Monday, April 29, 2013

Southern comforts

Sydney Park sunset (1)
We’re so close to being back in the house, I can almost feel it. It’s not quite as good as the feel of a key in the lock and a comfortable place to lay down, but it’s probably no more than 24 hours now. Gustav and I drove around inner city supermarkets and appliance stores to gather up cleaning gear and essential appliances in anticipation of having access today, but now I just have a car full of buckets, detergents, a vacuum cleaner, microwave and a new bed for Munson. An old refrigerator is due tomorrow and we may even have internet up and running by Thursday evening.

In the meantime we continue to fill out job applications, and I go down to Sydney Park at least every other night, usually with Sceolaun, to enjoy the company of the funny dog crowd we left three years ago. Our autumnal weather has been averaging 25C each day – up to 27C on Sunday – but night falls quickly in these latitudes, so after a brilliant sunset like tonight’s, we generally start drifting home about 5.30pm.

But still, what a sunset.
Sydney Park sunset (2)
  Sydney Park sunset (3)
Sydney Park sunset (4)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Week 3

  P4232667I’m reporting in a little earlier this week, which is near the end of Munson’s third week of incarceration, and the start of our fifth. As Australia has a public holiday this Thursday, I had to schedule an earlier exercise appointment for the big muffin, which surely could not have been more welcome. His legs were spinning in the air like wheels in his hurry to get out on to some grass.

Half an hour is not much time for sniffing grass, racing in circles (sometimes brandishing a strip of rawhide to show off to the dogs two pens away) and finally getting cuddles and scratches from me and from Gustav. However, even though it’s autumn here, the temperature most days is about 24C and the exercise pen only has a tiny bit of shade from a tree on the fence line. Today’s appointment was an hour closer to noon, so that shade has all but disappeared, leaving the muffin half-cooked by the end of the session.

The week hasn’t been all sunshine – on Saturday we woke to a day of heavy Sydney rain, the like of which I haven’t seen … well  since the last time I was in Sydney. This was also to be the day we showed my English friend Ben (a frequent visitor to the farm in France) around Sydney for the first time. He’s here with his partner Leah, a Brisbanite with no Sydney experience.

Ben contemplates an angry PacificWe took them out for a big Aussie breakfast at Martini cafe in Newtown, which was super busy on a Saturday morning, and so we sat under umbrellas in the back courtyard with rain sloshing off them like waterfalls. In the few hours available, I showed them Bondi Beach ( a tumult of pounding waves) and other highlights of central to eastern Sydney. I dropped them off near the Opera House in the afternoon where they had a ninety minute meeting, during which time the rain stopped and the sun came out. As soon as they emerged, the rain restarted.

I went out with Ben & Leah for dinner and a stand-up comedy show at  Laughs Garage, possibly the first time I’ve done that in Australia. The three support acts were of variable quality, but the feature comedian Peter Berner had a very funny and well-crafted act.

Leah, Mike & Gustav @ East Village
The next day was Leah’s birthday, which we celebrated with a few hours of drinks at the East Village Hotel. Gustav is still trying to find a mainstream Aussie beer that he likes. I’m clueless about beers – drinking cider if I have that option – so of absolutely no use in steering him in the right direction.

We stayed overnight at my uncle Llyn and aunt Lana’s place midway up the northern side of Sydney’s coastal band, enjoying both her cooking and his collection of obscure liqueurs. This was Gustav’s first crossing of the Sydney Harbour Bridge so I took him on a ragged tour of the lower north shore and some beach suburbs as far north as Bayview.

That brings us up to today’s visit with Munson. After we’d finished there, I called my real estate agent to find out if my house keys would be available today or tomorrow. I was told that they’d given the tenants an extra six days (bringing them up to the last day of April) but it had not occurred to them to inform me as owner and returning tenant. Soooo we have an extra few days of couch-surfing. Since Friday we’ve been staying in Erskineville, house-sitting for a cousin in Thailand, but we’ll be returning to the Newtown house with Sceolaun the malamute on Friday for one last weekend. Fingers crossed.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

High Five

P4182631 P4182628
Munson is five today! OK so the circumstances for celebrating are not as luxurious as could be, but tomorrow he’ll have completed half of his quarantine with happier days almost in our grasp. I brought him out some beef-flavoured rawhide strips to chew on, more for stress relief than edible treat. It’s a shame that when they need something to chew on the most, there is nothing around but an unoccupied foreleg to sink a fang into.

When we take him from his cell to walk around to the exercise yard, he struts like a dog on show, not pulling, but simply relishing the physicality of moving somewhere, paws on grass rather than concrete. It’s not till he’s unleashed in the yard that he becomes demonstratively affectionate, but his usual growls are still hoarse vocalisations. He sounds more like a fluffy squeaky toy than a real dog.

It’s pretty close to ten years since I brought Bondi here from Seattle, himself a little under five years. One dog began a new life here, the other resumes an old life.

Munson tastes freedom in the air P4182632
I’ve just discovered that my shipping container of furniture and household effects is not going to arrive this month as expected, but sometime in early June, with clearance and delivery undoubtedly adding another week or more. No use getting angry about it; I just have to focus on getting our in-house camping needs seen to.

