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Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Trading Everything #11 The SkinkOmeter


You may even find the time to invent something as I did, only to find that the road to scientific fame has problems laying in wait for you.

     I thought that I was finally on to something with the discovery of
the "SkinkOmeter". Although I could foresee patenting problems, I
believed the SkinkOmeter to be a meteorological device of unfailing
accuracy. It is environmentally friendly and eventually biodegradable.
It requires only light maintenance that you were going to do in the
general area anyway. Its moving parts move of their own free will.
 SkinkOmeter construction is easy. Whatever part of the garden that
gets the morning sun first will usually serve as a SkinkOmeter. Decide
just how big an area you want to include. Small garden patios that can
be taken in by one leisurely glance will do just fine. For myself
anything that falls out of the area immediately in front of a
particular two-metre garden edging board and the surface of the edging
board itself is not counted.
It is also easy to read and takes no more than a minute or so of
concentrated observation and limited numeracy skills. If there are
five or more skinks that are either crossing the area or bathing in
the sun it is going to be a fine, warm day.
Three to four skinks, sunny but cooler.  If there are only one or two
wet specimens huddled in the gloom it is probably going to continue
raining for a while. No skinks - winter.

 Unfortunately at one point I had to write...

All  was well until just recently. The 40 cm long blue tongued lizard
that stumps its way around the neighbourhood on its impossibly small
legs, has parked itself on the far side of the edging board. Here it
lies in wait, camouflaged by the leafy ground cover. Mr Blue Tongue
does not see this area as a finely honed weather instrument but more
like a buffet on a conveyor belt.

  The weather has been great but the readings have been poor. Lots of
sun, few skinks, just one big hot lizard with a swollen belly.
Unfortunately the SkinkOmeter can no longer be relied upon to offer
accurate predictions. Until this situation is rectified I will have to
rely on alternative sources such as the newspaper and the Internet for
my weather information.            Ken

