Sunday, January 20, 2008

I go to sleep and imagine that you're there

Now that I've begun work at Sunshine Desserts and life is starting on a new track for me, I think it's time to put El Loco & El Lobo in a box and tie a big colourful ribbon around it.

I might, very occasionally add a little something, but if I continue any blogging, it will be under new skies and a different mast. I can still be reached through the MIKENBONDI (AT) GMAIL.COM address or through the comments links.

In the meantime, dedicated to all the wonderful people, who over the course of 934 days of travel and some 820 blog posts, smiled at me, extended their hand in friendship, scratched Bondi's ears, gave us a place to sleep or a reason to smile, covered a rich coffee in a caramel crema, put an arm over a weary shoulder ... giving me 934 reasons to return.

When I look up from my pillow
I dream you are there with me
Though you are far away
I know you'll always be near to me

I go to sleep, sleep
And imagine that you're there with me
I go to sleep, sleep
And imagine that you're there with me

I look around me
And feel you are ever so close to me
Each tear that flows from my eye
Brings back memories of you to me

- Ray Davies (mp3)

Friday, January 18, 2008

Return to 12 Coleridge Close

A good chunk of today was spent getting my car street-legal again for Australia. After the testing station finished the road-worthiness inspection they called to say that they couldn't find one of the seatbelts and that two of the tyres had to be replaced before they could give me a "blue slip" and thus allow me to proceed with my "green slip" (CTP or compulsory third party insurance) to the registry office.

I went around to the garage and showed them where to find the seat-belt (it descends from the rear ceiling) and approve new tyres. Sadly they're the ones I bought in Croatia in April after getting two slashed during my otherwise lovely stay in Dubrovnik. The only scar/souvenir left on the car after 28 countries is the dented rear door, courtesy of the farmer in Devon with an over-eager tractor.

Another couple of hours later and I was at the registry, picking up new rego plates and sticker. It was raining rather heavily when I got to changing the plates over*, but I needed to get the task finished so that if I could drive about without being picked up by police for having British plates on the car. As I slid the British tax disc off my window, and replaced it with a NSW sticker, it struck me that this was the final, official act of returning to normalcy here.

*silly me, caught a chill and now paying the price.

Some new hair-growth on Bondi's tail!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

And now we're back from outer space

I collected Bondi from the quarantine station this morning. Picked up some food for him on the way back into the city and then introduced him to his new home. I gave him a little time to explore and then left him again while I trundled off to Port Botany to collect the car.

The car was sitting outside the shipping warehouse's offices, and my personal effects were delivered back to me by forklift on several palettes, items rather sloppily arranged, including stuff rolling around on the surface of a framed picture sans its protective covers. I've been charged for steam-cleaning of the vehicle but honestly can't see any evidence of that.

After carting all my boxes into the house I realised I have the makings of another large bookcase in these, at least somewhat evenly split between read and nonread material. I can't drive the car any further until it's passed its "blue slip" roadworthiness inspection on Friday morning at the garage around the corner.

I think Bondi's medication is starting to have a positive effect on his coat and look forward to seeing more improvement.

For most of the remainder of the day Bondi has been content to lie around the house in different places while I work on the mountain of reading I have for my new job.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Bondi brekkie

Eggs Kurosawa at Jed's, North Bondi

Today is my last unencumbered day. I spent the morning over near Bondi Beach: breakfast, a stroll through the markets, and a quick loop of Campbell Parade, Hall and Gould Streets. Nick called to say he'd be home for a little while so I could come over and trade shoes for sandals to complete my New Year's Eve trade.

Ended up staying to gab with him and John for 3 hours. I think Nick is a feeder - after being plied with offers of grilled cheese and baked beans on toast (refused) old refrigerated sandwiches (accepted one) and supermarket-label chocolate biscuits, I finally made an apologetic exit before I was force-fed the remaining contents of the kitchen and confined to a queen-sized bed on a trolley for the rest of my life.

