Friday, October 30, 2009

All the burning widgets...

Now the difference between a farm and a dump is sometimes in the eyes of the beholder. In town you tend to run out of space for junk, no matter how fertile your imagination is for something you might need it for one day... but out here -- well, the shops are long way off any real established farm has a plethora of useful junk (some bordering on the antique. And that's the new stuff). I'm as good at it as the next fellow, or maybe even better. I have a fertile imagination for possible uses ;-).

Only - well, besides the space constraints, we are limited as to what we can take with us. Most of my workshop - which has tools that belonged to my Great-grandfather, can't go. Neither can all the garden tools and and all the useful bits - Garlon to slug-bait. And neither can my pile of lumber. Wood, planks, boards, the leftovers and salvage of hundreds of jobs and projects... So last night I was using it for firewood.

It felt so wrong.

Today I had a slithery drive into Mooi through the worst kind of mud -- red clay 2-5 inches of it on hard-pan. If you slow down... you stick. If you brake or turn, you slide. It takes a cool head and and good judgement to drive it which is why I was dismal at it and am still shaking like a diesel compactor. The truck's roof has mud on it. Miricle of miricles, I got through and back. Although it was a damn cheek allowing other vehicles on MY road. :-) There'll be new places to get stuck, but red clay I can't wait to bid an unfond farewell to. Flinders is mostly beach sand, limestone and granitic soils... are any red clay?

They want it when they want it!!

I am now battling the movers! We had a super guy, who came to quote, so I thought he would mastermind our great trek. Right. The moment we decided which movers to use, he went on leave, and his assistant wanted forms I couldn't print out, (because the computer was reading the wrong printer). I managed to fax them to her finally, and she then passed me on to a third person, who failed to reply to most of my frantic emails, sent on random days between other happenings.

Now a fourth person has phoned to say that she is going to coordinate our move, and needs 4 forms completed NOW. I have managed 2 out of 4, and was quite proud of myself, but she feels this is not good enough. So on I go, trying to work out how much it is will cost to replace any of our furniture they manage to break on the way over. I am almost at the point of desperation, ready to say, just smash it all now, and I will buy new in Australia. But some Dave and I grew up with, and some we have bought with love over the years, we can't just abandon it all!

So back to work with forms and prices, hold onto my sanity by a thin string!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Weather training

Well, it's cold enough out there for your average male polar bear to have to look down twice to make sure he really is a male polar bear. And to add insult to injury (and hopefully not lice. I am still troubled by these mental images of ship lice - mechanical beasties with jaws to suck oil?) it's raining again. Storms and torrential downpours last night - our other self-sufficiency friends (the rabbit-warders) called this morning with a tragic tale of drowned baby bunnies. Today, mizzle, drizzle and cold-run-down-your-neck rain, and I've just heard more deep vibrations. I love the the thunder... I love the rain (to Jackson Browne on you) but right now I have some writing to do (ergo, thunder very bad), and I have to cut some tree-branches to get the container truck in to cut (ergo a wet tree to climb up, and probably fall out of.) I had already decided that I need to do this with my bow-saw rather than a chainsaw. Falling with a chainsaw seems even more fraught. And now I have rain.

So I looked up Flinders weather. We're expecting it to be colder and wetter than here.

For today, anyway... wrong.

Revenge of the Beaurocrapcy

To process the sale of the house, the lawyers need a rates certificate from the local municipality. Unfortunately that's on computer. Which is bust. And while told us it would be fixed by Friday... (last Friday) it wasn't. So... funeral Monday, and Tuesday B went in and begged, harrassed - and gave them a cheque for another 6 months - so they cannot claim we are in arrears, and they promised to send it off. We're out of pocket, of course, but if we don't get it all in to deeds office by friday, we won't be paid in time for the movers, and then everything falls apart. I love a little extra stress, and relying on other people who haven't shown themselves models of competancy in the past. It makes me SO relaxed...

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Ferry saga... continuetheth too

I see the Southern Condor - due to sail at 3 AM with cargo and passengers for Flinders... has been suspended from servce until the oil leaks are rectified. And the Matthew Flinders (the other vessel) - Bass Greens MHA Kim Booth, released a MAST report and maintenance document, which stated that it was a dangerous, lice-infested vessel.

Hmm. Interesting vessels we will be relying on!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

anonymous parcels

Farewells are always hard. The funeral saw the kids come home for a last time, with their Godfather Pete and his wife Nicola, and their little ultra-bright precocious blond daughters (our Godchildren) It was bittersweet. Great to see them all, great to see my six foot tall sons brought under small thumbs and used as jungle-gyms, horses and well-trained mixtures between x-boxes and wii s with FAR more features. Sad because they all love Finnegan's Wake (the farm) and it is full of memories for all of them. Of course the emotion and remembering of my mother's funeral woven into it all made it more poignant. My son Paddy and his cousin KC gave a great Eulogy, fitting of my mum. It was a brave and hard thing that they volunteered to do.

Anyway... last night I had what can only be called a nightmare. We were camped at the coast with an unfamiliar party. My son James and I had gone for a walk along the cliffs - too stormswept and wild to fish. We returned to camp to find it all neatly packed up into into many, many depressing square canvas wrapped parcels - anonymous ones that could have had anything in them. And the keys for the vehicle - which we needed to get home in - were NOT in my pocket... but presumably in one or other of the parcels.

