Bloggy Blog Bits

This page explained. The page of tripe and detritus. Well, the intent is to use this page for blogs. I'm overflowing with good intent at the moment. How long will it last? I see me type. I seem to have spent an inordinate amount of my life hand-writing letters (in the days before electrons), typing letters, and more recently emailing friends and beggars. Beggars please note: You're the ones who keep saying “I really love your letters. I haven't had one for a while. Can you write me another one?” but you never bloody well reciprocate. I just haven't the time I once had, nor the motivation. Some good folk should continue to get personalized emotional crud from me as per usual. Others will have to get the generic impersonal tripe and detritus that I intend chucking up on the page. If I've directed you to this page; I hope you're feeling mighty special right now. So where to begin? Let's start in October 2008.

02 October 2008 Back from Japan and here I am, at work, in the middle of another lonely night. As if returning to Australia wasn't depressing enough, how's the ignominy of stepping off an aeroplane right back at work??? Back in the desolate middle of nowhere again. Maybe not the middle of nowhere, but you can certainly see its vast bulging middle from here - at least on a clear day. I find myself spending my night in solitude, in a dusty office girt by a genuine authentic Australian desert landscape. It is a sunburnt red-ochre landscape painted in a coat of night-time blackness. Actually it's more hues of dark purple. Just the constant droning whir of a half-dozen computers' fans (and a couple of air conditioners) displace the potential silence. The silence is only 'potential' and thus imagined; for the computers and air conditioners never rest. As I look through the window, and out into to the distant landscape; I can see the silence – even if I can't actually hear it. In just a few short hours the rising sun will push the darkness aside and free the landscape from its heavy coat. Even the softer morning rays will reveal the true redness of my dusty surrounds. Soon after, the sky will surely reveal itself as the clear blue wonder that it can be - when so far removed from the choking metropolitan miasma. When the sky is at it's best, and before the sun is at its most piercing, I'll be making my way into the blackness of my windowless tin room. A tin room that it isn't actually windowless, but in practice it is. The sliding glass doors of all but a few rooms in camp are blackened with paint, or plastic, or foil to prevent the intrusion of the pesky natural light. Intrusions of the natural world will not be tolerated. Every room has at some stage housed a night-shift worker, and most still do. The rattle and rumble of the air-conditioner in my tin room is uncomfortably loud. So loud, that earplugs are a necessary sleeping accessory. Not that it might disturb my slumber; I'm just worried about the potential for hearing damage. It's loud! Most rooms are similarly loud. Without it; a tin room, under the brilliant sun, soon becomes uncomfortably uncomfortable. Most people appreciate the air conditioner's droning rumble for its ability to mask the sound of clumsy neighbours bashing cupboard doors, and generally fumbling around. It conceals the inconsiderate or forgetful neighbour's television (which has to be turned up extra loud to be heard - because of the noisy air conditioner in their room). Some will wonder off to their shift, having completely forgotten to turn off the offending television set. The offending television which will carry on for the next 13 hours entertaining no one (such is cable tv anyway). Some bright folks will fly out for a week; leaving their televisions on. The televisions must feel unappreciated and worthless, but they're doing their bit for global warming. Some folk will argue that they've left their air conditioners on to help combat global warming – all that cold air has to do some good. God help us!

25 October 2008

Well here begins another early-morning typing accident in the making. Morning hasn't broken. My train of thought has. My train is experiencing disruptions and delays to normal services. Why am I attempting to blogulate when I've left my inspiration at home? I more expired than inspired. Perhaps it is my man's intuition which propels me into action. Maybe there is a certain ethereal baseball bat that beats me into action with a velvety touch upon my subconscious. It tells me, that like most logical folk; I do my best work at 0330 on a Thursday morning. I drink a mug of hot coffee, when a big bowl of sleep would be more in order.

We're right in the middle of a wonderful event called shutdown – scheduled maintenance events that occur about 4 times a year, and usually lasts a good 7 days. The term 'shutdown' once conjured an image of a deserted processing plant lying eerily silent and idle. The odd tumble-weed would be rolling gently through the massive infrastructure; propelled by the hot parched desert breeze. I imagined a majestic wedge-tailed eagle circling and rising silently in the thermals overhead. The lonely silence of an idle plant would only occasionally be interrupted, by something metallic squeaking and groaning as swings to and fro with the breeze. Maybe I could imagine the infrequent sound of a hammer striking solid metal as someone performs basic percussive maintenance, add the occasional scream of an angle grinder tearing away at some rust pre-painting. Throw in a couple of lonely workers roaming around the site repairing the sleeping equipment. The reality of shutdown is a little less tranquil. In years gone by I wouldn't have necessarily expected the craziness of four hundred and fifty extra blokes on site. It's not a pleasant experience for anyone. Just the logistics of getting another 450 bodies from the village to the mine site (and back) is disruptive enough – that's a fair few extra vehicles on the road. Add to this, the requirement of breath-testing folk before the commencement of each shift, and one has a major bottleneck in the flow of traffic. It's takes a great deal of time to breath-test 800 people (includes regular staffing). And dinner! Try getting something to eat with an extra 450 people in a queue in front of you. I've usually all of 15 minutes to get my meal, push it down my throat, and depart for work on a good day. It's rather disheartening to queue for a meal, walk around for another five minutes balancing a plate of ordinary food, trying to find an unoccupied seat, only to realise you've got about one minute left to eat your meal. If I find a seat; I'm squeezed between two smelly sun-dried weather-beaten Aussie Mr Potato-Heads in smelly faded orange shirts (who only want to discuss some obscure intricacies of a Victorian AFL club's off-season training performances). This shut-down I've not even managed one hot meal: The queues are too daunting. I guess that is the worse aspect of it for me. Truth be told; I've even less to do during shutdown nights than usual. The medical clinic is now fully staffed, and open all night – so I've 12 hours, at least, when I'm unlikely to see a medical emergency. Why exactly am I here again? I can't really figure out what I would describe as ‘the bane of my existence' (just assuming that everyone should have one), but I'm willing to call the phenomena of shutdown my own – until such time as a better bane of my existence can be determined.

That didn't take long. It is another day. In fact it is the day that follows yesterday in an orderly fashion. I woke today to discovered a new ‘the bane of my existence'. It is the instrument of the devil – known, without affection, as the leaf blower. If rock and roll really is the devil's music; why isn't the leaf blower featured on more rock/metal albums? Maybe it isn't the instrument of the devil, but it is at least his/her garden tool. A tool for tools. I love a leaf rake. I love a big wide broom. I love a gardener sweeping paths. I'm less fond of surrendering my slumber to the tune of an irritating high-revving two stroke petrol engine being waved around pointlessly by some a slow moving dim-witted work-shirking pseudo-gardener with her brain idling in neutral – as I was this afternoon. What is the point of the petrol fumes, the dust, and noise? The creation of a smoky dust cloud, where no smoky dust cloud was before, serves whom? I know a lot of people feel that they should be busy at work. They feel the need to be seen to be doing something at all times. I think today's simple gardener equates making lots of noise with ‘She must be busy if she's making that much noise…'  Noise = busy (apparently).

January of 2010

2009, where did you go? 2010 hello. It has been a truly fantastic Christmas and New Years season for me. Christmas day/night, at work, was extraordinary – truly one of the most enjoyed Christmases since my childhood dumped me for a younger man. The night was long (relatively) and the food amazing. The atmosphere quite joyous. An over-decorated dining mess filled tight with 250-odd people (250 odd-people?) in outrageously colourful clothing (no uniforms allowed – and didn't it look anomalous). I've never seen most of these people in plain clothes before. It verged on over-stimulated the senses - to witness the usual sea of sun-faded orange shirts replaced with so much colour and vibrancy. 250 people who (similarly to me) would have rather been at home with their family. 250 people who really did make the most of their situation, and celebrated in good spirits. It was a late night. It was a wobbly night courtesy of abundant free wine and beer (that alone made it a peculiar first for me). Waking up at 2:30 the next morning was less joy-filled, but a hangover shared is… Is still a hangover?? I wasn't alone in my suffering.   

The New Year was celebrated at home, and could hardly have been any more enjoyed. A most wonderful week it was. A significant portion of the first few days was spent in Japanese-style cleaning rituals. By December 31 our house was gleaming from top to bottom, inside and out – ready to see in the New Year. ‘twas hard work for all. I had Kumi helping me enthusiastically (if not that entirely competently) while I soaped and scrubbed and rinsed the outside of the house. She loved rinsing everything with the hose (including me and herself). She was also useful at cleaning the windows below the 1-metre high mark. A rare treat; that even cleaning was so enjoyable. It was a week of sensational New Year meals by Maki, punctuated with a few overly extravagant indulgences. Kumi has become a most enthusiastic helper in the kitchen too. She's most useful for vegetable peeling, fanning hot sushi rice, and anything to do with flour (bread-making, pasta-making, and in the case of new years; she was my assistant buck-wheat ramen noodle maker). I guess working with flour is a lot like play-dough making. She loves it. I felt the week worked nicely into a crescendo, culminating in Zardoz's birthday celebrations. We must look a bit odd in that our tinsel and streamers and Christmassy-style decorations went up on the second of January. Kumi loved the sparkly tinsel (and I did too). Our home looked appropriately festive, and clean. It has been a most agreeable couple of weeks. A thoroughly enjoyable time. 

Cycling! I've cycled regularly on my faithful mountain bike for seemingly eons. It amused me in the dust of Yallingup. It served me faithfully on supermarket trips in our Perth-times. It has delivered me (and Kumi) faithfully to the supermarkets and coffee shop of Mount Barker town. I have my bicycle at work now, and everything has changed. If only words could express how very happy I am about this. Delighted. (Good on words – they're expressing my happiness on my behalf as I write. I should use words in my communications more often). There is something almost spiritual (at least for me) about trundling through the vast flatness of the red desert landscape before and during sunrise. I'm staggered by the beauty of the desolation. The colours in the early morning light are breathtaking. The vibrant redness of the sands and rocks, the pureness of blue of the sky painted with the fluorescent orange and pink highlights of a desert sunrise. The silence, the timelessness, the endless emptiness engulfs me. I feel I am deeply privileged to be here. At sunrise, in January, it's been a comfortable 30°C – or thereabouts. The temperature quickly races away soon after sun up; reaching 45-47° in the shade most days, but there is no shade… It's a lethal environment that's generously benevolent and welcoming for an hour or so each morning. I thank it for its brief hospitality. I am hopelessly addicted to my daily struggles, and there is no way I'd rather be. The joy of cycling!

Cycling Country Unspoiled Cycling Paradise Unknown Cyclist's Shadow

 

 

June of 2010

Random patterns of splattered dark dots appear scattered on the dusty road outside my cracked workplace window. Raindrops! (Random patterns???) It’s nearly midnight. The sound of rain on a cold tin roof. The alluring smell of freshly fallen rain. Where else could this be but the vast Australian desert? The correct answer to this question maybe ‘Just about anywhere’. A vibrant shade of red unique to the Australian outback, and our redhead Prime Minister’s tresses (among other things/places that make it a ‘special’ unique that is shared by many). I love a rain dropped country… I despise a minesite shutdown, and it is one now. 550 extra dirty unshaven bedraggled smelly charmless men on site (and that one hottie called Haley who comes in on the third coach in – she should be modelling). I don’t much like crowds and upsets to my routine (and shutdown affords little else). Shutdowns grind my gears. Here again. Ripped away from the woman who fills my thoughts. Torn from the child who fills my heart. Excised from my canine shadow. How can that old canine fellow remain so loyal? I’ve been absent for so much of the past 3 years, and home so little. He whelps with joy when I enter the door on my weeks off – well, soon after my return. I usually arrive home just after midnight when all are asleep. When Pochi had the ears and nose of a younger dog he’d be pouncing upon me well before I could make my quiet Don’t want to disturb anyone’s slumber entrance. Now I can unpack my bag and enjoy a quiet beer for 30 minutes before my old companion twigs that a stranger is in the home. He still goes ballistic when he realises: It’s just not the instantaneous realisation that it once was. He’s at my feet when I’m on the computer, beside me when I cook or eat, and just outside the bathroom door when I shower. He panics when he can’t find me and begins to run from room-to-room ever faster-and-faster emitting some kind of high-pitched plaintive cry that sounds like “he he hee hee”. I’ve been painting walls a bit recently, and that has necessitated some time atop a wobbly ladder. It’s been quite amusing to observe Pochi wake from a siesta only to realise that I’m nowhere to be seen. The ladder afforded me a bird’s eye view of his panic (and much mirth to Maki and Kumi, both who’ve said, “Dog’s looking for you” as they watched on from ground level). It was fun to see just how many times he would pass under the ladder, in his hasty house-wide trot, before he’d look up. He would then promptly and contentedly recommence his siesta at ladder’s foot. What did impress me was his singular devotion to me on my last week off. I was knocked flat with a virus on Thursday afternoon and all of Friday. I spent a great deal of that time shivering and sweating on my futon on the floor. It must be four or five years since I last caught a cold, and Pochi seemed rather concerned about this change of routine – sleeping during our playtime isn’t meant to happen. It didn’t seem to matter which side I was facing in the futon, or the time of day or night, whenever I opened my blurry eyes; there’d be Pochi lying beside me staring intently. He would give me the occasional gentle nudge with his nose as some encouragement to get up. He should have been playing with Kumi or realising pats from Maki, but for a good 30 hours he stuck beside me. What a good old friend I have.

