Thursday, March 18, 2010

Irish Need Not Apply

   Top  O' the Morning to ye. And for the rest of the day. I was not born Irish, nor raised by leprechauns.  But, by jiminy, on March 17, I am ready to speak funny for association and eat for the cause.  No, not that nasty looking American bar creation, green beer, but Corned Beef & Cabbage. Add a carrot and potato,if you like, and call it a New England Boil.  I get fainty just thinking about it.
   Keep fainting because I have discovered that Corned Beef & Cabbage is (like German Chocolate Cake) an 'American thing.'  Yesterday I went to the green grocer and butcher shop (you know, where they sell nothing but meat) and he didn't even have corned beef --called "silverside" here-- in stock.  Minimal stocks of cabbage at the green grocer.  Quick, run into the big grocery store....and even more disappointment. No packages of corned beef marinating in spices, no wheeled bins of accompanying produce, not even a plastic shamrock on the wall or green frosted cupcake in sight.

   Paddy, where are you?

   The Irish in this area  are forced to congregate in just a few bars with Irish names.  They advertise an "Irish breakfast"  of Black Pudding (a pork sausage made with pig's blood), bacon, tomatoes, toast and beans (ummm, that last bit sounds rather English.)  A few Irish bands and a Celtic dancer or two.  
   And not a slice of corned beef to be had. No parades. No greening a river. No shamrock-shaped baked goods. No special Masses. Few people outside JB O'Briens wearing green. Not a rainbow in sight. A sorry way to spend St Patrick's  Day, to be sure, to be sure. 


Saturday, March 13, 2010


     A group of old men came into town. Long graying hair, craggy faces, comfortable paunches and riding in SUV'sthey could have been anyone coming in from the beach or heading out to the hills.  But these guys are special.

   In Fremantle, there is a statue of a particular Scottish emigre' whom you might not expect to be immortalized in such a way. Not a famous explorer, founding father, politician, priest or pioneer.  He did not die heroically (indeed, he is the poster child for not downing bottles of liquor as if bottles of pop) nor did he die old. Charismatic, driven with an appetite for thrills, this bagpipe playing man captured Western Australian fancy in a big way. He is Bon Scott,  long dead leader of a band favored by college guys, AC/DC. 

   And the band plays on. Somehow, recordings are not enough for people who enjoy songs with titles like "Highway to Hell" and "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" so Bon's  bandmates still tour.  Angus Young, wearing his trademark schoolboy uniform onstage, doesn't hold up to close inspection anymore and frontman Brian Johnson doesn't need elastic vocal cords to howl out hits first sung 35 years ago.

   So, for two (I suppose) magical nights, Perthians were thrilled that AC/DC had come home.  Grandpas brought their sons who brought their sons to the concert. The Premier (Governor) of WA was in the mosh pit. The TV news channels did liveshots. Everyone seemed abuzz over the whole "Acca Dacca" thing.

   I don't get it, but there you have it. Perhaps another look at music here another day. 

Funny Money

    When I first arrived in OZ, I took a look at the money and mused at just how odd it looked. For the record, the currency is: 5¢ (very small), 10¢ (slightly larger), 20¢ (bigger still) and a 50¢ piece (largest); two "gold" coins of $1 and $2 (which is smaller than the modest $1 coin)-these have taken the place of bills.  The bills are different sizes and colors for each denomination: $5 is light purple and the smallest, $10 is blue, $20 is red, $50 is gold (nicknamed a "pineapple") and the $100 is dark green (or so the rumor goes, they don't come my way for visual inspections).  Besides having the Queen's mug on each bill (this is a Commonwealth country after all) notable Australians appear on the bills-- some of them are actually known to the general public.  And, they are made of plastic, not rag or paper.
    Truth be told, it all looked like funny money.  The colorful stuff of board games played as a kid.  And here is a cultural difference.  If Australian bills look like Monopoly money to me, U.S. bills are boring and deceptive to Australians.  How can you tell the difference between one bill and another? (Apparently the different numbers, different presidents and reverse designs  are indistinguishable to the average inebriated Aussie backpacker.) But ask people who do a lot of travelling and they'll tell you that any currency not their own is just funny money.

     I remember thinking in those early days;  Would I ever spot this for real money if I saw it on the sidewalk? 