I hope this is not my subconcious giving me nasty messages!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Out bright Candle

Well thank heavens I went to dentist on Thursday -It was a grim enough day without a toothache. My mother died early on Friday morning. She was a few days short of 93 and had lived a full rich life, and was active - well close to hyperactive - right until she went to hospital. I am just so grateful that it was fairly quick. She was begining to get rather vicariously excited about our mad island adventure, and was relieved that we were going. I'm glad she knew and sad that she won't be around for me to tell about it.

I loved her very much and will miss her terribly.

Friday, October 23, 2009

It was a LOOOONG day

Dave woke with tooth ache.

So we started the day by trying to get a rates document, essential for our house sale - No, the computer is broken, hardware due tomorrow, come back on Monday!

Then we fetched the post, which had been collecting for a while, and discovered the pest certificate, we had stupidly assumed to be with the lawyers.

The vehicle was making a knocking noise, so I dropped Dave at the dentist, to wait for a gap in his patient load, and went to a wonderful garage. They replaced two missing rubbers to rehang the exhaust, and welded it back onto a metal bracket it should have been attached to, and repaired 2 holes in it! All in half an hour, with a very small bill at the end.

Dave had an abcess treated at the dentist, unfortunately as he was slipped in as an extra his mouth only really went numb in the car on the way out of town! Still at least it was treated in time before it really became rotten!

The next stop was to the lawyer to drop off the pest cert, which meant driving into the middle of town, with manic taxi's etc. Then another hour down the road to visit the hospital. Dave's Mom was not as well as she has been, but improved a bit while we were there.

An hour back towards home, we stopped with Carl, Dave's brother, at his wonderful restaurant and had a meal while we brought him up to date with Mom, before we set off for the last drive home in the mist.

Now, if this does not read fluently, please blame it on the long day, and not on the glass of red wine I had with supper!

dreams and reality

Went in - on the way to the dentist and then down to Durban to see my mum (who had a really bad day) to the local municipality to collect the rates certificate for the Lawyers handling the house sale. The lawyers are supposed to do this, but we're... shall I say we appear to be more reliable and motivated. Um. Mooi muni's computer system is down, dead. Possibly revived tomorrow, when they pull the stake out of it's heart, but no knowing if they have any records at all. At the same time we went to collect the post - and found a bill and report from the bug - people (who checked the place for borer)... with a note saying Lister and Lister (lawyers) had no record of the sale (AAAAAieeeeeee!). Called them, and they claimed to have been looking for it. We then proceeded to the town of Escourt (which has a dentist (and one that doesn't fill me with cald grue. I am a total woos with dentists) as I'd woken with a nasty dull ache during the night - he squeezed me in between patients and found a filling had 'leaked' and was developing an abcess under it. So we also booked a thorough dental exam for before we go as I gather dentists are my own problem in Aus and expensive at that... and conspicuous by their absecence on the island. We also got the exhaust we'd wrecked on the way off the dirt road fixed. Ah logging trucks - how I love thee and what you do to the road. Drove down with a circuit into the red-brick and decaying Victoriana Pietermaritzburg to drop bug-report in with Legal-eagles/beagles/feegles (you choose). Pietermaritzburg is like Launceston... after exposure to dangerous amounts of radio-active spiders, and toxic growth-hormone, with added mini-bus taxis and pedestrians. Went on down a freeway with more cars than Tas has people (and I am not kidding... much), and saw my mother. She's not doing well today, and talk of a stepdown has been put on hold.

I tried to distract myself on the way home by designing weird houses on land I don't own yet. I have a friend who has done a book on Nature-inspired type architecture... Maybe I need a Roger Dean house, like a mushroom. Or something like a norse longhouse...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Wind through the trees

Finnegan's Wake (our place here - or rather our old place) is in the little notch between Mount West and Arrochar hill - about 100 metres below the notch, the highest house ouside the Drakensberg in KwaZulu-Natal (6000 feet). The notch protects us from most of the wind but it's howling and wuthering through the trees on the upper side of the house tonight (80 foot gums). Go out there, and, if the drop bears don't get you, don't face into the wind...

Wonder what the roaring forties are going to be like. When we were there in winter it was still. But the sculped trees told a different story, methinks.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


When times are bleak... cook supper. Nothing seems quite so dire outside of that meal you didn't feel like but discovered you were starving when you got to. One of the forager/ self sufficiency fellow's greatest friends is humble bivalve - mussels, oysters, clams (pipis!;-)) and razor-clams. Unlike fish or squid, or crabs or spiny lobster or prawn, they're not not feeding or moved away - especially the first two as they grow on hard substrates. If you can manage a tide-table you can probably collect them, unless the sea is really really really thumping. They're a lot more versatile than people realise - Like corgettes (zucchini , baby marrow AKA the reason why you lock your car when you visit me in summer (so they don't get put in your vehicle quietly)) you can get quite inventive about the ways to turn them into dinner. Oysters are great in steak and kidney pudding (they were traditionally part of this, when oysters and kate-and-sidney were poor people's food) and mussels can be used as part of everything from rissoles to stir-fry. I always freeze some for hard times - steam them open, de-beard them, and then return the meats to the cooking liquid plus some extra water - it needs to be slighty salty. I put the bowl with a small plate on top to keep the mussels down into the freezer, and take it out and bag it later. Like this they'll keep for months.