 

18 September 2010

Today we euthanized our Pochi. Could any event or decision in one’s life be more difficult, traumatic or emotionally wrenching? Not in my life, so far.

Vale Pochi; my muse, my mentor, my confidante and my shadow of 13 years. You’ve taught me well: Nothing need ever be mundane. There can be joy in even the most routine. Thank you for the walks and talks, the licks and uncomplicated companionship. The joyous memories far outnumber the countless multitude of tears we’ve shed today. Etched deeply into my memory are the thousands of running diving jumps into every available dam, the paddling out off shore past the breakers, and into the line up of surfers at Yallingup (to the surprise of many a surfer). “Wow, there’s a dog out here! What’s a dog doing out here?” they’d say. “That’d be my dog”, I’d reply as I endeavoured to load you on my board in an attempt to give you a smoother ride back through the crashing waves. It didn’t always work out that way, but the intent was there. The swims, the swims, the daily swims! The swims in dams, the swims in lakes, the swims in oceans. I still shudder at the thought of your close encounter with a hungry shark with jaws gaping and teeth glistening, at Injidup. You swam on obliviously, splashing frivolously, as Maki and I called out our fruitless warning frantically from the beach. Thankfully the shark satisfied itself on a large salmon, just metres behind you, as you swam on obliviously, splashing frivolously, as Maki and I collapsed on the beach with hearts racing. The life-threatening battles with snake bites, back injuries, and pancreatitis all taken in your stride. I fondly recall waking an hour earlier than I ever really wanted to for long walks through the bush in Yallingup – even on the coldest darkest winter mornings (and thoroughly enjoying it). The companionship through the fierce and frightening winter storms in our tin shed in the bush – and sleeping under the kitchen table when things got really scary. I thank you for the reassuring licks as I cowered from the crashing booming lightning and falling branches. I appreciate your efforts at chasing away the thunder claps, running and barking and pursuing them as each clap rolled off into the distance. A fine job was done in protecting the vegetables from pesky rabbits in your love of a high speed chase (although you often failed to notice the rabbits’ changes of direction). No rabbits were hurt in your lifetime, and few really threatened. Your complete ease with camping and travels made our outdoor life a pleasure. The ball games, the stick games, the balloon games, the flying disk games and games with giant gumnuts were as much of a joy for me as they were for you, but I always fatigued first… I’ll treasure the images of your attempts at stealthily entering the house before your dinnertime: The single step forward with a glance around, freezing into a statue if you suspected anyone might be watching, another single step forward when you thought it was all clear before freezing into a statue again. A painstaking process until you reached your goal; your bed under the table – it brought a great deal of amusement to me and Maki, and some others who loved you dearly.

May the memories continue to flow as easily as the tears do today. At least one man’s best friend you certainly were. The best $20 I ever will spend…

 

01 January 2011

明けましておめでとうございます..

Well here I am at work, and I guess things could be far worse. Of course, I’d rather be at home right now. That holds true most days, but it’s particularly true right now.

I note, that about this time last year, I considered Christmas of 2009 to have been one of the most enjoyable in my life. Christmas 2010 has trumped that – surpassed it by a most generous margin. Absolutely best Christmas ever! – and it was spent at work. How weird is that? Having both Kumi and Maki spend Christmas here was a pure joy. Being able to accompany them on the flights both ways, and not having to work for the days concerned was a blessing. They opened my eyes up to just how good this place can be (particularly if you’re not here to work). I learnt just how soft and lush the grass in the village is, as Kumi sat and lay down to sketch the wildlife (goannas, kangaroos, galahs, and the artificial sheep). I’ve never had the time or inclination to lie down on the lawns, or walk around barefooted before. Splashing madly in the 30°C water of the pool at the end of some very warm days, as Kumi squealed joyfully and clung tenaciously to Kiki the kickboard. Playing ping pong, and table-soccer, pool, and video games unskilfully was all good fun. The tour of the pit, watching a blast, the chance to clamber over a large truck and an enormous excavator was greatly appreciated by all. The food! I am smoked salmon, prawns, oysters, fish and turkey. The company! The wine! (quite average quality, but that was more than compensated for by its copiousness and its provision without charge). The delight that Kumi enjoyed when meeting Santa, and receiving a gift from the jolly bearded man in red, will remain with me for a long time. The bonbons with trashy toys, silly paper hats, and indecipherable Chinese-printed jokes were a another great source of pleasure for young Kumi. How good was it to sleep into 6:30 everyday? – I could get used to that. Hard to believe that there was a time in my life when I couldn’t imagine anything worse than Christmas. Times have changed. The few hours we spent together in Perth after flying out could not have been much more enjoyable either. Unbridled joy, uncontained enthusiasm, and boundless energy expended by Kumi at SciTech nearly did my head in. I felt like I was trapped inside an over-sized pinball machine as Kumi swiftly bounced from one stimulating exhibit to the next. I think I like Christmas.

Kumi at the controls of the excavator. An excavator bucket with standing room for 35-50. Kumi with some Mt Keith 'rough-heads'.

 


Kenworth C510 - Prime mover and quad configuration.

It's only when you look at the size of the hole that humans can dig (literally and sadly metaphorically), and how small the human is compared to the hole (and even the equipment) that you appreciate the scale of mining. It's all about relativity (and frames of reference). One of the memories ingrained in my brain was a throw-away line by a Heavy Vehicle Workshop mechanic at Mt Keith. We had a truck leaking fluid on the weighbridge one night. The truck was a Kenworth C510 Quad road train (weighing about 170 tonnes when laden). It is the standard truck coming and going at Mt Keith. The Kenworth C510 was (maybe still is) the largest road-registrable truck ever built – built specially for Brambles Industrial (now Bis). A prime mover with 16 tyres (12 driving and four steering – 88 tyres in all, for the entire vehicle) and a roo-bar that towers well over me. It manages a full 600 metres per litre of fuel from its 19-litre motor. To me, from my first meeting in 2007; it was outstandingly ugly, but sort of functional. At idle it would rattle the windows in the gatehouse several metres away. I thought of it as big! I should add (in case anyone is hiring – at a great rate of pay – that I have experience in driving quad road trains of around 168 tonnes. Having driven one about 60 metres - approximately the full length of the truck - forwards and backwards over a weighbridge; I am an experienced hand. I've even got a licence, if that helps). The mechanic I called from the Heavy Vehicle Workshop spent a good 15 minutes scanning through the darkness with his torch, under the belly of the beast, seeking the origin of the fluid leak. He eventually popped his head out, and commented, quite sincerely, to the driver “I'm just not used to working on trucks this small”. That's what mining does to you. It skews perspective. Our fire tender weighs 22 tonnes in operational condition, and it is a ‘light' vehicle – you take it to the Light Vehicle Workshop for repairs, and certainly not to the Heavy Vehicle Workshop. It's light; it's a sports-truck! – in the mining frame of reference.

 

 

 

June 2011

It’s a typically bleak grey Mount Barker winter’s day. A relentless light misty drizzle follows the flow of the chilly breeze lazily about the front yard. An all-day-long heavy dew appears to hang from the leaves of the grevilleas just outside the front window. The lawn is long, lushly green, but unkempt and dripping wet. Too wet to mow; it looks like it has been that way for quite a time. It isn’t loved: It’s no one’s pride nor joy. The daytime air is as cold as the night air. It never truly warms. The sun regularly forgets to call in on Mount Barker - preferring to leave us tucked-in under our blanket of low-slung grey clouds. A small stream of rainwater wanders in from the road, and under the rickety gates that hang on hinges too tired to perform. The trickling stream meanders haphazardly down the gravel driveway, past the side of the house, and into the backyard. ‘Johanna!’, announces Kumi excitedly as she runs to the back door to don her yellow gumboots. She’s off up the gravel drive just as fast as her four-year-old feet in gumboots will allow. No attempt to avoid the meandering stream or deeper puddles is made. Splish and splash at every opportunity, with heaviest stomps reserved for the deeper puddles, until she reaches the gate. An elderly Austrian woman in a heavy looking winter coat, and thick woollen beanie, awaits on the gate’s far side. It is indeed Johanna who walks her ancient little, slightly infirm, terrier (Minnie) past our home twice a day. Johanna greets Kumi in an Austrian accent that’s thicker than her winter coat. Yappy Minnie tries to join the ensuing conversation. ‘Oh be quiet Minnie, you silly old dog’, orders Johanna authoritatively, ‘I am trying to talk to Kumi’. “I’ve been drawing”’, offers Kumi. “A butterfly, and flowers, and Kumi”, she adds. ‘Oh, that sounds wonderful. Aren’t you clever?’ replies Johanna. Kumi likes Johanna, and Johanna adores Kumi. Johanna lives a few houses down, on the other side of our block, on a street that runs parallel to ours. Johanna is a most welcome piece of the neighbourhood; she looks after our chooks when we are away, and waters our vegies on the all too rare hot summer days. She spoils Kumi madly when afforded an opportunity. They part with a wave and a “Bye Bye Johanna” from Kumi. Johanna walks off steadily and slowly with a skittish Minnie at her feet. They’ll pass by the gate again, on the afternoon walk, soon enough. Kumi splashes back down the drive, kicks off the gumboots unceremoniously on the reeded wooden doormat, and heads indoors to her small table to resume drawing with renewed vigour. Crayons in hand, and the simplistic self-portrait of Kumi is adorned with a triangular dress of many colours. I’m genuinely surprised that her drawing does not feature a birthday cake with four candles protruding prominently from the top. Such an image features in many of her recent drawings – she seems a little fixated with it. Birthdays used to mean a lot to me too.

There’s a faint smell of wood smoke wafting in through the open window. Faint because the wind is being kind to us. I can see a plume of white-grey smoke billowing from the chimney of the house across the street. It dances clingingly across the corrugated fibro roof and disappears into their back yard. A new fire to welcome midday. Or do we have a new pope? An odd family they appear to be. Feeble if they think this is Siberia. Fires must become addictive if you let them. Perhaps it’s reassuring – a comforting security blanket. Perhaps they’re feeble. Mount Barker has forced us to ignite our wood heater on four occasions now: I haven’t seen but one frost here yet. Cold it is, but a jumper will usually suffice. The man with the chainsaw cuts three pieces of timber before walking up the five steps to his front door. In black sheep-skin boots, a black beanie, and a red and black chequered shirt befitting a lumber-jack; he carries three pieces of firewood of dimensions no greater than my forearm through his front door. He’ll be back out to cut some more in a few hours. He’s not a stockpiler; I think he prefers his firewood freshly cut. He’s a bogan connoisseur: A more flavoursome and aromatic smoke, a richer warmer heat, may be derived from the just-cut eucalypt. An entirely more satisfying heater experience for the wood-fire snob. And people mock me for heating my organic fare-trade East Timorese coffee beans to 62°C before hand-grinding them individually prior to prolonged infusion percolation. Their house is fibro with a deceptive freshly-painted look. The front, and half-way down both sides of the house appear immaculate. Alas toward the rear of the house, half-way down each side, they’ve elected to decorate with coats of peeling weathered neglect as a feature. A house with a comb-over. I can’t help but stare. Do they think we won’t notice? Deep down I hope for a gust of wind to expose their deceptive comb-over trickery, but the wind doesn’t change, and the paint sticks firmly. Maybe a paint-transplant will be evident in the coming weeks - a painstaking strand by strand effort. I’ll recommend they try a laser treatment first. Try it for free for thirty days… They’re a family of simple tastes and an inexplicable passion. Three Nissan Skylines sit prominently on the crumbly concrete driveway. At last a family that truly appreciates a thirty-year-old Japanese disposable automobile and refuses to dispose of them. They could have Australia’s finest collection of well-loved worthless cars. A silver one, a blue one and a red one.

