Tuesday, December 22, 2009

How to make a pregnant gal happy

Gentlemen, for those among us who have had (or will have) trouble keeping a smile on the pretty face of a rapidly-growing, hormone-fluctuating, not-what-she-wants-knowing, lovely little woman. I thought I would document one strategy that has worked for me.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Belly bumps in Oz

Anyone reading my stuff on a regular basis will know that I occasionally like to rant about pretty 'serious' topics (as in the last post) but I mostly try to share some of our Aussie adventures with friends and family. That's why I started this foolishness in the first place although I haven't done a very regular job of it. I'm safe in the comfort of knowing that nobody reads this anyways :)

It's more of a writing project for me than a reading project for anyone else.

As far as Aussie adventures go, Kate and I are about 17 weeks into an adventure right now. Kate is pregnant and we will have a Australian born baby sometime in late May. Our first - and a first grandchild for all of our parents. As they say here... we're excited azzzz. This was always in the cards but now that it's real - it's more 'real' than I expected, if that make's any sense.

When I think of effective parenting, some ideas do spring to mind, but strangely enough none of them include a baby. Gimme a kid I can speak to who will respond. Gimme one I can teach chess, math, world capitals, and sports. Who wants a baby? So that's my position as of right now. Thankfully Kate will be a spectacular mother. She's almost too responsible, if that's possible, and I'm sure it is. And she has that dry British humour that the kid will inevitably pick up... and I'll just laugh all day at both of them for years and years.

Kate and I agree that we should let 'team sports' do some of our parenting for us. We were both athletes. Mainly it give you something to do - a reason to avoid trouble. And you get all of that stuff that you don't realize you're getting until it's too late... a bit of confidence, perseverance, some experience with losing and winning, some hard work, some concentration, some quality social interaction, some great friends, some goals... and I don't mean 'goals'... but those too. Mainly, you get the pride associated with acquiring a skill - any skill would do it I suppose - it could be basket weaving or it could be basketball. Competitive basket weaving would be sweet. There's a frightening amount of value in sport. You can only teach what you know right :)

It turns out that I not only have at least 'one' reader of this blog. I have now also received my first request :) For Amanda and Jason - my pretty lil'wife and her belly:

If you look closely, you might also notice the black eye. Funny story that one. There are not many reasons why a grown woman would have a black eye. Kate scratched her itchy eye one night until it was bruised. But that's obviously not what people assume when she and I are in public. I've received some pretty terrible looks from strangers - and some awkward confused ones from friends. But what's a brother to do? "I don't beat my wife" is exactly what someone who does beat their wife would say. So I just have to accept the assumptions. And beg Kate to take care and not put me through it again.

It's hot in the QLD now. Very hot. We spent a weekend on the beach recently. Here are our friends Ghyda and Cassie offering moral 'bump' support to Kate.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Christmas Gone Wrong

This will be one of those 'you know you're getting older when....' kind of posts. Prior to this morning, it had been a long while since I had stepped into a large shopping mall. Apparently not long enough. Kate had our camera in her purse and I just could not resist taking a few pictures of this year's Christmas fashions. Generally speaking, a dude like me won't raise much of an objection to the occasional slutty outfit on display for the ladies, but why oh why did jolly St. Nick have to get involved in this foolishness? Is this normal in Canada too this year??

Maybe I'm a bit hypersensitive because I'm going to be a father in a few months and I don't know yet whether it'll be a boy or a girl. Surely it must be easier to raise a boy in a world where a young woman has these fashion options. Here's Kate reluctantly humouring me by showing off another gem of a tank top.

And based on everything you and I have ever been told about the issue - isn't this last one just plain false?!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Windmills and polar bears

Kate and I went for a hike in the woods today. We saw big lizards and turtles and managed to avoid snakes. I don’t like walking but I love forests. Here's Kate, she likes them too.

And check this out. I think there might be something scary behind this tree.

I’ve got a lot to do these days but I try stay up to date on ‘environmental-stuff’ when I can. I now hear that all of the ice on the top half of the world will be gone in ten years. Polar bears will be out of luck I suppose. At the very least, they will be uncomfortable. I mean… it's not like they eat ice. They probably do a little, I don’t know if I could survive without ice cream.

