Tuesday 30 March 2010

Dr Jurds Jungle Juice.

Mel Jurd’s wine bar was the hub.
The old pub had burnt to the ground in the late fifties. It is said; Mel himself inadvertently put petrol in the kerosene refrigerator tanks and of course, as anyone who knows about such things will attest, petrol fumes soon find burning wicks and the rest is history as was the pub.

No village like Wolombi could survive without a focus, so the community got together, cut trees, sawed timber and had the new place up and the bar open in six weeks.
When I bought my place there in 1973, the general store was still running but closed before I moved in a year later, making Mel’s the only door open in the village except for the PO and the cop shop.

Home alone after dark, I often visited Mel’s, more for the company than the beer.
The Roberts boys would call in most evenings for a glass or two of brown Muscat, but usually left in time to be home for tea so at the end of the night it was just me sitting there listening to Mel’s stories. On such nights with no strangers about, I would help him make up a jar of his famous ‘Dr Jurd’s Jungle Juice’.

It came in only one size back then, the half gallon flagon with screw top lid.
The recipe varied according to what wines were left over from bottles that had been opened during the day, mainly for travelers passing through.
With the help of a funnel, all dregs were tipped into the flagon. If the level reached two thirds, that was enough wine, otherwise it was brought to that level by adding port then filled to the top with bulk brandy.
On went the label (Recommended by 101 year old Mabel Wobbly) and it was ready for sale.

I guess no germ was ever strong enough to live in that mix and no drinker seems to have survived long enough to complain or return to demand a refund!

Monday 29 March 2010

Council Capers.

Mid seventies and Cessnock Council had a problem.
Land was dirt cheap (sic) and allotments plentiful. As villages around Wollombi shrank, properties were abandoned. After a few years, those Old System titles were incorporated into surrounding farms, claimed by the simple mechanism of fencing them off and paying the rates.
Most farmers there were old and were happy to sell a few acres of old system titles for a few thousand dollars. After all, they cost them nothing and they all needed cash.
So, throughout the surrounding bush, shacks were built on reclaimed lots. Of my own property’s 32 titles, I could produce deeds for only sixteen.

My hundred acres shared a long boundary with Stephen and Catherine, artists, just back from living in Europe for a few years with their toddler David.
While repairing our common fence, I saw they were home again and wandered across to meet them. At that time, the hut was a single room with a huge fire place taking up most of a massive stone wall, a stove, a table and apart from a bed and cot not much else.

Over the next year Stephen bartered a few cases of beer at the Cessnock tip and brought home bricks, roofing iron, timber, doors and windows in fact almost all the material he needed to extend their hut along the escarpment to become an elegant three bedroom cottage with a proper bathroom, sited to command serene mountain and valley views. One unique feature was a two-seater long drop dunny that stood overlooking the long winding driveway, snaking its way up from Narone Creek Road. They could never be sprung.

Art was slow and Catherine was pregnant so Stephen took a job at Cessnock Correctional Centre as a counselor. All was well until the week before the baby was due.
Stephen was at work when Catherine saw a council ute grinding its way up the hill. Two suited officials alighted to ask to see her husband.
‘He’s at work. He works at the jail.’
‘OK,’ says the senior bully. ‘Tell him he has two weeks to pull this illegal building down or we do it and charge him for the labour.’
That was it. They climbed in and were watched by a devastated Catherie, as they disappeared into their own dust.

Catherine was alone, no phone and no car. She made it to my house on foot, hot tired and distraught and rang Stephen who went straight to the council office and demanded to see the bullies.
‘Be there on Sunday,’ he demanded. ‘You can explain to the media why you forced me to burn my home out from under my pregnant wife and infant son!’

