Friday, December 23, 2011

With friends like this who needs enemas?

This morning I was repairing my wind chimes, reattaching the chimes where the cheap cotton thread had worn away; my chimes were no longer chiming! I have two of them - there used to be three but number three had a fatal demise and was beyond repair. I'm contemplating a replacement, one of those huge big tuned wooden ones.

Thinking about big loud wooden chimes got me thinking about one of my friends, who I shall for blog purposes name Whingy. Whingy hates wind chimes. My mother has a nice one on her balcony, and when Whingy and her husband, Mr Whingy (known collectively as The Whingies) visited a couple of years ago the beautiful tinkling noise the chimes were making as the pleasant north east wind swirled and twirled them drove Whingy mad.

"I HATE wind chimes!" she grumbled. "I'm going to take down those chimes and throw them in the bin!"

Whingy, it is worth adding here, seems to suffer from Narcissistic Personality Disorder, she has many of the symptoms. Whereever she goes she expects people to bow to her wishes, a self-appointed Queen of Everything She Surveys.

Mum, whose mildness conceals an iron fist in a velvet glove, said politely, "I like my wind chimes." There was the steady gaze that said, "This is MY house and you are NOT touching my wind chimes."

Whingy continued to grumble about the wind chimes all evening and I was glad when the wind dropped. Mr Whingy said nothing. Sometimes he has sense. Other times he backs her up.

Whingy, you see, has delicate hearing, attuned only to notes that are in tune. She has studied classical piano at a conservatorium. She KNOWS. She loves Music. The slightest bum note can send her into orbit, and our wind chimes sound just great to me, but I'm a bit tone deaf.

This delicate hearing extends beyond music. When the Whingies moved into their house nearly twenty years ago their next door neighbour had an aviary. The neighbour was an older man with his adult son living with him, along with about twenty birds, two of which were big white cockatoos.

I love cockies. I love their character, their screeches, the way their sulphur-coloured crests rise cheekily. These two cockies were of the cheerful, chatty, screechy variety, happy to yell at passing birds or wolf-whistle when the old man came out of the back door.

Whingy, naturally, hated them. She hated them so much, and wrote so many nasty letters to her neighbour, that he ended up getting rid of the cockies and finding them new owners.

Whingy was jubilant. I was disgusted. The poor bloody neighbours had had the birds for years before Madam moved next door.

That was the first of their neighbour issues. The old man moved into a home and the aviary was gone in its entirety, to be replaced by a family with small and noisy children. Then the neighbours next door to that changed and there was a kid who used to bounce a basketball (deliberately loudly I'm sure) on concrete outside the Whingies' living room. Five houses back onto one side of the Whingies' property, and they have had issues with nearly all the neighbours over the years, predominantly about noise. Kids jumping, shrieking, into swimming pools on a summer's day has annoyed them to the point where The Whingies would shout swear words at the top of their lungs, knowing the parents would hear and bring the kids inside away from the rude neighbours. Most of their neighbours have received a solicitor's letter about some misdemeanour or other.

The latest escapade is a shocker.

Last week one of her neighbours - new ones who are only now discovering what it's like to live next door to her - threw an afternoon BBQ for some mates. They have a small backyard and the grown up men starting playing ball games. A couple of tennis balls flew into Whingy's garden. Then - and she probably guessed it was coming - a soccer ball thumped over the fence. By now she was foaming at the mouth because the neighbours were making NOISE.

She stabbed the soccer ball with a knitting needle and gleefully watched it deflate.

A short time later the gate intercom rang and two burly blokes were waiting at the gate, presumably to get the ball back. She ignored the buzzer and, lo! two minutes later they'd climbed over the fence on the other side of her property and were wandering up the drive in search of the ball. She read them the riot act and told them they were trespassing; they said she should have at least acknowledged their buzzer if she was home or handed the ball back herself.

Later that night the new neighbour rang the intercom. A heated conversation between the Whingies and the new neighbour ensued. Turns out the soccer ball was brand new and cost $90. Whingy screamed on about trespassing and got mad at Mr Whingy because he was being wimpy and not standing up for her enough. "Can't we talk nicely about this?" pleaded the new neighbour. No, apparently not.

Now they have their pet solicitor - a good friend - writing a nasty letter to the new neighbours about trespass. Jeez!

A couple of years ago the house on the other side of theirs was up for sale and the Whingies urged us to try and buy it, principally so it wouldn't go to 'nasty' neighbours. We said, with sad faces, that there was no way we could afford it. What we were really thinking, apart from being financially downmarket, was the hell we'd go through with our choice of music trickling through open windows, our dog barking at birds or people knocking on the door, throwing a party and having to invite them or they'd be pissed off... and of course our selection of wind chimes.

I wonder if those big wooden ones will be cheaper in the Boxing Day sales? Heh heh heh.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Painting the new year in. I hope.

What a looong year it has been - but how quickly it has gone by! Looong in the sense that we haven't really taken any holidays this year. We have had a long weekend in Adelaide, all of three days, and another in Melbourne almost a year ago. Aside from that our fingers have been glued to the computer keyboards, but now we both have a break coming up.

This Christmas I'm determined to start drawing and painting again. You know, the stuff you do by hand, where you get pastel dust on everything and the dining table becomes a makeshift studio. I have been drawing on my iPad a lot this year and while it's been fun it also makes me lazy. If I make a mistake I can erase it, or undo it. Putting pen to paper (or pastel or paint to paper) is more unforgiving.

I stopped at my favourite art supply shop last week and as usual succumbed to a technique book, this one on drawing successful drapery, something I haven't mastered as well as I'd like.

Six years ago I was painting daily. I was invigorated, up sometimes until midnight during the week, when all was quiet and I the only one awake. I was very prolific, and these are some of my favourite images from that time.
This is the one I'm most proud of. It won a Highly Commended at an art show. I called it Carry On Up The Vineyards.

This is me in 'realistic' mode - Gladesville Bridge at sunset. I cheated and painted from one of my own photos. It really was that colour. Deep sunset pinks and peaches.

Probably the first image I painted when I decided to try out pastels. My style is funky/modern usually. This is a whimsical image of the cat I had in my life then, Hamish MacFlea.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Coaly panties and freed willy

Reconnecting recently with an old friend whom I've known since we were both in primary school has brought some childhood memories flooding back. I hated school - but I hated high school more than primary. Teenage girls can be bitches; in primary school the teasing or bullying wasn't so nasty (apart from one of the teachers!).

I had been sent to kindergarten with the firm instruction to Do What I Was Told. Being an only child and not having gone to pre-school, I was a bit under-socialised with other kids apart from the neighbours' kids and my older cousins. Mum feared I might get a bit stroppy with the teachers too I think.

I took this directive very seriously.

So seriously in fact that when a little monster called Mark told me to put coal in my underpants one lunchtime, I did.

Mark was the sort of kid who'd play Fathers and Mothers and try to do the deed. Like many small boys he was intrigued in the differences between boys and girls. I suspect he took me to the coal heap and watched my pull down my panties and load them with coal to see if he could get a glimpse of what they'd been covering up. The coal heap was behind two of the buildings, out of sight; I'm not sure what the coal was used for but there was plenty of it, black and shiny and sharp.

Back in class Mrs B noticed me wriggling awkwardly on my seat and may have even heard crunchy noises. You can imagine her thought: If this kid has crapped in her pants what the hell has she been eating?

She drew me aside and asked a few questions. I don't know how she kept a straight face when I told her that Mark had made me put coal in my panties. I bet she roared with laughter once we kids had gone home and probably had hysterical giggling fits with her husband that night.

I don't remember what punishment Mark got, but I know Mrs B told my Mum what had happened when she came to collect me that afternoon.  Mum then revised her instructions, realising I had taken them very literally: Do What The Teachers Tell You To Do, Not What Anyone Else Tells You.

It was some time later - that year? the year after? - when Mark bailed me up outside the loos, a stinky little block for the kids up to age 8. It was never really clean as little kids peed on the floor or missed the bowl completely, and I sometimes used to hang on all day rather than go in there to pee.

