Thursday, 31 January 2013
Wednesday, 30 January 2013
Tuesday, 29 January 2013
Monday, 28 January 2013
The bloke next door to me had one of his garage doors blown right off and the people in the next street had their Boab tree blow right over and crush the fence.
The council trucks were like worker ants, the small ones with crews pulling the branches to the footpaths and the big Muncher mulch trucks back and forth reducing the limbs to wood chip.
It was quite scary to be out driving in it but this area was without power from noon till 7.30pm so Dad's oxygen(uses it 24hrs) machine stopped without power and 2of the 3 back up portable bottles were empty (3 hours supply each). The paramedics arranged for me to get some replacements from a nearby nursing home that had a big delivery on Friday.
The power was still out toward 5 pm and all I had in the house were a few candles and a small torch, so it was back out to K mart for a decent size lantern and batteries.
We had 144mls in the 24 hours 9am Sat to 9am Sun, would think we had the same yesterday,will check on Elders website later.
Diana just rang and said the creek at her place at Withcot is up and they can't get out, no idea how long they will be isolated. Grantham and Laidley had a lot of people evacuated yesterday as the flooding in some areas is as bad as 2011.
Bundaberg had some Tornados !!! on Saturday and there has been severe damage up there and flooding. TV has been focused with weather reports and constant updates.
Sunday, 27 January 2013
Last Thursday I had my very first, in my entire life, appointment with a gynecologist. Don't worry -- it was just for a routine cervical smear test, but in Australia and the UK, this is done at your GP's surgery -- either by the doctor themselves, or more likely these days, the practice nurse.
According to Madame le Docteur Michèle Conort, some GP's will do it in France, but mostly you make an appointment with your gynecologist. Mme Conort's surgery is in rue Aristide Briand in Chatellerault, quite close to the river, in a series of buildings that are jam packed with specialist physicians of all sorts.
On examining me, she discovered a polyp the size of a large pea, so whilst blythely engaging me in conversation about the Baptistry of St Jean in Poitiers to take my mind off things, she cut it out on the spot. She says she is certain it is benign, but naturally has sent it off for a biopsy anyway. She told me off for leaving it more than the recommended 3 years between tests (quite right too).
When she asked me for my Carte Vitale (the equivalent of a medicare card for Australians) I explained that although I had an identity number and was clearly in the system, I had never been sent a Carte Vitale, and had never been able to find out why. She told me I was the third patient that day in the same situation, and I could see by the note she made to herself that the other two had French names, so it is presumably nothing to do with not being French (and besides, Simon was issued with his card ages ago). She had also run out of feuilles de soin (care record forms), which is how you claim for the fee reimbursement 'manually'. She apologised and said if I was going to be in Chatellerault next week for any reason I could pick it up, otherwise she would post it to me. My consultation cost €44, of which I expect to get half back once I send the feuille de soin to RAM.
I tottered out of the surgery in a bit of pain and was very pleased to see Simon waiting in the car right at the entrance of the building. He'd been amusing himself down at the river while I was at the doctor's, making movies of the raging torrent that is flowing over the sluices that once controlled the waters of the Vienne to power the arms factory.
We set off home and about half way I started to feel really weird. I said to Simon that I thought I was going to faint, and promptly passed out. Only for a few seconds, thankfully, and we drove the rest of the way home with my window down, solving the fainting problem, but risking hypothermia. I don't know what caused this uncharacteristic attack of the vapours, and can only guess that it was some sort of shock reaction. I got home, took a couple of paracetamol and by bedtime I was fine. I can't tell you how glad I am that I didn't drive myself to the doctor's though.
Saturday, 26 January 2013
Today is another anniversary -- Australia Day, and Ernie is a perfect example of those intrepid spirits who left their country of birth to make a better life for themselves and their families in Australia -- exactly the sort of thing Australia Day celebrates.
Friday, 25 January 2013
Thursday, 24 January 2013
Wednesday, 23 January 2013
Tuesday, 22 January 2013
View Trip to Qld in a larger map
Monday, 21 January 2013
Sunday, 20 January 2013
We had been warned that everything had got very expensive in Australia in the last couple of years, since we were last there. I can't say I noticed it especially, but there were a few things that were significantly more expensive than in France, like diesel (and some, like petrol, which is cheaper).
