Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Travelling Hopefully - Massive Dam Edition

 With platypus glory still ringing in my head we sloshed our way back to the car and, once we had enticed my correspondent in out of the rain, headed off for Strathgordon which is described by wikipedia as a "locality".  The wilderness lodge we were staying at was the sole source of food, accommodation and petrol in the region.  To all intents and purposes the lodge is Strathgordon insofar as Strathgordon is anything at all.  A single narrow, winding road took us further and further away from such shreds of civilisation and deep into the wilderness of southwest Tasmania.  The retired diplomat and I frequently had to restrain my correspondent to prevent her leaping from the car for impromptu bushwalks, this was particularly important since my correspondent was driving.

Despite these minor excitements we trundled slowly behind various logging trucks en route to a world heritage wilderness area.  Apparently it was too difficult to log and too barren for sheep.  A lake loomed on our left.

"Is that Lake Pedder?" I asked excitedly.


Another lake loomed.

"How about that one?"

"Probably not."

A third lake presented itself for our visual delectation.

"Yes, ok that one is probably Lake Pedder."

A quick check on the map after our arrival confirmed that in fact all three "lakes" were Lake Pedder.  It's really rather big.  In mist and rain we rolled into the wilderness lodge, parked our bags and met in the lounge.

"Would you like to go for a walk?" suggested my correspondent.

"Do you want to share a bottle of wine?" offered the retired diplomat.  It was three o'clock in the afternoon and occasional glimpses of Sun could be seen between the clouds.  My correspondent retreated muttering while the retired diplomat and I enjoyed the wine.

The wilderness lodge was definitely the best stay of our trip.  Cheaper than Cradle Mountain, more convenient than Strahan and less chilly, ill designed and decaying than Derwent Bridge.  The food was great and the view (when it could be seen through the mist) pretty much obviated the need to do anything as adventurous as walking outside.  Which didn't stop my correspondent who roamed the wilderness like the buffalo of old (very lost buffalo but buffalo nonetheless).  The retired diplomat and I confined our roaming to the journey from our seats to the bar and back again.  Even that got a little difficult later in the evening.

The next day was somewhat nicer weatherwise which was convenient considering that we were leaving.  Reluctantly heaving our, now somewhat noisome, luggage into the car we set off.  Our ultimate destination was Hobart but we took a side trip to look at Gordon Dam.  Depending on your perspective the Gordon Dam is either a staggering work of engineering or one of the worst pieces of environmental vandalism you're likely to encounter.  It certainly looks impressive, the Gordon Dam forms Lake Gordon then they dammed Lake Pedder just in case Lake Gordon ran out of water.

The dam itself was a towering curve of concrete that neatly filled the gorge that the previously unemployed Gordon River had cut through the countryside.  Despite grey skies and occasional rain (the weather hadn't improved that much) the dam demanded attention.  Whichever of the two categories above you fall into you're unlikely to leave the dam unimpressed.  A flight of metal stairs led from the viewing platform down to the dam itself.  I felt rather than saw the gleam in my correspondent's eyes and sighed.

"Oh all right!"

We made our way cautiously down said steps while the retired diplomat retreated to the car.  Once on the dam we had stupendous, if somewhat stomache churning, views down the valley.  Signs warned us not to hop up on the wall which was the only thing preventing us from falling to a grisly death.  The fact that the signs were necessary at all is yet another indication that the Human race hasn't got evolution quite right.  Sights were gawped at, photos were taken and then all of those steps had to be gasped and wheezed up to get us back to our metal steed.  Once there we coaxed the retired diplomat out from under the seat (she was driving) on a promise that we would stop absolutely nowhere else for bushwalks or vertiginous sight seeing.

And indeed that promise was kept.  Hobart was calling and, for reasons not entirely clear to me, we answered the call.  We arrived in Tasmania's capital in mid afternoon to be immediately drowned in a sea of hounds and children.  Which pretty much brought us to the end of our holiday, except for the next morning when we popped down to Margate where Tasmania's last passenger train had been repurposed as a slightly bizarre shopping mall.  I'm not even sure if the train ever went to Margate.  Finally though my correspondent took me to one side, pointed out that my plane was leaving soon and even if it wasn't she was sick of the sight of me.  In revenge I introduced her daughters to Swedish power metal on the way to the airport.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Travelling Hopefully - Platypus!!!

