Festive Season Mayhem

Well, I survived the festive season …. just.  It was was a hectic time with onslaught followed by disaster, calamity and catastrophe, and yet interspersed by timely events and good fortune.

First the onslaught.  That was the arrival of my daughter Josie, husband Kairne, and children Huon and Evie.  This was all good though it upended my bachelor squalour and tranquility.  I went to great lengths (mopping the floor and a couple of other things) to scrub the place up to avoid reproving looks from my daughter but she saw right through me with “you’ve just done this haven’t you?”.  Can’t fool her for a moment.  My other grandkids, Henry and Philp, who live just down the road, 15 km, came over for quality time with their cousins and got along really well.  They devised and executed a plan to cut a track down from my house to the nearest creek.  About 150m through the rainforest.  They were armed with two machetes I had made for Henry and Philip and a tree lopper for the boys.  Evie followed behind marking the tack with coloured ribbons.  It was so good for them with excitement, adventure and accomplishment to hack their way through rainforest.  I was pressed into service to create a sign “Blue Walk”, which I routed into a board which they painted.  They were so proud of their achievements, they invited the guests from both cottages for a grand opening ceremony.  From such events are childhood memories made.

Then disaster.  At the height of summer and the Xmas rounds of feasting, my guests at Maple Cottage reported the fridge wasn’t working wee enough, though the freezer compartment was doing OK..  I was surprised because it wasn’t more than two months old.  I gently inquired if the door had been open a lot and was assured by the person I was speaking to that it hadn’t.  I resolved to buy a new one ASAP, but there were 4 holiday days in a row.  As soon as the shops opened, I got a new bigger, and I hope a better one.  But too late for some of their food.  Due to major systems failure, I offered them a free stay.  There was no point in trying to get the 2 month old fridge fixed under warranty, as it was unlikely a techie would get to look at it before the middle of January at best.  So I put it on me veranda to test.  After a few hours cooling, the fridge temp was down to 2C using my best thermometer.  Just as promised on the dial setting.  My best guess is that the Chinese manufacturers had failed to build in enough spare capacity to deal with Xmas in tropical Australia, and my guests had failed to correctly estimate the time the doors were actually open.  There were 2 families with 12 people and a bunch of teenagers who are notorious for opening the fridge door and just staring, hoping to chance on some tasty morsel.  Oh well, I now have a spare fridge.

Next was the calamity.  My next guests at Maple, on a wet and windy night had the power go off.  A large tree with many branches had fallen onto the kitchen roof and brought down the transmission wires.  Of course it was late at night in wild and windy weather, so nothing could be done until morning.  The damn tree, although standing on a steep slope had managed to fall uphill and two of it’s branches had crushed part of the roof, leaving it hung up on the roof at an angle of 60 degrees.  Probably just as well it was close to the cottage, so it didn’t get up much speed before hitting the cottage.  Otherwise if could have crushed half the cottage.  There was no point trying to restore power without first removing the tree.  It is dangerous to cut branches overhead and suicidal reaching up with a chainsaw.  The safe answer is having a cherry picker to get over the top and have the timber fall below.  I don’t have a cherry picker.  It’s Xmas and a week at least before I could hire one.  But I do have a pole saw with a 5m reach.  the manufacturers generously add the operator’s imagined height to the extension of their machine to arrive at a figure for ‘reach’.   I toiled from 7am until 2pm to get the tree off the roof onto the ground.  Then I could tackle reconnecting the transmission wires, which involved much climbing up and down of ladders and some scrub cutting of every thorny plant to ever invade Possum Valley.  Oh, and a few stinging trees just for variety.  I got the power on after about a 24 hour interruption.  Of course, due to my policy of free stay for major service failure, the guests were offered a free stay.  I was knackered.  One of the hardest days for a long time.  I ached everywhere.  I thought I would be paralyzed by stiffness the next morning, but I was surprisingly mobile.

Whilst still licking wounds, came catastrophe.  Early morning lightening woke me up in the dark to ponder if I should rush round disconnecting parts of the electrical equipment to save it blowing up.  Though I could see the lightening with my eyes closed, I decided from the sound that it was cloud to cloud lightening.  Long rolling thunder for cloud lightening, and abrupt cannon fire for ground strikes.  So I went back to sleep.  Problems in the morning with no output from the hydro.  I quickly did tests for the transmission to determine the problem was the generator was not producing any power.  I’m fucked and suspecting fatal short in the generator coil windings.  Enter stage right, a long time guest and friend who happens to be a techie for BOM and arrives that morning.  Always willing to help, Martin spends the next two days with me to track down the failure and determine the problem is a bridge rectifier .  We are mislead by trying to substitute another rectifier which is also a dud.  We finally patch in a component pillaged from defunct equipment that looks nothing like the part it replaces ….. but it works!  Always include a techie in your circle of friends.  Thank you Martin.

