I Think There Was a Change In The Voltage

Our house, described by some as a charming two storey revival brick English Tudor, was built in the early thirties. It was designed and built with an alcove for a telephone. On one side of the doorway that leads to the kitchen from the dining room is a phone nook. It’s more than just a hole in the wall; it’s a small sculptured private space that could be mistaken for a prayer niche. The nook is styled to match another nook above the fireplace in the lounge room. The curved arch of both nooks match the curved arch of the opening that separates the dining room from the lounge room. When we moved into our house the nook was empty; the phone that once stood there had been removed by the sons when they were preparing the family home for sale. We had been told that their dad was in his nineties and was found in the basement at the bottom of the steps from the kitchen. The phone would have rested in the nook as a statue does in a church niche. The nook was the answer as to where to keep the big, heavy, cumbersome telephone and keep it’s mess of cords out of sight.

image source:jmcadam

I don’t remember much about the first phone I had that didn’t attach to a wall; except that it was a flip phone. But you had to attach the phone to the wall to charge it; a phone charger plugged into a power point plug. Since that first flip phone I’ve lived through a couple of generations of mobile phones. I presently have an iPhone 7 that is already superseded by the next generation of smart phones. Each generation of new phones called for a fresh collection of different cables and charging accessories; a wall charger, a USB power adapter, a Lightning connector to USB cable, and a Micro to USB charging cable. The superseded cables cast aside from previous phones exist as a tangled mess in an old Vionic sandals box; I might need them someday. And now attaching a phone to a wall charger to charge it is passé; mobile devices are charged any where anytime using the ubiquitous USB cable. We carry a USB power adaptor, our houses now have combination duplex and USB outlets, and our cars are our personal charging stations.

image source:jmcadam

If fifteen US states have a distracted driving law prohibiting drivers from using hand held cell phones while driving, and more states are considering similar laws, how long will it be before charging phones while driving will become illegal. Attempting to plug your phone into a USB cable connected to the USB cigarette charger adapter in your car’s cigarette lighter receptacle forces you to switch your attention away from the road. How dangerous is that. And, if you have rested your phone in your lap, or between your legs, and have it set on vibrate to announce incoming calls or texts, then what happens when you receive a text or phone call; serious vibration attention distraction. How dangerous is that. When charging a phone in a moving vehicle becomes a primary offence the cigarette lighter receptacle will return to it’s original glory and be used to house a cigarette lighter.

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There’s a lot I don’t remember from the sixties and seventies but I do remember the cigarette lighter in my Mini Cooper. I had chosen to smoke Kent cigarettes. I decided on Kent because of the glamour of an all white cigarette with a micro-nite filter. What also helped was that the Kent cigarette advertisements suggested suaveness and sophistication, and an allure of worldly charm and magnetism. Holding a Kent between the first two fingers of my right hand, as I rested it nonchalantly on the steering wheel of my black Mini, I would double clutch to change down a gear, and then accelerate to change lanes into the half a car space ahead. I was the height of chic; I could never be without my Kent. I was forever pushing the cigarette lighter into it’s socket on the dashboard; as soon as it popped out, the spiral end glowing orange hot, I would hold it to the white cigarette already between my lips, and double clutch to change down a gear.

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On a recent sojourn back to the The Lucky Country we chucked a voltage converter and power adaptor, and a one to four outlet adaptor into the Vionic sandals box, and taped the whole thing shut before packing it into our Spinner Suitcase. Australia’s electricity is 240 Volts, and the wall power point sockets are designed to take a three pin monster plug; two flat metal pins with a third flat pin that forms a vee. A switch on the wall socket turns on the electricity; up is off and down is on.

We needed to change the Australian 240 Volt electricity to 110 Volts to be able to charge several devices so developed, and refined, how to connect and plug in a Brisbane hotel room; power adaptor plugged into the monster plug wall socket, voltage converter plugged into the adaptor, and the plug in one to four outlet adaptor plugged into the converter. But before anything was plugged into the one to four outlet adaptor the combined weight of the interlocking devices caused the arrangement to angle down, and separate away from the monster plug; the interlocking polyhedron’s weight would have to be supported. Through trial and error we discovered that a packet of Tim Tams on top of a box of Arnotts Shapes, Pizza Original Flavour, and a packet of Allens Minities on top of the Tim Tams provided a balanced support. And in Hobart we assembled a support truss from a packet of Arnotts Tic Toc, a bag of Twisties, and a box of Jam Tarts.

image source:jmcadam

And then came that fateful day in Melbourne. For the next three days after checking into our hotel we were down at the front desk remonstrating about their standard of housekeeping, the shoddy condition of the room, and their neglectful customer service; each visit escalated in belligerence, verbal aggression, and combativeness. On that fateful day the polyhedron was braced by a stacked combination of, a bag of mini Cadbury’s Cherry Ripe, a packet of Mint Slices, and a few cans of VB. Three devices were plugged into the one to four outlet adaptor; there was a popping noise from the monster plug and a black powder appeared on the voltage converter and the devices plugged into the one to four outlet adaptor shut down. And the room wall lights were now off; the desk lamp and electric clock radio was also off. I plugged in the electric kettle and flipped the power point switch down; nothing. The television plugged into a power point on the other side of the room was still on.

I had no other option but to go down to the front desk and face the staff who had been my adversaries for the last three days; the foe that I had berated, harangued, and castigated. I walked timidly toward the desk; they saw me approaching and attempted to look busy. I looked at no one in particular and casually started the conversation

Me: G’day, guess what.
(They looked at me with a blankness; they just kept looking at me, waiting for another harangue. In a friendly conversational tone I matter of factly said)
The electricity just went off on one side of the room. I think a circuit breaker must have tripped
Front Desk Staff: What were ya doing
Me: Nothing.
(Attempting humour)
I didn’t plug in a garage door opener or impact spanner or anything.
(I smiled)
Front Desk: She’ll be right mate; we’ll send maintenance up to the room to have a Captain Cook.
Me: No worries, whenever they have time. No rush.
(And I kept smiling)

I didn’t wait for the lift; I took two steps at a time up the staircase until I reached the second floor and our room. I wrestled the polyhedron from the monster plug and quickly disassembled it; the voltage converter into a sock, the power adapter into the laundry bag in the suitcase, and the plug in one to four outlet adaptor on to the tea and coffee making facilities tray. I pushed the tray behind the television. I swept the stack of mini Cadbury’s Cherry Ripe, Mint Slices, and the few cans of VB recklessly with my arm and let everything stay where they landed. I didn’t have a minute to spare when there was a knock on the door. It was hotel maintenance to check the electricity; to see if a circuit breaker had indeed tripped. It was only a couple of minutes after they had left when the electricity came back on. They knocked again on the door; circuit breaker mate.

image source:youtube

I retrieved the parts, and assembled the polyhedron; except the plug in one to four outlet adaptor. For the rest of our stay in the Melbourne hotel we only plugged one device at a time into the polyhedron. The only other time I visited the front desk was to finalise the bill. I greeted them with a smile and bid them a warm and friendly see ya later.