I really had to go out and buy some trousers for work tomorrow, since everything I own that's suitable is still stuck in my car on the docks. I'm not sure what it is about designers of men's clothing. Some years they are compelled to re-cut all the trousers to reduce their market to those with skinny legs. For any male who's spent 10 minutes at the gym, swimming or playing footie, it's very frustrating to find that trousers in your waist size will not pass your knees. I tried 6 clothing stores today before I found one that accommodated my burly, country-crossing, malamute-carrying thighs.

With only 3 more sleeps till Bondi comes home, I've been out scouting for food for him. It seems that fish-based options are harder to come by here than in Europe, and the one acceptable (with fish, no soya) bulk dry food I could find is more expensive than in the UK! Couldn't find any raw-hide chew pieces to keep his teeth dazzlingly clean. The search continues.

Today's Facebook status: Mike is surrounded by freaks. Freaks are the new black.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Library of Babel

The mostly read books.

I'm coming up to my final "it's not a weekend if you don't really have weekdays" weekend. I've unpacked what I can and put it away. Everything I want for now has been repaired or delivered and installed.

The two major items remaining are Bondi's release next Wednesday, and the release of my car and luggage from the shipping company. The car has been sitting in its container on the Port Botany docks for 10 days now and I still haven't been advised of when I'll be able to collect it. Just extended the term on my rental car a fourth time.

It feels good to have all the books out on shelves. There are a few other small pockets of them around the house besides what these pictures show, and a rather large cupboard of sheet-music which I sorted through during the week. An old friend thought it hysterically funny that I alphabetised most of my collections, but I really wouldn't be able to find anything otherwise. Nonfiction tends to run thematically on these shelves, and a few authors have entire shelves devoted to them.

The "unread" bookcases are frightening to behold. There are some in there that I just won't read, and I should just dispose of them quickly. However there are a good few that I am itching to read. In many cases I'd bought them in hardback before coming back to Australia in 2003 and never got the chance to start into them before the travel bug hit.

The book-crates in my car will require more shelving for both read and unread categories.

Do take it as a hint not to buy me any books for the forseeable future.

The unread books

Monday, January 07, 2008

Piano in an Empty Room

Out the door early this morning to check on Bondi. At the quarantine station I walked down the path towards his row of pens. He's the first on the left, but in the morning he's usually been rotated into a smaller holding pen opposite while his quarters are hosed out. Through several layers of wire mesh I could see his Batman-head silhouette, ears slightly cocked as if he had detected me already. I waved my arms to and fro, and then the look, the cry of recognition. At the door, he was standing on his hindlegs with his giant forepaws on the wire, looking eye to eye with me. Inside, he paced around and around me until I readied his collar and leash for a walk down to the exercise yard.

He was pulling hard, theoretically an inconvenience, but in a sled dog, a good sign of vitality. In the yard, he was happy to play chasing and tug-of-war games, or to watch the German Shepherd in the next yard, an import from New Guinea with a 60day stay.

I missed talking to his keeper, but she called me later to say that she was concerned about him missing more meals, losing weight, diarrhoea. I knew stress played a part but there was a good chance that if his dry food contained soya then that would affect his stool. But playing around with his food this late in his stay was probably not going to be effective. On her advice I acquiesced to a veterinary visit, and got a call back later from the vet who ran through what she'd prescribed for symptomatic relief, and confirmed a likely diagnosis of Cushing's in respect of his hair loss. Bondi's current stress would be playing into his cortisone levels and further affecting his hair. We agreed that his current split daily dose should be amended to a single dose for more impact.

My piano arrived mid-afternoon, and I've bounced on and off it between moving furniture and mowing my little lawns.

It'll brighten my mood until Bondi comes home in 9 days. I may not be able to scratch his ears till then, but I can noodle around with most of the world's piano repertoire at will.

I've also had more time for reading; Ian McDonald's vision of mid-21st century India "River of Gods" took a long time to get through, but then I ripped through Stephen Hall's remarkably innovative and entertaining "Raw Shark Texts", and now I'm pleasuring myself with David Leavitt's "The Indian Clerk" which reimagines the lives of Cambridge mathematician G.H. Hardy and the brilliantly intuitive autodidact Srinivāsa Rāmānujan.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Quarantine update

I got an email on Monday from Bondi's keeper saying that he was off his food, probably due to stress. She said not to worry, but of course since the first visiting day for the new year was still a few days away, it was hard not to imagine him emaciated, dwindling to the size of a chihuahua.

