Category Archives: Thoughts Whilst Shaving


A new café is opening at the end of our street. The space is what I call a “doomed location” because every business that goes in there doesn’t last long. In the ten years we’ve been on the street, it has been vacant half the time, and in the other half the location has seen the speedy demise of at least four previous enterprises.

Most recently it was a “formaggeria”, a cheese-centric café which billed itself as a “cheese laboratory”. It took them forever to complete their build out before opening — presumably cheese-makers have some unusual needs. In anticipation I developed fanciful expectations of the joys of having a cheese maker right down the street. When they finally opened, I was disappointed to find they offered a narrow range of unfamiliar products at exorbitant prices. It also dawned on me that I was not entirely comfortable eating laboratory outputs. Test cheese? I am no lab rat. Continue reading Doomed

Lemons in Namibia

Yesterday I gave my newest bicycle to Bicycles For Humanity ( They plan to ship it with a container-load of others to some needy folks in Namibia.

The bike in question is an Avanti Blade, with a lightweight alloy frame and a whole lot of bells and whistles. Other than the bell, the contraption had been a continuous source of disappointment since I purchased it five years ago. It cost me $550.  Then it spent its first two months in and out of the shop having things righted that never should have been wrong in the first place, free of charge. Even the shop got tired of that, and after sixty days they started charging me to fix such things. So I changed shops. A few months later I had spent another $300 on repairs. Continue reading Lemons in Namibia

05. Athens of America

  1. 01. Minutes of the COCKUP
  2. 02. A Public Service
  3. 03. The 22% Solution
  4. 04. On The Campaign Trail
  5. 05. Athens of America
  6. 06. A Yankee’s Yankee
  7. 07. My Canadian Family
  8. 08. Edmonton? Why?
  9. 09. Prairie Singers
  10. 10. Deconstructing Calgary
  11. 11. My Kelowna
  12. 12. Wine Whine
  13. 13. Fire Mountain
  14. 14. A Stopover and a Popover
  15. 15. Inspiring Victoria
  16. 16. Planet Rosehip
  17. 17. Carry On Grunge
  18. 18. Street People
  19. 19. The Curse of Portland
  20. 20. Mean-Spirited, Powerful Justice
  21. 21. Amtrak’s Jewel
  22. 22. Managing Yosemite
  23. 23. Yumpin’ Yosemite
  24. 24. Parched
  25. 25. Brave New San Fran
  26. 26. Over The Hill
  27. 27. Greatest Again

Ah, Boston, my home town, amongst others. When William Tudor called it “The Athens of America” in 1819 he did not mean it as a reference to the city’s rich history of corrupt government spending. Nor did he mean to imply that Boston would be a risky candidate for hosting the Olympics. No, he meant it as a compliment, or a boast, really, about Boston’s tremendous cultural and intellectual influence. Given the recent political and financial developments in both Boston and Athens, one could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.

Bostonians aren’t shy about boastful nicknames for their city: The Cradle of Liberty or The City on a Hill, for example. Perhaps most famously, Oliver Wendell Holmes’ offhand jest that “The Boston State-House is the Hub of the Solar System” was modestly twisted over time into “The Hub of the Universe” before the twentieth century slickened it to “The Hub”, Boston’s favourite condescension.

Continue reading 05. Athens of America

37,000 and counting

The Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund organisation planted 37,000 American flags on the Boston Common for Memorial Day. Each represented the life of a Massachusetts “hero” who died in service while on the American side of one of the many wars the U.S. has joined since the Revolutionary War.

Memorial Day was established in the wake of the Civil War specifically to memorialise the Civil War dead. After subsequent wars it was determined to broaden its applicability to include all American wars. That is pretty liberal thinking when you consider that those who perished in the Revolutionary War weren’t even US citizens. Let’s face it, if America had a separate holiday for every war, we’d never get any work done.

All I know about the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund is that they purport “Supporting Families Who Have Made The Ultimate Sacrifice”. That is an honourable intent, so other than excess capitalisation, I have no quarrel with them. Despite having grown rather fervently anti-military in my old age, I realise that their flags represent far more victims of circumstance than courageous crusaders. photoCertainly most foot soldiers end up in the infantry for being unlucky in the draft, or because they had no better career prospect. Moreover, regardless of provenance, the families of war dead deserve to be supported. The Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund says the flags are there for “observance and reflection”,  to help me “remember and honor the ultimate sacrifices”.  Fair enough.

There are a number of memorials that offer a visual representation of the enormous number of war dead. Some are permanent, like Arlington National Cemetery. Some are temporary, like this one, or the millions of poppies that overflowed from the Tower of London to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of The Great War.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI don’t know about everybody else, but when I come across such monuments, my reflections are not about courage, or heroism, or valour, or honour, or victory, or bravery, or sacrifice. My reflections are about senseless loss, and needless pain, and unspeakable arrogance of government, and ego-driven stupidity of leaders.