Monday, 22 August 2016

Trading Everything # 10 Here be Dragons

  On the old maps it was written  "Hic sunt dracones" -Here be dragons. It was meant to indicate danger  or unexplored territories. In China the belief was that the dragons of ancient times emerged from the water to bring rain, wisdom or justice but I believe that the  modern dragons are still in the water and that sometimes "Here be dragons" means just that.
  The signs are written in three languages in large red letters on a bright yellow background: WARNING, followed by a head shot of a crocodile and an international symbol for no swimming followed by "Crocodiles inhabit this area.". The signs are clearly posted around the various swamps and rivers of northern Queensland and they are not there to make the area look quaint. One victim had used the almost long 2 metre sign as a clothes hanger before going swimming. While we were in Queensland,  an eight-year-old girl was taken from a riverbank as she fished beside her mother. A few dismembered pieces were found scattered on the opposite shore the next day. Last year a husband and wife went canoeing in a posted area. When a large croc attacked, the husband jammed the paddle into its jaws. The croc smashed the paddle then lunged up into the boat grabbing the man's arm and dragging him over the side. The canoe capsized. The wife luckily made it to shore but the body of the husband has never been found.
 Sometimes they go on a bit of a land hunt. Recently a croc walked 60 meters into a campground and dragged a man by his legs out of his tent. He was screaming "Get the baby!" so his wife ended up trying to hold the baby in one hand while using the other to play tug o war with the croc. A 66-year-old grandmother came from another tent and jumped on the reptile's back and began punching it in the head. The croc traded the man's legs for granny's arm. Luckily another camper arrived with a revolver and shot the thing in the head. I wonder if he got in trouble for having a gun?
   The big salties aren't everywhere in Queensland as they need a consistently high temperature in order to digest their food. The magic line lies somewhere between Brisbane and Cairns. Even though Cairns is a major built up modern tourist destination, the crocs still patrol the harbour and nest on the town's tidal flats and the pricey trendy beaches just north of the city. Salties like both fresh and salt water and will hunt effectively in either.  Five years ago a salty decapitated a scuba diver. A few years ago a large croc silently removed a university girl from a tour group at a freshwater waterfall area that their guide had led them to.
  In order to really appreciate them you need to observe them in a number of situations. In one round cement pool we watched one make a slow turn in clear water.   This fellow was so big that its body was well curved in order to fit the enclosure. The water barely covered its back. Using its finger and toe tips it slowly did a 360. Not a ripple. In a muddy pool we watched a crocodile named Bart disappear from the bank into the water as a handler entered the enclosure. Although the pool was shallow you had no idea where this hunter was until the handler splashed the water and it exploded into view. Once this fellow got a hold of the handler's bait which was a big chunk of cowhide attached to a hefty rope, the croc put on a performance of head shakes and death rolls in an attempt to maintain, drown, and dismember his prey. As the handler remarked, "Bart and I are not a team." Bart was a decent size, about 12 feet and weighing 250 kilograms. However he didn't come close to some of the fully-grown monsters that were on display. The real biggies were another 2 meters longer than Bart (6 to 7 meters or 20-23 ft) and weighed between 700 and 800 kilos. Not pounds, kilos.   Their head sizes were double Bart's. Looking at one made you think that you had just arrived at Jurassic Park.  One such monster was named Solie after the dog that it had eaten. Some kids had headed for a swim in the river, luckily for them Solie had jumped in first.
  At the croc farm they took you on a boat ride through the breeding area. This complex was basically a re engineered, replanted swamp. Although there were 25 breeders mostly at the 4-5m  length it was amazing how many you didn't see. They do some minor amount of feeding at each trip so even though it was their winter (25) and almost at the temperature which stops them feeding, some of the residents showed a bit of interest. It was amazing to see them all of a sudden surface by the side of the boat. The sound of their jaws closing at 2 tonnes pressure is quite dramatic at close range.
  On the jungle river cruise on the Daintree River the experience is much more "real". The river is about as wild and uninhabited as you can get. Snakes bask on the branches of the trees that overhang the muddy river. The river has a good density of crocodiles (about 50-60 having been spotted by helicopter in this stretch of the river) but you actually see very few. Yes you can find the ones basking in the sun on the banks, and if you have them pointed out, you can also see the eyes and nostrils of the ones holding in key positions like stream entrances. What apparently you rarely are able to spot are the walnut sized bumps that indicate the presence of a monster below. Mostly all you see is smooth, muddy water. The river holds some huge but boat shy crocs that escaped the heavy commercial hunting that ended in 1971. They have had years and years to grow long and heavy under the banner of a protected species.
Yup, just smooth, muddy water, but I noticed that everyone kept his or her hands well inside of the boat railing.  Ken

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Trading Everything # 9 What about Dirk?

On your journey you may have experiences that make you question which philosophy you believe in.

 It seems to be one of Hollywood's favourite philosophical themes.
You know the one about if you save someone's life you are responsible
for that person or equally popular is its inverse- you save someone's
life they owe you big time forever. From Christmas movies like "What a
Wonderful Life!" through to the Terminator flicks this simple message
is repeated. However, in the real world, given  the behaviour seen in our
backyard a more fitting movie would be, "What About Bob?"
 When Doug (2nd son) and his traveling companion were here we returned to the house one day to
find a young kookaburra floating motionless in the swimming pool. I
fished it out and although we didn't give it much hope, Doug wrapped
it in a towel and warmed it with his hands for a while and then placed it
in a warm area of the yard. We sat around in lawn chairs and had a few
beers as we supervised lest some opportunistic predator come by. Plus,
we felt like we had a stake in this now and we wanted to know how it
would turn out. Over the hours it eventually warmed up and dried off.

