Lurking Things And Pudding

10th January 2018.

Petal-Podge

The waves that tickle Melbourne’s Brighton beach are more bonsai than Bondi and there’s a tidal range little more than the height of an Aussie’s Ashes winning thumbs up. Yet for a pom caution is a given. Things lurk in Port Phillip Bay.

It’s less than six months since news desks from Anipernza to Zacatecas posted shock and awe photos of teen Sam Kinzay who immersed lower legs for a cool down after AFL practice. Stood still for far too long he had his feet reduced to gore by amphipods suckered into thinking him dead meat. Why the surprise? For the past 350 million years, give or take, the shrimp-like beasties, ‘sea fleas’ if you will, have been carcass nibbling in rock pools. And Port Philip is just that, a rock pool, albeit a gargantuan one.

Nobody’s been reported eaten since young Sam, mind you. Yet has any boffin cogitated whether Neanderthals paddled? The thought furrowed my brow when last week at five to midnight and sipping a mug of rooibos tea – a habit inspired by Alexander McCall Smith’s ‘No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency’ – I stood a couple of steps back from the water’s edge. Room enough to toss a 10 cent coin. Head or tail? Tail. Good. A head, and my New Year resolution would have meant constructing a catapult.

For on a bench hidden from the foreshore the annoying drone couple sit side by side smirking shamelessly. Twenty-somethings, VR goggles, sized like those old school seaside viewing binoculars, strapped to their bonces, they fly their little weapon-like objects on these drowsy summer evenings about my ears, and around those of other beach strollers and their mutts, like thumping undiscriminating, potshot worthy, zizzing mozzies.

Instead, after the firework dazzles and their drifting cordite clouds above the towers of CBD had celebrated 2018’s arrival, the ‘tail’ meant I simply had to be nice to ‘Petal-Podge’. Yes, I’ve given the back-yard possum, the catalyst of the catapult notion, a name reflecting both its diet and profile. A sweet but evidential snap had the ruddy marsupial blissfully munching the wisteria. There’re also before and after photos of the roses. But a resolution is a resolution. I’ve even gone so far as to show the mug shot around.

2018 has arrived

“Wanna see something cute?” I said, conscious of my gritted teeth.

Maja, way north of six foot, Serbian genes, gave Petal-Podge a mere momentary glance. “Urgh! Sorry. I hate possums. They scare the crap out of me. They hang out in the tree beside my house making horrible noises. Rather than walk under the tree I give it a huge wide berth getting to the front door. One pissed on my mum’s hair. Made it stink of eucalyptus. Couldn’t get it out. They also shit on my car. And you can’t kill them. The Government stuffs you a $10,000 fine if you do.”

“10,000?!”

“10,000. Dr. Bob told me that after telling him I shooed away two possums canoodling on the pavement. The lovers ran straight under a car’s wheels. Tragic. That’s $20,000 right there.”

“That wasn’t really your fault.”

“Yes, it was. I instigated it.”

“Hmm. Perhaps the possum I spied chewing on traffic light cables at the busy Moorabbin/Hampton junction was a relative seeking payback. On your way home isn’t it?”

A look of horror crossed Maja’s face. “Anyway,” she said, “now I go red if I see the police. When I told Petrina what Dr. Bob said she panicked. Didn’t you Petrina?”

Petrina, south of five foot, Greek heritage, nodded vigorously. “I did! Blade, you know, one of my huskies? he bought a headless possum into the house and it was dead.”

“But… er… Dead? Was it really Petrina?”

“Yeah, it was. It was dripping blood all along the corridor. I didn’t know what to do because of the fine. So I buried it deep in the garden. Otherwise I’d have worried having to save for years and years.”

“That’s awful,” I sympathised. “You should have chucked the carcass into the bay. It’d likely vanish without trace. That simple.”

So to Monday’s result from the Sydney Cricket Ground. Another England loss. The Ashes series gone four-zip. Doh! I should have expected it. It’s not as if there weren’t clues. A monitor at the MSG’s wacking edifice hailed England off break spinner Moeen Ali bowling ‘offbread’. The Plan B to dislodge Cap’n Smith and Co., perhaps. Certainly crumbs of insight that help fathom my homeland’s stuffing. On whom could I vent my frustration?

Offbread?

Best I resist temptation. Instead I’ve inspired myself to concoct bread and butter pudding. Comfort food before any blues set in. Might even go so far as to wish Petal-Podge “goodnight”, if I survive this evening’s beach drones. Problematic these resolutions.

 

Illustration © 2018 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood

Advertisements

Mince Pies and Sea Life

11th December 2017

PenguinsCrop

Instinctive anxiety

Continuing my humpty doo life, the lure of being entertained by the extraordinary songstress Renée Geyer had me pootling towards Bird’s Basement jazz club. Where King Street cuts beneath the Flinders to Southern Cross PT rail I blinked. Purposefully to inform, a poster’s been pasted to the wall opposite Melbourne’s Sea Life aquarium. ‘Seal’ it announces, giving a forthcoming date. Course, it’s apropos the Brit singer-songwriter and his sole Melbourne gig. However, if the penguins can read they’ll need counselling. Weird home aside, cancel Happy Feet. Education meets exegesis.

Hence, at this time of seasonal cheer and cherries, I instinctively wonder at my own learning curve, and with it the process of coping, better still adapting, begun in County Antrim, continued in Devon, being furthered here. And I’m in good company.

Organising the mince pie display and kale in the organic shop tucked away in the local suburb of Patterson there’s Mandy, her accent so familiar. Our schools in Northern Ireland weren’t far apart. The distance between hers in Belfast and mine in Lisburn a mere eight miles as the crow flaps. A ridiculously small world. What she left she doesn’t overly miss. Calls it “Shite”. Now she and her bearded Aussie underling George provide a bantering service that ensures my psychological stability.

Patterson

Today the need was great. I had mentally prepared a double topic: an ‘Australian School for Lepidoptera’ and the necessity for school inspectors.

The SMS I received from Victoria State Emergency Service warned of flooding risks but failed to mention caterpillars. Cabbage white butterflies are so named for good reason. The clue’s in the word ‘cabbage’. The wriggly green caterpillars cause brassica massacres, full stop. So who taught uncountable little buggers to chomp my knock-your-socks-off peppery backyard nasturtiums to stalks? Can’t be their inborn tendency, surely? Too late wagging my finger.

