turkey was the furthest afield he had ever been before coming to OZ and we both remember it vividly, though mostly different bits.  I stayed in the vicarage with his parents in a delightful village in Suffolk.  Yes, plenty of reminiscing.  I had warned him of the possible dire weather possible in the wet season including incessant rain and scary cyclones, but the weather has made a liar of me.  It has been very good with just showers and storms rather than monsoon and tempest.  Today it was a chilly 14C in the morning but sunny all day warming up to 27C.  Before coming he did say that he would risk the ravages of the ‘wet’ as it would put a big hole in the British winter.  He has made a sound choice.  He arrived 19th Jan and leaves next Sun.  

I met him at Cairns Airport and we had exchange recent pics of ourselves to avoid the embarrassment of walking past each other at arrivals.  But we easily recognised each other.  And we agree we find the other to have much the same character as 45 years ago.  I guess you are pretty much stuck with who you are at uni age.

Before coming, Richard did offer his labour for any project I may have in mind.  For the cottages, it is by far the slackest time of year.  Feb/Mar mostly only weekend bookings.  So I didn’t need help with the servicing.  I did press him into chainsawing and block-splitting.  I wanted some firewood for the guests using the sauna and there was a tree overhanging the back paddock blocking the view from the kitchen window when washing up.  So I decided to cut down a tree so I could see …. well…. more trees, but further away.  So I felled the tree just missing the workshop, which was also threatened by this tree if allowed to grow any larger.  Then we both worked cutting it up (I gave him the baby chainsaw), then the splitting.  A block-splitter is a heavy long-handled axe with a blunt vee.  I use it as a sledgehammer on the flat side.  I knew the tree would be a bastard to split because of twisted grain.  I could see that from the shape of its trunk and limbs even before I felled it.  But I didn’t tell Richard.  I did a demonstration splitting of a block or two before handing the axe to Richard.  I also didn’t mention to him that with my educated eye of 40 years of splitting, I gave him a bastard of a block.  After that, the only splitting that happened was me collapsing with side-splitting laughter.  He flogged and pounded that block till both ends were a pulpy mash without getting a single stick of usable firewood and he was reduced to sweaty despair.  He is bigger, stronger and fitter than me, but you have to be able to hit the same place as last blow.  5mm away is a totally wasted blow.  Cruel I know, but a bloke has to get some mean psychological satisfaction out of 40 years of practice and hard labour.  Stand aside son, this is how it is done.  

I also introduced Richard to the gentle art of septic tank digging.  Having found that contractors take twice the time and charge an infinite multiple of the cost of doing myself, I have devised a method of removing the lid then dealing with the contents with first shovel and then a steel bucket on stick.  That is valuable information for those of you not adept at the art.  But I had to do most of it myself as Richard had failed to bring gum boots with him.  I mean what an oversight!  Surely gum boots should be first on the travel list to Australia.  Mine didn’t fit as he has feet suitable for water skiing.   

We have got on well.  Actually, I have just gone to recharge my red wine and told him we have got on well, as he is cooking dinner.  Also asked if I may put a blog up that takes the piss out of him as the newbie pom splitting blocks.  He agreed.  It has also been interesting to realise that we were both very much in the same situation when we graduated as mechanical engineers, but life is chaos, and like two skis released down a mogul field, or two leaves dropped in the same place in a creek, our lives and fortunes quickly diverged.  With father and grandfather both vicars, and 2 great grandfathers vicars, I think it fair to say he has a very strong moral streak with an ethos of serving.  With my background of staunch atheists, I think I can make the claim to have a strong streak of hedonism.  Slightly moderated by the realisation that if we don’t all treat each other well, life will turn to shit.  

This is by way of an apology for not writing a blog for so long.