 It snowed overnight.  Just to prove that this wasn't a coincidence it snowed in the morning as well.  I was entranced, I rarely see snow living as I do in a more habitable part of the planet.  There was snow piled up on my correspondents car and the sight of it was so exciting that I briefly forgot how freaking cold it was.

But this led to an urgent consultation.  Our journey today would take us down to Lake Pedder which was at the end of a long, winding road completely surrounded by wilderness (although Forestry Tasmania are doing their best to rectify that) and while Pedder itself was low enough that snow was unlikely to be an issue there it would be quite easy for the road to be cut.  Our holiday was coming to an end, my correspondent and I reflected on the reaction that our co-workers would have if they were informed that we were stuck in the wilderness and unable to return to work on Monday.  There were smiles, there were sniggers, there was outright laughter.  Unfortunately my correspondent remembered she had children and dogs (for the sake of the children I shan't mention which she remembered first) and we decided that if the weather was iffy we should forgo Lake Pedder.

To get the latest news I contacted our accommodation at Lake Pedder.  It will be fine they assured us, absolutely no problem at all.  Please come and spend money.  We decided to go and spend money.  Along the way my correspondent mentioned Mount Field.  The retired diplomat and I exchanged "here we go again" glances.  Another place of beauty coincidentally ringed by bushwalks to take you into those parts of the wilderness that you obviously shouldn't be going because if you should be there would a road wouldn't there?

So we stopped at Mount Field.  The weather and the need to get to Lake Pedder meant that we couldn't do any long bushwalks but my correspondent chivvied both of us into doing a reasonably brief walk along a creek to yet another waterfall.  We could see water fall simply by looking out the car windows but apparently that wasn't good enough for my correspondent.  So we went, we walked, we got wet.  We saw the waterfall which was very pretty, it certainly wasn't short of water and headed back along the creek to our starting point.  Along the way we came across some steps that led up to a steeper higher walk.  My correspondent stopped and looked at us hopefully.  The retired diplomat diplomatically retired.  I realised this was my line in the sand moment.  It was pissing rain and the visitors centre wasn't that far away.

"Have fun," I said and followed the retired diplomat along the path that led to warmth and comfort.  As always whenever I was near any sort of flowing water (including bathtaps) I kept an eye out for a platypus.  Not that I expected to see one.  They are rare and retiring.

"Platypus!" shouted the retired diplomat.  I thought she was joking.  I stared but couldn't see it.  Was this it?  My chance to see a platypus gone?  No, the retired diplomat pelted down the path at a speed quite dangerous for someone traversing a water sodden bushwalking track in high heeled boots, keeping pace with the platypus until she found a spot where I could look out over the water as well.  And I saw it, just for a few seconds but a definite platypus making its way into its burrow beside the creek.

Have I ever mentioned how awesome the retired diplomat is?  Her intelligence and charisma almost obscure her charm and good looks.  The truth is I would never have seen the platypus without her eagle eye (my own eyes are more of the mole variety) and to see a platypus in the wild is something a bit special.  I texted my correspondent a little (ok a lot) smugly to inform her.  She hid her disappointment well and very kindly didn't point out that she had seen one just going for a walk in the bush near her home, she even took video of it which I didn't have the opportunity to do.  You're just going to have to take my word for it.  I floated back to the visitors centre on Cloud 9 and once there expiated the gods by purchasing a fuzzy stuffed platypus toy to take home with me (like I wasn't going to do that anyway).

Travelling Hopefully - So Very Cold

 We left Strahan under a hail of freezing rain.  Later, just for variety, we would be subjected to a rain of freezing hail.  Our destination was Derwent Bridge.  Derwent Bridge isn't really a place, rather it is where such of the foolhardy as have survived the Overland Track stagger out in search of civilisation.  There isn't any at Derwent Bridge but fortunately there's a bus to take them the rest of the way.  For those who emerge blinking and shivering from the wilderness too late to jump the bus to Hobart accommodation has been built at Derwent Bridge.  Here the intrepid walkers can be eased gently back into civilisation by controlled exposure to hot showers, cooked food and not having to walk over some of the most god awful terrain in Tasmania.  My correspondent has done the Overland Track (of course she has) and spoke of its horrors with such an enthusiastic gleam in her eye as to make me seriously worry for her sanity.