While I’ve been away a new IKEA mothership has been built ten minutes away from my house, marking the fifth location they’ve shifted to over the last three decades. Since I have a car this week and some hours to kill this afternoon, I thought we should go down and scope out the place. I need to buy new crockery and glassware, and inevitably we’d find or remember other things of use for the six-seven weeks until we’re reunited with our possessions.

As Gustav recounts in his blog, he convinced me to buy a Swedish festive drink from the IKEA deli called påskmust, which sounds like some sort of Viking pon farr. It probably smells like that would if it existed, just with bubbles. It’s based on a root-beerish hop extract, so I imagined that Gustav might like sarsaparilla but he wrinkled his nose at that with almost the same disdain he’s treated Vegemite (made from an extract of brewers’ yeast). Unfortunately this means he’ll miss out on related taste sensations like icy vegelato.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Sun, surf and Sceolaun

Redleaf Pool

Sydney’s Indian summer continues with temperatures above 25C, leaving us little choice but to enjoy some time by and in the water a few times each week. Last Wednesday was Gustav’s birthday and we celebrated with a little picnic lunch by Redleaf Pool on the harbour. The pool is fully enclosed by a wooden boardwalk, with a shellfish-encrusted grille mounted below to keep the larger sharks at bay. We saw quite a few fish up to 40cm in length while swimming there, and a small ray gliding above the sand in the shallows.

One of the best things to do at Redleaf is to lie on one of the two floating wooden pontoons (approx 3m x 3m) and enjoy the sun, or peer through the cracks between the planks at the play of light on the surface of the water. There’s even a good chance of spotting more fish lurking underneath.

I’ve also taken Gustav to Neilsen Park and Parsley Bay, two other picturesque harbour bathing spots and he’s been to Bondi Beach at least three times now. His most recent visit was yesterday to meet up with a mate from Sweden, so I sent him off to navigate Sydney’s trains and buses solo. We’ve caught up with a few people this week, but are not trying to rush to see everyone in a short period of time, even if it were logically feasible within these few weeks.

Gustav channels the Leyland Bros (2)  Gustav channels the Leyland Bros (1)
On Thursday we moved from Vance’s apartment in Woolloomooloo to another friend’s house in Newtown, much closer to my own (as yet still tenanted) house. He is the proud owner of a ten-month old malamute girl called Sceolaun, here seen in one of her self-excavated cooling holes on the backyard. The name comes from one of the two hounds owned by the mythical Irish hero Finn Mac Cool. She has very similar colouring to Munson, but a much more pronounced mask and a leaner, more wolfish build.

Subterranean Sceolaun
Coming with the move is exposure to all of the area’s culinary and caffeinated treats which continue to delight Gustav. I can see his eyes glaze over with anticipatory tears of joy whenever he looks at the chalkboard menus through Newtown and neighbouring Erskineville, Glebe and Enmore. I too have anticipatory tears of joy when I see a new placename sign and wait for Gustav’s delightful rendering; Erskineville is now either Eriksonville or Erskinnyvilly.

DIY RainbowIn the news this week, a rainbow-painted street crossing put in place several months ago to celebrate 35 years of the city’s Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras parades was removed in the middle of the night by order of a state minister who wouldn’t negotiate with local authorities and community groups. The response was for a “DIY Rainbow Crossing” movement to spring up, chalking rainbows on streets not just all around Sydney, but in other parts of Australia and overseas.

One of the first to appear was quite close to us (shown left), and the photo I submitted to a Facebook page for the viral movement has had a lot of exposure. Some municipal authorities have welcomed the peaceful protest, while others have ludicrously sent police to guard council workers while they hose the chalk away ahead of tomorrow’s forecast rain. Someone has suggested chalking rainbows over every bit of dangerous footpath in their area  to entice their council repair folk out to address long ignored maintenance requests deemed less urgent than chalk on the road.

For the rest of our time at the end of the rainbow we’re still busily job hunting, and counting down the days till my house is available again. I don’t have a date for the arrival of the container from France so we may be camping out indoors on a borrowed mattress for a few weeks.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Exercise Yard

P4112623Today was the first day Munson could be exercised out of his pen at the quarantine station. We had a half-hour slot in a grassy yard where he could bound about as much as possible. It was just as important for him to be able to sniff around some trees, lie on the grass and roll onto his back to have his belly scratched.

IMG_4318.JPG (2)As much as a milestone as this seemed, on top of getting him through a field of paperwork and across half the planet, he’s still only a week into the quarantine, so there’s still just over three weeks left of this. I’m sure it’s all confusing as hell for him, especially with the cacophony of barking around him through the day. Munson is very like Bondi in not wanting to be around barking dogs, and being rather talkative, he’s probably shouting himself hoarse asking them all to shut up. All we get out of him today were some high-pitched squeaky attempts to express himself, rather than his usual deep-chested rumbles.