That said, in the Devon corner Somerset CCC all-rounder Craig Overton hails from, and where I grappled with O-levels, doing different is part of the everyday. Like to tar and feather the school inspector critical of kids mucking in with the sardine harvest. Hang convention. Hence, for Overton to pitch up in Adelaide to receive his England cap and pass the second Ashes Test – a tough exam – with flying colours, butterflies free, was exemplary.

Loaf and bottle his secret, he top scored in England’s first innings. No debutant wearing the three lions has done that batting No9 for 118 years. Then, pink ball in hand, four wickets in the match. The first, Aussie skipper Steve Smith received a Jaffa. Indeed an all-round gig. Later gilded by a bonzer plough-dive of a catch in the outfield. No fault Overton’s, England’s consecutive loss.

My subject matter though had to stay under wraps.

Mandy, normally so sunny, wasn’t. Eyes flashed annoyance behind her specs. Astonishing.

I gravitated towards George. “$20 of your scrummy cherries, kind sir,” I said.

“No worries. I’ll treat you a fresh box.” Casting Mandy an amused glance he disappeared out the back. I occupied myself scrutinising the mortgage-necessary cost of mangoes and eco laundry liquid. For the mince pies I’d maybe need to sell my West Country cottage.

Upon George’s return he dilly-dallied, hand-weighing. Flavour checks repetitious, cherry-juiced fingers needy of apron wipes. Beside the front counter’s indolent scales Mandy grew proper narked. Her nails tapping a staccato. An irritating noice. Best option, bravely distract her. What else food-wise could I do with? Ah, yes. “And a box of ‘Kangaroo Island’ eggs. Found they’re super scramblers,” I said, adding, “Such a confusing country this. Of the marsupials surely it’s the platypus that does the laying?”

Mandy joshed not a jot. “Is that a box of twelve? Or do you want six. We sell them by the half dozen, too. AREN’T YOU DONE THERE YET, GEORGE?”

“Twelve,” I answered. “Please.”

Still George dithered.

“GEORGE, HURRY UP WILL YOU, THERE’S A QUEUE HERE!”

Turning round I nodded a smiley hello to my only fellow customer, a lady absorbed in making biscuit choices.

“Our Mandy’s hangry,” said George, finally squeezing gently passed her to reach the scales. “Had to stop her munching the mince pies. She’s smashed them. Told her the price each.”

“I couldn’t help it. They’re so pretty with their pastry stars. My hand became a rake.” A confession. “So cross with myself. I’m starving in penance.”

“And easily wound up,” chortled George. “$21.63 for the cherries.”

“Bloody fine guess, mate,” I praised. “you’re living proof of gut instinct.”

A nonchalant shrug. A trio of cherries subtracted, he took my dollars and offered Mandy a shortbread from under the counter. She snatched it gleefully. “You’re so sackable.”

“Aha. If I’m not here next time you come you’ll know why,” said George, passing over my booty.

“Absolutely. She’ll have eaten you,” I said, wolfing a cherry and awarding it my seal of approval. “Either of you ever thought butterfly brats need schooling?”

“Not a day passes,” smiled Mandy, adapted back to sunniness. What with the caterpillars and the cricket instinct tells me I have some catching up to do.

But sometimes we just can’t help ourselves.

 

Illustrations © 2017 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood.

Little Incidents and Mower Speak

29th November 2017.

Weed scuffler

“I’ll start at point eight, drop to point six.” Mower speak.

Beard and barnet close-clipped, smart as a Brighton hedge, Garry the Gardener currently holds the bragging rights. Introduced to me by a friend, a Russian lass, he’s out the front. A MCG member and one who, before happy senescence, played in the Victoria Districts, Garry loves his cricket. On hands and knees he’ll scuffle under foliage for a weed as if it’s red leather lost under the covers. And jolly good luck to him. For his is the kingdom of iffy spiders, buzzing biters and million-legged horrors.

Today, after an early doors fag and having switched sandy thongs for dusty trainers he grabbed his secateurs. Offensively. Sad rose heads targeted like a Mitchell Starc attack on Joe Root’s noggin.

Here in the back yard I flump with a mug of almond milk coffee kept hot by the air around. England’s 10-wicket ‘Gabbatoir’ defeat in the first Ashes skirmish niggling. Above, a red wattlebird is busy, bough hopping, hanging this way and that, nectar-sipping from jacaranda thimbles. Below, on the patio bricks, sun-wilts the profuse fall of purple, each individual a little incident of the bird’s attentions.

I suppose though any ‘little incident’ has degrees of outcome. A burning example from the past fortnight? Twiglet Aussie Nathan Lyon’s spinning fingers raging havoc. Through peckishness and a toaster a Brisbane grandstand evacuated. The whole caboodle. Press, scorers and players. The fire brigade scrambled. Cricket suspended. Mr Lyon did say sorry. “(The toast) popped up first and I wasn’t happy so I put it back down and I got carried away watching the cricket,” he explained.

Frummm-frummm. The yank of a starter chord. Putt-putt. Chord again. Noisy roar. Smoke and dust. The point eight, no doubt.

Okay, I shall be fair and absolutely not get distracted. Poms too can fall prey to a little incident. Like last Friday’s involving my widgy Fiat 500. A staggeringly high, hard, metal- grinding supermarket kerb saw me clambering frazzled into a cab whose radio had Australia at 76-4 first knock. Cabbie Paul, a curmudgeonly Londoner who got lost years before me, took the scenic route to avoid blue lights, seriously crumpled cars and an ensuing tail-back on the Melbourne arterial highway. The journey gave opportunity for a random witter.

I chuntered about a bad for budget big hole-in-pocket insurance excess. He whinged about not liking hot Oz sun nor its cancer risks. Had a signed photo of a young Indian batting talent – feted as the next Tendulkar – killed stone dead by a bouncer, “stashed away somewhere” in his box room. And having tagged along with several cricket tours including South Africa v West Indies he saw himself a pretty fine judge of a cricket match. “England’ll probably win,” his last words to me as I disembarked.

Course Paul wasn’t aware of the ‘butt’.

So straight on to the upshot: wicky-batter Jonny Bairstow snaffled at third man. Rattled concentration cum brain-melt brought on by an Aussie gob harking back to a surprisingly highbrow meeting.

