Friday, November 07, 2008

Commuting blues

I wrote this a month or so ago but didn't post it here:

It was Monday, today, and Mondays seem to be the second worse day to catch a train to work. Friday’s are the worst… too many GenX and GenY with headaches from Thursday-night pub-nights. Mondays, though, well, everyone seems depressed or cranky.

I have a 40 minute train journey from Wahroonga to Town Hall every day and if I don’t have some software to learn, or a project to do then I leave my laptop in the backpack and snooze on the way in. My iRiver has three playlists… walking, quiet and POD casts.
Today two things happened that got my goat. The first I am a little ashamed of, but the second I giggled to myself.

I set my iRiver to snooze mode, aka quiet, and got comfortable. In Paradisium from Faure’s requiem was first up. Sounds like angels singing, when in fact it’s the missus and 120 others in her choir. Anyway, I am usually subconsciously aware of what’s happening around me, except for last week when suddenly there were officials carrying a collapsed passenger from a few seats up from mine. I hadn’t realised that A. Someone had collapsed, B that someone had reported a sick passenger, C that the train had stopped, D that rail staff had come on-board and helped the poor lady out. But that was last week.

Today, however, I was vaguely aware of a person sitting down next to me. My station is one of the first so it fills up as we get closer to the city. What felt less than a minute later she elbows me lightly in the ribs and says “Your aftershave is making me gag!” or words to the effect. I was brought round to bright consciousness pretty quickly but not quite sure what I had just heard.
I looked at her to make sure she was talking to me; she sure was; she had this angry face on her.
Now, I don’t use too much aftershave, and had used the regular amount this morning, on account, like most husbands, SWMBO buys the most expensive aftershave thinking it’s better than the cheapest. The way things work I can’t argue as I’ve never had the chance to buy cheap aftershave since I was single and my fiancĂ©e threw it out. So, I hardly use any to make it last longer, that way, by the time to bottle is empty it's cheap.Think about it.

She looked at me in fury. I looked back at her in puzzlement. I was aware of people looking up to see the commotion. She then mixed in a questioning look with her fury look which clearly asked “What are you going to do about it?”. Knowing I must have looked much like a stunned mullet I dropped a an indignation look into the equation. There was a lot of looking.

I know people have allergies and I can appreciate the discomfort, even SWMBO is not allowed to wear perfume when in her choir so I am a little on the defensive side. But I am on a public train, sitting by myself, with scant amount of aftershave on anyway and here she is embarrassing me in front of the other passengers.
Bad move.
In my clearest… just woken up voice… I reply “I’m sorry about that, but your rudeness is equally gagging!”
The expression on her face was worth a million quid, and by the sounds of gwarfs behind us others thought so too. Instead of retreating, and these sorts of people don’t retreat easily, she started on me about how inconsiderate I was wearing perfume and how it’s affecting her and how evil I am etc all of which she managed to impart with very few words and so quickly that I can’t, now, remember exactly what she said, but I’d had enough. I looked her up and down and said “You seem as ugly on the inside as you do on the outside and while you don’t like my perfume at least I can wash it off” and with that I put my earphones back in and went back into my snooze zone.
The chuckles from behind, and the seemingly fruitless argument made her sit there for a few moments huffing and puffing before finally getting up and leaving.

I could have been nice to her, but it was Monday morning.

The second incident happened on the way home. Normally I work late on Mondays, but not today. I caught the peak-hour train home, shuffled downstairs and found a seat. Converse to mornings, afternoon peak trains are full straight away and empty out after they leave the city so getting a seat can be bit of a blood sport; especially from middle aged ladies with bags and elbows and heads down like footballers in a scrum.
Well, this afternoon the two-seater I am gunning for has a twenty something guy sitting in the middle with a bag next to him. He clearly has a “not sharing” attitude. There’s no choice for me but to plonk down beside him. I noticed first off that he was faking sleep. No one can have their legs that far apart, sit in the middle of the seat and balance upright at the same time. So, like I said, I slid in beside him, so little room that he’s pushed over a little.