Whilst restaurant and takeaway meals seem to be around a third dearer in Australia than in France, it was staples like sugar and milk which really astonished us with the price difference between the two countries.
Both France and Australia are sugar producing countries. In France, sugar beet is widely grown in the north, even after 45% of sugar beet growers have withdrawn from the industry in the last 6 years. The beets are fully refined into sugar in France. The price to growers is set by the European Commission, and they operate under a quota system, but the retail price is not controlled. I pay 89 euro cents a kilo (the equivalent of AUD$1.10). Growers can produce more than their quota and the price for the beets sold outside the quota is not regulated, but these beets cannot go into the production chain for refined sugars. Instead they are sold to the industrial chemical or pharmaceutical processors. Imported cane sugar, especially from less developed countries and former French colonies is equally available, and is offered favourable trade arrangements so it is extremely competitive. Since 2006 France has become a net importer of sugar.
In Australia sugar cane is widely grown in the north east, but it is only processed to the raw sugar stage before being shipped offshore for refining. Sugar is one of Australia's biggest export products. Sugar beet is not grown at all. The 2kg bag purchased in Canberra that you see in the photo above cost me AUD$4.60 (ie $2.30 / kg or the equivalent of €1.85 / kg -- more than twice what I pay in France). Mind you, this does seem to have been particularly expensive sugar -- the same product in the same supermarket chain but in a small country town in Queensland was 90 cents a kilo cheaper.
The pasturised homogenised fresh milk I purchased at the same time cost me $1.90 a litre (€1.53), whereas in France I pay €0.80¢ ($0.99¢) for raw milk direct from the producer (it's up to 10 euro cents dearer in the supermarket, and UHT, not fresh). In Australia, dairy farmers have quotas, are locked in to selling to designated processors (it is illegal to sell raw milk) and are paid between 13 and 18 cents per litre (friends of mine receive 14 cents a litre for their milk). UHT milk is widely available in Australia, but not consumers first choice (only being purchased when shelflife is important). The price is unregulated, and set by the processors, who are effectively controlled by the big supermarkets. At this price, the farmers are not breaking even, and many are handing in their quotas (as my friends plan to do).
France also currently uses a quota system to control the market, although this is due to end in 2015. The price farmers receive is not officially regulated, but there is a regularly reviewed recommended price proposed by representatives from the industry (including the farmers themselves). It is currently around 34 euro cents ($0.42) and processors (such as the giant Danone) stick fairly closely to it when purchasing milk. Even so, producers say that the real cost of production is around 42 euro cents a litre and there was a dramatic protest in Brussels in November while we were away, when dairy farmers from all over the EU came to town and sprayed the European Parliament building (and riot police) with milk.
In both countries, dairy farmers can choose to exceed their quotas, but the extra milk cannot be sold as milk, but only go to make milk products such as powdered milk or the various dairy bulking agents widely used in the food industry. Naturally, the price to the producer is lower for this ex-quota milk. The milk I bought in Australia was not the cheapest. One of the big supermarkets, Coles, notoriously uses milk as a loss leader, and sells it for $1 a litre (80 euro cents, the same as I pay in France). Of course, in this situation, it is not the supermarket or the processors who are bearing the loss, but the dairy farmers. Milk is never used as a loss leader in France -- there would be no point -- French people don't consume enough of the stuff.
Saturday, 19 January 2013
The day before we left for Australia, in November, I turned on the oven and nothing happened -- no light, no fan and definitely no heat. The gas cooktop worked perfectly, so it wasn't the power supply in. We were mystified, but didn't have time to do anything about it before we left. At least it was better than having the back door lock explode the afternoon before we left, which is what happened in 2009.
On our return Simon emailed the retailers in London, who had previously been very helpful. They replied that they were no longer the agents for Bertazzoni and could only pass on to us the contact details for the new London dealer. We got in touch with the new London dealer and they said they couldn't help us as we were in France and gave us the contact details for the French service agent. They were located in a département many kilometres away, so we emailed our friend Chris, who also owns a Bertazzoni, passed on what we had learned and asked his advice. He gave me the service contact email that he had, and checked the papers that came with the range cooker. I'd already checked ours, and neither of us could find any sort of troubleshooting guide, nor any wiring diagrams that might shed some light. In the meantime I'd also emailed Colin, who is an electrical engineer, to see if he could identify what the problem was likely to be.
