Sunday, August 23, 2009

Melbourne Is Still Standing

I'm baaa-aaack. And it's rainy. A whole lot rainy. We had to circle the airport at Launceston a couple times before the pilot was prepared to touch down: there's an awful lot of water sitting on North-East Tas as of yesterday. And it's been pissing down for much of today, too.

No complaints, mind you. Floods down here aren't like the floods I'm used to in Queensland. Back up north, come cyclone time, it was always a good idea to stock up on forty or fifty litres of clean drinking water, a week or so of non-perishable food, a good supply of basic first aid and medicines, plus matches, candles, kerosene lanterns -- and cooking fuel for some sort of non-electric cooker. A week or so without power would come along every couple years. And you could expect to be a week out of contact with supply lines pretty much every year.

Of course, I hear things aren't as wet as they used to be up there. The occasional arse-kicking cyclone rolls through and messes everyone up, sure -- but it's maybe twice a decade now, not every second year and sometimes twice a year.

On the other hand, we missed our winter rains for the last three years running, so this extremely wet August is very welcome. Indeed, it hands me a very small measure of hope. I've lived here in North-east Tas since early 2001, which doesn't exactly make me an experienced native sort -- but being me, it does mean I've kept mental records of the climate, and watched what's going on. We moved down here in the hopes of raising children well, and the whole Climate Change thing figured heavily in my considerations: I was gambling that Tasmania wouldn't be as badly fucked up as the rest of Australia by the ever more rapid onset of global warming.

As my friend Barnesm noted, we're getting close to the point where the "el nino" state of weather is probably going to be the norm, rather than the exception. Interestingly, though, the last three southern winters have been under the influence of its counterpart, the "la nina" state. Notably, the last three winters have been failures: very little rain, and none of the prolonged wet periods I saw from 2001 through 2005. We got enough rain to get by, but Tasmania's vaunted hydroelectric scheme was limping along from year to year, heavily augmented by power purchases from Victoria, and from big gas burning turbine systems which were only supposed to be an occasional measure.

Maybe two months back, I recall reading that the science johnnies had declared we were back into the 'el nino' state. And what happens? A very real return to form in terms of Tasmanian winter rain.

It's a small sample, I admit: only eight-and-a-half to nine years of observation. Nevertheless, the correlation is extremely distinct. I even went hunting online to find stats to back up my own recollection of the situation:

Red indicates a tendency towards El Nino. Blue is the alternate, La Nina. Note that when we arrived in early 2001, the locals were complaining of drought. Note also that the La Nina phenomenon declines, and switches to El Nino roundabout winter 2002 - when the rain kicked in very nicely here, and lasted through to 2005. The next year, 2006 -- we got practically no rain until very late, but when it did come it was enough to save us. 2007 and 2008 were miserable. And you will note that the graph has just turned red again... I'm keeping my fingers crossed. It would be nice to think that we're going to be able to keep living here without preparing for the kind of Big Dry that so much of Australia has suffered.

The expedition to Melbourne was excellent. I flew in on Saturday afternoon, and Barnesm picked me up at the airport. He was a little disturbed to discover all I had was a single, over-the-shoulder carry-on bag. Mr Barnes has offspring of his own, and has become completely accustomed to the necessities of Travelling With Spawn. The idea of an adult who has kids travelling with just a towel, toothbrush and necessary change of clothes kind of alarmed him a little.

Nevertheless, it was a damned good thing to do. It's funny: going to the movie with a few friends used to be difficult because
  • I had no goddam money
  • my friends didn't either
  • we were fucked for transport
  • and inevitably, trying to get us all to the same film at the same time was like trying to shove a bunch of very angry badgers into a small and crowded telephone booth.
So what's changed? Well, it's still hard to push badgers into a phone booth: dragging Guru Bob to the cinema was an epic of persuasion. He's been house-hunting around Melbourne without much luck, and he's not his usual perky self, I'm sad to say.

The timing is still full of shit, too. I would very much have liked to be in Melbourne for Birmo's shindig on Thursday -- but since I have to be at a meeting at the local school at 0900 on Friday morning, I couldn't really figure out how to swing that. (Sorry, Birmo!)

And of course, now that I have to come up with the bucks to fly to goddam Melbourne just to see a movie with Barnes, Guru Bob and Struggers... the cash situation is worse than ever, if that's possible. Happily, the Virgin and the Tiger are struggling with one another over the Launceston-Melbourne run, so it's possible to get there and back pretty regularly at a reasonable cost... but you wouldn't want to make a commute of it.

Master Struggers has done himself proud. He's laid up in a love-shack right in the very heart of inner-city goodness. Needs a batpole, it's true, and the fact that it's only five floors shouldn't prevent him citing an address on the 13th floor -- but otherwise, its a hoot. It was very fine indeed to encounter him again -- he pissed off to Dubai a few years back, and only made his return to civilisation in the last year or so.

So we drank beer, and argued about books and movies, and whinged at G-bob on the phone until he agreed to come out... and then we discovered that Raimi's Drag Me To Hell wasn't playing except way the fork out in the boonies. So we decided -- after a bellyful of Chinese food and visits to some very nifty drinking establishments recommended by The Mountain That Drinks -- to catch District 9 instead.

No spoilers from me -- but I'd just like Paul Boylan to note that travelled about five hundred miles in total to see that film... and I'm very pleased that I did. For those of you as haven't seen it: please do. It's a rarity; a truly intelligent and thoughtful science fiction flick in which the effects and the action are genuinely a necessary part of the storyline, not an overwhelming eye-candy add-on. It will certainly bear watching again.

I don't know if I want a sequel, though. One of the best parts of this film is the fact that it doesn't hand you all the answers, rub your nose in the backstory, pull up the moral and nail it to the mast. It just unfolds as a very human (and alien) tale, and ends on a note of uncertainty. I can't imagine how they'd provide a sequel without breaking that uncertainty, and I'm really not sure I want that. Still, with the movie now approaching $100 million in its first couple weeks, I don't suppose I'm going to get a choice.

I finished the night back at Chez Barnes, knocking off Bushmills with mine host and his fine partner (another dear and long-standing friend) until 0300.

That would have been fine, sure. I like Bushmills. But Barnes has an offspring, and worse, his brother-in-law was visiting, so the offspring of Barnes had his cousin along as well. And they had a shiny new Wii game to play. And I was crashed out on the fold-out futon in the TV room. Yep.

Hey, Barnes: you bastard! Just take note of my extreme civility for future reference, eh? So, you know - when I finally snap and commit the kind of mass annihilation that rewrites history books, you can tell everyone with absolute certainty that whatever pushed me over the edge must have been extreme provocation indeed. Because I think that enduring a couple of jubilant nine-year-olds playing Mario Kart over the top of my three-and-a-half hours of sleep and the remnants of my many beers, multiple G&Ts, and sundry shots of Bushmills is above and beyond the definition of "civility"! (And you may rest assured that when you finally come visiting here, you shall NOT rest assured... I have THREE kids, you know. And a Wii. And a dog. And two cats. You are going DOWN, you bastard!)

Sunday... yeah. I was just about able to endure the Salvador Dali show at the Vic Gallery. Wish I hadn't, though. There was a total ass-load of people in there. And they all had those goddam renta-brain headphones to tell them what to think about the paintings. And they all shuffled through like zombies, pausing aimlessly at each station to absorb kulcha through their earphones... jeez, it's a wonder I didn't just snap and start committing art on the bastards. Salvador Dali would have understood, and approved, I reckon...

... and then I got home, and it rained. A lot.