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Furious Fiction 6

Australian Writers Centre Furious Fiction Competition

It’s the first Friday of the month again and the Furious Fiction email is in my inbox. Yeah!! I have 2 hours before I go out with friends, and I’m already booked up for the weekend. So this time I gave myself only an hour to write the piece before submitting! Once again it’s not great but it’s done!

FURIOUS FICTION SEPTEMBER 2019 – THIS MONTH’S CRITERIA

  • Your story must include the name of at least ONE element from the periodic table.
  • Your story’s first and last words must begin with S.
  • Your story must contain the words TRAFFIC, JOWLS and HIDDEN.
  • And finally, your story must include something that BUZZES.

500 words 55 hours $500 prize money!

Sweet sounds of silence

Stephanie sat behind the wheel, her mouth opened wide, and her eyebrows raised higher than a tranny’s pencilled-in line. She looked over at the couple sitting next to her in the traffic. They were laughing, clearly enjoying her antics.

“What?” she said aloud, gesticulating impolitely. “Never heard of facial yoga? Hey! Honey your jowls could sure do with some tightening!”

The couple turned away, the lights changed, and they accelerated away.

“Pffft” Stephanie shouted after them.

“Calm down, Stephanie!” The little voice inside her head cooed.  “They’re just not worth it”

She took a few deep breaths and returned to the facial gymnastics, indifferent to the effect it was having on those around her. This was her time, her space!  She could stay hidden in the safety capsule of her car and do whatever she liked. Stephanie looked forward to the drive home. It was her peaceful sanctuary from the raucous and relentless buzzing of the world.

For Stephanie, the world was a noisy and disturbing place.

The whooshing hand dryers in bathrooms.

The grizzling, guzzling coffee machine blowing out steam.

The beep beep beep of the road crossing alert.

The clackety-clack of heels on the concrete floors.

The loud music in the supermarket.

The audible chewing of the fellow next to her in a cafe. 

Every sound set her on edge.  There was no escape. At least in her car, she could cut out some of the noise and calm her frayed nerves. Without that peace, she knew she’d meltdown quicker than caesium held in her palm. She was grateful for the days when an accident delayed her.  Although in a pang of guilt, it did occur to her that her win was likely to be someone else’s tragedy.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a woman she knew, walking down the street with big, fat, puffy earphones covering up half her head. Her face was serene and blissful. Stephanie’s head craned around to get a better look. “What are they? What is she wearing” she asked the universe. “She looks so happy! She never looks happy!”

Up ahead was an appliance store. Stephanie careened off the road and screeched into the car park.  She strode into the store with her single purpose in mind.

Buy Bliss Making Headphones.

The sales clerk asked if he could help. “Big puffy headphones”, she blurted out, holding her hands like cups over her ears.

He took her to the rack. She tried a few on but felt no bliss.

“People like you usually like these best,” he said quietly.

He put the muffs over her ears and flicked the switch. The noise retreated into a muffled, manageable murmur.

“People like me?” she asked

“Yes” the sales clerk said shyly. “People on the spectrum”

 

You can see my other Furious Fiction Pieces Here.

Furious Fiction 1

Furious Fiction 2

Furious Fiction 3

Furious Fiction 4

Furious Fiction 5

 

 

My Scottish Vacation Photo Album

The family slide show

When I was a little, I remember family gatherings where we sat at my maternal grandparent’s house to watch the “slide show” of a recently past family event.  It was one of my favourite things to do. At the time, I was more concerned with whether I was actually in any of the shots, rather than any aesthetic quality the photographs may have had.

These days we can publish our photos via so many media; Facebook, Instagram, Stellar, blogs etc., etc. Despite this, I  still always produce a physical photobook of my vacations. I start them as soon as possible after returning so I have the places and events fresh in my mind. For this photobook, I went from over 6000 Raw images down to around 300 processed “artworks”.

The coffee table book

My aim for the photobook is not so much recreate the journey, but rather present the most noteworthy images. It is not a journal as such, but rather a coffee-table book.

You can see the photobook from my Scottish Road Trip here on Yumpu. I was unable to alter the canvas size, so there is a section of white space above and below what are sometimes meant to be full-page images. This is a bit distracting, but I don’t know how to fix it. Let me know what you think.

