do be do be do

Which of these two  announcements will not have you bleeding from the ears?  Now I have pointed this out to you, you will hear it all over the place.

Option 1

Good morning ladies and gentlemen. We do welcome you on board this Anonymous Airlines flight to Brisbane. We do want to get away on time, so we do ask that you step out of the walkway when stowing your luggage so that people can get past you. We do suggest that you use the space under the seat in front of you to store any small items, to make more room in the overhead bins.

Our flight time will be approximately two hours and fifteen minutes. We do advise that we will be serving breakfast once airborne. We do ask that you let us know if we can do anything to make your flight more comfortable.

We do request that you give the flight attendants your full attention for this brief safety demonstration.

We do thank you for flying Anonymous Airlines, and we do hope to see you on board again soon.

Option 2

Good morning ladies and gentlemen. Welcome on board this Anonymous Airlines flight to Brisbane. To help us get away on time, can you please step out of the walkway when stowing your luggage so that people can get past you. Please use the space under the seat in front of you to store any small items, to make more room in the overhead bins.

Our flight time will be approximately two hours and fifteen minutes. We will be serving breakfast once airborne. If we can do anything to make your flight more comfortable, please let us know.

Please now give the flight attendants your full attention for this brief safety demonstration.

Thank you again for flying Anonymous Airlines, and we hope to see you on board again soon.

can I just grab…?

Standing in a queue for takeaway coffee, the person in front of me orders: “Can I just grab a large skinny flat white?”.

Dining with friends or colleagues, it is not unusual for at least one person to say “Can I grab the wagyu beef and a glass of shiraz?”.

This manner of ordering or requesting service rarely, if ever, is accompanied by a “please”.

Why do so many people trivialise their order or request in this way? Servers and shop assistants are here to serve us, in a shop, cafe or restaurant. The “just” implies that theirs is a small, easy to deliver request. Nothing big, complicated or time-consuming. The “grab” implies the server can quickly reach for said item with no effort, and the customer can grab it from them (itself a little rude) and be on their way.

Are these “just grabbers” trying to show they are no trouble, easy to satisfy, unimportant, taking up little time? Or do they have little respect for the person serving them? The lack of “please” further emphasises the latter to me.

What’s wrong with the traditional, polite “May I have…”?

It happens in reverse too, and that really winds me up. You browse through Borders, or Priceline, or an expensive clothes shop. You wander up to the counter with $250 worth of books, or $75 of toiletries, or $500 of new clothes. The assistant says “Just those today?”.

Am I not purchasing enough to please? Is the shop dissatisfied that I am spending “just” that amount? This has happened to me when purchasing multiple outfits, expensive computer equipment, ridiculous amounts of money in a single shop for Christmas presents. At times I have been standing there trying to decide whether I am being excessively indulgent in my purchase, then decide to go for it, only to be asked “Just those today?”.

Next time you are out and about, listen to how people communicate with each other when shopping or dining out, and ask whether we can find better ways to do so without trying to trivialise, disrespect or dismiss.

Australian Christmas Songs

Listening to Christmas FM is a favourite pastime for me in December. With inches of snow all over Ireland and the UK, there isn’t a Christmas song that isn’t even more apt this year for you lot. Here in Australia, though, so many of the traditional Christmas songs just don’t fit:

  1. Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow
  2. White Christmas
  3. Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire
  4. Frosty The Snowman
  5. Jingle Bells
  6. Walking In A Winter Wonderland
  7. Sleigh Ride

Even Last Christmas by Wham! sounds weird with all those sleigh bells in the background.

 So I started thinking of an all-Australian Christmas song playlist, that I don’t have to keep skipping through. Here is my top ten.

