Melbourne in winter

I have, when younger, lived through many a cold winter in Melbourne.

Not that you could call it cold in the same sense that people who live in the northern states of the US and in particular, from personal experience, places like Chicago.

It just depends on personal experience.

But, now that I live in a warmer climate, where days in winter often hover above 20 degrees Celcius, coming back to a city where the maximum is going to be 10 degrees Celcius is something of a shock.

I mean, we do have cold weather where I live, but it doesn’t have the wind chill factor.  Melbourne is notorious for having four seasons on one day, but right now, it’s just winter and colder than we’re used to.  Perhaps it has something to do with Victoria’s proximity to Antarctica.

A great day to stay in, light the fire, and read a book.  I’m sure most of us have a large amount of reading we’ve been putting off till the next rainy day.

Well, that’s here, and there’s a lot of reading I’ve been putting off.  And like most modern houses, there’s no fireplace, just reverse cycle airconditioning.  Curling up and reading a book in that scenario isn’t quite the same as the almost mesmerizing flames of a real fire.

And it is, or was about half an hour ago, raining, with a gusty wind that has the element of penetrating even the thickest layers of clothing and chill you to the bone.

The problem is, we’re away, not necessarily on holiday but with a lot of activities in mind so rail, wind chill, miserable weather is just another highlight of traveling.

This morning when we wake up it is pouring with rain, and the wind is howling through the nearby trees and you can feel the cold, as much in your imagination as it is in reality.

I shudder, and it’s hard to say what drives it.  We have to go out so we’ll see what it’s like when we’re ready to leave.  A lot can happen, weather-wise, in a few hours.

But, that pull of the sport, that level of dedication to support your team does not leave you, because it is ingrained in you from the day you are born, and stays with you till the day you die, no matter where you live, anywhere in the world.  Thank God there is the internet.

Remarkably the sun comes out from behind the clouds which are thinning out.  The sunshine does not raise the temperature because the wind, gusty at times, is still very chilling.

This is definitively Melbourne in winter.  And I can tell you, I don’t miss it.

That doesn’t mean I dislike the cold, far from it, it’s just the sustained variations of cold assisted by sheeting rain and blustery wind gusts I can do without.  It’s never just purely cold like it can be in the northern hemisphere.

But the weather is never that bad we don’t go out.  This morning we are heading to the South Melbourne market.  Cold weather doesn’t stop anyone and it’s nigh on impossible to find a parking spot, and in our search, we pass other shoppers being blown about by the wind.

The walk to the market itself is chilling.  In the food aisle street side, it is warmer, with fires burning to keep the customers warm, and the food aromas tempting.  We are here for the spring rolls, the dim sims, and the potato cakes.

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And the wide variety of fresh produce available that would put a supermarket to shame.  I’ve often wondered what it would be like to live nearby and do my shopping at the market.  We probably would be eating a lot healthier.

Living in a winter wonderland, not

Living in a more tr temperate climate where the days of winter are anything from 18 to 23 degrees Celsius, sunny, or overcast, without a hint of rain.

Rarely is it so cold that a combination of wind and rain can chill you to the bone, as it does in the southern states of this country, Australia.

Today is one of those days, sunny and with an almost cloudless blue sky.

Yet I love winter, the real winter where the temperature is so cold your face starts to freeze, an experience I had one January in Chicago, or where the temperature is hovering just above freezing and there is snow everywhere.

New Yorkers I discovered do not like this very much, understandably so because it interferes with their daily lives and livelihood, but to us tourists from those warmer climes it is manna from heaven.

3-foot snow drifts in Central Park, a place where a child can easily make a snow angel, these are aspects of winter we may never see where we live.

The closest we are going to get is a classic wood fire, where we can sit by and watch the flames dance while it keeps us warm.  Nights here do get cold.

But as for a white Christmas, we have to travel to the other side of the world for that.  Good thing then that their winter coincides with our Christmas and generally the hottest days of the years.

In fact, we’re coming your way this year

I can hardly wait.

Football again

Football is different when you are not in Victoria.  Once upon a time, there were eight teams and it was all centered in one state.

Now it’s national.

We are watching our team, a Victorian original, playing a relatively new team in Queensland.

For the record, Queensland is a rugby league stronghold and Queensland teams have a lot of difficulties getting crowds to games.

But, in saying that, there is a reasonably large crowd here and they are very vocal.  Sorry to say, not a lot of them know the rules, so there’s lots of baying for free kicks when there are none.

However, that’s part and parcel of being a supporter.  Make a lot of noise and try to sway the umpire’s decision.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  You need a really large crowd for that and this one is only about 20000 strong, and supporters for each team are equally spread out around the stands.