‘Wayne the hippy’ carries his infant daughter in his arms as he wanders unhurriedly down the street. I’m happy that our neighbourhood now has a resident hippy. Freshly arrived from Fremantle; he is the genuine article. Concerned, caring, exuding a calm inner tranquillity; he is bearded and scruffy like the archetypal 60’s love-in hippy. His wife, like Maki, is heavily ensconced in university studies. Wayne the hippy is a stay-home dad. I have to be content with being a fly-in dad for the moment. I should be a hippy.

Back at the workplace. Walking to breakfast at for o’clock this afternoon (one of the absurdities of nightshift), I was entertained by a man named Kim (one of the airport staff). What possesses a grown man to run around in circles, gleefully wobbling and tipping unsteadily, with both arms stuck out rigidly from his sides? Oh yes, it’s fly-out day for him. He’s an aeroplane impersonator for the moment. Guaranteed to make the rest of us envious, and enhance his pleasure in doing so. We all get our turn at flying out, and that silly dance. The only appropriate response seems to be ‘You’ve heard the plane is going to be late haven’t you?” Occasionally you might get a bite, but mostly you’ll hear a brave “I don’t care if it is late; I’m still flying out today”. Deep down, a seed of doubt has been planted in his head. ‘What if it really is going to be late?’. I’ve carried that seed myself on a few occasions. It’s hard for me to contain the overflowing joy at the thought of flying out, and the urge to share it with people who don’t care is almost irresistible. No one wants the plane to be late on the way home though. Hurry up Tuesday!

June 2012

A year? – More than an entire year has passed since I last updated this page. How can this be? I must have been busy or somewhat distracted. No excuses though; I wasn't abducted by aliens and I wasn't held hostage to any significant degree. My priorities obviously rest at home and not in front of a keyboard at the moment. I've been indulging my purpose in life (mostly young Kumiko) to the near-complete exclusion of all other frivolous distractions. Fishing, cycling, swimming, painting, dancing and playing with dolls has filled a lot of my year. Our time in Japan probably stands out as the highlight of the year passed - although I'm already intently focussing on next year's trip. It could annoy me a tad; if I were to mull upon Kumi's incredible proficiency for the Japanese language – derived in just over a two-month stay in Japan (whereas my lesser ability has been garnered painfully slowly over 20 years). Oh to have a five-year-old brain. Hopefully she'll continue to build upon her mighty skills for years to come. The first 10 days of our trip to Japan, which I shared with young Kumiko exclusively, (prior to Maki's arrival – due to university exams) will be remembered by me as the as the best 10 days of my life so far. Despite my expectations; Kumiko was completely unfazed, and the perfect travel companion. I felt under immense pressure to keep her safe, healthily fed, bathed and well dressed, rested and entertained whilst adhering to a fairly hectic travel schedule in numerous unfamiliar cities. Finding hotels, finding venues, finding trains, finding food and our way around was quite a challenge at times – entirely satisfying and wholly enjoyable. A frantic swirling sea of amusement parks, game-centres, train-stations, toy-shops, convenience stores, restaurants, and hotels (nearly all with constant noise, flashing lights, and intriguing smells at levels to overwhelm the senses) taken in their stride by a five-year-old. It would be challenging not to rate the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka as the most impressive destination for a young Hayao Mizazaki enthusiast (and her much older father). It would be difficult not to be impressed by Disneyland (even for non-enthusiasts like us) due entirely to the magnificent staff/performers/entertainers there. Even the Yokohama Anpanman Children's Museum wasn't too bad. Too much fun, too many Ferris wheels, too many game centres, nearly enough roller coasters, and all at ridiculously reasonable prices. Why is Australia so expensive? The next trip, with her language proficiency out-shining mine, won't be quite the same: She will be ordering the ramen, organising the train travel, booking the accommodation and buying the roller-coaster tickets… I'll be in safe hands.

21 October 2012

Well I suppose some things are more worthy a short blog than some others. The morning started out being usual enough, with Maki getting out of bed around 0500. What I thought to be a little unusual, was that it was a Sunday (week-days Maki is always preparing Kumi's o-bento for school at the crack of first light). Still , it didn't seem unusual enough to prompt me to depart the comfort of my futon. Perhaps she was off for her semi-irregular early morning saunter through the bush. Around 0530 Maki returned and suggested I get up and have a quick cup of coffee. I did. Soon after I dislodged Kumi from the comfort of her slumber and suggested that she might like a bowl of muesli – preferably consumed with extra haste. She obliged. How does one do a 53km journey in 20 minutes or less? Not much traffic early on a Sunday morning, but it's even better to have a heavily pregnant wife squirming around on the passenger-side floor, and hope to meet an understanding policeman who might provide an escort to the hospital. We only needed a twenty-five minute stay in the hospital before the newest member of the Shigeno-Bond family joined us. Baby number 3 arrived on the due date; a squishy wrinkly healthy cute little girl. Hard to hide the tears of joy, must try harder… No, just let them flow. Finally we have a long-awaited twin sister for Kumi. We'll save money on photo albums and printing costs because they look so similar (at birth at least – Kumi is taller now). We can just re-label Kumi's first photos. There are just so many ‘happiest day of my life' days to contemplate, but this will surely be at the top of the pile. I think that Zardoz was never far from our thoughts for the last nine months (10 months if you're Japanese), but at this stage young Yumiko is an alert well-formed perfect bundle of joy. Now I must go – I've further serious baby-gazing to partake in (fascinating creatures that they are).

 

01 March 2013

It's been a while again. Perhaps some words are in order. Perhaps some will remain jumbled and non-sequential, as usual. Once upon a time it was now; and the whispering solitude of nightshift resounded splendidly indeed. Recent times have seen nightshifts far too few, with the expanse of time between just vast. I've ached and yearned for this swing, seemingly for an age. Here it is, and it's nearly flashed past me in the blinking of an eye. When did time hasten to its present pace? Christmas joy was months ago? We're many many weeks into a new year? The newborn Yumiko is 4 months old? Newborn Kumiko is back at school, and six years old? My holidays are over? – Although; I am on nightshift, and left to my own devices. Some time to mull and plot, to contemplate and comprehend, to build upon the thinning mental reserves and stimulate the brain. Suddenly I find myself fascinated, no obsessed, by maths, and physics, and their elegant equations. Why is this so interesting now, when it used to be a dreary chore? Suddenly there is a larger infinity of things to wrestle with, and fight to comprehend. I sit alone with my thoughts – aside from a cup of green tea, from Shizuoka, for company (Thank you Chisato). Quiet it is. No obese hirsute man to shave and cannulate as he succumbs to acute cardiac hypochondria this swing (so far). No burning infrastructure to wake me from my slumber at a most inconvenient hour (so far). Haven't called in the RFDS, nor seen anyone with the flu nor diarrhoea, nor the usual pains in the neck. This is bliss – in stark contrast to the last swing. No one has dropped in, even for a Nurofen. Do I smell that bad? Am I that loathsome and obnoxious? - Maybe just being lucky. As idle as a painted ship, Upon a painted ocean.

The remnants of cyclone Rusty are depositing an unrelenting torrent upon us. Water water everywhere! Thanks to STC for his help tonight. I've never seen so much rain here before (admittedly; I've only been coming here for six years, and the geologists tell me that the area is between 2.7 and 3.6 billion years old – so it's entirely possible that we're short of the all-time record). 6 years? There's that time rushing by again. A quick calculation suggests that I spent a total of 156 days here in 2012 (once holidays and training courses have been deducted from the full year). That makes 6 years sound marginally less appalling – if I've only actually been at work for 2 and a half of those 6 years. I'd like the think that a significant portion, of the rest of those 6 years, was spent camping, cycling, being pummelled by surf, colouring-in, playing with play-doh, playing with Ricca-chan, cooking, and generally being in the surrounds or arms of those I love madly. There's never enough time at home! The more I type; the more I realise that I have nothing to type about. I'll fall at this imaginary hurdle, and declare this important piece of communication closed. The chooks are laying well. We're over-burdened with peaches and tomatoes at home this summer. Tonnes of leafy-greens, capsicums, onions, okra and aubergine remain. Come in and grab some if you're passing. The corn is all consumed, and only a few kilograms of King Edward potatoes remain (the incomparable champion of potatoes for the production gnocchi). Yumi sleeps well through the night. Kumi is learning to wheel-stand and ‘bunny-hop' her bicycle, but still needs a bit of work. A smidgen more careful tutelage and she'll be putting me to shame. I now declare this blog

 


Sunday 12/05/2013

Well it is an aptly sunny Sunday and I'm found, once again, ensconced in shallow thought, at my beloved Mount Grief. The vast sky is radiant, although a tad dusty around the edges (not as blue as a Mount Barker sky, but acceptable). I gripe unnecessarily; by daylight the sky here is fine, although poor-to-poorly for an intrepid nocturnal stargazer. It can be a most disappointing night time sky – often near as bad as the metropolitan night-time murk. Still, while here, I can enjoy some of the conveniences of the observable universe - Gravity, time, the weak nuclear force, causality, and the occasional beer being among my favourites (although the full list is far more rambling). As usual I yearn for home. Oh to be among the rapidly bud-bursting mid-May grevillea, the ravenous chickens (all skilful listeners), the flourishing winter crops, and to be ensconced in shallow thought. A place where the bird song is constant, the wagtails dance, the magpies chortle, the honeyeaters dart, and the bees wax lyrical. Bee's wax… Meanwhile, back at work… The distant discordant dissonance of vehicular reversing-beacons intermittently stab through the mind-numbing hum of the paired and opposed overworked air conditioners either side of our tinny little office. It's another quiet day, and the shrill ‘bleep bleep bleep' of the reversing hairy miner, in a front-end loader (in the ore stockpile shed) pierces disturbingly. I assume the driver to be male, and a hairy figure, with no evidence. Sometimes assumption is the best basis for pure science. It must be 200 metres from here, over yonder, Mr Bond typed one-handed, as he pointed in the direction of the shed with his left hand. He pointed at a window blind, behind which was a window, behind which was a swirling sea of excited invisible atoms (mostly nitrogen and oxygen) through which one could potentially see the ugly grey concrete and steel structure known as the aforementioned shed.

 

Tuesday 14/05/2013

Bloody hell: Tuesday already. Interruptions! How dare work impinge upon my fluttering thoughts and chaotic communications – especially during work time! Who stole my blue sky? It's smeared with some low cloud-like grey coverage. A few short hours from now; the sky above will be a radiant blue, and I'll be able to look down upon the clouds, through the little round window, from seat 1A. I'm going home to my beloved family, but I am none-the-less leaving something wonderful. Recent swings have brought immense happiness through innumerable painful fits of uncontrolled laughter, and many raised eyebrows at near-limitless shared bizarre and quirky thoughts. I have come frightfully close to suicide by gym, and as equally close to death-by-laughter for several consecutive swings. I have delighted in my exposure to a brain vastly superior my own; have been thrilled and astounded by its astonishing eccentricities and marvellous brilliance. Recent encounters have been a rare treat to be gobbled up with an insatiable gusto. Here again the faceless few deprive me: the budget cuts, and the thinning rationalisation of a workforce in hard economic times. The axe is falling once more. The greenest shoots fall, and the stumpy dead-wood remains to ponder. Where to now? Nowhere to go - we're firmly and completely rooted. I subscribe to the inevitability of entropy, and fervently believe that only good can flow from the daily challenges – it always works out for the best in the long run. Dastardly budget cuts! One day there may be diamonds in the sky.