  1. Little Saint Nick – Beach Boys: anything from the Beach Boys has enough of a summer flavour to make it perfect for an Australian Christmas.
  2. Merry Xmas Everybody – Slade: I know he talks about sleighs and snow here and there, but it’s a great Christmas party tune for people of my vintage.
  3. Santa Claus is Coming To Town – Perry Como: the classic Christmas Eve tune, and I love Perry Como for a Christmas tune. However this version by Bruce Springsteen somehow fits the Aussie music vibe just a little better (jump about a minute and a half in)!
  4. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas – Judy Garland: the original version from the wonderful movie “Meet Me In St. Louis” – a guaranteed weepy. Alternatively, I also love this version from the Pretenders.
  5. Six White Boomers – Rolf Harris: the quintessentially Aussie Christmas tune. From Rolf, of course.
  6. Santa Baby – Eartha Kitt: never mind Madonna or Mariah, this is the original and the best.
  7. Mary’s Boy Child – Boney M: maybe it’s the steel pans in the background but this is perfect for a hot sunny Australian Christmas. And watching yer man dancing is also excellent.
  8. Do You Hear What I Hear – Whitney Houston: not the original but I love this version. All about the birth of the baby Jesus, and no mention of snow at all.
  9. A Spaceman Came Travelling – Chris de Burgh: no Irish Christmas would be complete without this brilliant track from Christy Burke. Perfect anywhere in the world.

Any others from you fellow Aussies?

a solo half-weekend

An opportunity to spend a little time in Tasmania is always a good thing. And so it was that I organised to stay an extra twenty-four hours in Hobart following a work trip.

It was all going swimmingly until I got sick. I’d had a useful meeting with colleagues, raided the Red Cross second-hand bookshop and even had time for a shot of late-night shopping after work. The weather was unseasonably warm and it promised to be a beautiful evening. But my temperature was soaring and by six o’clock on my free night I was sitting in my hotel room unsure whether I was well enough to venture anywhere.

I took a look at my basic hotel surroundings, and imagined the early-summer evening I was missing outside. This was what I promised myself: an evening out on a date with myself, a good glass of wine and Salamanca Market in the morning. What was I thinking? I dosed myself up with more aspirin, changed, and headed out with a new book.

The evening was beautiful. Dressed head-to-toe in black and wearing boots, I was the odd one out. It was all the clothes I’d brought with me. How was I to know Tasmania would transform into a tropical paradise instead of its usual cool temperate maritime vibe? Young women strolled arm in arm dressed in strapless maxi dresses and strappy sandals. Young men scrubbed up well and sported the latest logo tees and edgy hairstyles. Even the over-sixties tourists sported jaunty spring-summer outfits with their Tevas.

Down by the Elizabeth Street pier a beautiful ketch got ready to cast off, crew on board. The sky turned all colours, then settled on lavenders, pinks and blues as the sun set through the high clouds. I strolled towards Salamanca Market and selected a restaurant. Ciuccio’s in Salamanca Place looked inviting and I craved pasta. I headed inside.

Dining alone is a treat for me. Many people I know dread the thought of eating alone anywhere, whether away on business or even just out at lunch from work. I love it. Since my twenties I’ve loved getting all dressed up and taking myself out to dinner, alone, or sometimes with a good book. I sit at my table, hopefully with a good view of something – the scenery, or other diners, or the world outside, and drink it all in. Whether it is the changing view before me or a chance to people-watch, or perhaps to look like you are people-watching but you are actually in deep thought about something else, there is nothing like it. Sometimes it is a more internal experience, when I open my book and settle in for an evening of good food and wine with my reading. I choose dishes that can be eaten with one hand – risotto and small pasta shapes are perfect – so that I can hold my book with the other. There is no need to compromise on ambience or quality of food just because one is reading.

Just because I was reading, I still had a chance to do a little people-watching. The two men beside me were an enigma. I could not figure out whether they were brothers, father and son, colleagues or a couple. The larger table in front of me was a couple and their respective parents, perhaps meeting for the first time, or certainly their first formal evening out together. The couple to the other side of me were innocuous-looking for the most part, except they’d spent the evening playing noughts and crosses and other children’s games on their paper tablecloth with the crayons provided on each table for just that purpose.

