EPISODE 2 – MULCHING TO VICTORIA

 

On Moving-in to our New Abode

The moving-in was quite painless - after all we only had suitcases to shift which Wombat was quite capable of handling (Yes, the new set of wheels had to be given a name and since it was big, cuddly and Australian it got called “Wombat”. Probably not quite the image that the marketeers of Holden Commodore Executives would aspire to - they’d probably like something more thrusting and dynamic such as “Stud” or “Throb”, but, after all, it is me that has to drive it!). However the Family outside house, Shepherd Roadplace seemed awfully empty - our stuff from the UK hadn’t arrived, not that it made much difference when it did, consisting as it did of about two coffee tables plus countless crates of redundant tools such as oil-filter wrenches for mean types who’d sooner die than pay someone else to mend the motor! So we had a short overlap period during which we slept at the Condo and scoured Melbourne for beds, fridges, washing machines and other trivia which ‘Er Indoors insisted was impossible to dispense with (ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put!). We had also taken the precaution of investing in some of China’s finest earthenware pottery for $29 and some Ming dynasty plastic handled cutlery for $10. The Cook of the Household insisted on some new saucepans and was pleased when Christine sanctioned the purchase of some with glass tops which allow you to preview the charred contents without even taking the lid off. So then began a phase of identifying all the things we wished we had brought out with us, with me spending each lunchtime munching sandwiches in furniture shops and learning to haggle with lean and hungry, recession-hit salesmen. We lashed out on a big, comfy three-piece suite and a pine dresser, plus odd bits of Swedish pack-flat bedroom and dining room furniture, with an eye to taking it home with us. The fridge was an upside-down fridge-freezer of enormous dimensions as appropriate to the climate and the washing machine was one of the top-loading sort that everyone has out here (you can only get tiny front loaders). The manageress/laundry maid seems pleased with it! The purchase of a clothes drier coincided with the start of the “hang it out and in five minutes it’s bone dry” season, so is being kept in reserve for the winter.

Poor Daddy was by now missing his little pussy back in England and we tried to have the “no animals” clause in the lease relaxed so that we could be introduced to domestic feline husbandry in the antipodes (Psst - don’t tell Mitzie cat I’ve been considering infidelity!). However the horrid, unscrupulous, profiteering, asiatic Rackman-type owner insisted that we couldn’t have one. Maybe this is the time to introduce the Phantom Ozmog of Shepherd Road. (“Cat, Mr. Hoo Flung Dung, what cat? Oh! That cat! - It must have wandered in from next door!) But then, Daddy would miss the Ozmog too in five year’s time (or have to fork out for quarantine).

 

Diggers Unite

Have you ever noticed how Brits abroad quickly revert to type and create an environment in which they can do whatever they used to do back in Blighty? The family handyman’s first project was to construct a workbench from a pile of old wood found in the basement; now he feels comfortable that if anything breaks he has a bench to fix it on, but ignores the fact that the only major project undertaken so far has been the construction of the bench! The family gardener was overjoyed to find himself a run-down and unloved garden to sort out so that the mistress of the house could bring him cracked mugs of coffee while he mulched and double-dug and hunted for forget-me-nots to plait in her hair. He was less overjoyed to be forced into the purchase of a set of garden tools which duplicate those standing idly in Essex while the garden returns to nature. In the meantime the mistress had bought most of the year’s Australian output of Merino wool to make the gardener a sweater, thereby entitling herself to become a fully fledged and card-carrying member of “Knitters of Australia”! Maybe she’s now on the database of the Australian Civil Defence Force, ready to be alerted into Balaclava Helmet Knitting for the Commonwealth of Australia Preparation For War Contingency Plan! Anyway, aforesaid gardener has developed an interest in Oz flora (since feline fauna was denied to him) and has been planting Wattles, Bottlebrushes, Grevillea, Boronia and Kangaroo Paws like a man possessed! Apart from the interest, an ulterior motive is that native plants are more likely to stand being drenched in torrential rain then fried in merciless sun several times a day! This sun also necessitated a complete refurbishment and extension of the garden irrigation system, which of course gave daddy a valid excuse to spend several days playing in the mud pretending he was a civil engineer (instead of an uncivil one as normal!). The installation completion was, of course, the cue for several days of unremitting rain.
Gawd, fings don’t ‘alf grow quick out ‘ere - a case of plant it and immediately retire two paces backwards! - “Read all abaht it – ‘orrible death in Glen Waverley - man crushed by falling cabbage!”