There’s a new book called Superfreakonomics that sequels one of my favourites from a few years ago (Freakonomics by Levitt and Dubner). The reviews are really, really bad. Apparently, in one chapter the authors express skepticism about human causes of global warming and argue that emissions trading schemes and CO2 reduction goals set at the international meetings like Kyoto wouldn’t be useful anyway. Best of luck with that one gentlemen. You’re out on a lonely ledge now and you should appreciate the support you receive from the coal and oil lobby because you won’t get much from the rest of us.

I saw Al Gore do his thing and I’ve read We Are the Weather Makers by Tim Flannery – and I’m sold on the fact that the experts are united on this one: you and I, dear blog reader, are tossing a lot of carbon up there and we are changing global climate. I doubt a few pages in Superfreakonomics will change many minds about that fact but who really cares in light of the fact that we can’t stop changing the climate anyway. Knowing about it, or believing it, makes little difference unless you happen to have six hundred thousand windmills and a million square miles of solar panels lying around somewhere that you're not using.

Do you ever wonder if the future climate will be better or worse for humanity? You can correct me if you want, but I don’t believe there is anyone qualified to answer that question. Most people, once they reach a certain age, are pretty frightened of change. It’s not natural. We like the comfort and security of repetition. But Earth’s land is mostly in the northern hemisphere and much of it is too cold for farming. Perhaps, in a few hundred years, useful land gained due to warming will outweigh land lost due to warming. And who knows what countries will benefit and where future borders will be drawn, they have certainly changed a lot in the last few hundred yeas. There's also the spooky possibility of a sudden shift to a human-induced ice-age. The climate is kind of 'complicated' and a bit unpredictable you see, and we don't get a practice try. An ice-age would be very, very bad for everybody.

But why speculate about temperature and the unknown future when we can consider energy consumption and the unknown present? I would love to know just how much total energy we use on Earth yearly? Just one simple number please - I like numbers. And how much of that energy comes from non-renewable sources? Transportation, electricity, heat - oil, coal, natural gas, uranium - right? Some places use a lot of hydroelectricity and wind. But our little home-rock will run out of oil, coal, natural gas, and even uranium at some point. And then we’re on our own aren’t we? I wonder what that world will be like. Wouldn’t it be nice to hear an educated forecast about whether there is even enough ‘potential’ energy available from wind, solar, geothermal etc. to theoretically sustain a decent standard of living for 8 or 9 billion people (or whatever we max out at) once we have drained our planet of carbon fuel. Now that’s a question worth answering.

And by ‘decent standard of living’ I mean worse than Donald Trump but better than today’s Bangladesh average. ‘Decent’ to me means that you can work and earn enough to eat well, sleep comfortably, travel a little bit, and get some enjoyment and experiences in life. I know much of the world is well below this standard today, but I wonder if it is even feasible, in some distant future, for everyone to live above it in a world that isn’t relying on 'temporary' fuel? In the long run, we can’t avoid learning the answer to that question. Actually I’m setting you up here - I’m happy to tell you that someone has already answered it - there is an AWESOME BOOK by David MacKay called ‘Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air’. I’d give him a prize just for the witty title - well done! And apparently the author doesn’t need money because he has made the book available online and has granted permission for anyone to use or reproduce all of the amazing figures and schemes wherever we want. Take a look (www.withouthotair.com). It’s not the kind of thing you will want to read in detail front to back, but I skimmed the whole thing in one sitting… I just couldn’t stop.

The format is so simple. He stacks up our energy consumption compares it with a stack of conceivable sustainable energy production. The result looks something like this:

I recommend this book big time.

In any case, the transition away form carbon fuel is ongoing and will continue throughout my life and much longer. Wind farms and solar panels are going up in many countries, bio-ethanol production technology is improving, efficient and electric vehicles and energy efficient homes and products are starting to pop up at a good rate. I find all of this very cool. It is one of the few aspects of the world today (and in recent history) that I think we can all be proud of. Obviously it’s not happening fast enough, and the transition will suck for many people… but I still think there is reason for optimism.

