Sunday, February 22, 2009

Flight QF93 to LA

Qantas flight 93 from Melbourne to LA. My second James Squire golden ale has arrived and the Birthday Party are screaming from my MP3 player. The plane’s entertainment system isn’t working. And it’s a 15 hour flight.


Last night I discovered that my contract with BT won’t be renewed. So my disposition is a strange mixture of angst, fear, doubt and relief. Angst seems to be winning at the moment. I’m not at all bitter with BT. It’s been a good run. In fact it was October 1995 when I walked for the first time into Spitfire House in Hove for the start of my 3 month contract. I’d never seen so many office workers cramped into an area in such high density. And since then, two stints totalling around 11 years. I did a good job. And they loved me. The one’s that counted anyway. I’m sure I shat off a few people but they never seemed to make it known to me. The “Mustn’t grumble” attitude perhaps. I have no complaints about not being renewed. I’ve had a very good run thanks to BT. And the last 5 years, working remotely, from home in Australia. It’s helped me set up a business that now actually has a chance of survival. Though in this world financial climate, maybe not, who knows…that’s where the doubt comes in. I won’t miss the late night working so that I could be in the UK timezone. That was shit. It’ll be great to finish up at 6pm or earlier and know that there need be no work at all until the next day. There’s now more time for leisure. Perhaps my guitar can get a proper run at it now. Hopefully I won’t just be staring vacantly into the extremely large and seductive tele every night to fill the time void.

I’ve been working pretty hard lately. Last week in New Zealand I’d finish a day of 9 to 5:30 comprised of teaching and implementing and then return to my hotel room to call up Tim for serious BT work until around midnight. Same as my trip to Japan a few weeks ago. Get a life, for fuck’s sake! Well, now it’s enforced. I would probably never have walked away from the job myself even though I’ll be glad to be rid of those long night work vigils.

But then, it’s been a long time. More than a quarter of my life in elapsed time. And they’ve paid me every month. I’ll miss that. Badly I expect at some times. Payment will become a lot more spasmodic from the various other sources. No more trips to England. That’s a double edged sword. Fleet – boring as all fuck. A shithole little town that embodies blandness to the extreme. If I stay in Brighton, it’s an 80 minute commute. And London, 35 minutes away, holds nothing for me now. Mostly an impersonal, dirty, crowded mess of humanity. On it’s bad days anyway. There’s fun to be had there absolutely, but essentially, I don’t miss London in the slightest. Good riddance stink town. See you some time one day in the future years I expect when I’ll view you through nostalgia tinted glasses. Brighton is another story. A very cool little town with a dirty seaside disguise. But mostly it’s the people around that neck of the world that I’ll miss. Steves Boakes and Guthrie. Sally. Jack. Martin and Kate. And a periphery of others. And of course Andy floating around Europe. Jacky up in Scotland. So it’s no longer “see you soon”. Now it’s goodbye and maybe, hopefully, I’ll see you some time in the next decade.


I have one more trip to England. It commences several days after my BT contract has ended. When I booked it I always thought there was a possibility that my contract would not be renewed. And so it has turned out and the expected work trip will turn into a holiday. That is a big upside to the situation. No more Fleet, except for a farewell lunch and to pick up my trusty UK based Ovation guitar. With the plan for Tori to come and join me in England and then a week in Paris, I guess it’s fitting and was meant to be. It will certainly be a much more enjoyable trip than if I was sitting in Guidion fucking House every day. Jaunting around Sussex with Tori sounds a heap better. So where to go before Tori joins me? Hmmm…. I arrive on the Tuesday and am scheduled to head to Brighton on the Friday. Three or four days to gallivant off somewhere, albeit in a bit of a jetlagged state. Istanbul? Edinburgh? Somewhere I haven’t been before? Maybe, but not as much fun on my own.

The whole family will be happy that I’ll be away less. My immune system will probably be happier with a couple less bouts of getting over jetlag per year. So really, as long as the other side of work can kick on, it’s all good. Just a lament for distant friends. And so long BT, thanks for all the fish.


Monday, February 09, 2009

Bush Fire Disaster and I’m in New Zealand

I’m in Wellington for work at the ANZ Bank. Staying in a luxurious hotel in the vibrant downtown region. Spacious room. Comfy king size bed with feather down pillows. Balcony with an outlook towards the harbour. Mini bar stocked with tasty treats and Monteaths fine beer. TV with all the satellite channels including Sky News which is focussed permanently on the bushfires raging across Victoria. Horror. 105 people burned or asphyxiated with the number rising at every bulletin. Horror story upon horror story. The deafening roar. The speed at which the fire was upon them. The overwhelming heat. The darkness from all the smoke. The embers pouring down as if it were raining fire. Brian Naylor and his wife dead. Hundreds of homes and possessions now just a pile of ash.