I paid the bill and headed hotelwards not long after nine – well, I was poorly. Salamanca Place was still buzzing and the sun had only just set. Amazingly the temperature still hovered around the high twenties and it felt a little like summer in Dublin. Enjoying the solitude, I picked my way through groups of students congregated on the grass and the odd Hobart Show dropout in all their finery, back past Franklin Wharf and along by the fish places moored in the little enclosed dock.

Next morning after a good night’s sleep, I retraced my steps back to Salamanca Place for the Saturday-morning market. It was a good deal cooler in the morning, so my all-black outfit and sturdy boots looked less out of place. I strolled the aisles, unencumbered by any companions whose interests I had to accommodate. I flitted from jewellery stall to book stall, lingering over pieces that caught my attention without feeling I was delaying anybody. The sizzling of those gourmet sausages seriously tempted me, and this was the only time I felt the loss of a pal: logistically, it was not possible to purchase a currywurst outside and a glass of bubbly inside, and still be sure of a pavement table at which to enjoy it all. As Mena succinctly put it later, I didn’t have anybody to mind my sausage… Defeated, it was back to Salamanca Place where I found a nice “gawky” seat at Barcelona, where a healthier breakfast of eggs florentine awaited.

I sat, book in hand, but this was a much more tempting place to people-watch. A young student entertained us in the centre of the Place with beautiful renditions of operatic arias. People from every cafe and restaurant applauded each piece he sang. The fashions of the young women had not abated since the night before, even though the temperature had. I sat, barely keeping my own body at a decent temperature, watching in fascination as outfits more worthy of a Gold Coast housewife wandered past. Two young children, one dressed as a fairy with a denim jacket, the other in top-to-toe OshKosh, played with a twenty-first century frisbee as their parents waited in the ATM queue. A bunch of young women in one corner of my cafe postured and tinkled with laughter for the sole benefit of a bunch of young men in the other corner.

I didn’t buy much: a small birthday gift for a friend, some chocolate for Orlando, some more chocolate for Orlando, and a little shopping bag to send to Ireland for Annette. It was the browsing I enjoyed, all at my own pace and without the need for conversation or compromise. Yes, even I like silence sometimes, and a solo half-weekend was the perfect time for that.

a weekend in taswegia

I like lastminute.com. Not as a website, but as a lifestyle.

 And so it was when I was sitting in one hotel in one state capital (Sydney), I conspired with Mena to make another trip to another hotel in another state capital. But not any other state capital, our favourite. Hobart.

 Yes, it’s winter. Yes, Hobart is at the same latitude south of the equator as Buffalo, New York is north of the equator. (Buffalo’s mean temperature on 21 February 2010 was -2°C). We didn’t care.

 The main issue was getting up at 4.30am to get a very early flight. Ryanair aren’t the only sub-human airline in the world. The upside of this was that we were parked at our waterfront apartment and already browsing the famous Salamanca Market before eleven in the morning.

The place was hopping, and they weren’t all tourists. Stalls stretched as far as the eye could see from Macquarie Street to Prince’s Park. We tried chilli chutneys, blueberry jams and fresh breads. I bought two brown hats in the space of three minutes. Why not? We gravitated towards trestle tables filled with bric-a-brac and managed to purchase a sum total of no jugs. I told myself I needed no more scarves or necklaces. And then it was lunch-brunch-time.

We wanted to sit down, but outside. I wanted savoury, Mena didn’t mind. There was coffee and doughnuts. No. There was elderberry wine. No. Then I had a brainwave. Two currywursts from the sausage stall, washed down with two glasses of the local bubbly purchased from Irish Murphy’s, which gave us the right to sit at an outdoor table. Marvellous.