Friday, October 16, 2009

'Road' Trip

To put this post into context: I was using Google Maps to check the driving distance between our parent's homes and a few US cities in which I am applying for academic positions and - don't ask me why - I happened to ask my favourite website to 'plot a course' from Brisbane to Grimsby Ontario. GoogleMaps gave me the option to either 'walk' or 'drive'. Naturally I chose to drive because I can't walk on water. My proposed trip was determined in a split second:

I will travel 25, 146 km and it will take 'about 55 days and 20 hours'. As always, Google provided a wonderful list of 150 'driving' directions taking me across Australia and then to Japan and Hawaii before a pleasant drive across the American mainland and across the Niagara border to Grimsby. The absolute highlight of the trip will be the kayaking. I'll quote some directions in red.

41. Turn left to stay on Myilly Tce, about 1 min, 0.3 km
42. Kayak across the Pacific Ocean, Entering Japan, about 17 days and 8 hours, 5404 km
43. Turn right, about 5 min, 0.6 km (It's wonderful to get a heads up about the right turn straight out of my kayak in Japan. I don't speak the language so getting local directions might have proven difficult - there are about 60 twists and turns while we cross Japan before reaching the Pacific Ocean again).
105. Kayak across the Pacific Ocean, Entering United States (Hawaii), about 20 days 0 hours, 6243 km (I'm assuming Kate comes with me of course because that's a lot of paddling. - after quick drive through Hawaii, hopefully some dinner and obviously a kayak re-supply - GoogleMaps directs us back to the Pacific.).
119. Kayak across the Pacific Ocean, Entering Washington, 14 days 5 hours
120.Sharp right at N North Lake Way, 1.6 km

I just can't read the phrase: 'kayak across the pacific ocean' enough. I love the whole concept. And I really think that this final kayak trip will be a breeze compared to the first two; assuming that the weather holds up. Plus we're kayaking to and from the USA so maybe we can avoid customs somehow,. Again I appreciate the courtesy of a heads up about the 'sharp right turn' when we hit land in Washington. Sounds like it could be treacherous. And regarding the 'ocean weather' I should mention that Google's directions are '... for planning purposes only... construction projects, traffic, weather or other events may cause conditions to differ from the map results'. Good point G! But assuming the weather is good, we should finish with a wonderful drive across the states. And they even suggest some 'Grimsby Hotel' options on arrival which we obviously wouldn't need.

Okay. To be honest, when I first glanced at these directions I thought the drive-kayak-drive-kayak-drive-kayak-drive combination was a bit ridiculous. My main concern naturally was the obvious absence of a car at the end of first drive-kayak part. I mean, realistically I would need some sort of kayak-car-machine, a paddle-boat-with-wheels, something out of a Bond film. But since Google suggested it - and Google is pretty awesome - I gave them the benefit of the doubt and I typed 'kayak on wheels' into their image search. Wouldn't you know it - Jeep makes just the thing:

I will have fun out there! Thank you. But the skeptic inside of me noticed something suspicious here. With all of the potential ocean-crossing options for intercontinental travellers these days, it seems like an odd coincidence for Google to suggest the drive-kayak-combo and for Jeep to just happen to offer an an appropriate vehicle. I wouldn't be at all surprised if Google and Jeep were secretly owned by by the same person.

In all honesty I really do love both Google (and Jeep ;). And I would love to meet the software people behind my 'proposed ocean crossings' - you can't tell me that they don't enjoy their jobs.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Rap Music and Funny T-Shirts

I'm still a fair few years from grey but I can tell that with every passing year I slow down a little. I'm rarely out of breath any more. I plan. I drink less. I'm finding more time to think before I act - or speak. I'm rarely rushed. I have time to read, and swim. I relax. Why is this? I don't think its the Aussie heat - I think I'm just getting older - and I like it.

But some things don't change - and I hope they never do. I still love rap music and I still love funny t-shirts.

T-shirts are easy to defend. What can be more selfless than putting a smile on the face of a stranger - and asking for nothing in return. And there's a lot to smile about. Life can be very funny assuming the necessities of living are all sorted out. We can only speculate about why we're all here or what might happen tomorrow but we can be absolutely sure that laughter is good. It's healthy, it's harmless, and it feels sooooo good. So to every single person that has ever worn a t-shirt that has made me smile. Thank you. Thank you very much.

