/* Blog goes here */

Blogging from Eris
All Hail Eris
I need a new computer
Tangram Trouble
Christmas Eve in Melbourne
Yuletide Provender
Nokia software self-destruction.
December Storm
Random Facts
No More Christmas Shopping
Casino Royale
Robbie Williams
More Christmas Shopping
Another ride
Christmas Shopping
Cool Change
More Smoke Haze
Fire and Wind
Mad Dogs and Englishmen
Smoke Haze
The heat is coming
Hunter Resort
Sun Dec 31 00:59:26 2006


Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn*

After a day wasted playing silly computer games, we had a plan for dinner. Dinner did not share the plan. Allow me to introduce Cuthbert:

Rancid rock lobster Pre-cooked rock lobster

I acquired Cuthbert at Queen Vic Market yesterday. Since I'm too wussy to slaughter dinner myself, I bought him (her?) pre-cooked. Note to self: cooked invertebrates should have no smell. This evening, I pulled him from the fridge, unwrapped the package and was assaulted by The Smell. Cuthbert was taking revenge. The small disturbance of moving him (it? her?) was enough to allow some gas to escape. Cooked food should not move on its own. I tugged gently at the front end. It came away, revealing brown, drooling foetid glubber. And, of course, The Smell. A few seconds later, Cuthbert was taking a quick journey down a long pipe, back to the nether realms.

We cooked the rack of lamb instead. The roast potatoes were perfect. The fireworks were fun, too.

*"In his house at R'lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming." Do I have to spell everything out for you?

Sat Dec 30 23:50:36 2006



I have been hurtling around dangerous trails for months. Neither venomous snake nor dangerous corner, lurking spider nor risk of pain has slowed the bike. Until today. Now, the bike can no longer be sold as 'Never Crashed'.

We took the bikes out of the car at Lysterfield Lake Park, put the bits back together and pottered off around the lake. For a change, we swapped saddles and rode each other's bikes. The sun was shining and the forecast promised 30C. We rode around the park, and did the central section of the middle trail. Then we split up for a few minutes and I hammered up to Native Track before dropping down fast to the top of Middle Buckle Trail. We stormed down the first bit, whooped over the intersection and started the long descent. I burbled over the first big jump, while The Sensible Cyclist took a closer look. With a tiny bit of encouragement, she went back a few metres, dropped to the jump, rose over it, slammed the front anchors on and rotated gracefully over the bars. Epic endo with face-plant. She fell about over two metres straight onto her nose. My bike fell on top of her.

I dropped the (running) video camera and ran to console, comfort and count teeth.

After a few hours of Nurofen, beer and rest, the damage seems to be non-fatal. Huge bruises, grazes that meet on the other side and an excuse to behave like an invalid seem to be the major symptoms. Sympathy and care are being delivered in equal measures with beer.

I deleted the video. Honest.

Sat Dec 30 23:38:05 2006

Blogging from Eris

Dull. Please ignore.

This entry exists to see whether we can blog from the new machine. If you're looking for video of the crash, forget it. Not being posted. Ever.

Fri Dec 29 22:56:57 2006

All Hail Eris

Victim of the Original Snub

Reader, I bought her.

For 20% less than the list price, too. I phoned a small computer shop on Lonsdale Street, and told them exactly what I wanted. Once we'd each waded through the other's accents, we established that they could get it by Monday. "That's New Year's Day. Isn't it a holiday?" I asked. "Hang on" came the reply. "We'll call you back."

Forty minutes later, the phone goes. "You're right. It's a holiday."

Actually, they said they could get one today. They phoned us when it had arrived, and we went over to the least efficient business in the CBD. They served about eight customers between working out what I wanted and giving it to me. The sum of what the others bought was less than a tenth of the value of my machine. First, they couldn't find it. Then, they tried to give me the wrong one. I'd noted that the part number was wrong on the box, and was waiting until I got past the loud, friendly and inefficient manager to the quiet, reserved and competent woman. "The bar codes don't match." she says. "I know. It should be a 132AE, not a 682AM", I say. She looks from me to the box, to the screen and back again in bemusement. "How did you know that?" she thinks. I smile sweetly and look smug. She goes to the back office, and brings back the correct package in seconds. "Where did you find that?" asks the manager. "On the deliveries shelf. It was the only thing there." she says. Never send a man(ager) to do a woman's work.

After the ususal trans-oceaninc phone calls to establish credit card credibility, I took my shiny new toy home.

Booting XP Looking good - but what's on the screen?
Ubuntu boot Looking better.
Ubuntu login Perfect.

Two 2.0GHz CPUs. 4MB level 2 cache. 2GB RAM. 240GB disk, 17" screen. Ubuntu installed, World of Warcraft running.

Happy. Now, off to slaughter some poor, defenceless virtual monsters.

Fri Dec 29 00:02:59 2006

I need a new computer

for playing games

Since Certain Other People are engrossed in online violence, the only way we'll ever get to spend time together is if I join in. Since loading that sort of thing on the company's hardware would be, at the least, impolite, I'm going to need a new toy.