 

More Expeditions into the Wild

Seascape, Great Ocean RoadWe managed to get some of the way West from Melbourne along the Great Ocean Highway - Dire­ Straits’s “On Every Street” on the car stereo, sun beating down, air conditioner on; real cool, man. Haven’t done the like since the IUKADGE project when it was the San Bernadino Freeway and The Eagles’s “Hotel California”. Every bend revealed yet another idyllic, deserted, fine-sanded beach with blue sky, blue sea, white surf and green, flower-bedecked cliffs - magic!

In the other direction, East, lies Philip Island where the first Victorian landfall and house were made and built, respectively. We spent the other Sunday there, looking at where the penguins could be seen if only they weren’t all out swimming; then lying on the beach, thinking “this can’t be December!” and worrying whether the pipes were freezing in Wickham Bishops.

We also went to the Healesville Sanctuary to view some bored ‘roos, snooty koalas, cuddly wombats, rare platipussies (boo hoo!) and some unassertive Tasmanian devils who are in dire need of a new publicity operation.

 

Les Routiers Down Under

(On having to take another driving test at the tender age of 52!)

Any innocent Pom who has popped into one of Les’s transport caffs on the old autoroute could be excused for thinking that an establishment known as “Vic Roads” in Glen Waverley could also be relied on to serve up a tasty helping of bouillabaisse and chips with a cracked pint mug of Coonawarra claret. However it turns out to be a crafty way of bolstering the Victorian road budget by refusing to recognise the good, solid, British driving licence for more than 3 months and then insisting on the procurement of a pricey Victorian replacement. One could understand it if one came from Bangkok or Wagga Wagga, but after all Britain is the mother country and even our Queen herself has a British licence, as do other royals (in between periods of disqualification for doing the ton on the M4 in the old Aston on the way to Glos.)!  So, g’day mate, there’s your $37 for the written and drive tests, your $110 for the licence and a negotiable driving school fee for the tester’s chum (known as the Accompanying Driver, a mandatory attendee who is required to take over the controls in case the testee turns out in mid-test to be a homicidal maniac). Yet another deduction from the relocation allowance so generously provided by the HBC (Head Bean Counter) and long since frittered away on loo-brush holders. Anyway, the Manager of the Requirements Management Department found a new slant on Tips for Passing The Test First Time - plan on the “underpowered driving school car with accelerator wired shut” methodology, then ensure that the driving school forgets your appointment, so that after frantic phone calls and the instructor’s arrival only 20 mins before the test there is so little blood in the adrenalin stream that the tester daren’t fail you, in case you go and punch Vic Roads straight in the eye!

Meanwhile ‘Er Indoors had applied for her Learner’s Permit and took the same written test as The Lord and Master, getting exactly the same score. It was only afterwards that we compared notes and found that we could have colluded, honest! She is now doing well in lessons, but was disappointed to find her instructor was not a potential temptation as he is of an age where the purchase of a ten-year battery for his pacemaker would make poor economic sense.

 

Dotheboys Hall, or Victorian Schooling

Peter James Anthony Gillis was finally dragged, squealing, into the local Quelch-house which was fortunately at the end of Shepherd Road, a short walk on the same side of the road. As usual it took him only nanoseconds to become a fully integrated and valued member of the juvenile community, with teachers describing him as “a charming child” even though he can’t do Orstralian sums (no, they don’t put the denominator on top of the numerator!).