  Eventually it crawled out from the loose towel and flew to a nearby
tree. After watching us for a while it flew off. Only recently did it
return for some steak strips. I figured that was going to be about it.
The young kookaburra with the punk looking head feathers that we
named Dirk had finally returned to take a peace offering as a way of
saying that he forgave us for our hands-on treatment during his
rescue. He would doubtless fly off and I'd never again get that close
to one of these creatures. Hail good fellow well met! Thanks for the
encounter! Adios amigo!  End of story.
 Today was cloudy and cooler with a morning drizzle. The kind of
morning that should either be spent sleeping through or on the couch
with a good book, a blanket, and single malt. As it was a workday no
such luck. The living room curtains opened to reveal Dirk already
perched on the railing. Great excitement filled the house. "Our
special visitor! O happy day! Your breakfast coming right up sir!" I
took five pieces of raw strip steak (they won't eat it cooked) three
to five inches long and a cm wide to fill him up and send him on his
way. What a pig!
 An hour or so later. "Oh look who's back? (A touch of sarcasm
creeping in.) He can't surely still be hungry." Three more pieces of
steak said that he was. After he flew off Gord (oldest son) and I went down to the
break wall to gather saltwater for the aquarium while it was still
high tide. This normally mundane task made much more interesting
knowing that I am potentially sharing the rock pile with a brown
 Want to guess who was sitting on the railing when we got back? Still
with the hopping along the rail until he is directly opposite me,
still with the leaning in with intent and the head bobbing, and still
with the bloody fixed stare.   "He can wait." We made him sit there
until we were finished doing our fish tank cleaning. Three, maybe four
pieces this time with Gordon taking a share of the hand feeding honours.
 The next time he showed up we made him wait even longer before
grudgingly handing over two more pieces of tribute.
 I had to go off to my work around three and then pick up Jan. Upon
arriving home I popped the all-important question. 
                                                      "Yes Dirk was here
                                                        "Did you feed it?"
 Someone in this relationship has it all wrong. Why am I the one who
has to wing to the store to get the next load of food? Shouldn't Dirk
be the one who is off killing things in my honour? He has the economic
theory of supply and demand backwards. He shows up and demands and I'm
expected to supply. Seemingly I'm also expected to supply the soap and
water and labour to clean the railing after he has left.
 Perhaps this whole thing just illustrates another time honoured
philosophy. No good deed goes unpunished.  Ken

Monday, 1 August 2016

Trading Everything #8 Keep Calm and Bite your Tongue

  After a few weeks of filling my days with walking the beaches I decided that I needed to be more productive so I got a part time job at a tutoring business. I taught them English and Math(s) and they taught me how to bite my tongue.

 One of my students is new to grade 2 as of February 1st. She is blonde, blue eyed, and as beautifully elfin as any Lord of the Rings character. Last week she let it be known that she might be moving soon. She told me that her parents were managing a caravan park well outside of town. "My dad told me that he renamed the park. He told me that it used to be called Moby the Wild Dick Park." (and if you've ever been a teacher you know the frozen smile that was on my face as I said,  "Oh......that's interesting."
  This week I was sitting beside her, marking her homework. Being small she has a tendency to kneel on her chair. As she reached up over to the back of the the work table she broke wind like a sailor. She turned to me with a big smile and said, "Bless me!" 
                                                                                                  Ken/kg/Dad/still the teacher/learner

Today I was working with one of my younger students - grade one or two. His word attack skills need a fair bit of work, like when we tried "boy" he came up with "dog"- you get the picture. So today I showed him his new list of sight words and putting my pencil at the top of the page asked him to try to sound the first one out.
                                                     "No, Jesus is not one of your new words."
                                                      "Jesus Christ, do I have to learn all of these words?"

   You just can't beat real life.  

Monday, 25 July 2016

Trading everything # 7 -Watching where you step

 In your new country you may have to watch your step a bit.  Australia has more than a few types of poisonous snakes and I wrote more than a few emails about them. Here's one to get us started.

  According to this week's issue of the local paper, a 50-year-old man from nearby Nabiac got a ride in the Westpac Rescue Helicopter courtesy of a death adder that bit him in the arm. One of the activities that we keep missing out on due to either bad weather or previous commitments is the local "bushwalk". This means a hike in the wilds, and apparently this is the best time of year to do it because, according to the organizer of this social event, "At this time of year the snakes disappear." Well I guess we all know now where they disappear to.