I emailed the service address Chris had given me. After about a week they came back to me to tell me that they could only deal with North American clients and gave me a European service email address. I emailed this address and got someone in the service department at Bertazzoni in Italy. He replied promptly, communicated in English and was immediately very helpful. He guessed what the problem was (a faulty oven selector switch) and sent me the relevant wiring diagrams so we could check it out.
I asked Stéphane, if he would come over to look at it, which he very kindly did. Stéphane, amongst his many talents, is a trained electrician. Sure enough, a plastic lug on the mechanical part of the selector switch had melted. It looked like one of the electrical connections was a bit loose, heated up and had caused this. Stéphane effected a neat and clever wiring bridge and we had a temporary fix.
I relayed this information to the nice man at Bertazzoni, who said that he was very happy to post us a replacement part for free, as the range cooker was still (just) under guarantee. What he couldn't do, as we were in France, was arrange a technician to come and do the repair. Would we mind arranging this ourselves? By this time it was Christmas eve.
Once I had the part I had intended to ask Alex if he could come over and help Simon replace the switch (amongst his many talents he is a trained electrical engineer). However, he was unavailable. I emailed Colin to let him know progress, and he very generously offered to come over and deal with the repair.
Thus it was that yesterday, Colin and Elizabeth arrived, bringing the first snow of the winter with them. The old switch, thermostat and wiring were pulled out and the new gubbins put in. It seems likely that Big Berta was the victim of a known problem with these range cookers, as the new part had been modified to be more robust. Colin took the view that since we had been sent the whole kit and kaboodle, we would be best off replacing the whole lot and not just the selector switch. I was most impressed by Colin's grasp of how it all worked and where everything should go. With hardly any bad language, he and Simon had the top off, the switch in place and the coloured spaghetti all connected in the right places. It worked first time too! We really appreciate his time and expertise.
In return I cooked a fat and gluten free lunch for everyone, which I thought was going to be a bit challenging, but turned out to be relatively easy (minestrone with no lardons, homemade veggie stock and gluten free pasta left over from John's visit in May; warm winter fruit salad and rice cream pudding made with skim milk, in case you need to do the same one day).
Friday, 18 January 2013
Today is the 10th anniversary of devastating bushfires that burnt out much of the wonderful National Parks and Nature Reserves that surround the Australian capital, Canberra, destroying buildings at the Mt Stromlo Observatory, killing many wild animals and birds including those at the Tidbinbilla Research Station, and finally, entered the suburbs themselves, destroying 500 houses and killing 4 people. An appalling event that we watched with increasing horror, live on the internet at home in London.
The fires were extraordinarily ferocious, consuming everything in their path and moving at great speed. I was in Canberra 6 weeks after the event and saw for myself the blackened earth in Namadgi NP and the ruined houses in Duffy.
Nowadays, the casual or uninformed visitor wouldn't notice the traces still visible to those who remember. In the mountain forests of Brindabella and Namadgi the trees bear the scars, but new growth almost entirely obscures the dead trees now.
The fires were a tremendous shock to Canberrans, who never expected them to breach the city boundaries or to destroy so much of the surrounding forestry areas. Simultaneously, terrible fires were burning in Victoria, which would not be extinguished until early March. After the smoke cleared and firemen at last went home, a debate started about how bushfires and the bush near urbanised areas should be managed. Something had to be done, because quite apart from the loss of life and property, fires were beginning to be a significant pollution problem, contaminating water resources and by 2007, releasing 30% more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than coal fired electricity plants, industry and car exhausts put together.
The discussions centred on the need to clear undergrowth, which provided fuel for the fires. For years the government policy had been to make fire breaks by grading vegetation clear areas and doing controlled burns on a very limited scale. This was seen as good conservation practice, leaving habitat undisturbed. Now those who argued that much more controlled burning was needed started to be taken more seriously in public. They drew heavily on traditional Aboriginal practices of 'cleansing' the land with fire and won a lot of support.