Android and Apple phones now support wireless charging; you only need to throw your phone onto a wireless charging pad. And now resonant induction charging is the new wireless charging; no cables and the phone doesn’t have to rest on anything to be charged. Which suggests that we could harvest the energy from the movement of our bodies to charge our phones. Next time on my morning or maybe during my laps around Westroads I’ll wave my phone in circles to see if it’s gyroscope produces enough magnetic or electrical energy to self charge it. Or maybe I’ll just hold my phone onto my stomach to harvest some body energy.

I suppose I should throw away the Vionic sandals box.

 

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How Can Every Job Be A Good Job

I paused at the corner the other Sunday morning to contemplate which direction I would take for my meandering walk through the neighbourhood; should I tackle the uphill uneven footpaths first or keep the them until midway through my amble. It was a beautiful late summer morning; the sky was clear and blue, and the sun was just starting to warm the day. I settled upon a route that I don’t take all that often; the curving narrow road running through part of the near by golf course. Halfway along the curving narrow road a pedestrian crossing leads to a downhill path that runs alongside a tee off and then past a small pond, with a concentration distracting water geyser, before it empties into Elmwood Park Road. Elmwood Park Road feeds into AKSARBEN Village, my usual halfway point when I walk the uphill uneven footpaths first. I do the golf course route once every couple of weeks. I distract myself when I’m walking the fringes of the fairways by looking for golf balls. It doesn’t take much searching; if I didn’t pick up the balls I would trip over them. I wonder how golfers can lose so many of their balls.

image source:jmcadam

After walking the couple of blocks to reach the street corner to turn onto the curving narrow golf course road I came to a hesitant stop. I was besieged by runners and walkers; surrounded by a flood of coloured tee shirts, vibrant hue running shoes, and ear buds. People of all ages and shapes were emblazoned with numbered race bibs. I was in the middle of the 2017 10K and 2 Mile American Lung Association Fight For Air Omaha Corporate Cup; walking the wrong way without a race bib. There was a water stop by the pedestrian crossing, where runners and walkers were snatching yellow cups of water to hydrate; the water stop volunteers were verbally pushing the runners and walkers into the back half of the race with cries of Good Job. As I started down the downhill path alongside the tee off I could see a sea of walkers and runners on the back half of the race, pacing themselves along Elmwood Park Road.

image source:omaha.com

And once again I became part of the Corporate Cup; this time walking the right way, but still without a race bib. When I sauntered past the Elmwood Park Road Cheer Station a chorus of Good Job chants, together with a thumping sound of muted clapping greeted me. The Cheer Station volunteers were slapping together two foot tubes of solid foam rubber to cheer me on. I was now at my halfway point when I tackle the uphill uneven footpaths first route, so I walked on the footpath as I usually do; alongside the Corporate Cup participants and towards the finish line. The footpath ahead was packed with spectators so I stepped onto the roadway; it seemed that with every step I took I was greeted with shouts of Good Job and fist pumps. As I walked to the side of, but past the finish line I could still hear the cries of Good Job; I felt a surge of pride.

You hear Good Job a lot nowadays. It seems to be the go to praise phrase for most mums and dads. Telling their little ones every time they hiccup Good Job; Good Job when they blow their nose, Good Job when they put their plastic water bottle in the recycle bin, Good Job when they put their coat on, Good Job when they eat all their fries at Macca’s, Good Job when they finish colouring outside the lines of a kiddie restaurant place mat, Good Job when they eat their broccoli, Good Job when they wake up from having a little nap, and Good Job at pointing Percy at the porcelain. No task is to small or to large for doling out a few Good Jobs.

image source:pixabay

If only mum and dad had told me Good Job. I would have followed my own success plan for my future self; I could have chosen any of my dream jobs of the seventies

Fitness Instructor: always surrounded by flocks of beautiful women. You didn’t need to know what you were doing; aerobics and nautilus equipment was so new that nobody knew anything about them anyway.
Airline Pilot: more beautiful women than you could shake a stick at; and they were still called stewardesses.
Office Boss: before the revolution so every day your fighting off beautiful women.
Politician: John F. Kennedy shagged Marilyn Monroe; say no more. Gough Whitlam was Prime Minister and he set out to change Australia through a wide-ranging reform program. You’d be in like Flint if you were a labour polly.
Student: librarianship.
Bartender: sitting in the driver’s seat of The Decade of Decadence; the height of the sexual revolution.
Truck Driver: an anti-establishment figure; beautiful women like bad boys.

instead I wandered Europe and the Middle East along the ill defined hippie trail searching for inspiration and idealism in the ordinary.

image source:jmcadam

Back then, if what has been your biggest failure was a question asked at job interviews, my answer would have to have been

I’m not exactly sure what my biggest failure is. Everything I’ve ever done and everything I do is a failure; I’ve never been afraid of failure. Nobody has ever told me Good Job. I think failure is good for success.

Shut the front door.

The spare room was an unfinished room in the back of our house. There was a door from the dining room to the spare room, and a door from the spare room into the back fernery. The spare room had two windows; one looked out onto the small side way, and the other into the fernery. The side way led into a back gate that opened into the fernery; a door from the fernery opened into the backyard. The kitchen back door also opened into the fernery. I don’t remember what bad deeds warranted what punishment; sometimes a simple slap of dad’s hand across the back of the legs was enough, other times several whacks with the leather belt across the back of the legs was enough, and at times being locked in the dark spare room was enough, or being locked in the dark spare room after being whacked across the back of the legs with the leather belt was enough. The spare room was stacked with boxes, and old house hold things that mum didn’t want to throw away; she might use them again sometime. The spare room was also the night time refuge for our collection of pets.

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Each night the white cockatoo was put into it’s cage, and the cage was draped with a towel and placed between the boxes; the guinea pigs cage was carried into the spare room and put on top of the boxes, the white mice’s cage, and it always seemed to have a litter of squirming babies, was also carried into the spare room and put on top of the boxes. When we were locked in the spare room for punishment we sat with the animals in total darkness. Sometimes the cocky just wanted to enjoy the company, and would start talking; rapidly repeating it’s word dictionary and thesaurus of sayings, hoping for some sound from the boy sitting in the darkness. I never knew how long I had been sitting in the spare room when the dining room door was unlocked, but I knew I had done a Good Job of sitting in the dark and refusing to talk to the cocky. If only dad had told me Good Job when I walked out; I may have become a fitness instructor.

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After an uncountable number of times sitting alone in the dark and listening to the cocky I started to plan my escape from the room. I experimented with how to get out, and back into the spare room undetected. One night I discovered the key was always in the door to the fernery; the door from the back of the fernery opened into the backyard, and it was easy to climb the small backyard wooden fence into the side way. There were many nights that I escaped from the darkness of the spare room, and the cocky’s never ending favourite sayings. I walked the dark, and sometimes rain drenched, streets of the neighbourhood. About five houses up from our house was a small somewhat overgrown park that led into the road that ran parallel to our street. A rough, uneven asphalt winding pathway crossed the park; I walked that moonlit path many times. Most times when I escaped from the spare room I was bare foot. On that moonlit night I knew the gash between the heel and toes on the sole of my foot was serious. I reached down and picked up the bottom of a broken glass milk bottle; one of the jagged, thrusting blades from the side of the bottle was covered in my blood.

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I limped home leaving a trail of blood down the footpath. Mum opened the front door and panicked; mum and dad drove me to the Williamstown Hospital for injections and stitches. And now when I run my finger along the faint scar on the underneath of my foot I think back to the Good Job I did with the slow and painful hobble back home. If only mum had told me Good Job when she opened the front door and saw the blood draining from my foot and pooling onto the veranda I may have become a bartender.