Compared to a funny t-shirt, the rap in my headphones is more difficult to justify at 31. The truth is, I agree with the critics to some degree - most rap is terrible. But I appreciate that in those few cases when the tune works and you hear a few lines of lyrics that are absurdly creative - it's pure genius. I eat it up. There's nothing better for me. 'I'm sick for it'... as the Aussies say. If you can't appreciate the wit and creativity of some of the best rappers - I don't think it's their fault.

I'm no musician or avid listener but I know what I like: a slow rolling base drum. I don't have a good ear for 'la musique' so to me the average Oasis song with all the overlapping guitar sounds like a complete mess but a slow rolling beat with one or two simple instruments added - that's crisp. I like pauses, I like simple melodies, I don't like noise. And if I can't hear the lyrics - forget about it.

The best part of rap are the lyrics. Like many fans of the genre, I'm able to largely overlook the topics and themes (which are often - but not always - repetitive, cocky, masoganistic, dirty, usually a bit angry or 'criminal') and appreciate the creativity and the cleverness. The message is often blatantly sarcastic anyway. To me 'over-the-top-cocky' is much more appealing than just 'cocky' because of the obvious sarcasm. Plus, I love the wit and I love the slang - the 'invented words' - the 'shorties' and the 'knots'. I might also point out - incase you're wondering - that I obviously don't care in the least about the fact that I'm white while most rappers are black. And no, I can't relate to anything in their songs and I don't care about that either. We can't relate to 'James Bond' either but we still find him damned entertaining. If the concept of 'black vs white music' is actually something you think about - I'm sorry to tell you that you're a bit behind the times. Jay Z said it well recently in a fantastic song called 'Off That' - 'it's 2010 not 1864'. I just listen to what sounds good.

For my ideal rap song try this. And here's one more, a recent Jay Z jingle that expresses his displeasure with audio-editing software that makes singers sound better than they actually are: here ya go.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

This Place is Different (A Review of Aussie Speak)

This post has been a long time in the making. Aussies talk funny. I'll explain.

You're familiar with the Paul Hogan (Crocodile Dundee) expression: 'G'day mate'. I've heard that here, and said it (fairly straight faced), more than a few times in the past two years. But 'G'day' and 'mate' are just the tip of the wonderful 'Aussie speak' iceberg.

First of all, we don't say 'How ya doin?" we say "How ya goin?". It's weird, and it takes some getting used to, but it has grown on me. We also don't say 'thank you' - we say 'ta' or 'good on ya'. I am a fan of the expression: 'good on ya'. Definitely one of my favourites: 'Good on ya mate!'... it just sounds happy. And the word 'mate'... really is used a lot - there's no fella, pal, buddy, dude, chief, hey you... just 'mate'!

Australians do not play paper-rock-scissors, they 'rock off'. I'm happy to say that there is much general 'rocking' in this country. I don't walk up to the bar to order a drink - I 'rock' up to the bar. Honestly. And once I've 'rocked up', a rum and coke is a 'bundy and coke'. You'll be happy to know that 'Canadian Club' is available at many places here but of course nobody understands the word 'rye'. If I ask for a 'stubbie' I mean bottle of beer. There are also four sizes of draft beer: pot, schooner, pint, or jug (in that order). If I pull the chute on a social function or even just leave the bar too early, I have 'piked' - and will be justifiably called a 'piker' by my 'mates'. If I stay but get drunk too quickly, I might be called a 'two pot screamer'. Although I'm pretty sure that one applies only to the ladies. And if you buy someone a drink, or a meal... you are 'shouting' them a drink or a meal - and 'Good on ya mate.'

There's some interesting jobs in Aussie Land. A 'sparky' is an electrician. And a 'firey' is firefighter. A 'journo' is a journalist. Aussie soldiers are called 'diggers' (because they dig ditches). An ambulance driver is an 'ambo'. And these expressions are 'main stream' terminology we might hear on the evening news. An ambulance vehicle is itself also called 'ambo' for that matter. Transportation in general can be a bit confusing. An SUV is a ‘4-Wheel-Drive’. A pick-up is a ‘ute’. And a big transport truck is a ‘road train’.

Many strange things seem to get 'chucked' here. To 'chuck a sickie' is to call in sick and not come to work. To U-turn is to 'chuck a U-eee'. If I'm actually sick, or hung over, or just not feeling well: I'm 'crook'.