So this was tonight's supper - about 50 mussels, 4 rashers of bacon (normally this would be our own bacon, but life is too screwed up for that this winter) a bunch of tiny asparagus from the garden (Asparagus are a great crop for self-supporting too -- take lots of initial work and nothing much after that) some flat-leaf parsley, a red onion, and - for things not out of the garden/ made by us, olive oil, flour, and a bit of sherry and white wine and some milk from my neighbour. And rice. A roux made with the flour and the fat from the bacon and then made into delicate wine/sherry flavoured sauce with those and the milk - add mussels to exchange flavors, add bacon, pour onto the rice (laced with onion sliced v.thin cooked very slowly in a drop of olive oil in a closed cast iron pot (as cool as the the stove will go) until soft and translucent and then flashed at heat to caramelise the natural sugars). The asparagus I added to the top of the steaming rice, for about 4 minutes. The flat-leaf parsley adds some colour and flavour, and must be put on at the last to retain colour and release scent as it cooks slightly on the hot food.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Our movers are booked - we now have to decide between the 20 foot container and 40 foot one, quite quickly. We'll be packed and gone by the 19th of next month. To make life more complex we're driving down to see my mum a lot (a 5 hour round trip). No progress there.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Well now, I haven't been able to get online to post because someone/s nicked all the equipment from the high site (I'm on a radio-link). However that's now been fixed. Crime here adds a layer of complications and extra costs -- one of things I hope to leave behind - at least the volume!

is the current ferry situation.

We're still in that horrible limbo with my mum.

Friday, October 16, 2009

sitting at the hospital while the physio works with mum -- I have been reading the ferry saga. You know, fiction is more plausible than fact from time to time. The company seems to be, to put it mildly, erratic in reliability. Grin - it's definitely a chapter of disasters that must be bloody unfunny from the inside. We start with not having paid docking fees and not being allowed to dock at Lady Barron - with 200 000 dollars owing. So eventually the company pays up and the ship is allowed in... (with the food on board looking a wee bit dodge by this stage, I'd think.
And the crew and skipper go on strike.
So it's not unloaded. And not coming back until the crew and skipper get paid (which is apparently a little... late)
The MD makes outraged protest that they've been paid -- (if I get this right, by cheque, in the post.) The skipper has stolen his ship! He must be arrested and removed.
So the cops remove the skipper.
Dumb move number 4.
Because the skipper is not signed off, and therefore is still in command of the vessel. Therefore by law the vessel may not sail without his orders...
And there is only one deep water mooring on Flinders. Is this sounding like the wars of roses yet?
So they have to get special permission from the marine authorities to move the vessel...
Another vessel, hired for the rescue effort docks. And the two vessels now are able to go back to Bridport with new crews. And of course the islanders, the Tas transport minister and the company which claims it is not breach are now locked in a bitter feud...
And in the meanwhile on a more personal note... we have not been able to with these paragons of reliability book a vehicle we don't yet have, across. See, they want the make, numberplate and length...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Ferry strike?

My mother is a great deal worse, so posts may be erratic for a bit. Still, it serves to take my mind off something I can do nothing about.

I've just been told -and thus followed up the reports that the Southern Shipping Ferry to Flinders was refused docking because of unpaid port fees, and now her crew are on strike, trapping the vessel on Flinders, due to unpaid wages.

That makes getting there interesting, and things very difficult for the islanders.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Grim day yesterday - my sister called to say my mum had had a stroke. Mum is 92 and 11/12ths, but other than macular degeneration leaving her with alomost no vision, in good health. She still gets taken for a walk -on her own - in the secure complex she lives in with my sister, by her little dog. Anyway, we drove down - about 2 and half hours I suppose. She's stabilised but still in a frightening way for a very indepentent lady. She's still able to speak co-herently but with difficulty, and has some movement of her left leg, although the arm is very weak. We came back in dark in the mist. An ‘interesting’ trip back as yesterday was the first major big storm of summer up here. They also chose yesterday to leave unmarked stone piles on the road (for putting into the road - about 5 foot high pile of shale boulders.) on one of the worst hills. We came home in rain and mist and nearly hit the first one, but managed to skirt all but the final one just off the top of the hill. They’d just dumped them so they had taken too much road and on the camber and soft edge we slid into the ditch of soft mud. In loading some of their damned rocks to put on the back for weight, B managed to trap her finger and possibly break it. We failed to get out, and so I walked back (a mile or so, in the total dark -there are no lights here and the mist was down) to fetch the other truck. There were 2 stuck logging trucks blocking the road further on. Anyway, I got the other truck (big old heavy diesel) and more by luck than good judgement managed to squeeze past the logging trucks (you cannot go slowly as the verge is soft, and the gap was so narrow I actually touched the side-mirror)
We managed to pull the other truck out and, after a fair epic (nearly stuck across the road) turned around and got home to delighted but very wet dogs - they had my study open and dry, but had to wait at the gate. The power was out and my computer (fortunately unplugged in case of storms) was not working. Found the problem, fixed it. However the radio sytem that does our internet is not working, and landline dialup is so bad as to make even getting a web page time out.
Oh and I have a tummy bug too.
As they say: It never rains in Southern California.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Rock climbing