P4112619 P4112625
Today’s also been the warmest day in our two weeks of “autumn”, temperatures ranging from 15-27C. Thank goodness Munson isn’t aware of our visits to the beach every other day. We went to meet some friends at Bondi Beach on Monday afternoon, where there was very little surf, but the water was as warm as anything I’ve ever swum in.IMG_4312.JPG (2)

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Woo woo at Sing Sing

Munson in quarantine (4)
We very nearly didn’t get to see Munson this week. I called the quarantine station yesterday in the hour permitted for bookings, and found that their booking system was down. If it didn’t come back up that day then I would have to wait till next week. Fortunately they called back two hours later and we got our half-hour slot arranged.

40km to Eastern CreekThe Eastern Creek quarantine station lies on Sydney’s sprawling western outskirts, 40km and a good hour of driving from the central business district. The first check-in takes about fifteen minutes of form-filling, re-supplying details already given when booking the station earlier, and initialling about fifty line items about behaviour within the station grounds. With all their paperwork and procedural problems, I gather that the DAFF agency holds importers to a far higher standard of compliance than it does its own operations.
Munson in quarantine (1)  Munson in quarantine (2)
Munson was naturally very happy to see us – nearly two weeks after I left in London, and five weeks since he saw Gustav in Paris. I brought a brush for him but his coat was already in a good condition, and he’d shed a few pounds that he’d picked up towards the end of winter. A few afternoons running around at Sydney Park should restore him to peak condition.

There was plenty of noise – a real cacophony to be honest – from the inhabitants of adjacent pens. It’s quite distressing to spend even twenty minutes there. The dogs are well looked after but they must be swimming in a soup of stress pheromones. I think Munson preferred to keep his head down below the open wire at the top of the pen, letting the noise pass over the top. He’s only had one day there, with twenty-nine more to go until his May 4 release.Munson in quarantine (3)
Our day was more relaxed: I showed Gustav around some more of my neighbourhood, introduced him to some friends and then we rounded it off with a BBQ at Sydney Park. Daylight savings ends on Sunday so my cadre of friends from the dog park organised a special get together on top of their regular Friday afternoon cricket game. It was really wonderful seeing so many familiar faces, human and canine, and Gustav was made to quickly feel at home amongst them. Hurry on May for Munson’s return.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Munson update

Everyone’s favourite little fluffstorm should now be wending his way through the skies towards Sydney for a pre-dawn landing, from which he will be collected and processed by the quarantine folks at the Eastern Creek station.

I checked their website just now to review visiting times and policies – and once again it is a mire of self-conflicting information. I called them directly and they admitted it was a mess ( reviewed most recently last month ) but I don’t expect their “head office” to do anything about it. Earlier this year I pointed out that the department’s PDF forms were all stamped with messages indicating they were using software in trial mode to produce them rather than paying for a legal copy – no response. I had to manually scrub all the document pages before passing them on to other government agencies.

Anyhoo, I can’t visit Munson on his day of arrival, and although the website clearly states that visiting hours are only on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, I can visit him on Friday morning if I can make an appointment tomorrow afternoon.

I won’t be able to book him for an exercise yard until he’s been there a week, and there’s no guarantee that any application for a booking will be granted as they don’t have sufficient capacity.

So I’ll visit Friday morning, and then make an assessment as to how he’s doing, and whether I should visit again before an exercise appointment next Thursday. I know it sounds rather heartless to only see him once per week, but leaving him each time is going to be incredibly emotionally wrenching for both of us.

Here’s my record of visiting Bondi for the first time at the station in late 2007:

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Eurolurgy update

Circular Quay hosts the Dawn PrincessWhile  I’ve been showing Gustav some more of Sydney over the Easter holiday weekend (notably The Rocks, Manly, Newtown and Sydney Park) I’ll leave it to  him to record his impressions on his own blog, rather than me posting pictures of places that have already been well-covered in this blog. Jaded Sydneysider / Sybarite that I am,  I’d rather save up for some posts when Munson is available to the world at large.
Museum of Contemporary ArtI dropped into Sydney Hospital outpatients clinic on Sunday to have my cough looked at, since I hadn’t slept for more than 3-4 hours in a stretch, and its physical exertions have left me sore and less physically able to fight it off. Listening to my blustering convulsions in the waiting room should have been enough to convince them of my need, but they checked me over thoroughly and even gave me a chest X-ray in case there was something more serious underneath. I had the suspicion that they were glad to talk to someone who hadn’t injured themselves through alcoholic folly or been brought in by police officers. The doctor sent me on my way with antibiotics and something to keep the cough under control.

I’ve now had two nights of at least seven hours continuous sleep, which has brought on a marvellous improvement. That small victory was followed up today by getting a new driver’s license card and replacement Medicare card  organised with quick visits or phone calls to the appropriate government departments.

Shelley Beach - water dragon  Sydney Park - lizard
I’ve been treating myself with some of my favourite Aussie comfort foods, introducing Gustav to them as I go: passionfruit yoghurt, Haigh’s chocolate bullets, dried apricots, big Aussie breakfasts. Evenso, I haven’t forgotten what I’ve learnt in France, and even as I type, I have a large chasseur pot of ratatouille simmering on the stove.  A plus!