Along the way to Derwent Bridge we passed through Queenstown.  If you ever get the opportunity I strongly encourage you to pass through Queenstown.  There are so many other interesting places you can be going.  Not Derwent Bridge of course but most of the rest of Tasmania.  Queenstown has many interesting tourist attractions like the gravel football field, the slag heap and deforested hills.  You get the idea.  In fact a combination of tree chopping, pollution from the mine works and incessant rain reduced the landscape to something quite resembling the surface of the Moon.  Things are a little better now and some of the more bloody minded tree species are sending some tentative roots down into the blasted hellscape.  The population of Queenstown took a vote and narrowly decided not to rip them all up again (by this time the "surface of the Moon" look had become a genuine tourist attraction).  

Since it was cold, windy and raining naturally my correspondent decided to take a quick walk along the side of a cliff to look at a waterfall.  Naturally because I'm an idiot I went with her.  Naturally, because she's the only one of us with a modicum of common sense, the retired diplomat stayed in the car.  We clumped and slithered along a walkway that had been securely (I hope) bolted to the side of the mountain and peered through the water coming down at even more water coming down.  This is my correspondent's idea of a good time.

Once we were done we left Queenstown behind us (which is my idea of a good time) and pointed the car in a southeastish direction towards Derwent Bridge.  Beautiful forested countryside (once we were safely away from Queenstown) passed by in a grey rain sodden haze.  Suddenly my correspondent starting talking enthusiastically about Lake St Clair which was apparently quite close to our destination.  The retired diplomat hunched down in her seat well aware of what was coming.  Despite my experiences to date I was less insightful and eventually was talked into taking a quick trip out to Lake St Clair once we had arrived at Derwent Bridge.

Our accommodation in Derwent Bridge was huge, cavernous and ill heated.  To be fair Hell would have had difficulty heating something the size of our accommodation.  Vast high ceilings snatched what heat the fires put out and clutched it jealously to themselves while the wretched human denizens below shivered.  It is the first place I've been to that found it necessary to issue blankets for the guests in the dining room.  It has to be said that the place was on the decline.  My correspondent having been alternately scalded and frozen by the shower recommended basin washing for the duration of our stay.

Once we had dumped our bags in our chilly rooms my correspondent drove me to Lake St Clair.  The retired diplomat huddled under a blanket with a bottle of wine and rejected any attempts to move her.  Through rain that was fast becoming sleet we made our way to Lake St Clair.  It was indeed beautiful and scenic and all the stuff you normally associate with lakes surrounded by bushland.  Also, unusually for Tasmania, this was a natural lake and not created by damming the hell out of something.  It is actually here at the rangers station that the Overland Track officially ends.  Hikers lurch out of the wilderness and provide details of the fallen to the rangers who have to write more "I regret to inform you..." letters than a World War 1 general.  Sometimes the bones are found sometimes not.  Once a hiker is down they are easy prey for Tasmanian Devils who will eat everything including the skeleton.

Having "enjoyed" the rain sodden vistas at Lake St Clair my correspondent acceded to my increasingly incoherent pleas to be returned somewhere warm and drove us back to our accommodation which as noted above didn't really qualify.  The place is for sale.  Hopefully the new owners can do something with the place.  I recommend demolition.

Travelling Hopefully - Playing Around

 "Would you like to walk through an abandoned mining tunnel?"

"I'd rather drill a hole in my head," replied the retired diplomat.

With our obligatory and, to be honest, rather perfunctory offer my correspondent and I happily deserted the retired diplomat for the second time in about six hours.  By this stage she's entitled to have some severe abandonment issues.  We also temporarily abandoned Strahan.  Yes we left the glittering seaside lights and returned to Zeehan.  The phrase "returned to Zeehan" isn't one you're likely to hear to often in your life so make the most of it.

In truth we didn't so much return to Zeehan as drive through it.  Our destination was the abandoned Spray Silver mine just on the other side of Zeehan.  Guess what they mined there.  The name is a shameless marketing ploy.  It was the habit at the time to give mines catchy and vaguely ejaculatory names in the hopes that investors would be inspired to pour their money into what was literally a hole in the ground.  If I ever discover silver I'm going to call it Orgasm Argentum.  The prospectus practically writes itself.

We couldn't get into the actual mine of course, that is worked out, closed off and covered in bush.  Rather we were invited (and by invited I mean nobody stopped us) to walk through a tunnel that used to be used by the trolleyway that hauled the ore away to be tortured until it gave up its precious cargo.

There is no location so bleak, desolate or lost to civilisation that it doesn't have a golf course.  So we turned left at Zeehan Golf Course and eventually ran out of whatever the Zeehan equivalent of civilisation is.  Ahead of us loomed the Spray mine and the terrors of the old tunnel.  It was all rather like an episode of Scooby Doo although not one of the better ones.