I’ve been a rock-climber for nearly as long as I’ve been diving for. My brother - some 9 years older than me - took me off to a cliff with university buddies when I was 8. I loved it (and added some interesting dimensions to what other considered ‘chimneying’) but only really started to getting involved when I was 17 myself. I’ve been climbing ever since, opening a lot of sea-cliff routes, having suitable rent-an-epics ever since, and the rock and quality thereof on Flinders had some influence on our choice too. It’s curious however how many wonderful and weird people it has brought me in contact with. I met Barbs at the bottom of a cliff - what more can I say (and stay out of trouble ;-)). Best catch of my life that one. Okay it IS a selective mechanism. Most climbers tend towards the less-than-ordinary end of the scale. And, although there are always a few extremists in any extreme sport, a close proximity to one’s own mortality does tend to show your climbing partners your true colours. And while it’s a very individual sport, your life is in your second’s hands, so you need them and have to get on with them. You have to trust them and they have to trust you. If you have no climbing partners, you end up not climbing much. So the ones still involved after a few years tend to be selected both for survival potential and for getting on with at least some of their fellow mortals. It also has the whole camaraderie of survival of the extreme thing you get among combat soldiers and those who have taken on tough stuff and survived together. (Grin) Climbers tend to regard themselves as rather special bunch (which for certain values of ‘special’ they probably are. Bunch of lunatics all of us. I remember climbing Execution rock (a horrible multi-pitch thing) on the way to Port St. Johns and having a gent screech to halt below and bellow "Come down you mad fools! You’ll kill yourselves." Considering the rock quality he wasn’t that far off being right.) The upside of this is that the climbing community - although small - tends to go out of its way to be good to other climbers (and sandbag them of course). Years ago Barbs and I hiked all over the UK doing the routes in ‘Hard Rock’ and starting with knowing one climber, got ‘passed around’ from climber to climber. It was great. So with the boys coming over with us and them being better rock-artists than me I thought I’d better try and make some local contacts. So far, no-one on the island but Tassie’s climbers seem set to prove they’re a friendly bunch too. It’s very encouraging.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


It's a Rhubarb-and-custard sort of day. By this I mean chilly with occassional flurries of rain. Good for having to do some work indoors, good for the digging fence-pole hole sort of work or splitting firewood. It's not actually a greeny-grey-with hints of red, slightly glutinous bitter-sweet day with strings attached... I think I'd better put this metaphor down, before it infects the entire flock, and definately before I get to the custard.

I grow way more rhubarb than we can use. Actually, like most of my ilk - I think crofters is probably more accurate than farmers - quantities are almost never right. We're either in glut or shortage, which makes having others of similar bent (so long as they don't do the same things) as friends really valuable. Because quantity may go out of kilter, but the quality is inevitably something special. (cough. Sometimes 'special' can mean 'really vile'. But never ordinary supermarket) Things are also exceptionally seasonal -- which makes them very precious. Right now the young grape leaves are soft and tender. I blanche them and use them to make parcels of cheese, a sliver of home-made panchetta and sundried tomatoes (re-hydrate the tomato a bit first) which I pin with a toothpick and then nuke briefly. It's kind of stealth vegetables that even my kids' do-not-bring those-dangerous-vitamin-green-things-near-me friends eat cheerfully after that first wary-face-pulling tiny taste. My boys of course eat any vegetable cheerfully anyway. And anything else. We're very lucky that way. This is just sort of a rambly post, because that's the way I feel right now. I looked a t a seed catagloue for Aus... very exciting. Varieties I've never seen, veg I've only seen on TV... Except half of it can't go to Tas, for quarantine reasons. I haven't found a Tas online seed catalouge yet.
And now I think I will go and pick some Rhubarb and cook it, instead of merely making 'rhubarb, rhubarb' noises on the blog.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Planting time

For the last eight years spring has always been planting time, with seedlings being planted indoors in early August, and then hardened off and planted as things warm up. September through December I am alway battling to keep ahead on writing and the planting (and weeding and netting the fruit trees). This year, of course we're packing rather than planting. I find planting time good for the writing, packing bad. I've netted the cherries, but alas I was too late for the apricots and peaches. The monkeys and mousebirds had wreaked havoc. The fieldmice got most of asparagus too :-( I am sure that wallabies, possums and doubtless some of the local birds will be just as destructive on cultivated crops. I reckon I have quintupled the carrying capacity of wild beasts around here, drat them. But I am itching already to plant again. I am not sure what I'll be able to get, what'll grow and what I can afford... Olive trees, I hope. Plant an olive, plant a piece of your heart. A bay tree I hope. I have kept one alive here against the odds for about 6 years. Lemons... can't have fish and no lemon! We'll just have to see. Why someone of my undeniable gifted horticultural talent (I can make one plant grow badly and then die where four flourished before) would want to do this is something of a mystery. Put it down to obstinacy ;-)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Got the Passport! Now we CAN move!

Yesterday I went and fetched Paddy's passport. He is our older son, and he misplaced his passport, twice, on a trip to Malawi at Easter this year. Most people would feel that once in a lifetime is enough, but Paddy never does anything by halves.