It’s Monday now and I arrived here in Wellington yesterday. The day before was Saturday and it was 46 degrees plus in Melbourne town and surrounds. HOT!!! And windy. Trees bending and swaying under the strength of the hot north wind blowing like a blast from a furnace. What to do. It felt like fire in the air. The weather bureau predicted it. They said the conditions would be worse than on Ash Wednesday back in 1986. They were right. We have a bushfire plan. It involves getting into the house, attiring ourselves in garments of natural synthetics, closing all the windows, gathering the things from the bushfire survival box – radio for listening to the latest bulletins on ABC 774, walkie talkies for staying in constant communication with each other, masks for protection against smoke, lollies for helping to keep the kids calm – cranking up the petrol motor driven pump that runs the sprinkler system on the house in readiness for activating the sprays to the roof and walls when the fire front approaches. We had thought through the plan. Even practised it, albeit not enough. So with extreme heat and dangerous winds promising a fire of some ferocity, what did we do? We went to the mall. Air conditioned Doncaster Shoppingtown. Like an oasis from the heat. A complete world unto itself with no news from the outside world for the hours that we were there. And things to buy. And treats to eat. Teppanyaki chicken for lunch. Scones and tea in the afternoon. Tori thought we should be with the house. That was our plan. My instincts said go for the air conditioned safety offered by Mr. Westfield. After all, the fire plan we had spent time writing was written with a view to saving our lives. If it saved the house as well, even better. But ultimately it was about preservation of our lives. And here we were safe.

It was on the drive to the shopping centre that we had thought of Pusskana. Not in the context of a fire but in that of a day of such extreme heat that without good shelter, any creature could perish from the sun alone. The guinea pigs had been testament to that a fortnight earlier. Left too long out in the hot sun, it was too late for them when they were brought inside the house for rescuing. They died a horrible death of over exposure to the extreme summer sun. Their poor little bodies unable to withstand the third day in a row of 43 degree temperatures. We were guilty by neglect. I always forgot that we even had guinea pigs, never paying them any heed. But the cruel way in which they died was a guilty day for us all. And now there was our cat Pusskana, who had recently slipped his collar and had no way of opening the magnet lock of his cat door to escape inside the house from the tortuous heat. I dropped Tori and the kids at Shoppingtown and raced back home to check out the cat. It’s impossible to explain to somebody not accustomed to pets the affection that it is possible to have for an animal, and even though my rational side knew he would be ok at this point, I felt a fear as I drove back of what could be. The mind always seems to go for the worst scenario, but Pusskana was ok. Hot, bedraggled, but ok under the nectarine tree in the shade. Meowing profusely when he saw me. Obviously not having a great time. I opened up the area under the house for him as a refuge. Nice and cool under there even in that weather. It seemed prudent while I was there to check the house, close the blinds, windows and doors and crank up the sprinkler system to give the house and immediate surrounds a drink. I knew it would evaporate and all be bone dry again within 10 minutes but still I felt compelled in my act of futility. Would this system really save our house and our lives if a fire struck. The stories that I am hearing from Kinglake make me wonder. The speed with which the fire hit seemed to have taken everybody by surprise. These are people who live in a region where there seem to be bushfires every other year and who are ready. Or as ready as you can be. Yet they were still taken unawares. What chance would we have? And those poor souls who lost their nerve and thought the best thing to do was flee in their cars. Burned to death while in a panic-driven escape attempt. Easy to judge from here over in New Zealand.

I went into the ANZ office today for my first morning of work. The local crew were ridiculing those misguided Australians who, knowing that there are bushfires every single year, still live in locations surrounded by eucalypt forests. Tragedies are always significantly less so when they happen away from home. Haven’t heard any good jokes yet but I guess they have to be coming soon.

So it's all happening at home but I’m in Wellington. Probably spoken to Tori and the kids half a dozen times in the last 24 hours. I know they are safe from the fires but I can’t help but feel hollow and a bit guilty about not being there with them in this time of crisis in Victoria. I’ve consumed a lot of beer in the time since I arrived. That kind of depressive drinking where you don’t feel that you are getting drunk but watch dispassionately as your faculties gradually start to become impeded. After a couple of after work pints with Steve, I went to the Belgian beer bar for dinner and more beer. Sitting on my own reading the paper over a Leffe Blonde and occasionally staring vacantly at the enticing rear view of the girl sitting up at the bar. The New Zealand daily papers screaming of bushfires in Victoria across the front pages. Graphic photos of flames leaping 50 feet high to the treetops. Such an emotional feeling of what has happened to these people’s lives coupled with the thought that in slightly different circumstances, that could have happened to me and my family. We need to sort out what we’ll do the next time such a day of extreme heat and wind hits town. Do we stay and fight and hope that our plans and our tools and our wits are enough to save us and the house, or do we run away early and let it all burn. Maybe Shoppingtown isn’t a bad option. Except that next time we need to cater better for Pusskana.

Feeling melancholy and weighted down by thoughts of it all, I went to pay my bill at the bar alongside the enticing girl of earlier thoughts and struck up a conversation. She has just returned home to Wellington from north Queensland. There it’s a different story. The whole area is flooded. I told her stories of an extremely hot Saturday in Melbourne and fires in the local bushland communities. I ordered another beer and chatted. With nobody here to really talk to about the state of affairs back home it was good to have somebody to pour out a bit of emotion to. And who better than a beautiful girl.