Well, we’re home. For a six-day stretch I didn’t touch a computer once. Lauren and I regularly talk about moving to Australia (she’s lived there), so when we visit we always have our eyes and ears open. Here are some observations whose only unifying theme is a few summer days in Victoria, Australia.

Diminutives · Australians share with the Swiss a love of diminutives; for example, most obviously, “Aussie”. Tasmania is “Tassie”, driving directions are full of “righties” and “lefties”, mosquitoes are “mozzies”, beer bottles are “stubbies”, and so on. One time we were driving in the country and Sally said “lots of kangaroos around here” and I said it would be nice to see one in the wild; she replied “Probably not, but we might see a deadie.”

Flies · The flies are probably the single worst thing about the country. They look like ordinary Northern-Hemisphere houseflies; they don’t bite, but their only goal in life is to find a place on your body to sit and rest.

They are diabolically clever at noticing when you’re outside and doing something complicated, difficult, and irritating that requires the use of both hands; you’ll have a dozen landing on your face in no time.

Then there are the March Flies that bite, and Australia’s many other species of venomous spiders, snakes, and sea creatures; but it’s the flies that bug me the most.

Kookaburras · Everyone knows the old song Kookaburra sits on the old gum tree... (you can do it as a round); but they don’t sound to me like they’re laughing, they sound like Ornette Coleman. I’m serious; they sing incredibly-loud note clusters that hover around some sort of tonality, and then two or three of them will start doing it almost in rhythm, the notes falling over each other. Totally Free Jazz.

Cricket · One notable feature of this trip was the endless misery of the visiting English cricket team, which as of the time I left had lost all of its matches, whether in the Test, One-Day, or new Twenty/20 (fun!) format. It was brutal.

I suspect that for the future the Aussies have a lock on this sport; they have more beaches and every one of them, near as I can tell, has stumps on it and people, all ages and genders, flinging a ball about.

I and the boy got to play a little beach cricket with (for the first time) some real cricket players. Fun was definitely had and I got a couple of good whacks in.

In some beach cricket, the rule is that if you can catch a ball on one bounce with one hand, the batsman’s out. This gives an unfair advantage to baseball players like me, who don’t know any other way to catch.

Five Hundred · As in 500, the card game. It’s a grown-up version of euchre and now mostly only played down under. It has (for me, anyhow) just the right amount of tactical depth to allow for some serious head-scratching while still leaving mental space for drinking and talking. I wonder where I can get a game in Vancouver?

Weather · The weather in northern and central Australia is straight-ahead in-your-face brutally tropical. But in Victoria in the summer, it’s just... raving batshit looney. The skies range from dull grey to brilliant blue, the temperatures from 22°C to 38°C, sometimes within a couple of hours of each other, and the precipitation from none for months at a time to damaging downpours. What’s weird is that these variables all associate randomly. You can have a beautiful English-summer mid-twenties sunny morning followed by a sweltering rainy afternoon, then it’ll get chilly at night and you wake up frozen under your single sheet.

But as we left, it was raining across the city and much of the state, giving the firefighters their first help in weeks; maybe—who knows—the beginnings of a crack in years of drought.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Mark (Jan 22 2007, at 01:53)

As an ex-Canuck, turned Aussie (granted I left in 1986, age 9) I can say:

Flies: you get used to them.

Weather: I think Sydney is slightly less erratic than Melbourne, but I love that I can walk around comfortably in a tee shirt at night 8 months of the year and go surfing without too many shivers all year round. But if you love your snow stay in Vancouver.


From: Jenn (Jan 22 2007, at 04:20)

Frankly, the flies are the worst. You are so right about their inate sense to know when you can't wave them off. For me, it's when I'm playing golf and they somehow manage to start crawling on the inside of my glasses in the middle of a shot.

Otherwise, most of the poisonous stuff would rather not be around you. Let's just forget about the Brown Snake I almost stepped on last month.


From: Drew (Jan 22 2007, at 05:54)

My father-in-law is a big fan of 500 still and I've played it elsewhere here in MN. Not exactly Vancouver, but I think it still has some traction outside of Australia.


From: David Singer (Jan 22 2007, at 06:47)

I can't help you with finding a game of 500 in Vancouver, but when you come down to the valley, I'd be happy to play...haven't played since high school!

-- David


From: John Cowan (Jan 22 2007, at 08:36)

Extreme diminutives: "She said she'd had a hizzie in the hozzie."