Dad and granddad did a Good Job fixing up the spare room; they lined the walls and ceiling with sheets of masonite, put in a new louvred glass window that looked into the fernery, replaced the two top wooden panels in the door to the fernery with glass, and carpeted the floor. And the spare room became my bedroom. I wonder if they knew they did a Good Job.

image source:jmcadam

Before long, the morning sun will no longer be able to warm the start of the day; the winter cold will send me back to Westroads Mall and my old walking mates. They’re not really mates; I never talk to any of them and I don’t know their names. I just give a slight head nod or an indiscernible move of the index finger as we pass. I think when I return I will replace my head nod with a high spirited shout of Good Job.

 

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Australia Day

It’s not that I don’t have faith in US news sources, but ever since I’ve been hanging about in the US I’ve persisted in reading Australian newspapers, and at one time even The Times of London. After spending my first few years in the US in Nebraska I moved to Springfield, Illinois. It took a little time to gain employment in the The Land of Lincoln, so to avoid my anguish of collecting food stamps, and the empty fruitless days of searching for a full time job, I visited the Springfield Library one morning a week and sat at a reading table with The Times of London and the Australian Age. It was the golden days of print. The newspapers were folded over long wooden holders that were hung on a newspaper rack. I would carry the large wooden stick newspaper holders to a reading table and spend the next several hours consuming the latest, three weeks old newspapers. And now I hold my reading table; each morning I scan the Melbourne Age, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation news, the HearldSun, and the News Corp Australia on my smart phone or tablet.

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The other morning as I started my digital skimming of the Melbourne Age I was jolted from my somnolence into a critical reading mode. I fell back into the sofa and stared at the headline. I wondered if the writers sound judgement had been replaced with a rhetorical word play to create the striking headline; Second Melbourne council to vote on ending Australia Day citizenship ceremonies.

On January 26th, 1788 Captain Arthur Phillip guided the First Fleet of eleven British ships, into Sydney Cove and raised the Union Jack. Six of the ships were convict transports. It was the start of white colonisation, and British ownership of Terra Australis. For the Australian Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders it was the day of mourning; they were dispossessed of their land and culture. Invasion Day. January 26th is the official national day of Australia and a public holiday; Australians come together as a nation to celebrate what’s great about Australia and being Australian. Australia Day is celebrated with community events, Australian of the Year Awards, the announcement of the Australian Honours Awards list, speech’s from the Prime Minister and Governor General, and citizenship ceremonies.

image source:australiaday2017.com

I don’t remember Australia Day growing up. The tradition of Australia Day started in 1935 but nobody cared about it because most Australians were committed to celebrating Commonwealth Day; cities and towns came to a standstill as the citizens listened lovingly to the Queen delivering her Commonwealth Day message. And as young lads our social studies classes groomed us to be unswerving in our duty to the Commonwealth.

Our social studies teacher at Williamstown Tech, Mr McDevitt, taught the history of Australia as it was taught in all Victorian schools; Australia, a triumph of the Empire, built upon the courage and strength of British explores and adventures. Our Mr McDevitt was different from most social studies teachers; he was a master of the blackboard. He described the sweeping grandeur of Australia’s colonisation with colourful chalk panoramas; Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth crossing the Blue Mountains, Hargraves flying his box kites, and Burke and Wills perishing on their return journey, after crossing Australia from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria. The blackboards were Mr McDevitt’s Sistine Ceilings; with deft and swift movements of his coloured chalk the voyages of Bass and Flinders, or the journeys of any of the British adventurers who explored Britain’s new colony would appear on his blackboards.

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Sometimes Mr McDevitt created his blackboards before class, and as we lined up in two rows outside of the room, we would marvel at the sweeping colourful tableau on the boards; as we marched single file into Mr Devitt’s room all eyes stayed fixed on the chalk reproductions. Mr McDevitt filled the parts of his blackboards not covered in coloured chalk with sentences describing the courage and determination of the sons of the Empire as they colonised Australia. We dutifully copied the blackboards into our Social Science exercise books; our coloured pencil drawings mere untidy scribblings of fourteen year old boys.

The valour and heroism of Arthur Phillip and John McArthur was how Mr McDevitt blackboards summarized Australia’s convict era; nothing about the thieves, trollops and charlatans that were the true founders of the country. By the end of transportation in 1868, around 162,000 convicts were sent to the colonies of New South Wales, Van Diemen’s Land, and Western Australia. Until recently being a descendant of a transported convict was a source of shame for Australians. An estimated one in five Australians has convict ancestry. I am a third great great grandson of the convict Thomas Raines, sentenced to fifteen years transportation for stealing sheep. I am a descendant of Australian Royalty.

In the sixties every Victorian School had a Monday morning assembly. At Wiliamstown Tech they were held on the asphalt quadrangle used for bat tennis games during recess and lunch time. The flag pole stood alone on one side of the quadrangle. The teacher leading the assemblies stood on a small raised platform in front of the boys. The fifth, fourth, and third forms to the left, and the second and first forms to the right; we stood at ease, lined up alphabetically in descending form order, with caps on.  And every Monday morning the boys of Williamstown Tech mumbled the Creed.

image source:bbc.com

School AAA-TEN-SHUN. And we snapped from our legs apart, hands clasped behind the back at ease stance, to hands by the side and legs and feet together.
Caps OFF and FAAA-CE the flag. The assembly turned as one and swiftly removed their caps.
REEE-PEAT after me.

I Love God and my country
I honour the flag
I will serve the Queen
And cheerfully obey my parents, teachers and the law

School SALUUUU-TE the FLAG. And on cue the national anthem, God Save the Queen, played over the PA system.
School FAAA-CE the front and caps ON.
STAAAA-ND at ease.
If there were no school announcements or a snap uniform inspection, the call was music please.
School MAAAAA-RCH off.

Each year through primary and secondary school we were told about the victory of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps not being defeated at Gallipoli and Anzac Cove. The Australian and New Zealand forces landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula on April 25. They were fighting for King and country and the Empire; the mother country. We were told about Simpson and his donkey, and the heroism and courage shown by the ten thousand Australian and New Zealander boys who died on the Gallipoli peninsula; they gave birth to the ANZAC legend and spirit. ANZAC Day is April 25 and Australians recognise it as a day of national remembrance.

image source:sligotoday.ie

Since 1979, the federal government began promoting an Australia Day that was less British and more Australian, and in 1994 Australia Day became a national public holiday on January 26. In Victoria, Commonwealth Day celebrations were moved to the same day as the Queen’s Birthday public holiday.

I think Australia must be one of the only countries that celebrates it’s national day on the date it was invaded and colonised. The British colonies of Australia federated on January 1, 1901 creating the Commonwealth of Australia. America celebrates it’s national day on July 4; remembering their revolutionary war with the British, and their Declaration of Independence on July 4 1776, rather than honouring the landing of Christopher Columbus in the New World. January 1 would seem like a good date for an Australian public holiday; a day when people could come together to share and celebrate unity. A day for  celebrating Australian traditions and for those who call Australia home to reflect on what they have achieved.

