Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Arrowtown / Team America arrives

Woke at 10am, or 8am or 9am, depending on which chronological error you believed. Worked out how to sue the shower but still struggling to make the most of the tiny mirror stuck at shoulder height over the hand-basin. Unlike hotels with their vast bathroom mirrors that enable feats of manscaping not possible at home, B&B's adopt a policy of mirror minimisation that requires I position myself in a yoga posture to get my head in range and then I can check a range of up to 3 teeth for food scraps.


I decided to visit Arrowtown, a village 15km north of here. Announcing this in the B&B dining room, a fellow guest  brandished a timetable for the bus service, defying me to make sense of it. Conceived as the colourful offspring of a ransom note, tide table, and an aptitude test for Bletchley Park, the brochure did its best to disguise the fact that I should go to the corner at 5 minutes after the hour and wait for the bus.

It's then a 45 minute journey with diversions to the shopping mall, airport and a housing estate before we're in the village. It's much cleaner looking than QT although it's a very small affair with a short main street of cafes and shops selling every conceivable by-product of merino and jade, occasionally infiltrated by purveyors of souvenirs of mind-boggling naffness, much of which has escaped the scrutiny of the 1981 International Convention Against Trading in Products Made of Broken Pieces of Seashell.

IMG_1529 IMG_1531

Queenstown souvenirs; Matthew, the baby of the family 

After a couple of hours I return to Queenstown to wait for Team America. A heavy rain sets in, giving them a chilly welcome to the South Island.

Finally gathered, I find they're very well organised and retrieve enough ingredients from the local supermarket to work up a large batch of spag-bog before the NYE fireworks begin.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008



Surprise! I've abandoned Sydney for a week of frivolity in Queenstown, New Zealand. It's my first visit to NZ since 1995, the first time south of Christchurch, and most noticeably the first time my costs weren't being borne by an employer.

The boys off are at a boarding kennel. A house-sitter would have been ideal, but I don't know anyone wise in the ways of the Malamute who would also be strong enough to manage Munson on a leash. In the meantime I just have to swallow the kennel costs which sit uncomfortably near my return airfare for the week.

I'm here because Charles and Bryan, two special friends of mine from my days living in Seattle are visiting with 5 members of Charles' family, a south sea birthday processional for his mom June. This is the first chance to reconnect with them in over 4 years.

Queenstown is a 3 hour direct flight from Sydney, and with the 2 hour time difference, it's almost as if it were no time at all. My first impressions of the town are that it is an unlovely collection of buildings undeserving of the magnificent location. How unlovely? As an "adventure capital" the central township has ramshackle (my first sheep joke?) wooden structures jostling aging tourist apartments with a growing set of more luxurious hotels. It's Manly Corso meets Coober Pedy (Google street view). How magnificent? Well great chunks of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings film trilogy were shot within dwarf-throw of here.

IMG_1471 IMG_1493_stitch

I made contact with my friends and established that they'd be arriving from the North Island later the next day so I needed to fill in time by myself.

Desperate for coffee, the only cafe I can find is a large Starbucks with a shabby-chic international crowd of all ages queued ahead of me. While waiting anxiously for my flat white, a Japanese-American man is hyperventilating over whether his caramel strawberry frapuccino came in a vente or hyper-vente cup. Behind him, a small woman is reaching up to get a take-away cup of coffee that (I swear) was taller than her head. I'm somewhat relieved that my order is recognisably what I asked for.


My body is a little confused by the time difference and the 12° of latitude change (to a pinch over 45° S)  that stretched out the daylight hours. If this were the northern hemisphere it wouldn't be  remarkable latitude (think roughly Portland Oregon, or Venice, Italy) but with so little landmass in these climes, we're now in one of the few strips of land between Australia and Antarctica. I lost track of time as my watch wasn't sure which timezone it had moved to, and my phone had not synced time with Vodafone NZ. Whoever had plugged in the digital clock in my chalet room had failed in the attempt to set a time, and so the dial was left to flash helplessly.

IMG_1493-1518 26 photo stitch cropped [ice]

I had two bottles of ginger beer with my Fergburger dinner - one offered free by the staff after they lost my squid I took onto the streets for my stroll up the hill to the chalet. A police car pulled over to the kerb and an officer asked me to show him the contents of the brown bottle I was chugging. I rotated the label towards him, he grinned and said "that's gold mate". I understand that to be local parlance for "you are permitted to drink that beverage on the public footpaths."

Back in my room, coming down from a ginger beer sugar spike, I watched Martin Clunes in "A Man and His Dogs" as he travelled the world to find out why he liked his dogs., then settled into an hour or so of sleepy channel surfing, most notably War of the Worlds starring Judi Dench as misanthropic Mrs Brown and Hugh Laurie as a misanthropic doctor dealing with misanthropic aliens zapping Tom Cruise's neighbourhood.  Good night.