The actual book itself is 17 x 12 inches with a hardcover and  186 pages. I chose eggshell matte paper. For the past 10 years, I have used Photobook Australia, which I find excellent value for money. (I am not affiliated with Photobook Australia in any way)

 

 

 

Photo of the Week 33

Photo of the Week Challenge

Primula Scotica

On my recent walking tour of the Orkney islands, our walking guide, Nigel had told us to be on the lookout for the elusive Primula scotica or Scottish Primrose. It was sharp-eyed Elaine who spied it first.  Declared to be nationally scarce, it was indeed a lucky find! It is only small, about 13 mm across and maybe 7 – 8 cm tall. This one found on the walk from Skara Brae to Yesnaby.

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You light up my life – Lighthouses in Scotland

Part 3 of the ongoing series on lighthouses

 

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Ardnamurchan Lighthouse.

 

Going to Scotland gave me a chance to photograph some of my favourite subjects – lighthouses. According to the Northern Lighthouse Board, there are 206 of them. That’s  140 odd less than Australia. The wriggly, rugged Scottish coastline is ~16,500km (if you include all the islands) compared to the 25670 km needed to encircle Australia. A ratio of about 2:3. The surface area of Australia is 100,000 times bigger than Scotland. This gives you a really good idea of just how wriggly and rugged that Scottish coastline is.

With so much competition for my time, I only got to visit a very few of them.  Some “visits” only a fleeting glance from a ferry deck while at others, I had a more expansive visit.

I have done my best to pinpoint location, but my memory is a bit patchy on some, and I can only give a  guestimate based on where it appears in the sequence of other photos taken. If I have incorrectly labelled any, please let me know in the comments below!

You can see my posts about Australian lighthouses and lighthouses in Maine by following the links.

Ardnamurchan Lighthouse, Kilchoan.

The Ardnamurchan Lighthouse (above) is built on the most westerly point of the British mainland and is approximately 20 minutes from the Kilchoan Ferry Terminal. There are a shop and cafe on-site, as well as guided tours. You access it via a long, narrow, one-way, walled road. Stop at the traffic lights and be patient, it takes a little while to go green! It is also a great place to do some whale spotting. I saw two very large fins which I decided were orcas but more likely to be Minky whales. (My camera does not have a strong enough zoom to get good pictures) There is also a lovely little cafe (Puffin Coffee) on the way which is well worth stopping at.

Neist Point Lighthouse, Skye.

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Neist Point Lighthouse on the most westerly point of the Isle of Skye is set amongst some spectacular scenery. The carpark was packed the day I was there, and there were plenty of people making the trek down the very steep path to a grassy meadow below.  I noticed that some people were finding the pathway very challenging, and I recommend you wear shoes with a good grip and have a reasonable level of fitness.

There is not much nearby, although I would recommend the Red Roof Cafe, which is less the 5 miles (8km) away. This cafe has excellent vegetarian food that even the most committed carnivore would enjoy! They have a splendid array of very interesting tea as well. Their French Earl Grey was amazing!

 

The Corran Lighthouse, Loch Linnhe

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What a strange place for a lighthouse! Inland? On a Loch? The job of the Corran Lighthouse is to guide vessels through the very narrow, Corran Narrows on Loch Linnhe  On the other side of the loch, is Fort William. I didn’t stop here beyond jumping out of the car to get the shot. The Keepers’ Cottages are now used as luxury self-catering cottages.

Kinnaird Head Lighthouse, Fraserburgh

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The Kinnaird Head Lighthouse has two distinguishing features:

  1. It is built over the ruins of a castle
  2. There is the excellent Museum Of Scottish Lighthouses on the same site.

Unfortunately, I only had time to have a short one hour visit but managed to snag a spot on the last guided tour for the day which was a well-spent £9. Because the Keeper’s quarters were once a castle, they were quite luxurious in comparison to others I have seen.

 

The collage below shows some of the other lighthouses in Scotland quickly captured (and whose locations I cannot be 100% sure of!).

 

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Coming into Harris Island by Ferry

 

 

 

 

Photo of the Week 32

Photo of the Week Challenge

Happy Fathers’ Day

This is my father, Bob, with his Dad, Vernon. My dad died too young, at 51 in 1988. He had Type 1 diabetes, a dicky heart and didn’t look after himself so well, as blokes of this vintage were want to do.

I pride myself in only posting photos I have taken myself, but sometimes you have to bend the rules. I have no idea who snapped it, although on reflection it was probably Uncle Rudolph who owned the grapevines. It has always been one of my favourites in the family album.  Shot sometime around 1960 in Griffith, NSW. The original print is about 2 x 3 inches.