Multiculturalism is all very well, but when it comes to flies, I and fellow residents of the Northeast (U.S. and Canadian alike) yield pride of place to nobody. On the island where I live, such critters are not a big problem, but go inland a bit in any direction and you encounter not only the mosquitoes ("a good many of them weigh a pound, and they sit on the leaves and bark when people go by", as the adage has it) but the infamous head-orbiting flies.

When a head-orbiting fly finds you, it flies round and round your head like a 1920s barnstormer, landing for just long enough to irritate you without letting you get in a proper Little Tailor blow. There are only two ways to dispose of the head-orbiting fly: complete immersion in water and coming up somewhere else, or (mysteriously) going indoors, whereat it loses interest in you.

Further north, of course, it is well said that the seasons are "Snow, Mud, and Flies, these three; but the worst of these is Flies." See also http://www.angelfire.com/on/abitibicanyon/blackfly.html .


From: roy (Jan 22 2007, at 11:22)

After reading your post on 500, which I'd never heard, I was reminded of a card game that I used to play called 400! Not much originality in the naming hehe, but it's trick-taking card game as well. Perhaps you've played it?



From: Sander (Jan 22 2007, at 11:29)

Heh, I read the blurb of this entry, and just *knew* the flies would feature. I spent a year in Australia, of which most in Victoria, and I still recall the flies as the most excruciatingly annoying part of it. (I think I hated them even more than the sandflies in New Zealand, and those _bite_ viciously.)

The one good thing is that they're really only out in force for about two months of the year - after that you'll see some, but they'll be several order of magnitude less annoying than during high summer.


From: Chris Jones (Jan 22 2007, at 12:03)

Fly populations vary wildly from locality to locality depending on weather/water/god knows. If you're not used to them, even one random fly will be annoying. The "Great Australian Salute" is that downward diagonal motion of a hand sweeping flies from a face. Melbourne inner city terrace house renovations currently feature a concertina glass door that opens up the entire back of the house to a patio: the joke being that the design doesn't lend itself to fly screens and none are provided. Definitely "form over function".

Victoria's Laughing Kookaburra is a treat, but up north, the Blue Winged Kookaburra has a wanna-be laugh that is frustrating in its strangulation. Just as you think it is about to launch into a full throaty chortle it seems to choke.

I'm finding San Francisco weather harder to predict than I ever did with Melbourne weather. There are more micro climates in SF and in the Valley.

Sydney has heavier downpours than Melbourne. Melbourne just has more days that have rain.


From: James Brunskill (Jan 22 2007, at 12:19)

Interesting thoughts about Australia, I'm not an Australian myself (I'm a close neighbor in New Zealand). But I find it fascinating what people pickup about my own culture and country when they visit. (Generally we are too caught up in it to notice.) Of course us 'Kiwis' see a lot of differences from the 'Aussies', but if you look closer we really are pretty similar :)

Feel free to pop in for a game of 500 if you ever come even further down under to NZ. My Friends and I have gone through 500 'stages' at times, I'm not sure that it is a particularly Australian thing, but maybe a phase that your social contacts are going through? But I could be wrong...

Currently the craze in NZ seems to be <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Settlers_of_Catan">Settlers of Catan</a>.


From: Chaz (Jan 22 2007, at 14:26)

As a temporary resident of Melbourne, I have developed some strong opinions about 'The World's Most Livable City' (and it's weather). How does it compare with Vancouver?


From: Matt Ryall (Jan 22 2007, at 15:54)

Australian band Crowded House wrote a great song about Melbourne's capricious weather (and relationships) called 'Four seasons in one day'. Feels very appropriate in the summer-time in that city, when sweltering heat changes within the hour to icy wind or drenching rain.


From: Tony Fisk (Jan 22 2007, at 18:22)

Five hundred is best played four handed. It must be almost totally unknown in Vancouver for Lauren not to have introduced you to it before now!

(Tip: *Never* play 'mazaire' with a joker!)

Melbourne and SF are at about the same latitude. In Melbourne, the weather comes to you (frequently) whereas in SF, you go to the weather.

Speaking of weather, comet McNaught finally became visible last night.


From: Andrew Phoenix (Jan 23 2007, at 06:43)

500 is a great game, but not often played as far as I can tell (I only play with my family). It's one of my favourite games to play because it's easier to pick up than bridge and involves significantly more skill than Euchre. Plus, the whole "mis&egrave;re" bid fascinates me, though I rarely seem to win them...

Have you played Solo Whist? It's another good 4 player card game. http://www.pagat.com/boston/solowhist.html


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