Having applied for the new Passport in Grahamstown, where he is at University, we all thought it would be delivered there. But, no, the passport office decided that as he was living near Pietermaritzburg, (10 hours away) when he originally applied, he would prefer it to be delivered there!

Luckily they agreed that I could collect it, ( We are only an hour from there!) as long as I had a copy of his receipt, and proof of identity. So, it all works out for the best, as at least he can't lose it again before Dec, when he has another trip to Malawi. (Yes, it is a wonderful country, but it also happens to house his girlfriend, Clare, during her holidays from Cambridge.)

So now we are all set, with the correct documents, and can move to Australia.

We just need to sort, pack and throw out everything we won't need to take. Of course we will not take all the items we find we most need, but that is character building!

Fierce loyalty

When I was conscripted I took 5 paperback books with me. The army is a lot of hurry-up-and-wait, never something I was much good at. A paperback in the magazine-pocket of my 'browns' kept my sanity and, sadly for everyone else, my sense of humour. I can still quote swathes of most of them. One was Algis Budrys's 'Rogue Moon'. At one stage of the book the US government needs someone utterly trustable. So they turn to an immigrant from Eastern Europe - with the 'fierce patriotism of the New American'. It took me a while to understand this (I was only 17 and liked to think about things. I'm not 17 any more): but in a nutshell as a new settler the man was both intensely aware of the contrast between his birth country and his new home, and intensely grateful for being taken into it, and had a fierce desire to become more American than American.

Now I gather that is not so true in the US any more, with an odd 'well, America owes me' rationalisation among some migrants, who don't want to learn the language and fit in to the society and culture - bringing their own failed country with them, living in self-created ghettoes and resenting the country they now live in. To which I say: if you don't want to be there: go home. Money is not sufficient reason for that misery, and the one thing you as a foreigner migrant don't have is any entitlement at all. (If you were born there, your parents (and possibly their parents) taxes and probably blood spilled for the country 'paid' for your citizenship.) If you weren't, be glad if they'll have you.

In my search for drivers licence Info yesterday I went to the site - and happened to look at the citizenship tab, and follow it again. Now B and I intend to become citizens as soon as we possibly can - I think 4 years if memory serves (that's what I was looking up). On the site, that day (they seem to change them) was an audio of Bryce Courtney speaking about Australian citizenship. It plainly meant so much to him that he was unable to keep the emotion out of his voice. He said something that called very strongly to me: About a country that wants and loves you, and how much it means to return those feelings.

I remember, clearly, when the e-mail from my case officer at the Department of Immigration and Citizenship arrived, and I read it... twice, to make sure I had not got it wrong. Australia had accepted me and my family. Given us, on the strength of my writing, permanent residence visas. I sat and selfishly re-read it again, and a fourth time, devouring those words. Then I left my office and went and found and hugged B for a long time. I found it very difficult too, to manage a simple 'Australia's accepted us'.

I understand, perfectly, what Algis Budrys was getting at now.

Thursday, October 8, 2009


A little further digging has revealed that we can do our diver's licences (convert from SA to Tas) on Flinders. (Although it is not just a formality, as it would be if we came from approved countries. Grin trust me, this is a good thing. A South African licence's value ranges from PDG, to which 'which lucky dip did you get that out of?' depending on where and how recently it was obtained. The real thing is still pretty good I reckon. And surviving the not-real thing (ie as possesed by most of the 'taxi' drivers or part-time evangelists (they make their passengers and quite a lot of other road users pray. A lot.)) does make the rest of us careful and defensive drivers. Besides, after Mount West, Mooi River district, (infamous for it's traffic jams on the dirt track out to us. There have been three cars on it. TWICE) Whitemark (pop 170) is a bit more my style than the wild heart-racing metropolis of Hobart. Yes, actually I have been to New York. And Chicago with my co-author Eric Flint. Five lanes of traffic each way and he likes to look at you when he talks to you. And what's worse... they all drive on the wrong side of the road. OK so in reality I have driven in Johannesburg and in Durban, about 5 times or more the population of Hobart and the evangelists and pedestrians such as you will not see outside of India or Africa. There is something about the pedestrian who has never driven themselves: an inability to understand that a car or ute can't just stop like a walking person can. And they pwn the road. And they throng. But a new vehicle and a new set of small rules to obey -I am glad I don't have to do it in a strange town, straight off. Also I have to learn Tasmanian rules. I wonder if these are like Africa rules. Fast at goats, slow at cows. So what's the right response to wallaby? Don't drive after dark?

We also had our little runaround with my son's passport. Boy genius lost it. Anyway, he got a new one... which they sent to Pietermaritzburg 10 hours drive from where he and the receipt are, and where he applied for the new one. Ah well. The way it goes.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Forget the tent

Well, we have done it. Committed to renting a house on Flinders Island for a year. So we will have a roof, beds, electricity, plumbing etc. Having spent months gearing up to living in a tent, caravan, yurt or shed, this is a bit of a shock to the system. But I find I am really relieved, and can't wait to see what our house looks like. On Google it seems isolated, with not many trees, but on Jan 12 we will actually get to see it!!