The current spec is:

  • Intel Core 2 Duo 2.0GHz dual-core 64-bit CPU package
  • 2GB RAM
  • 200+GB disk
  • 17" screen

I've been rootling around the web, and something like this is what I have in mind. Other People have promised to 'test' it for me. Only if I get to play with the Wii...

Wed Dec 27 22:33:04 2006

Tangram Trouble

101 more uses for a search engine

One of my Christmas presents is a lovely wooden tangram. The pieces are made from different coloured wood, and they all sit in a lovely square frame. We shook the pieces out and had some fun making shapes. It's not easy, and requires a surprising degree of thought.

Once we were done, we tried to put the pieces back in the square. Whoops. Not a chance. After about ten embarrasing minutes, I gave up and asked Google. I have no shame.

Wed Dec 27 00:12:34 2006


More cool toys than you could shake a very wobbly thing at

Some of the reasons that this was an excellent Christmas are:

  • A Garmin Foretrex 201 wristband GPS. If there is anything on the entire planet cooler than this, it loses because of the whole satellite/atomic clock thing. I will never go indoors again.
  • The Nintendo Wii. An entire generation of children is going to grow up with overdeveloped arm muscles, excellent cardiovascular health and no ability to get up from the sofa. Wii Golf is the reason I will never go outside again.yes I did gesture with enough force to break a wrist strap and send a wiimote hurtling towards the television.
  • A digital camera that takes much better pictures than my mobile, but doesn't lead to awkward discussions when I crash: "Stop bleeding and answer the question: why didn't you crash on the other side?"
  • Watching Shane Warne's 700th Test wicket. OK, not in person. It was almost 3kms away. But I saw it on the telly.
  • Watching the start of the Sydney-Hobart. Go Wild Oats!
  • Cheese. If I told you about the cheese, you'd all want some. Tough. It's ours.
Mon Dec 25 18:36:38 2006


Solid-phase water falling from the sky

Date: 25/12/2006. Latitude: 37 degrees 49.106 minutes South. Long 144 degrees 56.859 minutes East. Temp: 10.5C. Wind 50kts. Weather: Hail.

Guess who got given a spiffy watch-sized GPS for Christmas?

The weather is, however, unsufferably bloody.

Rainy window No comments from the northern hemisphere, please.
Sun Dec 24 21:09:16 2006

Christmas Eve in Melbourne

World's Most Liveable City (if you never go out)

BurbleBooze level: moderate. Forecast: High.

First, and most importantly, there is fresh bloggage at the other place.. Off you go. I'll wait.

We prepared the herb butter, delicately packed the lamb shanks, nestled them on a bed of vegetables, drizzled them with oil and wine, then slammed them in a hot oven to denature the proteins. Cooking is fun.

In a triumph of hope over experience, we headed out into the bitter wind and indifferent rain to the pub. Morons, we are. Why would they be open on Christmas Eve? It's not like every woman in the Christmas-celebrating world would ever want to get the blokes out from under their feet so presents can be wrapped, food prepared and children rescued from overdoses of anticipation.

The Less Salubrious Bar was open, busy and fun, so we stopped and had a couple of beers there. We don't drink there often, mostly because the beer is generic pabulum, and people smoke. It was exactly as you would expect. Today, it was actually a nice environment. Except the smoke.

The walk home was cold, windy and slightly moist. The rain here is more like drizzle with pretensions. Just enough to be worth mentioning, never enough to fill a reservoir. It's like being on the receiving end of a limp handshake. It would be rude to complain, but yeuch.

Home, then, to good beer, fine chocolate, outstanding wine and astonishing cheese. The prezzies are stacked, music is playing and the view outside is wonderful. The rain is helping with the fires, and all is well in my tiny little world.

Sun Dec 24 18:15:15 2006


Fifteen point seven miles per hour.

After fuelling up with the Monster Picnic, I took my bike out. It's a cold, grey day, but miraculously there was almost no wind. I headed gently towards Westgate Park. Both my regular readers will know that the 'gently' part wasn't going to last long. I did the first 3.5 miles in 12'16" - 17.2mph, a personal best. After a bit of faffing on the trails I tooled south towards St Kilda. I passed a lot of people, then fell in with a couple of roadies. They were keeping it dialled in at a very steady 20mph, so I obviously couldn't let them get away. I stayed with them until they turned off. Wusses. By that point, I was almost at Sandringham marina, so I did the last bit gently, then went to the end of the breakwater and took some pictures.

Small yacht Off to sea on Christmas Eve
You Yangs from Sandringham If you look very carefully, you can see the You Yangs. Honest.
Silver gull Seagull.
Silver gull Another seagull. Or maybe the same one. They all look the same after a while.

I was sensible on the way back, and only increased the average speed a bit. 32 miles, 2 hours, 2 minutes. Feeling virtuous. Pass the brandy butter.

Sat Dec 23 23:29:56 2006

Yuletide Provender

Arteries clanging shut

All the food shopping is done. We need a bigger fridge.

At the supermarket yesterday, we only just cleared the $100 barrier. This included all the vegetables, mixers and chocolate for the next five days.