     I got my answer today at the Canning Vale Markets.  The market is only open for two hours, so the patrons are very determined locusts hovering about boxes & crates of produce and noticing nothing else.  And then I saw it.  Wait, what was that?  Could that purple slip be.......?  Yes, it was!  It took me three glances, but I recognized a $5 bill lying on the floor.  Did no one else notice?  Ha. It's real!  Finders Keepers. I almost laughed out loud, not because of the financial windfall, but because it answered a question hovering at the back of my mind for almost two years.   OK, it still looks funny, but at least  I recognize it as money.

     Stopped chuckling a few hours later when a fifty dollar bill fell out of Kev's pocket on his way to playing lawn bowls.  I'm keeping an eye peeled on all future walks.
meta content="Microsoft Word 12" name="Originator">

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Winter Olympics in a Sunburnt Land

    As the final wrap-ups and analyses are made of the Vancouver Winter Olympics, while the last inflatable beaver is being deflated, during this last push to finally get people out of the ice rink where Canada won the men's hockey gold medal, let me offer a few observations of my own from a vantage point below the equator.

   It's true-- Australia and the Winter Olympics  are an odd mix.  For starters, the Games occur in the dead of summer.  The incongruity of watching snowy athletics while melting in triple digit heat is lost on no one. Second, snow-based sports only occur in a small area of New South Wales (the eastern state that contains Sydney) euphemistically called the Australian Alps.  Yeah.   So the majority of the native Aussie athletes tend to enjoin the "freestyle" sports. You know, the kind where you flip into the air and do some kind of acrobatic twisting before landing on your skis/board/plank/butt.  One doesn't need long winters to practice jumping and gymnastics. The imported athletes pick up the other sports.

   Total medal count from 20 female and 20 male competitors: 3. Two golds and one silver. Two freestyle females and one transplanted Canadian guy skiing the moguls.  Channel 9 replayed the glory and re-interviewed the gals in an endless loop. Occasionally, they replayed the fading glory of their athlete-turned-commentators, but good looking faces squealing and woo, woo, woo whooping it up make good TV.  This posed a problem with the Canadian guy, Dale Beggs-Smith.  Dale abdicated from the Canadian team early on because their training system interfered with his "internet business".   Dale's "internet business" has made him quite wealthy so he can train in his own time and can afford not to smile.  He is all business on the hill as he is at the keyboard.  He barely cracked a grin when winning the silver, didn't mug for the camera when being interviewed shortly thereafter, hardly looked excited on the podium.  Telegenic he is not.  And he didn't give  interviews to media organizations outside  of Australia.  The sports show at my radio station figured out why he keeps such a low profile:  Dale has gotten rich creating spam on the internet--one very good reason for staying below the radar.

    Channel 9's coverage of the Games was a bit of a "dog's breakfast".  They also had the broadcast rights to the Cricket- which is an all day sport, not  just a couple of hours.  Western Australia gets a lot of its "live" programming tape delayed from the east coast, so much of our Olympic coverage looked like this: delayed morning chat show until 9 am, a couple of hours of Olympic action (delayed, not live), Cricket, evening news, Cricket, sitcom, and at 10:30pm a round-up of the day's Olympic action.  They frequently tapped into the BBC's or VOC's play by play announcers- a smart move when dealing with sports one knows nothing about.  Channel 9's morning anchor did a competent job and one of their announcers, Phil Liggett, does a very good job describing what he sees without overreaching his knowledge of the sport.  Their evening anchor is just plain shocking. Eddie McGuire is liked for his background story, florid face and constant smile.  A real mate at the pub type...with the same mistaken image for having an opinion that counts. The slights to people (and apologies the next day) were a fairly regular occurrence. Truly an amateur interviewer (long wind ups to four or five entirely unrelated questions in one hit; questions a kindergartner would ask) he wasn't always accurate.  When interviewing ice hockey great, Wayne Gretzky, he talked about the "ball going into the net".  Luckily, it was in the middle of one of his long spew of questions, so either Gretzky didn't notice or graciously chose to ignore it as he picked one of the questions to answer.

   Kevin made an observation at the end of it all. It seemed to him that, especially during the opening and closing ceremonies, the hosts were more inclined to say "We are not the U.S." rather than "We are Canada."  My dear northern neighbors: your slip is showing.

   Yet for all this, I hung on as much as possible to the TV coverage.  There is something so very normal about snow in February, sports played on ice skates, cross country skiers with rifles strapped to their backs, toques  and giant inflatable beavers & moose.  Same time next year?