We cross the grim brick portal and were instantly plunged into pure Stygian darkness.  Well pure Stygian darkness except for the literal light at the end of the tunnel (which is only about a hundred metres long).  That light provided a goal but didn't help with the actual seeing what we were doing right now.  With wincing care we shuffled blindly along trying not to fall off the duckboard into the eternal blackness.  Seconds passed, seconds filled with ragged breathing and a mounting sense of existential dread.  The blackness seemed to call us with a ghastly siren song of horror.  Slicked with sweat we stumbled towards the faint, mocking promise of the light.  Oh, and we stopped for a selfie along the way.

Once outside there wasn't a lot to do except turn around and go back.  Stygian darkness, existential dread etc etc.  We did poke about the bush uncovering random bits of mine workings and equipment.  Mining companies aren't exactly famous for cleaning up after themselves.  We also didn't see a platypus in a nearby creek.  Finally we had to admit it.  We were going to have to return to Strahan and face the wrath of the retired diplomat.

"We're going to see a play tonight," announced the retired diplomat upon our arrival.  My correspondent and I looked at each other in slight confusion.

"Are we?"

"Yes we fucking are."

So we went to a play.  Or rather we went to see The Play.  The Ship That Never Was has been running continuously in Strahan since 1994 which makes it Australia's longest running play.  I don't want to spoil the story in case you find yourself stranded in Strahan and suicide is against your religion but its about a bunch of convicts who built a boat, stole said boat, got arrested and sentenced to death for the preceding and then it turned out that there wasn't a boat after all.  It was actually immense amounts of fun.  There is a lot of that customer humiliation which is normally dignified with the term "audience participation" (I made a great helmsman) and since we're still in the throes of an epidemic the action would stop every so often while cast and crew (and random audience members) applied hand sanitiser.  Fortunately its the sort of play that isn't appreciably harmed by such interruptions.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Travelling Hopefully - Overeating by Rail

The town of Strahan has two separate components, a preserved, picturesque little village down at the water’s edge and, further up the hill a collection of houses and shops where the inhabitants actually live.  Our destination was picturesque village which has the advantage of convenience to the water and is actually worth seeing.

Strahan was once a major port.  All of the minerals (mainly copper) that were extracted at Queenstown some forty extremely difficult kilometres further inland were transported by rail to Strahan for export to more civilised regions like Hobart and Launceston (just think about that for a moment).  Nowadays Strahan survives on tourism and a little cray fishing.

Large comfortable boats convey mostly elderly people up the picturesque (it has trees) Gordon River which conveniently flows into Strahan’s ridiculously oversized harbour.  The prospect of spending six hours trapped on a boat with a gaggle slowly declining humanity having failed to appeal we decided to catch a train instead.

To be more accurate my correspondent and I decided to catch a train.  The retired diplomat indicated with word and gesture that she would rather remove her own appendix than spend three hours on a train.  Somewhat callously we abandoned her to find what amusement she could in Strahan and caught the train anyway.

The Abt Wilderness Railway is the old aforementioned railway from Queenstown to Strahan now repurposed as a tourist railway (although they proudly insist that they still carry freight, mainly beehives, as well) using a collection of heritage steam and Diesel engines.  We weren’t travelling the entire distance, rather we had a short in and out lasting three hours through the rainforest.

We ate well on this journey.  We were greeted with a glass of champagne (after a quick discussion we decided 9am wasn’t too early to start drinking).  After that there were scones with jam and cream, pumpkin soup, tea, coffee and ice cream.

In between gorging ourselves we glanced out the window at the temperate rainforest that the rail line had been gouged through while a guide told us some of the history of the line.  Like many great achievements the railway was the result of someone very rich taking a decision and not being particularly concerned with the well-being or continued existence of the employees who actually made it happen.

This charmer’s name was Bowes Kelly and he owned the copper mine in Queenstown.  Very lucrative if you can actually get the copper out, hence the railway.  Kelly hired a group of surveyors who worked for eighteen months and reported it was impossible.  Kelly promptly fired them without pay and hired another group of surveyors who, perhaps unsurprisingly, reported that it was possible, maybe, just.  Apparently they were right.

There followed months of agonising, backbreaking work in near constant rain (hence the term rainforest) during which time the workers were literally never dry.  It was impossible to even light a fire and the only real difference between the land and the nearby river was it took you slightly longer to drown on the land.  Eventually Kelly got his railway and his employees, hopefully, got paid.