This morning, I pootled over to Vic Market and acquired components from two sheep, several pigs and a cow. Less than $50. Back in the kitchen, we worked together as a well-practised team to prepare megajoules of food. We started with the potato salad. The mayonnaise is full-fat, and we weren't mean with it. Next, we started baking the chocolate brownies. 250g of butter, 350g of sugar, 200g of chocolate, 4 eggs, 2 cardiologists. Christmas food.

After a wholesome bike ride this afternoon, we went to our friends at Providore for some more booze and cholesterol. A hunk of Stilton, a chunk of Caprinelle, an ooze of Triple Creme. This, together with a bottle of wine, a bottle of port and the bare minimun of West Indian rum set us back, er, well, more than all the rest of the food combined. The cheese is around $90 a kilogram.

Tomorrow, we start on the picnic. Cheese, potato salad, ham, salami. Then, lamb shanks roasted over root vegetables, served with rice and the GSM we bought today. A midnight feast of port and Stilton will start the Christmas off.

On the day, more of the picnic, with an evening meal of fillet steak with chips, mushrooms, sweetcorn, onions, tomatoes and pumpkin. This calls for a bottle of the Shiraz. Again, a midnight feast is indicated.

Boxing day will, we hope, see the end of the world's biggest picnic. The main event is a rack of lamb served with roast potatoes. More Shiraz here. The port supply may stretch to more late-evening silliness.

That's the plan. I'll be astonished if we make it to Wednesday without coronary artery bypass.

Sat Dec 23 19:39:21 2006

Nokia software self-destruction.

There is no word for 'test' in Finnish

I connected my phone to my PC to download some pictures. When I fire up Nokia PC Suite, it offers to download and install the latest version. 'OK', I click. Idiot. Nokia software conforms to no known interface standards, regularly fails to identify my phone, and frequently gets confused about what data is new and what should be deleted.

The package downloads in seconds (I love iinet), and starts the install. Halfway through, it detects a corrupted datafile. This is probably because of the dodgy wifi driver on my laptop. I hate Dell. So, the package uninstalls itself. Neatly, perfectly, impressively and completely. Taking with it, of course, the old, perfectly working version.

Well done, chaps.

Fri Dec 22 23:17:13 2006

December Storm

Sometimes, it's safer to stay in the pub

Hey! Northern hemisphere types! Solstice! Your days get longer now! (Still 11 days to perihelion, though). Got yourselves some serious winter there?

Today, at the noon of shortest shadows, we had a nasty overcast with no shadows at all. So we went to the pub.

If this happened to you Northerners at the end of June, you'd write letters to your MP. Cool pictures, though.

Storm Storm
Storm Storm. With lightning. Honest.
Storm Still a storm.
Storm Still raining.

The tram stop is at least 150m from the pub, so obviously we had to wait until we were certain that the storm had passed. Life can be bitter. So can the beer.

Fri Dec 22 00:36:43 2006

Random Facts

If there's nothing to say, burble.

Dark cherry ice-cream goes surprisingly well with chocolate. Most things do. Vertical cannelloni are hard to stuff. Standing them up in a bed of sauce helps, but the overall cost/benefit of axially vertical cannelloni is probably negative. When the butter has melted in the milk, and the first spoonful of flour has been added, it's too late to make a roux. Damn. No lumps anywhere, though - better cooking through thermodynamics.

Translation: Nothing of any interest at all happened today, but I'm a bloody good chef in a self-imposed crisis.

Wed Dec 20 23:03:54 2006

No More Christmas Shopping

We're both done

At lunchtime today we both trudged through the smoke-shrouded city searching for final little gifts for Christmas. I found the thing I was looking for, and was happily heading back when another shiny thing caught my eye.

We will not start counting who has the most presents, nor shall we plot graphs of quality against quantity. We have each been generous, thoughtful and kind. No more presents will be purchased this year (unless another very shiny thing catches my eye). Number, quality, scarcity and cost are irrelevant. All that matters is the love that goes with giving.

If you measure by weight, I win by a clear margin anyway.

Wed Dec 20 00:41:29 2006

Casino Royale

The name's Bond...

Casino Royale is not a Bond movie. Yes, it's got a character called James Bond in it, but that's as far as any similarity with the rest of the franchise goes.

The Bond in this movie lacks the understated, suave elegance that one expects in the role. James, no dinner jacket, however well tailored, will make you into a gentleman while playing Texas Hold'em. Gentlemen just do not play. Also, when one has messily bludgeoned a number of inconvenient walk-on thugs to death, one does not hide the bodies under the stairs for the staff to find. Simply not done. Dashed inconsiderate.

The James Bond portrayed in this film is not a very nice chap at all. That, in itself, is forgiveable. The problem I have is that he's uncouth.

The opening chase scene is one of the best in cinematic history. The business at the airport goes on too long. The poker game is long, tedious and inevitable. There are no spiffy gadgets - Q is missing entirely. The scenery is stunning, the violence is extreme, the one-liners are funny and the girls are pretty. The film is a self-indulgent three hours. A decent editor could have cut an hour and made a much better movie.