Mark proudly unzipped his fly and showed me his willy. I had never seen one before. I didn't gasp with horror or shock, or show amazement or delight. I didn't give him any reaction he wanted. I laughed. I know now with hindsight he'd been circumcised, but his willy looked for all the world like a pencil with an rubber (eraser) on top, one of those rubbers that were popular at the time, little pyramids with a round top. It was even much the same colour. His willy was a pencil with a rubber. I pointed and laughed.

These days I would probably have received counselling had I told anyone, and Mark would have been monitored for signs of sexualisation and therefore perhaps sexual abuse. His parents would have received A Visit From The Authorities.

Instead Mark crossly zipped himself up and didn't, that I recall, speak to me again unless the teacher made us work together. He did yell taunts at me a couple of years later when I started riding my bicycle to school and made fun of me and my purple bike. He made it a point to yell rude comments along the 'Fatso!" lines and jeer at the colour of my bike. I did, I think, try to ride at him once and run him over (as you do when you're 8) but he ran too fast and made more fun of me when I couldn't catch him.

I doubt I was the only girl he tried to expose himself to; most of the girls steered clear of him on reflection.

After I left to go to high school I didn't see him again, except once. I would have been about twenty or so and chatting with a girlfriend beside my car, Herbie. A couple of young guys clattered past in another old VW, this one hand-painted, clumsily, red. "I see red, I see red, I see red!" one of them sang out the window at me - it was a hit by Split Enz at the time.  "Ugly car! Paint it red!" he continued. They drove back and forth a couple of times before dak-dakking into the distance, shouting at me about painting my car red and I looked at my friend Sarah, who seemed to know them.

"Who was THAT?"

"Mark W -, I think," she replied.

It made sense. I don't know if he recognised me or was still, frankly, the kid who made girls put coals in their panties and anyone was fair game.

What's he doing these days? No idea, but I suspect his destiny was to be a merchant banker.

Rhyming slang, folks, rhyming slang.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

I grump therefore I am

Is it ridiculous to be unexplainably grumpy? And a bit blue as well? For no reason? The sun has come out after a cloudy day, and I know there are people in this world let alone my own world who have good reasons to be grumpy and blue. I have my health, a roof over my head, food on the table and an income, sporadic as it may be. There should be no cause for the way I've felt today. I should be counting my blessings, which are manifold.

Human nature is such that we, of course, are the centre of our own universe, and we are, after all, animals. Self-centred grumpiness is pure animal behaviour.  Neither of my cats would contemplate the greater world if they were in a bad mood. They'd probably narrow their eyes and grumble at me. They wouldn't consider poor little starving cats hanging around the docks in Piraeus Harbour or the cats facing death row at the RSPCA, for example, to bring their own minor or non-existent problems into perspective.

Part of today's grumpiness has been software-induced, fighting with a misbehaving menu in WordPress that won't do what I ask it no matter what. I found myself shouting at the computer (don't we all?) and before I embarked on some self-harm (a good hard bite of my own wrist eases my bouts of anger, I'm ashamed to say, and has done since I was a toddler) I emailed the theme developer instead. Another client had some major changes to a site under development, so that put my plans for the morning on the back burner while I sorted out those issues.

Part too has been the grey skies. I find as the years go on I feel happier on sunny days. When I was younger it didn't matter. Today started out gloriously sunny but as the clouds covered the sky during the course of the morning they covered my psyche as well.

I gave up on work at five and took the dog for a walk in the fresh air, with the chilly north-easter blowing in our faces. I think a lot of my grumpiness today is lack of exercise. I woke blearily at six this morning, thought I'd close my eyes for a moment and suddenly it was 7.30, too late to head out walking really as the email and phone pestering usually starts around 8.30. This time of year, coming on summer, I have broken sleep too; waking hot one moment, throwing off a blanket and then waking up cold an hour later.

A migraine has been slowly building all day which doesn't help; whether it was induced by grumpiness/blueness/anger or whether it's the cause of same I'm not sure.

At least I have one thing I have accomplished today - all the Christmas cards and interstate/overseas presents are now in the hands of Australia Post.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Bah Humbuggery of Christmas - in image form

I can't resist using 'humbuggery' as a word. There's something very satisfying about 'bugger' as a curse; it can be plosive and very expressive, more so I think than the conventional four-letter words we hear most often.

When I was a child language in our house was very proper. There was no swearing, or very little. If something really upset my Mum, she'd exclaim "Buggery!" and that was the worst she'd utter. It had to be something worth swearing over, such as if she hit her finger with a hammer (with Dad long gone from our lives Mum took on the role of household maintainer and carpenter).

But I digress.

This post is a short one, and it's about the Christmas card I drew yesterday for a friend of mine who has a black Persian cat, and is currently quite unwell. She won't want a cheerful "Merry Christmas!" emblazoned across her card as this year won't be merry for her. She can't even enjoy her customary glass of bubbly on Christmas Day. The odds are she will recover well next year, but in the meantime, I think this will make her smile:

My four wheeled history - a retrospective

I've talked about my old bikes in earlier posts and these days I have two bikes, a new loop frame Pashley and a vintage Raleigh. While I use bikes for local transportation, for exercise and for the simple bloody pleasure of cycling, I'm also a sucker for four-wheeled transport. Cycling purists and advocates probably can't understand me. I have a foot firmly planted on both a bike pedal and an accelerator. Given my work locations and commitment, and my clients, not to mention visiting my elderly Mum, a car is a necessity in my life.

In late October I got a new second-hand car, my first 'new' car in 16 years. She's small, economical and exciting, and you'll meet her soon. But first, a travel through time and bad 80s hair.

This is Herbie, my first car. My Mum received him as a Christmas present in 1963, when he was brand new. I took him over on his 21st birthday in 1984. I learned to drive on Herbie, as well as on a 6 cylinder automatic Ford Falcon - two more different cars you couldn't imagine. Herbie is still going strong. I sold him to a mate ten years ago as he had a lot of rust and I couldn't afford to get it fixed. My plumber friend, a whiz with oxy-acetelene, virtually rebuilt the little chap and he looks lovely these days. As nice as new. 

The Ford years. 1980 to 1989. The Ford on the left is the one I learned on. At that stage I had a horse and trailer, and needed a big car to pull the trailer. I could go into a long story here about divorced parents and a guilty Dad sending a cheque for birthdays and Christmas. The short story is that I saved up those cheques to buy the car and trailer when I was old enough to have a licence. So that's the white Ford. In 1982 I got a job at a Ford dealership and when the pretty silver one on the right was traded in, I nabbed it. It was swish: a Fairmont Ghia with all the bells and whistles you'd expect in a 1984 car. I sold the white Ford to my uncle, who had it for years then sold it to his stepson. I think it's long gone to the car graveyard now.
This is my fave pic of the Fairmont, taken at Palm Beach. By then I was dating a rev head, a Ford fanatic who had convinced me to lower the car and fit extractors. It went very well after that, shall we say. 
Once I'd stopped taking my horses to shows - I had two horses over the years, and sold my ex-racehorse on to someone who could handle him better than I, but that's another blog post - I had no need of a thirsty big car or the trailer. I sold the trailer and traded the car on a second-hand yuppie delight, a car described by Wheels magazine as 'the executive rocket': a 1983 BMW 323i coupe. With, as you can see, sunroof. I was also tired of automatic transmission cars as I much prefer manual, and the Bimmer was a 5 speed as all my cars have been from then on. At this point in time - late 1989 -  I was still dating the rev head and also doing OK in the corporate world. I convinced myself I could afford the car. Buying it wasn't too much of a problem, but it had some mechanical issues as time went on. For example, the driver's seat. The previous owner must have been a biiiiiig man - the driver's seat was buggered from, presumably, a fat arse plonking itself heavily onto it for the first six years of its life before I bought it. Within a year I had to drive with two bricks under it to hold it up and finally relented and bought a new one. Not cheap. I had the Bimmer for eight gloriously fun years until the engine blew up. 

