Monday, January 10, 2011

Melbourne Weekend

Natalie's yearly celtic music extravaganza is upon us. Every year, she takes a week and goes to Kyneton to practice folky music on her fiddle with a bunch of like-minded musos. I was supposed to go along this year and do some singing -- the people running the sing-sessions are old, old friends of mind from the Bad Old Brisbane days -- but things didn't work out that way, what with the difficulty of placing three kids for a full week, etc. So in the end, all five of us zipped over to Melbourne for a weekend of food and tourism, while Natalie will be staying until Friday.

Naturally, we had a late flight Friday night. Of course. But I'd organised a car rental, and good Meister Barnes had agreed to put up our clan at his (nigh empty for the moment, saving only himself) residence, so we had a bit of leeway. Good thing, really. I'm not altogether happy with the signage on Melbourne's freeways. There was a certain amount of ... navigating which had to occur, and even then, we wound up taking the M80 instead of the M43 to the M40 and thence to the M1. Yeah.

But on the good side, the rental folks had lost the keys to the Skoda they were going to rent us, so we wound up with a farnarkling huge electric-blue Commodore with less than 9000km on the clock. Ridiculous bloody car. Piss poor rear vision, huge blind spots - so they accommodate with a built-in reversing-radar sort of system. Bleah.

Still. It did take off nicely when I needed it to do so.

Mr Barnes was wonderfully accommodating. He had an entire sleeping plan laid out, and by the time we got there, we were in no mood to rearrange things. Except for the Mau-Mau, of course. She couldn't possibly sleep on the perfectly good guest bed in the study. Oh dear no. Because she heard things, you know?

You know how it goes. Mau-Mau and Natalie inhabited the larger bed. I took the guest bed in the study. The boys infiltrated Young Master Barnes' presently unoccupied bed. And other than the cloying heat (curse that mainland weather!) it was fine.

We had cunning plans for Saturday, and they worked out okay. We took in the museum, and met with Mr Barnes to see a nifty NASA flick at the IMAX theatre there. Then we traipsed all to hell all over central Melbourne - but most importantly, to Minotaur Books and to Mind Games - and wound up just in time for an early dinner at a restaurant which Mr Barnes swears was once known as "The Dainty Sichuan".

Dainty. Yeah. Like a psychopathic bull moose on PCP. The restaurant has changed its name, I note, to the "Sichuan House". After eating there, I want the government to intervene. That goddam place should be known as something like the "Sichuan Citadel."

The food was great, yeah. Wonderfully cooked, and incredibly tasty. But the servings are beyond copious.

The Younger Son, for example - we ordered some salt-and-pepper quail for him. The menu showed one goddam quail. One! But when his plate arrived, there was a veritable goddam Jenga tower of deep-fried salt-and-pepper quail wobbling precariously back and forth. And my chicken baked with dry chili... the platter was the size of a semitrailer hubcap, with at least three full chickens chopped in bitesized pieces and then concealed cunningly within a mountain of chopped dried chilies. I had to go fossicking to find them!

We took a lot of food back to Chez Barnes. Including a significant portion of the rather magnificent chili-cumin pork ribs which Mr Barnes ordered. Actually, that's the only thing he ever orders there because he loves 'em, and why not? But on the good side: once he tried Natalie's order of Chicken and mushroom (which was absolutely delicious) he allowed that maybe once in a while he ought to extend his order a little.

Obviously, once we got back to Chez Barnes, we were a little tired. There was a whole lot of walking involved in the day, and with the flight of the night before, the kids were fractious. We took in a Studio Ghibli flick (courtesy of Minotaur... I wasn't as impressed with 'Tales of Earthsea' as I'd hoped I might be) and crashed.

The next day was supposed to be easier. We were going to ride a tram for Younger Son's sake, and have a bite at the marvellous Hutong Dumpling Bar to catch up with Large Bob and with Struggers. Of course, things got complicated.

We arrived early, and did some more walking, yep. Then over the meal, we discovered that Struggers is due to marry his beloved sometime in March, in Brisbane (if there's anything left of it after these floods) and then again in China, her homeland, a bit later. And so there was much of congratulations and eating and drinking.

Then Large Bob convinced us to check out the State Library, where he works. He's been trying to get us in there for years, so it was about time... plus there was an exhibition for kids. But being the man he is, enthusiasm got the better of us all and we got led willy=nilly throughout the entire labyrinthine edifice, up several floors, round and round, and back down again.

Jeez, there's some cool shit in that building. Really. Make the bastard take you through it sometime. But do it without kids...

Anyway, once that was done we walked out, grabbed an ice-cream, and duly rode an overcrowded tram - back to Minotaur, so Jake could pick out a reward for his very good behaviour of the two days. And then, finally, we made it back to Barnesland - whereupon I promptly collected Natalie and drove her out to Kyneton.

The original plan was to take the kids, and visit Sam, who lives out there. But that didn't happen because we thought Nat could get a lift with Struggers and his partner, who were going that way. Only the timing didn't work, so I had to drive Nat anyway. But it was good to leave the kids... they were flat worn out, and another drive of an hour-plus in either direction would have made the flight next morning a real bastard.

It was a bastard anyway, of course. Some prick checked a bag onto our flight, and then didn't pick up their own ticket and get aboard. Therefore we waited, in the aircraft, on the ground, for a full hour while they searched the airport for the thick-headed clot in question, and retrieved the bag from the hold of the aeroplane. Can't have a bag fly unattended these days!


That was my weekend. I got the kids home. We watched some Star Trek, and ate antipasto. And then we slept. They slept so solidly that none of 'em awoke unto 0830 this morning... which is unheard-of.

Today I took 'em into Launceston so I could wrestle with Telstra. This satellite internet shit is really crapulent, and Telstra have finally launched some 3G plans at rates competitive with what we get from the satellite mob. Of course, the 3G signal here generally degrades upload and download to 256kbps, which is even shittier than the 512kbps the satellite gives us, but the Telstra johnnies assure me that if I install a Yagi (high gain) aerial, we'll bring the speeds up to an acceptable level. And with Natalie's mobile phone tied into the deal, we can actually reduce our monthly 'Net bill by $20 or so.

Yeah, I know. I don't expect it to work out either. There's a ten-day window of opportunity to return the gear and tell Telstra to bite their own arses if the system doesn't work, though. I'm gambling that I can set up the aerial and the base station and establish functional connections to Nat's computer and mine, and test the speeds within that ten-day period.

Can't be that difficult, can it?

Meanwhile, Brisbane is by way of being swept off the map. Hey, all my homies from back that way... you know that Wivenhoe Dam which is keeping the worst of the water at bay? You know? The one they built after the floods of '74?

Yeah, that one. Did it ever occur to you it was built under the Bjelke-Petersen government? The same government infamous for allowing sub-tidal land to be sold on Russell Island? And for high-rises built on foundations of sand on the Gold Coast?

I know I wouldn't like to be gambling my life on the quality of workmanship in that dam...