I made arrangements to visit him out of hours today. He was incredibly pleased to see me and gobbled down some ginger biscuits immediately. I took him for a short walk in one of the exercise pens, but the extreme heat and lack of shade kept that down to a few minutes. I left a packet of biscuits with instructions to crush one over his food so as tempt him back to eating. The ginger is both calming on the stomach and attracts him to start licking his food, and thence if he forgets himself, to start eating properly. He's now a hair over halfway through his internment, so I'm confident that he'll get through it all fine ... until I hear the bloodcurdling howl when I leave :-(.

My father


As I sit in the January heat, unpacking memories, I often come across my father's odds and ends. Today is the 9th anniversary of his sudden passing, on another very warm day in Temora in 1999. I had been in the US for little more than 4 months when I found myself on a plane headed from my first white Christmas, back to the searing heat of the Australian bush (44C as I recall).

I have a small blue plastic crate, filled with slides, photos, newspaper clippings and testaments of how others felt about him. As I was shuffling through it today, I found his unused passport holder, and folded up within that, the eulogy I wrote the night before his funeral service. Over the last few years of travelling around Europe, I have uncovered something of the lives of my more remote ancestors. Now, regrounded in Sydney, it's good to retell that more recent story...

On a day like today, when I stand here to speak of my father and friend, I had hoped to be much older and wiser, but instead I feel more surely foolish and uncertain.

Over the last four months we exchanged many email messages across the Pacific, and I learned more than ever how great a communicator Dad was as he sent very lively letters of recent happy times.

So now we come together to celebrate Graham's life, and tell his story, and I offer a few glimpses into that life, both from personal memories and as many of you may remember him:
  • He was a man who could talk to anyone. Never afraid to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger, he quickly impressed and charmed with his genuine interest, candour and passion. Dad always let you know what he was most passionate about within moments of meeting. This week I've received many calls and emails from those who met him briefly only once or twice, but who remembered with amazing clarity so many details of their conversations.
  • Dad was a meticulous craftsman who made wonderful models of trains, ships and aeroplanes. His attention to detail expressed itself in so many other ways.
  • Graham was a father who never told you how to do things but who led by example. I distinctly remember the day nearly twenty years ago he returned from a meeting with his employers who had asked him to resign because his standards were too high. His principled commitment in such circumstances has been a continuing influence to me and I'm sure to many present.
  • He was a father who was open and not afraid to show his feelings. Compassion, generosity of spirit and laughter were some of his greatest gifts. Laughing together with him over a joke or a movie was one of those intense pleasures that my friends often remarked on, especially as we set each other off laughing until we were each too weak to move.

Lismore Baths 1958

When Dad left school, he joined the CBC Bank, and spent several years in short assignments in places such as Beckom and Henty. From there he moved on to Head Office in Martin Place, Sydney, where as star swimmer in the interbank swim events he met my mother Judy. She also worked as her father did in the CBC Bank. Both my parents had grown up in the bush and were keen to leave the city. After I was born we moved on to Gosford, where, a couple of years later, a second son, Paul was born.

Early 1940s, with his mother on Bondi Beach

Around 1968 we moved to Queanbeyan, followed by a move in 1970 to Bourke, where Dad developed his skills in putting on golf greens made of sand. After exactly two years in Bourke, he was appointed manager of the newly built Urunga branch, just south of Coffs Harbour.

This stay was brief - only 10 months, while we lived in temporary accommodation about the size of two caravans - but it gave him a chance to renew his boyhood love of sailing, and for us to share many afternoons fishing from the pier or tackling the North Coast surf.

Someone surely heard of our need for larger living quarters, so we crossed the state again to Temora in early 1973. Now we struggled to fill the 6 bedroom residence attached to the bank in Hoskins Street. Here Dad further developed his passion for golf, and he and I began work building a Mirror dinghy on the back verandah - a fact I'm sure that was not lost on 99% of customers who came through the bank doors.

For both Graham and Judy, years of moving between towns had taken their toll, so after 5 years here they decided to settle in Temora to enable a permanent home for my brother and I.