I have fun memories of fast country drives and my friend Phil standing up in the passenger seat one Chinese New Year, sticking up through the sunroof and shouting Gung Hei Fat Choy at startled motorists and passers-by on Burns Bay Road. Happy days!
Looking down the barrel of maintaining an ageing Bimmer and its increasingly expensive parts made me think it was time to buy something new from the showroom floor which would give me several years of relatively cheap trouble-free motoring. Bimmer never went terribly well after the necessary engine rebuild, so while I was still in corporate land and earning okay money I bought Gisela the Golf in 1996. She was the 'poverty pack', the base model and all I could realistically afford as I didn't want to go through finance (I got a bank loan for some, and borrowed from the Ford-owning uncle for some more). I DID miss the sunroof!  I was going to put one in Gisela but, trying to save to buy a house, never got around to it.

Gisela wasn't as fast as the Bimmer, she didn't handle as well and even though she was more economical the particular type of fuel injection she was fitted with was prone to throwing out stinky unburnt fuel. My first love was a VW though and I'd hankered on and off for a Golf since they came to Australia in 1976.  So 1996 to 2011 were the Golf years. I did many country trips in her: monthly trips to Canberra for work for four years, up to Mudgee at least half a dozen times and down the south coast of NSW an equal number or more. Gissy's air-conditioning broke five years ago - the compressor failed - and now I was earning much less than the corporate days, I couldn't afford to fix it. I boiled in summer, especially in peak hour driving when I couldn't go fast enough to get a decent breeze through the windows. Other pricey parts of her anatomy were starting to show their age, too.

Enter the Mid Life Crisis car. Meet Minerva. My husband has recently landed a fulltime job with decent money (glad one of us is earning a proper salary!) and insisted that I replace Gisela with something newer and more reliable. I tossed up between another Golf (cheapish to maintain) or a new MINI (not so cheap to maintain as they are built by BMW but hell, they are just gorgeous!). I test drove this five year old MINI and within five minutes it felt like I was driving my old Bimmer again, with so much nippiness under my foot and handling that was dead flat around tight bends. Not to mention the huge sunroof. I was in love. We did the sums and I have bought Minerva in my business name on hire purchase with affordable monthly payments. The tax breaks are superb. She is also very economical and much kinder on the environment than Gisela. 

Amusingly, all my transport now is British-made: the Pashley, the Raleigh and now the MINI. All beautifully designed, too, and each fulfils its need for a mix of transport and pleasure. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Bah Humbuggery of Christmas

I have a friend who carries misery in her handbag. She doles some out to people who are happier than she, so woe betide you if you have good news to tell her and she's in a crabby mood. Best to shut your mouth. Being childless - and not for want of trying - she's never a Christmassy person at the best of times.

Every other year, if they are not doing something more interesting, my friend and her husband come to our place - well, my Mum's actually - for Christmas lunch. They invite themselves most years, or make it so that it seems rude NOT to invite them. They even comment on what they'd like to have for lunch and one year demanded prior to the day cranberry sauce to go with the turkey - the bread sauce and gravy we had planned were apparently not enough. They came last year and we had seafood, which luckily delighted everyone.

This year they have family visiting them from interstate, so it - happy sigh - will be a quiet and very relaxed Christmas lunch with just my Mum and my husband.

But like most recent years I'm having a hard time summoning up the goodwill-to-all-men-and-women, deck the halls with boughs of holly spirit. This is because the shopping centres start putting up Christmas decorations in October and playing carols on the loudspeakers from November. By December, I've stopped noticing or caring. In fact I'm usually cursing the trees the local shopping centre puts up smack bang in the middle of the walkways, as I have to duck and weave around them to get past the morbidly obese people waddling along two abreast pushing trolleys laden with junk food.

At the risk of sounding like my Mum or Nan, back in my day when I was a kid Christmas started a whole lot later. I don't remember seeing much in the way of public decoration until December, and frankly, I'd love to see a return to that. We never put up our tree and other decorations in our house until early to mid-December. In my childhood putting up and decorating the tree was almost as exciting as Christmas Day itself and call me a sentimental sook but it still feels a bit magical - and very nostalgic - doing the tree even now. Even though we don't have kids the cats and the dog make Christmas fun. The cats particularly like to knock the balls off and bat them around the room, and the dog helps us open presents with her teeth.

The need to grab the retail dollar nice and early in the Christmas shopping spree has a knock on effect with families. Another friend of mine, Sue, has a daughter who is nine years old but has a mental age of five. This kid is mad about Christmas. She's been talking about Christmas and Santa Claus since the beginning of October. She's been making cards, invitations to non-existent Christmas parties, learning Christmas carols albeit with the wrong lyrics and generally driving her parents nuts. I bet this isn't the only family wishing the shopping centres would stick their Christmas trees where the sun don't shine.

Every year I take Sue and her two daughters to church on Christmas Eve. Her husband won't drive her and she can't drive. He's not interested in the church service. I'm agnostic but hey, if I want to get into the Christmas spirit - and by then, Bah! Humbug! is on the tip of my tongue - the carol service makes me sit back and think about what Christmas is all about as a celebration. Not that Jesus was born on 25 December, but the Christians decided that taking over the midwinter pagan celebrations seemed like a good idea to pull the crowds - and hey, it worked! It's a feel good atmosphere and the nine-year-old adores it, even though she doesn't grasp the Jesus aspect and thinks Christmas is simply about Santa.

From being a religious celebration, Christmas has become a retail free for all, with families putting themselves into debt for the next few months or beyond to buy their kids stuff they can't afford and with which the kids will probably be bored by New Year's Day. The number of catalogues we pull out of our letterbox has trebled in the last few weeks, with electronic gadgets, toys and other expensive goodies being pushed at us. Buy, buy, buy! If all those spendaholics bought their kids one less present and instead gave the amount they'd spend on it to charity to help people who literally have nothing, they'd be making someone's Christmas very merry indeed.

I'm giving some money this year to a local charity, Christian Community Aid, who help people in the Ryde area: refugees who don't have furniture or food, struggling families. CCA gives out food parcels at Christmas to these folk, and if I can help one struggling family have a good Christmas Day, I won't feel so Bah! Humbug! about the overdecorated shopping centres, the tinsel in my face everywhere I go, the awful rock renditions of traditional carols. It's not that I'm rolling in money, far from it, but my family will be enjoying a seafood lunch this Christmas Day, so if we can afford that we can afford to help others.

Until then, it's Bah Humbuggery!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Contemplating the Yarts

A weekend in Canberra in early summer - crisp nights, bright sunny smogless days. Lovely! Despite Canberra having a reputation as a soulless place a town is really the people you know in it, and we have good friends there which makes Canberra for us an enjoyable and interesting place to visit. We stayed with one of them on Saturday night, as we'd been promising to catch up with he and his wife for ages.

It's been a bit of an arty week for us - Picasso on Wednesday, and on Saturday we visited the Canberra Glassworks and watched glassblowers making - or in one case breaking - glass ornaments and paperweights. I hadn't been to the Glassworks before; it's in Kingston, next to the markets, another favourite haunt of mine when I'm in town at the weekends.

Sunday morning we all looked at each other: what to do, what to do?  We hadn't brought decent walking/hiking shoes with us so a march up the hill behind our friend James' house wasn't in order. It's apparently quite a nice bush walk but our shoes weren't made for scrambling over rocks.

The boys muttered something about the War Memorial but given they have both had time serving their countries it's the kind of place they'll spend hours at, talking at length about each item. (My husband spent 3 years as in the Territorial Army in the UK and you'd think it was a lifetime's service. He bangs on about it like Gavin in the UK sitcom The Office. James spent almost 30 years in the RAN and Royal Navy and cynical doesn't begin to describe him.) I visited the War Memorial with t'Other Half last year and enjoyed it, as it does have some fantastic and heartbreaking exhibits, but that two hours was enough to last me for, oh, five years, say.

We all decided finally on the National Gallery. We hadn't been there since March last year and I always enjoy the ground floor, with its paintings that range from impressionist through fauvism to post-impressionist, pop art and modern. It's free, too.