There are some expressions that can't be translated directly because they only exist here. 'Sunday session' - is when one goes to the bar at around noon on Sunday to get drunk and party all day and still be in bed by 7 pm ('ish) and comfortably up for work early on Monday morning. It's a pretty reasonable idea I think. They also have a verb here that I can't translate directly and I am thankfull that it does not exist back in Canada. To 'glass' someone means to 'stab them with a broken bottle'. As in "there was a mild 'glassing' at the pub last night". For example: if a 'footy' team gets into a 'punch up' with some 'bikies', someone is possibly getting 'glassed'. I’m serious. We hear that verb on the news regularly. A 'punch up' is a bar fight or a brawl. A 'bikie' is a member of a motorcycle gang. And a 'footy' player (as I have written here before) is one of four potential types of athletes depending on exactly where you are: soccer, rugby union, rugby league, or Australian rules football. Also, a police station is a 'cop shop',

Bikinis are called 'togs', I think. 'Jim-jams' are pyjamas. Jogging pants are 'trackies', running shoes are 'joggers'. All sweaters and sweatshirts are 'jumpers' unless they have a hood ('hoodies'). And if you are cold you 'rug-up'. As for food: or 'tukka' (which is more like wild berries and stuff but sometimes it also just means 'food' - unless you specifically say 'bush tukka'). Breakfast is 'brekkie'. A freezie is an 'ice block'. A sausage is a 'sanger' or a 'snag'. All shrimp are 'prawn'. Thus - nobody here has ever had 'shrimp on the barbie'. But everyone has a 'barbie' (with no lid – rarely a barbecue lid). Macdonald's is Makka's (spelled just like that: 'Makka's' - even on billboards). In the morning, 'bikies' can have 'brekkies' at 'Makka's'. The word 'full' can be directly translated to 'chockers'. As in..."More tukka? No thanks 'mate', I've had 'heaps', I'm 'chockers'." And 'heaps' of course, is the standard word used to describe 'a lot' of something. An 'esky' is a cooler. I don't think I have to tell you where they got that one. The general word for all candy is 'lollies'. A friend of mine (before I knew him well) asked me before a volleyball training session one day if I would like a 'lolly' as he offered me a tic-tac. I honestly thought he was making fun of me. Alcohol is often called 'grog' and sometimes referred to as 'piss'. But to 'take the piss out of someone' is to make fun of them.

Mosquitoes are 'mozzies'. To whine is to 'whinge'. Children are 'nippers'. Your dad is often 'old boy'. A car trunk is a 'boot'. For instance: "The old boy told his little nippers to stop whinging about the mozzies.’ Or ‘I’ve got grog in the boot’. Incidentally, passengers in a car are free to drink in a moving vehicle – but all cyclists must wear helmets. Gargabe is 'rubbish'. A bathroom is a 'dunny'. Especially an outhouse ('outback dunny'). A 'doco' is a documentary. An environmentalist is a 'greenie'. Perhaps one might have reason to say: "That whingy greenie doco was rubbish so I chucked it in the dunny." A couple does not 'kiss' or 'make out' or 'neck' here, they 'pash'. Interestingly, a laptop computer and a lap dance are both 'lappies'. Slot machines are 'pokies'. If you want to ask for cash back from a bank card payment... you MUST say the words 'cash out' and NOT 'cash back'. I did that wrong in a quiet little book store one day and frightened the lady behind the counter - she gave me a brief horrified look before composing herself and correcting me. It then occurred to me that she had momentarily thought she was actually being robbed. That is completely true. I was briefly mistaken for a 'bookstore robber'. I subsequently started to shave more often.

Afternoon is 'arvo'. Spelled just like that: a.r.v.o. (I think it's in the dictionary). A person from Queensland is a Queenslander. Queenslanders enjoy having a few 'stubbies' and 'chucking' some 'snags' on the 'barbie' on a Sunday 'arvo'. A red-neck is a 'bogan' or an 'ocker' spelled 'ocka' I think. Interestingly, down here in the southern hemisphere red-neck geography is backwards: most of the 'bogans' live up in the northern state of Queensland (as opposed to the southern states of Texas and Mississippi back in North America).