  I don't know the individual circumstances of the bite but I wouldn't be surprised if the man just didn't see it in time to avoid it. In one of the interpretive centres that we visited last week there was a terrarium about half a metre wide and one metre long but only about a standard ruler length deep. It sat at waist height and seemed to contain only leaves, rocks and bits of bark. We had a look and left. On the way out we were asked how many death adders we had spotted in the terrarium. We walked around it again. After about 5 minutes of the four of us looking we managed to come up with three snakes. Apparently there were actually four.

   Okay I can see how you could accidentally be bitten by one of these things but how to you think you would feel sitting there as the doctor informs you that you have been fanged by a DEATH adder. Things would already be bad enough without having the word DEATH tossed about in the waiting room. Just think about it, every question that the doctor asked you would involve him saying the word DEATH. "How big was the DEATH adder?" "How long has it been since the DEATH adder struck you?"  "Do you know how deadly a DEATH adder is?" " Were you playing with or tempting the DEATH adder?'"

I don't know about you but all things being equal I would rather hear that the culprit was a:


     Or a


Or a


 Or a


Or a even more hopefully a


   I'm sure that you can add to the list while I think of excuses as to why I'm not going on the bushwalk this weekend. Ken

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Trading Everything #6 Just get on the bus Gus

 Trading everything also means that you may have to rethink your transportation. This might be a steep learning curve.
                                         Just get on the bus Gus
 from the original email

Trouble in Paradise. We have managed to work ourselves into a transportation dilemma. Jan needs to be at work and often has meetings either after school or during the day at other campuses. Gord goes to his Lifestyles program three days a week . He has to be there and be picked up at specific times. Dan works downtown on the weekends but needs be with his friends whenever. I work three days a week but at a schedule which is at odds with everyone else
. Thus we have transportation "issues".

 Being a good Scot of deep pockets and short arms I decided against buying another car. For the first week we tried the cheapest method – walking. I can get to my work in an hour if I keep a brisk pace. I leave in the daylight and if I have to come home in the dark I'm just old and ugly enough that no one bothers me. Jan's walk home, which is also an hour if you know the short cuts, starts at sunset and gets progressively darker. She doesn't have the old and ugly advantage working for her. The first time Jan tried it she also didn't have the shortcuts mastered and ended up walking a mini marathon. So okay, Jan gets the car.
   This would seem to leave the bus as a logical answer to our problem. Approaching this head on I went to the main and only bus depot. I entered the Main Office (not that there were any other office buildings to confuse me) and spoke to what must have been the Main Employee. I asked him for a schedule of the bus routes (no problem as there were a number of photocopied sheets in a rack right in front of me) and a map of the routes.
  Being a good bloke (guy), he began taking maps off of the walls and piecing them together. "I'll make a photocopy for you." Then, "Wait a minute I think I can make a coloured copy for you!" Talk about being made to feel special. I was beginning to wonder if the second customer of the year would also get the red carpet treatment, when he emerged with, " Oh we found a brochure. It's the last one."   The last one – that's still in the "special" category.
  Sitting out on the deck, map unfolded in my lap, tracing with a finger the 305 route to the downtown, I was becoming sensually aware of the sea air mixing with the heady smell of transportation victory. Stop 22, indicated by a large red dot, it seemed, was only a block away. Being a man who now has ample time to check things out, I ambled down to Hume Street to see the actual bus stop first hand. No sense being in a dither and missing it due to lack of preparation. Hume Street is on a steep incline that would make a Sherpa home sick. I huffed up and down this a few times but couldn't find the bus stop. Well no wonder, I had the left the brochure at home and had obviously missed some important detail.
 Fetching the map gave further insight. The red dot #22 as you remember was clearly midway down the hill. So calves and gluteus slamming, down I went. Now there are a bewildering number of potential markers- wooden sticks with plastic ribbons, neighbourhood watch type signs on posts, but nothing that says Bus Stop. Clearly this was another one of those cultural riddles. In need of the oracle I phoned the bus depot directly.
   After a short intro I came straight to the point that being from out of town I had failed to locate the bus stop on Hume Street.   "Oh that would be because we haven't gotten around to putting the markers there yet." Apparently if I wanted to be picked up at a marker, I could go down to the bottom of the hill, turn left, find the entrance to the second street and then cross the road. Simple, but now I would be walking a good ten minutes in the wrong direction.
 "If I wanted to wait on Hume Street where Stop 22 is indicated, is there a house number there that I can stand by?"
"No they actually won't stop on Hume Street. It's too steep. Just go to the top of the hill and wait round the corner on Becker Rd."
"Is there a bus stop marked there?"
"Is there a house number that I should be standing in front of?"
"No, just wait round the corner."
 Just where "round the corner" is or what gestures are required to convince the driver that I am a worthy candidate for pickup was not explained. Closer examination of the map route showed the 305 buses travelling along Head Street and crossing Macintosh. This would be a much more direct method than the currently legal route. Maybe they just give the cops a special wave or figure that nobody is going to argue with a bus heading the wrong way on a one-way street.
  In the entire process I had neglected to ask about fares. Not sure if I'm up for another round of this. Maybe I'll just walk.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Trading Everything #5-How to catch bait using nylons and feet