But I hadn't really truly factored in James. James is great, but he's very opinionated, and a lot of those opinions are negative, or at least negative balanced by what he'd do to set the ACT/Australia/The World to rights.

James and Modern Art don't mix.

I began to see it was a mistake once we'd wandered through the fauves and found our way to postimpressionist. There were Picasso and Braque drawings side by side, from their cubism phases. "This is shit," James declared quietly, and moved on.
Nexus II by Morris Louis, painted in 1959. According to the NGA,  "'Nexus' means connection or link. The painting, made in 1959, marks the transition between two series of important paintings by Morris Louis, who created a new style of Abstract Expressionism in the last five years of his short life". According to James, 'shit'. You decide.

"This is shit," was applied by James to almost every painting after that. His response to Blue Poles was unprintable.

But I had to agree with him on some of it. We all pondered, whilst looking at a diptych of two huge white canvases with nothing on them except a carefully painted narrow black and green border around the edges, who was being taken for a ride. The canvases were titled "Untitled" by Jo Baer. Apparently it is a classic example of 1960s minimalist art. The Government had kindly purchased this work on the taxpayers' behalf, undoubtedly guided by a very expert critic.

The art world is full of bluff, fluff and wankerism. Who decides that a blank canvas with a thin border is art? Expensive art, more to the point. Are we all being conned?

To view the diptych we had to carefully avoid treading on an installation on the floor. A 2 metre by 2 metre white painted board with a dollop of brown foam on top. It looked like something my dog Rosie would shit out if I feed her something a bit too rich for her digestion. Unsurprisingly it too was 'untitled'.

I'm guessing there are people who know a lot more about art than I do who will rave about the Gallery's acquisition of these pieces and explain why they are so important in the world of The Yarts. I'd like to meet them so they can enlighten me and I too can gasp in delight and nod knowingly, and look sadly on people like James who call these works shit. But could it be a case of The Emperor's New Clothes?

We had a moment of levity with Yoko Ono's arse though. Or arses. There's a massive - and I do mean massive - image by Yoko which consists of photos of somebody's bare bum repeated over and over. It's called Bottoms. My husband peered a bit too closely at it trying to ascertain if it was the same arse repeated or a number of arses in the same pose, and his face, close to the arses, triggered the alarm.

He apologised to the nearby guard, and I came out with one of those one-liners you always long for just at the right time. 'Come away from there, it's not scratch and sniff!'

His roar of laughter must have echoed into the next three galleries.

After that we went upstairs, James was soothed by more traditional stuff and I was still pondering who would find real appreciation in the white canvases and the dog shit in one hundred year's time. I guess the public pondered the same about Van Gogh, Picasso, Klimt and Matisse when they first started showing their work and experimenting. Those outside the world of art and artists, the conventional people like my grandparents or great grandparents would have shaken their heads and muttered, 'Ooh, give me a nice Rembrandt any day. Nobody's going to appreciate YOUR work.'

Oh heck. I'm starting to sound like James!

Friday, December 2, 2011

You've got mail - oh wait, it's only newsletters

I’ve had the same email address since I started my business in 2001, and over the years I’ve signed up for this or that newsletter. I used to get excited when they’d pop into the inbox – interesting stuff to read or click on, useful information and tips.

Last week I realised that newsletters, be they daily, weekly or monthly, seem to make up more than 50% of the email I receive on a typical morning. I had got to the point where I selected them in bulk every morning and sent them to the trash can without even reading them. No excitement – just annoyance at turning the Mac on and seeing it load 48 new messages that had come in overnight, with half of them being from people trying to flog me stuff via their newsletters.

Really, it was giving me the most horrible start to the working day, knowing there were nearly 50 messages every morning, each one nagging “Read me, read ME!”. Some of them are work-related and client stuff and therefore a valid pull on my time and brainpower. The rest – heaven only knows why I subscribed in the first place and in some cases I doubt that I ever pushed the big red button, people had simply found me.

It was time to take action. Instead of simply trashing all of them I reviewed each one by one and opened the ones I never read even when I have the time and went through the unsubscribe process.

It’s going to take a few weeks to get the newsletter load down to those I may actually have time to read, as different newsletters come in on different cycles. But taking the time to unsub from some of them has felt like a little load shifting gently off my shoulders.

What about you? Are you suffering from a Read ME! overload as well?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Sneaking a day with Picasso

When I told my Mum I was taking a day off and heading to the Picasso exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW, she was less than impressed.

"Don't like Picasso. Those weird paintings he did ... he must have been on drugs."

Mum is 86. She has led a very conservative life and her taste in art runs to the chocolate box and/or realism. She likes landscapes to look like landscapes, people to look like people. The Impressionists are about as avant-garde as her tastes go. She enjoyed the Renoir exhibition we went to years ago, but doesn't share my love for Matisse or Van Gogh. Picasso - well, she wouldn't waste her money.

My husband and I spent rather than wasted ours yesterday on ten rooms full of paintings and sculptures that covered Picasso's life from around 1905 to 1972, and loved it.

While Mum might snort that Picasso's work was weird scribbles, the guy was a fantastic draughtsman. He could draw beautifully, and if he chose to paint cubist men with guitars, or women with eyes in strange places (Mum's ultimate detestation of his work), he did it because he knew what he wanted to achieve and set about achieving it.

This post isn't going to be a critique of Picasso's work; I'm no art critic or expert. But I'd like to share some paintings that I loved.

Firstly, The Bathers, painted in 1918. Annoyingly the postcards you can buy at the gallery don't do the depth of colour in this painting justice; reproduced, the colours are muted. The purple bathing suit on the right in real life is a knockout magenta. The entire painting is full of jewel-like colours and very delicate detail. It's only small, 27x22cm. You can see every eyelash on the woman on the left. If the figures are captured in oddly distorted poses, so what? There's movement and grace and colour and an timelessness about this for me. 

The Reader, painted in 1932. Sort of reminds me of me, sat there with a book on her lap :-). A friend refers to me in her blog as The Reader, so I couldn't resist popping this image in. I do genuinely like it in its own right, too. Again in real life the colours are more bolshy. The lilac skin of the Reader is much brighter, the green on the chair greener. Could I live with this in my house? Oh yes. Yes. The subject of this portrait is Marie-Therese Walter, a young woman with whom Picasso was having a clandestine affair.

Large still-life on a pedestal table was painted in 1931 and is so vibrant in the flesh, so to speak, you just want to gaze and gaze at it. If the colours are similar to that of The Reader - that superb lilac which I just love jumps out from both paintings, linking them - it's because Picasso used this as a "disguised portrait" of Marie-Therese Walter. Again, that clandestine stuff. 

This is Two Women running on the beach (the race), painted in 1922.  Another small jewel of a painting, 35x41cm, with knockout colours, lovely forms and a timelessness about it. That head thrown back on the woman on the left is a very similar pose to that in The Bathers, and again the detail in her face is just beautiful.  I love the contrast between the delicate brushwork on the woman's face, the little cross-hatching on both bodies, and the lack of detail in the sky and rocks, as if this is a photo and the running women are captured at 1/1000 of a second with the rest all a bit of a blur. 

Lastly, A Portrait of Dora Maar. Picasso's mistress in the 1930s. This one's all hard angles and pointy shapes - I wonder what that says about their relationship? 

So that was my day - a sense of freedom, of escaping from clients, computers and phones for a day; an uplifting visit to see some fabulous paintings and being inspired by such a creative mind. 

I told my Mum it was fantastic. She still doesn't believe me.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Of dancing dads and conga line accidents

Right. Shoes sorted. Six pairs in good condition off to charity. Replaced by two new pairs in different colours with plenty of straps to stop my feet sliding and rubbing.

But that's not the point of this post. Last Friday I went to my honorary nephew's wedding, a very happy occasion despite rainy weather. It was a garden wedding, and the bride, who looked stunning, insisted on holding the ceremony outside. So we all stood under umbrellas while vows were made and bridesmaids' curls drooped by the minute.