The inside of a typical Sydney Tangara Carriage

He grunts.
I huff.
I find myself sitting with hunched-shoulders and leaning forward because he won’t give me my half of the seat. I’m squeezed in. I not a big guy, and nor is he… there’s plenty of room. I look at him with my best “you’ve got to be kidding me” look but he’s “sound asleep”. I try reading the paper, but it’s no good, I am not comfortable and he’s not budging. It’s not half obvious he’s pushing back against me to keep his extra space.
I am too bothered about more important things than this drongo so I pick out the only other seat in sight and move before the next station. Wynyard station is probably the busiest city station in Sydney, and if you’re not seated by then, then you stand much of the way home.
We stopped, a huge woman gets on and ploughs into his space. She’d almost bolted down the stairs to grab what was one of the only remaining seats. She had no intention of standing and no intention of worrying about this squirt taking up more than his share of real estate. The poor little fellow almost popped out of the seat! His bag was crushed against the wall, and his legs slammed together, he’s squeezed upright and wide awake.
I caught his eye and I smiled that self satisfactory smile that says “sucks be to you, loser!” and chuckled to myself. Goodness it was funny.

Twenty years weekend ended in bull

Twenty Years! If you were anti-socially inclined they would give you that with hard labour thrown in.

She Who Must Be Obeyed and I have been married for twenty years so we celebrated what could have been my release date by heading out of town to a lovely wilderness resort on the New South Wales mid-coast. SWMBO is one for luxury, so the eco-wilderness-green-lodge-in-a-rain forest had to be 5 stars. It also has to be out-of-the-way-with-no-major-road-within-cooee type of eco-wilderness resort, which, oddly, most of these places tend to be. When SWMBO wants to unwind, seriously unwind, then it has to be in a spa bath with mother nature at beck and call, along with wait staff.

It can’t be done with tents and cold water.

So anyway, apart from a 4 hour drive, 30kms of which is dirt road euphemistically called “unsealed”, cattle grids, flooded creeks, tacked onto the end of a long work-week it wasn’t that hard to find thanks to “Sally” our on-board English lass who digitally directs us; “In 620 metres take turn left”. SWMBO wants to ditch Sally for Bob, the American Mid-west guide, but he doesn’t do it for me like Sally does.

The resort was fine; more about the place another time, but the oddest moment came as we were leaving.

We checked out, angled ourselves into our Hyundai as only trekked out people can, and gravel-ly rolled down the “road” and into a herd of cattle.

We could have been cast in Jurassic Park. The first few beasties, many as big as they get which, for you and me, are the largest pieces of meat walking the Earth, didn’t mind our presence. It was quite apparent cattle only distinguish road from grass by the level of food. Road-sense these big boys do not have. Or probably need for that matter.
It was slow going, the cattle moving out of the way one at a time, clearing as we motored along in first gear, eyes wide with terror.

As if in slow motion, which is correct for these one-tonne pieces of dinner, the last of the animals parted to reveal the end boss. No kidding, the last bovine stood there in our way, across-the-road. Like across-the-road. Nose in one gutter and tail in the other. Taller than our car, wider than our car, and probably heavier than our car (if SWMBO had got out and run off).

We waited.

He waited.

We waited some more

He ignored us.

So I blew the horn.

He ignored with gusto.

We inched forward, thinking he’d be frightened by a hunk of slow-moving metal and two worried faces. Nope, he just looked at us with confidence. We’re on his turf, and he’s busy right now doing nothing in particular. I thought of things I might do such as scaring him, but even if it worked it had several downturns.
First up, he might charge at us; hurting himself and trashing our car. The prospect of contending with an angry farmer also crossed my mind. There was also the danger of him bolting off the road into the ditch on either side. He could do himself an injury falling down there. It also meant we couldn’t drive around him because the ditch was too deep. Then there was the prospect of me shooing one tonne of muscle while SWMBO is in the car laughing at me running across the paddock chased by a bull.

Oh, my kingdom for a rocket launcher and mega-health.

I needed this guy to move but each time I moved toward him he picked up that stance bulls take. Forelegs askew, head down and puffed up chest. Sort of like a friend of mine on his way to a prawn platter and beer tray. I backed up a little then noticed we’d been closed in by half a dozen more beef with heads turned our way. So many heads staring at us! The silent mammoths had surrounded us! Trapped!

We took the only course of action we could; locked the doors and wound up the windows. And waited. We had left Jurassic Park and joined Escape from New York.

It must have only been ten minutes, but it seemed longer. Eventually, with our air running low, the End Boss moved from the culvert and made way to greener pastures. We sneaked past ever so gently and took off as best a Hyundai can take off on a wet, soggy, muddy road.
Back to the city where it’s safe from murderous bovines.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Well, it's crunch time.

Tomorrow, in about 2 hours we've been married 20 years, known each other for 21, and it's her 50th birthday. All on the same day.

The Leader of the Opposition is a lovely, fine woman who I am very lucky to have married all those years ago. She has the patience, the understanding, the drive and the motherly love for our two wonderful children and for me. It truly is a blessing to be in her presence and to share the love we have for each other.