Nothing is more traditional in Australian culture than the great backyard barbecue; throw a few snags on the barbie, slap them between two pieces of bread, add a dollop of tomato sauce, and eat the sangos while your throwing down a few ice cold beers, or wine, with your mates. The backyard barbie is about sharing and mateship. It’s all about emptying the tinnies from your ESKY into the host’s fridge. And if you leave early, the host can assume ownership of the few beers you’ve left, so anyone who’s consumed their own tinnies can take up the generous offer of the host to have one of theirs. And when you throw your chops or steak on the hosts barbie it’s no longer yours; anyone can choose the juiciest and best for themselves, or feed what ever they want to the hosts dog.

image source:.dailymail.co.uk

Maybe Australia Day should become Snag On The Barbie Day. It wouldn’t have to be celebrated on January 1 or 26. Victoria and most states in Australia already have the following public holidays.

Holiday Date
New Year’s Day Monday January 1
Australia Day Friday January 26
Labour Day Monday March 12
Good Friday Friday March 30
Saturday before Easter Sunday Saturday March 31
Easter Sunday Sunday April 1
Easter Monday Monday April 2
ANZAC Day Wednesday April 25
Queen’s Birthday Monday June 11
Friday before the AFL Grand Final TBD
Melbourne Cup Tuesday November 6
Christmas Day Tuesday December 25
Boxing Day Wednesday December 26

image source:.australiantimes.co.uk

Snag On The Barbie Day would need to be squeezed between the current holidays; sometime in summer, January through March. Snag Day would have to be celebrated on a Tuesday, and it would need to be a Tuesday each year, so every Australian could chuck a sickie on Monday and enjoy a four day weekend; a long weekend of sharing snags, and a few ice cold beers or wine, with your mates; even a game of backyard cricket. There is nothing more Australian than gathering around the backyard barbie, with a few mates, celebrating what’s great about Australia; with an ice cold tinnie or stubby, and committing to making Australia an even better place for the future.

I think I should nick out the back and throw a few snags on the barbie. Crisp on the outside and spongy and juicy inside, and then wrap them in a thin slice of white bread and smother it with tomato sauce; with a squirt of fat when you bite into it. Nothing like a sausage sango to kick off Snag On The Barbie Day.

 

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Nobody Ever Listened To My Telephone Calls

I never thought I would ever use a phone as a wireless. And now I’ve started to use my old Motorola Droid as a wireless; it’s connected by blue tooth to a stand alone speaker and I choose where I want to listen to 3AW’s afternoon drive time with Tom Elliott or Neil Mitchell’s morning program. 3AW streams all of it’s programs live. Melbourne is fifteen hours ahead of Omaha during US summer daylight savings time, so I listen to the live stream of Neil Mitchell’s 8:30am-midday Monday through Friday show from 5:30pm-9:00pm on the afternoon of the previous day; imagine listening to Thursday mornings happenings on Wednesday afternoon.

image source:jmcadam

When I was growing up our kitchen wireless was always tuned to 3AW. Mum would sit at the kitchen table when the Martha Gardener show started and slowly dawdle through her lunch, finishing up with her cup of tea, or instant coffee, just as Martha was winding up her show. Mum swore by Martha’s housekeeping tips and hints; her Wool Mix for washing more than just woollens, or how to deal with a tricky zipper. On Saturday afternoons the kitchen was filled with the sound of Harry Beitzel and the boys broadcasting the match of the day. And the wireless by my bed was only tuned to 3AW. I would lull myself to sleep listening to the advice, and sharing that Dr Alex Kenworthy provided to the lonely talk radio call-ins of the night.

I don’t know why I wanted to build a crystal set. Dad must have bought the copper wire for the coil, the germanium crystal, and the other parts; and we used dad’s old bakelite headphones. I remember winding the copper wire around a cardboard tube and every now and then twisting small loops in the wire. I think we also had a small device made up of fixed plates and moveable plates that you could turn into the spaces between the fixed plates. I don’t think I ever understood how the crystal set worked.

image source:oldheadphones.com

Maybe the thrill of listening to the static rich sounds of far away exotic places was the reason for building the crystal set; or maybe it was the adventure of stringing a wire from the shed in the back yard to the bedroom window down the side of the house for the antenna; or maybe it was clasping the headphones and pushing them onto our ears to  hear the faint sounds of far off lands. Dad must have also bought the coated copper antenna wire. Nothing was ever said about the wood we nailed into the side of the house to tie the antenna wire to, or the small hole in the top of the bedroom window to poke the wire through. Even with the antenna I never did hear the faint sounds of far off exotic places.

My Droid became a wireless when it was replaced by an iPhone. Nowadays it seems that you can count on upgrading your smart phone every couple of years. I think mum’s phone was only upgraded three times in fifty plus years. Back then, every house in Australia had a Postmaster-General’s Department 300 Series Bakelite Rotary Phone. At some point in time the bakelite rotary phone was replaced by a pale green rotary dial phone, and years later the pale green phone was replaced by a push button Touchfone.

image source:pixabay

You really didn’t have much of a phone choice because all house phones were provided by the P.M.G. You paid for each phone call that you made and the towns that are now suburbs of Melbourne were long distance. Mum’s older sister lived in Dandenong, a country town twenty miles along the Princess Highway from Melbourne. Aunt Peg lived in Edith Street which was just a short walk from the market. The market was our field of dreams and we would spend the day exploring the market when mum and dad drove us to Dandenong on Tuesdays. Aunt Bet, my mother’s younger sister, moved into my mother’s Dandenong house just after her marriage, and my brother and I would be allowed to stay with Aunt Bet and Uncle Ken for a few days during the school holidays. Aunt Peg was the only person that ever rang mum but when Aunt Bet moved to Dandenong she also would ring mum.

image source:youtube

For a long time the black phone sat majestically on a small, round wooden reading table in the front lounge room; it rested on a white lace doily. Mum could hear the phone ring from any where in the house; she would drop everything and hurry up the passage to the lounge room. She had put an arm chair by the telephone table and would settle into the soft chair for a long distance chat with her sisters from Dandenong. Even though it was a charge by the minute call, the three sisters became famous for their “what can they talk about for thirty minutes” phone calls. Maybe mum got tired of running up the passage to answer the phone, because the phone table and the phone got moved to the kitchen. A long phone cord ran down the passage from the lounge room to the kitchen. The P.M.G would have ran the wire along the baseboard in the passage; no one but the P.M.G could touch anything vaguely connected to a telephone.

image source:jmcadam

The phone table was moved to be just inside the doorway to the passage and was nestled beside the fridge; the arm chair stayed in the lounge room so mum stood up the whole time she talked to her sisters on the phone. When I set off to the US mum said she would mind my mini fridge; we moved the phone table and put the mini fridge beside the kitchen fridge. The phone was moved to the top of the mini fridge; and it sat on the mini fridge for as long as mum lived in her house. How the times have changed. Mum would be in disbelief; her Touchfone would no longer sit on the mini fridge. She would have a phone that she could carry with her where ever she went; even on shopping days. And there would be no telephone wire along the baseboard in the passage.

