Coffee and your wallet

A cappuccino in a green cup.

Black gold

Last week I wrote about the nutritional value (or not) of coffee, this week the focus is on economic factors. This is a simplified analysis and not meant to be an economic treatise. There are no doubt, lots of angles I have not considered.

Microeconomics – your budget.

Café coffee:

As a point of reference, I am going to use my regular order of a skim milk regular sized cappuccino as the “standard” purchase. You can pay anywhere from $A3:50 – $A6:00 depending on size and location so I will use a cost of $4 per cup.

If you buy one cappuccino every day, you are going to spend $4 x 365 = $1460 per capita per annum.

So maybe you only buy coffee on the days you work. Using a 5 day work week and four weeks annual leave that’s $4 x 240 = $960.

Let’s say your working life is around 40 years;  you’ll end up spending between $40,000 – $60,000 on coffee! If you’re living as a couple, that could be $80-120,000 over your lifetimes.

SHIT that’s scary money!

That’s three years of mortgage payments! Is it worth it?

Do-it-yourself coffee – instant.

Ok, so you’ve decided you can’t do without coffee. Can you save money by making your own?

Well yes!

A  200 g jar of instant coffee will set you back around $13 from Woollies and will make around 100 cups of coffee. Plus there’s milk and sugar or sweetener if you use it. I am not going to try and factor those in here.

If we stick to the one cup per day, every day of the year you will spend $47 per annum.

Over your work life and not allowing for inflation; $1900.

BOOM!  An instant saving of $38K per person. But you aren’t going to switch to Moccona because we have all become coffee snobs who want “proper” coffee from the trendy cafe! And in reality, you’ll probably drink both the made at home/work and the cup(s) from the cafe.

Maybe you can buy a coffee machine and save money that way?

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Do-it-yourself – coffee machine.

This calculation presents a few problems. It’s a bit of a “how-long-is-a-piece-of-string” argument. Just typing “coffee makers” into Google; gives you machines ranging from $3000 to $59. If you spend $3000 on a coffee machine, it will take you 2 years to make your money back, and I bet you won’t!

Why?

Because even if you have a fancy coffee maker, you’ll still buy coffee from the cute little cafe near work! You know you will!

Using a pod machine will save you money too, BUT you’ll have to deal with the environmental cost of all those plastic or metal pods. AND you’ll still buy coffee from the cute little cafe near work! You know you will!

Of course, you could grind your own coffee too and use a plunger or lots of other methods which would be cheaper than cafe coffee so you could potentially spend much less than that estimate of $60,000 over a working lifetime.

I’m not here to tell you how to spend your money or tell you if you can afford that or not. You’ll have to decide that for yourself, but you may have not given it much thought. I think the main point is that coffee is a luxury. While some of you will argue that it is essential, it’s not. Not like food or shelter. The money you spend on it is discretionary.

Macroeconomics – the global economy

The Production Side of Coffee

Coffee is derived from two main species Coffea arabica and C. Robusta. It has only been in widespread usage as a beverage for around 500 years. It is thought to have originated in Ethiopia where it was domesticated before being distributed widely. The now huge South American crop originated from the seeds of a single plant taken from the Amsterdam Botanical Gardens.

The ten biggest coffee growing nations are Brazi, Vietnam, Columbia, Indonesia, Peru, Ethiopia, Mexico, India, Guatemala and Uganda. The countries that consume the most coffee are (in order) United States, Germany, Japan, Italy and France.

I think you can see how things are going to pan out here. There is an imbalance between the economic power of the people who grow coffee and the people who drink coffee.

Poor people grow it, rich(er) people drink it.

The price of coffee is controlled by the commodity markets in New York and London, a long way from the growers. It is the second most traded commodity after crude oil. I have no idea how these commodity markets work, but I’m sure that the people on the floor yelling and shouting at each other aren’t thinking about whether a grower can feed his family on what he will be paid.