Mr Bairstow’s matey rugger club style “‘Ello” to newbie Aussie opener Mr Bancroft in a Perth pub a few weeks ago was savoured and stored. “You shouldn’t head-butt our mates,” growled Bancroft’s pugnacious vice-skip David Warner, his timing immaculate. The moment pivotal to day four’s play. Just a quiet sledge, of course. Meant for Mr Bairstow’s lugholes alone. But oops, overheard by the stump microphone. Nez Meadows, she of a popular radio station, earwigged and mischievously broke the story. Fall out gushy as Bali’s Mount Agung. Prattle of handcuffs and gallows.

Little incidents can get under the skin, metal or otherwise.

“I’m off,” said Garry. I wallet-fumble. “Adelaide Saturday,” he adds. “Second Test’s day-night. Pink ball. I’ve played with a pink ball. Hard. Goes sideways. Heat-seeks helmet badges. You know, the ones with three lions.”

“A flaming dandy Lyon’s to boot.” Too cryptic a riposte, perhaps.

Clackerty-clackety, the lawn mower is audible being trundled back up the pavement. How quickly time passes keypad tapping. It dawns that for a lovely job done Garry has given me an hours-to-dollars discount. I text a query. “All good,” Garry replies. Joyful lesson learned. Little incidents can also lead to a little kindness. Even to a pom.

Ting. Another text. Garry. “See it as a favour to our mutual friend.” Ah.

I feel like some more breakfast. Call it brunch. Perhaps a nibble of toast and Roses English marmalade. Point eight it’ll hit the spot. A jacaranda flower to a wattlebird for want of a better comparison.

Illustrations © 2017 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood.

Gut Feelings and Tip-Top Life

21st November 2017.

Naughty bin rummager

The week of the first Ashes Test up in Brisbane there I go getting distracted by the wondrous nature of Melbourne’s late November. Centre stage the leaf-heavy, pollen-shedding London plane tree overhanging the front garden that has me reaching for the antihistamines. A tree, I emphasise, no different on the face of it to the countless number that beautifully shade swanky suburbia from the seasonal furnace.

Happily, yesterday evening, Monday bin day, the sun took the usual time out – sucking up the daylight to drown it in Port Phillip bay. Left in the balmy gloom to put out the coloureds – blue for the recyclables, green for the niffy stuff – I dragged mine to join a malodorous line. Goodly good that fragrant inhalations of Chinese star jasmine and lemon blossom concealed my plastic tubs, harborers of funky chicken mince morsels and the odd tapioca noodle, leftovers of generous Thai takeaway. Taken as a whole, the street bungs out grot of an eclectic menu mix.

Cue a green grocer. Having shinned up the tree to a branch tip, not a carrot or kumquat to his name, he started drumming loud and obvious in search of a bonk and self-preservation. Him and a zillion of his kind. I’m talking cicadas.

Why Aussies began calling this particular bunch ‘green grocers’ defeats me. I understand the ‘green’ bit because that’s the bug’s colour. It’s the ‘grocer’ bit that baffles. A mangling of ‘grosser’ or maybe corrupting the German ‘grösse’? Simply poking fun at market veg sellers that lustily and repetitive chant things such as “Caulies a dollar each! Lovely cauliflowers!” doesn’t quite cut it either. So I’m given to thinking its simply a name that sounds nice. A reasonable bet as other cicada kinds are known as the ‘fishing reel’, the ‘water sprinkler’ and .. um… ‘whiskey drinker’. I suppose further investigation is warranted.

What’s certain is that to produce their racket, an exotic accompaniment to a dusk glass of Shiraz, the green grocer lad has a hollow design for upping the percussion volume. By contracting and relaxing abdominal tymbals – a pair of ribbed muscles – the green grocer has a natural gift to be among the noisiest on God’s Earth. Trrrrr-krr-krr-krr-krr. Which, I hazard, in translation means: “Birds, bugger off, unless of course you’re a sweetie-pie cyclochila australasiae in which case: hi, how ya doin’!” An ad nauseam low-tech high-end Tinder.

High-end drummer

Which was all good and dandy until a rude interruption. Wondering if chirps exists in the cicada lexicon to describe the sudden violent thrashing in the plane tree’s upper reaches, I guessed at an outsized leaf-gobbling possum being the cause. Wrong. A whacking great bat showed its mug. A flying fox. Pteropus poliocephalus. In comparison to a pipistrelle it’s like say a chihuahua to a Great Dane. And the critter had a lot to say for itself, keening a series of yippy-ow-wows, before flooping languidly away, scattering the pollen dust from off its furry torso and metre wide leathern wings. A dribble inducer doing a job best left to bees.

Still, the bat’s departure brought a silence broken only by the glug of poured Shiraz and my occasional sniffles. This way a late hour or two passed before hearing a heavy thud somewhere out in the night that I sought to ignore. Then that noise again. Yippee-ow-wow. Perhaps less shrill than before. ‘Flapsy’s’ back, I mused, sleepy now. A short-lived state. A clock tick before midnight, a spine-chilling rabbity scream right outside the open window. It was a toss up whether to get the torch or doona-dive in funk. Doona won. After best of three.

Come dawn and sleepless I was out busybodying. Across the street a green bin lay upended, rummaged. And a tell-tale reek of pee, familiar from memory of an English country duck shed. Thud explained. The solution to the squeal, yuk. On my patchy lawn, a disembowelled ringtail. The unlucky possum possibly considered as wrapped salad by naughty vulpes vulpes, a local descendant of 1870s hunting fodder imported by a suicidal Scot.

Pedestrian fox and flying fox, sound-alikes but yet so different. Double-bagged the sad corpse joined the Khao Soi and Larb Gai. Just in time. A heavy-engined roar. The routine hydraulic grab and dumpf. Evidence removed. Good. Goodly good.

So to a footnote on the green grocers. In his 1907 work Australian Insects, entomologist Walter Wilson Froggatt, the chap pooh-poohed when warning, “Do not under any circumstances introduce the cane toad up North”, proposed the ‘green grocer’ be called the ‘green Monday’. Quite plainly, a grand suggestion. All the better to match bugs, bins and gut feelings.

Now, about those Ashes.