But tragedy, if it happened long enough ago becomes heroism and it was certainly an interesting story to listen to as we sat in our seats enjoying the fruits of past labour and wondering if we could stuff in another morsel of food.

There were a couple of stops where we were permitted to heave our bellies off the train and wander briefly through the rainforest in a largely futile attempt to offset the amount we had eaten and drunk.  As we stumbled among the trees in a near food coma my correspondent and I competed to see who could take the best fungi photographs.  About half the photographs I’ve taken on this trip have been of various mushrooms and fungi, I honestly don’t know the difference.  If you do know the difference please don’t feel obliged to tell me, I also  honestly don’t care.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Travelling Hopefully - Sudden Mountain Edition

 Before I begin this blog I need to address an issue raised by the retired diplomat.  She is concerned that my description of her as a retired diplomat has given readers the impression that she is some seventy three year old maniac obsessed with cross stitch.  I would like to assure everyone who reads this blog that she is actually in her early forties.

With that out of the way normal programming can resume.

I woke the next day fresh, eager and only slightly hungover to see something unexpected, a bright blue sky.  Stepping out into the atypical sunshine I staggered back in surprise.

“What the hell is that?” I demanded.

“That’s Cradle Mountain,” replied my correspondent.

“Has it always been there?”

Once breakfast had been completed and my surprise over the sudden appearance of an entire mountain range apparently overnight had died down we set off.  Today we would drive to Strahan but first;

“We’re going for a walk around the lake,” announced my correspondent with what seemed like totally unnecessary enthusiasm.  I glanced desperately at the retired diplomat but she appeared willing to acquiesce.  We hopped on the bus (cars aren’t allowed) into the national park and headed lakeward.

Dove Lake is actually where my walk the previous day had ended.  At the time I had admired the grey water under a grey sky against a grey background but it looked even better under a bright sun.  The walk was a circuit of the lake and we lost the retired diplomat almost immediately as she surged ahead. Her basic attitude to bushwalking is to do it as quickly as possible, get to the end and then stop.

My correspondent and I strolled around the lake through foresty bits, hilly bits and sometimes (for variety) hilly, foresty bits.  Cradle Mountain which had been invisible the previous day made up for its tardiness by looming impressively above us and pausing for photo opportunities.  My correspondent pointed out the most inaccessible bits and mentioned how one could walk them with great enthusiasm.  I smiled politely and took photos of fungi.  Quite a lot of fungi actually.

Since we were walking a circuit we eventually returned to our starting point, my correspondent glowing with rude good health and myself glowing with an incipient heart attack.  The retired diplomat was waiting to greet us, largely I suspect because my correspondent had sensibly kept the car keys in her own bag.

Also waiting for us when we returned was a collection of the most physically decrepit old people I have ever encountered.  If the ancient Egyptians had seen this lot they would have started digging out the bandages and the brain hooks immediately.

As this collection of the (barely) walking near dead shuffled slowly past us I wondered not so much whether they would survive the journey but how on earth they had survived getting off the bus.

Abandoning the lake to those who would almost certainly be buried there we fled back to the car and pointed its nose in the direction of Strahan.  Or rather we pointed it in the direction of Zeehan.  Once in Zeehan we could point it in the direction of Strahan.

The scenery was beautiful and the road windy.  We were going through forest now on our way to what was once one of Tasmania’s major ports but now isn’t.

But first, Zeehan.  Zeehan is an old mining town and I asked if there were still any working mines in the area.

“We’ve passed two gold mines in the last twenty minutes,” replied my correspondent, “didn’t you notice?”

Apparently no I did not.  There was mutual eye rolling on the part of those in the car who weren’t me.  Zeehan has a very long main street, much longer than the town actually requires.  It has sunk a long way since its heyday but should the day of hey ever return Zeehan has just the main street for the job.

Zeehan also has the West Coast Heritage Centre.  In Zeehan “heritage” is synonymous with “mining”.  I went in and was treated to one of the most extensive rock displays I’ve ever seen.  There were also train engines.  I took some photos but my heart wasn’t in it, in Strahan  I would ride on an actual train.

Up ahead were trains, plays and no platypuses.  Also the uncharacteristically pleasant weather was about to end.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Travelling Hopefully - Wombat!!

 The next day the Sun shone brightly.  Unfortunately it shone down onto a thick layer of cloud which the light, exhausted by its ninety two million mile journey, proved incapable of penetrating.  Between cloud and earth was a large amount of water moving as quickly as it could from the former to the latter.

