The artful conmen

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I love to marvel at nature with the best of them – a beautiful vista; majestic wildlife; weather that can switch between delicately pristine and beautifully violent in an instant. All breathtaking.

Sometimes, though, you just have to wonder if it’s having a laugh at your expense. I certainly thought that was the case on a lovely holiday to Tasmania’s much revered Cradle Mountain Lodge recently. My partner and I were enjoying an early morning cuppa (tea, that is) in our cabin, overlooking the sensational view of the bush outside our window. We could hear a creek making a run for freedom nearby and smell the delicious memory of our wood fire on the breeze.

It was so heavenly it was cliched. So, I guess we were lucky for the reality check that flew around the corner, after a quick visit to the cabin next door, and sat on our balcony. It was a jet black crow sporting a rather unfortunate injury. It seems he’d* lost a good chunk of his beak in what we could only assume was an unfortunate lock picking incident. Judgemental, I know, but he just seemed like that kind of bird.

As soon as he confirmed the room had occupants, with a scan of his beady little eye, he got to work. He went from sitting on our balcony railing to the back of a chair right by the window in the blink of an eye. Then he began transmitting what was clearly an urgent message by morse code. The telegraph key of choice? His tapping his beak on our window pane, of course.

“Please help me,” we believe he said. “It’s my beak, you see. It makes it so hard to capture my own food,” he continued.

“Won’t you help me? How about a biscuit from the tea and coffee station, or even a Mars Bar from the mini bar? I know you’ve got some in there.”

What he probably didn’t know is that there are polite requests all over our room not to feed the wildlife. Their little sob story was going nowhere with us. Realising this, our beak-less friend called in reinforcements. They came in the shape of another feathered friend. He’d obviously been waiting just out of sight on our neighbour’s balcony, ready to leap into action if the first act didn’t wow the critics.

He quickly took his place on the balcony and sprung into action, warbling a tune to complement the tap, tap, tapping of his friend.

These jokers had their scam locked down. They’d clearly done the hard work to not only identify their USP – unique sympathy point – but also refine it. Together they made quite a symphony and their beady little eyes made for quite a foreboding accompaniment.

After a couple more minutes of tapping, warbling and eyeballing we’d obviously reached the final act. They both gave us one more threatening stare before silently declaring to one another;

“Stuff this, man, they’re not going to give up the goods. Let’s look somewhere else.”

*David Attenborough I am not. The little fella’s gender is assumed.

Aside

Hound-ward bound

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I’ve stumbled on a parallel universe. A place where you tend to know people only by the name of their companion and a trip to the supermarket involves shopping for an array of toys and treats promising loyalty and obedience.

The best friend a family could have

The best friend a family could have

It’s the world of dog ownership and it’s a bit like Hotel California; once you cross the threshold you’ll almost certainly never leave.

I remember the moment we knew we’d bought our one-way ticket perfectly. It was our newly adopted friend’s first day out of the clink; the RSPCA’s pet shelter. We were walking down a grassy knoll in Sydney’s Centennial Park, leaving footprints in the dew because we’d been up since daybreak tending to the little fella’s every need. Not that he’d noticed, I might add.

Ahead of us was a crowd of people and pooches all looking like they belonged. The people came well prepared in their Hunter wellington boots, leaving me silently cursing my already damp Converse for revealing me to be the novice I so clearly was. The hounds strutted around like it was their own backyard, casually sniffing bottoms and chasing balls with gusto. Or, in our little man’s case, total indifference.

We walked tentatively around the edge of the park, conscious there was nothing keeping our pooch from scarpering if we got too cocky and let him off the lead. That is, he was yet to realise we were his meal ticket, and there was certainly none of that loyalty and obedience we’d tried to buy at Petbarn. So, to be on the safe side, we kept him on the lead and spent the morning feeling quietly chuffed with ourselves as we got into the swing of exchanging pleasantries with the other dog owners we passed on our jolly stroll around the park.

It’s possibly the best way to start a Saturday morning I can think of.

** Note – it’s been a few months since I first started writing this post. I’m pleased to report that our little friend has settled in perfectly and delights us every day with his shenanigans. Thank you to all the staff and volunteers at the RSPCA who held onto him for seven months, just so we could find him.

The festival and the mighty town of Dungog

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God, it’s exciting descending on a town you’ve never been to before full of pre-festival jitters. It’s been so long since my last one, I’d forgotten what it’s like; walking up to the gates surrounded by people in lots of weird and wacky get-up, all itching to let the fun begin.

There was something just a little different about this musical spectacular, though. We were in Dungog for Mumford & Sons’ Gentlemen of the Road festival and it just so happened to coincide with an absolute scorcher of a day. Not a cloud in the sky, nor a drop of moisture in the earth and a balmy 38 degrees celsius all around.