 

Illustrations © 2017 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood

Kamikaze Cretin and Small Migrant Problem

10th November 2017

The kamikaze cretin

Having just returned from Germany to Melbourne’s eastern suburbs I can now whinge that Angela Merkel and I share a common issue – a migrant problem. Though, unlike the German chancellor’s, my headache exists in microcosm.

Let me shed light. Peckish and sleep deprived, my contents survey of the kitchen cupboard at 2.15 a.m. discovered an emergency bag of organic sweet popcorn. Wonderful. I flopped on the sofa, tore the bag open and chomped mindlessly, listening to night chitters and hisses. A possum party. Whether common brushtails or ringtails I didn’t give a fig. I just wanted zizz.

In what seemed like a heartbeat, the clock said 5.45. “Ah-EY-ah-EY! AHHH-EY-ah-EY!” A wattlebird. “Creature,” I chuntered before stumbling upstairs into a proper bed and back to snoozles.

The almighty bang jolting me from deepest slumber seemed only moments later. 11 a.m..

I thought the worst. A framed picture had dropped from a downstairs wall. Gum failure of a Bunnings purchased, so-called ‘damage-free hanging’? The Kung Fu Panda Dreamworks poster? Not my Picasso ‘Pigs’?! Heavy-hearted, I descended to see. No, both pictures were where they should be. So more likely a bird. Perhaps a Livingston honeyeater or a Cap’n Cook lorikeet? Nope, not a feather. French doors tight shut. Opening them, I poked my head out into scented air. Nothing to see but frenetic flies buzzing about much semi-moist possum poo, neglected sun-crisped pot plants and, risen from between patio bricks, abandoned ant-made gritty bagels. Such inactivity in the latter was quite odd.

Ant bagel

Abandoned ant bagel

Then another bang. And another. Upstairs… Bathroom! I ascended cagily. And mystery solved. Pretty black and white, really. Indeed it was a bird, an angry magpie, beak-stabbing, wing-thrashing, talons fly-mesh ripping. Thumpa-thump-THUMP! The bathroom window turned mirror under the broad-leaf canopy of the street’s London plane trees, the kamikaze cretin assumed its reflection a vexing foe. Fine sport for three spectating brethren. They gushed appreciative liquid warbles while swaying on the electricity wire. On the inside, circumnavigating my shaving foam and razor, crawled a number of black ants. Ants? Oh, sugarplum fairies! A popcorn morsel lay by the sink. Fallen off my shirt probably. “HOLY MOLEY! THE POPCORN!”

I thundered back down the stairs.

The sofa teemed – ants up and along its sides, over and between the cushions. Hundreds of little doolally buggers. My head and ears began to itch. An honest psychosomatic response for a naive benefactor offering lifetime opportunities to antkind.

Undoubtedly via air bricks and under-floor heating ducts, out from the floor joint between kitchen and lounge erupted the great migration. Streams of ant rank and file triaged direction: sofa, dining table and, saints preserve me, kitchen surface. The hundreds had swelled to thousands. Like miniature orc armies of Middle Earth they marched .

A table mat shimmered fuzzily. The cause: a splotch of month-old takeaway Thai sweet dipping sauce, I guess. The kitchen’s magnetism proved to be errant grains of less-calorific-than-sugar-yet-yummy-sweet D-Ribose.

THUMP! Thumpa-thumpa-THUMP!

Stay calm. Don’t panic. One thing at a time. Solve the kamikaze cretin issue first, I thought. To that end, my unpacked suitcase held the answer: a novel bird scarer. Genius, me.

Stuffed between a Bruce Springsteen ’17 tour T-shirt and a pair of corduroy trousers, was a badger handspielpuppe (glove puppet). The Aachen artisan-made, souvenir was an impulse buy sentimentally triggered by Brit parliament sanctioned badger culls. Perhaps in later years it would remind me what ‘meles meles’ looked like.

I’d named the badger ‘Dick’ in honour of a chap who tickled my imagination: Richard of Cornwall. Gifted England’s crooked leg as a birthday present, Richard was a pre-Brexit, full-bearded, blue-blooded egotist. A tin entrepreneur, he pitched up in Aachen, bunged a few bribes, and had himself crowned King of Germany. That was in 1257. Even doing the maths while jet lagged, those events were long before Angela Merkel bade all migrants welcome.

Playful Aachen

Welcoming Weimar

“It’s not so simple,” said a friend in Cologne. “Ours is a different world. Every migrant has to adopt and adapt.” I pondered this being a migrant of sorts myself as I placed Dick sentinel, mouth agape, bang in front of the bathroom widow pane. Game on.

But battling the ants needed upping the ante. First assault, a noon hoover offensive, proved a major fail. The damned appliance choked and died. Next, chitin-body dissolving diatomaceous earth – a micro-gravel of tiny fossilized silica-shelled organisms – supported by strategically positioned stations of that old Aussie stalwart, sweet, poisonous no-mess Ant Rid.

Frau Angela, so much more humanitarian in her migrant response, deserves mercurial applause. As for myself, I mustn’t forget to replenish the cupboard of popcorn.

IMG_4648

 

Illustration © 2017 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood

Fragrantly Sheepish

15th August 2017.

Appreciating a novel treat

Touched by memory of my damp and mouldy cottage far away, small wonder the pang of homesickness.

Only last year, a short stretch from Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport, kangaroos mingled on Essendon Fields. Bearable. But no longer. Wind cracked a mint, large Aussie flag over the sterility of new concrete and asphalt. ‘Fields’ is a misnomer where the hardly finished Australian Events Centre now sits.

The hardly finished…

… and missing kangaroos

I’d been cajoled into attending a world first: a full-on, mind-boggling summit on Methylation, the trendy buzzword for the biochemical process in the thick of the body’s functions. Billions of teeny-weeny internal on-off switches control everything from stress response to detox. Some attending experienced their switches induced into manic mode. The fag-butt tray had spill-over by lunch on the first day. The scary stuff was about brain fog, pesticides and insalubrious allergens, especially mould.  Then again, bulldozers will always exist at one end of the sensitivity spectrum while canaries hold ground at the other.

By chance, over the chocolate brownies, coffee urn and English Breakfast teabags, I got a wink from one of the conference stars, Aussie-grown Nicole Bijlsma, speaker on the topic of hormone disrupting chemicals. Passionate about environmental medicine and the bubbly founder of the building biology industry she had launched a fledgling eco brand of household cleaners.