Back inside, a big dance floor invited our attention, and once the DJ had played a couple of songs we didn't know, we heard one or two we did so I dragged my husband onto the dance floor. I love dancing. I'm not fantastic at it, I'd never get a part in Glee, but I think I move around pretty well for an amateur. I don't just stand and shuffle.

My husband, however, does the Dad Dance.

A few years ago I remember reading in a magazine or newspaper colour supplement that once men have sired children they lose some of their ability, in some way, to dance. It's all to do with nature providing males with peacockish tendencies to attract a mate; once the mate has been snared there's no need to put on such a display. Dads dance differently to men who haven't fathered children. Unless they are professional dancers.

Which explains why my husband shuffles, chuffing his arms back and forth, in more or less the same spot. Add a goofy smile and sometimes I have to bite my lips to stop myself from laughing. It's a genuine Dad Dance. The kind of dance my girlfriends and I used to giggle cruelly at when we were in our 20s watching older guys take to the dance floor at weddings or discos.

He's not much chop on the jive or waltz either, but he's my bloke, and at least he gets up and dances with me, unlike some of the other guys at the wedding.

But he's unfit, and I was in the mood to party, so I joined the inevitable conga line while he sat gasping for breath and downing a beer, and that's when things went pear shaped.

The video cameraman was standing at the side of the dance floor - well, actually ON the dance floor, and I was so busy looking ahead and trying to keep in step that I didn't notice him, and tripped on his size tens.

Down I went - thump! - on my knees on the sprung wooden dance floor. Through my dress and tights I managed to take the skin off one knee. Thankfully, that was all it was; like my mum, I 'bounce' and long may it remain so. I picked myself up straight away and boldly rejoined the conga, pretending nothing had happened. I left the conga after a discreet minute and walked carefully back to our table. Ouch!

Fifteen minutes later I had dragged my husband up again as it was a Beatles song, and hey, you gotta dance to the Beatles. Then we had Nutbush City Limits... and....

It wasn't until we got home after midnight and I took a shower that I saw I'd taken a 20 cent coin-sized piece of skin from my left knee, something I hadn't done since primary school. (How to feel young, ladies - skin your knee like a schoolgirl!)

It's still a bit sore and stiff even now but at least it's healing OK. And I have the dubious pleasure of providing a good wedding anecdote on Facebook for my nephew and his lovely bride.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The hell of heels - my summer shoe inventory

I hate my shoes. I have too many of them. I have just done the annual task of sorting out the summer ones and putting the winter ones away and like a coward didn't find any summer ones I could pass on to charity or even just bin - or winter ones come to that.

I'm a hoarder. And I even hoard shoes I don't like or which are uncomfortable because:

  • One day I might wear that pair of brown Bally loafers I bought in 1999, even though they are a little bit tight. They were expensive. 
  • If I throw out that pair of black flat sandals because they hurt my feet, I need to replace them with something similar that doesn't hurt, and finding such a pair in my price bracket will be a challenge
  • Those lime green slide heels with the fake flowers on top kill me, I can't walk in them at all, but hell they are pretty! 
  • Those purple pumps, similar to these, can only be worn if I'm sitting most of the time. I wore them to a Melbourne Cup function and couldn't believe my feet could be in so much pain.

You get the gist. I have now sorted into pairs on my wardrobe floor probably thirty pairs of shoes, knowing that throughout this summer I won't wear most of them, or only wear them once or twice.

And I lust for more. I want a pair of platform sandals which can replace about three pairs of shoes I hate, and a decent, and comfortable, and trendy pair of flat sandals with lots of straps on them which can replace another three.

The trouble is most shoes hurt me. Slides rub back and forth and make the balls of my feet feel like they are on fire. Same with pumps; it's the ball of my foot that screams for mercy.

Pumps or any closed shoes tend to rub the back of my heels/ankle when they are new, too; even a pair of ballet flats from Ziera - supposedly made for comfort -  I bought last month left me with ragged peels of skin and a bloody heel for a week or two.  Thankfully my ballet flats from Bloch fit like a soft glove.

The only pair of heels I have that I can wear for hours are lilac ones by Milana, which I reserve for special occasions as I don't want to wear them to death; they have to last me as Milana no longer makes that style. It means all my evening and posh clothes have to have a purple tinge to them but that's fine by me :-).

If I'm planning a day in town where we're walking around a lot, and catching public transport, and on our feet for six hours, I have to plan my outfit from the ground up. I refuse to wear my trainers for a day in town although they are the most comfortable shoes I own. It looks daggy. Or touristy. Middle aged, especially with a skirt. So I have to select a pair of shoes that won't rub the balls of my feet or give me horrific blisters on the back of my heels.

That leaves me with the choice of ballet flats or FitFlops. In winter, it's flat boots, a no brainer. I love my winter boots. It's the summer shoes that give me grief.

You can only get away with flat shoes and a skirt if you're tall and thin. Think Audrey Hepburn. The rest of us have to struggle to make our calves look a little less like a leg of lamb.

The nature of my work means most of the time I work from home, so my feet have got used to flat shoes and boots most of the time, and in summer none at all or the fab FitFlops. For business meetings, and I have two or three a week, I have to shoehorn myself into something that looks a little bit corporate otherwise I look like a public servant (sorry to any public servants reading this... if anyone reads this at all... but gee some of you dress like you don't care what you look like). Even walking from the car to my main client's office I can get that burning sensation in the ball of my foot with the wrong shoes. So annoying!

Having spent half an hour looking despairingly at my shoe collection - why do I have six pairs of black sandals in various if not similar heel heights? Why?  -  I've now made the decision to find a pair of platforms which will be as comfortable as is possible on me, and the strappy this-year flat sandals, and to chuck at least six pairs, no matter how much they cost in the first place.

Any other people suffering a similar shoe dilemma out there?

And do you feel guilty for having too many shoes when there are so many people who don't have any?

Three hacks later...

It's not just my client sites that have gone berserk this month. A hacker infiltrated my own website and set it up to be a phishing site, sending out thousands of emails to encourage people to click on a fake bank site and key in their username and password.

This was on the 7th. I found out about it when my ISP shut my site down. I changed passwords, deleted what I thought were all the hacker files and thought all would be well.

It happened again on the 10th. I found more files in a different location, got rid of them and got my site reinstated after being closed twice in a week.

Yesterday I got a grumblegram from a major bank asking me to close my site as it was still sending out spam. Once again I delved into the deep recesses of FTP and found the latest, third batch of phishing files as well as, cunningly hidden several folders deep, the nasty little login form Mr Hacker had lodged in my site on the 7th. I copied them all to my hard drive and sent them to the bank at the bank's request in case their IT people could track the bastard down. Now all hacker files are off my server and my password is 23 characters long. I hope that's *it* for now. For ever, actually! I can't afford to lose business and it looks pretty crap if a website designer's site is down because it's been hacked LOL!

What's interesting is this: I checked my FTP logs to see if anyone else had logged into my site. Lo, there was someone on the 7th who'd got in whose IP address wasn't mine. I tracked the IP address to another ISP in Sydney, rang them, told them what had happened and they more or less denied responsibility, not willing to look up the IP address and take any action against the person using it. They did tell me they took security breaches very seriously. So did I, I said back. In the end they suggested someone had hacked into my WordPress site to deposit the files there but I believe it was the bastard who somehow got into my FTP files on the 7th. One of their customers. I'm now checking my logs on a daily basis too.

Has anyone else been hit by the hackers? Do you want to share your story and how you got rid of them?

Friday, November 11, 2011

You can tell it's full moon

The best laid plans of mice and designers occasionally go west. In the case of the mice it's usually a cat, in the case of this designer the full moon seems to bring out the Fuck Up Fairy to tease my clients and me too.

Yesterday I'd planned to have a reasonable day, researching and laying out a newsletter for one client, and also chasing some debtors on their behalf. Far from my favourite job, I hate pestering people for moneys owed, but I'm being paid to do so in this case.

Anyway, it all turned to custard by 9am. I had emails from four clients; two of them wanted urgent updates and changes on their websites, and one who is doing her own update had made a dog's breakfast of her home page. Another sent me a bunch of articles she'd like turned into a newsletter. Only when I sent her the final PDF in the afternoon did she say that her boss actually wanted it as an online version not a PDF. Sigh. See what I mean? I think it's the full moon.