 

Wednesday 29/05/2013

Wednesday morning. I peeled my blurry eyes to slowly register that I have awoken upon a familiar futon. I'm home again. There's no place like home. There's no place like home. The clinking and clanging of dishes emanates from the kitchen. I am the sole occupant of a room strewn wall to wall with used and crumpled futon. It's breakfast time for those who didn't stumble through the door at 0130 (following a work day that began at 0500 the morning prior). I am a little dazed, but thankful that I am a creature that can survive periods of 40-hours plus without sleep (as is demonstrated regularly) without any obvious health effects (yet). It's just after 0700 and I could dream of sleeping some more (if sleeping some more was a real option), but Maki must leave for university soon, and Kumi requires a cycling companion for the journey to school. Up I stumble semi-enthusiastically and semi-dutifully. Once clear of the bedroom door; it's hugs and a chorus of cheers all round – even the 7-month-old Yumiko joins in the cacophony with arms and legs flailing excitedly. This is what it's all about. Have I just returned from a moon mission, or six months in Afghanistan, saved the world? No, the overly flattering welcome is due entirely to me having spent a week at ‘work' – where work means zipping down a flying fox and abseiling down only moderately tall industrial structures. I've had seven days of paid fun that hardly warrants this celebration, but I will lap it up to bolster any cracks in my fragile ego. My beautiful wife of twenty-something years still loves me, and the more recent daughters celebrate me. I can't be anything but overwhelmed, though this ritual recurs weekly. It's an atmosphere I must breathe in deeply. The tantalising smell of freshly-ground coffee beans soon wafts and permeates the air alluringly. In the bathroom I splash some warm water attempting to free-up the sticky bleary eyes. Another day older, and any changes in the mirror are duly noted. The wear and tear of many years is evident, but the dichotomy remains: I'd be happy to look much older (and hopefully wiser) and equally as happy to look like my younger self once did, but looking younger wouldn't hurt either.

Winter has arrived. Crispy chilled air. Grey skies to the horizon, leaves hung with raindrops, but not a breath of wind evident through the study window. Another summer has disappeared with far too few trips to the beach to show for it. I guess we did have a new baby to contend with. My once sun-tanned feet are paling to white. Am I failing? I've long viewed having well sun-tanned feet tops as being the ultimate sign of having a successful life. I think it first struck when we arrived in WA and I had spent much of the summer trudging around the vineyard in boots. My legs were brown and, below the ankles, my feet a ghostly white. I thought it normal; a consequence of living a life. That thought dissipated with a visit from a winemaker from a neighbouring vineyard just after 10am one day. He was on his way to work, after surfing with his kids, and dropping them at school – as he did every day. If it wasn't for the fact that he was barefooted at the time; my philosophy may not have changed. The tops of his feet were sun-browned like leather (not dirty, but perfectly cleansed after 2 hours of surfing), and there was a complete absence of any trace of a sock tan. There stood a man getting paid twice as much as me, with a brilliant work/play balance to his life. In most jobs; you can't get sun-tanned feet while at work – you get it through living a life. Tanned feet has since then been my measure of a person's success. It's hard work in winter, even harder work when your work time is spent in silly black boots, and half of your days are spent at work. It might be a sign that I need a new job, a job that involves standing bared-footed on a white sandy beach. Come to think of it; life guards would probably have year-round tanned feet after standing at the water's edge, and staring into the rolling curls of foaming water. Probably not a profession to which I'm best suited. You really need to spend some time standing to get the feet tops nicely toasted. I can't think of many stand-up jobs off the top of my head. I've heard of stand-up comedians – highly unlikely to be bared footed in the sunshine. Is there a ‘stand-up' anything else? Are there stand-up train conductors? Are there stand-up pianists? Are there stand-up theoretical physicists? Why do we have theoretical physicists anyway? Are there theoretical doctors, or theoretical geologists, or theoretical rubbish men? I don't think we even have particle geologists: which would sound perfectly reasonable to me. Cheeky bloody physicists have it too good. Can't explain to source of energy making the universe expand at an accelerating rate? Let's call it ‘dark' energy. Can't explain the missing mass of the observable universe? Let's call it ‘dark' matter. What would the public outcry be like if doctors described your terminal disease as ‘dark' disease? Not sure why you're dying – probably something ‘dark'. Your car won't start? – It's probably a ‘dark' problem. Not sure what this yummy chocolate-like foodstuff is? Let's call it ‘dark' chocolate.


September 2013

After 6½ glorious years spent at Mt Keith, on the pretext of waiting for the emergency phone to ring (or for something as equally exciting to happen); it's finally time for me to move on. It's time for someone else to enjoy the cosy chair. Ring out the old, bring in the new. Finally I am leaving my other ‘home'. A comfortable home it has been too. A place I came to in order to recharge my batteries (figuratively, not literally – we have electricity at home now too), a week to catch up on sleep, and improve my fitness – battered by the previous home-week's indulgences and excesses. The roster, lifestyle, and surrounds have been undeniably pleasant – even if the food was sometimes mysterious. That spicy green stuff wrapped in won-ton skins wasn't half-bad sometimes. I have enjoyed the mountain-biking, the gym, the coffee, the conversation, but have especially enjoyed the emergency response training days. There were many days of nearly too much fun, where thankfully no one was seriously/permanently injured. I will take with me a wealth of genuinely joyful memories to reminisce over, in the quieter moments. Ultimately, what it has provided me with; has been every second week off, in the company of my wonderful family, without a care in the world. I doubt that a single work-related thought has flittered through my little brain, during my R&R, in all of those years – and that is a beautiful thing. A week at home to play, to renovate, to garden, to clean, to cook, to strum, to endeavour to be the perfect husband and father (okay – it is an aspiration, at least), to swim, to surf, to enjoy some delicious full-bodied reds (and the occasional pinot noir), to stargaze, to motorcycle without justification, to be hugged, to put the rubbish out on a Thursday morning, to teach, to learn, to live a most rewarding happy life. The extent of my consideration for work would surface on a Tuesday morning when I would drop Kumi off at school, by car, and I would continue driving north for four hours to Perth – to the stately Perth airport to begin an all too brief in-flight snooze. Stepping off the plane, it's a short walk to my little room where everything awaits me from last week. My bed has always been mysteriously made up with clean linen, and neatly arranged fresh towels await me. The carpet has been vacuumed, the bathroom is gleaming. My uniforms hang where they ought to in the wardrobe. My toothbrush, my shaver, my comb, my deodorant, the TV, the fridge, everything is in its place for another week. It hasn't been too tough. It's time to cough the last of the nickel dust (with high arsenic concentrations) out of my lungs for the last time and farewell my second home. Thanks for the people. I'll miss the ‘Keith', but there will be other mounts to climb. Nearly time for sake, sashimi, roller coasters, and the girls…

Oval, Dry Mess, Rooms Pool, Gym, Airport

 

October/November 2013

16 Jetstar-hours of my life later, and I'm in Japan once more. Why is it so hot? How do people live here in summer? Two trains and an hour later; I'm walking on the familiar streets from Fukai station through the danchi of Miyazono-cho. A tap tap tap on the old tin door and I'm once again surrounded by my family. It's obvious that the baby doesn't really recognise me, but everyone else does. Shower, beer, fish, rice and vegetables. Why is it so hot?

Kumi is off to school in the morning, as she has been for the past many weeks. She loves it too! She seemingly prefers it to her Australian school.

Day 3 and I've mended a bicycle. How cool is cycling in Japan? Freedom! No silly helmets, nor road rules to obey, and the drivers willingly accommodate wayward meandering cyclists with courtesy and respect (unlike Australia – where the roads belong to cars, and the footpaths to pedestrians, and cyclists can apparently cycle off to elsewhere).

Why is it so hot? Why is the beer so nice? Why is sake the best thing in the world? Why is the food so good? Why are the people so nice to me? Why is everything so cheap? Why is Australia so crazy expensive in comparison? Why is everything so easy and convenient – except for getting on the internet? Why is sake so delicious? Why do I love a Japanese bath?

Today I felt like I'd been on a space-ship, but no; I have in fact been to an internet café. What a weird Japanese experience (in a sea of many weird experiences). Mirrors, strange eerie lighting, shiny reflective floors and floor to ceiling selections of perfectly sorted fluorescent manga editions. Free coffees, icey-treats, and soft drinks, beers and cup-noodles available with private internet rooms/booths, karaoke booths and rooms all available for 30-minute stays to 24-hour stays at very reasonable prices in a strangely space-age surround. Cheap luxurious accommodation!

I ought to be getting sick of the danchi of Miyazono-cho, but instead my love grows. An ancient apartment of less than 30 square metres with basic facilities comfortably accommodates 6 or 7 people. No more than a 10-minute walk will find me in one of six differently branded supermarkets, or one of ten well-appointed convenience stores (Australia could never have a decent convenience store – we just don't get it). Fifty useful vending machines in the same distance, 20 brilliant public toilets available, 30 or forty izakaya, with maybe 30 eateries (okonomiyaki, yakitori, takoyaki, kaiten-sushi; it's all a short walk away). Why is the sushi from any convenience store in Japan better than any sushi I've ever found in expensive Australian restaurants? Why is the rice here so nice? Why do I have to drive a car to get to go to six different supermarkets in Australia (and why aren't there more than six different brands of supermarket available in Australia?). My love grows for the simple convenience. Why do pretty girls talk to me? Why do Japanese school girls think my daughters are kawaii?

Horse-races in Kyoto. Are we here by accident? Yumi, Kumi, Maki, Bobo, San-chan and some kids. Brilliant – horse racing is obviously a family affair in Kyoto. Horse racing? – It's a great park, with wonderful facilities, and some horses running around occasionally.

21st of October, and baby Yumiko turns one year of age. I bought two delicious bear-faced cakes (Kuma-san) – except they are impossibly yummy puddings, not cakes.

22nd of October and Kumi and I walk a short distance to Fukai station. One-stop, and we are changing trains at Nakamozu – bound for the subway. Some 25-30 minutes in the underworld and we are in Shin-Osaka station hunting some o-bento, drinks, and a shinkansen to Shin-Yokohama. 2 hours and 45 minutes of comfortable high-speed travel sees us changing trains for Yokohama, and then changing for Minatomirai. It's all too easy. We are at the Yokohama Intercontinental Grand Hotel again (our 3rd home), and better known to Kumi as the ‘Banana Motel' because of its shape. Drop the bags and straight across the road to the Cosmo-world amusement park for Kumi's first serious taste of a roller-coaster. She copes (much to my delight) – and the rest of the trip can maybe go to plan. The next morning sees us at Hakkeijima for the insane over-ocean coaster. Kumi loves it (and every other ride available). A fun day; with dinner at a Chinese restaurant (as one does in Japan).

24th of October, and Kumi turns 7 this morning. We are off to Mitaka; to the studio Ghibli museum for another visit. It's hard to fault this delightful quirky and whimsical museum dedicated to Miyazaki Hayao's creations. Kumi loves it again! A nice hotel in Shinjuku.

To Shibuya, Shinagawa, and to Shizuoka. Chisato! Lake Tanuki! Heavy rain! Food food food and a cloud-obscured Fujisan. A beautiful soak in a massive public hotel bath. Civilisation! Beer and sake.

Fuji-Q Highland with Chisato and Kumi. The skies are clear and temperature is comfortable. A world record roller-coaster for a nervous Kumi is also Chisato's first-ever roller-coaster. How brave is that? - The once world's tallest roller coaster is Chisato' first. Awesome! Ice-skating, numerous rides. A beer hall for drinks, and a magnificent resort-based outdoor onsen before bed, and again at six in the morning. It's Kumi's first outdoor natural bath. This is the real Japan.

Chisato's home in Shimizu. Hotel Nippondaira again. It's all new with the world's most breath-taking view! It was great 5 years ago, but now is perfect! What a bathroom! – I love Japan again.

Chibi-Maruko-chan museum in the morning before the shinkansen back to the Shinjuku Hotel.

Odaiba, the statue of Liberty, Gundam, game centres and rides for Kumi. Our last night in Tokyo! Our last morning in Tokyo. Sad! 5 hours on a Shinkansen and we arrive in Hiroshima. A rattly wobbly street car ride to the hotel, dome, and dinner. A bath!

A rattly wobbly street car ride, a train ride, a ferry to Miyajima. Is Miyajima the most beautiful place in Japan in November? It's the prettiest place I've ever been. Why do Japanese girls stop us constantly to have photos with Kumi? – is she some sort of celebrity? A great day on Miyajima! Hiroshima. A bath! We head back to Osaka tomorrow.