We no longer search for nooks, mini fridges, or telephone tables as places to keep our phones; a pocket, handbag, or bra is all that’s needed for our tiny, little, unobtrusive smart phone. And we have to designate a pocket as the phone pocket; which is not easy. Men’s trousers have four pockets, two in the front and two in the back, or five if they have a small fob pocket. Men’s trouser pockets should never be loaded up such that they produce a pocket bulge; always check in a mirror for pocket bulges. By default some of our trouser pockets are already taken; wallet in the back right, keys in the right front, and the left front for coins, tissues or handkerchief, Tic Tacs, tooth picks, and pocket knife.

image source:consumerreports.org

The left back pocket becomes the phone pocket; but this comes with misgivings and concerns

1.  When you slide your phone into your left back pocket make sure the screen is facing your leg to lessen the chance of pocket calling or butt dialling; calling someone you didn’t mean to because of pressure being accidentally applied to a button or buttons on the phone.
2.  Stuffing a phone into the left back pocket could also result in back problems. Constantly pressing a hard object against your sciatic nerve, the large nerve that runs from the lower back down the back of each leg, could cause numbness, tingling, or weakness in the back of the thigh, bum, and leg.
3.  In the past couple of years there have been increased reports of cell phones overheating and spontaneously catching on fire or exploding. The left back trouser pocket is not a well ventilated area.
4.  I know that the left back trouser pocket is further away from the family jewels than either of the front pockets but they are still being exposed to cell phone radiation. I think there has to be some small cooking of the sperm going on.
5.  You run the risk of an accidental drop from the left back trouser pocket when your lowering your daks to the ankles, and lowering yourself onto the dunny; or when your pulling the daks up. Count the floating phone as lost if you don’t want to go fishing around in the thunderbox for it; remember flushing the phone could cause the toilet to back up or clog up the plumbing.

The mornings that were warmed by the gentle spring heat are now a late summer soft shade of blue. I set off for my morning walk around the neighbourhood wearing my usual garb of walking shorts and a body hugging tank top.

image source:jmcadam

I have no where to put my new iPhone. And so I started to ponder about how the human body lacks storage space. I began to think about how nano technology seems to be maturing at warp speed, and wearable technology has already evolved into embeddable implants. And I mused, that if we are connected to our phones 24/7 then maybe they should be embedded in our body; implanted into our head, hand or arm. I think that would solve the problem of finding places to keep our smart phone. And it would save the world from running out of mini fridges.

I downloaded a vintage phone ringing sfx for my new iPhone; it sounds just like mum’s P.M.G 300 Series Bakelite Rotary Phone. I need to set the default ring time of my new iPhone to 40 seconds before it goes to Voicemail.

 

3AW Radio Melbourne

Post Master-General’s Department

How to Build a Crystal Wireless Set

If You Can’t Spell It Don’t Eat It

I think one of the most difficult decisions that you have to make when you’re travelling is where are you going to eat; especially when you’re driving somewhere. A Sunday drive or a day trip doesn’t usually bring about this mind boggling challenge because most times before starting out you’ve made a quick stop at your favourite breakfast place for poached eggs on toast, baked egg strata, or chicken fried steak with eggs and an English muffin; and then lunch is usually a sandwich at Subway or Maccas. And more often than not your back home in time for the evening meal.

image source:jmcadam

It’s a given that a summer road trip of a few days, or a weekend away, is going to cause daily episodes of acute mental trauma because of the where to eat question. Now I’m the first to give credit where credits due. The highway architects who designed the interstates and freeways that dissect the U.S. and connect it’s major cities, whilst bypassing mid size and smaller cities, had a tremendous amount of foresight; they creatively designed the routes of the roads to connect the clusters of restaurants that were dotted throughout the country. They put the whole question of where to eat on cruise control. As you drive the interstates and freeways the answer to the where am I going to eat question is so obvious there’s no thought involved.

image source:kentucky.com

On the last few road trips, even though it causes longer travelling time, we’ve avoided the interstate restaurant clusters by cruising the secondary highways and travelling through small towns; or if we’re travelling on the interstate we choose an exit, before the FOOD EXIT sign, leading to a nearby town. Most small American towns have a quaint city square anchored by a court house, and shops framing the four streets defining the square; or they have a single main street with the history of yesteryear still displayed by the facades of the shops. The answer to the where to eat question is decided by the size of the town. Most times the choice is the one and only café in the town square or in the main street.

Sabetha is a small town in Kansas off of highway 75. The freeway exit meanders into Main Street. In the 2010 census the city population was 2,571; the city has more jobs than residents. City managers estimate that Sabetha has nearly 5000 jobs, while only having 2500 residents. The Downtown Coffee Co LLC sits on the corner of 9th and Main Streets; an unassuming building with two windows, wider than they are high, resting on either side of the entrance.

image source:google

Amanda who took my order recommended Hacksaw’s Pulled Pork Sandwich; Hack’s very own seasoned pork on a sweet jalapeño bun, topped with your choice of Swiss, American or Pepperjack cheese, and a side of BBQ sauce. Amanda confessed that the Downtown Coffee Co LLC didn’t make the pulled pork in house, the butcher down Main Street did; and so I promptly asked “who made the pies.” I resisted the Coffee Co home-made pie.

image source:google

I looked around the Downtown Coffee Co LLC waiting for my Heck’s; close by was a display of bath and body works products and hemp lotions. On my way to the toilet I passed several small rooms with tanning beds. Now you don’t have many restaurants that offer speciality coffee drinks, soft serve ice cream, pastries, pizza, sandwiches, and that also have a full service tanning salon. If I was asked, I would recommend without hesitation the Downtown Coffee Co LLC for a gourmet grilled cheese panani, and a quick ten minute lay down, or stand up, on one of the tanning beds; and they have free Wi-Fi.

image source:google

A naive traveller wouldn’t recognise the Manchester exit off of Tennessee Interstate 24 as the yellow brick road to quintessential home cooked interstate food. A left turn at the exit and then left at the Paradise Street intersection leads to a Cracker Barrel Old Country Store; opposite the Store is Emma’s Family Restaurant. Emma’s front sign promises HOME COOKIN AT A GREAT PRICE. Now I know home cooking. Mum was acknowledged by everyone in the family as a breathtaking all round cake maker but not as an outstanding cook; she was a basic home style cook. Mum boiled her vegetables, sometimes all together in the same saucepan, and she cooked lamb chops or sausages under the stove griller. I think she cooked her crumbed lamb cutlets in a frying pan on top of the stove; Sunday’s roast leg of lamb dinner and roast potatoes was roasted to perfection in the oven.