She's also the neighbourhoods' worst spendthrift.

On the weekend I took the children up the road to collect some last minute odds and ends for her. SWMBO was at an all-day rehearsal for an upcoming concert. The Princess had been talking about something called a Pandora Charm bracelet for weeks. I am sure now, as I write this, that there was some outside pressure happening.

It turns out that a Pandora bracelet is a rather nasty piece of work... why else would they name it so? You buy a "chain" and add baubles to it. But these baubles are either gold or silver, some with rubies, some with diamonds, some plain, some "exquisite" (read costalotta). You only buy the baubles for special occasions: big birthdays, child birth, wedding, special holidays etc. The reason being is that you have to spend a far deal so the reason better be a bloody good one.

Can guess what you're thinking?

So The Princess takes me to the counter and begins to point out the ones "Mum likes".
The first is in excess of $400.00. Apparently that one is for her 50th birthday. Then points our another... that one's for her 20th Anniversary ($230.00). My loud claims that it's a china anniversary NOT A BLEEDING SLIVER one is hushed up by stern looks she obviously learned from her mother.
"What about the chain?"
"Mum's family is getting that for her. And that one there.." she says pointing to yet a third bauble.
The Earl the pipes up to say "I'd like to get her one from me."
The little piranha fish from behind the counter is onto it and produces a tiny "boy" figurine in silver (only $30) to remind her of him. He hands over the money.
The princess isn't to be outdone, but unlike her fiscally sensible little brother she has no money.
"I'd like to get mum the one with the cross"


Seems I am sold out by a soft heart.

Nearly $700 later we leave with 4 impossibly small parcels with fancy ribbons.

Apart from that we pick up a few Miss Marple mystery videos, greeting cards, wrapping paper, ribbons, a bath robe "Mum just has to have one" and bits n pieces. Not much left from $1000.00. Thank the tax man I work two jobs.

I'm busted so we go to the best fish cafe on the North Shore and settle into seafood salad, fish n chips and calamari & chips for lunch. The princess then starts to mention "The Ring".

The story is that The Minister for the Dark Arts has picked it up the day before. It's well over what we've spent already; made to match her engagement ring and fit with the wedding ring. By the time she wears all three she'll be up for bandaids for grazed knuckles. Nothing in any of the rings is extravagant. No big diamonds.

Just a shit load of small ones.

What's more, get this, she only drew the ring, has never seen it, the jeweller has done a fitting but her eyes were closed. AND, blow me down, she collects the ring, again with the eyes closed.

"It's supposed to be a surprise!"

The chips had lost their crispiness.

It is quite a nice ring, and she deserves every cent of it.


Anyway, she has rehearsals each night this week (except Thursday) so we only see her in the morning. Tomorrow, The Princess and I are meeting SWMBO, her brother and his wife for lunch at the Royal Automobile Club in Sydney on, thankfully, her brother's tab. In the morning we'll present her with all the goodies, the hugs and kisses but we wont see her at night.

On Friday, if the Pope's is still up for it, she sings with the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Gianluigi Gelmetti conducting Beethoven's Missa solemnis. We tried to get me tickets to join his next-to-godliness but he's having 2500 of his closest friends instead. So I'm going Saturday night.

Then, in the wee small hours of Sunday I sneak off with three mates for a weeks skiing. So it's not all doom and gloom.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Way, the lost dog, the Daughter and a cat bite

4:30pm work, Thursday

"Dad, I found a dog"
Silence. Forehead on hand, elbow on desk, thinking "No more animals, please!"
"She was lost so I brought her home and she's sick."
"Uh huh."
"But she had a number on her collar for Hornsby vet so I rang it and they said it's one of theirs and to take it there before seven o'clock"
found a dog?"
"Yes, she's sick; her name is Molly"

"How do you know?"

"She's being sick on the floor and she doesn't look good."

"Where are the cats?"

"They're outside. I locked her in."

"So you found a dog, thought it was sick, and brought it home?"

"Yes, it's a Shitzu"


"Will you come home and take it to the vet?"

Sigh "yes, I'll leave soon."

6:25pm Home.

"Cailtin! Come on let's go"

"I'm on the toilet"

"Where's the dog? Never mind. Where are your shoes? Let's get going."

Discussion parallel to the phone call. Organising to leave the house.

"She's so cute!"
"But she's a Shitzu!"

"What did the cats do when you brought the dog in?"

