Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Pulling the chain and other puerile joys

This morning at my Mum's house I found - finally! - my photo album from my first visit to Tasmania 11 years ago. I went there with a friend I'll call The Photographer. We spent ages seeking out perfect locations and framing our shots and the album is a stunner, even if I say so myself. Postcard photos!

Mixed in with the postcard shots of heavenly scenery are the pics of us having fun.

In one photo, I am balancing a chamber pot on my head. You'll be pleased to know it's empty. (Unfortunately my computer can't read the CD it's stored on, which is a bit of a worry and something I'll have to sort, otherwise you'd see it here in all its glory.)

I have always found chamber pots to be a wonderful source of amusement. I have a very advanced sense of toilet humour, which was the bane of my grandmother's existence when I was a girl. She wanted me to be A Lady. I wanted to be a tomboy.

My grandparents didn't have an indoor toilet until some time in the early 1970s, so my early childhood memories of staying there for holidays involved chamber pots. There was always one under the bed, as nobody wanted to head down to the back yard and the unlit outdoor dunny in the pitch black of night. If you needed a pee in the middle of the night, you squatted carefully over the pot. Even more carefully the next morning you took it through the house and down the back yard and tipped it into the loo. Or Mum did. Hilarious as I thought chamber pots were, the sight and smell of a semi-full one was a bit too much for me.

As for the outdoor dunny, it was a gem. The walls were of fibro, the roof of corrugated iron. The door had a gap top and bottom so the light could get in. The bog roll was on a hook that was always a little rusty. My grandparents lived by the sea.

My cousins and I used to delight in peeking under the door and teasing whoever was sat on the seat (which was made of utilitarian black plastic).

Best of all, it had a chain flush. A proper old-fashioned chain with a black bakelite handle which released a thunderous fall of water from the cistern near the roof. Pulling the chain was very satisfying - you'd give it a damned good tug, release it and watch it fly roofwards -  and one of the things I missed when the indoor toilet was installed, as its cistern was conventionally behind the seat and it flushed quietly with a discreet little button.

You don't see chain flush toilets much anymore. My other grandmother had one too in her old house in Clovelly. It was an inside toilet next to the scullery, on the covered in back porch.

At the primary school I went to chain flush toilets were still in place in the 60s and 70s. The newest school building, built in the 1960s, featured chain flushes. In the girls' loo there were two rows of toilets from memory, and it was a good game to have a race to see who could dash into each cubicle and pull the chain down the row of loos. Even better, you'd wait until someone was sat down, climb silently into the cubicle next door, reach over and pull as quickly as you could, trusting you wouldn't be seen by the unlucky girl who just got a wet bum.

This year's Tassie photos don't feature any chamber pots - but I did spy one in an antique shop and, looking at the price, wish we'd kept my grandparents'! I didn't encounter a chain flush toilet either, although I'm sure many still exist, hidden on farms and in older houses. If the chain flush toilet still exists in any number, it will exist in Tassie, my heart tells me.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Paradise may have its serpents, but it still appeals

Outside it's raining; it's blowing on the windows and on the seemingly endless row of neighbours' roofs. My glimpse of the sky is cut into segments by terracotta tiles and brickwork. I feel closed in, in a way I didn't feel for ten days earlier this month.

I've been in Paradise, you see. Godzone Country. In other words, Tasmania. In this underpopulated island there are big skies. When it rains, you can see the rain approaching for many kilometres. Even in Hobart and Launceston, the world is on a human scale and you still get the sense of space and sky.

It's even better in the country. We stayed by the sea in Bicheno for a few days, watching the weather change kilometres away and the seas turn from dead calm to white horses to waves crashing against the shore and up through the blowhole. It rained - it poured! - but somehow that didn't matter. We chucked on our raincoats and headed to the shore to watch nature at work. Who cared if it was only 13 degrees with summer a fortnight away? Not us. I prefer cool climate holidays to tropical islands anyway.