What with the 3-hour movie, all the restaurants had shut. World's Most Liveable City*. So we went home and cooked fajitas.

*Fridays only - some restrictions apply

Mon Dec 18 22:23:10 2006

Robbie Williams


Robbie Williams (ask a teenager) is playing the Telstra Dome again tonight. The sound engineering is astonishing. The roof of the stadium is closed, but we can hear the music inside our flat. Occasionally, the windows shake. I can only imagine that brains are drooling out of ears in the stadium. Or not.

My legs felt like they'd been beaten with sticks this evening, so I stayed at home. It might be related to riding 40kms fast yesterday.

Seven days to Christmas. The temperature forecast for Wednesday is 35 degrees.

Sun Dec 17 22:41:09 2006

More Christmas Shopping

And a bike ride.

So, what did we do today? Last weekend before Christmas, warm sunny day, most of our shopping done. We went to Highpoint, the biggest mall in Victoria, of course. In the fourteen square kilometres of car park, not a single space was free. After thirty minutes of fruitless random search for a space, we adopted a more agressive strategy: we stalked someone with a full load of bags. She was looking more and more uncomfortable as we kerb-crawled after her. I've never seen anyone throw stuff in a car and screech away with such white-knuckled terror before. Whatever the long-term psychological consequences, we had a parking space.

I was searching for a specific present. There were three possible sources at Highpoint. The first one had none in stock, the second one didn't know what I was talking about, and the third one told me it didn't exist. Oh dear. I had to fall back on Plan B. For the first time in recorded history, the Professional Shopper had finished before me. BlokeCred = 0.

Once we got back home, we each focussed on core skills. A siesta was taken while I got on the bike and pootled over to Williamstown. After a hard 20-mile run yesterday, this was going to be a gentle little recovery ride. There was a bit of a tail wind past the container port, which made it hard to keep the speed down. The hills are small, but all hills need attacking. The headwind was brutal on the long riverside path to Williamstown, so I slacked off and rested a bit. Except when I saw another cyclist. Or the wind dropped. Or a seagull needed chasing down (tip: always stick to the path when chasing seagulls). I'd been aiming for an average speed around 12.5mph. It was 13.9 at the turn-around point, and downwind all the way home. Down goes the hammer. Damn damn damn. One day, I will have a gentle, pleasant non-competitive ride on my own. Until then, I need The Sensible Cyclist to keep this mouth-breathing, hill-hunting, pain-seeking idiot in check.

15.1mph averaged over 22.39 miles. Not that I was counting. 2.5 litres of water consumed. Fun. Not sensible, but fun. Nobody caught me. Natch.

In Williamstown, I slowed down for the local traffic. I followed these two for about a mile. Despite my best efforts, I couldn't get them to howl along with me. Too hot, I suspect.

Dogs on flatbed truck Securely restrained in accordance with the regulations

I need a better camera. The one in my phone does its best, but a better lens would reduce eye-strain for both my readers.

Melbourne from Williamstown Melbourne
Sun Dec 17 01:17:46 2006

Another ride

St Kilda Again

We went and had a stroll to the mouth of the Yarra this morning. Well, early afternoon. Boats, ships, biting wind, blistering sun. Usual stuff. Then I took my bike out again. Another 30km round-trip to St. Kilda. Head winds both ways, except for the vicious blustery cross-wind that nearly blew me into traffic every few minutes.

The Silver Gulls were making the most of the ridge lift over the beach wall. Some garbage had escaped from the bin. They were hovering with astonishing skill above the wall. Occasionally, one would swoop down and grab some repulsive morsel. The others would mob the hunter until the offal was discharged. If you ignore their dietary habits, gulls are beautiful.

Silver Gulls Ridge Lift Gubble

The kitesurfers were out in force again. I'm getting tempted.

Kite surfer jumping Wheee....Splosh
Fri Dec 15 23:30:35 2006

Christmas Shopping

Nearly done

I am absolutely no good at shopping. Browsing, inspecting, choosing - all a mystery. I am particularly bad at shopping when things are busy. My purchasing model is simple: Decide I need something, go to shop that sells it, hand over cash. Any deviation from this simple algorithm and I give up. Other People find this very frustrating.

With Christmas a week away, the pressure is building. So, off I toddled, plastic in hand, to Melbourne's Retail Experience. Fun it was not. Rather than reopen recent wounds, I shall share with you two vignettes from distant ends of the customer-service spectrum

  • Me: You see that huge, intricate stack of display items?
  • Them: Yes....
  • Me: You see that item right at the bottom?
  • Them: Yeeessss....
  • Me: The only one of its type and colour in the shop?
  • Them: You want it, don't you?
  • Me: Yup.
  • Them: Won't be a moment, sir.
  • Me: (once the stack is finally rebuilt) Can you give me a discount on it?
  • Them: Naturally.

I like that shop. The next one was amusing in a different way:

  • Me: (selects two items from the display stands and carries to till)
  • Them: That one's not in stock. Won't be in until New Year.
  • Me: Should I inquire as to why it is still on prominent display inside and outside?
  • Them (blank stare)
  • Me: How about this other item?
  • Them: Yeah, we've got loads of those. You'll have to pay cash, though. Our eftpos is down.
  • Me: (weeps gently)

In the end, not only did I get almost all I wanted, but I wrapped it up too. Also, best chicken stew ever. I'd give you the recipe, but I've forgotten what I threw in the pot.