"They ran off but Murphy bit and scratched me"


"I was putting him out and he scratched me and bit my arm"

Shows bandages

"It's swollen here"

"Looks like you're infected, off to the doctor with you."

"It hurts"

"Why would Murphy bite you? Did you tease him with the dog?"

"No! I was just carrying him outside."

Repeat several times.
"But if you just left the door open Murphy would have beat you to it and cleared out by himself?"
"I had to carry him, he was scared."


We take dog to vet, people in the waiting room assume it's ours, the "nurse" checks it over and confirms it's one of hers and that everything will be okay now, thanks. We leave. I'm thinking, great, they'll call the owners and claim a $50 finding fee OR they'll close up at seven then ring the people in the morning and charge $150 for an overnight stay.

8 :30pm SWMBO arrives home.
Repeat entire episode including cat bite.

"It looks infected, remember when you were bitten by Sam? She'll have to go get a tetanus injection."

"She needs antibiotic, possibly a wash inside with peroxide"

Daughter leaves room quietly.

7:45 am Friday morning.

"Come on, you'll be late!"

"I have to take Caitlin to the doctors."


Work, 4:30pm

"Hi Jude."

"Can you pick up the kids?"
"Ummm, not really I have a few things to finish"
"Well, I didn't get into work until quarter to eleven and I had a client lunch so I'm way behind."

"Alright, I'll pick up Angus, take him home. Do you want to meet me for dinner before the concert?"

"Thanks Jude. Yeah, Where?"

Arrangements. (6:30 Pasta Deli at Wahroongah, Concert 7:15pm
Carmina Burana )

6;10pm Friday, On the train.

"I am almost at the station, meet you there."
"I'm at Abbottsleigh getting Caitlin's soccer gear, then I have to take her back home"


"The concert starts at 7:30! If we're late we'll get rotten seats!"

"What can I do, she needs it for the morning!"

"Well why didn't she bring it home with her?"

"She didn't go to school"

"Why not?"

"The Doctor told us she needed to stay home and keep her arm raised above her heart!"


"She has an infection, got a tetanus injection and a script for antibiotics"

So, saving a lost dog cost us a small fortune and at least one traumatised cat.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Way, SWMBO and a surprise

Last week The Princess spilled the beans.

SWMBO and I will be "sharing" our 20th Wedding anniversary in July.
20 years, besides being a life sentence, is china. Not paper, not ruby, not wood or something. Just China.

I was thinking of something like a new sugar bowl. Maybe a cat coffee cup.
Y’know, twenty years; it ought to be something special.

So, we're all sitting there, on the way to Granddads’ and the beans, as I said, got spilled.

SWMBO has not only worked out what we're-giving-her for our-anniversary, but she’s been to the jeweller, had it designed and getting it made.

Diamonds, not china. Gold too.
A done deal.

Something called an eternity ring.

Has a nasty sound to it. I signed up for “death us do part” not bloody eternity!

Anyway, justifications met my questioning looks at 60km/hr:

“It’s a nice ring”
“It’s something special”
“It fits in nicely with my wedding & engagement rings”
“It’s the same jeweller who designed my engagement ring who used to work at Rox in the Strand Arcade is now in Wahroonga…”
“I wanted it to be a surprise”

It’s the last one that got me.
Sure was a surprise.

I’ll be buggered if she’s getting a sugar bowl now.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Way, lunch and two flat batteries.

Why me? Scene: a lazy morning opening Christmas presents and having eggs, ham and toast for breakfast then the cleaning up and stock taking of all the new things in the house. Then it's time to get ready to go to the in-law family Christmas lunch. You've heard the idiom: You can choose your spouse but you can't choose the family? The Princess, two days before Christmas, declares she has nothing to wear for Christmas Day. At age 14 she is certainly primed for womanhood if her wardrobe and shoe sense is anything to go by. So SWMBO and The Princess nip up the road for some credit-wear. There we are, The Earl of Hornsby (aged 10) dressed in his suit but sans tie and jacket, me in mine, SWMBO in a black and white number and The Princess in her new dress sans tiara. Down the stairs to the Hyundai limousine...

I'm looking forward to lunch; it's at the Royal Automobile Club of Australia; a fine place to dine.

he arrangements for the day include collecting the Father In-Law, the right honourable Reverend Harry, from the nursing home in his chariot (wheel chair). So it’s just taking him and the chariot in my larger car, eating lunch and coming home again. I presume we’re going to do the hostage-style gift-exchange at lunch.
It's while trekking down the stairs that SWMBO drops the bombshell... "Dad's getting the taxi home, I've organised it.”