Saturday, December 27, 2008


It's not uncommon to have the boys vying for my attention in the morning, especially if Bondi has elected to sleep in my room before Munson has settled down in his regular crevice between bed and window. In this case it's not so much vying as trying as Bondi simply wants to keep Munson away from me.

[If you see a message saying this video is no longer available, just click again on the playback area to see it directly on YouTube.]

This morning I was woken by Munson's plaintive yodelling and was somehow prompted to grab my camera off the bedside table, drop it onto the edge of the bed facing the doorway, and spun it into movie mode. I rolled over and somehow managed to return to sleep through the mix of Munson's vocals and Bondi's heavy breathing, both overlaid on the recording of Australian native-birds and lute that I have as my weekend wakeup music.


After showering, I was surprised to find both of them sitting on the bed. I've not seen them sitting together like this since Munson's first night home some six months ago. Bondi rarely gets on the bed while I'm around, saving it for his refuge when I've left him home for the day.

IMG_1364-1 IMG_1368

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Haida Manga: Flight of the Malamute.

Munson learns the art of blogging

Munson learns the art of blogging

One significant date slipped through this week - the first anniversary of Bondi and I returning to Sydney. Whoa, where did that year go? It did at least spur me to breaking ground on writing a book about our adventures, and I'm quite pleased with the polished draft of a prologue. Now to put head down and structure the entire tale.*

A few days later we marked 6 months of Munson in our hairy household: at 8 months he's just passed the 40kg (~90lb) mark.

I've made some conceptual progress on a tattoo based on number one son. I've struggled with getting the right visual style, since I didn't want to go with a regular portrait. I visited Kaleidoscope Tattoo near Bondi Beach and checked through their gallery. In the process I happened across a picture of a killer whale executed by an artist in the Haida tradition, a couple of examples of which I've collected below.

whale_magnet whale (WW Planetarium) Flight of the Hummingbird

Vancouver Aquarium - Stanley Park

I was immediately reminded of this picture I took of Bondi outside the Vancouver Aquarium in Stanley Park on our first road trip in 2002. The orca statue is "Chief of the Undersea World" by Bill Reid.

The Haida are an indigenous nation stretched out from Alaska down to British Columbia, and as such provide a link between the source of Bondi's breed and his birthplace.

Researching further, I found the works of contemporary artists shown at the House of the Spirit Bear Gallery, and the Haida Manga  of Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas [MNY]. I was quite enchanted by the animal figures he executed for the recent book Flight of the Hummingbird, which I was able to pick up at one of my local bookstores.

So, the narrative language and tradition that I was looking for I found realised in this style of work. Very exciting! The next step is commissioning the actual artwork. More news as it comes to hand.

Some blog housekeeping: I fixed the LABEL CLOUD in the left column which went missing when I changed the blog template to a wider version.

*The New Canterbury Tails: Prologue to the Dog who needed a Bath's tale.

Friday, December 12, 2008

At the end of the leash is the joy in your heart*

20081212 Lumiere dogs

I decided to maximise the effect of our recent (current!) wet weather on my lawns with a top-dressing of rooster-poo. Munson, puppy connoisseur of all things stinky, reacted by trying to eat a hole in the front lawn, and came to tell me about it with noisesome breath, as if his blackened paws were not enough of a hint that he had had an attack of the Jamie Duries.

While Bondi is mostly happy to snooze on the porch or increasingly, in a space-defying spot behind the living room armchair that thunder and puppies can't reach, Munson needs to burn off some speed every day. Given Marrickville Council's current war on pet-owners, that means driving to another precinct.

Today we headed to hot and/or wet-weather favourite Lumiere cafe in Surry Hills, as it's one of the few places within miles that has under-cover outdoor seating - not to mention great coffee and and staff who adore Bondi and Munson. Bondi was sitting half out into the rain, so I sheltered him with one of the stools (as shown above) - which helps him with his Henny-Penny complex. I think Munson has picked this up from him - he's recently taken to sleeping with his head under my bed. Last night this meant that I had to endure his vapeurs de poo de coq

I've had a minor concession in my struggle to get a response from the local council on any of my dog-related correspondence since July. After emailing all the councillors in my ward last week, and getting no response, I emailed again and suggested that I might have to write an open letter via the local newspapers. That magically elicited a response from 2 councillors who acknowledged they had been sitting on the prior communication while they pondered its content. It hadn't occurred to any of them (or to any of the council employees I copied on the mail) to even issue a quick response along the lines of "we know you've been waiting 4 months for an answer, but we've heard you now and will get back to you". It's staggering that such small customer-service courtesies are escaping our local government officials and employees.

Anyhoo, I got a long follow-up phone-call from one councillor yesterday, complimenting me on my "feisty" email; she said she requested information from about 3 council departments ASAP to address my complaints, and would get back to me with what she learned.