We stayed in Ross, in the midlands, where the river had broken its banks, creating a wide blue pond that reflected the wide blue sky. Around us the hills were green and gentle. Tassie has had a very wet winter and spring, and the island is rejoicing in it. Lushness everywhere.

We were snowed on at Mt Wellington near Hobart. From the top of Mt W you get, if the mountain isn't in cloud, a superb view of Hobart itself. Our time there was limited so we took a chance and drove up, passing joggers and cyclists who clearly had masochistic tendencies. Higher and higher, until little blobs of snow sat at the side of the road. I was excited. I love snow. What I didn't expect was that before we would reach the summit the weather would turn and we would be caught in a snowfall. Not a heavy one, but enough to make me pull on hats and gloves, laugh and stand in it, catching snowflakes on my tongue. Beside me a family of tourists were clearly unprepared for the weather and stood in shorts, skimpy tops and flip-flops, shivering for the camera.

As quickly as it started the snow stopped, and we were wreathed in cloud with crunchy white stuff underfoot.  Driving down the mountain Hobart reappeared when we slipped below the cloud base, dotted along the riverbanks on either side of the Derwent. It's a town that looks at peace with its environment; not too encroaching, with the only blot being the high rise Wrest Point Casino at Sandy Bay.

Launceston is even nicer in that regard, with heritage buildings - none over six stories - and a friendly feel; ten minutes' drive and you're out of town and in the country, with spring all around you, exuberant with wild colour. The road winding beside the Tamar gives you panoramic vistas. Launceston isn't a blot on the landscape, there is no pall of smog hanging over it - or Hobart come to that. You know it's there, behind those hills, but it has a kind footprint.

Our final few days were with G's family in a remote spot down the side of the D'Entrecasteaux Channel, near Gordon, a one horse village whose one horse was probably a Shetland pony.  The Cousin lives on 5 acres outside town, up on a hill with the Channel visible through the gum trees. There's some space around the property for fire protection, and the farmlet is home to native chooks, goshawks, possums and the odd tiger snake. The bloke next door has set up a rescue home for retired racehorses, but in a very minor way; he only has half a dozen as that's all he can support. The Cousin is building a veggie and fruit garden and is going to enclose it in chicken wire because of the possums.  It's a magical spot only an hour south of Hobart, on a two lane road that winds along beside the channel through villages and small towns. From the Cousin's deck you can see forever.

We drove away from the Cousin's place feeling very envious. Neither of us is particularly handy with our hands - unlike the Cousin, an ex-carpenter and builder - so we probably couldn't manage the maintenance on a property like that. But oh boy, did we ever wish we could!

I had been to Tassie before but G hadn't, and I could see the stars forming in his eyes from the first day. Like me, he was bewitched by the place. After only a few days he was thinking sea change. Not right now, as we have my elderly Mum to look after, but in the future.

All Paradise has its serpents, however, and Tassie has a couple of big 'uns. One is the cost of living. Despite being a farming island a hell of a lot of stuff is imported from The Big Island/The North Island/The Mainland, which puts the prices up. Petrol is 20c a litre dearer than Sydney. Utility costs are higher too and if you have a really dry summer you can cop water restrictions as the dams aren't as big. Winter is cold, so heating your property is more expensive. The Cousin is a dab hand with a chainsaw and has plenty of firewood to hand, so his heating bills won't be horrendous.

Land and housing, on the other hand, is cheaper than Sydney (most places are!!!!), except for upmarket areas such as Battery Point and Sandy Bay in Hobart. Lovely suburbs right close to town but almost at Sydney prices. If you had a good enough house in Sydney you could sell, move to Tassie and live off the leftover money, invested wisely.