When we’d eaten and drunk our fill, bought sufficient headgear and things in jars, the day was half-gone. We wandered vaguely in the direction of the summit of Mount Wellington in search of winter sun and perhaps a snow view or two. A traffic accident made us stop awhile in the Fern Tree tavern, the biggest waste of a bar I’ve ever seen. We sat in a faded  eighties-style café area by a beautiful log fire, drinking coffee and eating very good home-made fruit cake. And that’s all I can say about the place. I think there was a stunning view across Derwent Bay, but at four o’clock on a Saturday afternoon the curtains were closed and the dining room in darkness. I think there was a decent wood-fired pizza oven but you had to walk through a grim pool hall to get to it. No wonder the local convenience store across the road was busy serving many more people. At least they had daylight.

At the summit of The Mountain (at 1,271 metres, only 75 metres lower than Ben Nevis and full 240 metres lower than Carrantuohill in Ireland) the car park was full. Some weird atmospherics mean the remote locking on your car doesn’t work, which doesn’t help when it is blowing a hurricane and you can’t feel your hands. We ventured towards one lookout across a shaky-looking boardwalk, then braved the icy wind and sub-zero temperatures (with wind-chill it was close to -10°C up there) to catch a glimpse of the view across the bay. Despite losing the feeling in my hands, it was stunning, and well worth the Arctic conditions to experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Later, back in Salamanca Place, we settled in to the Ball and Chain Grill with a glass of wine and a half-decent steak, but the free salad bar kept reminding me of the old Pizza Huts in London and sort of put me off in the end. Nevertheless, the food was fine and the atmosphere cosy so we didn’t mind.

Next day, the weather was unseasonably mild and sunny, and we spent a lovely Sunday wandering the country roads of the Tasman peninsula. Seven Mile Beach near the airport was staggeringly beautiful at ten in the morning, with hardly a breath of air, perfect blue skies and a tiny bit of warmth in the spring air. People strolled along the curve of white sand or kayaked in the still bay waters. We stood and drank in the view and listened to the waves and knew we would be back for a longer visit.

Laneway after laneway gave up treasures of stunning view after stunning view. A return visit to Dunalley meant lunch in the wonderful Dunalley Waterfront Café, housed in an old fish cannery right by the little fishing pier. Stunning views over the bay accompanied our lunch of fresh seafood pie washed down by Tasmania’s finest bubbly. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Later in the evening, back at Salamanca Place, we lounged in Cargo pizza place and bar, downing enormous wood-fired pizzas and lashings of wine before retiring to our penthouse apartment with yet another bottle of Ninth Island sparkling wine. This is the life.

Our last day of the long weekend took us north-east along the east coast, in the direction of Freycinet. Yet again, we were stunned by the spectacular views around almost every turn of the road. A tiny laneway took us down to Rheban Beach, a perfect crescent of deserted beach tucked away from view, overlooking Maria Island.

Why doesn’t the tourist board show these amazing views as well as the ever-present Wineglass Bay? We knew we would have to come back to experience even more of this Tasmanian secret.

Back to the airport late in the evening, we stopped in Sorell for an early supper. Heat Pizza across the road from McDonalds was one of only a few places open at seven on a Monday night. We were not disappointed by the light fluffy pizzas with a perfect amount of topping on, served with a smile from the wood-fired oven.

Except, typical Doyle, we ordered too much and had to leave far too many slices behind. As we left, I swear somebody in the town turned off the rest of the lights.

voting in a new election

Last time I voted my Dad was still alive. Last time I voted, I was living in England and trying to figure out who was going to get my single vote in the constituency of Brent East. I had to walk about a hundred paces from home to the local primary school to cast my vote. I didn’t back the eventual winner, a Liberal Democrat called Sarah Teather.

Five years later, we live in a new country. I have gone from proportional representation in Ireland, and the ability to vote for both Dail and Senate, to an “x” in a single box for Parliament in the UK (nobody gets to vote for the upper house there), to some sort of hybrid here in Australia.