Not waiting for a reply, he left and drove home. They weren’t far behind.
His dust was still settling when the same council ute raced up the driveway to brake dramatically beside him in front of the house.
Their eyes never left him as they climbed slowly out, faces revealing a mixture of fear and embarrassment.
He waited, arms folded.
‘Um, there’s no need to go off half cocked mate. We don’t want you to burn your house down, no way!’
‘I haven’t got time to knock the bloody thing down in a fortnight, I haven’t got the money to pay you blokes to do it, so the only fucking way to comply is to burn it, so burn it I will.’
‘Look, mate, I’m sure we can come to some understanding here. The problem is, the house was erected without Council approval. You need approval.’
‘It’s a bit late for that. The bloody thing’s up!’
‘Well, it is possible to get approval in retrospect, in cases like yours, maybe.’
‘And how do I maybe get that?’
‘Just draw up plans and drop them in to me and you might need to fix a few things up, that’s all.’
‘Like what?’
He looked around, settling in a brick pier that was not quite vertical.
‘Like you better straighten up that pier. OK?’
‘So it comes down to this. You started by demanding I knock my house down and now all you want is a pier straightened! Is that it?’
He walked inside leaving them there with nothing to say.
The question was never answered, the pier never straightened, plans never submitted and they never came back.

Friday 26 March 2010

Picking a Sprinter.

Heat almost drove me inside. Too much around the middle from years of sedentary work then a sudden move to the country found me seriously unfit. A sprint uphill was the last thing I needed, but that is what I did.

Dan Langan, ninety plus was working on his property maybe two hundred metres away, his white mare marking where he was. I couldn’t see him but I could hear his axe creating echoes that bounced from the sandstone cliffs behind my house.
Working on my new cattle yard and loading race. I was puffing lightly, chain-sawing posts and rails, marveling at Dan, still chopping steadily, Crack-k! Crack-k! Crack-k! A short break and he would start again.
Each time he stopped I looked up. It was hot and I began to worry that he shouldn’t be chopping wood on such a hot day. But each time, there he was, moving between weedy shrubs on the hillside, back and forth to the horse then the axe would start again.

At the next break in chopping I again looked up the hill and saw him lying on the ground face down. After a few seconds of no movement I began walking towards him. Through the fence and still no movement so I broke into a run, my concern firing up my ill conditioned muscles to maximum effort up the rocky hill.
With the taste of blood in my mouth, I arrived by his side and took in the detail. He was lying there with his arm down a new post hole, scooping out the last of the dirt preparing to install a post, cut, trimmed and ready.
He rolled over slowly and sat up as I flopped to the ground.
“G’day young feller!’ he smiled. ‘Yer shouldn’t hold yer breath when you run.’
“Yer can alwiz pick a sprinter cos he holds his breath when he runs an yer can pick a stayer cos he breathes.’
‘Shit Dan, I thought you were dead!’
‘I’m orright but you’re not, yer silly bugger. You’re no sprinter, yer gotta breathe!’
I just fell back breathing heavily, my heart banging against my ribs trying to get out.
My eyes found the horse. She was quietly standing in a scrap of shade, black tail swishing flies and shivering her mane, big brown eyes calmly staring. She agreed with Dan and I agreed with her.
“Can’t argue with that!’ I mumbled as I struggled to my feet and shuffled home, breathing hard all the way. Definitely not a sprinter!

Wednesday 24 March 2010

Para Bowls in Eden

Sis dragged me there just in time to stop me going totally ga-ga. We had been nursing Mum twenty-four seven for over a year and were worn out. Most days I rode my ninety-nine cc two wheeler to Jen’s house to put in a full day of feeding, toileting, making tea and cooking, washing, making beds and entertaining our darling ninety-three year old stroke destroyed mother, then riding back to Tiziana to be rocked to sleep or battered into wakefulness by extremes of Eden weather.

To get me out, she organized a sitter for Mum and booked us in to play indoor bowls at the Sports Club. I must be odd. I am happy to watch a cricket and do appreciate the skill of a good lawn bowler, but had never played bowls, I was a cleanskin.

We were introduced all round then the bustling good humoured woman in charge assigned us to teams. As a newie, I got to bowl second.
Of course, I did all the dumb things like releasing the bowl with the bias on the wrong side, seriously disrupting a game two rinks away, running off the mat and threatening the glass windows at the end of the room, but I did improve and by the third end was keeping the bowl on the mat.
By the fourth and fifth end I was outbowling the lead player in our team, a young woman of maybe forty, fit and confident looking and began to congratulate myself on my emerging prowess.