I didn’t recognise any of mum’s home cooking in the warming trays soaking in the self service buffet food table. There was just an endless collection of trays of fried chicken, chicken fried steak, fried catfish, meat loaf, greens, green beans, black eyed peas, mac & cheese, fried okra, potato salad, salad fixins, and dessert pies and cobblers. After the third trip to the southern comfort food buffet I had to distract myself from the remaining fried catfish and hamburger steak on the plate, so I looked around Emma’s. I saw what a slow camera pan would reveal in a luncheon diner scene in a romantic comedy. Emma’s had a sit down table section. The table and chairs were black, and the chair legs had fluorescent green tennis balls, similar to the precut tennis glide balls you see on orthopaedic walkers, on their legs; which caused me to ponder do tennis balls really belong on walkers. Tennis has to be a dark, distant memory for people who use walkers.

image source:jmcadam

Tennis glide balls on chairs make sense if you’re pushing the chair back from the table to start on your fourth trip to the buffet or if you’re trying to push the chair sideways with your hip when you’re balancing a plate stacked with home cooked southern comfort food. But gliders do come with some drawbacks; what if you push the chair back from the table and the balls came to rest in partially dried mac and cheese or peach cobbler. With the fuzzy balls scraping across a floor covered with dried southern comfort buffet food I wouldn’t think their soft fuzzy bottoms wouldn’t stay soft and fuzzy for long; and they would be somewhat unsanitary. You would need to change the balls at least once a week. But I think the biggest shortcoming of putting tennis glide balls on chairs is that dogs would want to chase the chairs. I would dare anybody to leave Emma’s without a plate of home made peach cobbler and fried chicken.

image source:jmcadam

I always thought the Florida Keys would be like the Gold Coast and Surfers Paradise I remembered from the late sixties; that the Overseas Highway would be similar to the Princess Highway, a thin strip of road meandering through small sleepy beach side towns. In my mind I saw a gaggle of motels and hotels, towering five stories or more into the blue sky, transforming the flatness of a modest retirement communities into a natural urbanscape. A five hour drive over water is the best way to describe The Overseas Highway. The highway connects the islands that are the Florida Keys and then it becomes a thin strip of road surrounded by souvenir shops, restaurants, marine rental and charter boat shops, and entrances to hotels, motels, and resorts. It was just after lunch time, and for some inexplicable reason the Overseas Highway was grid locked at Islamorada. Nestled in a small strip mall across the road was the City Hall Café. And a road sign announcing AWARD WINNING KEY LIME PIE. Time to hang a uey.

image source:jmcadam

I can vouch to the fact that some of the best meat pies in Australia can be had at any shop announcing on their front window, overhead veranda shop sign, or on a wall inside the shop that they have award winning meat pies; and I’ve had some beauties. So I had no doubt that the Key Lime pie from the City Hall Café would be a taste sensation. The lady behind the counter proudly stated “the recipe we use at City Hall is from the library archives. It’s the original key lime pie.”

State Library and Archives of Florida: 1964 Postcard Collection
General Note
Number on back at bottom left: KW.5.
Note recipe at right reading:
“An authentic Key Lime Pie with native key limes. Note the creamy yellow inside. Key Lime Pie is world famous for a just right tart taste. RECIPE: 4 eggs,1 can Condensed Milk,1/3 cup Key Lime Juice.
Beat the yolk of 4 eggs and the white of one until thick. Add the condensed milk and beat again. Add the lime juice and beat until thick. Beat the 3 remaining egg whites until dry and fold in the mixture. Pour into a baked pie shell. Separate two eggs, beat the whites with two tablespoons of sugar until stiff and forms peaks, spread on top of pie and bake in oven until meringue is brown.”
Accompanying note:
“The early settlers along the Florida Keys had no means of refrigeration, and as a result, had very little in the way of desserts. The Key Lime Pie, made from Key Limes that are grown in the Florida Keys, and have a very tart taste due to the rock formation of the Keys, is a result of this search for a sweet that would be made easily from the produce at hand. The recipe has been handed down from generation to generation since the 18th century.”

The Key Lime Pie became Florida’s Official State Pie in 2006. I find if somewhat difficult to imagine a state without an official pie. How did Florida manage without a State Pie for so many years; I suppose that’s what makes Florida great. The special of the day was Snapper Taco’s; I confessed I had never had a Snapper Taco, and in fact I had never heard of them before. And the lady behind the counter once again proudly stated “that’s what the owner caught out fishing this morning.”

image source:jmcadam

On a full stomach of Snapper Taco’s and Key Lime Pie we headed to Shell World in Key Largo; the beyond compare tourist souvenir shop, stranded in a time warp; where shelves are laden with marine themed snow globes, hats, resort wear, lamps, knick-knacks, and more. After leaving Shell World I started to ponder; would the locals ever get tired of Snapper Taco’s and long for Snapper Flautas or Snook Enchiladas.

Sometimes on a short summer road trip or a weekend away it’s impossible to avoid deep-fried foods, drive through production line hamburgers, and bright orange fizzy drinks. I think for the next road trip getaway I will throw some fresh fruit, muesli bars, nuts, veggie sticks, hummus, popcorn, roasted chickpeas, and fava beans in the Esky and eat in the car.

 

Key Lime Pie History

Walker Glides, Not Walker With Tennis Balls

10 Roadside Foods You Should Never Eat

No Holds Barred

The other night I was channel surfing using the on-air channel guide. The local cable company provides seventy plus channel choices with the TV Starter option. I usually have three or four first choice channels picked out at a time and I cycle between this bundle before I grow weary of their programs. And that’s what caused the channel surfing the other night. I chose a new channel as a first choice channel and now three nights a week a curious fascination draws me to replays of the The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Johnny’s guests can include Robert Mitchum, Don Rickles, Sylvester Stallone, Tony Randall, Joan Rivers, Billy Crystal, Charles Nelson Reilly, or Suzanne Pleshette. The replays are from the seventies and eighties; Johnny’s monologues include references to Ronald Reagan as Governor of California, or as President of the United States; the hair styles and wardrobes of Johnny, Ed, and the guests also suggest the seventies and eighties. The other night Johnny introduced and interviewed Hulk Hogan. Hulk was a guest because he had just made his film debut in Rocky III; cast as the world wrestling champion Thunderlips, the Ultimate Male. It was early in his career and Hulk had yet to fully explore and embrace The Hulkster and Hulkamania. Johnny was disinterested in the beginnings of Hulkamania.

image source:johnmcadam

I sat on a cramped couch, glued to the small TV in the corner; the second floor of the bungalow style house was made up of a front room, bedroom, bathroom, and a small kitchen. Lincoln, Nebraska, was now my postcode. Immigrants will tell of how they learned to speak American by watching television. I already spoke English, so I watched television for the synthesis of American cultural and the Australian lifestyle. I watched wrestling; the late seventies and early eighties had to be the second golden age of wrestling. Hulk had become The Hulkster and was a permanent guest on a The Tonight Show format wrestling talk show; Vince McMahon was Johnny. The The Hulksters talked a lot about all the Hulkamaniacs around the world, and the importance of Hulkamaniacs saying their prayers, drinking their milk, and taking their vitamins. And I watched all the wrestling matches; I lost count of the number of times I saw the ripping of The Hulksters shirt. For over a year I watched professional wrestling; I was bewildered by the cast of stock characters, and the plots and twists that moved the fantasy along.

image source:johnmcadam

There was a series of low railway viaducts just passed the intersection of New Footscray Road and Dudley Street. They carried the western suburb trains, Spirit of Progress, Overland, and the myriad of railway lines that made up the Melbourne railway yards. Back then, the yards seemed to go on forever; they stretched from North Melbourne to Spencer Street. The jumble of lines were clogged with every type of goods wagons and passenger carriages; the yards included goods sheds and a hump yard. The shadows of the viaducts and yards fell across the stadium. The West Melbourne stadium was a grungy, concrete bunker sandwiched between the railway lines and Dudley Street. I remember Dad taking us to the wrestling at the stadium. Back then it was the mecca of boxing and wrestling in Melbourne. We sat high up in the raked bleachers and squinted through the dark smoke filled space, to watch the action figures in the ring; a vintage black and white film with a grainy look and light leaks. The ring was a small squared circle in the distance, floodlit by overhead lights; the wrestlers were small mannequins. You barracked hard when Big Chief Little Wolf applied his Indian Death Lock, and you booed Gorgeous George and referee Bonnie Muir.