I also got another light-weight response from Barbara Perry MP, the new Minister for Local Government, who backed up her department's policy of responding to letters by copy-pasting material from their website. Hardly any of the content of my letter was addressed, and I was told I wasn't going to get any support in trying to get accountability from Marrickville Council.

I've very quickly come around to agreeing with those who suggest that Australia doesn't have enough brains to sustain 3 levels of government.

*with apologies to Tom Jobim

Monday, December 08, 2008

A line in the sand


20081208 Beach

Today's visit to the beach was a lot of fun until a couple of guys, each with a pair of muzzled greyhounds, turned up and thuggishly started trying to order us off the beach so they could monopolise it. I'm afraid they were not very polite in their "requests". I wished that some of the regular professional dog walkers had turned up with a few dozen charges to back us up.

Munson ran over towards them to see what all the colour and motion was about, and they chased him off with a very large stick. I took some photos of them and their car license plates, just in case they cause trouble with me or other visitors at a later date.

A study from the department of neurobiology and cognition research at the University of Vienna, shows that dogs share a sensitivity to fair behaviour only seen before in humans and primates.

I can think of two human subjects who might fail that test.

Sunday, December 07, 2008


Bondi on the front verandah

Eedra from Barking Mad lobby group invited me to join her and a small party as guests of Sydney's Lord Mayer Clover Moore at a Xmas party in Paddington Hall. The guests seemed to be mainly drawn from community groups seeking to enrich public spaces in the Sydney area.

Clover gave a very punchy address on the goals and progress of her city team, with a well-constructed video/slide presentation running in parallel. I was quite surprised (and pleased) when her points on companion animals - increased off-leash areas, and practical support for pet-owners in subsidised housing - got the largest swell of applause and cheers over every other issue presented.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

10th anniversary

The photo above is the first one of us together, back in Seattle on December 6, 1998. Just now I dug out the old shirt to recreate that shot, although it's not quite possible to lie around Bondi in the same way.
1998-12 Bondi & Xmas snow
Ten years ago today I brought home this shy ball of fluff, an eight-week old malamute puppy, runt of the litter and last of same to find his new home. How little I knew of what he would do to shape my life over this last decade as we lived and travelled together on three continents.
IMG_1074-83 Carriageworks [ice] 2

At midday we visited the Finders Keepers art & design markets at the Carriageworks Arts Centre. Despite the day turning out to be very sultry it was still not permissible to bring the boys into the cool of the large concrete, brick and metal space (no telling what a dog might do to that!) so I had to leave them near a breezy doorway while I quickly schlepped around for some xmas presents. Fortunately some staff helped out with water-bowls until it was time to beat a retreat for home.

Sydney is definitely a world-away from the simple friendliness of London's Covent Garden or Spitalfields indoor markets. It's also leading me to re-assess whether I made the right decision to come "home" to Sydney. For every bureaucratic annoyance I encountered in the UK or the US, Sydney's multiple-tiers of nannying but ineffective government add a few more layers of complexity, making day-to-day conveniences like this impossible.

Last weekend I watched the last episode of Stephen Fry's drive around America, taking him through Seattle and environs, and then Griff Rhys-Jones' visit to Snowdonia in Mountain. I missed so much in leaving those landscapes, all of which I saw in Bondi's company. I hope to walk Offa's Dyke Trail one day in the company of Munson.

Bondi can be spotted (just) on the far right of frame … and not to leave out young Munson:


Tuesday, December 02, 2008

A la recherche du gateaux perdu

Rue Vielle du Temple

A splendid surprise today when I saw this photo posted on Facebook by Satoko, one of my fellow students at L'Atelier 9 language school in 2006.

This is from our last week in Paris.

Monday, December 01, 2008

'Tween pavement and stars

a photo I prepared earlier

Tonight Australians had the opportunity to witness an apparent conjunction of the crescent moon, Venus and Jupiter which would appear as a heavenly smiley face. Not visible from other parts of the world (because you've all been very naughty*), this is the last such smile to be seen here for 30 years :-(.

Not being able to see anything from my street, I took the boys up to a hilltop in Sydney Park for a clear view to the west - but like others gathered there, was confounded by cloud cover in that area of the sky. A couple of joggers came over the crest of the hill, pointing to the south-west, exclaiming "that must be the eyes!".

"Sorry, that's a couple of aeroplanes circling the airport", I advised.

The picture above is one I took last night - all three celestial bodies were visible (click the photo to see a larger version) - but the moon appears much further away.

In lieu of any more photos this evening, I resorted to taking snapshots of the chimney stacks in the corner of the park, some of which have been dressed up with lights for the holiday season.

Sydney Park chimneys

Munson & chimney chimney and street lamp

* actually it's because the crescent moon is always oriented as a frown in the northern hemisphere. hehehe