The Peace Museum, the memorials, the Atomic Bomb Dome, and a thoroughly educational morning for Kumiko. Shinkansen to Shin-Osaka.

Shopping, eating, drinking, eating, drinking, dining. The food! How did Japan get so cold? Some 20 litres of sake, 25 litres of exquisite boutique beers, countless sushi, onigiri, tofu meals, and yakitori later and we must head off to the airport for a Singapore stop-over. Leaving Japan is as hard as my life ever gets. I don't want to go. I don't want to tear Kumi from her school, and Yumi from Ji-chan and Ba-chan. It's tough!

Wow - just spotted the this article on the JapanToday news site. I agree!

10 things Japan gets awesomely right

By Philip Kendall

Lifestyle Nov. 12, 2013 - 06:36AM JST ( 55 )

Japanstyle

TOKYO —

Although Japan is not without its faults, it is nevertheless an incredibly efficient and easy-to-live-in country, and we've discovered that there are numerous things that the Japanese get not just right, but awesomely right.

Here are 10 things Japan gets awesomely right

1. Vending machines

If you're looking for something to quench your thirst – whether hot or cold –  you rarely have to go more than a few hundred meters in any direction in the city.

Canned (black, white, extra milk, iced, low sugar, no sugar, extra sugar, fat-reducing) coffee, tea, green tea, barley tea, sports drinks, hot chocolate, soda, beer, fruit juice, raspberry jelly, even bread and stew; if it can be packed into a can you can find it in a Japanese vending machine somewhere, and it'll usually cost you no more than 120 yen for a big can of the stuff. Many vending machines in Japan even give customers additional incentives to use them, with LCD panels displaying a row of numbers after each purchase–get three sevens in a row and you win a free drink of your choice! And newer machines are completely touch-screen operated, with their contents displayed as animated images–perfect for the iPhone generation.

2. Food

Was there ever any doubt that Japanese cuisine would make the list? Admittedly, there are odd dishes like raw horse meat and fugu, a fish that may or may not kill you if not properly prepared, but the vast majority of Japanese food is simply superb, and we're not just talking about boxed lunches crafted to look like Pokémon characters.

There's so much to choose from, and we couldn't bring ourselves to commit to a final list, so here are just a few of our all-time favorites:

- Donburi
Basically big bowls of fluffy white rice topped with anything from strips of marinated beef and pork to kimchi and raw tuna. Donburi is true soulfood – hearty, filling and extremely moreish. The donburi that most people come into contact with is that of fast food-style restaurants like Yoshinoya or Sukiya, and they're certainly decent for the price you pay, but there are plenty of outlets that charge a little more but pour their heart and soul into this simple yet supremely tasty dish, so be sure to track one down if you visit Japan.

- Gyoza
Japanese gyoza may be considered a little unrefined by Chinese standards since they are most often fried, but we simply adore them. Massively moreish and available in dozens of varieties, these little dumplings are simply to die for and we'd happily munch on them every single day if it weren't for the large amounts of garlic and nira chives contained within them that would make us entirely repellent to everyone around us.

- Miso soup
Yes, it's simple and you can buy this stuff as an instant, “just add hot water” mix, but a good bowl of homemade miso soup has almost magical properties. It also makes a great hangover cure (trust us, give it a go the next time you're feeling a little fragile after one too many glasses of Babycham!).

- Okonomiyaki
Often described as a savoury pancake or “Japanese pizza”, this is essentially batter made from shredded cabbage, flour, eggs, grated nagaimo (yam), and water or a little fish stock. Ingredients – literally “whatever you want”, which is where the name okonomi (as you like) yaki (grilled) comes from – are mixed into the batter which is then poured onto a hotplate, shaped into a flat, circular shape and cooked through. Topped with anything from mayonnaise, sweet barbecue-style okonomiyaki sauce, dried seaweed, and shaved bonito, okonomiyaki is a fantastically tasty and filling dish that's meant for sharing and playful experimentation.

- Ramen
Believed to have originally been a Chinese dish, ramen – noodles in soup with toppings – now exists in hundreds if not thousands of varieties across Japan's 47 prefectures. The soup is usually soy, salt, miso, or tonkotsu (lit. “pork bone”) based and ramen fans each swear by particular varieties, although Fukuoka's Hakata ramen, a pork-bone broth with relatively straight, firm noodles, is perhaps the variety best-known outside Japan.

- Sashimi
Strips of raw fish, usually served with wasabi and soy sauce. Not to be confused with sushi (see below).

- Shabushabu
Another dish that's often enjoyed socially, shabushabu is basically vegetables and wafer-thin strips of raw meat cooked (by the diner) in a very light stock. The meat is so thin and the stock so hot that it cooks in mere seconds, and tastes absolutely wonderful, especially dipped in some goma sesame sauce.

- Sushi
Perhaps Japan's most famous dish, sushi is vinegared rice either topped with or wrapped around “neta” ingredients like fish and vegetables. Even cheap conveyor-belt sushi is good, but sushi made by chefs who have trained for decades and use only the finest ingredients is nothing short of divine.

- Takoyaki
Tiny little balls of tasty batter with a piece of octopus in the middle, cooked in a special hotplate and served with a rich sauce, mayonnaise and flakes of “aonori” dried seaweed. These things can be mercilessly hot when eaten straight off the teppan, but we always stuff them straight into our shout holes regardless. Oh, that devastating, delicious takoyaki tongue burn!

3. Removing your shoes when going indoors

We appreciate that it sounds like something a Japanophile might say in a cringeworthy attempt to prove how integrated into the culture they have become, but after years of living in Japan and taking our shoes off when going indoors, we now find the idea of walking around one's home wearing the footwear that you traipsed around outside in kind of gross, and every time we watch a Western movie or sitcom and see a character sitting with their shoe-clad feet up on a sofa, chair or bed, the same thought pops into our heads: “Are you sure you didn't step in any dog poop while you were outside?”

As most of you will already know, in the majority of Japanese homes – and also in schools and some clinics – people remove their outdoor shoes before entering the building proper. This practice is not unique to Japan, of course, and the “true” reason for doing this differs depending on who you ask, but most agree that the Japanese desire to draw a clear line between the clean uchi (inside) and dirty soto (outside) is the main driving force behind this.

The idea that the inside of the home should not be unnecessarily dirtied is also reflected in the layout of a typical Japanese bathroom. Just as how one showers before entering the bath in Japan (after all, why sit in water containing the day's grime?) and the tub kept spotlessly clean, the toilet is usually found in a room completely separate to that containing the bath and shower. Why? Because the toilet is pretty much the “dirtiest” place in the house, while the bath is where one purifies one's body. In the Japanese mindset, the two simply do not belong together, and we can't help feeling they're on to something with that idea.

Of course, walking around the house in slippers, stockings or going barefoot has the added bonus of keeping noise levels down – which is important when your walls are paper-thin and/or you live in close proximity to others – but when you think about where your shoes have been as you walked about town, stepping in puddles and maybe even gum, spit, dog pee (or worse), and dirt in general, it makes sense that you should leave all that outside by stepping out of your shoes at the genkan entryway.

This practice can be a little annoying at times, especially when you lace up your shoes, step outside and then realise you've left your phone in the living room (which means repeating the process all over again or doing that weird “walking on your knees” circus act we briefly see the character Satsuki do in the Studio Ghibli movie “My Neighbor Totoro”), but after being exposed to Japanese customs we've come to think that wearing shoes inside the house makes about as much sense as taking all of your carpets and furniture outdoors and expecting it to stay clean.

4. Taxis

Anyone who has ridden in an inner-city taxi in Japan will know that they're far from cheap. So you might well be wondering how on earth these things made it into our top 10 list. Three words: automatically opening doors.

Hail a cab at the side of the road and after it comes to a halt, the kerbside passenger door will automatically open for you. And not just unlock and open by a couple of inches, but swing out completely so that passengers can slip in while carrying their bags, kids, girlfriend, whatever. Once you're safely inside, the driver uses a lever to close the door after you. It's a very small gesture, but it makes a world of difference and makes you feel like a minor celebrity, even if you are entering the taxi covered in baby vomit or have been caught in a sudden downpour.

5. Convenience stores

Coming from the UK where they are usually seen as something of a last resort for grocery shopping, my only experiences of convenience stores were midnight visits to buy toilet roll or milk, and perhaps to make ill-advised alcohol purchases after a party has gone on too long and it was decided that doing whiskey shots would in no way be a terrible idea. Everything is expensive (you've gotta pay for that convenience, right?), many of the patrons look remarkably unsavoury (my drunken, early-twentysomething self included), and the staff rarely seem to want to be there any more than the customers.

Not so in Japan. Convenience stores – 7-Eleven, Lawson, FamilyMart, Mini Stop, even the littler guys like Save On and Coco – are all kinds of wonderful, and they're absolutely everywhere. Products are rarely much more expensive than in other stores, many stock snacks and ready-made meals that were prepared that very day rather than the best part of a week ago, and they offer a ton of services that are genuinely useful, including:

- Courier delivery pickup/dropoff
You can take a package to your local convenience store, have them measure it, slap a delivery label on it, and the courier service (usually Yamato, or “kuro neko”) will pick it up from the store and deliver it for you. And the rates are surprisingly reasonable. You can even arrange for luggage to be dropped off and kept safe.

- Bill payment
Want to pay your gas, electricity, internet or mobile phone bill? Take it to the konbini (the common term for convenience store), hand them the tear-off slip with your cash and they'll process it for you in seconds. Et voilà! Your lights will be back on in no time!

- Booking tickets and paying for fun stuff
Depending on which convenience store you visit, you can use their ATM-style machines to look up and reserve things like plane, concert and theme park tickets, receiving a printout and then paying at the counter. You can even shop online at websites like Amazon and Yodobashi Camera and, provided the site you're using offers “konbini barai” (convenience store payment), after entering your unique code at the machine simply hand over your cash to the clerk. No credit card required.

- Printing stuff out
Even if you don't have a USB pen to take with you, log in to the convenience store chain's online printing service and save your document there. You'll receive a passcode which you enter at the store's printer, which (after you slot in a few yen) will spit out your documents. You can print anything from whole web pages to essays written in MS Word.

Oh, and let's not forget that you can also buy food, beer, whiskey, wine, light bulbs, DVDs, video games, newspapers, magazines, cat food, hot baked goods, seasonal stews, fresh coffee, point cards for Amazon, iTunes, and Nintendo and Sony's online stores… the list is endless.

Convenience stores in Japan: Actually convenient.

6. Recycling and waste management

Japan may well be a little on the wasteful side, throwing out startling amounts of perfectly good food every single day and sealing consumer products in way too much plastic, but we have to admire their system for garbage collection and disposal.

This of course varies from town to town, but most cities require residents to sort their household waste into distinct categories: burnables and raw waste, plastics, PET (plastic drinks) bottles, glass, aluminium cans, paper and cardboard, and so on.

But how can refuse collectors be sure that people are sorting their waste properly? Surely any joker could just stuff all of their trash into the same bag and sling it out on collection day? Well, most of the bags are either clear or thin enough to see through, with different coloured print on them denoting exactly what can be put inside them, with each kind of rubbish collected only on certain days. Trying to throw away kitchen scraps in a bag meant for cans? Tut tut. You might get lucky but often it'll be left behind and marked with a sticker asking you to use the correct bag (and all your neighbours will secretly judge you). But it really doesn't make sense to try to cheat the system, especially when some towns (each sell their own refuse bags in local supermarkets and, of course, convenience stores) even encourage proper recycling by making bags for the likes of cans and plastics cheaper than more general “burnable” waste bags, so it pays to be green.

Japan still has to mend its wasteful ways, but its approach to refuse management is definitely a step in the right direction and one that many countries could learn from, so we're all for that.

7. Punctuality

Yes, we moaned in our previous article about how set in their ways the Japanese can be, and how rules here are made to be kept, not broken, but we appreciate that without this fondness for law and order things in Japan simply wouldn't run as smoothly as they do. People here take punctuality extremely seriously, and it is considered common sense (and courtesy) to arrive a good ten minutes early for meetings, regardless of their nature. This may be a little too regimented for some, but in short this is part of why stuff here works as it should, and you can rely on pretty much any service running according to schedule.