Do I pity the fallen foot soldiers? Yes. Have I empathy with their families? Absolutely. But mostly I am furiously angry with their leaders and government for getting them killed in the first place.

By the way, why does the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund even need to support families who have made the ultimate sacrifice? Isn’t that the least the government can do?

Not fair enough.


Ten Incredibly Stupid Things To Do Before You Die

  1. Try to climb the Statue of Liberty without pre-booking

I have spent an embarrassing amount of time trying to get to the crown of the Statue of Liberty, never succeeding. Each time I end up tired and poorer, a huddled mess yearning to have several hours of my life back. The last time –and I say “the last time” advisedly — after three hours waiting in Battery Park, I boarded the Statue Cruise Line only to find on arrival at Liberty Island that there was a three hour wait to get back off the island – and Lady Liberty had closed!

Generally, you need to book months in advance — at the moment the next available slot is over three months out, and I have no idea whether the booking system actually makes the experience more tolerable. Regardless, if you haven’t booked, my recommendation is to take the Staten Island ferry. It is free, frequent, and hardly ever slams into the pier killing people. The ferry gives a great view of the statue and the entire harbour, too. Optionally, you can use twenty minutes of the hours you save to explore the wonders of Staten Island.


  1. Miss your flight out of Istanbul on the last day of Ramadan

Continue reading Ten Incredibly Stupid Things To Do Before You Die

Digging St Kilda Beach Volleyball

I did not expect to take up beach volleyball at the age of fifty-one. A friend, Barbara, was doing a secondment in New Zealand, living on Papamoa Beach where Frank and I visited her. One day while she was at work we walked the sixteen kilometre length of the beach to hike up Mount Maunganui. Descending the Mount, there at its foot on the beach was Barbara, as arranged. We watched her play what she described as “social beach volleyball”.

I didn’t play that day, not that I wanted to. I was impressed, though, by the casual, unpretentious nature of the sport. A referee kept score in rather haphazard fashion, but it wasn’t as if anybody cared. Players sipped beer between points and laughed at their own foibles. It reminded of the American company softball game, something I have missed since moving to Australia. Continue reading Digging St Kilda Beach Volleyball

Bicycling Bingles

Melbourne’s Foreshore Bike Path (Middle Park)

I saw him coming.  The goofball in his mid-twenties was riding on the wrong side of the foreshore bike path, helmetless, not looking where he was going, abreast of friends, if not the road rules. I rang my bell with increasing urgency, then came to a screaming halt – literally, I was screaming – all to no avail. I was motionless when he crashed into me with the stunned look that infants reserve for, well, you know.

Near as I can figure I’ve ridden about 80,000 kilometres (50,000 miles) over four to five thousand hours. I’ve spent half a year, 1% of my entire life, riding a bike.

Many of us recall the joy and freedom we experienced with our first bicycle. The bike enabled us to go places faster, farther, and harder to find than Mom and Dad could, or the school, or the police, for that matter. It bred a sense of independence, as well as irreverence for authority and the law. It was borderline anti-social, especially when we did it in packs. Stop at traffic lights? Stay off the footpaths? Signal before turning? Wear a helmet? Are you kidding?
Continue reading Bicycling Bingles

Driving St Kilda Mad

I admit it: I am a terrible driver. I come to a full stop at stop signs, overtake only when safe, signal before turning, obey speed limits, and give way to pedestrians. Naturally, everybody on the road considers me a hazard to navigation. Judging by their fondness for horns, there must be many Wagner fans amongst St Kilda drivers.

For me, the last straw was the red light camera installed at the corner of Barkly Street and Carlisle, effectively a $258 toll to take a right turn at peak hour. The solution was obvious: get rid of the car.
Continue reading Driving St Kilda Mad

Trashing St Kilda

A quirky tradition of St Kilda is the impromptu recycling residents perform by leaving their unwanted rummage on the footpath for others to usurp, free of charge. Beggars can be choosers after all. Almost all of it seems to get snatched up. When I put a refrigerator outside after dutifully duck-taping it closed and calling the council to pick it up, my neighbours came a-knockin’ asking whether it still worked. “Of course,” I answered “but once I couldn’t cram anymore cash inside, what was I to do with it?” Ask a silly question…

Some stuff nobody wants; tube TV’s and CD racks come to mind. These spend a long time out there. When analogue broadcast met its demise, one couldn’t walk down the street without climbing over once-loved TVs.
Continue reading Trashing St Kilda