T'other half reckons he can see anger and frustration as a palpable halo around my head, especially as I was finishing the day's work after dinner as I had meetings this morning and needed to catch up on stuff.

Anger is a bad playmate. It can cause heart problems, strokes, and can lead to cancer in the truly angsty and angry. This concerns me as anger and frustration is part of my daily life. I get cross when the phone rings and I get interrupted, I get cross with computers (who doesn't), I get cross with unreasonable clients who keep wanting changes to things they have already agreed on and signed off on, I get cross with idiot drivers who have no spatial awareness (and people in shopping centres with no spatial awareness). I get cross with clients and friends who are very demanding and pull me in a dozen different directions. I just get cross.

I only noticed how uptight I was getting yesterday when I took half an hour off to head to the grocer's and pick up some veg for dinner last night. Away from the desk, the computer and the clients I felt a weight lift from my shoulders. This tells me I need to step back a bit and smell the roses more often. Literally in my case as they are in bloom in my garden.

To cap yesterday off I had a couple of slightly terse text exchanges with a friend last night which left me upset and angry too. Upset enough to wake at 4am this morning and not get back to sleep. Thankfully these were resolved with a phone conversation this morning.

The moon is on the wane today and there's a real difference. I'm not as angry, nobody's website is broken, and I've achieved what I planned to for the day.

Time to take the dog for a walk.

Monday, November 7, 2011

$#%^& computers

Blimey, what a day.

Woke up this morning (just like in a blues song) to find my company's website had been suspended by the web hosts and my email had also ceased to function. A phone call to the host informed me that my site's server had been hacked and was being used to send spam. Apparently people now think I'm a Libyan trying to persuade them to hand over their bank account details. Thankfully my hosting service, with whom I've had my site for seven years, believed me when I said I wasn't so all was back online by 9.30am. Not an auspicious start to the working week though.

I then decided in my wisdom that I'd update my iPad to the latest iOS, with iCloud and other goodies. Oh, and I'd activate iCloud on the MacBook Pro too. How hard could that be? Everything Apple usually works a treat.

Not this time. I couldn't sign in to iCloud with my Apple ID. Frustrated, I went to my Apple ID page on the Apple site and all was well. I changed my password. That didn't help. I changed it again. That didn't help either. Loathe to change it for a fourth time, as there are only so many passwords I can remember on the fly, I phoned Apple.

Apple support is great. It's actually located in Australia so you talk to an Aussie who understands you and you can understand them too, unlike many of the call centre people I deal with.

Turns out I mysteriously have created, unbeknown to myself, a second Apple ID account. No idea how that happened but it could be iTunes related. I have an Apple ID for my Mac, and as far as I know used the same one when I set up iTunes. Not a problem, said my friendly Apple man, we'll just change the email address of one of them, verify the email address of the other, and we'll use number two as your ID for everything. Ha!  Easier said than done. I didn't get the verification email. Or the second one we tried to send either. I'm now waiting for iTunes support to contact me. I only hope I can still access all my i-stuff in the meantime.

I'm already having a bad day in a way as I have to attend a networking function tonight with 95 people and my sociophobia is kicking in. I run these events for a Chamber of Commerce on a monthly basis and inevitably feel depressed on the first Monday of every month as a result. I'm the last person who should be running these events but it brings an income in. On the plus side my screaming frustration at all things electronic has kept the depression at bay (probably at the expense of my blood pressure).

I'd much rather just jump on one of my bikes and go for a ride. Fat chance though, having lost two hours to call centres and fixing problems there's a healthy backlog to get through before I head out the door to my function. I hope the gods who manage the interweb look down more kindly on me tomorrow.

What is it with blokes and drawers?

Aha, if you were thinking the Victorian connotation of drawers - items of ladies' underwear - you'd be wrong. Although in that context the title of this post makes sense. Blokes are generally interested into getting into ladies' drawers!
But in this case, I have a bloke who gets into my drawers and doesn't close them properly. (The chest-of-drawers, cutlery-drawer, bathroom-cabinet-drawer type of drawer, that is.)
And it bugs me.
Drawers left a centimetre or two open look untidy; how hard can it be to push a drawer firmly shut? I'm forever shutting the bathroom drawers and the bottom drawer on my dressing table which I've donated to T'Other to store his socks and jocks in.
The worst culprit is the gorgeous big old antique chest of drawers T'Other brought to the household with him. The drawers are heavy and unlike modern drawers don't slide on rails. You have to lift and push. I can always tell when he's opened a drawer in the antique tallboy to look for something as it's never shut properly afterwards. The heavier, bigger drawers in the cabinet need the help of a knee to close. It's usually my knee. He just leaves them open a bit.
I've mentioned it once or twice but don't want to sound like a petty nagger. There are more, far more, important things in life than drawers left untidily ajar.
But it still irks me. How hard can it be to push a drawer closed?

Friday, October 28, 2011

My new wheels - meet Nellie

Mea culpa. It's now October. I meant to blog at least twice a week. Oh well. Things have been happening, not the least of which is that the little Raleigh I'd bought months ago has now been restored to roadworthiness.

Meet Nellie.
I sold my mixte Petunia on eBay for $100 more than I paid for her :-)  about six weeks ago. That gave me the bulk of the Raleigh Restoration Fund. I had a Shimano 8 speed Alfine hub put aside for her, which I'd bought last year when I was feeling a bit more financial. So down to the bike shop she went, for new alloy wheels built around the hub gears, cream Delta Cruiser tyres, new cranks and pedals. The guys at the bike shop were rapt when I took her in. Aside from a couple of paint scratches the frame is in good condition and they had a lot of fun building her up. The saddle and basket were my own installation (big bike mechanic me as you can see).

None of my bits save the gears and the nice tyres cost much. I left the selection of the wheels and cranks etc to the guys at the bike shop and while they aren't bargain basement they are far from top of the line. As with any hobby you can get addicted to the good stuff and spend a fortune on bits of kit. 

The guys at the bike shop said they could have sold my basket a dozen times. I'd mounted it before I took Nellie in for her rebuild so they could see it had to be there and to make sure any alterations to the brake cables took it into account. The basket itself I picked up down in Bungendore but I've seen since them on eBay.

The only thing that bugs me is the grips. I had installed my Brooks leather grips on the handlebars and told the guys that they could put wider handlebars on if necessary to fit the Brooks grips with the new Shimano shifter. They didn't. So I have one lovely Brooks grip and a rubber Shimano grip. I'm going to operate on that and see if there is a way I can mount the other Brooks grip. You can 'cut' Brooks grips down to size but the guys at the shop said that even if they did that, the aluminium end on the grip would interfere with the gear shifter. I'm thinking thoughts that involve superglue and the leather rings that make up the grip; if I can create something shorter and stable that doesn't need the inside aluminium end piece, I've got a winner. 

Sadly I haven't taken her on a decent ride yet. I was unwell when I picked her up from the shop, and we've had rainy days or too much work on or other stuff pulling us this way and that at weekends. The short rides I have had tell me that she rides like new. Silent, smooth as ice cream melting on a hot day. She is a stunner, and the frame at 17" fits like a glove. 

There are a couple of things left to do: buy a rear rack and fit it - that was something that should have happened during the rebuild - and find a chain guard to fit. Nellie doesn't have any mountings for a chain guard but you can buy rings that clasp around the frame for mounting this and that (e.g. water bottles). A rear rack is a must so I can load the groceries in a pannier or two. 

You'll hear more about Nellie once I've taken her for a longer ride and got used to her handling and steering and the new 8 speed gear set. Shorter rides tell me the gear set is geared quite low. Great for hills, and there are plenty of those where we live. I haven't had the opportunity to really get going and hit 8th yet though ;-)

Monday, July 4, 2011

First, an update on the Raleigh

My little Raleigh now wears my Brooks saddle, Brooks grips and a rather nice front basket I picked up in a second-hand/antiques/vintage shop.