There are times when delays are inevitable, and even Japan's über punctual rail network may fall a few minutes behind, but you can be sure that if that happens their operators take it extremely seriously, and you can expect both earnest apologies and a member of staff handing out “proof of lateness” slips to passengers at the ticket gate so that they can show their boss that it was in fact the train company's fault they were five minutes late, and not their own.

If you arranged for a package to be delivered by a certain time, it'll be there. And if it's not you'll very often get a call from the delivery guy himself apologising and informing you of the fact. Pizza due to arrive by seven? Make a space on the table by 6:45. If your phone service operator promised you that an engineer will call on a certain day at a certain time, 99 percent of the time that's when it'll be. You have to admire that kind of dedication to timekeeping.

8. Customer service

We admit that this perhaps blurs a little with our last point, but there's something inherently awesome about having the staff at McDonald's treat you like royalty even when you're too stingy to drop an extra few yen to make your hamburger a cheeseburger and choose a cup of water over a Coke. Yes, as in every country, there are a handful of twonks who let the side down, but if there's one thing you can say about the Japanese it's that they really know how to look after customers.

From hotels to fast food joints, customers almost always receive polite greetings and smiles. Keigo (honorific Japanese) is routinely employed and staff are quick to find something to apologise for even when it's clear that the customer is, in fact, in the wrong. Have a problem at the bank or post office and staff will do their best to find a solution for you rather than simply apologising and trying to move on to the next customer. And at some petrol stations, or gasorin sutando as they're known, having wiped down your windshield, run a cloth over your wipers and asked if you have any garbage you'd like thrown away while they pump the gas for you, attendants will stand at the edge of the forecourt and bow as you drive away, only lifting their heads once you're several car-lengths away.

There are times when we almost wish they'd relax a little (staff carrying your purchases to the threshold of their shop in a department store and thanking you repeatedly for your patronage can be a little disconcerting for those of us who grew up eating alphabet spaghetti and fluorescent pink pudding), but on the whole it's fantastic to see so many people taking their work so seriously.

9. Toilets

Ask someone to list a few things that define Japan, and “space-age toilets” will almost definitely come up eventually. And they truly are things of tremendous technological achievement. Heated seats, not one but two spray functions whose pressure, warmth and direction can be controlled, ambient noise to mask any embarrassing bottom burps, lids that open automatically as you enter the room as if to say “Are you sure you don't want to do a little one?” and multiple flush options make going to the bathroom in Japan an adventure in itself. There is plenty to be said for the health benefits of old-school squat toilets – and they still exist in their droves even amongst their gadget-riddled brethren – but with so many buttons and dials to tinker with, who would want to miss out? 

10. Drinking pretty much anywhere

The imbibing of alcohol in public places may be frowned upon in some countries, and completely illegal in others, but in Japan it's considered perfectly OK to crack open a beer in the park, or on the street or bullet train (though food and drink in general are a no-no on most regular trains).

Perhaps after putting in so many hours of overtime, people here feel it is their God-given right to enjoy a cold one? Perhaps it's simply that so few Japanese make a nuisance of themselves and get violent after drinking (if anything, a sudden onset of red-faced sleepiness is usually the worst they have to fear)? Whatever the reason, no one bats an eyelid at the sight of someone strolling down the street or sitting on a park bench with an open can of Asahi in their hand, and it's thanks to this relaxed approach to public drinking that parks all over Japan are filled with revellers (and this includes entire families rather than just rowdy students), eating, drinking and enjoying the beautiful cherry blossom during hanami parties every spring. No brown bags or secret slurps in Japan – it's beer cans and cheers of “kanpai” as and when you see fit, and we think that's pretty great. 


13 November 2013

Day one of the new job began early in a Perth hotel room, followed by a short drive to the airport, before boarding a Qantas 737-800 for Newman. Comfortable seats, movies and TV to watch in seat head backs, tea, coffee and an acceptable breakfast (none of which were available on Mt Keith Flights). Not a bad start.

Familiar faces at the airport, and a hasty tour of town. A bit of a mix up with the keys, but the accommodation eventually looks most acceptable. An upstairs apartment, fully equipped with all the mod cons – somewhat more luxurious than home (it has a bed). The kitchen is magnificent (and that is the room I really care about), although I'd have preferred a gas cooker over the induction plates… I can't fault the bathroom or laundry (or the excessively large cinema-screen television - do they think I'm short-sighted?). A quick change into something less comfortable (the uniform) before a disappointingly short drive to the workplace – I could walk there in 10 minutes. It's red, it's dusty, it's a mine site, and the Emergency Services area is reassuringly familiar. I'm a little disappointed that BHP's most profitable mine isn't more of a showpiece – it's not gleaming and modern; it's stained red with iron-ore dust and fairly average in appearance.

17 November 2013

Well, I've been here for a few days now. Still so much to learn! Busy? – you bet! I think I've gained near as much experience in the last four days as a couple of years at sleepy Mount Keith. It's exhausting and frustrating, but time flies. We're trying to run ER training 4 times in 8 days. Medical treatments, and fire alarms, roll in relentlessly. Two days ago I thought I had my first customer die on me (he didn't, thankfully), and yesterday I half expected to be blown to bits in a shrapnel-filled gas explosion as I dispersed leaking acetylene with only the assistance of a fire hose and turn-out gear for protection. With good outcomes; it's all good fun…

 

27 September 2014

Ah September! – You are my favourite month to be home. The grass is still, by Australian standards, unnaturally green and lush. The garden is bursting with flowers too numerous to list (but the Grevilleas are a personal favourite – and seemingly irresistible to the abundant birdlife). Although (very much) birdlife; I should exclude the chooks from this generalisation, for they show a strong preference for snails, slaters, wheat and oats, and scratching destructively around the vegie gardens. We've eight friendly grazing chooks-a-laying, and one mildly timid one too, roaming haphazardly outside right now. The temperature is as pleasant as Spring ought be – not quite a beach day, but shorts and t-shirt none-the-less. I am 1600km away from work and there is no better place to be, regardless of the weather. Not that work is so bad, but family is better. Work is good. Work is hectic. Work is changing at bum-blistering pace! Transformations, transmogrifications, transitions, restructuring and re-adjustments (and a pinch of corporate gobbledygook) each and every day. People spontaneously combusting, cats stuck up trees, alien abductions being just three routine emergencies we've not had to deal with yet. I'm saddened that we have lost our Field Response Team – no more volunteer assistance. No more regular play dates! A change that is not as good as a holiday. I look forward to a holiday. Every second week off is nice, but it doesn't feel as good as a real holiday. Not long now, keep focussed, it's coming. Back to Queensland for the second time in six months - I would not have expected that; after staying away for so many years. It will be a good opportunity for Kumi to see the Australian Far East for the first time – to see where the sun actually comes from. Her last year's obsession was roller coasters, and this year it's waterslides. So Queensland it is. My earlier trip was for the purpose of clearing out my ancient stored possessions, from the old childhood / family home for the last time. I wish Kumi had been able to be there on that occasion, but her grandmother's illness, and death, saw the girls unexpectedly back in Japan again. I found myself entrapped and ensconced in dusty-to-the-touch nostalgia. My long-forgotten childhood (and early adulthood) memories were found in cardboard boxes, on shelves, and hanging silently on the walls. So many toys and books and photos, a garden and a house, from when I was a boy of a different name. Nostalgia isn't what it used to be. Obviously nor am I. Cluttered cartons of long-forgotten photos and negatives and slides assisted to resuscitate the faded fragile memories, and to remind me construct the new ones for Kumi and Yumi. Best hasten the memory building.

Some of the Field Response Volunteers
Grivillea
Spring at Work
Nature's Beauty
Grivillea

 

 

04 October 2014

FOR SALE

1998 Toyota Starlet 3 Door Hatch (Air-Conditioned Manual). Genuine: 1 carefree owner since new - only 396000km. Log book shows first service history. Engine runs like new (as far as I can tell/remember). Has never missed a beat (150000km service intervals without problem – yes really 2 services in last 300000km). Has had regular fuel changes to approximate total of 28500L in all (for just 64000kg of CO2 emissions. Yes 64 Tonnes of CO2 have been emitted through the tailpipe in the time I have had the beautiful girl). Some 183 entire days and nights I have spent sat in the driver's seat, wearing down 32 tyres. 6 entire months of my life (night and day) spent sitting in the driver's seat??!!! That's just crazy! Forget the fact that I've spent more than $30000 at on fuel. 396000km could have easily seen me at the moon. This vehicle is best suited to earthly terrestrial travel. May suit enthusiast interested in converting to interplanetary travel – will almost certainly need to replace left/passenger door seals prior to use in space/time travel. Entirely original brakes and clutch (sorry).

 
04 October 2014
04 October 2014

 

November 2014

Kumiko's first trip to the east coast – the Australian orient – completed successfully. A fun-filled fantastic father and daughter trip – great places to visit …. Sydney town, Bris Vegas, Noosa, the Gold Coast and some places in between fruitfully negotiated. Finally Kumi has had her first trip out of WA (that wasn't to a foreign country). I don't think I made it out of my home state until I was about 8 either (and Sydney it was too). We finally managed to catch up with a few people from my distant past and explore good old Manly. She has now done most of the Sydney touristy thingies; the Harbour Bridge, the Opera House, Taronga Zoo, the Wollemi Pine, a few museums, been to Granville. Sydney still (depressingly) seems largely unchanged – car dominated, slow-trained, noisy and dirty for the most part. Beyond the few tourist icons: It makes me wonder why/how I stayed there so long (other than the obvious friends and fun times that life in Manly once provided). Catching up with Mitori was a joy though (perhaps Kumi's favourite Sydney moment – playing on the beach with the other kids).

Brisbane provided most of what we had hoped for in Sydney – a people-propelled vibrancy in the city centre (not just endless noisy buses and cars). People dining-out, colour, life, music – perhaps much of it was due to the G20 meeting, but it felt so much more alive and enticing. Still, it is pretty hard for any city to compete against Sea World, Dream World, Movie World (and the absolutely best of all ‘Worlds'/theme parks – Wet ‘n' Wild) when you are an 8 year-old. Perfect weather through-out, and near exhaustion at every day's end. Every waterslide, ride, roller coaster conquered multiple times (albeit, the roller coasters are fairly small and tame compared to anything we rode on last year in Japan – disappointingly tiny in fact). The waterslides, however, were why we were there, and they delivered. I can't wait until Yumi gets a bit older so that I will have an excuse/justification for going back again. That is the beauty of having young kids – I can look like a responsible adult while I'm being a young kid too! Fun! Now my eldest knows where I went to school, where I once worked, where I first met her mother, where I bought my first papier-mâché cat, and met that cat (now residing with RAD Mackenzie). It's nice to be back home.

Christmas 2014

So this is Christmas… I am at home with the family. That's got to be a good thing –even being away from the desert heat is a blessing. The presents have been unceremoniously stripped bare of their gaudy spangled wrappings, with extravagant enthusiasm and delight. The tangible and tactile toys received by the kids, followed by the ethereal shrieks of joy and happiness that are emitted back to us (my presents of mind). The plastic tree in the corner still winks its oscillating multi-coloured-LED seasonal reminder - so that we can't forget Christmas is still here, and we can remember the true meaning of the made-up story loved by Christians everywhere. ‘Jesus', I quietly think to myself as I sip from my glass of Coonawarra cabernet, ‘This is a nice wine'.

It's nice to be home, in a house – last R&R was partly spent in the wilderness some 50km out of Manjimup. It was peaceful wilderness at its finest too, with woylies, tammars, chuditch, bandicoots and naughty possums to provide our night-time entertainment. No phone service, no internet, no television, no radio – just the magnificent noises of nature and family to amuse us. The 2 possums that helped themselves to our fruit while we were out trudging through the bush at night – ironically looking for possums (and other rarer furry creatures) – were a big hit with Yumi. She shows no fear; just an irresistible attraction to fondle small fuzzy faunae of all shapes and sizes. No bites and no scratches this time: I thank the little beings for their tolerance…

 

April 2015

Already? April 2015? Is April not the most perfect month? No, September is, but April is second best. The weather at work is comfortable and the weather at home is sensible. The garden is bursting with life at home; it's green and lush and noisy with bird song - some 20-plus species of birds grace us on a typical day. Chirpy New-Holland Honey-Eaters go berserk, the Magpies at the door chortle, the Golden Whistlers serenade us, the beautiful Blue Wrens entertain us, the fantails fascinate us, the Red-Tailed Cockatoos frustrate us with gumnuts dropped on the tin roof, Wattle Birds, Silver-Eyes, Bronzewings, swooping Swallows, Twenty-Eights, Grass Parrots, Peewits, and the list goes on. Let's not forget the friendly (although less spectacular) chickens laying eggs-aplenty. Add two perfect daughters and a beautiful wife; there's the perfect life.