According to the documentary  Black Gold (2014), Ethiopian farmers are paid around 65c per kilo. It costs them 90c to produce one kilo of coffee. (huh???)  There are up to six steps in the chain from grower to consumer with each step adding to the price. The coffee part of your daily cup is only worth around 3 cents. While this data is now five years old, the principle remains the same. The growers are not given a fair price for their labour and have to endure significant hardship so you can be perky.

I recommend you download the Black Gold documentary. You can watch the trailer here or buy/rent the full version.

Watch it,  then try and drink your coffee with a clear conscience!

The consumption side of coffee

I live in the small city of Wollongong which has a population of just under 300,000. A Google search of cafes in Wollongong throws up 8 pages of results. The people at Wollongong Council told me there are X cafes. (I’m waiting on the council to get back to me with that number but it’s lots! ) That’s a lot of cafes and a lot of jobs. Multiply that by towns in Australia, and then the world. There must be a bazillion million million dollars sloshing around in coffee.

People who work in or own cafes aren’t exactly rolling in cash either. In Australia, there are more small traders selling coffee compared to big chains like Starbucks or Tim Hortons.  Many cafe workers are students earning the minimum wage. Then there are the roasters, the distributors, the drivers who deliver the coffee, the importers, the cup manufacturers, the barista trainers, the espresso machine makers, etc. etc. etc.!

According to IBIS World, the cafe and coffee shop industry in Australia alone is worth $10Bn with a growth rate of 2.2%. 139,091 people are employed by 20375 businesses. (I don’t think this includes all the ancillary services listed above.) Contrary to what I was thinking, this represents only a tiny proportion of the total value of Australian business which was estimated to be around $1.7 trillion in 2016.

So, perhaps the Australian economy wouldn’t fall over if we all stopped buying coffee, but it would be sleepier and grumpier!

Can you be a more ethical coffee consumer?

Yes – to an extent.

  • Buy your coffee from a small business rather than big chains or multinationals. That way your money goes to pay for a family’s expenses and not making faceless corporations bigger.
  • Choose places that offer fair trade or direct trade coffee and be prepared to pay a little more if needed.  Read more about ethical coffee buying here
  • You can look at helping finance a grower directly through an organisation such as Kiva which provides micro-loans directly to people in need. You can read about Kiva here.

 

Is your daily coffee habit making you fat, farty, and broke?

A cappuccino in a green cup.

I sat down with the intention of writing a short piece about coffee and the effect it has on our waistlines and wallets. As I started doing some research and looking at various websites on how many calories there are in various coffee beverages, how much coffee is drunk daily in Australia etc.;  it got me thinking.

Where does this coffee come from? How much do we as a nation, spend? What about worldwide? Are there long term health benefits or does it cause health issues? Is it sustainable? All those disposable coffee cups have got to end up somewhere. Can all those corner cafes be supported? Where would you go to meet friends/on a first date if you don’t want to drink coffee and it wasn’t beer o’clock yet? What about tea? Would we solve all/any the issues if we switched to drinking only tea? Is coffee even worth drinking? Now come on, be honest, do you even LIKE the taste of coffee?

My swirling mind became caught in a spiral of ideas worse than being trapped in a Pinterest Vortex! I decided it was way bigger than one post could handle and it needed to be a series of blog posts. This post serves as an introduction and sets the scene. I will follow it up with another 5 posts over the next few months. (It might even grow from that number!)

Part 1 will be about the Waistline Effect: here I will explore the pharmacological, health and dietary effects of caffeine.

Part 2 looks at the economic effects of coffee on a micro (your household budget) and macro (the global economy) scale.

Part 3 investigates the environmental impact: are we burying our cities under a mountain of disposable cups. Are Keep Cups going to save the day? Are we causing rural poverty in those countries that supply our daily fix?

Part 4: What are the cultural differences in coffee drinking. Is Australian the only place you can buy a decent skim cap? I need your help here. Have you ever been able to buy a decent coffee in another country?

Part 5: Tea v Coffee. Does it make a difference? Plus anything else I haven’t been able to fit into the other posts.

I feel like a bit of a coffee expert, not because I drink lots, but because way back in the day when I was completing my undergraduate degree in Food Technology, I wrote my Honours Thesis on “Caffeine and its Derivatives in Australian Foods and Beverages”.

With nothing more than my trusty portable typewriter and correction tape, I banged out one hundred and thirty pages of meta-analysis and lab results about methylxanthines, the chemical group which includes caffeine and other similar compounds. While some of it is outdated, it remains a good starting point.

On a personal note, I’m a tea drinker. I limit the amount of coffee I buy from a cafe to around 1 – 2 cups a week if that. This decision is based on three factors.

  1. Kilojoule intake. I drink skim milk cappucinos. That’s around 120 kcal or nearly 500 kJ which is approximately 8% of my target daily intake.
  2. Lactose intake – I think I must be a little lactose intolerant because milk-based coffee drinks make my belly grumble unpredictably with embarrassing consequences!
  3. I am stingy. $4 a cup every day that’s nearly $1500 a year!

I hope you’ll enjoy these posts and let me know your favourite cafe in the comments below!

Not Millennial but Perennial

As I was looking for articles about older women doing amazing things, I came across this story in the Telegraph. Not exactly what I was searching for, but thought-provoking none-the-less.

The report concentrates on the shift in attitudes of women who, 20 years ago, may have been described as middle-aged. It highlights how older women are generally taking on a more positive approach to aging and being more confident to express a style other than “grandma”.

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This section particularly resonated with me and sent me on the search for more information.

Everywhere we look, highly visible older women are rewriting all the rules. From JK Rowling to Nicole Kidman; Michelle Obama to Anna Wintour, they are at the peak of their power and creativity.

They are engaged, influential and often increasingly political.

There’s even a new term to describe people with this no-age mindset: ‘perennials’

It was coined by US internet entrepreneur Gina Pell, 49, who explains, ‘Perennials are ever-blooming, relevant people of all ages who know what’s happening in the world, stay current with technology and have friends of all ages. We get involved, stay curious, mentor others, and are passionate, compassionate, creative, confident, collaborative, global-minded risk takers.’

Hell yeah! I want to be a perennial!

You can hear more about Gina Pell’s idea of perennials in this Youtube video. Not everything she says had the same point of resonance, but I like where she is coming from. 

 

I  think the Telegraph has misquoted her because Nina refutes the concept of being ever-blooming. My interpretation is that age should not be equivalent to relevancy.

Travelling mascots

I have a big adventure looming with a 5-week road trip around Scotland. With less than 2 months till departure, I am madly micro-planning. My itinerary is pretty well fleshed out and I’m just filling in the fine details. I have the accommodation booked, the hire car sorted, the ferry crossings reserved and a few day trips locked in.

I will be recording Episode5 of  “Planning my Soctish Holiday ” video soon.

You can have a look at some of my previous posts in the links below

Planning My Scottish Holiday Ep 1

Planning My Scottish Holiday Ep 2

Planning My Scottish Holiday Ep 3

Planning My Scottish Holiday Ep 4

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This quick post is to introduce you to my new travelling companion – Ian – Ian of Clan Mangerton. He’s the strong silent type! In the past I have travelled with a rabbitchickens and a new set of chickens after I lost the first ones! Ian will be featuring in some of my facebook posts and will make some appearances in the blog posts I write while I am away.

Travelling mascots are always a bit of fun! He’s smaller than a gnome and can stand on his own two feet!

 

 

Our changing view of paedophiles.

Sexy is here to stayI found this newspaper advertisement in a recipe book my mum kept full of clippings of things she wanted to cook. It’s from 1975. It caught my eye for two reasons. It shows how our attitudes have changed, and it struck me as oddly relevant to my life at the time.

While the  #MeToo movement has highlighted the need for women (in particular) to be treated with more respect and dignity, things were different in 1976.  What we would consider sexual abuse or exploitation was a “normal” part of the landscape.

 

 

When I was 15, I used to walk home from school through the local shopping centre. I could take one of two routes. Either through the arcade (quicker) or up to the end of the shopping strip (more to see). This longer walk went past a butcher’s shop. The butcher, Bill, was a man somewhere between 35 and 40. He used to park is brown Porsche Carrera out the front of his store. I would sometimes slow down to look at it. He must have noticed me, and he would wave and smile. After a few weeks, the wave and smile turned into him coming out to say a few words, and then eventually me going in to chat with him. It all started pretty innocently. Then the talk started getting a bit risque. Flirting, I thought, and I was flattered that an older man with a Porsche would pay any attention to me, a silly school girl in a short skirt. It eventually became outright sex talk, and I felt excited! He was a sophisticated guy, and I felt so grown up! I knew it was “naughty,” but that was the risky part of it, the part that made it fun.

So I kept going by and talking to him.  It’s hard to remember the time frame now, but he asked me out. I was over the moon. Can you imagine how sophisticated I felt! I didn’t tell my mother, but my best friend’s mum was in on it, and she didn’t seem to think it was inappropriate. She gave me no warnings. There was no talk of the age gap beyond “Wow…he’s an older man paying attention to you; be flattered.” Mrs. J helped me get ready in a tight black dress and lace-up boots. I looked fabulous in a 70’s kind of way!

He picked me up from their house, and off we sped in the Porche. First, to a Chinese restaurant in Beverly Hills, where Bill winked at the creepy-looking maître d’. The maître d’ ran his eyes over me in a way that stopped my breath. This was my first inkling that things were a little more sinister than my naivety had allowed. The nervous, excited butterflies in my gut began to be replaced by more anxious thoughts. I didn’t have a Plan B. Plan B’s were not a thing in 1976; I had no money. I was a long way from home.

He bought a bottle of wine and poured me a glass. The drinking age is 18. The restaurant was breaking the law. “No problem,” said Bill “the owner is my friend.” After dinner, he suggested a movie. Sounded good to me, perhaps a little tipsy.

We went to Oxford Street in Sydney. These days a hip place with lots of bars that cater mostly to the LGBTIQ crowd, back then, about the only place you could see X-rated movies in Sydney. As we walked in, he handed the guy at the door some cash, presumably, a bribe since it was a restricted premise. We sat in the dark seats, I looked around, and  I realised there were not many other women there. The “action” started on screen. I felt sick! Uncomfortable. Scared. I said I didn’t want to watch anymore and would he take me home.

He did.

I’ll give this to Bill; he never tried anything I hadn’t said yes to. He never tried to kiss or touch me. We drove home from Sydney to my place. The one hour trip took less than  30 minutes.  He drove hard and fast in that Porsche, certainly exceeding the speed limit. He didn’t speak. I could sense he was angry.

From then I always went home via the arcade. I never saw Bill again. I had emerged unscathed.

More than forty years on I reflect on this and it stands out so clearly he was a paedophile. That he had been grooming me from the beginning. Starting with slightly rude jokes and working up to porn. Thankfully, he had some principles. It could have ended very differently. I don’t recall hearing words like paedophile then. Sure, there were creepy guys you avoided, but as a 15-year-old, I didn’t feel like a target. I hadn’t heard of books like Lolita. It just wasn’t a “thing”. Not in my world anyway.

“Things” have changed. The findings of the Royal Commission into Institutionalised Child Sexual Abuse shows this behaviour was rampant and people either turned a blind eye or didn’t think it was an issue in the first place.

I don’t characterise myself as a victim. I willingly, although naively, put myself in a place I should have avoided. In retrospect, I am concerned my friend’s mother did nothing but encourage me. I am glad to think this is less likely to happen now.

(Apologies to you mum! Here’s another story you didn’t know about!)

I wrote this post in response to the trial and later sentencing of Cardinal Pell; Australia’s highest ranking priest and a man who has caused misery to many.  If this post has caused you any distress, I urge you to seek help through some of the agencies that have been set up for this express purpose. Just because it happened a long time ago, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

These services may help:

https://www.blueknot.org.au/

https://bravehearts.org.au/

 

100

This is my 100th post. A bit of a milestone really. Thank you to those of you who have taken the time to follow my quirky journey. I hope you will continue to do so and find some value in what I share.

It got me thinking about the concept of 100. It is celebrated as a milestone in many contexts.

  • Governments celebrate what they have achieved in their first 100 days in power.
  • When you turn 100 you can apply to get a telegram from the Queen. Perhaps she should be thinking about email these days!
  • The turn of the century is a big deal and centennials for various events are marked with great care.
  • Cricketers hold the bats aloft and bask in the applause of the crowd when they score a “ton”

Australia v SriLanka 2

One hundred years ago the world was a very different place. A quick review of Wikipedia throws up a few facts

  • There was an influenza pandemic which killed millions of people worldwide and estimated 12,000 in Australia
  • The zipper was only two years old
  • The first Archibald Prize was awarded in Australia. (a prestigious portrait prize)
  • The Smith brothers flew from Britain to Australia and won a competition
  • Troops continued to return to their various homes from the “Great War” in Europe
  • There were cars and telephones but no TV.
  • There were no nuclear bombs but there was chemical warfare.
  • Penicillin was still 10 years away and
  • Plastic was still a novelty

Australlia v Sri Lanka 3

If I live to be 100 it will be 2061. I wonder if the earth will be burnt to a crisp? Will my coastal city of Wollongong be underwater due to rising sea levels?

In 100 days it will be Autumn in Australia.

In 100 weeks it will be December  2020.

In 100 months it will be May  2027 and hopefully I will be fit and well and retired from the day job.

100 months ago it was September 2010. I was living alone but not yet divorced.

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Will I still be writing this blog for another 100 posts? I hope so. Like many who have written stories before me, my creativity ebbs and wanes. I am conscious that this blog is lapsing into a “Dear Diary” and that is not what I intended it to be. On the other hand, I am not keen to stick to a singular theme, which is apparently one of the keys to creating a successful blog. I do want to be able to write about a range of topics which catch my fancy. I want to inspire women like myself to go out and have a go!

Be quirky. Be brave. Be free.

So for the next 100 posts I guess I’ll stick to my themes of

  • Solo travel as a older woman
  • Life as a single older woman
  • Wellbeing as a healthy older woman
  • Sharing my hometown

I hope you’ll stick around!

Cricket game 1
Australia v Sri Lanka

Be invincible not invisible!

 

60 for 60 remix

A sepia photo showing a small lighthouse
The Little Lighthouse – Wollongong

A few weeks ago (60 for 60) I posted a list of activities that I intended on completing between now and my 60th birthday in May 2021. It was free ranging list and included little things like making a souffle right up to travelling to Scotland or Iceland.

I have been transferring the items to index cards which I intend to move from the to do to the done pile as they get done. I also thought it might be a good idea to work out  a rough schedule of when I would do the activity so I could make efficient use of time and money. For instance, I want to see an active volcano and go to Iceland. It would be sensible to see a volcano in Iceland.

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It was here at this point,  that I saw the flaws in my list. I knew the list was ambitious. I knew it would be expensive. As I tried to fit things loosely into a calendar, I simply ran out of time.  Let’s not even talk about how much I would have to spend! Of course, if I do end up winning the lottery (see this post) it will be fine! I can quit the day job and concentrate on the list full time. Unfortunately, though,  I do have to work full time to pay for my fun.

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I need to regig, remix and reassess the list.  I need more small items that I can do without having to go anywhere or spend a lot on while still giving me a sense of accomplishment. I could replace all the travel with writing, but that takes time too. I want to succeed. I don’t want to set myself up for failure before I start by having unrealistic expectations and at the same time I don’t want to make it too easy either.

So here is the new list. The changes are subtle but they will make a difference.

  • Pay off extra on my current mortgage.
  • Sell some of my writing
  • Make a profit through Old Chook Enterprises
  • Sell some of my photos
  • Hit at least 1000 followers on WordPress (help me out here guys!!)
  • Hit at least 500 followers on Instagram (help needed here too!!) @robynlang3
  • Go to the UK, more specifically, Scotland
  • Go on a another cruise (6 – 10 days)
  • Make a 15-minute documentary that gets some success (define success!)
  • Finish the Buttons story (a sci-fi themed novella I am writing. Four out of 9 chapters done)
  • Write a screenplay
  • Finish the Anca story (another short story/novel idea.)
  • Finish the family history story about Sarah Anne Usher
  • Publish a blog post every week
  • Not to drink alone.
  • Do a woodworking course
  • Spend the weekend in Melbourne for my birthday again (I went in 2013)
  • Use frequent flyer points to pay for an entire international flight.
  • Photograph the Milky Way
  • Will do the southernmost extremity of the Australian mainland when I do a Melbourne road trip for my birthday
  • Paint the interior of my home
  • Get new carpet/floor covering
  • Re-read and do the steps in the Side Hustle Book.
  • Enter works into a photography exhibition – the Scarborough Art Show (October 2019)
  • Go six months without added sugar – I’ve started this one!
  • Road trip to Broken Hill, NSW
  • Fly in a hot air balloon in Australia
  • Write up the interview I did with Tracey and Sue about the Bibbulmun Track
  • Visit at least 15 more lighthouses in Australia. (I like lighthouses and want to see as many Australian ones as I can – there are more than 2000 so it might be a stretch to see them all!) There are 15 close to home (within 300 km) that I haven’t seen yet so this should be do-able.
  • “Day in the life” photography series for at least 4 people – follow 4 people in different occupations and photograph their day
  • Do an “extraordinary man” photographic series. An environmental portrait project.
  • Make a soufflé
  • Donate blood for the first time
  • Do a big >2500 piece jigsaw puzzle
  • Sell most my 2019 calendars (help me out here too!!)
  • Publish a 2020 calendar
  • Do another year of no new things in 2020.
  • Stop dying my hair and embrace the grey!
  • Finish a short course in food photography – Daylesford Victoria
  • Publish a cookbook of family favourites with my own photography
  • Do a short online graphics design course
  • Do some more light painting
  • Do an interview on radio/TV about something to do with Old Chook Enterprises
  • Modify the design and remake the running belt you made. A lycra belt to wear while running that holds my phone/keys and tissues etc. I have already made one but it needs some modifications.
  • Enter at least 10 writing competitions
  • Enter at least 10 photography competitions
  • Go on a writing retreat in 2019 (perhaps as a cruise?)
  • Do another cheese making course
  • Design some fabric to make some cushions for my home and to sell at markets
  • Have a 60th birthday celebration
  • Cut my time for 10km run to less than 56 minutes
  • Learn how to use eyeliner properly
  • Hold a market stall at least twice
  • Learn how to swim properly by getting swimming lessons.
  • Read at least 4 novels a year form the list of “good books”
  • Maintain weight at less than 60kg.
  • Learn how to do boxing style rope jumping and sustain for  at least 5 minutes.

Already done!

  • Buy a dymo labeller
  • Set up a saving fund for my grandson
  • Set up a worm farm
  • Pitch an article to a real magazine/publication (see point 49)
  • Create a passwords spreadsheet
  • Get a new phone
  • Make a will

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Whats gone?

  • Learn enough Italian to have a short conversation
  • Enter some photos in the Royal Easter Show (a big fair in Sydney, Australia)
  • Try being an AirBnB host
  • Write a children’s picture book
  • See an active volcano (I could do this in Iceland)
  • Go to Broome, Western Australia.
  • Get my first paid article published. I had this twice.
  • Tidy my garage -hmmm not really a life goal.
  • Get a new job – to get everything done I think I need stability in my day job!
  • Go on a really long walk like the Bibbulmun Track in Western Australia
  • Meet someone very famous.

 

Wish me luck! I will publish updates at 6 monthly intervals. I’d love to hear what you would have in your list. Please add your ideas in the comments below.

Yoni and the smelly underpants

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Once again I was standing in a snake-y queue. This time in Sydney, waiting to board the American Express SkyTrain at Taronga Park Zoo as part of Vivid, Sydney. It would take ten to fifteen minutes to get to the front to the line. The family ahead of me was having a great time.

“Ok one… two.. three… say Yoni has smelly underpants” the young man said to the two boys in matching beanies. They giggled and smiled and the young man snapped away with his phone. I turned around and realized, too late, that I was photobombing their family moment.

“You photobombed our family photo!” the young man exclaimed in a theatrical style. He showed me the screen and there I was in the middle of everything. We bantered back and forward.

“Well since you are going to be on our fridge, what’s your name?

“Robyn – and since you are going to be in my blog – what’s yours?”

“Yoni”

“Ahhh ….the one with the smelly undies”

“Yes that’s me!”

As we twisted around another loop he asked “So what do you blog about?”

“Travel, mostly and …and stuff like this” as I waved my hand over his family.

“So you’re a writer then?”

“Mostly a photographer… but I want to write. I’m a teacher.”

“Teachers are awesome. Our mum’s a teacher” Yoni said.

So it’s Uncle Yoni I thought. Finally, we got to the top of the queue. I said goodbye and giggled to myself. Yoni and the smelly underpants.

The cable car door closed behind me and I was launched into the blackness and then the lights started.

The lights of Vivid…

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Australia, land of beaches and sunshine. Hot sun …babes in bikinis… beer in the sun.

That’s the image that comes to mind, even as locals. It’s not always beach weather and we do in fact, have a winter. Compared to the Northern Hemisphere, it’s not much of a winter, but heh… sometimes it can get as cold as 6oC in Sydney! That’s COLD! Tourists come in droves in the summer to sit on our sandy beaches, slap shrimp on the barbie and enjoy our great outdoors but their numbers drop in our winter.

This is (apparently) a marketing tragedy.

Back in 2009, the NSW government decided to try capture more of the winter tourist market. They created Vivid – a winter festival. It started small in the area round Circular Quay. It’s now a huge success. Locals and tourists flock to Vivid in the last weeks of May and early June. In 2017, over 2 million people visited Vivid!

Vivid is now an interactive collection of light, music and ideas. Over the years it has spread out to include more and more of Sydney, Darling Harbour, Walsh Bay and the Zoo. You can find more information here www.vividsydney.com/

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The highlights include the images  cast up on the Sydney Opera House and Customs House as well as the lights on Sydney Harbour Bridge. The Zoo Light Walk is amazing! The ferry ride across the Harbour gives you a great view of the skyline and all its brilliance. I might be a bit biased, but an already beautiful harbour comes to life during Vivid. Sparkling cold water, bright lights and friendly crowds all enjoying a mystical musical wonderland. While Vivid is over for another year, make sure sure you pencil it in for 2019, just pack a beanie and a scarf.

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PS: Yoni, I hope you enjoyed Vivid with your nephews! Good luck in your life. Stay fun! Stay friendly! You gave this old chook something to smile about! If you ever read this please, share my photobombing snap in the comments!

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The Sad Case of the Vanished Cracker Night.

Australia is a constitutional monarchy. The Queen of Australia – Queen Elizabeth the 1st (She is Elizabeth the 2nd in the UK but only the first Elizabeth we have had) has very little sway these days in terms of our laws, the parliament and that sort of thing but we still get a public holiday to celebrate her birthday. Even though her actual birthday is in April we celebrate it on the second Monday of June. It’s a welcome holiday. By the time June has come around, winter has usually hit and the Indian summer of May has ended with a bang. It’s probably raining and it will be cold(ish) It’s a perfect weekend for inland retreats at wineries or being indoors with a book and a fire and catching up with friends.

When I was a kid, Saturday of the Queen’s Birthday weekend was Cracker Night. There would be bonfires, pretty fireworks and explosive crackers in nearly every backyard. My favourite was the Catherine Wheel which would be nailed to the fence. It would spin around as jets of coloured sparks shot out the sides. The neighbourhood would be shrouded in smoke and the poor dogs would be going crazy.

You could buy crackers at any corner store, regardless of your age. My dad used to blow up our home made letter box every year. He’d fill it with bungers and attach a long wick and then run. The wooden box would get shattered into thousands of sharp, splintery missiles and we would squeal with glee from our hiding spots.

My family must have been a bit more careful than other families. I don’t remember any one getting hurt although my hair did catch on fire once when an ember jumped out of the bonfire. Despite our own personal luck, because in retrospect, I think it was good luck rather than good management, every year you would hear of a another 10 year old boy who had blown his hand off or blinded himself or suffered some other horrific injury because they had taped a few large bungers together or had tried to build a bigger, better explosive.

It became (sensibly) more difficult to buy crackers. You had to be 18. Then it become illegal to sell them in NSW. You could still buy them in the Australian Capital Territory, so people would take the drive down there to stock up for an illicit cracker night party. The firework shops were cheek-by-jowl with the porn shops (Canberra, incidentally also being the only place you could buy X rated movies!).

Many community groups had public firework displays which varied in quality. Over the years, these have petered out too. I guess the expense got too much. Perhaps, the audience got too used to the HUGE New Year’s Eve Fireworks that light up Sydney Harbour. What community groups could afford were fizzlers in comparison.

Last Saturday night would have been cracker night but I didn’t hear one. Not a single one. It’s a shame. Another fun, old tradition that has gone by the wayside.

It made me think, what will today’s kids remember? Oh wow I sat indoors all day playing Total Domination against some random in the US? It was like… So totally awesome!!

…somehow I don’t think so. Will their memories be totally devoid of the types of rich stories that made up my childhood and adolescence?

This year, my Queen’s Birthday Weekend was filled with reminiscences of other kinds. A weekend full of “remember whens” at a 40th high school reunion. Unfortunately, it was only a small gathering. We danced to old 70s and 80s tunes. We argued who was the bigger loss to the world – Lennon or Bowie? We talked about old teachers chasing the girls who were smoking in the playground (not me!!) We talked about those who had not come to join in the party.

Only 10 of us made the journey

Those who had left before the HSC (the NSW matriculation qualification) and had gone into more manual labouring jobs complained that their bodies were beginning to give out. We all complained about our failing eyesight. We compared photos of our adult kids and for some of us, our grandkids. We settled into an easy rekindling of old friendships and lamented that so few had made the journey to Old Bar, NSW.

This one from Primary School

As we tried to put names to all the faces in the old school photos, there was one girl, at the end of a row of the 1C photo that no-one could remember. I’d hate to be that girl. Why did no one know her? We had no special story for her. That made me sad and I wondered if there were other people looking at other class photos who wondered who I was? If there were some people I had never made an impression on? In my own Robyn-centric world I find that hard to believe but I guess I was not the centre of everyone’s universe!

I don’t know if we will have 50th reunion. By then I will be 67. I hope I will continue to enjoy the same good health I have now. I hope I will tick off some more of those bucket list items. But most of all, I hope I can contribute some good memories to the students I teach.

In 2038, I hope some kid says at their reunion, “Do you remember that old chook Ms Lang? She was a bit crazy!” and smile.

Tall tales and true! (Mark and Craig both school buddies since kinder!)