Unemployment is another serpent. We drove through several towns down on their luck with businesses for sale or simply closed down and boarded up; not pretty enough for chocolate-box photos, and with no outstanding natural beauty nearby, they are truly struggling. (Fingal springs to mind here.) Life is not pleasant if you're living in a small town and unemployed, wondering how you're going to keep your poorly insulated house warm next winter. The Cousin keeps his doors and windows locked and blinds down even when he drives to the nearest town to pick up groceries, as crime is a real problem in the less affluent rural areas.

The prettier towns, the tourist spots like Ross, have a fair percentage of Big Islanders as residents. They've moved from Sydney or Melbourne, cashed up, and can afford a pretty cottage in a nice place; often they have started their own tourism/hospitality business there. Cafes, BandBs…

Realistically if you are self-employed you can do okay, particularly in the trades people need, although the Cousin told us that Tasmania operates on Tasmanian Time, which means tradies have a relaxed interpretation of the word urgent. My business might survive in Tassie - heaven only knows it's barely surviving here, where there are thousands of potential clients. However if we moved south I'd be giving up the business and taking on art and writing fiction I should think. Ideally we would be in a position where I wouldn't have to work full time.

Until then… we'll be spending a bit more time there, exploring, researching, calculating. G is already talking about having a longer holiday in Tassie within the next two years. I did warn him ten days wouldn't be enough!

Still raining - but I can't see beyond the neighbour's house to find out what the weather has in store for me. Oh for those big skies!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Wondering if the end is nigh

I'm a little worried. Not about the end of the world, in case you're wondering about the title of this post. But I'm worried about the state of my friendship with a certain friend I'll call Posh.

Posh and I have been close friends since we were in our late teens. Our friendship has lasted through different cities and different continents. We are able to not see each other for months and when we do, it's like we haven't been apart; laughter all the way. But suddenly, she isn't returning my calls.

I know she's been busy - she and her husband sold their house last month so they'll be scrabbling around trying to find a new place to live with their teenaged kids.

For the last couple of years Posh and I have celebrated Melbourne Cup day together, with a bunch of her friends. This year though, not a word from Posh and now she's in pics on Facebook at someone else's Cup party with a bunch of new friends. Posh is a people collector, I may add here.

So what's gone wrong?

I think it's this: I'm now a Candle Lady. Posh wanted me to be a Thermomix consultant with her, and earlier this year I agreed to do that. However, with the stress The Scarlet Pimpernel put me under, I put any new business ideas on hold. I was sick at the thought of having to go out and do demos at other peoples' houses with a bit of gorgeous kit that costs almost $2K; you wouldn't expect to sell one at every demo at that price. I'm not a natural sales person and I knew if I didn't get a sale I'd feel down and inadequate.

So when I decided that candles were for me, as it's impossible to hold a demo without someone buying something, I rang Posh to tell her my intentions and apologise for not going into Thermomix with her. The phone went to voicemail - it does quite often with Posh as she's out and about or leaves the phone in another room.

That was six weeks ago. I've left four messages since then, and not one of them has been returned. I've messaged on Facebook. No reply. I've commented favourably on some of her recent Facebook pics. No Likes, no comment in return.

I believe I'm being shunned, rather than just ignored because Posh is busy. If that's the case, and it's as a result of my business decision, I think Posh is being a bit shallow.

Or maybe she's just grown out of our old friendship. After all, the friends she has made in the last ten years are wealthy with children who go to the same private school as Posh's. They live in a nice part of Sydney's north shore. In big houses which are typically mortgaged to the hilt. They spend like there's no tomorrow, have expensive holidays and they are all foodies to a woman.  I am not wealthy and I don't have kids; I live in a townhouse in Sydney's west; my holidays are usually planned to a budget but are enormous fun; while I love my food I'm not a princess about it.

For now, I guess I have to accept the end may be on its way for our friendship. It would have taken Posh only a minute to pick up the phone, or send me a text.

To paraphrase a famous quote from one of my favourite movies, Casablanca, "This could be the end of a beautiful friendship."

I guess I'll know one way or the other - it's almost Christmas card season.