Thu Dec 14 22:57:28 2006

Cool Change

and some cycling

I went to the Christmas Project Lunch today. It was pleasantly hot - around 30C - and the sun was flinging photons with the usual alacrity (and celerity). We were sitting outside a rather good restauramnt in Docklands, and enjoying the food and ambiance. I had been watching the clouds building in the south west for some time, when suddenly, a gust of wind hammered across the plaza and the temperature dropped ten degrees. The whole thing took less than a minute. This is the first time I've been outside during Melbourne's famous cool change. It is absolutely astonishing. How the temperature can plummet that fast without violent precipitation is a mystery. There was moisture in the air, so the thermodynamics is a bit of a puzzle. Further research is indicated.

I haven't had my bike out since the near-catastrophe on Sunday. After the cool change, the sky was looking threatening, and the temperature was below 20 and dropping. Just like England. I dragged myself out, still heavily fuelled from lunch, and hurtled towards Westgate Park. 'Hurtle' may be an exaggeration here. Average speed to the park was below 15mph, due to the ususal vicious headwind. There was a race starting on the trails, so I pottered gently on and headed down towards Port Melbourne. Rather than turning left along the beach I took a right and explored a path to the mouth of the Yarra. It's a lovely, desolate place. Waves were breaking on the riprap, and gulls were flogging hard to windward. There were a lot of dessicated starfish on the path. I imagine they were washed ashore in one of the frequent storms.

dried starfish Dessicated Echinoderm
Dead starfish Lots more dead starfish
Silver Gull Flogging hard to windward on a dark grey day
Seagull silhouette Proof that I can take arty pictures with my mobile

I headed on down towards St. Kilda. For the first time in recorded history, there was no headwind. I was lazing along at about 17mph, marvelling at this unusual event when two seriously keen types strolled past me. "Right, you buggers" I think. Down goes the hammer. The pace rises, the vision blurs, the commonsense departs and I bridge the gap. I slot neatly onto the last wheel, and the paceline is formed. The three of us take turns pulling as we blister the tarmac on the path to St. Kilda. We were happily trolling along at around 25mph, flattenning little old ladies and their verminous pooches in equal number. Nobody really expects a group of three cyclists on a shared path to be going so damned fast. Fun. After about three miles, I dropped off, headed down to the pier and turned round.

The area behind St. Kilda pier is used by kiteboarders. This looks like entirely too much work.

Kiteboarder Zoom! Splosh!

From St. Kilda, I pottered gently back to the city. In the last couple of kilometers, strange wet globules started falling from the sky. I'd forgotten what rain felt like. That's the first precipitation we've had in December. At the end of a ride, it feels great.

20 miles, 90 minutes including stopping to look at the scenery. Beer well earned. Perhaps that's why I never lose weight.

Melbourne under clouds A dull, grey evening.
Wed Dec 13 20:47:53 2006

More Smoke Haze

and more to come

Sunset through a bushfire smoke haze Smoke Haze

The largest fire front is over 240kms long. Melbourne is blanketed by a thick haze of smoke. The smell of burning is everywhere. There are fires across most states now - Western Australia, Tasmania and New South Wales all have vast areas burning. I'm seriously considering buying a mask for cycling.

Tasting notes: Redhouse 2004 Shiraz Grenache: Poisoning rats with this would be illegal on cruelty grounds. Pour me another glass, everything tastes of burnt eucalyptus anyway.

Mon Dec 11 22:53:18 2006

Fire and Wind

This has nothing to do with chilli

After the cool change yesterday we've had a mild day. It started overcast, but the psycho killer photons were zinging into my ever-increasingly denuded scalp by mid-afternoon. The UV index went up to 11. We had the usual howling gale. Well, top end of force six, anyway.

In the east, the winds have been lighter. The firefronts have moved fast, but not as fast as was feared. The fires are still burning over huge areas. The largest is over 1000 square kilometers. It could be much worse. It might be yet. The latest concern is the catchments for Melbourne's water supply. This is already at dangerously low levels. Nobody seems to be sure what will happen if thousands of tonnes of ash contaminate the reservoirs. Yet another learning experience.

All part of the fun of moving to a different country. Also, the new pizza place across the road is excellent.

Sun Dec 10 19:11:50 2006

Mad Dogs and Englishmen

Record Temperatures

The northeast of the state is still burning. The winds have veered from the north to the southwest, and we've had a cool change in Melbourne. The temperature has dropped below 25C. As the front moves east, there's a chance it may help the firefighting. There's also a chance that the gusty winds it brings will make the fires less predictable and more dangerous. Thunderstorms under the front could spark off more fires.

While dramatic events raged across the state, we got up early, had a bite to eat and went for a bike ride. It rapidly became a Valuable Learning Experience. Frankly, we were one failure from disaster.