I've tried to adjust her derailleur - for now - with limited success. At the moment she's a two-speed. She has low gear in low range, and low gear in high range :-). I could take her to the bike shop for a proper going-over but I suspect her chain needs replacing; it seems pretty worn and loose.

I haven't been able to have the Shimano gearset installed and rear wheel rebuilt as I haven't sold Petunia yet and therefore don't have the money to do it. Yes, I have a credit card but I hate using it on items I may not be able to pay off within a month. It's already built up to an alarming total over the last year. More about that later.

Petunia is almost ready to go onto eBay. She's wearing the Raleigh's rather awful 'comfort' saddle - singularly misnamed I must say - and the black plastic grips that came with Penelope. The last thing I have to do it put cable ties around her gear/brake cables. Not having any when I first got her I used clear packaging tape, which probably isn't a long-term solution!

Part of me has held off selling her as she's so lovely, it's just a shame she's a bit too big for me.

I'm hoping to have Petunia sold in the next month though and the little Raleigh, Phryne, ready for early spring adventures.
I'm also on the hunt for a good-looking chainwheel cover for her. I've been watching eBay and nothing nice or suitable has come up. I have rather fallen in love with this one but shudder to think what shipping would cost even if I could afford to buy the thing itself:

Stunning, isn't it?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

So now I own a Raleigh Cameo...

With Deathtrap still in parts in my garage and realistically destined for the bin, I bid on and won a Raleigh Cameo on eBay last night. I will pick her up at the weekend.

This time there's not a lot to do to make this a perfect ride for me. The paintwork is in pretty good condition for the bike's age; apparently there are a few scratches and bits of missing paint, but this bike is at least 25 years old. The current owner - only the bike's second since new - believes she's a 1972 model.  I'll find out more when I have a good look at her in the flesh, or rather, metal.

I'll be changing the steel wheels for alloy 700C wheels and putting on my cream Delta Cruisers that are sitting in a box in the garage. Also going onto the wheels will be my 8 speed Shimano hub. The brake calipers may need to be replaced to allow for the 700C wheels. I may have to replace the crankset to find a good match for the hub gearset, but that's OK as the cranks are a bit rusty and pitted. I'll also repaint and install the chain guard that was on Deathtrap, as it's a copy of the Raleigh chain guard used on the loop frame/hub gear version of the Cameo. And that's it, apart from swapping the saddle and grips for my Brooks ones.

This time I paid a bit more than $56 - almost $230, but I suspect this is a much classier prospect than Deathtrap.
It does strike me that in owning this bike and the Pashley I will have two rather similar bikes, whereas now with the mixte and the Pashley I have two very different bikes. The Raleigh's geometry and setup is quite different to the Pashley's though, and I think she will weigh quite a bit less. At least I hope so! :-) 

I just hope she's physically a good fit. I think she's a mite smaller in frame size than Petunia, which is what I'm looking for, according to measurements supplied by the seller. Otherwise...oh well, she'll be going back on eBay!  I'm holding off giving her a name until I ride her and consider how well she suits me.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Deathtrap is dead in the water - new bike project needed!

Well. I spent last weekend stripping Deathtrap's bits from her frame in preparation for powder coating it. I could only do so much as I was missing a couple of relevant spanners/sockets, so took the partly-disassembled bike around to a friend's. Steve has a fab garage and full-on tool set. He put her frame in his vice and together we took wheels and other parts off. But... we hit a snag. The stem wouldn't be parted from the frame. It appears, somewhere deep inside, that rust has taken its toll. We followed appropriate processes for removing the stem - undoing the bolt at the top, tapping it with a hammer to release it, then pulling and - nothing!

Copious applications of WD-40 and an hour or two for it to sink in didn't help either. The wretched thing is stuck solid.

To make matters worse, Steve noticed that where we'd put the frame in the vice to hold it steady, it had dented. The steel used to build the frame is horribly cheap and light it seems. He reckoned he could feel the top tube bending under his fingers when he pushed it hard enough.

Is it worth persevering in that case? I'm looking at spending hundreds of dollars on new components, and attaching them to a very cheap frame. I think I'm being a bit daft. Although the frame size is good for me and the lugwork is lovely, it's not a good solution.

So poor old Deathtrap, her stem still eternally attached, is heading for the bin. There's stuff all worth salvaging except the chaincase cover and the mudguards.

Back to square one. I'm now looking for vintage bikes on eBay that might not require a full rebuild but will be the right sort of frame to utilise my 8 speed hub.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Cambridge Raincoat Company - stylish on a bike!

Trolling around some cycling blogs this week I noticed the ever so glam coats from the Cambridge Raincoat Company. What a marvellous idea- fashionable, comfortable coats in lovely colours, designed for women who want to ride upright bicycles. They look so good you don't even need a bicycle as an excuse to buy one, and they are made in the UK, not in China or Taiwan or anywhere else the stitching is likely to be shoddy.  I love this purple (orchid) colour coat:

This is the version with reflective tape on the coat - but if you choose you can have it without. I hope Cambridge doesn't mind me 'borrowing' their photo but it's too nice not to show.

I hate riding my bikes in the rain. I tend to avoid walking in the rain unless I have a really big umbrella, as more than simply getting wet I hate getting raindrops on my glasses as I actually can't see when that happens, which makes for dangerous cycling. 

These gorgeous coats are only 135 quid - that's somewhere around $160 in Aussie money at the moment I think; for the money, much nicer than trendy sports raincoats which don't cover enough of you up, and better fitting for cycling than ordinary raincoats.  I'm trying hard to justify spending the money as I love purple! I might even ride on rainy days with one of these to keep me dry. 

Friday, April 8, 2011

Fashion and two wheels

Yesterday I received a catalogue from one of my favourite clothing chains, Blue Illusion. While most of their clothing isn't pure cotton or wool, the style of much of it is perfect for me; lovely cardigans with out-of-the-ordinary touches, and I bought the ultimate little black dress last spring that dresses up with high heels or down with bovver boots.

Anyway, back to the catalogue. My husband handed it to me, and my first squawk of delight wasn't about the clothes, it was about the bike on the cover.

Now it's not a super duper upmarket charmer like a Pashley or Velorbis, but it's a nice enough 80s vintage bike albeit in a frightful shade of pink akin to freshly sanded piglet. I squinted to make out the appears to be a star. It's been rebuilt and looks like it has all new parts which makes me think that Sydney Vintage Bikes or Melbourne Vintage Bikes did it up and sold it on eBay and....

I must have been muttering to myself because my husband was roaring with laughter: "You are the only person I know who would get a clothing catalogue and look at the bike instead!" 

Heh heh.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Meet my new bike, "Deathtrap".

Well, she won't be a deathtrap when I've finished with her but oh, dear! Right now she's lethal.

The poor darling still has her original 1980s brake pads fitted. I suspect that once upon a time they were rubber, and by some peculiar alchemic reaction the rubber has turned to a material harder than titanium. Only the front brakes work, and when they work, they just about throw you off; they are akin to a horse bucking.

I only rode my new mount around our courtyard, and that was enough. I was going to put air in her tyres - hoping that the poor old perished things would actually hold air - and ride her around the block, but one pull on the brake lever, with me almost falling off sideways onto hard pebblecrete, convinced me otherwise.

While she is armed with an ancient Shimano 3 speed shifter, only gears 2 and 3 work. You can't select bottom gear. I suspect the poor thing has had zero maintenance for many years. The brakes alone, which are seriously maladjusted, tell me that.

The ten seconds I spent pedalling in a circle told me a few things about her, though. The first was that the frame is a nice fit. I got onto Petunia first, and circled her around, noting my body and arm position, and how I was sitting. I then mounted little Deathtrap - she will have a proper name at some point - and felt an immediate comfortable difference in my seating and riding position.

I also noticed the difference in quality. Even just standing beside each bike and wheeling them along, Petunia is miles classier; she feels smoother, heavier and more luxurious, although curiously both bikes weigh much the same when I pick them up. Deathtrap feels lighter to push, tinnier, rougher. Mind you she has cheaper components on her, like those unbranded killer brakes.