image source:heraldsun.com.au

I remember the ring attendants ambling around, back and forth outside the ring. There were at least six attendants; they ambled not in a random fashion, but in some predefined pattern around sections of the ring. The attendants wore long white coats; the same white coats Victorian Football League Goal Umpires wore. Over the years I often wondered what caused me to choose studying chemistry at Footscray Technical College instead of art at Caulfield Institute of Technology. As I think back, I remember my fascination with the stadium’s white coated attendants; within an outstretched arms length of uncertainty, walking within inches of a Flying Head Scissors and Atomic Drop, and at any moment a grappler could be thrown out of the ring and land at their feet. I must have chosen chemistry at Footscray Tech so I could wear a long white chemistry lab coat and always walk within an outstretched arms length of uncertainty.

Some boys chose wrestling as an activity at the Williamstown Youth Center. It was the type of wrestling you saw on the newsreels at the pictures; Greco Roman and freestyle wrestling. Wrestling that was always part of army training, or school sports; wrestling that boys did man to man. Submission Holds and Pin-Falls were unknown; we practiced the science of wrestling and only used leverage and balance as our holds. Each match was a physical chess game, and we always finished our bouts as friends.

image source:state library victoria

Most nights of the week, after tea, I challenged Dad to a wrestling match. When he accepted, we squared off on the kitchen floor. The passageway spilled out into one end of the kitchen, and the back door to the fernery was opposite the passageway. Mum’s sewing machine was tucked into the corner by the door to the fernery, and the phone was on a small table by the door to the passage; the end of the kitchen between the two doorways was a natural squared circle. Dad and I did a freestyle type of wrestling. We started our matches in a modified Referee’s Position; the one where you choose either the top position or the bottom position. Dad always took the bottom position, squatting with his knees and hands on the floor. And that was the only Youth Center move we used. I tried to put dad in an Indian Death Lock, a Hammer Hold, Head Scissors, or a Submission Head Lock but he squirmed and slithered, and used his weight and strength to release himself from my wrestling holds. And when I couldn’t subdue him I would move into him with a series of Japanese Chops.

image source:youtube

In the early sixties Melbourne’s Channel 9 began broadcasting, on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, its own World Championship Wrestling. The matches were scripted promotions for Killer Karl Cox’s, Mario Milano’s, Spiros Arion’s, Brute Bernard’s, Bulldog Brower’s, and other wrestler’s weekend matches at Festival Hall. I occasionally watched Gentleman Jack Little and the boys; I was losing interest in wrestling. I had transitioned from a young boy through early childhood, and into a fledgling adolescent. I had things to do on Saturday and Sunday afternoons; besides, I was now wearing a white chemistry lab coat two afternoons a week for Organic and Inorganic Chemistry Labs at Footscray Tech, and the West Melbourne Stadium, the House of Stoush, was no longer the grimy mecca for boxing and wrestling. It had been renamed Festival Hall in the early sixties and it was now Melbourne’s largest live entertainment venue. The Beatles, played the hall when they invaded Australia as part of their 1964 world tour.

Back then there was a lot of decision that you had to make; hippie, bodgie and widgie, mod, skinhead, surfer, or Beatles or Stones. I decided I was Stones so I didn’t see the Beatles at Festival Hall; but I did see an early sixties Chubby Checker concert, and the 1973 Frank Zappa and Mothers of Invention concert. I remember Zappa using his guitar as a cigarette holder. He pushed the filter of his cigarette down onto a string sticking out from the tuning peg, and he tucked lit cigarettes under the strings on the pegboard. His cigarette on the end of the string defined its own path as Zappa threw out his own unique solos; it’s embers and smoke joining the other embers and smoke in a darkened, grungy, Festival Hall.

image source:hiveminer.com

Sometimes we look back and question the decision we made. During my search for inspiration and idealism in the ordinary in the early seventies I used London as my homeland. I worked as a life guard at an outdoor swimming pool with four other band of brothers; Peter the university student, John the part-time criminal from Herne Hill, Mick the Irishman sympathetic to the troubles and a supporter of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, and The Young Londoner. John the part-time criminal from Herne Hill worked a collection of part-time jobs to supplement his income from other activities; when the long hot summer was drawing to a close he asked me what I was going to do for a job. He knew a friend who was trying to get a bunch of lads together to tour small Italian and Eastern European towns and perform one night wrestling matches; did I want to do it. I confessed I had only wrestled on the kitchen floor with my dad. John the part-time criminal from Herne Hill didn’t see that as a problem; the troupe was going to spend the next month learning holds and routines, and developing their characters. The next morning I told John the part-time criminal from Herne Hill, thanks for thinking of me. You always regret some decisions you make.

image source:blackenterprise.com

With the success that Chubby Checker had with Lets Twist Again, Twistin USA, Slow Twistin, and Twist It Up as follow ups to The Twist, I wonder if he regrets the decision not to follow up The Hucklebuck with a version called The Camelclutch

Ah here’s the dance you should know
Ah, baby when the lights are down low
I say, grab your baby then go
Do the Camelclutch (yeah)
Do the Camelclutch (yeah)
If you don’t know how to do it
Man you’re out of luck
Push ya baby out (yeah)
Then you hunch her back (yeah)
Start a little movement in your sacroilliac
Wiggle like a snake, wobble like a duck
That’s what you do when you do the Camelclutch

I didn’t decide to stop watching wrestling; I just drifted away from it. And the other day I found an old small box labelled John’s Toys; I sold my Titan Sports 8-inch 1984 vinyl Hulk Hogan wrestling action figure, that included a championship belt, and a box of 25 assorted wrestling action Band Aids.

 

Festival Hall: the greatest moments from Melbourne’s favourite live venue

Channel 9’s World Championship Wrestling

Frank Zappa Bio

I Wasn’t Naked I Just Didn’t Have Any Bathers On

The last few days in Omaha has seen the temperature pushing into the nineties, with the humidity matching the air temperature; and summer officially begins in a week. Maybe the corn sweat has launched early this year, or maybe global warming caused July and August to start in June. After heaving the lawn mower around the backyard, and oozing with sweat, I pushed back into the green resin stack-able patio dining chair that I had put in the garage; even with the door open it’s the coolest place in the house during summer mid mornings. My head lolled forward and the resin chair became a bold and beautiful folding deckchair. I didn’t try to interrupt my eyes closing and I was soon back playing a game of beach cricket and trying to eat a paddle pop before it melts.

image source:johnmcadam

Back when, my summers usually began in November; the temperature began creeping into the eighties as we sat in our winter uniforms, squashed two to a desk, in the hot classrooms at Williamstown Tech. On those hot days the teacher opened the windows but the cooling south breeze only arrived in the late afternoon; the air was stifling. We sat silent and unresponsive, glancing up at the large octangular speaker in the corner, waiting for the headmasters announcement to be broadcast into every room:

boys, you may remove your jumpers and loosen your ties

It was around late November when the summer uniform replaced the winter uniform. We were permitted to wear shorts, a short sleeve shirt without a tie, and summer socks.