We prepared well - full sunblock, four litres of iced water between us and a moderate goal. We pottered down the road towards Westgate Park. The temperature was rising, but the brisk breeze kept the apparent temperature within reasonable limits. We stopped occasionally to top up the fluids, and it was all going well. Then, we turned away from the river and went into the park. The trees and shrubs reduced the wind, and the temperature rocketed. After a kilometer, we stopped for a drink. The Sensible Cyclist (who had questioned the wisdom of this whole exercise from the start) needed to cool down. Four litres seems like a lot, until you've used two of them to get to the halfway point. We hadn't actually reached the halfway point, in either distance or water, so we turned round, dropped the pace, and focussed on getting home safely.

The temperature was over 40C when we got home. We had less than half a litre left. We'd been out for less than an hour. A single puncture could have turned this from a Learning Moment into a catastrophe. We'd been gubbling water faster than the Toorak Tractor gets through fuel, and we nearly ran out.

Turns out that this was the hottest December day in Melbourne for over 50 years - 42C.

We went for a swim before taking proper remedial measures - never has a beer been so welcome.

Sat Dec 09 12:23:39 2006

Smoke Haze

The forests are burning

Smoke haze over Melbourne Visibility below 1km

Over 170,000 hectares have burned. It could turn into the worst bushfire season recorded. No comments about roast koala, please.

Fri Dec 08 22:49:06 2006

The heat is coming

and the state is burning

The weather forecast for tomorrow is smoke haze, 37 degrees. In the northeast of the state, bush fires are raging. There's a chance they may join together to form a 600,000 hectare fire - that's about the same area as Devon. So far, 150,000 hectares have burnt - an area the size of Greater London.. The closest fires are around 150km from us, so there's no risk here for the moment. We're not going to enjoy the smoke much, though.

Clearly, when faced with the forces of nature on such a humbling scale, the only solution is to go shopping. If it's cooler on Sunday, we may take the bikes to Lysterfield.

Thu Dec 07 23:42:17 2006


Wine, too

Since we haven't had a wine tasting for over three days, we went to our local supplier of boutique wine, exotic cheeses and assorted gorgeous things this evening. They had a cheese and wine matching event. Bang went our good intentions.

We started with a smooth, subtle triple-creme. Think Brie, but smoother, creamier and less assertive. This was served with a Yarra Valley sparkler, which had been sitting on the lees for eight years.

We moved on to an charming Clarine - gooey with light, nutty tones coupled with fruiter hints. This was paired with a Spanish Albarino - a grape variety entirely new to us.

The Epoisses that came next needed special tools. A spoon, for starters. Full hazchem gear would have been wise. Gloopy, rich, nutty and assertive. Long on the nose, without being offensive. You wouldn't want to leave it unsupervised. This needed a smacking great Alsatian Pinot Gris to challenge it. Combined, they were like being mugged. The next contender was a lovely almond-toned Caprinelle, an unusual hard goat's milk cheese. This was an interesting comparison with a gruyere-style unpasteurised Beaufort. These both stood up well to a Victorian Shiraz.

The hosts took us on a little detour via Roquefort, before the highlight of the evening - Colston Basset Stilton with a Tawny Port.

The evening would have been perfect if no-one had mentioned the cricket.

Wed Dec 06 18:43:23 2006


Our Favourite City

We drove the wonderful Prius from the Hunter valley through low cloud and thunderstorms. The journey was largely uneventful except for some geographical inexactitue in Sydney. The famous bridge is paired with a tunnel. To get to the airport from the north, you have to go under the river. "Sod that", we said, and swerved across four lanes towards the bridge exit. The road signage in Sydney was obviously outsourced to someone with no map of the city, and precious little understanding of what a road is, so we swerved back five lanes with the rest of the traffic. The drive across the bridge is awe-inspiring. It's vast industrial structure is overwhelming. Well worth the $3 toll.

I might have made a teensy error in my dead-reckoning run from the bridge to the airport road, and we found ourselves getting a bonus trip across the bridge in the other direction. Oh well. Eventually, I managed to turn the car round, and we took the tunnel to the airport. Over 400kms the car used 18 litres of fuel. I was disappointed to return it with more charge in the battery than when we hired it. That's my energy - I'd paid for it.

We took the train into the city and the ferry to our hotel. We had a lovely evening around The Rocks, ending with an excellent Chateaubriand overlooking the Opera House and harbour. We like Sydney.

On Monday we had breakfast at our favourite cafe, and spent the morning on ferries, looking at the harbour. In the afternoon we hunted down the colony of flying foxes for some photography before heading back to the airport.

This morning, our wine was delivered to the office. The Chardonnay is on ice right now. Full tasting notes can wait.

Helicopter taking off amongst vines Helo in the Shiraz vines.
Sat Dec 02 10:59:56 2006

Hunter Resort

Wine and food. Mostly wine, though.

Using my birthday as a perfectly reasonable pretext, we're taking a short break. We flew from Melbourne to Sydney, hired a car and drove 200kms north to The Hunter Resort. After two nights there, we're driving back to Sydney. We'll be spending a night there before flying back to Melbourne. I will now begin boring you to death with reams of insipid travelography. It's my blog, and you're not getting your entrance fee back.