 

Neighbours

No, we haven’t seen either Kylie Minogue or Jason Donovan. We are surrounded by Italians who shout at each other passionately as Italians do. Salvatore on one side, ‘e maka de beeg fortune witha de Great Australian Dream, ‘e sellsa the fruit and veg and can afford a gardener. The other side is a vacant lot. In my gardening efforts I am competing with the vacant lot! I have some interesting “fern trees” in the garden - a case of “Fronds and Neighbours”?!

 

OzMedia

Ozzy telly is radiated mainly on 625-line VHF with one channel of UHF in Melbourne and by sod’s law uses a different video/audio subcarrier separation so that the two systems are not compatible. So we had to buy another box, choosing a little portable to minimise the expense but making it a Sony with a five-year guarantee for quality and reliability (if only people talked about Marconi in the same terms!). There is a great deal of rubbishy programmes, as in the UK. Peter is happy with it, as he can watch wall-to-wall cartoons on kiddie’s television. We are reasonably happy with it; in the UK we tended to watch mostly films and The News - here there is usually a late release film on at least one of the five channels. The news is OK but rarely mentions perfidious Albion, which went off and joined the EEC and removed a comfortable, guaranteed market for Australian produce. There are repeats of some of my favourite “soaps” such as Capital City and “thirtysomething”. No, I’m not waiting for it to become fiftysomething, I never did act my age!

The newspapers are uniformly awful with strange names born of convoluted crosses - Herald-Sun, Telegraph-Mirror, etc. I read “The Australian” which is the nearest to a British “heavy” - it features a genuine “Times” crossword - alternatively “The Age” which is appropriate to a person of advanced years and has more Melbourne news. In both the international news is very American-dominated and poor old Blighty gets very little mention.

I have found a radio station featuring boring-old-fart rock music such as Fleetwood Mac and Dire Straits which is good to syncopate the mulching and double-digging. The more cultured half of our union misses her Radio 4 quite badly.

 

Ozzie Pubs

Those who know me well will be concerned to hear that I still haven’t been in one. Not so much willpower as a lack of subverting chums! However I have conducted a diligent search for a tinny with even a vestige of beer taste, without success. Whatever they call it, ale, bitter or lager, it all tastes of blooming lager! The most acceptable drink I’ve found is (believe it or not) a Tasmanian stout from the Cascade brewery!. Even a Newcastle Broon found lurking in a corner of the local Liquorland didn’t taste the same. Still, I’m persisting with my quest; who knows I may start to like it and come back as a geriatric Lager Lout! And there’s always the wine to fall back on (or with!).......

 

Banking Down Under

A subject of some relevance to someone who wishes to place his ill-gotten gains somewhere where it can be siphoned off to pay the mortgage on a chilly and unoccupied pile of bricks and mortar in the UK (anybody want to rent a place in Wicky B?). I had opened an account with the Commonwealth Bank from the UK, then on arrival was subverted by the ANZ bank’s offer of a gold visa card. I kept both going, with the idea of closing the one I was least satisfied with. However, speaking as one who has put up with all the vagaries of Lloyd’s Bank for some 34 years, I have never encountered a pair of organisations so consistently and comparably incompetent. Even mild-mannered Glen Waverley housewife Christine Gillis (39), mother of three and a Knitter of Australia, who has never before been heard to swear, recently described the antipodean banking system, to its face, as, and here I quote, “a load of crap”! This is combined with an economy where there is no such thing as a cheque guarantee card and anyone attempting to pay with a cheque is made to feel like an unmasked confidence trickster, but, on the other hand, credit cards are accepted with open arms and there is an ATM on every corner! One feature which is useful is the ability to pay off one’s credit card bill from an ATM, using the same card. I suppose it all comes from allowing convicts to open banks!

 

And How about The Weather?