The retired diplomat and I peered into the murk and mutually agreed that inactivity was the only sane course to follow.  At this point my correspondent bounced into the room radiating the kind of enthusiasm normally only seen in puppies and small children going to visit Santa.

“Who’s coming with me on a bushwalk?” she asked.  It is fair to say that the response was not entirely what she had hoped for.  I politely declined.  The retired diplomat was somewhat more forthright, nay, explicit in her refusal.

The three of us made our way to the resort lounge where the retired diplomat and I secured places in front of the fire and pulled out our books.  My correspondent plunged straight through into the rain saturated gloom and was immediately lost to view.  To be fair that was largely because we stopped looking.

“Do you think we’ll ever see her again?” I asked.

“See who?” asked the retired diplomat.

The hours flew by in well heated comfort.  The weather outside did a magnificent job of convincing us that our decision to stay inside was the only sane one.  Somewhere out there my correspondent was struggling through the rain and wind, matching her body against nature in the most primal of contests.  To this great battle it is fair to say that neither the retired diplomat nor myself gave the slightest thought.

At the time negotiated by the retired diplomat I wandered off for my massage.  I hold the massage responsible for everything that happened next.  I selected a massage that would “energise” me, whatever that means.  On completing the muscle manipulation equivalent of methamphetamine I discovered that my correspondent had returned cold, wet, muddy and deliriously happy.  Well she seemed happy and there was definitely delirium involved.

She extolled the delights of pointless exposure to the elements so effectively that I began to wonder how bad it could be.  At this point it is entirely possible that the massage oil had seeped into my brain.  Besides I really wanted to see a wombat and to hear my correspondent tell it vast herds of wombats roamed the land like the megalodons of old.

“I shall do it!” I announced, the invigorating effects of the massage still running through my body.  My correspondent cheered, the retired diplomat rolled her eyes and ordered another glass of wine.

In my defence the weather had improved over the course of the day.  The wind was merely biting rather than mauling, the rain had dropped from continuous to frequent and the mist had lifted to such an extent that it was possible to see the mist that concealed the mountains.  Previously that mist had been hidden by mist.

My enthusiasm carried me out the door and onto the bus that would take me to the national park on our doorstep.  While I was sitting there anticipating wombat flavoured glory I received a text from my correspondent.  She had photographed a wombat from the window of the lounge I had just left.  I was still cursing when the bus spat me out into the cold and fled before I could change my mind.  My massage induced energy was rapidly dribbling away.  Something else dribbling away was the massage oil that my masseuse had, for reasons of her own, rubbed into my scalp.  Under the impact of the icy rain said massage oil was trickling into my mouth.

With hope in my heart, rain in my eyes and massage oil in my mouth I set out across the alpine plain in search of wombats.  Or rather I set off just above the alpine landscape on a boardwalk built to protect the alpine landscape from the boots of all the idiots trying to cross it.  I clumped along the boardwalk enjoying the bracing (ie freezing and frequently wet) air and scanning the horizon for signs of wombats.

So deep in my search was I that I almost missed the couple on the boardwalk in front of me who were waving in my direction.  I stopped and looked down, there was a wombat six inches away from my foot.  I reeled in delight (or possibly it was the massage oil) and scrabbled for my camera.  Shortly afterwards I set off again leaving a spectacularly well photographed wombat in my wake.  Amount of interest the wombat took in the preceding; nil.

Determined to build on this initial success I carried on.  The open landscape changed to rock adorned with trees and the boardwalk graciously consented to permit my feet to touch the earth once more.  The landscape of hills, cliffs, forest and what looked like peat bogs was a spectacular symphony of grey.  I walked along a narrow, rocky path.  At least “path” is what it would be called in dry weather.  Currently a better term would be “stream”.

After a long soggy walk I encountered a sign directing me to Wombat Pool.  Inspired I pressed on and much gasping and heart palpitations later I arrived at Wombat Pool.  There was indeed a pool, and a complete absence of wombats.  In desperation I texted my correspondent 

“Where are the wombats?”

“Where are you?”

“Wombat Pool”

“Oh there aren’t any wombats there.”