It is always a surprise to see just how many of the oppositions supporters, like us, are originally from Victoria but having moved up here to live.  And no, you do not change allegiance to your team simply because you’ve move state.

Currently, my team is behind, but the infamous third quarter is coming up.  This is where one team or the other generally gets away or slightly ahead, making the game more interesting for what might be a crackerjack last quarter

Or it might be where we all go home early.

We’ll see.

It’s official.  We suck.  The third quarter has come and gone, and the plan B I was looking for did not eventuate.  We are 27 points down at the end and the opposition had most of the play.

But let’s face it the opposition is playing the better football.

Quarter four is coming up.  Can we come from behind, or are we going to sink down the ladder after an ignominious loss, and have to once again regroup?

It’s always a possibility when you play away, and even more so when you’re in another state.  Still, that shouldn’t be an excuse.

Sadly by the time the final siren has gone two things are true.  We left early, greatly disappointed, and the fact we lost by a rather large margin.  I congratulate the winners and commiserate with the losers.

What do you call time away from what you usually do?

And, do you truly ever have any time ‘off’?

Of course, in our minds, this time off has any one of a large number of different descriptions, like Annual Leave, Vacation, Holiday, Leave.

We want to believe this is a time when we can rest and relax.

Can we do this at home?

No.

Can we do this when we are away?

Maybe.

It depends on where ‘away’ is.

A holiday shack, or cabin?  Chances are it is deep in the woods, or on the shore of a lake, or river, or beside the sea somewhere in another state, or just far enough away that home is no longer home.

Except, you have all the comforts of home?  Then it really isn’t a holiday as such, just a decamping to another location.

So, do we go for the ‘real’ holiday, out of the country and far away, far enough away that we might not be reminded of our usual life?

Maybe that will do the trick.

If we don’t deliberately take our cell phones, just in case the boss calls, or there is a problem.  And that’s the point, some of us cannot find a cutoff point.

Those long days at the office, the decisions, the deadlines, the endless pressure of having to achieve the impossible are supposed to all melt away when you walk out the door.

Does it?  Can it?  Will it?

Let’s just say you have made the effort, you’ve switched off, and that pesky phone.

As anyone will tell  you, it’s often wise to travel the next day if at all possible, because you need some time to decompress before tackling what sometimes can be an arduous getting to the final destination, especially if it is at a peak holiday period, or on planes where anything and everything can go wrong very quickly.

Been there done that.

But, this time, we traveled the next day, nothing went wrong, and all is fine.

Except …

As a writer and having spent the last few months finishing off my last novel, I was looking forward to some downtime.  The editor has the final draft, and I’m happy.

Then, as it always does, the best-laid plans of mice and men …

It all comes unstuck.

Inspiration often comes out of left field; something happens, a piece in a newspaper, an item on TV, or just lying down staring at the ceiling, when ‘bang’  it hits you.

The start of a story, a theme that you can run with.

Damn.

I’ve been away for four days now and written seven chapters and the words will not stop.

If only …

Hey, what a great title for the story…

Sorry, got to get back to work!

 

Thoughts, maybe

Football

In Melbourne, it’s an institution even a religion.  Traditionally it is played on a Saturday afternoon and luckily for us, we are attending such a game.

The stadium is the mcg, one of the best in Australia.  Shortly after the start, I’d estimate there are about 40,000, but eventually, there was 53,000, spectators here for a clash between the two Melbourne based teams.  It is not unheard of to have in closer to 90,000 spectators, and the atmosphere is at times electric.

For the die-hards like me who can remember the days when there were only Victorian-based teams,  in the modern day form of the game, to have two such teams is something of a rarity.

However, it’s not so much about the antics on the field as it is the spectators.  They are divided into three groups, the members, the private boxes and the general public.

But in the end, there is no distinction between any of them because they all know the rules, well, their version of them, and it doesn’t matter who you are, If there is something that goes against your team, it is brings a huge roar of disapproval.

Then there are ebbs and flows in the crowd noise and reactions to events like holding the ball attracting a unified shout ‘ball, or a large collective groan when a free kick should have been paid or by the opposite team’s followers if it should have been.

It is this crowd reaction which makes going to a live game so much better than watching it televised live.  The times when players take marks, get the ball out of congestion, and when goals are scored when your team is behind and when one is needed to get in front.

This is particularly so when one of the stars goes near the ball and pulls off a miracle 1 percent movement of the ball.  These are what we come to see, the high flying marks, the handball threaded through a needle, a kick that reaches one of our players that looked like it would never get there, an intercept mark or steal that throws momentum the opposite way.

This game is not supposed to be a game of inches but fast yards, a kick, a mark, a handball, a run and bounce.  You need to get the ball to your goal as quick as possible.

That’s the objective.