Orford and wine

We'll be staying in Orford (a little up the east coast from Hobart) for the first couple of days. It's near Tribunna - which irrepressibly brings Monty Python skits to mind. I'm sure it's a wonderful place... Do tell if there is anything we must see around there beside Maria Island. I reckon that'll be too crowded. We went to a wine-tasting here on Saturday and had some overpriced and rather thin wine from Elgin - quite far south and shaley terroir. The Pinot Noir was very good (light bodied, with a definate cherry undertone - which I like more than mushroomy-composty old world Pinots), but at 170 rand a bottle (about US$22.60, or AUS$26.00) a bit steep. Which of course brought up the prices of Oz wine. Now a reasonable quaffer here you can still find for under R30 (US$4 AUS$4.60) probably a ruby cab, although typically we'd buy a slightly better (bordeux blend or a merlot, probably)one for around R40-50 (US$6.67 AUS$7.70) unless it was for drinking around a beach fire. Good entertaining friends - up to R100, (call it 13-14 dollars) and special up to R130. (US$17-AUS$20) That's where our budget stops dead, although R200-220 ($30-$33) would be something extra special. These are bottle store prices of course. I see an Australian wine site listing 'quaffers'as under $15... so I guess we're going to downsize a bit! Tassie is even further south and I see they do quite a few pinots.

Monday, October 5, 2009

cannibal chickens and a spinning head

My attempting to be self-sufficient friends (the warders at rabbit-stalag-luft) and I had an important discussion about cannibal chickens. I shall never attempt to convert the savage chickens and keep a weather-eye for roosters with large cooking pots... actually as far as I could figure the chickens confined their cannabilistic behaviour to other chickens, and if they ate you anyway, it was just fine because as you weren't a chicken or an egg, it wasn't cannibalism. According to them chickens are good evidence that yes, birds are the lineal decendents of T.rex and haven't really changed that much. Their birds had gone egg-cannibal which they cured with extra calcium in the diet. I'm listening very carefully to all this stuff as we expect to have to keep chooks. I hope my next effort is better than my success at it as a young shark biologist. We stayed in a rented cottage on a run-down farm and had semi-inerited a flock of feral bantams that came to be fed every day. We'd had a spell of bad weather (ergo the fish and shellfish we normally principally lived on were low) and the exchequer was at its usual biologist's income flush point. And the chickens had increased vastly in number. So I went out with mayhem or at least chicken dinner in mind. I baited the feeding area well, and put more food under the steel bucket with one edge propped up with a stick with a piece of thin fishing line attached... leading to my lurking place 50 yards away.

Of course one of the roosters led the charge.

Did I mention that thin fishing line has quite a stretch factor and that the bucket was heavy and not easy to balance on the stick. The stick had to be pushed into the ground a little...

peck peck
peck peck peck
wander off and bully a hen.
return. Peck. peck peck. advance.


Pull harder.
Line snaps

The next day I used 200kg tuna line.
Now I''m not very squeamish, but I really hadn't thought through the 'how to kill a chicken' bit. I'm a firm believer in quick and clean (I do not approve of people who leave fish to flop on the deck or beach.) I'm an omnivore, prepared to eat meat, so in need, I'll kill it. Quick, neat and painlessly as possible. I've been dealing with fish-killing all my life. So I ran out there, and beside the fact that I was not going to have the scene with the headless chicken running around spewing blood, I really didn't know what to do.
Grab chicken.
Not happy rooster. Bullying is left to him, not happens to him. Decide to wring neck.
So I did. Several times as I had no idea what it took.
And the dastardly deed done I turned to pick up the bucket to put the rooster into.
And the chicken dinner -- just like in the cartoons -- stops being dead.
Starts running, its wrung neck unwinding, head spinning (you heard of someone's head spinning? Bet you didn't know it was on a rotating neck.)
The next few hours until dark were spent by a horrified Dave (you've injured it, you must kill it mercifully) chasing chickens through about 100 acres of scrub.
I never caught it, and it continued to rule the flock until we left the farm.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The driving force of the long-thin-pointy-shiny-shoes

When we considered immigration for the first time we went to see one of these so-called immigration consultants. I found the one we went to see a great help in the entire process. You see he was one of those slick Jo'burg types, with the glorious and at the time very fashionable clown shoes, long pointy shiny thin things in black and very plasticky patent leather white. His consultancy consisted of you filling in a form and parting with quite a lot of money. Well, I exaggerate slightly. He did look at the form. Then he said "you're too old to go to Australia."

I said: "but they have a special visa category, which has different age requirements and I want to know if I fit that well enough to apply."

Shiny pointy shoes looked very puzzled - at least his vacuous face did. And then decided to pretend he couldn't cope with hearing things that didn't fit his little model and speak to B. "Your qualifications are good, they need Radiographers but you have to be under 45. (I was 46 IIRC). Now New Zealand..."

We persued the point.