Tick tick…

“Why’d you do that?”

“Because he’s not coming home with us; he’s leaving after lunch.”

“Why? Where are WE going?”

“To So and So’s place, to open Christmas presents.”

“You didn’t tell me.”

“Yes I did!”

Repeat this a few times.

“They’re not our family” protested I.

“No, the others and us are too far away and So and So is closer.”

So and So are a single child family who hangs onto our Christmas and other major-event family-do’s.

“Great!” say I. Just when I thought I’d escaped the family and not-so-family close-encounter.

We’ve reached the car, all packed in, when I start it. Or rather, I didn’t start it.
The battery is flat. “We’ll take the 121.” I say.
“The wheel chair won’t fit” says SWMBO all dressed up in the back seat.

“No problem, I’ll use your car to jump-start mine”

I half get out of the car and push backward so there’s enough room to get to the battery.

“Don’t hurt your back!” says she.

“Argghhh I don’t want to roll down the driveway” yells The Princess.

“Well, it’ll help if you got out, we won’t roll down the drive and I won’t hurt my back”

It’s okay, we’re early (for a change) so it’s just a simple matter of jumping the cars and off we go. The cars are side by side in the garage, but the leads won’t reach so I have to move her car closer to mine...
I hop in but it doesn't start it either!

TWO flat batteries?

On Christmas morning…
with Grandad waiting at the nursing home…
and a lunch that’ll be delayed?
A lunch I’ll never hear the end of since it will keep the in-laws waiting?

Oh Baby Cheeses, why me?

“Judy, ring the taxi and see if they can pick your dad up?"

“Why, we’re picking him up.”

“Because if it takes too long to start the cars then at least he won’t be late and we can save time by not having to drive out of our way to get him.”
She rings… the wheelchair taxi has another booking on the other side of Sydney.
My brain races at a hundred miles an hour thinking of a way out of this. My car is half-in-half-out of the garage blocking hers. It’s in a rotten position to hill start it down my drive (a feat performed previously) and it’s in the way of SWMBO’s car which could be moved to the right position for the down hill run to battery freedom. The NRMA (road side assistance) will take forever on a Christmas Day to get here…


I’ll connect the battery charger to the smaller battery (her car) give it a few minutes before starting it.

Tick tick…

Ten minutes pass and I give it a turn. You beauty! It’s working but doesn’t get a chance to fire before the battery gives out… so I decide to wait 15 minutes.
There’s still the problem of my car blocking the way… but no matter, once I have SWMBO’s car started I can back-and-forth until the batteries are close enough to jump it.
Sure enough, in twenty minutes we’re shooting down the road in all our finery.

Oddly, we washed my car the day before. I rarely wash it. Drought, laziness, all that.

Anyway. we pick up granddad from the nursing home with the motor running… funny to see all the old people lined up in the foyer, each in a wheelchair, all dressed nicely… reminded me of planes waiting to take off.

The hanger door opens, we load granddad in and off we go.
We arrived in record where the valet looked at my car, a cheap model, with barely hidden amusement as we all piled out. After all, this was the Royal Automobile Club. It occurred to me if my car won’t start then where else better to be?

Surprise! We were the first to arrive at the restaurant a five past noon. The others arrived at twelve fifteen, and marched past us saying hi and merry Christmas in that air-cheek-to-cheek-kissing way they have. They had no sooner sat down that they all arose again and assaulted the smorgasbord of seafood and carvery. I sheltered next to our children and Granddad… whom they all ignored. It was then I realised I’d not warn the valet to park my car on a slope.

Time to decamp as the “family” all filed past like they had arrived; re-performing the same kissing ritual.
Goodbye to granddad as he left in the wheelchair taxi. We piled into my car, which, by chance, was parked on a slope and drove off to the Military for “afters”.

The car had travelled 40km so I presumed the battery got over it’s little tiff.
I managed to corral a few of my favourite people at the gift exchange and avoid any confrontations; so it wasn’t a bad afternoon in the end.

But it doesn’t end there. We left, the car started well, we drove home and had a lovely immediate family Christmas night together.

The next morning I go out to my car which doesn’t start again.
Nor does SWMBO’s car.
I was going to take the Earl to the skate park.


So I set up mine to charge over night and forget the skate park.
We’ll have to go tomorrow.

This morning the car fails to start. So I try my same trick with SWMBO’s car and the charger. No luck. Both batteries are dead as door nails.
We call the NRMA. 30 minutes and $282.00 later our cars start without a whimper…