Instead of walking into an arena full of bearded hipsters jostling for poll position in front of the stage they were all huddled quietly under trees. It was all very unexpected and very odd.

A sort of mollified silence had descended on the festival as people battled it out for what little shade there was. In a flash I was taken back to my days growing up on the farm, when I’d drive past a dusty paddock on a stinking hot day and see a cotton wool ball of sheep gathered under a eucalyptus.

Then, slowly, as the sun became less ferocious, the festival spirit started to wake from its slumber. The chatter became louder, the dancing more spirited and then, at the end of the day, this happened…

Mumford & Sons, going OFF!

Mother Nature and her quirky blessings

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Mother Nature gets a bad wrap, I think. We’re all so quick to use her name in vain when things get a little wild, but I reckon there’s a reason for the crazy stuff she does sometimes.

Yesterday, I think I may have discovered some of the method in her madness.

After what seems like weeks of wall to wall sunshine and warmth, a day of murky, damp weather finally descended on Sydney. The migration of beach-goers who’d crept out of hibernation a little early to make their summer nest in the sands of Bondi quickly fled back to their hiding places.

It was heaven. The beach was blissfully deserted.

Seeing my chance, I took advantage of the abandoned pavements and enjoyed a jog along Bondi’s coastal walk, free from dodging enraptured tourists stopping abruptly to take photos.

On the way home I hit a wall of wind. Not a gentle breeze that lets you imagine you’re in one of Beyonce’s music videos by gently tussling your hair, but a proper gale.

Usually I’d retreat to shelter as fast as my ASICS trainers and dodgy knees would carry me, but, for some unexplained reason, it was just so damn pleasant standing on the headland surrounded by grey skies, churning ocean swells and drizzling rain.

For a few glorious minutes, I stood facing the ocean quietly revelling in the sweeping gusts of wind that snatched all my cares and worries out to sea with it. Then, as if in reward for venturing out to appreciate one of her dodgier masterpieces, Mother Nature offered up an amazing sight – a pod of whales stupidly close to shore started fooling around and breaching all over the place.

It. Was. Awesome.

When Mother Nature turns on the sunshine we’re all quick to get out amongst it. But I think it’s when she’s having a bad day and just needs to get some things off her chest that she has some of her best moments.

The beach and its disciples

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I’m only relatively new to the area, but already I can see Bondi’s humourous side. It’s like it’s issued a moratorium on looking down your nose at all the wild and wacky stuff going on, and everyone happily abides by it.

Whatever it is that makes it so persuasive at enticing people to shrug off their inhibitions as they venture to the shoreline for their daily communion, I like it.

This morning on the beach there was one particular lady whose bashfulness was obviously snuggled up at home in bed. Not her, though. She was standing on the southern end of the beach, with her toes dipping into the moist sand as the surf waltzed gently - forward and back, forward and back - onto the shore.

At first I thought she was indulging in her morning “practice” (yoga, don’t you know) as she drank in the glow of another bright and gorgeous sunrise, but then her arms started flailing around in a move I’ve not seen from even the most skilled of zen masters. Shortly afterwards her legs followed suit.

If she’d been in the water pulling these moves, people would’ve been diving in after her with the Baywatch theme song ringing loudly in their ears.

I was so stunned and perplexed by her energetic genuflecting that I was momentarily bought to a standstill myself in an effort to understand exactly what kind of worship she was partaking in.

It wasn’t long before it all became clear, thanks to a couple of passers-by who’d obviously seen it all before, “clearly not a professional dancer, though, is she.”

Not content to keep her smooth moves on the dance floor, this sparkling little lady was busting them out all over Bondi’s sandy beach for all the world to see. I don’t care who you are, that’s the kind of view that brings a smile to everyone’s face.

 

The sunshine and its blue ribbon moments

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There’s a fail safe topic everyone seems to rely on to help out a conversation during slightly awkward reunions with old friends. The weather.

Since it’s been a while between yarns, I thought the weather would be a perfect place to start. Especially as Sydney has welcomed spring in the most spectacular style.

For at least a week now, Mother Nature has been helping friends across Sydney reunite with a simple statement:

How good is this weather!

For those of you not lucky enough to be basking in the glorious glow of pre-summer sunshine, here’s a sneak peek:

The beach bums and their bright smiles

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If you live in Sydney there’s really no acceptable excuse to stop you getting out and enjoying the glorious views on offer from almost every vantage point.

That said, I do believe it’s possible to take it a little too far sometimes, and recently I’ve stumbled upon a group of nutters doing exactly that.

While the rest of us plod reluctantly along the pavement in the pre-dawn light, with creases from our bed linen still fresh on our faces,  they congregate by the ocean in hot pink swimming caps and bright smiles.