A tattle-tale is a 'dobber' that has 'dobbed' on someone. The word 'yakka' means work. We don't think - we 'reckon'. We are not fond of things - we are 'big on' them. We do not make mistakes - we 'stuff things up' (or 'stuff stuff up' if you want to be a goof). And to succeed at something is to 'crack it'.

And for the grand finale: when a young man is speaking to girl with the intent of getting a date - he is 'tuning' her. Yes, you read that correctly. He is 'tuning' her. Just like a piano.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009


I know these blog posts have become few and far between but I'm feeling like one today. So... I've been a busy lab monkey lately. I was thinking today about motivation, in a general sense. Why does anyone work hard at anything? Because most of us do work hard at something do we not? In many cases, it's may not be the same thing that we are paid for. I recently read something (kinda' dark) that I found oddly inspiring on the topic:

"A lazy person, whatever the talents with which he starts forth, will have condemned himself to second-hand thoughts, and to second-rate friends." Cyril Connoly

That's pretty harsh. Ol'Cyril didn't pull his punches. Second rate friends! Who wants those? And second-hand thoughts... I suppose that's plagiarism. I certainly wouldn't want to be a lazy plagiarist without at least some 'first-rate' company :)

So, like I said, I've been busy in the lab in recent months. I'm juggling multiple synthesis projects, supervising a young student, and spending much of what time is left on 'long term career prep'. I'm submitting job applications and formally documenting a few of my own research ideas in the hope that they may become proposals and then perhaps funded projects.

Everyone is motivated to work for their own reasons. What are yours? Obviously there's the pay cheque but I'm not talking about counting dollars hour by hour. I'm talking about a reason to work 'hard'. Something deeper than just a salary. I know that it's easier to work long hours if I don't have anything more interesting to do at home or on the weekend but unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) that is rarely the case. Some people like coming to work because they like their colleagues. Personally, I get the most accomplished in the evenings when I'm in the lab alone :) My lab mates are good people but they're young and I'm a loner when it comes to lab work. I think the most motivated people have to be the ones who enjoy the work itself. That's a wonderful thing isn't it? I get that in the lab pretty often but certainly not everyday. After that, there's one other thing that can really drive us: working toward something 'big'. A good goal - something really worth getting. Maybe even a few of them.

We, synthetic chemists like to think that (assuming a few solid publications) we generally have good job prospects when you compare us with other fields of chemistry or even other sciences like biology or physics. That's because in addition to academic careers we have 'drug discovery' in the (massive) pharmaceutical industry which relies heavily on synthesis.

But the past year has seen R&D layoffs in large numbers and university departments have also decreased hiring as the economy has tumbled. These facts appear quite noticeable from where I'm standing. It's all expected to pick up again at some point but who really knows? I feel pretty fortunate to have some real security here for a while. I'll make the most out of it by getting a bunch of cool stuff published. Science is pretty satisfying when it's difficult and you win. But it is difficult. Synthesis requires lab hours - compounds don't make themselves. So I've gotta go :)

Friday, July 3, 2009

A trip across the BIG pond

When you cross the Pacific Ocean at night - as I did from LA to Brisbane recently - a calendar day vanishes from your life. And I don't mean that it was a long flight. Nope... I mean a box was skipped on my calendar. I lost June 27'th. I left LA at 10 pm Friday and arrived in Brisbane at 5am Sunday - just 14 hours later. If my birthday had been Saturday June 27'th I would get to be 29 for another whole year. I lost a Saturday. A Saturday of all days!!

We all know about that line drawn down the middle of the pacific, the crossing of which amounts to time-travel. And if you go the other way - leaving Brisbane at noon and flying east - you arrive in LA the morning before you left :) As simple as that concept might be I think its totally awesome.

I love flying. I like the takeoff, the landing, the airplane food. I even like the awkward chat with a stranger. Some of the people closest to me on the other hand, truly fear the big blue sky. Kate, for example, has been known leave a hand-written (and witnessed) 'will' stuck on the refrigerator. Other relatives simply won't fly. And they know what they're missing but they just can't do it. Anxiety, claustrophobia, a total lack of control over your own safety... I can understand all of those. But I also respect the power of numbers - thousands upon thousands of people land safely each day - the statistical equivalent of 'everybody' - and that's enough for me. I'm safe in the pilot's hands.

