Thursday, 25 October 2012

what an airport says about your country

Before I even left the tarmac and entered the airport in Port Vila I could hear the happy, bouncy sounds of a string band*.  "We welcome you... we welcome you... we welcome you today!"  The musicians were colourfully dressed with big smiles.  They kept the children entertained while we waited in line for customs.

We felt welcomed.  Genuinely, warmly, cheerfully welcomed.

Months later I returned to Sydney.  I walk through long tunnels.  No-one helps me with the children.  I don't know which turn to take.  There are so many pictures, so much advertising I cannot focus on the signs which give me directions.  Suddenly, I am in the middle of a shop.  I am hedged in by teetering, grasping piles of luxury goods; their prices are flashing before my eyes.  I don't know which way to go.  Where are my bags?  Does anyone want to see my passport?  Or only my wallet?

We'll give you a smile.  As long as you give us your money.

Welcome to Sydney.

* guitars, bush-bass, ukelele, voice

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell

This book provided the most laugh-out-loud-moments-per-word than any book I have read in a long time and I highly recommend it.  Let me tell you a little about it.

My Family and Other Animals was written by the naturalist Gerald Durrell.  He writes his experience on the island of Corfu with his family between 1935 and 1939.  He writes about the island; its people and its customs. He writes about his family; their friends, their houses, their conversations and their altercations.  There are some seriously funny moments.

He writes about the natural history he observed.  Although he was only eight when he arrived on Corfu, he demonstrated an amazing love for wildlife as well as the tenacity and patience to wait, observe and record what he saw.  There are some seriously incredible moments. He relates, for instance, in great and terrifying detail, a chance fight between a mantid (think praying mantis) and a gecko, both of which he had already individually observed and named. You'll have to read it to find out who wins!

He writes very well, combining charm and humour with clever use of language*. On occasion the descriptions of places or creatures can be a little tedious but are happily skipped. On the whole I think he does an excellent job of taking what usually remains in the hands of the white-coated and putting it the hands of the ordinary man. If all natural history was this much fun the world would be a better place.

This book was recommended to me by friend without the background in science that I have. So make no mistake. This book is for you!

 * I particularly loved his use of the simile. Here are some of my favourites:
"we were served by the bewhiskered porter, who had become the head waiter simply by donning tails and a celluloid dicky that creaked like a convention of crickets." 
"I had hoped to give an impression of gracious majesty, and this is what happens... we arrive in town like a troupe of medieval tumblers." (this one from his brother, Larry). 
"the three dogs hung out their tongues and panted like ancient, miniature railway engines."

Thursday, 11 October 2012

birds birds birds

At the moment we are house-sitting in a back street of Blaxland in the Blue Mountains.  The property does not back onto the bush but is beautifully but haphazardly gardened with portions of "bush" left un-tamed and un-landscaped.

We have seen so many birds!

Kookaburras, Magpies, Crimson Rosellas, Rainbow Lorikeets and Sulfur-Crested White Cockatoos are around in abundance.  But this is nothing special.  They're all a dime-a-dozen up here in the mountains.

The Wattle birds are a little more unusual and the King Parrots have been special.

The Satin Bowerbirds (male and female) have been a real treat and have the most curious song which I have never heard before.

And the Lyrebird!  I have seen these in the bush but to see one in a suburban back yard was delightful!  I have mentioned it to the neighbours and they all know these lyre birds (they are a pair) and can track their progress down the street, staying first in one person's yard and then another.  

But my greatest boast is finding the Satin Bowerbird's bower!  Can you believe it!  I wasn't even looking for it but heard the call of the bird as I was out walking one evening and ducked down to have a look inside a bush by the side of the road and there was the bower.  A large nest of sticks spread on the ground with the boughs of the bush forming a cozy and secluded little haven.   The next day is was complete with a blue peg!

Don't you think it quite astonishing that a Bowerbird should construct its little home on the ground right next to the road?  And that leads me to another curious point: I have not seen one cat in the neighbourhood what-so-ever.  I am convinced the two are related.