But in this modern game, much to the dismay of spectators and commentators alike, there is this thing called flooding where all 36 players are basically in a clump around the ball and it moves basically in inches, not yards.

It is slow and it is ugly.

It is not the game envisioned by those who created it and there is a debate right now about fixing it.

Here, it is an example of the worst sort.  This game is played in four quarters and for the first two, it is ugly scrappy play with little skill on display.  The third shows improvement and it seems the respective coaches had told their players to open it up

They have and it becomes better to look at.

But this is the point where one team usually gets away with a handy lead, a third-quarter effort that almost puts the game out of reach.  The fourth quarter is where the losing team stages a comeback, and sometimes it works sometimes it does not.

The opposition gives it a red hot try but is unsuccessful.  Three goals in a row, it gave their fans a sniff of hope but as the commentators call it, a kick against the flow and my team prevails.

It is the moment to stay for when they play the winning teams song over the stadium’s loudspeaker system, and at least half the spectators sing along.  It is one of those hair raising on the back of your neck moments which for some can be far too few in a season

We have great hopes for our team this year, and it was worth the trek from Brisbane to Melbourne to see it live rather than on the TV

Leaving the ground with thousands of others heading towards the train station for the journey home there is a mixture of feelings, some lamenting their teams, and others jubilant their team won.  There is no rancor, everyone shuffles in an orderly manner, bearing the slow entry to the station, and the long lines to get on the train.

Others who perhaps came by car, or who have decided to wait for a later train or other transport, let their children kick the football around on the leaf-covered parkland surrounding the stadium.

It is an integral part of this game that children experience the football effect.  Kicking a ball with your father, brothers, and sisters, or friends on that late autumn afternoon is a memory that will be cherished for a long long time.

It’s where you pretend you are your favorite player and are every bit as good.  I know that’s what I used to do with my father, and that is what I did with my sons.

But no matter what the state of the game, it is the weekend the football fans look forward to and whom turn out in their hundreds of thousands.  It is a game that ignites passions, it brings highs and it brings incredible lows.

And, through thick and thin, we never stop supporting them.

Being inspired, maybe

A picture paints … well, as many words as you like.  For instance:

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“You go straight ahead, I’ll take the side street and we should catch him before he escapes.”

“You go straight ahead.”

Jenkins was about to prove why he should have been left back at the base.  It was not the first time he displayed insubordination.

“I gave an order, Jenkins.  Move out.”

He didn’t.  He stood in front of me, truculence written all over his face.

“I’ll go,” Wallace said.  “We don’t have time for this.”

I shrugged.  He was right.  Bently was getting away while we dithered.

To Jenkins, “You take the side street.  I’ll back Wallace up.”

He seemed more at ease and left.

I’d taken no more than ten steps, Wallace just in sight ahead of me, when I heard the shot, loud and clear, followed by an echo off the close walls.

I double back, carefully headed up the side street, till I came across Jenkins’ body.

If only …

Thoughts, maybe

I was going to write more about the waiting game, where it is the peak hour for shoppers and there’s only two cash registers open, or the bank tellers at lunchtime …

On and on.  Nothing will change except for some of us, an increase in grey hair.

Time to move on, and get off my soapbox.

Perhaps we could delve into the online world of customer complaints.

It’s an interesting place,  when I want to buy something, or see something that is too good to be true, I hit the computer, dial-up google, and go into investigative mode.

But, here’s the thing,

The only people who go online, by and large, are there to complain. Yes, there are a few positives, like out of five stars, then the numbers show up for four stars, three stars, etc.

You get the impression that the owner of the product or service had written several 5-star good reports to counterbalance the negativity, which sometimes all belabor the same point.

For a long time, when I saw the bad reports and very few good reports I thought the product was no good, but recently, when talking to someone whose product was for sale, and had a few bad reviews, they said if a customer is satisfied, why did they need to file a report.  People had expressed their good opinion but had not added a review.

That might well be the case.

As an example, I looked at several river cruises in Europe, and the operators.  I then went online to check the customer ratings because these river cruises are very expensive, so you need to know you’re getting value for money.

Nearly all of the reviews were bad, but lacked any credible numbers.  I’m sure more than 46 people have been on those river cruises, considering how popular they are.

But, those that were on the site were critical of the food, the hygiene of the staff, the inability to get more than 1 ‘free’ drink with lunch or dinner, and substitute boats that were terrible.

Against this, however. is the word of mouth reports we have had from many people and is they are excellent.  So the theory of satisfied customers not bothering to add a review holds up.

Food and wine were the heart of this cruise, as well as cabin comfort, and the last thing you need is to be sick for the duration of the cruise.

I have to say, after going on the internet, I was put off.

Perhaps I might revise my policy of looking for information on the internet.  It seems that it sometimes can be quite misleading.