Lately, even the sun’s been reluctant to get out of bed when this crowd of Speedo-wearing enthusiasts are gathering at the water’s edge, stomping the sand in a pointless attempt to keep out the cold.

Before you know it, they charge en masse into the surf and disappear around the point with varying degrees of speed and grace at their disposal.

I’ve studied this ritual quite a lot recently, as my dear friend and I curse the cold on-shore breeze each morning in our quest to get fit again, and I’ve realised something quite remarkable.

No matter how early or cold it is and no matter what the weather, these brave souls are out there embracing the day and all it has to offer. You just have to look at their faces as they wade out of the ocean a short time later to see it shining bright in their eyes.

They might be crazy, but they’re good crazy.

The church bell and its midnight serenade

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One of the absolute pleasures of living in the country is the silence. Mainly because it’s just so easy to find. Particularly in the evening and even more so in the dead of night.

In the city it plays a much tougher game of hide and seek. There’s always someone or something determined to disturb the peace; sirens squeeling, revellers rejoicing, someone using the bathroom in the apartment above yours.

The beauty of silence is that it’s content to let the really unique sounds be heard. The ones that need only a second to make a warm smile shine within.

Last night I heard just that, a magical sound.

It was well past midnight and I’d become obsessed with finishing the Jodi Picoult novel I’d found abandoned on a bookshelf at my parents’ house. There was a frost sneaking through the window and barely a whisper to be heard outside besides the occasional curt bark from a curious dog.

Then, it happened. Somewhere in the distance a quiet wind nudged a church bell into breaking its silence. It tolled only once, but that’s all it needed to say. The sound carried quietly across the dark night and the thousands of people sleeping peacefully amongst it.

It was a short moment, but it was bliss.

The gym gentry and their fitness regime

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I’m sure I’m not alone in saying I don’t find exercising easy. It usually involves a couple of long hours of heated discussion beforehand between the fitness fanatic I long to be and the lazy git I love to be.

On the days I actually manage to begrudgingly drag myself onto the treadmill, I always find it just a little deflating when I walk into the gym to find muscle-flexing, Lululemon-clad fitness fanatics as far as the eye can see.

Being a gym, though, it’s a rare day that you see anything other than that.

That’s why it was an absolute pleasure to walk into the gym yesterday morning to find Arthur and Rosemary working out in quite unorthodox attire.

Arthur was clad in denim jeans, held in place by a snazzy pair of braces, and finished off with a pair of black shoes that displayed all the hallmarks of Hush Puppies’ sensible design. I can only assume that he’d decided, quite wisely I think, to kill two birds with one stone by exercising in the outfit he’d planned on wearing to lunch afterwards.

Rosemary was looking just as smart in a lovely blue and white floral frock accompanied by equally sturdy footwear.

How did I know their names were Arthur and Rosemary, you might ask? They were wearing name tags, of course. I’m not sure why, but it made me smile at a time when I usually struggle to do anything but grimace.

It was the best workout I’ve had in a long time. Watching Arthur, Rosemary and their posse of name tag-wearing buddies wander around the equipment enjoying a bike ride, or a stroll on the treadmill, before retreating to the lounge area for a cuppa and a biscuit was the most refreshing thing I’ve seen in a long time. Even after enduring a bit of sledging from one distinguished gentleman who thought my sister-in-law and I weren’t walking fast enough.

That’s what a workout should be like.

The car journey and its travel companion

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When you’re in the midst of a seven hour car trip, it’s never long before you pass a road sign warning, “caution: monotony ahead”. I find it’s usually around the four hour mark when the many forms of entertainment – books, Sudoko puzzles, iPads, games of eye-spy – you packed as a travel companion just aren’t that interesting anymore.

It’s at this point that anything able to stop the rot of boredom setting in is welcomed.

On a recent return trip to Sydney in my trusty little car, I saw something that did just that. There I was, dutifully obeying the speed limit, when a silver Subaru came hurtling past me. From my righteous position at the helm of an obedient motor vehicle, I cast a disapproving look across at the driver. That’s when I noticed it. The first three letters of their number plate were A.O.K.

I’ll tell you, that car could have been driving on two wheels through a tunnel of fire and I would’ve forgiven it, just for its number plate. For the next little while my car just chewed up the road and spat it out as I spent my time thinking of the many situations a number plate like A.O.K could assist with; 

“Hello madam, we’re conducting random drink driving breath tests today, please breath into the machine,” the professional police officer would ask. To which I’d reply with a smile, “no thanks, officer, I’m A-OK.”

“Wash your windscreen?” the cleaning technician positioned at a set of inner city traffic lights with a water bottle filled with dishwashing liquid would ask gruffly. “No thanks, I’m A-OK,” I would offer with my trademark smile.

They’re just so versatile. The owner of that silver Subaru must’ve been happily A-OK the day they walked out of the registry office with those number plates in their hot little hands.

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