image source:picturevictoria.vic.gov.au

When I was a young teenager drifting into adolescence it seemed as if I spent every day of the school holidays at Williamstown Beach. I would leave my bike resting against the chain link fence of the Life Saving Club with the towel that I always wrapped around my shirt and shorts lodged under the bike below the pedals. The Life Saving Club was at the end of the promenade that ran alongside the Esplanade; a low curving blue stone wall separated the sand and water from the promenade. Back then, the sand ended just before the Life Saving Club; a rock wall arched around past the club. There were two sets of steps inset into the wall that led into the water. Past the steps were the rockies. There were no steps down to the rockies. You clambered down the wall onto the rocks. At different places the rocks had formed openings and the waves and tidal water gushed into and out of these deep grottoes. Only the brave went there to swim; only those enduring a rite of passage, or answering a dare. The rockies were the first time I swam starkers.

image source:errantries.com

I don’t remember dad driving the family to the Gold Coast on holidays but I know that he did. I remember looking out over the Blue Mountains at the three sisters; I don’t remember Sydney. After leaving Sydney we would have driven up the two lane Pacific Highway to the New South Wales border town of Coolangatta. The thin strip of road connecting Coolangatta with Surfers Paradise snaked through the small sleepy, Gold Coast beach towns. I don’t remember Surfers Paradise. I think we stayed in the Tweed Heads caravan park. I would have gone swimming in the surf at the beach. Mum had a couple of strict swimming rules; we could only go as far out into the water where we could still touch the bottom, and the most enforced rule was we could only go into the water an hour after eating. After every meal, or snack, mum would hold court and warn us of the severe consequences of swimming immediately after eating:

your stomach will cramp up and you will sink to the bottom and drown

It took until young adulthood for me to go swimming straight after I had eaten; and I never once got stomach cramp.

image source:johnmcadam

My second visit to Surfers Paradise was in the late sixties; it was still the land of meter maids and Mini Mokes. The re-built Surfers Paradise Hotel anchored Cavill Avenue and it’s Birdwatcher’s Bar was crowded with males of all ages downing a few cold ones: you staked out a drinking spot by the glass windows to watch the girls in their bikinis saunter past. New motels and hotels, towering five stories into the blue sky, were carving out the new Surfers Paradise skyline. The beer gardens were a welcome retreat from the mid day sun for the holiday makers. Constant rounds of  beer and mixed drinks, and a good counter lunch were the norm. The Bee Gees grew up in Redcliffe, about 70miles from the Gold Coast. The holiday makers paid scant attention to the young boys when they sang their way through the beer gardens. One night I was putting away a few cold ones, and mum had never said anything about waiting an hour after your last drink before going swimming, so I decided I should be swimming at Surfers Paradise beach. I could just make out the breaking waves from where I was on the moonlit sand but I peeled off my clothes and ran towards the breaking waves. I swam starkers in the Surfers Paradise surf.

image source:pinterest

I was young; I didn’t know danger. It was only a couple of years since the Australian Prime Minister, Harold Holt, mysteriously disappeared while swimming alone at a beach near the ocean-side town of Portsea. Maybe he went swimming without waiting for an hour after eating.

When I first went searching for inspiration and idealism in the ordinary in the early seventies I used London as my homeland. I worked as a life guard during a long hot summer at an outdoor swimming pool that was nestled in the corner of Brockwell Park. Brockwell Lido was a drop kick from the Herne Hill train station, or a short bus ride away from the Brixton tube station; sometimes I would endure the long walk across Tooting Bec Commons and through parts of Streatham. The Olympic size pool was surrounded by asphalt and concrete, and a ten foot high brick wall. On each side of the pool were the dank, dark, subterranean men’s and women’s changing rooms. A high diving platform was at the deep end of the pool and a large concrete water fountain towered over the shallow end. The life guard changing room was behind the fountain and the room shared a wall with the first aid room. The changing room and the first aid room had an outside door to the park.

The pool and it’s surrounding concrete provided a welcome respite from the sweltering summer heat to the people of Lambeth and South London. Five of us: Peter the university student, John the part time criminal from Herne Hill, Mick the Irishman sympathetic to the troubles and a supporter of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, The Young Londoner, and the Aussie searching for inspiration and idealism plucked quite a few little ones from the shallow three foot end of the pool, and were regarded as hero’s by their young mums; we also dragged a few teenagers and adults from the deep end after they jumped off the high diving board and discovered they couldn’t swim.

image source:johnmcadam

We often worked until after nine during the weekdays but finished earlier on Sunday evenings; sometimes different combinations of us would stroll over to one of the local Herne Hill pubs to sink a few pints after work. Last call was around eleven. A collection of uniformed first aid volunteers would show up on the weekends. It was an early Sunday evening and a couple of the young uniformed first aid lady volunteers agreed to join us for a few rounds at the local. It had to be after eleven when we; Peter the university student, John the part time criminal from Herne Hill, Mick the Irishman sympathetic to the troubles and a supporter of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, and the young uniformed first aid lady volunteer lurched out of the pub and headed towards the Lido. We had decided to go swimming.

image source:heartsonfire.co

We lifted Mick the Irishman onto the top of the wall and he in turn hoisted John the part time criminal from Herne Hill onto the wall. They let themselves into the first aid room with the key the young uniformed first aid lady volunteer had given them and unlocked the outside door to the park. We all swam starkers, in the moonlight, at Brockwell Lido. As I think back it was fortunate that we had consumed only pints of warm English bitter and not snacked on any of the Scottish eggs available from the bar; waiting in the moonlight for an hour after eating may have proven to be a little tiresome.

The Thailand I remember was a county transitioning from a rest and recreational retreat from the Vietnam War into a tourism mecca. In the mid seventies Chiang Mai was a sleepy country town nestled among the forested foothills of northern Thailand close to Asia’s infamous Golden Triangle; the meeting of Thailand, Burma and Laos and the center of the infamous opium trade. Our back packers hostel was a collection of buildings surrounding by trees and foliage; they ringed a small delightful courtyard. Five of us intrepid travelers set off from our hostel on a two day hike into the mountains and villages of the Golden Triangle. A friend of our guide dropped us off at the entrance to a rough track into the mountains. We dragged ourselves along mud trails, skirted countless opium fields, and trekked through small villages and into and out of Laos and Burma.  I wondered if the opium farmers guided their donkey caravans along these old jungle trade paths. It was late afternoon when we arrived at our overnight mountain jungle village.

image source:sports.vice.com

Before eating and sleeping we were encouraged to cleanse the dried mud and sweat from ourselves in the nearby stream. I think the rivulet was the fresh water supply for the village. I wandered along the stream, downstream from the village. I sat naked in a cold mountain stream in Asia’s Golden Triangle.

Nowadays you can relax during a scenic drive through the countryside in air-conditioned comfort and stop off at attractions such as the Hall of Opium Museum and the Mae Ka Chan hot springs, where you can soak your sore muscles in three natural pools and let tiny fish nibble dead skin from your feet. Which makes me wonder if fish have to wait an hour after they eat before they can go swimming.

I haven’t been swimming for years; maybe I should go swimming in a sand pit. I will probably need to go out and buy a pair of bathers.

 

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