Nicole Bijlsma

I cheekily asked the elfin naturopath if any guinea pigs could vouch for them. She grinned wide-as-wide. “Not guinea pigs exactly, but they did have thick coats on,” she said. Intriguing.

The single order that arrived at her Sydney distributor for 180 litres of laundry wool wash was ginormous. That it was solely needed for ‘woolly jumpers’, no cardigans or knitted socks, well okay. However, the consignment costing the purchaser more to transport than buy did raise Nicole’s eyebrows. The destination? A remote Queensland sheep ranch.

In its raw state wool is a low price commodity. Seriously, any advantage gained in the harsh world marketplace is a good investment. Around shearing time the wily farmer had a bonza brainwave while surveying his grubby and smelly flock, the swirling dust, the poo-smeared rough grass, buckled post and wire, the occasional horizon-cutting eucalyptus – its leaves oily with antimicrobial and antiseptic wonderment. Simply crush those gum leaves for the smell of cleanliness, the true scent of Australia.

A novel treat those sheep had! Theirs a cleansing dip without bleach, ammonia or nasty chemicals. Only soft, white, eucalyptus fragrant fleeces, and the odd outback suds. The wool valuably transformed for export, his wallet fatter, the farmer was a vindicated, contented chap. His flock breathed easy.

I knew of one or two Exmoor farmers whose sheep were also mucky urchins. Toughies of tempest and snow to whom any hours of Aussie-style heat were rare as wyvern fart. Their fleeces a niffy matted entanglement from shit-and-mud, gorse bush tug-of-wars, beech hedge scritch-scratch and the ‘bear necessities’ of opportune hawthorns trees. To those poor buggers’ “bath, now!” remains the chemically potent. Skin rashes and lifeless wool, not to mention hacking coughs, the commonplace results. What if that could change?

Bath, now!

Could Nicole do export? A whiff of Australia in Wiveliscombe? I wonder.

Later Nicole divulged the woolly endorsement to the whole conference room. “Thank you, sheep!” she whooped into her speaker’s microphone, for me the summit highlight that did nothing to counter the ‘homesickness’. And I sing that like a canary.

Illustrations © 2017 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood

Chilli in Possum Central

4th August 2017

Chilli in Possum Central

There’s nothing like a superb result. Back in Blighty, Poms celebrated victory over South Africa at the Oval following a Moeen Ali hat-trick. This balanced the declaration it’s to be either electric vehicles or nothing that prompted a major power provider to announce a whacking great price hike. In Oz there’s a hands off the gas-guzzler approach. So swings and roundabouts Planet-wise.

That said, me, an eco-conscious run-of-the-mill Somerset mouse abroad, stood out like a sore thumb new renting in a smart neighbourhood awash with brutish BMWs, careering Porsche four-by-fours, dashing Range Rovers and a beefy Bentley. Best I try making a good impression.

Priority number one? To trade in my smoke-pluming toxic Toyota for something less embarrassing: a black no-frills Fiat 500. Cutely inoffensive to my mind and with the local Isuzu dealership acutely keen to be rid of forecourt clutter it was delight all round.

The little car soon attracted a pair of lady admirers: smart Margo, owner of the topiaries across the street, and her scruffpot gardener. Was the latter a kindred spirit? Not so much.

“Tailed and whiskered it’d look like a fat possum,” mused the scruffpot.

Margo nodded sagely.

Tailed and whiskered it’d look like a fat possum

Biting my tongue I chuckled dutifully. “Reckon possums could achieve magnificent topiary if trained. Are there numbers aplenty here to choose from?”

“It’s Possum Central,” said Margo grimly.

Worrying words. Clearly ‘The Possum Whisperer’ and ‘Pete the Possum Man’, citywide removers extraordinaire, just couldn’t keep pace. Understandably Melburnians resort to self-help.

Only a few chill evenings ago my backside was proper warmed by a good friend’s wood-burner. Lovely it was. Better still, the log pile was stacked as high and wide as her garage and, via wicker basket load after basket load, the wood kept on coming. Eucalyptus wood. Enough for five winters. The provider, a tall veteran, had stood in the corner of the front garden, its branches reaching out as sturdy possum bridges.

What roof games those marsupials played in the dead of night! So much chitter and gallop! Chainsaws roared. In a dawn till dusk operation the tree was lopped. Not just the offending limbs, the whole caboodle. Down to the stump. That said; my bum did feel toasty.

“There’s quite a lot of possum poo on my front path,” I mithered, keeping to myself how a full-on torch beam downright unfazed one darling. A gruff “Naughty possum” and wagged index finger didn’t do justice. Anyway maybe it wasn’t the same poppet whose little teeth girdled to death the passion-fruit vine in recent days. That bountiful straggler had flourished happily on my bygone balcony. But hey, what’s a few dollars and two years love and devotion in the scheme of life? Although trying to keep a grip, absolutely I was pissed off.

“Naughty possum!”

“Use Charlie Carp,” advised the scruffpot.

“Who’s Charlie Carp?” My query earned a stare from both women that I guess was reserved for the village idiot.

The scruffpot did the explaining. “It’s… a… fertilizer. You… hose… it… on… your… plants… Possums… hate… it.”

“It stinks,” said Margo.

I went and did my research. Winner of the Prime Minister’s Environmental Best Practice Award, seaweed enriched Charlie Carp is juiced totally from the aquatic pest cyprinus carpio, the European Carp. Ugh. Natural proteins and vital trace elements do abound. Apply one capful of organic wonderment per litre of water. But finding no link to possums I left it at that.

Last night a strong gusting wind from Port Phillip Bay that had rattled the three palm trees and denuded the two jacarandas had also blown a plastic chair against the patio’s concrete slab table. No big deal till noticing one of my two precious potted chilli plants was reduced to the skeletal. All the green chillies, all the leaves, GONE. The sickly-sweet odour from the cluster of calling cards identified a clambering opportunist. The BLOODY BASTARD!

I drove to Bunnings. In the rush hour.

Once home again I mixed the potion in a watering can and went a-sloshing. “Sorry, sorry!” I apologised to the resident praying mantis that, after an astonished blink, did an up-sticks for next door.