That being said... I dislike the super friendly pilots who introduce themselves before takeoff and welcome me aboard (as they usually do these days). I'm sure it's done to make the passengers feel at ease but it has the opposite effect on me. I don't want to be reminded that 'a person' is in charge of the plane - especially one who cares about friendly introductions. It's unprofessional. You're not a 'person'. You're a 'pilot'. You were not hired for your charm. Pilots are disciplined. People make mistakes. People are fatigued, emotional, careless. Pilots don't make cute jokes. They fly airplanes. As inappropriate as this will be, a few years ago when I flew from Manchaster to Dublin a young-sounding female Irish pilot with a strong accent and a great sense of humour (obviously) introduced herself over the speaker and told me to sit back and relax and enjoy the flight. Fat chance! I have know some Irish folk in my day and they were - each one of them - great people. Hilarious, wonderful, drunken people. And I would much rather have heard this woman's lovely accent telling stories at a pub then telling me to relax from the cockpit of a jet liner.

But I'm still here :)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Welcome to Canada

As far a signs on a wall go, this one is my absolute favourite:

I’ve seen it a good few times. Right below the wheelchairs – as you ‘de-escalate’ to Canadian customs. I snapped that shot four weeks ago when Kate and I landed in Toronto – after nearly two years overseas.

Before leaving Brisbane I told a cab driver about my upcoming trip home. He was unimpressed. He said: ‘My niece is getting married in the UK next month, I haven’t seen her since she was four years old. And I can’t afford to go to this wedding either. Two years is nothing!’. Fair enough – Australia is a fair few dollars away, and we are lucky to be able to afford the trip. And maybe two years is not that long - but I did really miss home. I had spent two Christmas holiday’s ‘family-less’. It was time to see my brothers, my parents, the boys. And there’s another thing – and this will sound stupid - I have been craving Taco Bell, Tim Horton’s, Harvey’s, Wendy’s, and East Side Mario’s for many months - especially Taco Bell. I have never been accused of overly healthy eating. Incidentally I put on about ten pounds in four weeks in Canada.

I could write about our trip for days. But I won’t. Let me just say that we saw many of our friends and we had a great time. It seems like in the two years since I’ve been gone – most of my friends and family have been ‘winning’ in the game of life. We saw a lot of smiles. Our friends are moving up in the work world, getting married, starting families. I suppose that’s what happens in your late-twenties, early-thirties. Since I left, my parents have also changed. They have moved to their own little country paradise and they’re smiling a lot more. Here: let me just share a few pictures.

First, here's my little lady. Thrillied to be back in Canadia.
The Huckstables.
Michel, Bryan, Andy on Rice Lake.
A beersby tournament. Of course.
Marek, with the t-shirt of the month.
Officer Merril, me, and a small wolf-pack.
The lovely Lowe sisters.
Matt and Ziggy. My dad doesn't look as comfortable on a horse as he does on a volleyball court, but he'll get there.
Katrina and Greg.
Andy and Matty. We all got dolled up for a good friend's wedding.
My mom has gone completely 'country' since I left. Why not.

There are many more... but I have to draw the line somewhere. Let me leave you with a Sauble Beach sunset over Lake Huron. For all the thousands of miles of beautiful beaches in sunny Australia, very few Aussies get to see a sun setting over the water. It’s an east-coast country. And if you want to have a beer and enjoy the sunrise – well then you’re drinking at 5 am :)

No doubt that Canada was great to visit but I'm happily back now. Brisbane is home for me now - Kate and I will likely be here another year or so – and it’s good to be back. Taco Bell or not – this place relaxes me.

At the Virgin-Australia check-in counter at LAX – the ‘airline guy’ asked me for my country of residence. I said: “Brisbane, Australia” and the young Aussie girl behind him who was heaving luggage onto a conveyer belt looked up at me and shouted “Queenslander!!!” - and as soon as I heard her accent, I felt a sudden wave of comfort come over me. There’s something about the people in this state. It has to be the heat. It's as if they understand that life is not supposed to be difficult. They laugh a bit more. They have a bit more fun. I’m pretty sure I will be drawn to this place long after we leave.