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The Scottish Fishing Industry.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about Fraserburgh, a fishing town on the northeast coast of Scotland. You can tell it was once a prosperous and thriving community by the size and grandeur of its public buildings. These days it’s a bit tattered at the edges, but as I said in my previous post, there are some good people there. Nearly everyone I had an extended conversation with was very keen to know what I thought of Brexit. Almost as keen as I was to avoid the topic! I didn’t know enough about it to make a sensible statement, and I could tell it was a loaded question. It got me into a bit of an internet vortex trying to find information about how many people were involved in fishing in these towns and what affect the EU had had on them.

Fishing Industry Studies

The opening statement of a 2004 report by the Royal Society of Edinburgh Inquiry into the Future of the Scottish Fishing Industry, does not beat around the bush

The Scottish fishing industry has been managed under the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) of the European Union for the last thirty years. The policy has failed to achieve adequate conservation of certain key fish stocks so that an important part of the industry and the livelihoods of many in Scotland’s fishing communities are now under threat.

Changes to the European fishing industry have had a more significant effect on Scotland than elsewhere in the UK because Scotland has always depended more heavily on fishing. While less than 9% of the UK’s population lives in Scotland, around 60% of the fisheries catch is landed there. Many of the fishing communities are in small, relatively remote villages. Fraserburgh and Peterhead, by contrast, are large port towns which account for the majority of fishing employment in the district. Fraserburgh is an important port for shellfish.

Total allowable catch?

The introduction of quotas imposed when the UK joined the EU, drastically reduced the total allowable catch.  I was told by fisher folk in Fraserburgh that a lot of caught fish are dumped at sea. It would seem the amount of fish caught has not been reduced just the amount of fish brought to shore. The quotas have reduced the profitability drastically by taking away some economies of scale. Employment in the industry fell by 40% in the ten years from 1994 – 2004.

Scottish Fishihg Trawler

Twenty years ago, nearly 60% of the population of Fraserburgh was in some way linked to employment in the fish industry. These days it is much less. A report published in 2016 states that there were 780 fishermen (interesting it used that term… are there no women?) on a fleet of  207 active vessels. This is eclipsed by 208 vessels in Stornaway, Harris.

According to this same report, things are looking up for Fraserburgh and other fishing towns. The once dire situation for cod and haddock is improving. No longer at the brink of virtual extinction through overfishing, stocks are increasing.

Will Brexit make a difference for the people of Fraserburgh? Or will it be too late? Will the family businesses last or will the owner-skippers be bought out by huge corporations who can ride the up and downs more easily? Will the small vessels be replaced by supertanker size rigs? Will the charm of a salty Scottish fishing village be lost forever?

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Disclaimer: This is in no way meant to be a comprehensive analysis of the Scottish Fishing Industry, just my personal interpretation after reading a few reports.

I used the following sources when putting this post together.

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/aug/18/where-did-all-the-cod-go-fish-chips-north-sea-sustainable-stocks

https://www.rse.org.uk/inquiries/the-scottish-fishing-industry/

Aberdeenshire Sea Fisheries Statistics. 2016.

A chat with a nice fellow at the fish markets.

 

Small Bars in Wollongong – Part 2

Review of Small Bars in Wollongong

A few months ago I published my first set of reviews for small bars in Wollongong. Six bars done over two nights. In that post, I promised to review some more with my trusty group of Old Chook researchers. You can read that first comprehensive review here.

Since then the group has grown. From three foundation members we now have five. This poses a few questions in regards to the reliability of our study. I have had to do some tricky statistical calculations to try and reduce any problems with our data. The total scores for all the bars have been moderated by calculating the raw score dividing by the number of participants and then multiplying the per person score by 4 to give a moderated value. Rough and ready perhaps, but OK for these purposes.

This review covers six more small bars in Wollongong. Red Square, His Boy Elroy, the Humber Bar (in early June); Howling Wolf, The Little Prince and The Bavarian (in early August) . We used the same scoring matrix we used in the other reviews.

June Session Reviews:

Red Square.

108 Keira Street

The Red Square is a vodka bar. We were there early, and as we have noticed before for this early time slot, the place was more or less empty. A few groups of office workers were having extended Friday after-work drinks. The vibe was friendly and relaxed.