However, my reading makes me worry that the ideas of those who would manage the forests in traditional ways have been dumbed down. Policies have been established that are so formulaic you can see immediately they are not going to succeed. There is no allowance for seasonal differences from year to year and too much pandering to selfish modern landuse practices, leading to a blanket, simplistic requirement for a 10% annual 'controlled' burn. It seems very likely that the same convenient pieces of land will be burnt year after year, to fit in with some works department agenda, and often with a hubristic lack of regard for current weather conditions. It will also give the green light to concerned but inexperienced private citizens to conduct burn-offs of their own. These fires are frequently inadequately supervised, and not checked thoroughly to ensure they are totally extinguished ie cold, including underground tree roots.
Although there was an enquiry after these fires highlighting the tinder load issue as well as the flaws in the 'stay or go' policy ('hoping people will do something is not a policy') whereby evacuation was not enforced and people could make up their own mind whether they evacuated or whether they stayed to fight the fire, it seems that the lessons were not entirely learnt. 2009 saw utterly horrendeous fires in Victoria, and now we've just had southern Tasmania up in flames again, along with bits of New South Wales. Communications and warning systems continue to fail and there is too much reliance on fire trucks, which can't get into the wilderness. Encouraging people to have a fire survival plan, with an agreed set of actions once the warnings go out has helped, but government needs to focus on issues such as electricity line maintenance and how to achieve the delicate balance between high quality wilderness habitat next to safe urban human habitat.
On a happier note the one very positive thing that has come out of the Canberra fire is the National Arboretum. Thousands of trees of many species, both native and exotic, are being planted on the hillsides where there was once a pine plantation. Canberrans have taken this project to their hearts and support it unreservedly. It symbolises regeneration, renewal and looking forward to a future full of hope for them. It's not yet open to the public, but special events are periodically held on the site, including what was clearly a very popular annual concert, Voices in the Forest.
To read a very moving account of the fires written by someone who was present and actively involved in the aftermath, go to the blog post for today on Talking Naturally, written by Ian Fraser.
Thursday, 17 January 2013
The horses are 'undressed' and tethered to a rope between two trees in the picnic area at Chenonceau while their riders go off and visit the chateau. The resident horses, who live in the overflow carpark, make somewhat hesitant contact with these interlopers.
For a vision of what our journey from Canberra to Queensland would have been like if we had been making it now rather than a month ago, see this video shot by one of the firemen at Coonabarabran, fighting the fire as it crosses the road we travelled.
Wednesday, 16 January 2013
Tuesday, 15 January 2013
Monday, 14 January 2013
Sunday, 13 January 2013
Plague Soldier Beetles Chauliognathus lugubris have been capturing the news headlines for the past year or so in Australia. These attractive dark green and orange beetles occur sporadically in large numbers in order to maximise reproductive success. They form dense aggregations on flowering plants and are often seen in gardens and in houses.
I saw them in Canberra in the Botanic Gardens and in private gardens, and in Sydney on the Manly foreshore. Alex Wild noted them from his trip to Australia this time last year and has posted some much better pictures than mine, along with some basic information about the species.
I am quite disturbed by what I read in the comments to his blog post. Most of them are from random Australians who have discovered his blog by accident because they have large numbers of these beetles in their garden and were trying to find information about them. What bothered me especially was the number of these comments that begin with 'I love nature, but...' and go on to say that they are planning to exterminate the beetles immediately.
So -- even when presented with the facts from a clearly reputable authority that a) the beetles are not just harmless but positively beneficial, and b) they will be in plague proportions for only a few days, these people are not prepared to temporarily modify their lifestyle or behaviour in any way (except to remember to purchase an extra can of Mortein at the supermarket). I have to wonder what exactly it is that they understand by the word 'nature' and what they consider to be 'loving' it.
*to slightly misquote the Bard, in traditional tabloid manner.
**sorry, that's a feeble taxonomy joke, and you need to know about Willi Hennig to get it.
Saturday, 12 January 2013
Friday, 11 January 2013
The Prieuré de Saint-Cosme has a well preserved refectory, with a lovely Romanesque doorway and an interesting pulpit (une chaire romane in French). A monk would be stationed here at meal times to read to the assembly below as they ate.