Resident praying mantis

Credit to Margo, she’d said it right. I smelled like a Brixham fishmonger whilst the patio had the whiff of a trawler deck. Honestly, the Toyota was less offensive. And this isn’t the worst of it.

Returning to Google I reluctantly quote Deakin University:

The bottom line: some products and home remedies work some of the time with some possums.”

Basically the factors are mood and menu.

In Possum Central my fingers are crossed that noses in the shrubbery twitch with distaste tonight. However, any raw chilli gobbler is probably up for a full carp curry. Whatever, I must eschew going over the top on a planetary scale.

Just hope neither ‘The Possum Whisperer’ nor ‘Pete the Possum Man’ tow away the Fiat.

 

Illustration © 2017 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood

Return of Bond

29th July 2017

Buried evidence

In the week it’s been announced a new James Bond film will hit cinemas in 2019 without yet naming the actor to play the suave secret agent, I admit having a ‘Bond’ issue myself.

Five Melbourne kilometres surely making a difference, escaping Moorabbin’s fad for high-rise ‘goldfish bowl’ apartments, befuddling wifi and cell phone tower bombardment has had me moving suburbs. Any excuses for living close to the beach. Full of brio while cutting back on pumpkin bread and Jameson’s, I exhort myself: bugger the posh Brighton budget.

Bugger the budget

Piffling niceties aside, the irksome all-hours door bangs and the full-to-the-gunnels garbage bins of communal existence are pro tem at an end. No more twilight life of half pulled blinds and strategically placed potted plants for fear of absent-minded immodesty catching me out.

After two and a half years feeling like a boxed third floor exhibit I just needed to plead the return of my tenancy bond. Getting back the hefty dollar amount a tenant lodges with Australia’s Residential Tenancies Bond Authority when first occupying a property – collateral against any havoc a numpty might cause – is common practice.

In my case, matters rested on my old apartment getting a professional scrubbing at my own cost. T’was fair enough, I supposed.

North of six-foot-four, and thus able to reach most ceiling-stuck mosquito husks and perplexing hob splatters, craggy-faced chain-smoker Italian Tony of Lilies Cleaning Services, lean as Richard Kiel’s Jaws, had agreed to do the necessary. But wanting to see the job with his own eyes before giving me a firm quote, he wrote 7.20 a.m. in his diary.

Hence dawn had barely cracked let alone broken when Tony popped a virgin fag behind his ear, and shot a longing glance at the lift. “Why you wanna take stairs?”

“C’mon Tony, it’s a couple of flights.”

Having ascended, chest heaving, he opened the balcony slider pronto to gulp in the early traffic’s carbon perfumes. Recovered, he scanned the empty kitchen-cum-diner-cum sitting room. He bent close and personal to the mopped floorboards and to the vacuumed bedroom carpet. The bathroom and the utility cubbyhole didn’t perturb. The balcony tiles only lightly furrowed his brow. I patted myself on the back. “All gotta be properly cleaned,” he said. “I do good job. The landlord he no bother check when know I do job. You pay cash? Cash cheaper. I give you fair price.” The sort of fair that makes dodgems of my wallet, I thought. Should I have called the lift? We shook hands.

Two hours later, I returned bearing the agreed wodge in an envelope. I heard a ‘squeak-squeak’. The cleaning task had progressed… slowly. Overalls hanging half-mast about his waist, dripping sweat coated Tony’s brow and soaked the under-arms of his T-shirt. In his hand was the sound’s source: a window squeegee. On the floor at his feet was a bucket, a near-empty spray bottle and destroyed scourers. “Yoy-yoy-yoy!” moaned Tony noticing me. “Today I learn never give quote in dark! You have DOG?”

“No.”

“I think you have dog. Dog that rubs itself against windows and then licks them. Look I show you. I have never seen anything like it in my LIFE!”

I had to concur. On a row of low glass panes, baffling fibres akin to hair were cemented into what easily passed muster as resin. I mean, looky-looky, a small fly was preserved as if in amber. “Honestly, there’s no dog.”

“Any other pet?”

“Absolutely not.” What alternative did Tony’s mind conjure? An ejaculating alpaca? A gobbing camel? “Mate, I’ve no clue what the cause is… ” My voice tailed off. The giant cleaner was too preoccupied to notice.

The major body of evidence, once stood where Tony had parked his feet, lay scissors-chopped and buried under pizza boxes, curry tubs and other gubbins in an over-spilling recycle bin.

So here’s my confession. Appearing a bit sad a potted large poincettia whose delightful red bracts earned her the name Scarlet had deserved a casual close inspection. The cause of droop was palpable. Although recognising an aphid when I see one, I’m no entomologist and this is Australia. Any curious miniscule Aussie bugs secretly arriving as a seething family shitload make me trepidatious.

Reaching for the organic insecticide spray I delivered a willy-nilly drenching. To be sure, to be sure I delivered another. And another. I let it be known the active agent pyrethrin, garnered from pretty Chrysanthemums, will total a bug’s nerve system but it is very, very sticky.

The pesky legions got their comeuppance. Regrettably Scarlet reacted by expiring too. I guessed it was her blasted anthers not dog hairs gummed to the panes.

Shaken and, unlike 007’s Martini, stirred to gabble excuses, I put quick distance between Tony’s squeaking squeegee and me.

Daniel Craig and I continue anticipating news about our respective Bonds.

 

 

Illustrations © 2017 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood

Sake Bagatelle and Giggle Bunker

24th July 2017

The Bongil Bongil

In England the ‘summer game’ had become cards in the pavilion. The sog and chill seemed universal. Halfway around the globe Son-of–Calcutta said, “If you want some warmth try the Bananacoast. Coffs Harbour and the Big Banana.” He grinned his enigmatic grin.

Hence I flew into a raw mid July New South Wales Saturday. On a thirty-six hour break from Melbourne at least I’d set a goal: to view the iconic faux giant herb. However noticing something called ‘the Bongil Bongil’ a short pootle away in my tiny hire car tempted an early diversion. Was I to discover giant tobacco-cum-weed vaporizing smoker, the mother of all hookahs and hubble-bubbles… the rare ‘Bongil Bongil‘? Nope, the spirit of adventure landed me instead on a bumpy nature track within the Bongil Bongil National Park.