   As Jan had to work I was left to my own devices.  I love to fish and I was told that the best way to catch them around here was with bait.
  My first attempt was to go after the elusive sand or beach worms. They are quite large - if you ever get to see one and quite desirable as bait - if you ever get to catch one. The idea I was told was to fill the bottom of a nylon stocking or onion type bag with some stinky dead fish then drag it around the sand until one of these big worms latch on and then presto you have your bait. When I was first told this I thought that they were having me on but sure enough I saw a few blokes down at the shore giving it a go so I joined in.

  I couldn't beg any nylons from Jan so I headed down to the local shopping centre and found a women's clothing store. When the salesperson asked if she could help me I said that I was looking for a pair of nylons.
 "What size are you looking for?"
 "It don't know. They're not for my wife, but probably something large would do."
 "What colour would you like?"
"It doesn't matter but it would be good it they were heavy duty because I need them for fishing."
She must have liked to fish herself as she managed to give my legs a brief glance, reach behind her, snatch up the package and hand it over in one fluid motion in the time that it took her to say, "I think these will do."
 Next I was off to the grocery store to ask the meat counter for the cheapest fish that they had, something that would give off a good odour if it was left out. Apparently I was after mullet.
I arrived the next morning with high hopes and a high smelling bag of dead fish. I dragged my bait bag this way and that making figure eights and circles and artist shapes that I felt would surely be enticing. After a morning of this I had zero worms and a bait bag that Jan was not going to welcome back in the house.

  Next on the list was the pipi or cockle. This is at least fun to try to catch because all you really have to do is get in the water up to your ankles and start to shuffle around with your feet until you find something. I found it a lot more fun and a whole lot less stinky

One early pipis gathering trip was quite memorable:

  We've all been on class trips. Usually the kids are pretty good, but sometimes they can be easily distracted and get a bit goofy especially if it is early in the school year. Today I was out walking on 9 Mile Beach. It was a beautiful day and not too surprising the local school was taking advantage of it, and having a group walk of some sort. It would be about their 3rd week of school after their summer break. There seemed to be 2or 3 classes, all wearing red shorts and white t shirts. I'm guessing early high school. No books, no equipment, but clearly organized and guided along by a few young looking teachers. They passed e as I dug for pipis . About 30 seconds following the passing of the school group, but clearly in their wake were three young ladies all seemingly the age that had just passed by. The first one wore a 2 piece outfit - fine. The second one was well built and topless - legal. The third one was carrying what looked like what might have been her red thong style bathing suit bottom. I took the time to notice (because I'm a trained teacher of Visual Arts) that she didn't have much in the way of tan lines.
I found 5 pipis. I wonder what the kids found?