Enough was said in Episode 1 about the Gillis theory of advection anomalies in the antipodes. Suffice it to say that it continues to be very variable, quite unpredictable and supported by a meteorological service that would make Michael Fish sound totally trustworthy. It only fair to say that it is usually sunny. Since Melbourne is at a latitude equivalent to Portugal and now is a month equivalent to June/July, when the sun shines it’s like opening a furnace door. Very few gardens have greenhouses, but lots have shadehouses with open-weave fabric to protect the more delicate plants. There is widespread concern about the prevalence of malignant melanoma which is said to affect two out of three Australians and everybody covers up between 11am and 3pm. But it is often cloudy and when it rains, it lashes down in torrents, and the temperature goes down to a (relatively) chilly 15° or so. We even had the heating on the other night, when the week before it had been 37°!  The unpredictability means that it is difficult to plan outdoor things such as barbies with certainty; unlike a certain country also south of the equator (and known for its former policies of separate development) where one could set one’s watch by the late afternoon thunderstorm! It is said that Autumn is the best season. I can’t wait!

 

Christmas

The run-up to Xmas was predictably strange, the weather being generally hot. The strangeness is compounded by local Christmas cards featuring snow, and Father Christmases sweltering in red robes and cotton-wool ermine. I picked up a can of spray-on snow in a shop the other day, looked at CBAG and burst out laughing at the incongruity. But why do we have to have snow scenes? Presumably Bethlehem wasn’t particularly snowy in 0000ad.?

Christmas Day was pleasantly warm (upper twenties °C) and sunny. We just had to go to the beach as a matter of principle. The drive there through Melbourne’s leafy outer suburbs was punctuated by splashes of the fluorescent graffiti of jacaranda trees and bougainvillea. Christmas dinner was some salmon steaks done in ‘er new microwave oven (who wants turkey when the weather’s hot!). Father Christmas also brought ‘er a nightie, a Knitter of Australia’s knitting bag and a sun lounger for the garden. ‘E got a furry white (but artificial) Ozmog, an appropriate “Money for Nothing” Dire Straits cassette, plus “gardening in Australia” and “walking in Victoria” books. On Boxing Day the wind swung round so we got 38°C air from the outback and the afternoon was spent around a colleague’s pool. This month’s competition: devise a rhyme beginning “The North wind doth blow, and it will be hot, and what will the robin do then, poor thing” - Fry?!

Christine & Peter in the Jaws of DeathAfter Christmas we spent three day’s walking in the Grampians, a range of folded and eroded sedimentary cuestas with porphyritic inclusions providing interesting rock formations and attractive waterfalls, rising a modest 1000m about 300km west of Melbourne (it sez ‘ere!). The weather was good to us, but on our return decided to lash down with rain again for a week, completing a record rainy and sunless December and upsetting those Marconi relatives who had decided to spend Xmas in the sun. On at least one occasion it was 14°C in Melbourne and 13°C in London!

On his return from pseudo-Jockland the Gardener of Australia bought himself a late present of an environmentally-friendly electric mulcher!

 


Feelings So Far

So what do we think of it after four months hanging upside down by our feet?  In many, totally unexpected areas it has turned out to be far better than expected. For instance, back in the old UK I had taken a last walk through my favourite bluebell-bedecked Wickham Bishops wood, thinking, tearfully “Gosh, I shall miss this”. I also thought that I would miss the nice wholemeal bread from the little Maldon baker. But Ozland has produced a lovely, flowered walk along the Dandenong Creek, just at the end of our road, which is as beautiful, if not more so than my memory of England. And there are many, many bakers producing a vast range of breads of superior quality to that available locally in only one or two shops in England. But we do miss our family and friends. We have no real roots here and there is a strange feeling of being on holiday; any moment we shall get on the plane and go home. But the roots will grow and family and friends will, one hopes, visit us. And if it really gets bad, I can always sit in the sun and pour dollars through my hair until I feel better!

 

See your newsagent for our amazing next issue, featuring “Knit your own microwave mulcher” and “The effect of the cuddly toy in the treatment of acute feline deprivation syndrome”......!

 

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