At the point in the last end when the skip plays for keeps, the young lady who had been providing the benchmark to which I had aspired than surpassed, walked out of earshot. Taking advantage of her absence, the skip leaned over and whispered,
‘She’s not bad for a blind person, is she!’

Friday 19 March 2010

One man’s fish is another man’s poisson!

Mirth followed me out the door as I left to find a printer for my twenty-one year old Atari Mega computer, 1989 model. No joy in shops so I trawled the Buderim dump. There were four in the bin that seemed to have the right plugs and $10 bought the lot.
Two worked, but one worked well. It was a Dell laser black and white model that not only came with a few hundred sheets of paper, but had an almost full tank of toner. That alone was worth about $80.
Then along came Christmas and IXL needed a laser printer to make shipping labels.
Her ‘cost almost a grand’ colour inkjet couldn’t cut the mustard.
TNT’s website suggested a laser printer so IXL’s daughter, who just loves to buy new things, grabbed the credit card and was flexing her PIN finger when I called her back. She hated it, but I plugged the $10 Dell into the desktop and presto! It connected to the web automatically and downloaded a driver.
Since then it has faultlessly printed hundreds of shipping labels and sits there faithfully awaiting the next job. Nobody is laughing now, except me… tee hee!
What would you say to them Gabrielle? Eat your shirt? Oh, you are naughty!

Wednesday 17 March 2010

Hubris anyone?

There are some things we would rather forget that others would rather remember.
In another life I was in Graham (Fatty) Lyle’s band at Channel 10 Sydney, where we tried to help amateur entertainers sound as good as possible. New comedians were rare but we had one. His patter was just about as bad as an amateur can be and with no music required we all sat there, cringing at the lines. I’m sure we all agreed he would disappear into the distance, the fate of most talent quest competitors.
At the end of the sequence we were all walking out together. I found myself just in front of the band, beside the comedian.
He said ‘G’day’, so I said, with body language and voice, in apparent awe of his amazing talent:
‘You write your own material do you?’
He seemed to not hear the suppressed guffaws behind us as the boys dropped back out of hearing.
‘Yes, I write it myself.’
I managed to keep a straight face as I came back with:
‘I thought so, nice work!’
As he passed out of the studio, a glance back at the musicians found them hiding behind each other almost out of control so I turned back to be welcomed with a well earned ‘You bastard!’ as we all collapses into laughter.
Of course the gum-booted, sleeveless-shirted larrikin was the young Paul Hogan. Thank goodness Strop took over his management and guided the career that brought us Crocodile Dundee! Hubris anyone?

Wednesday 10 March 2010

Warning: Contains Ruditty!

Tiddler in the Bogpond.

Read this story of high farce.
This is how it came to pass:
I pay up
They stuff up!
Bigpond, Bigpond, ‘Kiss my arse!’


I have never become so pissed off that I have abused a call centre operator, but I came close today. You can tell by my language, I am still angry.
The story starts a month ago at Daughter No1’s house in Wollongong. Up early to check train and bus timetables for trip home to Mooloolaba and find the internet connection isn’t working. ‘Password not recognised’.

Scene 1. Tech Support, 5 AM: My wireless broadband is asking for my password but doesn’t accept it.
(After interminable questions to establish identity) “Your account has been closed. Sir”.
“Your account has not been paid and your account has been closed.”
But it’s paid automatically by debit card.
“Sorry Sir, you will have to talk to Accounts.”
OK, put me through to accounts.
“Accounts operate between 9 and 5.”
Shit! I need to get on line to book seats. I’m travelling. I need to be on line now!
“Sorry, Sir you will have to speak with Accounts at 9.”