Sadly, while both our parents became increasingly involved in community work, domestic turmoil and employment uncertainty initiated a painful chapter in our lives which effectively split the immediate family in two. To his credit, Graham worked up until the end for a day when the family could sit down together, working to overcome misunderstanding without attaching blame.

Importantly he rarely missed the opportunity to travel to Sydney to share in family occasions with his 10 brothers and sisters, 17 nieces and nephews, many of whom are here today.

I suspect many of us come to truly know our parents' lives in reverse order. One day after adult life has crept up on us, we recognise ourselves in them, and we come to a real understanding of what their lives mean to us. From this, we begin to impose some meaning on the events of a thousand childhood memories and faded photographs.In my father's private world he was always flying - through air or across the water. His photographs were always of friends, family, flying and sailing. Here is a poem that he requested should be read today. It was written by Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jnr., of the Royal Canadian Air Force, who was killed in a flying accident nearly sixty years ago.

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless, burning blue,
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew -
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

Finally, much has been said this week about the large projects he has worked for in this community, but so much more is spoken in the eyes of so many friends and acquaintances who came to pay their respects. This has been an especially touching experience for all the family.

I've spent the last few days in Temora, sifting through some of the smaller traces of Dad's life. It was most telling to find his new passport and airline ticket holder, part of his preparations to join me for an extended stay in Seattle in but a few short months. That would have been his first overseas journey, so now I take him in my heart, wherever I go.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008


I don't like NYE crowds and I have a negligible strike rate for romantic midnight celebrations, so I was really looking to have a quiet evening at home. Buuuttt the organisers of this year's fireworks over Sydney Harbour were promising their most ambitious work yet.

Looking north over Hyde Park towards Sydney Harbour at 7.30 and 8.30pm.

A late-breaking invite to join friends on a balcony overlooking Hyde Park, pulled me out of my seasonal grumps. The hosts were gracious and the party was well-catered, and I caught up with some more people who were unaware of my return to Sydney, plus met a couple of people from my own street 5km away. Sydney gets smaller by the moment.

Flying foxes (giant fruit-bats) massing in the evening sky

Also mad as fruit-bats: post-midnight jollity with Phil, Lyn, Muttley, Frank G, John D, Grace

Nougat will come of this: feeding Muttley

The tide of celebration maintained its surge past midnight, and it wasn't long before I was outside Palms nightclub. Here everything threatened to unravel, as I had elected to wear sandals on this more than balmy night, and the bouncers were not going to admit a male with open-toed footwear.

Sydney still retains horrible vestiges of its "tropical England" past, mostly in the form of dress-regulations entirely inappropriate to its climate. When I worked at Lloyds Bank years ago, no one really cared what wonders I was achieving at my computer, but sartorial carelessness would earn one admonitions that had sounded out of date when "Are You Being Served?" was on telly.

In more recent years, I wore a fashionable open-necked formal silk shirt to a wedding reception in an expensive club on Sydney's North Shore. Halfway through the event, an hag from the club slithered over to demand that I meet their dress standards, and proffered some filth-stained neckwear from their lost property box.

One of my companions suggested that we try the adult-accoutrement shop next door in case they had some slippers or other coverings for my elegantly sculpted metatarsals. A quick perusal of the hardware on offer showed that they only had slippers with a choice in decorative foam his-and-hers-genitalia on offer. Decreasing the number of offensive dangly bits from 10 to 1 probably wouldn't mollify the doormen so we passed on that opportunity.

The next suggestion, was to get a taxi to the nearest apartment in the group so that I could be suitably attired. I felt like some surreal Cinderella with two - no pun intended - footmen being driven around in the early hours of 2008 to obtain shoes that would enable me to go to the ball. Vince and I sat in the taxi while Nick ran inside to get some shoes. Moments later he returned, passing a slightly battered pair of sneakers through the taxi window, simultaneously commanding the driver to return us to the pickup point.

As I struggled into the slightly small shoes, I discovered that Nick had brought me two left shoes. I suppose we could have turned the taxi around at this point, but it all seemed so gloriously in keeping with our demented excursion.

I danced till dawn before my right big toe started to turn into a pumpkin.