The decor is dark with lots of bright neon lights on the bar itself while the rest of the lighting is  very subdued – you could say it was dark! But we like that. Easy on the eyes and you don’t feel like you are in a supermarket. This bar won the prettiest bar competition for the night. The back-lighting behind the bottles and the matching labels were very effective.

Small Bars In Wollongong - red Square
The pretty bar at Red Square in Keira Street

The bare floorboards and bare walls made for a noisy interior although we all agreed the playlist was good. The music itself was not obtrusive and we liked the selection. They do have live music but we left before that started.  While it was easy to get a seat, the seats themselves were basic unpadded stools. Despite being a vodka bar there was a good selection of other drinks and the prices very reasonable. They had some nice cocktails on offer. The food offerings were good and well priced, although you might find it tough to make a selection if you were vegetarian.

We would all go again. The service was friendly and efficient  but there was little interaction.

BEST: Red Square offered good value for money for both their drinks and food menu with a good choice of offerings.

WORST: The seats. Sorry fellas but a cushion would be good!

His Boy Elroy.

Keira Street (in the shopping mall)

His Boy Elroy used to be in Globe Lane. I went there a few times at that location and remember it to be a hipster sort of place where neat beards would be de rigueur. Not now. The new His Boy Elroy would be best described as a sports bar. There were lots of  TVs playing sports channels and sports related paraphernalia bedecking the walls. Even though it was relatively early – around 8:30 PM when we arrived, we had to wait for an inside table. We could get one outside but it was chilly and the outdoor heater not close enough to the available table.

As Old Chooks we felt very much out of place here, and while the bar staff were friendly and welcoming, the very obvious presence of security people was a bit off putting. The other customers were all at least half our age. HBE scored poorly in  few areas. Firstly the toilet facilities. While clean and fragrant they are a long way away! As the bar is part of the shopping complex you actually have to go into the mall and find the toilets in there. Don’t leave it to the last minute is my advice!

There was a limited choice of food and drinks. Ten varieties of beers and only a choice of two whites and two red wines. It’s a burger joint so there are burgers and not much else on the food menu. We opted for loaded fries. The serving was very generous and they were tasty.

The music was described as loud doof-doof which made talking difficult. The one standout in the scoring was  that we all agreed we would not go again.

This is not an Old Chooks Bar! If you are under 30 and looking for a place to hang out with friends, it would be a great place, but  it’s not what we would look for in a good night out.

BEST: The food was reasonably priced and in generous portions.

WORST:  The noise levels. TV on, Music On, People ON! Too much on!

The Humber Bar

226 Crown Street

Now, this was more like it. The Humber Bar is on three levels. It has plenty of room and each floor has a different atmosphere. We opted for the mezzanine level. There were only a few people there. It was  more crowded upstairs, but as you should know by now crowds do not necessarily make a good Old Chooks’ night out!  The Humber Bar has pleasant but minimalist decor. It has lounges around two sides of its triangular walls. The lighting is good, not too dark or bright and the volume of the music excellent. The food selection was impressive and at a good price. The drinks menu equally good and served in nice glassware. The bar staff were very friendly,  with two people serving about ten people we did not have to wait at all and they were happy to chat.

Co-incidentally an impromptu drama unfolded in front of us. A 40-something man sitting at the bar cuddling a much younger woman. Another woman and her friend walked in. She yelled, he jumped, the younger woman disappeared and the friend spent the rest of the night consoling the older woman. Turns out the man’s wife had busted him with the “other woman”. Very dramatic although you could have missed all the action, if you weren’t so observant.

We would all go again. This was a good location for an Old Chooks’ night out and the upper level would be a good place if you are looking for somewhere more lively.

BEST: Wide selection of food and drinks.

WORST: The Humber scored well in all aspects; to pick a worst, it was the un-padded bar stools, once again. We could have sat on the lounges but that was not really suitable for a group of four.

August Session

We had set the date for our August research a few weeks in advance. As usual, finding a date when everyone is free is not easy, but the stars aligned and we had a date fixed. The unusually cold weather and predicted 100 km winds did not deter us from our mission! We rugged up with jackets, scarves and beanies and headed off, our group expanded by one more member.

Our planned bars for the night were, Howlin’ Wolf, The Little Prince and Another Burger Joint. We discovered that the Burger Joint had closed down so we opted for the Bavarian after cruising past  Holey Moley and another bar underneath Crown Central. We avoided both of those but in the interests of social science we will go back to them to complete our study. But heads up, they may not score well on the Chook-o-meter. One is a putt putt golf bar, the other full of arcade games.

