Thursday, 24 May 2007

Cryptic Comment

For as long as I can remember I've been a crossword addict, graduating from the standard "find the synonym" type through the Saturday New York Times ones with their quirky themes to the London Sunday Times cryptics. In Canada, The Sun newspaper obligingly runs the latter two every weekend. Although I didn't buy the paper (too much newsprint to recycle) my dear friend Basil, lifelong librarian that he is, has been faithfully clipping and sending me my weekly fix for some years, and continues to do so even though I'm now on the other side of the Pacific Ocean.
Meanwhile, I've discovered that The Australian newspaper runs three crosswords in their Saturday edition: an easy synonym type, and two challenging cryptics, one obviously local and the other an import from the UK. The paper even offers a free Australian dictionary as a prize for the first correct solution to the local cryptic opened each week, so of course if I can fill in all the squares I send mine off with hope that I'll be the lucky winner. After more than 25 years of living overseas, I'm quite proud of myself when I do complete one of these, as there is always at least one answer relating to an Australian placename, animal, politician or celebrity. In the example here, 17 Down is the name of a town in the state of Victoria, which I only remembered because it appears in a poem I read in high school. 6 Down, 19 Down and 10 Across spell out the full name of an Australian film director. OK, for once it's somebody with an international reputation, but who knew his middle name was Lindsay?? I think I ought to get extra credit for effort in these circumstances, but of course I never win. So far anyway. Michael thinks that by the time I do, I'll have spent enough money on stamps to have bought the darned dictionary several times over. He just doesn't understand the thrill of the pursuit!

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Men in Ties

Earlier this week, the federal government brought down its budget for this election year. We watched the treasurer's speech on TV and, although I did listen, my lasting impression was a visual one. Every man present, whether on the government or opposition benches, seemed to be wearing a navy blue suit. Most were plain cloth, though a few members were daring enough to choose a pinstriped version. With the suit, all had chosen a diagonally striped tie. The biggest diversion from this uniform lay in the colour of the stripes.
Now, I've always maintained that a man's tie fulfils the same function for him as a woman's jewellery does for her: it reveals something of the personality of the wearer. Think chunky brass and and copper versus a sedate string of pearls. I personally have a penchant for earrings in leaf shapes. But, clearly, these Australian politicians are playing their cards close to their conservative chests. Where are the cartoon character ties, the little aeroplanes, golf clubs or palm trees? I know they are available in the shops as our daughter has bought Michael a selection of interesting designs over the years. One of her inspired choices even looks at first glance like the standard diagonal, but on closer inspection the stripes turn out to be parallel rows of tiny snails.
Having noted this peculiar symptom among politicians, I'm now seeing it in other professions. Television newsreaders also wear the predictable diagonal, although one at least has a model in irridescent purple stripes on a dark blue background. (By contrast, the women newsreaders wear the most bizarre fashions, often with assertive lapels or an assortment of net and frills around the neckline.) A panel of five sportscasters included three diagonal tie wearers. The remaining two, bucking the trend, had opted for circles instead, one of which might just possibly have been little soccer balls, but the camera never provided a close-up, so I can only hope.

More on camellias

Camellia sasanqua began flowering in numerous local gardens over a month ago. It is now in full bloom and very eye-catching. At Blackheath in the grounds of the community centre is this vigorous if slightly straggly example, thriving with seemingly little care. (Thank you brother-in-law Paul for having your camera handy). Pink forms like this are the most ubiquitous, but a neighbour of ours has a particularly attractive bi-color one with white petals dipped in raspberry pink. In Vancouver's persistent winter rains, the flowers so often turn sodden and brown within hours of opening, but here in Australia's dry climate, they have a much longer shelf life.

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

(Non)Laughing Kookaburra

Yesterday, this fine kookaburra was sitting on the street sign beside our place, scanning the vacant lot next door for signs of life, probably hunting the small lizards called skinks that seem to emerge in numbers every time the sunshine is strong enough to warm the ground. I was able to stand quite close without disturbing it, although I had to shoot against the bright sky so the photos are not as distinct as I'd hoped. This particular bird was too intent on food to be laughing, but we often hear them chuckling in chorus among the surrounding eucalypts in the early morning and evening. Is it my imagination that they are more vocal whenever the weather is threatening rain?
The laughing kookaburra (Dacelo gigas) is Australia's largest kingfisher and one of the largest of its species in the world. My bird book gives a plethora of common names for it, including Breakfastbird, Bushman's Clock, Jack, Jackass, Jacko, Jacky, John, Johnny, Kooka, and Ha Ha Pigeon.
For my North American botanist friends, yes, those are Monterey pines in the background. They are quite a feature of the Blue Mountains, attracting sulphur-crested cockatoos who love tearing the cones apart. Some humans, however, dislike them for their habit of shedding needles into eavestroughs, clogging the downpipes and creating a fire hazard in this area of frequent bushfires.