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.