Cursing I hurled myself down the track uttering blood curdling and utterly impotent threats against the twisted, malicious degenerate who had named Wombat Pool without apparently bothering to confirm the presence of wombats.  In addition to the disappointment was the fact that time was slipping by and I needed to be on the last bus out of Dodge if I didn’t want to spend the night here (for the record I didn’t).  My haste and anger are the reasons why I didn’t manage to get a photo of the large black wallaby that hopped across the path in front of me despite the fact that it paused for a decent period of time before losing patience and hopping away.  Fortunately I did manage to catch the bus.  Back at the resort my companions and ridiculous amounts of wine awaited.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Travelling Hopefully - Drive Journey

 The next day dawned bright and clear and I greeted it with a heartfelt moan.  Apparently there is only so much therapy I can take.  Still the open road was calling and my correspondent was disinclined to take a message.  While I crawled around trying to pick up bits of my psyche that seemed to have fallen  off in the night my correspondent dropped her dogs off on an unsuspecting victim, taught her fish how to cook and packed her bags.  Fortunately I had already packed my bag or rather I hadn’t bothered to unpack.

With all preparations either completed or forgotten we mounted our mid sized blue steed and set off on our journey.  Five minutes down the road to the retired diplomat’s house.  After a brief but vicious struggle we hurled the last schnauzer to the curb, packed the retired diplomat’s luggage (six romance novels and three bottles of wine) and fled Hobart while the schnauzers were regrouping for a counter attack.

Full of hope my correspondent pointed the car towards the marginal electorates in the north where by some miracle the roads were better maintained.  We were travelling through the largely rural middle of Tasmania which apparently glories in the title of The Heartlands; an area of farms, animals and oddly misspelled towns.  I did a double take when we passed through Bagdad.

I know we were in the Heartlands because of a plethora of signs announcing the fact.  More surreally the same signs had the words “Drive Journey” added in slightly smaller font underneath.  The retired diplomat suggested that the term indicated an acknowledgment that nobody would make the Heartlands the end of their journey.  I’d love to have seen her negotiate a missile treaty.

We stopped for lunch at Ross which is a bit of a tourist must see.  You know, quaint, colonial, sandstone this and that blah blah blah.  I bought a jar of humbugs there.  Two days later there are still a few left.  My tongue is now black as are my teeth.

Northwards, ever northwards we drove until we were in distinct danger of running out of Tasmania.  However just before we drove into the sea or worse, Launceston my correspondent stamped hard on the brake, wrenched the wheel over and sent us skidding onto a new, western, path.

Soon signs appeared saying “Western Highlands” which was an improvement on “The Heartlands” although bizarrely “Drive Journey” remained in place.  The roads got narrower and windier, the farms got fewer and patches of actual nature cropped up from time to time.  We passed through a forest that had a sign saying “This is a working forest” which I think is code for “Please be patient, we’re chopping it down as fast as we can.”

Our destination was Cradle Mountain an area of breathtaking natural beauty and a Mecca for bushwalking enthusiasts.  The retired diplomat and I privately agreed this was the last time we would let my correspondent choose the destination.  As we climbed towards the rather nice resort my correspondent had booked at the edge of Cradle Mountain National Park the weather got worse and by the time we arrived the much hyped mountain was obscured by mist and drizzle.  And by “obscured” I mean completely hidden.  I wouldn’t actually see Cradle Mountain for more than twenty four hours.  Visibility was so low we could have been in a leafy suburb of Hobart.  Well, a cold, wet leafy suburb of Hobart.

Inside our cabin however all was snug and warm.  At least it was once the retired diplomat had adjusted the setting on the heating to “Sahara”.  With our cabin warming nicely (and raising the average temperature in the region by a couple of degrees) we had an early dinner.  On our return the retired diplomat attempted to negotiate a two hour facial and pampering treatment for herself at the resort spa and wound up booking me an hour massage instead.  By this time it was 8.30 at night and we were sick of pretending we were still awake so we crawled under our respective covers, threw them off again because it was so hot and went to sleep.

The next blog entry has wombats in it so stay tuned.

Travelling Hopefully - Bright Lights, Small City Edition

 Since my correspondent’s platypus related murder attempt had failed there was nothing to do but continue on as if nothing had happened.  In keeping with this my correspondent took me along to meet the retired diplomat, the third member of our road trip triumvirate.  She actually lives a short distance down the road.  Along the way my correspondent regaled me with lists of animals I wouldn’t be seeing.  I mentioned that I would like to see a bandicoot.