Because both Orlando and I will be out of our home state on Saturday – he in Hong Kong and I in Tasmania – we found an Interstate Voting Centre in Sydney during the week and voted early. Here in Australia, it is illegal not to vote. Enrolment on the Commonwealth electoral roll has been compulsory since 1911, and voting at federal elections has been compulsory since 1924 for all citizens on the Commonwealth electoral roll. As a result, there are lots of ways to cast your vote. Mobile polling places have been popping up around the country in very remote areas for a few weeks now. Colleagues posted in tiny Pacific Islands lined up to vote in Australian or other embassies in the past week or so. Most major airports have early polling stations on site so that you can vote before you fly – a very clever idea I think. And in every state capital, and many other places besides, there are plenty of interstate voting places where you can pop in, fill in a quick form, and they will magically conjure up a polling card for your own constituency right before your eyes.

There is no excuse not to vote… except for the dearth of reasonable candidate parties to choose from.

We found the Sydney offices of the Australian Electoral Commission before work on a sunny Sydney Wednesday morning, and presented ourselves for our first formal duties since we became citizens nineteen months ago. We filled out the details on the front of our polling paper envelopes, and the polling officer came back within minutes with two pieces of paper. No ID check, nothing except a casually-requested verbal declaration that we had not voted anywhere else beforehand.

The first – lower house – polling card was easy. About one-third A4 size, it had a nice little list of six local candidates on there. Our instructions were to vote 1 to 6 in order of our choice, and not to leave any box unmarked. Easy.

The second – Senate – polling card was more like a roll of polling wallpaper. Easily more than double A3 landscape length, there was a row of party names along the top of the paper with a box associated with each. Below a thick black line, a list of candidates was listed below the appropriate party name. In all there were 60 names listed under 20 parties or marked as Independent. Some party names I recognised – Labor, Family First, Liberal, Greens. Some were indistinguishable from each other: Socialist Alliance, Socialist Equality Party, Socialist Alliance. One sounded like a locum politician service: Senator On-Line. Wonder if they are a 24-hour service?

Then the barking mad parties came: Australian Sex Party. Climate Sceptics. One Nation. Shooters and Fishers.

I wish I were making those names up.

I had two choices. I could mark a “1” in a single box associated with a political party above the line, or I could stand and mark every one of the names below the line from 1 to 60 in order of choice. If I didn’t do it right, my vote would not be counted as I would have spoiled my vote – over here it’s called an informal or donkey vote.

I seriously considered doing the latter. I am used to proportional representation. I always felt cheated in the UK with only one measly”x” to mark my choice. But there were too many of those anonymous parties listed and I didn’t feel confident. Do the Australian Democrats, the Nationals, Building Australia or the Christian Democratic Party deserve a higher number than the rest?  Who are these people anyway? What if I go through the full list as best I can starting from 60 and working up, and somehow when I get to the last box I am still only on number two or three?

I bottled it. I marked “1” in a single box above the line, spent ten minutes trying to fold the polling wallpaper into a reasonable size, returned to the polling officer and handed in my vote.

Job done… for another three years at least. Let’s hope.

road deaths

OK, I know I said I would stop with the statistics, but this one was on my mind.

In the UK in 2008, 2,538 people were killed in road incidents.

In Ireland, the number killed in the same year was 279.

In the whole of Australia in the same period, 1,464 people were killed in road incidents.

In all statistics, this includes drivers, passengers, pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists etc.

So per head of population, you are almost twice as likely to get killed in a road traffic incident in this country as in the UK. As a scooter rider in Melbourne, this does not surprise me in the least.

Interesting that the death rate in Ireland and Australia is so similar. I wonder if this is to do with the rural population, who might take more chances with speeding, drink driving etc. because the police presence will be lighter? My gut tells me this is something to do with drink driving but I will have to investigate further.

I would also love to compare road deaths involving or caused by novice drivers, but it seems that will take a bit more digging to find comparable statistics.

  Population Road Deaths 2008 Average per 100k pop.
UK 61,000,000 2,538 4.2
Ireland 4,150,000 279 6.7
Australia 21,000,000 1,464 7.0