2015/04/21
Yumiko - The girl who sleeps in a kitchen cupboard
2015/04/21
Kumiko - On the way home from school
2015/04/21
Kumiko - In the front garden.
2015/04/21
Kumiko in the driveway
2015/04/26
Men at play.
2015/04/26
Here I am having set fire to another car.
           

 

June 2015

Wednesday morning; and nearing time to be leaving the beautiful workplace of sunny Mount Whaleback behind (if only for another week). The fluorescent sunsets and vibrant sunrises, at least, have been beautiful (and I've had the privilege of seeing them all when travelling to and from work – such is the nature of the short winter days). It seems that the sun is on its way up around 0615 when I'm heading east (back to my flat) and sets around 1745 when I'm heading west on the way to the workplace. Nature sometimes puts on a beautiful show, and I hope to sleep through the beauty of the sunrises at home (or at best cast a bleary eye through the window from beneath my comfy warm doona and think ”Wow, what beautiful orange and pink hues” as I drift off to sleep again). That's the aspiration, bring on the reality (bring on the lovely family that likes to rise a little too early). Bring on the cuddles and hugs. Bring on the 737-800 that takes me back to planet Perth, and get me to my carriage. Bring on the peace of mind and inner tranquillity that only home can afford me.

 

Sky
Swimming Pool

 

 


Work town - Newman 7th June 2015 (long after sunrise has past by). I can see my flat down there.

 


Home!
Home town on a wintery day (2015.06.13) . I can see my house! More than a thousand people live somewhere in this photo.

 

 

Very Near to Winter's End 2015 - at work and yearning for family and home.

0200 on a quiet Sunday morning, and only the gentle rumble of a few dozen 300-tonne trucks permeates the still night air. If not for that rumble, I'd hardly know I was here. We are days away from Spring, and there is a definite Springiness about the air at Mt Whaleback, and in Newman. It is a Springiness that would qualify as a mid-Summeriness in old Barkerton. At home, in my Hanging Gardens of Barkerton (that surround my pre-fab Stately Pleasure Dome), the flora sits poised to erupt. The annual flower show is nigh. The birds are nesting, in semi-concealed artfully shaped bowls of sticks and flotsam, in readiness for their annual nectar-fest orgy of indulgence. Soon the show begins. Maybe soon too; the trips to the beach may recommence. Maybe shortly the lighting of the fire at night will be a warm memory rather than a pleasantly toasty task. The anticipation is… futile? It will happen, and it will happen soon. I yearn for the crispy warm white sand between my toes and the sun atop my all-too-long boot-shod feet - the snuggly willing captives of a long (mild) winter. Beckoning salt water and sand, sun-block and hats, surfboards and waves, dinners outside, clumsy buzzy blowflies, jellyfish, sharks and snakes, cricket on the radio, Santa at the door: I can taste summer! Three more nights will see me home in Spring! Fair chance it will be damp and gloomy, and I'll light the fire, but outside the grevilleas, the pimeleas, the angiozanthos and friends, the peach and the cherry blossoms will shine to the bird's and my children's delight.

A friendly parrot anticipating Spring, and more flowers to come, in the front garden...

 

 

September 2015

Once again September has delivered. Perfect weather for camping and bush walking. Perfect weather for the wildflowers to go nuts. It is in September that I can realise that I do indeed live in a most beautiful part of the world. The landscape that is, for most of the year, fairly average Australian bush-scape has suddenly burst into the most vibrant and stunningly beautiful display of wildflowers. Colour surrounds us. Dozens of varieties of flowers makes a walk of a few hundred metres take an hour to appreciate. So many shapes and so many colours scattered as far as the eye can see. We should sell tickets – the spectacle is spectacular! I now realise that I ought to consider acquiring a decent camera sometime. Photos below (from dodgy camera) 22nd September 2015.

Pictures
Flower
Flowers
Flowers
Flowers
Flowers
       
Flower
Flowers
Flowers
Flowers
Flowers
       
Flowers
Flowers
Flowers
Flowers
Flowers
       
Daughter, Wife, and Flowers
Flowers
Flowers
Flowers
Flowers
       

 

2015/10/17 - Summer at last! (Hopefully will get in a few more such days before a wintery Japan next month).

 

Very Near to 2015's End

‘tis the day I start my weeks and weeks away from work. ‘tis the day I start to recover from the ravages and rigours of routine. Bye bye FIFO (at least for a short while). Good bye polished boots and ironed shirts. Good bye shaving – Hello entropy! - As I slide back into my dishevelled unkempt natural state. I won't miss the buzzy Panasonic 3-foil shaver a fraction (although it has served me faultlessly faithfully). For 2-plus years I've maintained the façade of presentability at Mt Whaleback (I may have occasionally tried it on at Leinster, and even a few rare times at Mt Keith), but I've disliked the shaving-game from the first time I played it. It must be 7 or 8 years ago that I first felt the sting of the razor blade. I remember it well (and thankfully the scars are all of a ‘mental' variety). A disposable razor, and a can of generic shaving foam, handed to me during Breathing Apparatus training at FESA/Fire&Rescue, with directions to the sink and mirror. The walk down the long hallway felt like a death-march, off to my own execution. I'd not seen a truly clean-shaven me since I started high school. Would I recognise a back-to-front me, all smooth and shiny in the mirror? Would I quickly be able to fathom the intricacies of the disposable razor? – I'd never been trained. I'd seen the act performed on TV more than once (must have been the shaver ads) and I think I had the rudiments in mind. Could a man in his forties learn to shave? It took a while as I tentatively explored the unfamiliar terrain from the end of a short plastic handle. I survived. I didn't necessarily like what I saw (and I have steadfastly avoided it at every opportunity since). I recall being shocked by a most disconcerting sensation (lasting for a further seven sweaty days of training) while being seated in the classroom for theory lessons. Seated with my elbow resting on the desk in front of me, my chin would come to rest between my curled fore-finger and thumb (for thought processing purposes). Instead of processing thought; I would be absolutely startled by a most unfamiliar feeling. What?! Who?! Why?! – Oh yeah, that's my own soft smooth skin. Entirely bewildering and perplexing at the time! Even now, at 0200, in the same pose at my desk, I am reassured by the harshness of stubbled seven hours post-shaving. At least I always have my ‘moustache' (of sorts) frequently trimmed short by scissor, but virgin and never truly clear-felled since the day it sprouted, for some reassurance – At least until some bugger changes the Australian standards for breathing apparatus fit… Holidays start now. Bring on the cooler weather in another part of this planet!

 

May 2016

It has been a while since I chucked some words upon this page – at least one's that have stuck. My undertaking this task now suggests that it must be night shift. Suggestion confirmed: Night shift it is. Slivers of uncommitted time fragmented from my regular life. I have a smidgen of uncommon space, time, and solitude to smell the roses and contemplate the universe. I must find those roses, and the better part of universe is obscured from view by some low-slung lazy fat cumulonimbus thingies – seemingly just up and out of arm's reach. The occasional flash of lightning in the distance stabs the darkness and briefly illuminates my cloudy friends. I use the term ‘friends' too loosely – the clouds are mere ‘facebook friends' to me. This night feels half as long as it is wide, or maybe more... Newman's not a bad place to be tonight. Tonight! - but what about every night?

Living in Newman: That possibility is a contemplation that hums, churns, and simmers quietly somewhere in the deep shadows of my thoughts, and has done so for months. Is it an opportunity, or a sentence? A blessing or a curse? A benefit, or a burden to move to Newman? If only I was certain that before me stood opportunity; I would grasp it with both hands of course. Here's hot; there's not. Here's… I dearly wish I had another four word rhyming sentence to put in after that last one (2x2 syllables for best effect). I wish I had a series of them. We're too far past the midnight hour for any creative brain function. Am I tired of the 52 Qantas 737-800 flights a year (theoretical), tired of airports and tin sheds masquerading as airports (Perth airport being the tin shed reference – Changi airport is an airport. Kansai Kuko is an airport)? - Quite possibly I am less enthralled about Perth airport than I was 9 years ago. What of the significant risks associated with flying – increased exposure to the cosmic rays? Maybe > 1mSv for the year? Is my DNA being silently ionised? Qantas food certainly tastes overly ionised to me, or is that just bland? Will I be able to have children? That issue is taken care of, and my DNA is safely locked into their 37.2 trillion potential cells. Poor kids, they deserve better. They have, mercifully, approximately 50% Makiko DNA, and I've never had that kind of an advantage. Ought I drag my children from their familiar surrounds of temperate Barker-yama? Could I tear them away from known stability and deliver them to the hot and arid? What's good, and what's bad? Just putting these thoughts on paper (quaint old saying that it is – no paper. Am I saying? I'm not even writing. Quaint old typing? Word processing? Key-boarding?) has helped my decision making. Catharsis partly realized. Time for bed beckons.

 

July 2016

Nothing new to report other than; July already? It seems to come around every year. I'm a year older than I was this time last year - I guess that is true of every day and not necessary a July-only phenomenon. It is night 1, of 7, at the workplace Whaleback. It feels unusual to be back, seemingly having spent far more time at home than at work this year. It has been a glorious few months with Makiko and the girls, and in a far more verdant part of our fantastic little blue spaceship-Earth than I find myself now. It will be another week before I breathe the dust-free air, and can see the Milky Way in full-colour, high-definition, and just out of arm's reach again. I last arrived home from work, just shy of midnight, to view possibly the single-best moonbow I have seen in my life time. Its beauty held me entirely transfixed in the chilly night air, while the rest of the sky just did its spectacular and faultless ‘Milky Way' thing. A few hours of sleep, and the next morning found me staring out of the kitchen window in wonder of an outrageously vivid conventional rainbow framed against a black winter's sky. Nature can certainly put on a good show – even the winter flowers are blossoming now (and soon too will the wildflowers). Why would I live anywhere else?


Through the kitchen window

 

Drove out of work this morning (22/07/2016) and ran into a beautiful sunrise over Newman

Late July 2016 -

Here I go again. Four words and forwards, I progress. Four words when a thousand words paints a picture. It might be easier just to upload a picture. One thousand four-letter words might paint a more colourful picture. Has this typing any purpose? Maybe I could slip message a subliminal message in here (subliminally - without telling you what I am about to write). Yes, that would be subliminal. Perhaps it could even be a meaningful message, much unlike my usual produce. It's a prospect no more unlikely than 1000 monkeys typing on 1000 typewriters for 1000 years producing the (plagiarised) complete policies of the One Nation party. NB: In this scenario, the monkeys have been genetically modified to survive 1000 years – hopefully the majority can avoid early onset dementia and continue to produce quality random text well into their late 800's or early 900's. For the experiment; I am willing to accept a small amount of lesser-quality random text from monkeys in their late 950's. I know I do expect a lot from my monkeys, and I expect them to clean up after themselves too (and change out their own typewriter ribbons). Do they still make typewriter ribbons? How many typewriter ribbons would I need for a thousand years of a thousand monkeys madly tapping? It imagine typewriter ribbons would still be more cost effective, and far less grief-causing, than opting for 1000 years of sporadic Windows' up-grades and installations – particularly when every second version is a lemon. Oh, to have a thousand monkeys! How sweet it would be. Even One Nation had get by with just one.