During the day Qantas operate a 767 from Melbourne to Sydney every 30 minutes. That's a lot of big aircraft operating a short route. The flight was a few minutes late, but was not too unpleasant. We've just been through our longest period without flying since we've known each other, so we had to keep checking that we weren't behaving like tourists. Then we remembered that we were, and stopped playing the Seasoned Traveller role.

The woman at the car hire desk went through the paperwork before mentioning apologetically that the car was 'something a bit new'. She seemed a bit apprehensive. It turns out that the car is a brand-new petrol-electric hybrid - a Toyota Prius. Predictably, our response was 'Cool! Geek toy!". I think she'd been having trouble persuading people to try them.

She led us to the car , and took us through the starting procedure. Insert key, depress brake pedal, release parking brake, press 'Start'. A few seconds later, the dashboard monitor says 'Ready'. No engine noise. 'Has the engine started?' she asks. 'Can't hear it', I say. Then the light dawns. Why would it need to start the engine? It's a hybrid. The engine doesn't start until the power demand exceeds the electric capability. Cool.

The car only has 65kms on the clock. We're the first people to hire it. More cool. I will expound in tedious detail on this engineering marvel throughout this post. This is to make sure that even the non-geeks get a chance to appreciate with us the total coolness. No skipping ahead. There'll be a test at the end.

We pointed the self-powered supercomputer north, and pottered through the center of Sydney. We were rewarded with glimpses of the bridge and the bay. It felt a bit like coming home. We like Sydney a lot.

We pottered on up the freeway, goofing about with the information systems in the car. The Hunter Valley is about 150kms north of Sydney, just a bit inland from Newcastle. We were making good time up the freeway when The Serious Tourist spotted a diversion along a more scenic route. After a to-and-fro discussion, we remembered we were on our holidays, not on a schedule. I swerved across two lanes of traffic and exited the freeway at the last possible moment. In Britain this would earn hoots, rude gestures and three points on your licence. Here, it rates as above-average driving.

The scenic route is a swooping, twisty drive through the forested mountains of the Great Dividing Range. The southern end of this range is visible from our office in Melbourne, the northern end is another 3000kms north. The mountains aren't very high - around 1500m - but it's enough to form a rain shadow. It never rains in Melbourne, but the Hunter Valley has almost too much moisture for vines.

We stopped to get some water, and I handed the controls to The Better Driver. After the usual confusion caused by starting (or, rather, not starting) an electric car, she developed a grin that defies description.

The car has a display that shows all energy sources and sinks, and the energy flows between them. It has a petrol engine (source), a battery (source or sink) and a drivetrain that can be powered directly by the engine through a torque convertor, or by a battery-powered electric motor. The motor can be operated regeneratively by the drivetrain. When you hit the brakes (or go downhill), the system scavenges the kinetic energy and dumps it back into the battery. You can see these flows updated on a second-by-second display. As you may have noticed, we like this car.

In one of my rare lapses from perfection, I had left the address of the resort in the boot. As we approached Pokolbin, we pulled over so I could remedy this situation. The Better Driver decided to become The Competent Navigator, and I drove the final 10kms.

We arrived around fiveish. Our room is half a bungalow right next to a paddock full of horses. It has aircon. Since the outside temperature was over 40 degrees when we arrived, aircon is not a luxury. We strolled around for a bit, chatting to horses and enjoying the heat until the need for cooling overwhelmed us.

I've been sampling high-quality beers since I arrived here. OK, OK, point taken. Can we move on now? Anyway, the Bluetongue brewery has been one of my favourites. By a total coincidence, the actual brewery is here. They have a bar. Chilled beer and aircon. You can charge it to your room. I think I'm going to cry now.

So. Moving on. Back to the room to get changed. Got to make an effort, dont'chaknow. Also, I'd been given a tie as a birthday present. Has to be done, etc.

A quick aperitif, then on to dinner. The Elegant Stylish One outshone everyone in the reastaurant. Candles around a Supernova. Smugness? What do you think?

We asked for the Hele-Barry 2005 Semillon to start, but there was none in the Restaurant. The excellent waitress brought us the Chardonnay instead, and let us have a taste. This was more than good enough - smooth, buttery and light with a pleasant smack of oak and well-integrated acidity. The confit of duck I had would have complemented the Semillon (or even a Sav Blanc) better, but the prawn linguine on the other side of the table really brought out the smooth refinement of the Chardonnay.

I moved on to the Hele-Barry 2003 Shiraz. This comes from some vines between the restaurant and our room. It has a light, smoky aspect that floats above the soft, mellow Shiraz tones. These particular vines produce a less rich, lighter wine than one expects with a Hunter Shiraz. I ate a steak too.

The Olivine Merlot was a surprise success on the other side of the table. It had all of the charecteristics you would expect from a French Burgundy, with the added punch and richness of northern New South Wales. The added complexity and flavour from the warmer climate take it beyond the expected and into the outstanding. I think she drank it with chicken.