Putting it mildly, I did encounter water. Enough to fill a zillion bongs. Let’s have a wander, thought I. Might see a marsupial or two. Drenched by an interminable deluge the only wombat was me. When the pewter clouds did a twilight reveal – a soon to fade sliver of orange sky – the only audible sound was of the incessant dripping from leaves. So worth the detour. Besides, rising through the eucalypti and palms was a scenic mist … No-no it wasn’t. Wake up, me! It was blithering fog.

Gawd, I became haunted by that grin. Cue the sound of Australia: a CKC (cacophonous kookaburra chorus). Yeah, yeah, funny ha-ha. Aiming for eclectic Bellingen off I wove into the iffy unseeing dark, none too hasty the search for hot fodder and a soft bed. The banana could sodding wait.

Eclectic Bellingen

The buzzbox abandoned beside pungent municipal loos, I hungrily prowled an unlit alley. Nothing invited. At the alley’s top was a road sign to Waterfall Way and the town’s last building, a weatherboard two-storeys of elegance. Instinct cried: ‘retreat!’ Not so fast. Spying an enticing glow, I’d chanced upon welcoming wonderment: a Japanese affair, Qudo Café. Sanctuary.

Qudo cafe

“I LOVE the Bongil Bongil!” laughed an expressive bespectacled young waitress over the sound of soft jazz. Her mood contagious, I flumped at a surprisingly vacant table beside the blazing log fire and shut my gob to grumbles.

“Definitely the best Japanese in Australia,” purred an adjacent lady in a snood. “Surely the best outside Japan”, reckoned her fleece-jacketed partner dispensing chopsticks for his fingers. “Oh, I agree, I agree,” replied she. Leaning towards me she added sotto voce: “You’ll cook.”

Only later did I remember a friend once telling me Japanese food was meant to be contemplative. Done to a turn, unsteady of hand I stabbed in my PIN. An earthenware vessel of hot sake, that infamous fermented rice wobble-juice, had added je ne sais quoi to the wolfed down miso soup and succulent teriyaki lamb ribs inside my tum. And not to leave out the hostess of the house Takashi’s homemade sesame ice cream topping the goluptious baked cheesecake.

Takashi

It was B&B time. “Knock-knock”, I called having bagatelled off a lamppost and through the gold-latched picket gate of the ‘Guest House on Hyde’, a graceful bungalow. And, goody-gumdrops, my name chalked on a dinky blackboard, I was expected.

Nattily uniformed in a snug fitting black Ugg jacket emblazoned with the word ‘security’, rescue dog Louee gave greeting. A brown miniature poodle, his front paws apprehending my knee, he did a grand job at licking me half to death. I remember little else other than a magnificent chessboard.

Morning had me easing off the electric blanket and yanking back the draped curtains to a blue yonder that matched the wallpaper. Agitated dust motes floated about a highfalutin chandelier worthy of a “Whoa!”. ‘Security’ meanwhile had got its act together. Louee greeted my less than bushy-tailed emergence with vigorous yapping that I assumed made him feel enormous and earned a scoop-up into boss Wendy’s elbow crook.

“Breakfast’s on the veranda in the sunshine. Hope that’s okay?” she smiled. A petite smart brunette wearing immaculate lippy, Wendy and her blonde sister Helen came as a team – a thoroughly coordinated one. In the kitchen, Wendy’s hubby David adjusted his pinny. Armed with spatula and frying pan he hugged the hobs.

(r to l) Wendy, Louee the Security and Helen

Presentation was key. Upon a lacy tablecloth sat Royal Albert china and silver cutlery. A cupcake stand improvised for two tiers of cut fruit – the banana segments a gentle memory jog. Yogurt came in a crystal bowl, marmalade too. A tea light kept the teapot cosy. And, glory be, I was offered full cream milk. Pamper, pamper. Then the pièce de résistance: Poached eggs, bacon, and spinach on sourdough toast, mushrooms on the side. True, instead of the mushrooms I could have had tomatoes. House rules though dictated it was either or. Ah, the mysteries of life. Stuff to ponder before perusing the pristine bulk of the gratis Sunday paper.

Some might call the Guest House ‘swanky’. Others: ‘posh’. Me? I call it ‘exquisite’.

Certainly refreshed, I was set for the Big Banana, thirty-odd minutes away in Coffs Harbour. Or maybe not. The place first got itself called ‘Bellfort’. I jest not. ‘Coffs’ is because in 1861 a surveyor misguidedly transcribed the name when reserving land for the crown, after a John Korff, an egocentric cedar-getter, had thought bugger ‘Bellfort’ and gone and named the haven after himself.

Coffs Harbour, Korff’s Harbour or Bellfort?

The Japanese military high command of WW2 had no clue Aussies had so willingly accepted ego and the boob. Compiling an invasion map from three pre-Korff British ones, a Japanese cartographer right and properly titled the place again ‘Bellfort’.

Then something happened. The best bet is that in-between the tally-hoes of out hunting Brit-built Beaufort bombers, a number of inquisitive Japanese men-at-arms waded ashore to explore. After perhaps deciding what a fine spot for a café serving sake, for sure the baffling map got dumped. Hence, between 10am and 4pm daily, it can be seen hanging in an underground wartime bunker opposite the local Bridge Club. I bear witness to this serious laughing matter.

At a roundabout, encountered while following my bonnet toward the yellow jumbo, was a depiction of a cheery kookaburra upon a bright sign that said: Australia’s Only Cartoon Gallery.

I spontaneously flicked the indicator and veered up hill to be greeted by grizzled Geoff, just back from a two-year sojourn, and beaming Beryl, curators of the Bunker Cartoon Gallery.

(r to l) Geoff and Beryl

“The black ceiling’s caused by practising fire crews in 1990s setting fire to straw then throwing in dummies to rescue,” quipped Geoff.

Bunker and ‘Tardis’

The subsequent third change of usage was a genius notion. A space for the doyens of Australian humour: Neil Give-Me-Paper-and-a-Pen-and-I-Hate-Everybody Matterson, David Rowe and Mark Lynch, Judy Nadin and Donna Huntriss, John ‘Polly’ Farmer and Jules Faber, et al..