Shiny pointy shoes actually had no idea about what to do for the distinguished talent visa for writers, sportsmen and artists. He didn't even know it existed. He wanted people that fitted into neat little frequently used pigeonholes, well and clearly defined in the online immigration manual. In other words: if it was something that you could easily look up yourself, unless you were internet illiterate and stupid to boot, he could help you. If you didn't fit the standard categories, he was absolutely bloody useless, other than having very funny shoes. And I really could have looked at those in a shoe-shop window for free. I am sure that there are some migration agents that make life simpler for standard, desirable migrants. Still, is that really what any country wants? Ok, if the migrant is a doctor or an engineer - and the country needs them, making it as easy as posssible is a good idea. But seriously, as someone who did the complex, non-standard visa application without any ‘professional’ help, you might say that the country gets two more properties extra if they lose the agents -- which might be more valuable than any talent on the desired professions list. 1)Bloody minded determination. 2) Sufficient IQ to cope with reading an Online document, not to mention thrift and independence -- things I’d want for my country, I don’t know about you. (Grin) If I was organising the migration department, and operating a scoring for decisions, I’d take off 10 points for using a professional migration agent. I suppose this could be unfair: There might even be some migration agents who know more than is available for anyone to read online about non-standard types... But basically young shiny-pointy-shoes was a great help to us. Firstly, he might not have activated Dave and Barbs’s overvactive "stubborn" gland, and secondly if he was representative of the intelligence of these blokes (which to judge by a New Zealander I wrote to about this is a reasonable assessment.) we were better off using our combined brain-power than his. The process is much more expensive, and document-hungry than a standard application. The instructions are IKEA flat-pack level, though. The only information missing is the little fact that the whole thing is like one of original text-computer games, where you have to solve all the problems and collect the tokens from them in the right order. For example you need a police clearance, proof of income, proof of honorable discharge free of any war-crimes etc if you’ve done military service, and full extended birth certificates, and evidence of your talent/skill, and of course forms from nominees from Australia. And then you have to have them all together at once... and all valid, as some of them have expiry dates. Yes, now that you mention it I _have_ got two police clearances, because the first one expired while the documents were visiting Canberra. Apply for that LAST not first. And be prepared to drive to the Admin center and wait... because it takes 3 months to print and send (it took 10 seconds on computer to verify we don't have criminal records at the local station, from whence the request goes, and at which point it is dated).

Ah well. It still beat the trousers off the New Zealander responses. Grin. I’m no tall poppy, but getting published as a sf/fantasy novelist is rare (Getting published as a fiction novelist is rare), Getting published offshore rarer still, making a living at it near unheard of, getting over 10 books published is very singular. This is more a symbol of bloody-minded determination on my part than of any genius, but I was South Africa’s first internationally published SF/ fantasy writer. For now, there are two of us. New Zealand did beat us to it, as their eighth Prime Minister Sir Julius Vogel (1835-1899) wrote some sf in the 1800's that wasn’t actually an expenses report. But since then it’s been a long rather dry period with a couple only, (SFWA lists one, I believe there is another) and not exactly tribes of people in the ‘rares’ listed above. Australia seems quite different in that way. I’m going to be a fairly small fish in much bigger pond. Shrug. No worries. Love the company! It’s stimulating and exciting, and I’ve already made some great friends among them, most of whom are a great deal better at writing than I am. Anyway, When a friend over there enquired of the NZ migration authorities about their rare talent visa... they got told well, yes they do have one. But... it was for _rare_ talents... like orchestra musos. Now, rare is a relative thing, I suppose, but I think they have 5 orchestras with say 100 people in each. 500 out of 4 million is rare. Orchestras have value. But a year one average midlist author probably sells more copies a year, than they sell tickets to all of their concerts put together. But I am not 'rare'? If I was determined to apply all I need was a government recognised body of my peers to sponsor me. Peers? Ah well. They were kind enough to point out to me that either B or I are eligible could have gone as our original professions - so long as we worked in them. But I couldn’t be a full time writer there, as I didn’t have a New Zealand publisher but merely had forward contracts with an American one (I could have gone as an unemployed attachment and written!).

And thus I was very relieved when our first choice came through, even without the help of Mr long-thin-pointy-shiny-shoes.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Saga continuethetheth...

So this morning, Happy Dave gets an e-mail from Qantas to say 'credit card declined' -- and this after 3 prior calls, insuring that everything was in order. That sufficient funds were available, and that would not require further clearance. Spectacular fail, First National Bank. I'm glad I wasn't on the other end of Barbs's call. Mind you. They could have been worse off. It could have been me. Isn't funny (not ha ha funny) how the problems, the hassle and expense fixing of their cock-ups are always yours, and the profits are theirs? I'd love to find a bank that actually met me half way and let me take responsibility for my mess-ups and the cost thereof, and did the same for theirs, but unless they're very different in Australia, not going to happen. Anyway... this time it all ended happily bar some raised blood pressure. Qantas tried again, and the bank called and cleared the transaction. So now we all have tickets. Just need to book a few more things owing to my stupidity about the time of year (hire car, somewhere to stay etc.) We're hoping that the Hobart part of the saga won't take too long. Of course we have absolutely no idea about realities, or even a complete list of to-do (At the moment it's get a bank account, get new Tas drivers licences (and not sure how much of an epic this will be), Register with govt. depts, Tax, I think the medicare and Centrelink. Grin. I imagine happy-I-love-beaurocracy-Dave will emerge and have to be hastily stood on. The paperwork so far has deforested Borneo twice. At least - so far - it's all made more sense than SA paperwork. (you want the ultimate in silly hugely expensive, totally purposeless beaurocracy? Ask me about FICA someday. Peter Mayle wrote about the daftness of it in the French beaurocratic system and we all laughed like hades... and then they introduced it here.)