Well here I am sat tapping at a dusty BHPB computer in the throes of an average peaceful night shift. I sit like a tightly coiled spring - ready to pounce at any hint of a mining emergency. Actually I see myself more like one of those kid's “Slinky” springs (not the quality metal ones of yesteryear, but rather a cheap rainbow-coloured plastic one). I'm a ‘Slinky' sitting at the top of a staircase, and ready to be pushed over so that I can make my way down the the stairs in response to any mining emergency; all while converting potential energy into kinetic – and wasting a portion in useless heat and sound. Still, some may find a modicum of joy in my steady progress to any mining emergency (and I'm far less likely to take out an eye than a tightly coiled spring) – they're a menace. It's all about safety, in mining, thank goodness. Safety, and dusty rocks. Some nights this place is like a mental asylum; quiet, peaceful, and trouble-free for the most part. Some nights are a little busier. Day shift however sorts the men from the inanimate objects. On day shift, the men have to get up, move around, and do things that inanimate objects could only dream about. Upon deeper reflection; I guess that some inanimate objects do have the luxury getting out and about to help. My trusty yellow helmet travels everywhere with me for the most part – we've had a lot of call-outs, and training sessions spent together. We're a nearly inseparable team; helmet and me. There are limits to our inseparability; we've definitely not slept together, or showered, and I prefer the company of a different helmet when I cycle…

The sun will pop up soon; so I must be off to catch my favourite plane (the one that takes me home).

Apologies for making you scroll this far, with so little reward as reward.

 

August 2016 -

And the wildflowers have started their show again. Early days yet, but September promises to be something special. Yumi asks, on a daily basis, to go to the mountains ( ????? - she says) to see the flowers. Her definition of a mountain seems easily achieved, even in fairly flat WA. Any moderately inclined bush path can be classified as a mountain for my littlest one. Thankfully it's a relatively simple task to find a mountainous ‘mountain' within five minutes of home. As the days warm some more, no doubt she'll soon be back to beach-trip requests. I too yearn for the feeling of warm soft white sand between the toes again. Nearly time to take the little one to some out-of-the-way beaches where the only footprints in the sand will be our own, but first; the flowers.

August 2016
August 2016
Not August 2016
August 2016
August 2016

 

 

September 2016

Spring is here and Kumi has just seen her first (unexpected) Western Australian snowfall. It's the first time I've seen it snowing here too! Wildflowers surround us again - it is a sea of colours in all sorts of assorted shapes.

September 2016
September 2016
September 2016
September 2016
September 2016
         
September 2016
September 2016
September 2016
September 2016
September 2016

 

October 2016

More of September really. It's hard to walk anywhere without stopping to admire the weird little plants popping up all over the place. The bush is beautiful at this time of the year (and nearly every other time too).

October 2016
October 2016
October 2016
October 2016
October 2016
         
October 2016
October 2016
October 2016
October 2016
(That way home!)
October 2016

 

December 2016

Finally it is December! The Christmas tree is up and quietly flickering its colourful eclectic erratic patterns on to the lounge room walls. The stars outside twinkle gently too – barely betraying a hint of their nature as giant churning thermonuclear plasma monstrosities (or at least they were that when the photons escaped them and travelled for 10's, 100's, and many 1000's of years only to bump into my sky-turned retina at a blistering mind-boggling pace – probably at the speed of light). My retina scarcely felt the impact - or if they did; it didn't hurt. I digress… It feels like it has been 2016 forever – a great, but long year. A stellar (another star reference) year for Kumi with success following success in everything she's turned her hand to. Numerous guitar cameos / performances for her, wins in two talent quests, respectable places in the interschool cross country races (and a first place in the 800m), swimming, fairest and best trophy winner in hockey, interschool spelling bees… It seems that half of my year was spent watching Kumi, and watching her room fill with medals, trophies, ribbons, and awards. And there's Yumi: Yumi has mastered cuteness and the art of fascinating me with her spellbinding brain works. A long year, but still Yumi is growing up far too fast. School next year, but for now her life is bicycles, mountains, chooks, cherries, beaches, and flowers – she's also somewhat fascinated with the letterboxes of our neighbourhood.

Cherries, cherries, cherries! I never seen so many cherries! Normally the parrots and silver-eyes would come and devour everything that isn't netted, but it seems that this year, they are otherwise engaged. Too many cherries!

I finished night shift on Wednesday morning last week, and flew to Perth where I shopped before driving home. By the time that I went to bed, I had been awake for 32 hours (this is part of the normal routine). I was awoken (far too early for my liking) from my slumber, at 5:00am, with Maki cuddling up to me. She whispered the words "I got high definition". Half comatosed and entirely incoherent; I was baffled. I thought, 'Can't be, our tv is far too old - I've tried, and there is no way we can get high definition'. Then I thought, 'I've been married to Maki for nearly 25 years, and I can't remember her ever turning on the tv, nor showing the faintest interest in anything on it - let alone caring about high definition'. Without requiring my eyes to open, my sleep-deprived brain forced my mouth to quietly mutter "What? How, Why What?". In excited tones Maki blurted out "In physics. High definition in physics!" Milliseconds later I had comprehended the message. “You mean High Distinction, don't you?” She did. Party time! Surfer, chef, gardener, artist, guitarist, tiger-mum extraordinaire, infallible life companion, and BSc on the way to being a physicist (maybe even astro-physicist, I dare to hope). A high distinction in physics (good judgement UWA). What can't this woman do? I'm so super-proud of her hard-earned high definition.

 

December 2016
A dead tree, some twinkling stars and The Small Magellanic Cloud?
December 2016
Yumi collecting cherries - just another 30kg to go...
December 2016
Cherries on the way.
December 2016
Cherries on the way.
December 2016

 

January 2017

Well here I am seated at the midnight hour for the final time at my place of work. Less than 6 hours left at Mt Whaleback. It has been a pleasure getting to know the largest open cut iron ore mine in the world. It a big hole! – it's a lovely place too (for all of its quirks and red dust). Barely a dull moment, and lots of them fun moments too. It has been 3 years, and I guess a familiar pattern is forming once more. 3 years at Evans & Tate. 3 years at Hay Shed Hill. 3 years at Deep Woods. 3 years with Polky. 3 Years with Compass. 3 years with Spotless. 3 years of Whaleback. What will I be sentenced to next? It is time for an extended stay at home with Maki and the little ones. Time for some life spent at the beach. Time for some life spent under a sparkling sky of stars. Stars to be mesmerised, and transfixed, by – unlike those available at Whaleback (too many lights here). Time for some life spent away from airports and Qantas 737's (maybe just one more to get me home). It's time to leave Mt Whaleworld. Good bye Newman...

 

April 2017

Wow – to step out of the back door at midnight and to be engulfed by a sparkling, glittering, spangled Milky Way that stretches from horizon to horizon. The sky feels so near, as if I could touch it. In those moments I feel my insignificance – nothing that happens on this planet is of any consequence in the grand scheme of things. I feel privileged to cast my eyes upon the majesty of the vast twinkling display, ensconced in an ‘unnatural' earthly silence with an immaculate black back-drop. Not a breath of wind in the cool night air, and I can imagine that I am alone on this earth – where is everyone? The stars! – Let's count them. I give that idea away swiftly; it's easier to stand in dumb-struck awe. It's one of the few awes that I never tire of – day after day, year after year; the effect is the same. The Milky Way is a brilliant companion for my West Australian nights...

 

May 2017

How good is it to be alive this time of year? – or any other… How good is it spend time in the garden? The garden is full of magnificent food – a great cross-over of winter crop coming into its own, and the summer crop hanging on into the cooler weather. Nothing, in my experience, comes close to home-grown and home-made. How do the supermarkets manage to pack their wares with such blandness? Not once have I ever found a truly great tomato in a shop (or flavoursome cucumber, corn, zucchini, pumpkin, shiso, rocket, daikon, komatsuna, pea, bean – insert pretty-much anything here). The flavours of home – I whole-heartedly thank farmer Makiko for her hard work. I just apply the water, for the most part (devouring a dozen cherry tomatoes as I do so). Cherry tomatoes are destined to be consumed in the garden it seems (maybe 10% make it to the kitchen). They are irresistible flavour bombs and hard for the kids to walk past. The chooks cluck gently laying eggs a-plenty. Birds darting, and hopping, paint the air with their song – the garden air is largely a blank canvas (no traffic noise, no signs of cars, trucks, nor trains). Feel the serenity! Shinzo the magpie drops in to serenade us with his beautiful melody from time to time too – usually two or three times a day. He'll wonder into the kitchen, and other rooms of the house, chortling happily until he finds someone to make him an offering – a small piece of scrambled egg, or meat. He's not a greedy bird: A minor morsel taken from hand, and he's happily off to join the rest of the magpie flock again. He's not like an insatiable seagull: he is polite, gentle, (gentle enough for Yumi to hand-feed confidently), sings sweetly, and departs without fuss. I don't how/why he started visiting us, but he has been a regular visitor for many years. There are worse ways to be woken in the morning than by the sound of the magpies' song.

June 2017

Farewell to old Jimblebar (old Jimblebar? - my young daughters are older than Jimblebar). I leave behind another workplace with (maybe) a greater than usual tinge of sadness. Missing from my departure scene is the character that plays the role of the person whom "I won't miss seeing / dealing-with (him / her) again". With every previous workplace departure (and there have been quite a few) I have left a good majority of people I truly like and care about behind, but there have always been one or two people that I feel I won't particularly miss - those who are hard to deal with, annoying, moody, dishonest, psychopathic ladder-climbers, or otherwise socially deranged. Not so Jimblebar – maybe I'm leaving too soon, but there is no one I shan't miss, and that's a first. I can't help but wonder why I am leaving – no difficult work mates and the best coffees I ever drank. My last two Jimblebar days saw me shifting my processions 500km north, by car – and I feel deeply privileged for the opportunity. I've finally seen the beautiful red landscapes north of Newman (something FIFO doesn't always allow). Timeless beauty to behold – seen through the windscreen at 110km/h. Oh, the geology! I now know where my next holiday will lead me – more exploration required, more time required. I need to meet with an earthly 4 billion-year-old rock (my meteorites are possibly older than that, but they don't count - as they're not made on earth – unlike most of my other meagre possessions).

28th of June 2017 - Photos through the dirty windscreen (some at 110km/h).
28th of June 2017
Southern Cross
28th of June 2017
Milky Way
             

 

July 2017

Not since the day my socks died have I been so content with my place in the universe. Not since Tiffany had her epiphany, not since Michael begat Yumiko, and not since I first cast eyes on Makiko, have I so crombled verily. Indeed! A joyous weekend for kids is now a recent memory (and a joyous, albeit fatigue-inducing weekend for parents). It was a well-timed weekend in Perth and Newman (thanks to BHP's generosity – fortunately coinciding with a bye in Kumi's hockey), and a visit to my former workplace. It seems my children love a hotel, a plane ride, bouncy castles, face painting, unlimited yummy food, a chance to let loose with the sirens on a fire engine, and it seems they can adequately feign a passing interest in over-sized mining equipment. Maki's eyes were glued on the landscape; the same plants and geology that have captivated me over the past 10 years.

If it wasn't for the 5 hours of driving I had to do at either end of the adventure; fatigue might not have been an issue. That's the price I'm willing to pay. Now I'm in Mooka, and surrounded by the world's flattest landscape – and correspondingly, the biggest skies I've ever seen. I'm sure that I am the tallest thing I can see, no matter which way I look. How good are the sunrises, sunsets, and the stars? – it's hard to fault the desolate beauty (and the serenity). Sky!

 

 

November 2017

A work day. Up at 0250 to go to the gym. A crisp sky full of stars to admire on the walk there, and back. A shower, a shave, and some ironing before a drive to the work place. I most-appreciatively bore witness to the sun gently creeping up and over the flattest of horizons this morning (as I do most), in a glorious and dazzling red, orange, and pink show. A truly beautiful start to Armistice Day. The sky is now a magical cloudless blue. The air is crisp and clear. How good is this planet? – it's certainly the best I've ever experienced. There are now about 100 (I haven't counted them) cheeky Zebra Finches congregated in a tree just outside my window at the moment, singing boisterously. They sound so happy. It makes me happy to hear them. Happiness must be contagious. How good is it to be alive today? – (and I'm getting paid for the experience). This is a FIFO workplace? – I thought they were supposed to be dirty, dusty, and noisy. Not here… Thank you BHP – I owe you.

Another thoroughly enjoyed trip to Bunbury has just been completed. Days off school for the kids – swings, slides, playgrounds and adventures. Another thumping performance of British India, at The Prince of Wales Hotel, for the big kids. Small venue. Big sound. Ringing ears. Good fun. The summer swimming season is upon us again. Beach trips. Pool trips. Camping trips in planning. It's summer!

Maki with Declan from British India.

 

A very poor quality video (recorded on a sad old mobile phone) - British India in Bunbury 02 November 2017.