On, then, to a dessert wine. This was from this year's crop, and still has a pinkish hint. Smooth, sweet and very fruity, it was a delightful way to end our evening's oenophilia. Chocolate and Fig Pudding (idea: leave out the figs) and some truly magical ice-cream disappeared somewhere.

A couple of drinks to give the digestion a chance, and off to bed. A lovely way to spend an evening in the sub-tropics.

Rising only a few hours after the dawn, we had a spot of breakfast before signing on for the vineyard tour. About 20 people showed up, with varying degrees of alertness. The presenter is one of the owners of the place. Even though he does this ten times a week, it was lively and entertaining . We started in the vineyard, and he took us through the history, geography, meteorology, biology and biochemistry of the art. Then we went at had a look at the winery. This is biochemical engineering at its finest - huge, 40-tonne capacity tanks mounted overhead, liftimg machinery, vast tanks and pressure vessels, a laboratory and tasting facility. In December, its all covered in cobwebs. There's no wine fermenting, and precious little aging in tanks. We're thinking of going back in January or February, when the crop's being harvested and the the yeast is busy.

Once we were done there, it was off to the cellar door for a practical deminstration. It was after noon. Just. We tried a 2006 Semillon - young, green, unintegrated, but showing promise. An older Chardonnay was showing lovely buttery tones, with a pert acid finish. The Shiraz we tried was, objectively lovely, but had an odd smoky overtone that I found puzzling. Once we were done with the tour, we went to the cellar bar to try a few others. We goofed around with a couple of Semillons before drifting back to the Chardonnay. Then we worked our way from the lower-priced Shiraz (almost) all the way up the scale. Each one was deeper, richer and more characterful than the last. There are several graphs you could plot here. Blood alcohol against price would be instructive, for a start. I firmly believe that all credit card machines should be fitted with a breathalyzer. Six bottles of Chardonnay and six of the (sensibly cost-benefit analyzed) Shiraz will be arriving in Melbourne in Wednesday.

To celebrate, we repaired to the bar.

The Blue Tongue Brewery, named after the local lizards, produces a range of lovely beers, from a light lager through an excellent draught to a deep, chocolatey dark ale. The Sensible Drinker started with a speicialty - alcoholic ginger beer, while I embarked on a tap crawl.

Just outside the brewery and restaurant is a little mound topped with a gazebo. We commandeered it, and watdhed the world go by. Due to a slight disparity in drinking rates, the need for a refill arose. This time The Gradually Less Sensible Drinker had the tasting paddle - six shot glasses, each with a different beer. I tried the limited edition 2005 Vintage Ale - a dark, rich brew, reminiscent of a Trappist beer, with a wonderful whiskey overtone. Unfortunately, the tasting paddles comes as a deal - once you've picked the one you want, a free middie is included in the deal. Whoops. I think I had a dark ale, while The Not Very Sensible At All Any More Drinker had a Draught. Or a Pilsener. You expect me to remember?

From our vantage point we watched preparations being made for a wedding. It was the usual division of labour - bossy, efficient women doing the hard work while the men propped the bar up. It was a pleasant day, a bit overcast and rather breezy. We were making small bets about the timing of the forecast showers, while the wedding group became more and more apprehensive or drunk, dependent on gender.

Various tour groups stopped off for wine tasting and beer drinking. A number of coaches brought the majority. With a dash more style, others arrived by horse-drawn carriage. These offer tours of some local vineyards and restaurants. It looks like a lovely way to travel between sessions. We may well give this a go another time. One group won the prize for sheer style by arriving in a helicopter. Bastards.

Eventually we had our drinking sufficiently synchronised that we could stop for a bit. This was actually a relief. We went back to our room for a bit of a rest.

We emerged a while later for a stroll. We happened upon The Wedding at the critical moment. Rings were changing hands, vows were being made and soulful expressions of everlasting duration were witnessed. It was so cute. We went a bit soupy. I'm sure, one happy day, the bride will forget the howling gale that flipped her veil across her face as her new husband kissed her. At least the torrential thunderstorms held off until the reception.

After a hike in the increasingly threatening weather, we went to the bar for a pre-prandial snifter. We skipped starters and went straight for the meat. The More Sensible Again Foodie had the Shiraz with the steak, while I went for the Chardonnay with chicken. We shared a dessert wine with our ice-cream. Perfection.

There are rumours that more beer was consumed. I think I won the pool game, though. For some reason, my memory is unclear on the details.

I warn you fairly that there is more of this drivel to follow, but now I have a network connection again, you're getting the first dump.

Fri Dec 01 01:40:06 2006


Lysterfield Lake Park

Despite road closures, tram strikes and political demonstrations, we managed to get to Lysterfield Lake. My new CamelBak and jersey worked fine. The Sensible Cyclist had a great time on a new trail. The day was going well.

The camera flattens this a bit. The pile of wood is higher than it looks.

Chaz, doing something daft

I did this again, so we could get a still shot of it. I ended up stranded on the top of the heap listening to the unmistakable sound of a deflating tube.

I'm glad I bought a $3000 bike. It's so much lighter to carry home when I break it.

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Last modified: Thu Aug 31 22:46:12 AUSEST 2006