And then comes the part I really dread - buying a vehicle. It will live and die on Flinders (at $500+ one way you don't take it shopping in Bridport). But it has to get there. And I have heard that you aren't supposed to put people in the bin of a Ute in Oz? Right?

Delusions of tranquility

Well, the house-inspector for the bank has been. He seemed impressed and should be. Finnegan’s Wake is probably worth twice what we’ve been able to sell it for. It’s remote and um, weird. It was build by Mr Murphy - a master cabinet maker so the woodwork is exquisite, it has 2 secret rooms, and is built in a spiral with all the walls curved. Everyone who sees it says ‘wow, it’s the perfect place for a sf/fantasy writer. It is. It’s also just too strange and remote for most people, which is why we could afford it - this does limit the number of people who want to buy it.
Anyway I also got a harsh dose of Reality knocking Dave butt over tea-kettle again. Duh I am stupid. I thought: "arrive in our new country in time for New Year. That’s neat and symbolic."
Now New year in Mooi River country districts is a bucolic, quiet, and sometimes hungover day with not much happening except Paddy’s birthday - which B and I thought was so wonderful and special being on New Year's day and all.

A friend sent me an e-mail pointing this out: "The Sydney to Hobart yacht race is finishing up in town, there's the Taste of Tasmania Festival and of course it's the middle of the summer high season."

Palpitations. I did experience a local crowd the other day. All five of us hastily moved away... Ok I may exaggerate just a fragment, but really I like relative isolation ;-) That’s why I am happy to go and live on an island with something like 0.46 people per square km. And besides it makes for expensive accommodation and lots of people (I am a people watcher. I concentrate and absorb a lot from them. I listen. If there are 4 conversations going on I listen to all of them. I absorb speech patterns and mannerisms. I need this to be an effective writer I think. But it means a big crowd is like a sea of white noise to me. I can handle it for a bit, but it’s not something I choose to do.)
Oh well. What is done is done. And reality wins by a TKO
See Dave get up again... So: how best to cope with this.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Improbability people

Some of us merely exist not just to satisfy Murphy's law, but to show that if it is unlikely -- it'll happen. Especially if you don't want it to... Take the best laid plans of mice and men (and Dave - a lower species, one that keeps wondering whether leaving the trees was a good idea.) In fact the more systematic and careful we are the more improbility goes after us with both boots. We set out booking our flights -- split onto two credit cards not to give the card people hissies. We both called to check there was enough money in them for this. Like I said: tempt the demon Finnagle out of his lair... We went to the Qantas 'specials' we'd found by accident. They'd put up the price on the day we planned on flying into Perth. So then we checked the site that had given us some juicy cheapos across from Perth to Hobart - Tiger.... had vanished. I presume all sold. So... we priced the comparitive Perth-Melbourne Perth Hobart flights... and just on the off chance Qantas specials through SA to Melbourne. The latter proved cheapest. (These are all return flights BTW... because return is cheaper than one way. Makes perfect sense doesn't it ;-). ) So we book for Barbs and I first on her credit card. And why the hell they can't SHOW airport taxes beforehand is beyond me. Anyway it ended up some four thousand each more than the first el cheapo we'd found, but this does allow us to fly in as a family, which marginally (and only marginally) reduces either my or Paddy's chances of ending up in Anchorage, Alaska if we're left to do these things alone. Well, it had to be done so we bit the bullet, booking us first because terms of the visa are that the family may not arrive before me. Being sytematic, holding thumbs that we would not have to sit in Melbourne as there was no more space our flight or something. So we went in and booked the boys (the site of course collapses in the meantime... and we have to start from scratch) Book them. We'll be seeing in the new year in Melbourne Airport - we get in 23.25... and fly off to Hobart next morning. So we now book those flights. And then the kids return flight Lauceston to Melbourne. All electronic see... confirmations to my e-mail. This has taken 3 and half hours and we're stressed and tired. But it is done. Now all that the systematic belt and braces people need are those confirmations.
Hmm. Not happening.
And then miricle of miricles -- the first confirmation correspondence comes through. The $12 insurance of flight to Hobart. (nothing else, but the bags if they grow wings and fly on the right day, are insured. Oh happy Dave. :-). Half an hour later, the last booked Virgin Blue flights back Launceston, Tas - Melbourne comes up. Ah. We're getting these in the order of least relevant? Cheapest? Yes, that must be it, because the booking Melbourne to Hobart comes through next. And then maybe an hour and a half later...a call from Standard bank - you know, the people I cleared it with before I started. They've got an overseas travel booking... they're just making sure it isn't fraud. I reassure them - too relieved to even bite their ears off for their celebrated competance. And hey presto... the boys two bookings from Qantas arrived.
Have you spotted the little gap, dear reader?
Remember the bit about Visa conditions - me getting there first? Yeah. And B and Moi's booking are off doing a little tango with old Murphy and his law. When several hours (and quite a lot of stomach lining) later have elapsed -- B phones first her bank (nothing) and then Qantas... well, the nice bloke on the other end assures her the booking there - different credit cards, different systems, that all -- and as she commented in her post don't panic for 3 days. Huh. When and improbility and the ability of things to go wrong when I'm within a country mile... well.
So: If the ghost in the machine doesn't get us, we'll have some Champagne in Melbourne Airport to greet 2010.