Scene 2. Accounts at 9, having put off trip home until later: After listening to hundred choruses of an inferior version of ‘We are Australian’, I repeat the whole sorry tale.
“Your account is in arrears three months. You did not respond to warnings so it was terminated.”
Haven’t you been listening? I received no warnings. You have always deducted my account automatically. You stuffed up so please fix it. I need to get on line now!
“Before you can get on line, the account must be paid.”
I am not at home, I have no transport so I need to get on line to access the account. You made the error, so reconnect me and I can transfer funds now.
“I understand, but until the account is paid we cannot reconnect you.”

So you’re telling me that despite the fact the error is yours, you can’t reconnect me until I pay and I can’t pay until I am reconnected. So I am stuck in Wollongong forever. Is that right?
(Laughs) ‘I know it sounds silly, but that’s right. You’ll have to pay at a post office with your card.”
(silent scream of frustration) OK, thanks for nothing.

Scene 3. Close Account Section: “Why do you wish to close your account, Sir?”
Because your account section failed to take funds from my account for three months, I didn’t notice, you didn’t contact me by e-mail as arranged and now because of your stuff-up, my account is closed and I can’t get on line to pay the bill, so my next move is to walk down the street to Optus, open an account and get on line in ten minutes.
”What about the outstanding amount?”
I’ll pay that when I get on line with Optus. There never was any intention not to pay, so you’ll get your money. Your accounts section made a mistake which has already cost me time and inconvenience and now I feel I’m in a Franz Kafka novel!
‘France Kaftan?”
Never mind. Just close the account.
“I am beginning to understand, Sir. I am sorry for the misunderstanding. I can reconnect you now and your account will be deducted on the 26th February.”
(still terse) OK, I’ve reconsidered, so when do I get on line?
Give it a few minutes and it’ll be fine.”

Scent 4. Accounts: (Half an hour later, same message, ‘password not working’).
Hello, my password still isn’t working.
“You need to reset your password with Technical Support.”
Scent 5. Tech Support. “Sorry Sir, to reconnect closed accounts takes up to 48 hours.”

Scent 6. Close Accounts Section. (voice more terse) If I am not connected immediately I really am giving Bogpond (sic) the flick. Your call!
(operator laughs) “I just checked your account and what’s happened today! It’s a wonder you’re still talking to us.”
(mood a bit lighter) Right, so I’m a soft touch! Now, what can you do?
“We will debit your account on the 26th Feb. I’ll connect you with Tech Support now. You can get a new password and be up and running almost immediately.”
(sigh of relief) Thanks, will do.
Tech support did provide a new password and connection was re-established.
Time wasted three hours, had to rebook transport at extra cost.

Scene 6. Last Friday at Sis’s house: “Mail for you.”
Letter from Telstra. Cancellation Warning Notice. Threatens to close account, wipe my mail addresses, plus plus plus and have my credit rating downgraded.
I ignore it, presuming it was sent before the problem was fixed.

Scene 7. Yesterday, at computer, 11 AM: (thinks) What if they’ve stuffed up again and it really is a cancellation warning? Check bank. $65 deducted only! Call Bigpond accounts.
“We are only permitted to debit funds for the current bill. Arrears must be paid manually, at a post office, direct debit or B-Pay.”
I wasn’t told that, but OK, how much is owing now?
“$266.50. Will I hang on while you pay?”
No. I need this line for the bank to verify the payment, but I will pay this immediately. Do I need to call you back?
“No, I’ll make a note what you’re doing and it’ll be right.”
Thanks, bye.
“Have a great afternoon.”
Get on line to bank. Pay bill, print receipt. Time: 12.41PM EST.

Scene 8. 5 AM today. At home on Tiziana, make a cuppa, turn on computer. Message: ‘Invalid password’.
Call Bigpond Tech Support.
(Pilipino accent). “Sorry Sir, your account has been closed. You need to talk to accounts.”
(Stay calm, stay calm.) Put me through to accounts.
“Sorry Sir, Accounts not open until 9.”

"Your account was closed at 4PM EST yesterday."

8.3.2010. No amount of pleading or explaining could achieve anything and now five days later they tell me I must go to the Telstra shop and start a new account from scratch, new modem, now e-address, new everything. Pay for all that plus $55 in fines for their stuff up! (They agreed to forego the fines.)

Note: I am now with Optus!