We have volts!

Simultaneous with this was the possum wars.  Techie friend’s wife had a problem with possums living in the roof and decided to evict them, perhaps for hygiene related problems, but being a sensitive person, couldn’t bear the thought of them evicted and homeless.  So alternative accommodation had to be built and affixed to the cottage.  This was more in my field of expertise, that is turning junk into something useful, so I proposed an old sheet of corrugated iron could be used as a durable home.  This was met with considerable skepticism until I demonstrated the details of rolling it up, putting a wooden floor inside and closing the ends with a hole for access and these log-like comfy homes mounted under the eves.  I left them with chicken wire ladders and tools to block up the possum holes to the roof after they had vacated at night.  This was the start of my guests learning experience about how strong, clever and persistent possums can be.  Perhaps I should have briefed them about how difficult it is to keep possums out from my 45 years of experience, but there is nothing like learning on the job.  3 days and nights of hammering and banging I think has excluded them from the roof space, but despite enticements of banana in the new luxury apartments which were eaten, I don’t think they have moved in.

I have recently had other invasions by persistent creatures, namely grandsons.  They are so active in disrupting my normally sedate existence.  They want to do stuff, and make stuff all the time, however, they fixed their sights on the guests in Maple Cottage.  I warned the guests of their peril that undue tolerance would lead the kids to exploit them and talk their ears off, but to no avail.  They deserted me to meet new people and were invited to lunch and afternoon games before preparing a sauna.  I am in awe of their optimism and openness to new people, young and old, and it would seem churlish and mean to curtail friendly advances.  Feedback from guests would suggest that it was not unwelcome.

Yesterday I saw a young cassowary that wandered out as I was hacking drooping trees off the track.  Only a little above knee high at the shoulder, it watched me for a minute before vanishing into the trees.  Today I was sprawled over my veranda chair with my leg over the armrest when a spangled drongo  decided my big toe was a good perch.  It folded its wings and settled down to look around until we made eye contact when it realised its dreadful mistake and flew away.

Feeding Ducks

I only have 2 ducks, so you may think feeding them a trivial task, especially as they trudge up the hill each morning with plenty of rest stops, to present themselves at my house for the daily feed of coarse grains.  So this morning I put 2 scoops of grain into their feeding bowl (an old saucepan) and dump it outside on the patio.  Then from nowhere 4 scrub turkeys turn up and the situation gets political.  The scrub turkeys try to dart in to get a share but the power politics and hierarchy comes into play.  The ducks are twice the weight of the turkeys, but the turkeys are much quicker and more aggressive.

So I have deduced that in the pecking order, the big male duck is boss and doesn’t take shit from anybody.  Second in status is an old and very cranky male scrub turkey with a long pendulous bright yellow wattle that charges at and scares the female white duck with wild charges and flapping wings.  He can frighten her away from the feeding bowl.  When frustrated from his attempts at plundering the feed bowl, he spends considerable effort terrorising the other scrub turkeys.  Just out of spite it seems, as they wouldn’t dare get in his way.  The 3 subordinate turkeys have their own pecking order I haven’t quite figured out as they look so similar.  The white duck tolerates the 3 lower status turkeys eating out of the same bowl, and sometimes so does boss duck, but he doesn’t like sharing it with the boss turkey.  However, the turkey is much, much faster than the duck and can grab a gullet full of grain from under the duck’s beak.  Until it gets too greedy and gets a duck’s bill pounding on it’s head a couple of times.  Meanwhile, the white duck isn’t getting fed, which is rather the object of the exercise.

So in steps me as the ultimate boss, the alpha male, top of the heap ruler of Possum Valley, to bring authority, order and fairness to this rabble of feuding birds.  So I stand guard and gently encourage the white duck it is OK to come back to the bowl and feed again.  The boss turkey races round approaching from every angle including darting under the house to ambush from another angle, but with some difficulty and racing around I manage to thwart his efforts and occasionally lob a stick of firewood at him to assert my authority.  He quickly learns that 3m is sufficient distance to avoid my missiles and continues to test my defenses.  Meanwhile, the low status turkeys have taken their chance and snuck in to plunder the grain scattered round the bowl by the duck’s clumsy eating habits.  This enrages the boss turkey and he plunges straight through the amicable group of feeding birds, to scatter them in all directions and vent his anger.

About this time I deem that my ducks have managed to get enough to sustain them for another day and think I’ll go for a rest and a cup of tea before facing the other challenges of the day.

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