The likes of Donald Trump and Malcolm Turnbull provide open season, as do, among others, Noah and his ark. Picture it: Noah shouting: “Those termites are bloody ingrates!” Jules Faber did. And apart from the changing displays of cartoons exhibited on the walls, over twenty thousand are stored in a flashy interactive computer Geoff nicknames the ‘Tardis’. Any similarity to Dr Who’s transport was to stretch the imagination beyond my believing Somerset’s struggling cricketers could play their way out of relegation trouble.

Yet, oh my days! Had a kookaburra of the Bongil Bongil entered the bunker it’d surely laugh louder than its average ‘Ka-ka-koo-koo-koo-koooo!’ The imagined racket reverberated in my bonce as I pootled time pressing to the airport. Absolutely bananas to have missed the big boy, but credit where credit’s due, Son-of-Calcutta had been more than semi-right about the warmth.

“How was Queensland?” asked his good self the following day.

“You mean, New South Wales?”

“Coffs Harbour’s in New South Wales? Oops.”

 

Illustrations © 2017 Zum Beamer / Charles Wood

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prickly as an Echidna

Prickly as an echidna

My walking shoes remained spattered with Westcountry mud. At the end of many slow weeks it had all been bit of a rush to get airborne.

Bleary-eyed after twenty-three hours in cattle class and a terminal stomp, in Tullamine’s arrivals hall I joined the cream-crackered crocodile of fidgeters, all keen to escape into Melbourne’s dark late autumn air, shuffle-stop-shuffling along the regimented tape and post snickets. Ranging from smiley to snaky, Customs and Border Protection officers sat in their booths and scrutinized. Their finger taps accessed collated data of every soul.

Finally, oh blooming finally, my turn to stand on ‘Australia’s doorstep’.

“Hello,” said I to a Latino looking lady, her navy blue blouse emblazoned with badges of officialdom. I handed over my passport. Stashed inside was my ‘incoming passenger card’. It bore my biro cross in the little box beside ‘Resident’. Pleased as punch, I was. Officially I was very legal. Or so I believed.

“Cap off, ” snapped the officialdom. She seemed prickly as an echidna.

Obedient, I doffed the patchwork tweed. Dammit. This was my reveal. Flecks of grey hair highlighted me turning badger. Not a good look in this youthful land. Should of tweezered my eyebrows.

A smirk played on Ms Prickly’s mouth. My heart sank. Playtime was starting. “Where have you come from?” she quizzed.

“Dubai”.

“Which flight were you on?”

“The one just arrived. The Qantas jobber.” C’mon me, don’t be glib.

“Is Dubai where you’ve actually come from?”

Not a good point to show the grains of Minehead sand in my chino turn-ups. “Yes and no. I started off in London. Same ticket though.”

Ms Prickly pointed to a virgin space on my landing card. “You should put your flight number here. Do you see? Here.”

“Oh. Ah-ha. Sorry.”

I sensed her brain ticking. Maybe I’d got sight problems. Senile perhaps. Whatever, a direct question socked me. “What was your flight number?”

I re-grouped my faculties. Ms Prickly’s eyes widened at my power of recall which surprised even myself. With a hard nib she etched the flight number big into the card. After a pause, again her digit stabbed the landing card. “You’ve indicated here you’re bringing medications into the country.”

“Three months worth. For personal use.”

“Hmm. That’s… okay…” I detected a reluctant acceptance. “You have Medicare. Are you aware you do?” I nodded my noggin. Then, as if having a Eureka moment, she slugged me with X-ray gaze. “And… how… long… are… you… intending… to… stay?” I interpreted this as: Here before me stands a potential liability on the community piggybank.

“I’m a resident. Recently been allowed to be.” Gotcha. Game set and match… Silly me.

Smugness swaddled Ms Prickly. “I see ‘resident’ is what you’ve indicated. So… what do you in fact do here?”

“Um. Write a bit, draw pictures and edit Phd theses.” True that, but flippant. Far too flippant.

I swear Ms Prickly mouthed: A joker. “Well, how… long… have … you… lived… in… Australia?”

“I’ve done three years, bar a month,” I returned, “… and I’ve got a new visa.” And yes, Ms Prickly, it had been bloody hard won. True again. The DIBP had flagged me warning. Not buggering off from Australia’s shores would have made me ‘an illegal’. A dollar-dollar appeal process exhausted it was tough missing the AAMI Park Springsteen concert by four days.

Springsteen plays AAMI Park

Having dispatched myself to Blighty I caught instead Somerset primroses and snake’s head fritillaries, and listened to the garden robin.

Snake’s head fritillaries

Garden robin

But nil desperandum. In hipster Brunswick the optimistic migration agent, plying his trade in a disused school building down a bit from my favoured bohemian haunt Ray’s cafe and the easy-going yellow taxi repair garage, emailed me weekly hopes of ‘a good outcome’. Be patient, he said.

Poppycock.

Ray’s cafe, Brunswick

A bit more Brunswick

Eventually, halfway around the globe, departmental scriveners at last said ‘hi’ to batched applications. My curmudgeonly printer chugged. Out spat the future. Yeah, yeah, admittedly the visa stressed a temporary stay, yet it was one for the skilled bod nevertheless. Who’s quibbling that the document laid down one or two conditions, like ‘keep up private health insurance premiums or else’. Goodness, the invitation was for two more years.

So here I was. Rapidly abandoned were Somerset’s professional cricketers propping up the Championship table after an unnerving string of batting collapses before the beech leaves had unfurled. Forsaken too were my Pomland cottage cobbles. Proudly cleared of moss and dandelion roots, they dated from before the 1st Fleet was notional sketches on shipwrights’ draughtboards. Hell, the blooming rambling rose, now left to its own devices, could overgrow the warped front door.

Clean cobbles older than the 1st Fleet

Eyes narrowed, Ms Prickly scanned her booth’s computer screen. Her jaw dropped ever so slightly. “OH! YOU’VE BEEN NOMINATED!”

“Yep. Absolutely. I’m a wanted man.” A just comment; so befitting this eclectic convict country, I thought.

A thaw was detectable. Ms Prickly’s voice became gentler though the next quizzing was no less direct. “Which do you prefer, Australia or England?”

“England, but I’m being loyal.”

Proper badgering over, I was good to go. Yet Ms Prickly’s parting glance suggested incredulity. Akin to: why in the name of Waltzing Matilda hadn’t I been euthanized?

Illustrations © 2017 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood.