A lazy Amsterdam weekend

Ferries dodge around the larger traffic

The weather cleared a wee bit on Saturday, so we mooched around enjoying the city. We’d spent quite a bit of time up on the eleventh floor admiring the efficiency of Amsterdam’s transport system. From up there you can watch the trains filtering in to the central station via the dozen or so lines and the myriad of points. Trams shuttle people along the tracks beside the Ij, and ferries dart backwards and forwards across the waterway to North Amsterdam. They have to be sharp, those ferry captains. The trip takes all of five minutes, but the waterway is busy with traffic – barges, pleasure boats, work boats and the occasional small liner headed for the cruise ship berths. And the ferries are always packed, both ways.

Standing room only

So we wandered down through the central station’s central thoroughfare – filled with shops catering for working people, offering pre-packaged meals, flowers, coffee, bread and the like. Queues of people, quite a few with bikes and scooters, waited at the ferry landing. We joined them and shuffled on board with everybody else as soon as the boat cleared of the passengers coming this way. It’s standing room only, pack ‘em in but without shoving. Then you’re off for the short trip, where you shuffle off again. We never did find out where all those people were going, but we wanted a look at the artsy looking building we’d seen from the room. It was the film museum, part of the university of arts. Not our thing, so we used the loo, then went back to the central station.

Wandering around Amsterdam is always fun. The canals provide a sense of space and air and brightness you don’t often find in European cities. We went down to the Singel Gracht to the flower markets where you can get T shirts, drank some coffee, took some pictures.

That evening we found the Mexican restaurant Vicky and Bruce told us about, just across the canal from the hotel. It wasn’t the greatest Mexican I’ve ever had, but Pete enjoyed his steak – and both of us enjoyed talking to the waiter. He was a Syrian refugee, hoping to be accepted for Dutch citizenship. He has a Christian background and it was interesting listening to his take on the refugees who come to European countries expecting that the host nation will change to suit them. This sort of man – willing to work hard, learn the language and so on – would be welcome anywhere. He spoke excellent English, which he already knew before he left Syria, so I’d say he’s an educated man starting again from the ground up. Good for him. We never got round to asking him how he got out of Syria and into Amsterdam. But he did say that if you came from Syria you automatically had refugee status.

The next day we found out why we hadn’t been able to book rooms in Amsterdam for this weekend. Sunday was “Dam to Dam” day, a charity run between Amsterdam and Zaandam. We watched the riders, walkers, runners gathering down on the road along the front of the station until they were off, then we went down to transfer to the rivership.

The competitors congregate before the start

As it turned out, the Amaverde wasn’t berthed at the docks behind the hotel, she was over at the Westerdok, which meant a short taxi ride. We managed to fend off the touts trying to rob taxi drivers of their fares, handed over our luggage to the APT crew, and went off for a well-earned glass of something.

Zandvoort aan zee and an unexpected trip

The beach

Seeing as how we live near the seaside in Australia, a trip to Amsterdam’s local beach at Zandvoort seemed like a nice little expedition. I remember a little Dutch song about going to the beach in summer. Here it is. Sorry, no subtitles but I’m sure you can rock along with the melody. Maybe I even went there with the family in my very young days. Be that as it may, there’s an F1 track there (I was astonished to discover F1 fan Pete didn’t know that) and I’d seen pictures of Theo Jansen’s marvellous beach walkers, animated by the ever-present wind. That would have been a treat, but they’re not a permanent fixture.

Zandvoort aan zee

So we jumped on a train at the central station. We’d been sitting there only a few minutes when a gaggle of rowdy young men grabbed seats very close to us. We exchanged a glance and debunked to another carriage – only to find another bunch of rowdy Germans taking up position at least a reasonable distance away. What were these folks doing, going to Zandvoort on a dreary Friday lunchtime?  They weren’t regulars – they’d checked with others on the train that this one went to Zandvoort before they took seats. Judging by volume and coherence, they’d been on the singing syrup for quite some time already.

Never mind. They didn’t bother us during the short run to the coast, rolling through Harlem (where Jeronimus Cornelisz lived before heading for the Indies in 1629). When we got off the train we saw a large bus with FC Utrecht emblazoned on the side, which explained the rowdy Germans. A football match! I tried to find out, without success, who Utrecht were playing. Judging by the fans, it would have been a well-oiled audience.

I know this was well past summer’s best, but I don’t think I’ll be swapping my beach back home with Zandvoort. We admired some of the sand sculptures, and had a cup of coffee with apple tart and cream at a café in the town square, then we headed off back to town. They’ve got those rental bikes you see everywhere these days at the local station. Judging by the number of bikes and condition of the rental place, they’re doing as well here in the Netherlands as they are everywhere else (not).

We weren’t terribly impressed with the Double Tree’s executive rooms. I think we paid enough money to be provided with proper cups and saucers, not throw-away paper cups. And somebody else should have noticed the broken fittings in the bathroom. And when we’d used the two English Breakfast Tea bags, it would have been nice to have them replaced in the daily service without having to ask. However, they are issues we took up with the hotel. More minor irritations, you see.

That night we had dinner with cousin Irene at a lovely Indian restaurant in the Pijp area of South Amsterdam. Once again, we’d been there before and loved it, and although it was nice, it didn’t quite reach expectations. After a gezellig evening,  Irene gave me a little bag of goodies to take away with us, and we headed for the tram back to Amsterdam, which was standing at the stop, about to depart. The doors closed a whisker past my backside as I jumped on board. The train system requires you to swipe your card when you get on, so I had that in my right hand, and my bag of goodies tucked under my left. I was off balance and both hands were full when the tram took off as though the driver was aiming for qualifying in the next GP. For me, it was as if the tram tilted around me. One moment I was looking along the length of the carriage, and then it rotated slowly around me so I was looking at the ceiling, while the contents rose out of my bag and departed for destinations unknown. About then I landed on my elbow and hip, and jolted the back of my head. Everybody on the tram immediately jumped in to help, to the extent they were a hindrance. I managed to stand up by myself, while somebody gathered up my scattered belongings. A couple of passengers insisted we take their seats for the rest of the trip to Amsterdam Central.

Everyone’s concern was touching. I (of course) felt like a prize twit. Pete (who had lost a few more of his remaining hairs watching my performance) was angry with the driver’s lack of concern for the passengers, many of whom were standing. S/he continued to drive like a hoon. To my surprise I had no bruises (at least not for a couple of days) although I had a sore elbow and hip and a bit of a bump on my head.

I was lucky. It could have been much, much worse. Just another unfortunate event, really.

View across the Ij at dawn

Europe 2017 – a series of unfortunate events

The view from the hotel

Well… we’re back. From Europe, that is. Amsterdam, Rhine cruise and a coach tour of parts of Eastern Europe. Pretty much a month on the other side of the world. It wasn’t the most wonderful trip, on account of happenings. Oh, not horrible, major happenings. No cars jumping the kerb to run people down. No young men shouting “Allahu Akbar” as they lunged long knives at ordinary people going about their business. No bombs in airports or railway stations. And no evil white man pouring automatic gunfire down on a crowd of people at a concert. But even so, our little adventure was marred by a series of unfortunate events.

Let’s start at the beginning, a few days in Amsterdam before we embarked on our river cruise. We had some trouble finding accommodation in Amsterdam for the four nights before the cruise, even when trying to book months in advance. Our first option was out, APT’s option (the Marriot) was out, so we decided on the Double Tree by Hilton, next door to the central station. From there, we expected a short doddle down to the pier where the river boats park.

APT declined to organise a transfer for us from Schipol, so we were on our own on a dank, drizzly Amsterdam evening. Since it was after 9pm the hotel shuttles had stopped for the evening, and the queue for taxis disappeared around a corner or several. The lady at the information counter suggested we take the train – a ten-minute trip for a couple of Euros, then no more than two hundred metres to the hotel. Just go down the escalator, platform 1 or 2. There’s a train every few minutes.

It sounded like a plan. We bought tickets, hurried down to the platform and jumped on the train standing there. And away we went.

After we’d passed through a couple of stations, Pete turned to me and said, “This feels wrong. We seem to be headed out into the country. There aren’t any more big buildings.”

Damn it, he was right. Th carriage didn’t have one of those graphics showing the stations on the line we were travelling along, so we weren’t sure where we were, or where we were going. The next stop was announced in the usual echoing train voice, hard to understand even if you’re a native. But he said something about ‘Centrum” so we jumped off. A nice little lady explained that this was Almere Centrum, and that if we wanted to go to Amsterdam Central we needed to be over on that platform over there, going that way. Okay. We dragged our suitcases through the system of lifts and underpasses. The rail system in the Netherlands is efficient. We waited a few minutes on the platform for the train and then we were off back to Amsterdam. A bit more trundling of suitcases over cobbles and we were booked into the eleventh (and top) floor of the Double Tree with a view over the myriad rail lines in and out of the central station, across the busy Ij waterway to North Amsterdam. So our ten-minute train trip ended up taking around an hour. Still, it’s all part of the adventure, isn’t it?

The Rijksmuseum

Next morning we took advantage of a drizzly, miserable day to visit the Rijks Museum (the Dutch National Museum). Re-opened a couple of years ago after several years of extensive renovation, it’s an impressive piece of Golden Age architecture in its own right. The collections include art work from what had been Dutch colonies in Asia, as well as the wonderful paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries, with the master being Rembrandt and the iconic Night Watch. You’ll also find a fine exhibition of model sailing ships and their weapons, and if you want more of that, a visit to the Maritime Museum is a must.

The art galleries are the thing here. The paintings show life as it was back then, sometimes with stiff formal portraits of ‘important’ men, others showing life in the raw. I know which I prefer, but it’s all part of the history. Paintings were an important part of my research into life in 1629 for my historical ficition novel, To Die a Dry Death.

The great hall in the museum, with the Nightwatch exhibition at the end

Peasants enjoying life

Ship battles were a favourite subject

A model Eastindianman

Chinese horses

Buddha and a pair of temple guardians

Jousting knights

That evening we dined at a Chinese we’d thought wonderful the last time we were here. It didn’t quite measure up to expectations, but that’s always the way, isn’t it?

Evening over Amsterdam

 

 

Fooling around with Photoshop

A pelican brakes with its feet as it skis to a halt

I guess everybody knows how powerful the world’s best known photo editing program is. You can fool a lot of the people with images manipulated in PS, as many a person on Facebook can attest. Apart from fooling people, Photoshop can be used to create stunning digital masterpieces, putting together layer upon layer of images and effects. The other half of that, though, is it’s not the easiest piece of software to use. There are so many things you can do with it that the sheer complexity can thwart the beginner.

I’ve bought myself an online course to learn how to use this beast, and though it’s early days, I’ve discovered a few things, made some pretty pictures. That photo up the top is a (pretty nice, if I say so myself) photo of a pelican landing on the water. Not long ago a friend sent me a link to the best bird photos in the world 2017. And stunning they certainly are. Everybody loved the photo of the pelican landing on the water at dawn (or dusk), but I’ll admit to wondering if a little bit of Photoshop had been added to the mix. I’m a tiaro at Photoshop magic, but I thought I’d have some fun and see what I could do with the picture up there.

And here it is. I cut out the pelican and the trail of water from the original picture. Then I painted a graduated orange background and pasted the pelican onto it. That done, I copied the pelican image, then turned it over and foreshortened it a little to create the reflection. To make it look less like a mirror image, I added some distortion with a ‘liquefy’ filter which I found as a plug-in on the web. It’s not a photo anymore, it’s a piece of digital art, but I like it.Apart from anything else, it adds drama to the picture, and highlights the bird.

But then I had a bit more of a think. A bird landing like that creates ripples. And as it happens, I had a picture of ripples .

I inverted the colours to make it orange-based, then added the image as a layer, where I fiddled about with the perspective and how it would fit. And this is my finished masterpiece.

One of the things about photography is that you have to work with the limitations of the camera. It’s a piece of kit, with limited capabilities, unlike the human eye, which has a powerful editing system of its own. We don’t JUST see with our eyes. If you’re walking along a beach and a bird flies up, you can still see the detail of the beach because your brain fills in the gaps based on the information it collected before the bird appeared. So you can see both aspects of the scene, even though you might be concentrating on the flying bird. The camera can’t. The bird’s in focus. in movement, so what’s behind it is fuzzy.

In Photoshop you can get around that by combining two images, one of the scene, the other of the flying bird.

A Brahmani kite rises from the beach

Here’s a photo of a Brahmini kite in flight. He’s just taken off from the tidal flats. Nice picture of the bird, pretty ordinary one of the background. Now here’s a nice background. A bit boring, except for the clouds.

Cumulus clouds over the bay

Put them together, and we see what our eye/brain would see.

Apart from anything else, fooling around with photos is a lot of fun.

Here’s another one I prepared earlier. Learning more about realistic shadows, too.

The original photo of three pelicans flying in formation

An idyllic beach scene

And the final product

Melbourne wasn’t such a bad place

Bourke St Mall – it’s early in the morning, decked out for Christmas

I lived close to Melbourne for ten years of my life, and although it isn’t my very favouritist place in the world as far as cities go, I quite like it (shhh don’t tell anyone) . Before we left for warmer climes in 2007 I took a few photos which I’d like to share with you. Some of them are just pretty, others illustrate that Melbourne doesn’t take itself too seriously all of the time. In fact, the city fathers have a sense of humour.

I’m sure the cityscape has changed a lot since I left, but some things don’t change, they just mellow over time.

Flinders St station and Federation Square. I doubt you’ll find a bigger contrast in styles so close together anywhere.

Looking at Melbourne across the Yarra from Princes bridge

Waiting for a tram

Those guys. Really.

The fountain in Carlton Gardens. They hold the garden shows there in early Autumn.

Outside the old post office, which is now a retail centre. Love that stone purse 🙂

Early morning at the ‘G

St Paul’s with Christmas decoration

Christmas Decoration

The Myer Christmas windows

The bridge to Southbank near Flinders St station

Sculpture just outside the library building

A really weird dog

The world’s most livable city

Melbourne Southbank

It seems the word’s out on the world’s most liveable cities, and for the seventh year in a row MELBOURNE, Australia, has lifted the trophy!

Ha ha.

You gotta wonder. It seems “The report considers stability, healthcare, culture, environment, education and infrastructure in 140 different cities around the world.” I wouldn’t have thought any of those factors would vary all that much between the Australian capital cities.

I can’t help thinking that picking a liveable city has to be a tad subjective. I mean, if you’re a dead keen sports watcher, then Melbourne’s your town. One hundred thousand people would be sure to turn out to watch a tiddlywinks championship. Coffee – yes, the best in Oz, I’d say. Food, culture, gardens – it’s all there. They’ve got trams to get around (and get in the way), and it’s not too far to a number of natural wonders like the Great Ocean Road, Echuca and the Murray, snow in the Australian Alps etc.

But it’s also a grey, grim place in the colder months. I recall when I moved from Perth to Melbourne in May 1996. On my last weekend in Perth I went down to Trigg beach for a walk in bright sunshine. Autumn is beautiful in Perth – not too hot, calm, blue skies. I arrived in Melbourne and immediately bought myself a trench coat and some spencers. It was f***ing freezing. All the trees were bare, the skies were grey, and everybody wore black.

It wasn’t all bad, though. I first lived in Melbourne when I was in my twenties. The thing that struck me at that time was you could go to parts of the city (Richmond, Prahran, Carlton to name a few) and the shop signs would be in Foreign. You’d go into a shop, the people would see you coming, pop out the back, and wheel out their sons or daughters who could speak English. It was a real eye-opener. So were the Victoria markets where you could get food from Everywhere. You could walk from Flinders Street station up to Lonsdale Street via the lanes, where you’d find restaurants and coffee shops and all kinds of specialty shops. Then you’d reach the Myer Emporium, which was an Aladdin’s Cave where you could get everything. I loved all the bookshops, too.

But the traffic! Pete and I used to do the daily grind from west of Bacchus Marsh to Melbourne CBD (about 80km one way, which took roughly an hour). Ten years ago when we got out of town for good the suburbs were already beginning to spread west and the commute time was creeping ever higher, which meant we had to get out of bed earlier and earlier. The house prices were rising, too. Melbourne’s just behind Sydney when it comes to affordable housing, and it will catch up pretty soon. Sorry, Melbourne. Not missing you at all.

There are two other Aussie cities in the top ten – Adelaide at five and Perth at seven. I’ve never lived in Adelaide, although I’ve visited a few times. Apart from the fact that the state’s economy is a basket case, it looks like a nice place. With the Barossa and other wine and food areas so close by, food is great. And you’re near the wonderful Flinders Ranges, as well as down the road from Lake Eyre and the outback. It’s also not all that far from Melbourne, so it’s not hard to drive there for a football match or a concert. It has a Mediterranean climate, so on the whole the weather’s great.

Perth CBD

But my pick of the cities on the list (because they’re all large cities) is Perth. I grew up there from the age of four (and a half). The city by the Swan. Perth water is only about a foot deep, but it looks impressive. When I went Over East to Canberra for my first job after Uni, my sister and her husband, who lived in Melbourne, picked me up at the airport for a quick run around the city before my plane left for the nation’s capital. Frank drove over a little hump bridge and said, “That’s the Yarra (river).” I was completely underwhelmed. And on that subject, Adelaide’s river Torrens is even less compelling. They had to dam it so there’s at least a lake. Perth is built on the edges of Perth Water, with Kings Park’s Mount Eliza rearing up on one side. It’s a great place for an aerial view of the city, and the Swan River winding its way down to the Port of Fremantle.

South Perth with Perth Water to the left and the confluence of the Swan and the Canning on the right

My memories of Perth are over twenty years old, but I don’t think the things that stick have altered much. The laid-back, outdoors life style is the thing. The winters are mild, with long bouts of sunshine. I often went to the beach in winter, just to walk. You could always tell the tourists – they were the ones in the water. Nuts. Yes, it can get stinking hot in summer, but it’s usually a dry heat – unless there’s a cyclone hovering around Up North.

Back in the day the population was very English, with pockets of Greek, Slav and Italian immigrants, but nothing like Melbourne. Over the years the city has become more cosmopolitan. Like all the Australian capitals, first class food is everywhere. You’ll find restaurants at the Swan Valley vineyards, along the ocean, by the river, in the quaint older parts of town like Subiaco, and in Freo. I couldn’t argue that Perth is a Mecca for the Arts. Not many big acts make the trek across the Nullarbor, but some do. Still, if you’re desperate, these days a flight to Melbourne isn’t all that expensive. Oh, and that ‘most isolated capital city in the world’? It’s closer to Hong Kong, Singapore and Jakarta than any of the Eastern capitals. Perthites are more likely to holiday in Asia than they are in Melbourne, Sydney, or Brisbane – it’s much, much cheaper.

I have to say, the worthies in Perth have done a rather better fist of urban planning than places like Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. There’s not much room for parking in Perth CBD, so don’t bring your car. Leave it at a railway station a stop or two out, and catch a free train. There are free commuter buses in the city to get around. The freeways and the railways pave the way before housing estates start, and the satellite city of Joondalup is now a thriving hub. Smart. These days, places like Rockingham and Mandurah have been effectively swallowed up into Perth’s suburbs, but the infrastructure means people can still commute. When I was a kid, people went to those towns for summer holidays. It was a loooong way.

Why aren’t we living in Perth? In a nutshell, like every other major Australian city, it’s too big. We’re over the chase-the-dollar rat race. The climate in Hervey Bay is a bit more humid than I’d like, and bookshops are few and far between. But you can’t win ’em all. It’s small enough to be laid back, and big enough to have a Bunnings you can see from the moon. What else do you need?

Cheers.

A glorious winter morning at the beach

 

 

 

 

 

The trouble with ‘dieting’

In our modern, affluent, first-world society one of the most talked about issues is what we eat. You’ll find racks and racks of cook books, food magazines, TV cooking shows (and a few reality TV shows trying to fake it as cooking shows). Our obsession with food and the eating thereof has now morphed into an epidemic of obesity. You have only to go down to the local shopping mall to witness the phenomenon, which affects all age groups.

Including Pete and me.

Since we retired to Hervey Bay ten years ago, we have steadily put on weight. There are a number of reasons. Lack of exercise is one, eating too much is the other. It’s not so much eating the ‘wrong’ things. For us, fast food is an occasional ‘can’t be bothered’ treat. We’ll stop at Hungry Jack’s or Macca’s for breakfast if we’re doing a long drive somewhere, pick up a pizza if we’re not in the mood to cook. But usually we cook and eat at home, and we eat a lot of vegies.

Like every other woman on this planet, I’ve done the diet thing, sometimes with success, sometimes not. When I was young and slim, the dieting creed was you gave up on bread and potatoes, and had a piece of cheese if you were hungry. That was after you’d eschewed all the naughty things like fried foods, cakes, biscuits, soft drinks and the like. And it worked.

Then we moved on to ‘fat is bad for you’. Stores bulged with low-fat alternatives to everything under the sun, and margarine replaced butter as the spread of choice. Along with ‘no fat’ we had ‘sugar free’ – that is, artificial sweeteners like Aspartame. If you counted your calories on a diet like this, it worked.

There’s a huge ‘diet’ industry. Weight watchers, Jenny Craig, Lite ‘n Easy, Paleo, meal substitutes, and more. Celebrities will tell you how well they work, and they make a fortune selling you stuff. And every time you turn around there’s a new ‘discovery’ about what you should and shouldn’t eat. When it comes down to it, any ‘diet’ will work. For a while. But the only thing that will work long term is lifestyle.

It’s usually your clothes that tell you they’ve had enough and it’s time to do something about it. The scale read 80kg+. I’d had a bit of success in the past with a low-carbohydrates approach. It was time to Get Serious.

Messing about on the web, I found this site – the Diet Doctor It’s all about Low Carb High Fat, otherwise known as keto (NOT Paleo). Please watch the short introductory video. In over-simple terms, though, if you limit the quantity of carbohydrates you consume, your body will burn stored fat instead. It sounded good to me, so I sent it on to Pete. If we did it together we could simplify the whole cooking process. He said yes.

Healthy eating food – low carb high fat

We didn’t have to give up all that much. We ate pretty well, anyway. Neither of us has a sweet tooth, so giving up the usual cakes, ice cream etc was a given. Then we got to the sacrifices. No more Anzac biscuits with morning tea, no bread, pasta, potatoes, or rice. But you can fry a piece of fish with butter, or make meat balls with a mushroom and cream sauce. Cauliflower mashed with cream and a bit of cheese is a surprisingly good substitute for mashed potato. Pete gave up beer, but there are no carbs in Scotch and water (which is what we drank, anyway), and there are only two carbs in a glass of dry red or white wine. Anything marked ‘low-fat’ was immediately off the shopping list. We eat full fat cream, butter, and cheese, and extra-virgin olive oil. We’d always been label-readers, but we went further, checking the carb count in stuff like bottles of salad dressing, or pasata. You’d be surprised how much sugar is in soooo many things.

We don’t count calories. The simple message is ‘eat until you’re full, then stop’. Because the food is rich and filling, it’s pretty hard for most people to overeat. One other thing about this eating approach – there’s none of this ‘you MUST eat breakfast’ nonsense. I never used to in my younger days. In fact, the keto diet encourages a bit of fasting. Eg Don’t eat breakfast, wait until lunch time for your first meal. And you are not encouraged to ‘snack’. In fact, if you eat a good breakfast (like bacon and eggs) you’re not hungry until at least lunch time.

We’ve been doing the LCHF things now for a couple of months and we’ve both shed around 7-8kg. Pete had been diagnosed as having type-2 diabetes. His blood sugar levels have stabilised to normal. And it has been easy. You’ll find a heap of recipes on the web if you search for ‘keto’. I like what I found at Aussie Keto Queen, but there are plenty of others.

If you have cravings for food you’ve given up, like pizza, biscuits, or a chocolatey dessert, you’ll find recipes on the web. You can create substitute pizza crusts from cauliflower, make pretend bread, or make a sweet to satisfy your urges if you want. There’s even a recipe for keto-friendly Anzacs.

If you’ve been doing the yo-yo diet thing and you’re sick of it, take a look. It might work for you, too.

Censorship is stupid

Recently there has been some consternation amongst my writer friends. It seems that Barnes and Noble has decided to take what it perceives as the moral high ground and not only ban erotic novels that do not meet its ‘decency’ standards, it deletes the accounts of offending authors. See article in Publisher’s Weekly. To quote, ‘The content policy in question states that titles subject to removal include “works portraying or encouraging incest, rape, bestiality, necrophilia, paedophilia or content that encourages hate or violence.”‘

This is not the first time something like this has happened. A couple of years ago Kobo had a similar purge, tightening-up its content. It’s interesting that these often-draconian measures are applied to writers of (erotic) romance, but any small author who has written romance novels might well be caught up in the ritualistic cleansing. One author I know who normally writes science fiction romance had her perfectly innocent non-romantic Young Adult novel pulled because it had the word ‘sister’ in the book’s description. That happens when you use software, not people, to make judgement. I’ve also heard in the current debacle that author accounts are being cancelled because a book that had been published in the past, but was no longer available, was deemed retrospectively unsuitable. And if an author had one offending title out of (say) ten novels, that was too bad. Author cancelled. The article in Publisher’s Weekly was updated to suggest management has had a second think on the issue, and has agreed to reinstate some of the closed accounts. I should hope so.

Popular book distributor Draft to Digital has informed authors that:

Going forward, Draft2Digital is no longer able to accept or distribute books that feature the following subjects:

  • Rape
  • Incest (included step brother/step sister, or any familial relationship)
  • Paedophilia and underage sex
  • Bestiality
  • Pornography
  • Content that promotes hate towards a religion, race or ethnicity, or sexual orientation
  • Any content that our distributors deem objectionable or in violation of their content restrictions

Please take note especially of the last line. It means they can refuse to accept anything they like. At the end of the day these retailers are censoring what they will sell, and I suppose that is their right. Personally, although I find all of those topics (except the last one, which says nothing) distasteful, all of them happen in our world. Adults should be able to read what they please. I suppose people who write those books will have to market their work at select vendors.To a large extent writers of erotica are already in that situation.

Let’s look at that quote again. “works portraying or encouraging incest, rape, bestiality, necrophilia, paedophilia or content that encourages hate or violence.” Instead of pointing a finger at the bible, maybe I’ll just mention that B&N should be pulling Game of Thrones off all their shelves, and cancelling Mr Martin’s account. Except that won’t happen because Mr Martin’s novels sell rather too well. Oh, and didn’t Ruth Rendell write a murder mystery about an incestuous couple? (Yes, she did) That’s probably a bit mainstream, too. Will they have to remove Nabokov’s Lolita from the shelves (again)?

Nazis burning books

By Unknown – United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1253020

What particularly bothers me about this growing trend to regulate what we the public gets to see is that it’s part of a greater wave of control. Back in the 1930s the Nazis carried out their own form of censorship by burning books. “The books targeted for burning were those viewed as being subversive or as representing ideologies opposed to Nazism.” The behaviour by book retailers comes very close to the same sort of mind set.

Which segues neatly into another form of censorship, the recent spate of destruction of historic statues. It hasn’t just happened in the Southern US states. Demands have been made by ‘offended’ black students to have the statue of Cecil Rhodes removed from Oxford. There’s been some talk about removing Admiral Lord Nelson from his column because he participated in the slave trade, and a few years ago I wrote an article about a move to have Jan Pieterszoon Coen’s statue removed from Hoorn. (He was known as the Butcher of Banda, a tyrannical governor of the city of Batavia -now Jakarta – in the 1620s.) And now in Australia we have statues of Captain Cook being defaced.

It’s idiotic, an attempt to white-wash history. It’s like the Catholic Christians destroying Mayan and Incan buildings and artefacts. It’s like the Taliban destroying the statues of the Buddha, or ISIL destroying the monuments in Syria and Iraq. We’re still ruing the destruction of the Library of Alexandria. What priceless knowledge have we lost from all those actions? You can bet the Taliban and ISIL won’t be saying sorry any time soon.

The latest assault is the resurrection of the move to rename Australia Day, which is commemorated on 26 January, the date when the NSW colony was founded by Arthur Phillip and the First Fleet. Some aboriginal leaders and left-wing sympathisers want to rename it to Invasion Day. Maybe Australia Day should actually be 1 January, because it was on 1 January 1901 that Australia became a nation, and not just a number of separate states. But it’s a bit busy at that time of the year.

I hasten to add that I’m glad to see that aboriginal history is taught in schools these days. When I was a child very little was said about the original inhabitants of this continent and their struggles. But let’s not white-wash them, too, seeing them as innocent nomads, living in harmony with their world. Massacres happened on both sides, and the aboriginal tribes fought each other. Most aborigines these days live in the cities, just like we whites. And most of them are of mixed race.

Maybe it’s time we Westerners stopped apologising, recognise that mistakes, sometimes egregious mistakes, happened in the past, and move on. We can’t change the past, but we can learn from it. Provided it’s still there to learn from.

 

I’ve been mugged by a humpback

Coming home after a great day out

Since we’re now in the middle of the annual whale migration, I’ve been communing with the whales on one of the half dozen boats that take eager tourists out to view these majestic mammals. This trip was a little bit different for me because I went out with a small group of other keen photographers, escorted by a professional. I was there to learn how to get the best shots I could with my equipment. I brought along both my cameras – one fitted with a wide-angle lens, and the other with a 70-300mm zoom. The long lens was to take shots of whales further out, breaching and the like. As it happened, the long lens just got in the way.

Scones and profiteroles

I went out on a new-to-me boat, Freedom III. Each of the whale boats sets itself up for a niche – because everybody basically wants to see whales. Freedom has two niches – only 45 passengers on a lower-to-the-water boat so you get a more personal experience with the whales, and excellent food.

Home-made scones with jam and cream, and profiteroles for morning tea, an excellent lunch with chicken, ham, and various salads and dinner rolls, and afternoon tea was fruit and cheese. All very nice. Guests could purchase wine, beer, and water, and coffee and tea (Dilmah) was free.

Back to the whales.

I wasn’t the only one surprised to encounter our first whale no more than 5km from the boat harbour. Platypus Bay, where the whales congregate, is about 40km from port, so this whale was very close to shore. I also wasn’t the only one concerned about that. The water is shallow and two whales had recently become stranded in the Great Sandy Strait, where they died. I wrote about that the other week. Still, with so many thousands of whales making the migration these days, I suppose it’s inevitable that there will be unpleasant occurrences.

Humpback whales do an annual migration along both sides of Australia from Antarctica, swimming up to the warmer tropical waters to have their calves, mate, and do some sight-seeing before they make the journey South to the rich krill grounds in Antarctica. (As an aside, I object to the idea of selling krill oil in chemist shops. Krill is whale food. Why save the whales if you deprive them of food?) In most parts of Australia offering whale watch trips the whales are on the move, going from here to there with purpose. But they divert into Hervey Bay, where they’ll stay for a day or a week to mooch around, fatten their calves, fool around with their fellows, and interact with humans.

There are very strict rules around boats and whales. You’ll find the details here, but in summary, skippers must not harass them. A boat can’t come closer than 300m. This translates to the whales having to decide to come and say hello. If they come within 150m, the skipper has to turn off the engine. So if you have a close encounter with a whale, be assured that it is the whale’s choice, which is a wonderful privilege. If whales come very close and hang around, it’s known as being ‘mugged’. The boat cannot leave until the whale decides to go away. We were ‘mugged’ three times in our day on the water.

This gives an idea of how close they are

Spyhopping. This whale’s eyes are just below the water, but they can see through that

The first case was a few sub-adults who hung around for a while and did a fair bit of spyhopping. This is where the whale hangs vertically in the water with its head above the surface. They have excellent eyesight, so what they’re really doing is looking at the boats. When they got bored, they left and we went on our way.

The boat couldn’t leave because the whales had it trapped

The second time we had to ‘rescue’ another boat, which was on a timetable and needed to head back to port. Freedom kind of took over their muggers, an adult female with a would-be suitor, and a mother and calf with escort. The courting couple put on quite a show. She acted as a seductress, rolling around in the water and showing off her white belly. The male tried a few moves, draping a pectoral across her body, but she was still playing hard to get.

The lady and her boyfriend

And the third time a solitary female hung around for over an hour, swimming back and forth on both sides of the boat, inspecting the hull from bow to stern. She was a joy. She sprayed us all with water by blowing air out of her blowholes. She snorted, causing us to wipe whale snot off lenses more than once. She blew bubbles. She rolled around in the water, staring up at us with clearly-visible, open eyes.

It’s actually pretty funny being on one of these boats when the whales are circling. People run from side to side, jockeying for position to get the best shot. It’s easier when there’s more than one whale – if they don’t decide to be on the same side. In this case, a bit of whale-fatigue set in (which frankly astonished all of us in the photography group). People sat down inside and got stuck into a drink or three, oblivious to the wonderful show outside. Still, that meant more room for us.

She deliberately snorted water all over us

She blew bubbles

She cruised past us on her back, and went like that under the hull, as if inspecting

She was looking at us. Her open eye is one the forward edge of that white spot

How did we know she’s a girl? All whales have a genital slit. The boys keep their bits hidden until required. But only the girls have that hemispherical bump towards the tail.

I suppose you could say we were lucky that she got tired of us at about the time the skipper was looking anxiously at his watch. We headed for home, we photographers sharing a look at shots on our cameras. I didn’t quite fill up a 32GB SD card, but I did go through a battery. I took about six photos with the long lens because the battery had died in the camera with the wide-angle lens. Yes, I brought spares, but they were in my bag, compulsorily stashed away with everybody else’s, so I took the battery out of the one with the long lens and replaced the one that was spent. Even with a lens capable of 18mm, that wasn’t always wide enough to capture the entire whale in one image.

No, we didn’t see much of the more spectacular part of whale watching – breaching, and the like. I’ve seen that and I have some great pictures. But you know what? This kind of interaction we had today is somehow better. It’s more personal, more a sense of one intelligent creature attempting to commune with another species.

I had a wonderful day. I hope you enjoy looking at the photos almost as much as I enjoyed taking them. Here’s a few more because I can – and I love it.

I can snort a rainbow. We had to wipe whale-snot off our lenses more than once 🙂

Waving a pectoral

Doing a little bit of tail-slapping

Close up of a whale snout. Those modules are very sensitive, helping the whale know where it is in the water

 

Extremism seems to be here to stay

White supremacists clash with police
By Evan Nesterak – White supremacists clash with police, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61723994

I’m still shaking my head over marches in Charlottesville where one of the white supremacist thugs ran down the crowd in a car, killing one woman. That dead woman, taking part in an anti-racist protest, was not only killed, the Nazis vilified her on social media. I will not put a link to any entries. I don’t want to encourage any publicity for these despicable people. They are just as evil as the Islamist fundamentalists. Don’t forget the young Nazi who went into a church and murdered nine black people.  That’s up there with the young Muslim who blew up innocents in Manchester. And now just yesterday, sixteen people were killed in another deliberate vehicle attack in Barcelona.

Many of us older people are wondering what happened after 2000? Everything seemed to be going so smoothly in the world, and then the wheels fell off. I think the answer has two arcs. The first is about the haves – the wealthy 1% who own more than the rest of the world combined, and the people in power wanting to return to the glory days of the past. And the second is about the forgotten people, those who can’t make ends meet, who find themselves without prospects, without hope.

History happens in cycles. I’d love to think we humans might learn from history, but we don’t. In 1920-30’s Europe,  Germans, resentful of their treatment at the end of the War to End All Wars (huh), looked around for someone to blame for the crippling debt and unemployment. A fellow called Hitler came along and told them it wasn’t their fault at all. It was those mongrel Jews. Germans were the Chosen Folk, blond-haired, blue-eyed Supermen, better than everybody else.

Over in the East, Stalin eyed the goings-on and decided to sign a treaty with Hitler, thereby giving him a chance to expand into Poland and Finland. Mussolini was anxious to emulate the Roman Empire and was happy to solicit help from the Germans. The US stood aloof. None of it was their business. China was something you bought for your dinner service – but Japan was rattling its swords, looking to expand its Empire.

And the West – particularly France and the UK – did nothing, hoping Hitler would cease his demands. As we all ought to know, he didn’t. Thus started a war that ended in a shattered, exhausted Europe divided between the Soviets and the West, and a flattened Asia – especially Japan. The world was shocked by death camps in Europe and across Asia. The UN was formed so that it wouldn’t happen again.

Now? The UN has outlived its usefulness. The security council is impotent because the five permanent members (Russia, the USA, UK, France, China) have the power of veto. We’ve seen veto exercised in resolutions regarding the situation in Syria. That fight goes on. The UN has become a pasture for retired politicians to keep living in the manner to which they have become accustomed.

We have a resurgent China making territorial demands in the South Pacific, which reminds me so much of Hitler’s demands for return of ‘German’ lands in Austria and Czechoslovakia in the 1930’s. The latter was the catalyst for the 1938 crisis where Europe teetered on the brink of war. I’m quite sure Xi Jingping is enjoying watching Kim Jong Un’s taunts at America. I can’t see him doing anything to stop that conflict any time soon.

We have a resurgent Russia with a leader who appears to be aspiring to the glory days of the USSR. Putin has already annexed Crimea, virtually annexed Georgia, and half of Ukraine. It seems Belarus is next on the agenda, and Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania are watching with concern. And all this is happening while North Korea provides covering fire.

Around the world disaffected young (mainly) men are finding themselves marginalised, jobless, and hopeless. So they turn to extremism. Islam has its fundamental Daesh cult, the Taliban, Boko Haram, and Al Qaeda. Several of these groups are alive and well in the Muslim communities in Europe, and they have adherents in Australia. On the other side, Nazism and other white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan have risen from the ashes. The Islamist cults promise death to everybody who isn’t them. And the white supremacists promise death to anybody who (er) isn’t them. That’s blacks, Jews, gays, transgender people, Gypsies. For both groups women are chattels, nothing more than baby factories. Fuelled by hatred, they kill people they don’t know, and often themselves as well. I wonder if any of them really know why they’re doing this, what they hope to achieve? I ask myself that question every time I hear of a new atrocity. Why? Even more to the point, why do we try to find excuses for these people? Nazis running people down is every bit as much an act of terrorism as Islamists doing so. Man Monis declared his siege at the Lindt cafe to be for Islam. Why should we argue with him?

I’m one of the Baby Boomer generation, born in the good times after WW2. Because of the devastation of that war, we had jobs and opportunities. And as I grew up, a lot of the old prejudices of the past were slowly dismantled. Women were allowed to keep their jobs if they married. The contraceptive pill was a huge advance for women, allowing them to avoid unwanted pregnancy. In Australia, aboriginal people were given the right to vote (in a referendum where 90% of eligible voters said ‘yes’). In America, black people won freedoms even in the South. In Africa, apartheid ended. Now, the factions of the right are clawing back power. The Republicans in America have frighteningly conservative Christian policies which marginalise LGBTI people and erode the rights of women. Their policies in health care favour the people who don’t need it (rich) and make it beyond the reach of people who do. I wouldn’t want to be sick in America. Closer to home, owning a house in Australia is becoming beyond the reach of most young people. Indonesia and Malaysia, our closest neighbours, are turning increasingly to conservative Islam and Sharia law.

I’m watching what’s happening around the world with dismay. It’s like the interregnum between WW1 and WW2 all over again. The world’s divided into armed camps, while down on the ground disaffected extremist groups scuttle around, killing everybody else. We used to be able to turn up at the airport and walk into the plane just before the gates closed. Now we turn up two to three hours before to endure a security check. I don’t begrudge the process. Once you have nutters prepared to bring down several hundred innocent people simply living their lives for the sake of a belief, this sort of thing is essential. In so many respects the terrorists have already won.

Still and all, the world remains a beautiful place.

The full moon rises above the sea

A Brahmani kite at dawn

The full moon in cloud. So atmospheric.

Lake Geneva with swan