Here are a few pics of the pair for comparison.
You can see here that Petunia has a much longer frame. And in this one, that the setup is quite different re saddle height etc. (Surprisingly when I got onto Deathtrap the saddle height was just right for me it seems.)
Because Petunia's geometry is quite different, I ride her with the saddle quite high to get the correct stretch for my legs. And finally, a side by side:
Little Deathtrap doesn't look too shabby here with a bit of a gleam on her. Her paint is actually a faded red metallic; the true colour - candy apple reddish - can be seen on the underside of her frame. You can't see in this pic that the mudguards are rusty on the edges.

I think with all new components and new paint - ie a total rebuild as everything is rusty - she will be a little star. She has some very pretty details on close inspection, like this lugs on the front forks:
It's not terribly visible here amidst years of grime but these pretty shapes have been outlined with gold paint - you can see it more on the edges of the lower lugs.

And here, on the back bracket, I like the shapes and curves:
T'other half laughed when I told him I'd nicknamed her Deathtrap, and suggested Venus, for Venus Flytrap, or Belladonna, for deadly nightshade. Given her paint job he jokingly said Gillard as well but I think this bike has too much potential to be named after our annoying, banal Prime Minister.

As I was handing over the magnificent sum of $56 for this bike, I spoke to the woman selling her, Alison. Alison had bought her on eBay not long ago for her mudguards and chainguard, which she wanted to put onto her 10-speed bike. They wouldn't fit, so Deathtrap went back to market. Alison thought it funny that I also wanted those items, but mainly wanted the frame. She was happy to hear I had plans to make the little bike a nice ride.

What I can't believe is that Alison actually rode Deathtrap, or so she told me. "It goes well," she said, "I've ridden it a bit." And survived, clearly. I wonder if she, like me, only rode Deathtrap around her courtyard. 

Friday, April 1, 2011

A new bike project

I've come to the sad conclusion that no matter how I position my saddle my beloved Petunia is a frame size too large for me at 21". Riding her for anything more than a trip to the shops isn't the comfortable experience it is on Penelope Pashley. Nobody ever said vintage road bikes had to be comfortable, but forever changing position to try and get the right balance between saddle and handlebars, and a slightly sore back at the end of it all, isn't a long term plan. I've adjusted and adjusted the position of my saddle to no avail.

Petunia was bought as a road bike and converted to swept-back handlebars, to be the sit up and beg mount I'd always wanted. But it doesn't work. The geometry is just wrong. Her head tube is very straight up, and she's built for drop bars, which she had when I bought her.

I hate the idea of selling her, as I do love mixte bikes, but I think it's time for her to find a new home. I'll be swapping her Brooks saddle and grips for something less salubrious and putting her on eBay. I hope I can recoup what I bought her for; lovely vintage bikes like Petunia are quite pricey these days considering their age.

I had bought a Shimano 8 speed Alfine hub with the intention of rebuilding the back wheel and turning her into a hub-geared bike (another thing I'd been longing for) but the gears will go onto another bike now.

Because I've just bought a clunker on eBay, a sad-looking creature in need of TLC, in fact a total rebuild. I bought this Roadmaster Lady Bird 3 for the princely sum of $56 today. She's the most awful colour, and those rims look like steel, so 35x700C alloy rims will be the go when she gets the 8 speed gearset put on. And creme Schwalbe Delta Cruiser tyres, assuming I can actually find some here in Australia. They are certainly in short supply over here!

But best of all she's a 17" frame - more suited to short little me.

I've priced a respray ($220 including sandblasting and powdercoating, although I may have to pay more to get the delicate seagreen colour I want). Realistically I bought her for her frame, as I believe it's cro-moly (I'll find out tomorrow when I pick her up) and it's lugged. Not outstandingly lugged with exquisite details, but prettily enough lugged to make it worth the $56 plus the respray. Anyway I don't think I can live with that orange. Maybe with chrome mudguards it's a possibility but not the way it is right now with the brown mudguards and chainguard.

She'll need new handlebars as the existing ones are quite rusty, and if I can afford North Road bars it will be lovely, otherwise I'll settle for the nearest and cheapest thing from my bike shop. A new stem will probably be in order too, and if I can find one that allows me to raise the handlebars a bit higher and slope them down a bit, I think we're nearing a perfect setup.

She'll need new brakes I suspect, as I'm sure the brakes she came with will be less than fantastic, 1980s Roadmasters not being the greatest of quality parts wise I gather. Roadmaster used to be a grand old bike name in the 1940s-60s but when manufacture moved from the US to China and Taiwan, quality took a nosedive. Still, the frame should be fine.

There are lots of cheapish ladies' bikes on eBay at the moment, but I chose this one because she already sports a three speed gearset. I know I'll be able to put the Alfine on her without too much faffing around and having to buy too many new bits like chainsets. I know her chainguard fits her; it's an odd-looking chainguard but has a certain quirky vintage quality to it.

Here's an example of a done-over Roadmaster Lady Bird 3 by Melbourne Vintage Bikes, and I hope they won't get upset with me 'borrowing' their photo. They do restore old bikes very beautifully, as do Sydney Vintage Bikes - however I can't afford the fully restored bikes none of which come with Shimano 8-speed hub gears...which means I'd still have to pay for a wheel rebuild. I think the colour below could be described as 'Freshly Peeled Pig" - as pinks go it's not my style, but this old lady now looks like a grand ride, and as good as new. Interestingly although she's certainly labelled Lady Bird 3 she has derailleur gears - probably 5 speeds.

With the right shade of paint, new components and my Brooks stuff I think my new purchase will turn into an elegant and nimble ride too. I hope. I keep comparing the photos above and thinking how beautiful Petunia is, and wishing she was just that little bit more comfortable to ride. Or I was taller. Or something.

If anyone has some names of places to go for good quality components that don't cost the earth, please let me know. I'll be looking for the Schwalbe tyres, alloy rims, decent brakes and a rear rack. I have some good mechanics ready to do the wheel rebuild. I'll worry about lighting later.

Tomorrow afternoon I'll be test riding my new purchase. Yes, I broke my golden rule and bought a bike without riding it first, but for $56 if I hate it I can sell it again! Hopefully it'll survive the test ride and so will I :-).

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Expanding to fill the space around you...

My husband is due back from a business trip tonight. He's been away since Monday and with his return incipient, I'm contemplating how much I've expanded the fill the space around me while he's been away.
We live in a small house, a cottage really. There's one living room that's small enough to mean there's nowhere to sit if you have more than four guests. At one end there's a dining table which has to do double duty as my art studio in between meals if I'm in a painting or drawing mood (there's no room on my desk!)
Without t'other half here the house is big enough. It's spacious. I can recline on the sofa and watch telly. I don't feel as if I'm being squashed into a corner or forever having to move to make room, or get out of the way. Men take up a LOT of physical space, and my bloke isn't a slimline version. He's not obese, either, just medium-sized and slightly chubby enough to have a real presence in a room.
It's the same in bed. We have a queen sized bed, and I sleep soooo much better when he's away. When he's there I find myself sleeping perilously on the edge of the bed, to get away from the heat he generates, having sleep/morning breath blown straight into my face (which I hate) and the bloody snoring. When he's not there I spread out and feel myself truly relaxing. I can toss and turn without worrying about waking him up.  I envy the British upper classes with their penchant for separate bedrooms. Having slept alone for most of my life before we two hooked up, I still have trouble sharing my sleeping space after four years together. I don't like sharing my bed. I really don't. It's a daft bloody idea.
We both work from home, so that means I get very little time truly alone to enjoy some solitude. I'm a loner by nature; he understands that and does understand that I like it when he goes away on trips, not because I don't love him, but because I do need my space and solitude.
It's been so quiet here... nobody else thumping around the house, talking loudly on the phone (he seems to think nobody can hear him unless he almost shouts), interrupting my thoughts.
This does sound like a whinge, doesn't it, when I'm a very lucky person to be married to this man. But it's strange how the tenor of the house changes when he's not here, and how my own personality can expand to fill the space.
And it's so nice without any snoring!