Down to business.

The Howlin’ Wolf Whiskey Bar

103/53-61 Crown Street (it’s in an arcade)

I arrived at the Howlin Wolf  a little before 7PM. My Uber had come quicker than expected. The bar is located in a laneway that runs off Crown Street. There is a pizza shop at one end of the lane and a burger place at the other. The bar itself is very hip with dark interiors, some hand painted “artworks” on the walls and ceiling.  By the time everyone arrived and ordered first drinks it was about 7:10. We had apparently missed happy hour by 10 minutes. Oh well… we thought… but then the next people to get served (by a different waiter) DID get the happy hour prices! We felt a little ripped off!

Small Bars In Wollongong - Howlin' Wolf off Crown Street
A cool place with a good vibe

Despite this, the prices were still reasonable and the selection of wine good even though it’s a whiskey bar. The tables were  small and the stools low and rickety. The music was loud although in good taste. We could sing along to it all. They probably thought they were being very retro but it was the soundtrack of our youth!  Food was an issue. They did not have a kitchen of their own. They had a few choices available which came from the aforementioned pizza/burger places OR since they had deals with most of the other restaurants in the area you could order online and get it delivered. We opted to do without so the scores will be a bit low because of this. The stemless glassware was elegant and apart from missing out on the happy  hour pricing, we were happy with the selection. The toilets were clean and abundant. 80% said they would return. Howlin’ Wolf is also a live music venue. They were setting up as we left.

BEST: The good playlist.

WORST: Inconsistent application of happy hour policy!

 

The Little Prince

Globe Lane

The Little Prince is a flagship small bar in Wollongong. It has been open for as long as I can remember. I can’t find anything on their Facebook page to say how long they have been opened, but it’s a long time. It has been a steady favourite for many and was one of the first alternate wine bars to open in the ‘Gong. It is relaxed and elegant with a small indoor seating area and a larger outdoor area, some of which is undercover. It is a great summer venue. We were there in August and as I said above the winds were raging and the temperature below 10C. All the inside seats were understandably taken and we made our way out to sit undercover and near a heater. We kept our jackets and scarfs on. The seating is very comfortable and the general atmosphere cozy. We watched the wind whip the plastic walls in and out.

The drinks menu is good and there is a wide range of tapas and pizza to choose from. Our group ordered a pizza and some hot chips. Both came quickly and were piping hot. The servers were friendly and were able to advise on alternatives to a wine that was out of stock. The music was unobtrusive, to the point that none of us made special mention of it in our surveys. It was easy to chat and we stayed longer than anticipated. A good sign I guess!

BEST: Excellent food selection

WORST: While we were out of the wind, we needed to keep our jackets on. Not really a winter venue.

 

The Bavarian

Crown Street – Wollongong Central Complex

The Bavarian  is also part of the Wollongong Central Shopping Mall. It only opened very recently. It is advertised as a German Restaurant and Bar and is part of a chain. The wooden bench seating and bright lighting made it feel like a McDonalds with alcohol. There were also TV’s on the walls playing sports. Is this the thing now?

The bar staff were very friendly and welcoming. A fellow a bit like Hagar the Horrible opened the door for us. He was obviously security but unlike His Boy Elroy he was not dressed in black so he did not look like security. This must be part of the deal of having a bar in this complex?

The bar was nicely set up with glasses hanging from racks. The bar prices were not so pretty. Starting at about $12 a glass, which is not unusual,  the servings were VERY small. You could buy a larger serve which was twice the price but not twice the volume. Food choices were good and we were able to select a few share plates. The fried Camembert tasty, but perhaps a little outdated? (or is it so out of date it’s retro?) 60% of us would go back. I think it would be a great venue for  big group booking. You could be as noisy as you wanted without a care. It was certainly not the place to go on an intimate first date.

BEST: Glassware and quality of the wine.

WORST: Value for money.

And the winner is…..

So to get to the nitty gritty.  The winner out of these 6 bars was the Humber with Red Sqaure and The Little Prince only a few points behind.

Scores for Small Bars in Wollongong
Scores for the second review

Overall, Births and Deaths is still our top scoring small bar in Wollongong, although there is not much in it. I think we may have been a little harsh on Throsby’s? Perhaps we need to revisit there and give them a chance to redeem themselves.

Small Bars In Wollongong - all scores
Overall scores for all reviews done to date

Stayed tuned for Part 3 when we finish off the small bars in Wollongong!