“There’s one!” she announced pointing to an indeterminate organic smear by the side of the road.  I explained  as delicately as I could that while the bandicoot I was hoping to see didn’t actually have to be alive I would prefer it if it was still three dimensional.  My rank ingratitude formed a fruitful topic of conversation until we arrived at the retired diplomat’s home.  A cacophony of noise greeted us before the door was even opened.

“She has schnauzers,” said my correspondent.

“That explains the noise,” I replied.

“Does it?”

I entered the retired diplomat’s lounge room adorned with schnauzers and was treated to blue cheese and artisan vodka.  Sounds pretty diplomatic to me.

This being a Saturday night it was decided we would hit the town and see the bright light of Hobart.  For the record it’s down near the water.  After a very satisfying meal we headed to an elegant (it had couches) cocktail bar.  There was nothing as plebeian as a drinks list; rather you uttered some imprecise irrelevancies to the bar staff and a short while later they would present you with your innermost personality rendered in ethanol.  Mine had a raspberry in it.

After our liquid psychotherapy we wandered along to a pub which had a band playing covers of 80s and 90s hits, badly.  Very, very badly.  Being less attuned to the mental state of their customers (although the band should have given them a clue) the bar staff insisted that we tell them what we wanted to drink.  It helped if you managed to do that while the band was pausing for breath.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Travelling Hopefully - Fleeing the Diseased City Edition

 Normally Sydney Airport is a profoundly depressing place; an ill lit retail bunker from which aircraft occasionally evacuate the desperate.  On this day however it is my low wattage beacon of hope, a feebly shining gateway through which I shall pass to leave my plague riddled home town behind me and step out into the wide, glorious world.

After a short two hour flight I shall descend on Tasmania like the barbarian hordes of old and deliver myself into the tender mercies of my Tasmanian correspondent who for reasons best known to herself has volunteered to be my personal Virgil through the wetter, chillier parts of Purgatory.

Somewhat to my surprise there wasn’t a last minute COVID induced refusal to permit me entrance and we actually turned up somewhat ahead of schedule.  Hobart Airport looks like someone has cobbled together a row of portable classrooms and added a sign saying “Hobart” for the information of those who may have been disoriented by the flight and thought they landed in Paris instead.

Bio security measures were in force to ensure the new arrivals didn’t introduce any diseases.  Such measures consisted of my approaching a desk and being asked if I’d been anywhere dangerous.  On my answer of “no” I was waved through.

Out in the car park my correspondent didn’t duck out of sight quickly enough and was saddled with actually fulfilling her obligation to pick me up.  A quick car ride took me away from the airport, through Hobart and to my correspondent’s abode in the shadow of Mount Wellington.  For the record my correspondent lives on the side of a valley.  She is on the desirable side which can get up to three hours of sunlight a day.  The wretched denizens of the other side exist in a perpetual darkness penetrated only by the howling of wolves.

Actually it was the howling of my correspondent’s dogs.  I’m not saying she set the dogs on me but she did nothing to intervene while the local chapter of the Baskerville Appreciation Society hurled themselves upon me and promptly managed to transfer half their saliva and body fur to my person.

Once I had dusted (and dried) myself off my correspondent offered to take me down to a local rivulet so I could not see a platypus.  She had seen (and filmed) a platypus there quite recently.  Not seeing a platypus was appealing but on the other hand…

“We could use this opportunity to speak, get to know each other and connect on a deeper and more personal level than our usual email driven antagonism”

After we finished laughing we set out to not see a platypus.

At first things went well.  We wandered past dams under renovation and along a charming rivulet with lots of little pools where non existent platypus could frolic but didn’t.  After a while though I noticed that we seemed to be gaining elevation and my correspondent has ceased to talk about platypus and was waxing lyrical about fungi.  Finally when we reached an area where a platypus would have needed climbing gear to get about she admitted that there may have been a slight change in agenda.

As we struggled (well I struggled) upward we passed a disturbing number of memorials to those who had died until I started to wonder if anyone had ever survived the trip.  My favourite was the wooden bench set up to remember a little girl who had been hit by a tree.  The subtext was that the bench had been made out of the tree in question as an act of revenge.

Despite the vulture of death hanging over us we survived the walk and stumbled (well I stumbled) back to her place so that I could once again undergo ordeal by hound.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Travelling Hopefully Nay, Desperately

 How the mighty have fallen.  And I've fallen too in case anybody cares.  Last year I was preparing a holiday to random bits of Europe with confidence and enthusiasm.  This year I am sitting panic stricken in front of a screen lest the latest COVID news in Sydney should cruel a nine day trip to Tasmania at the last moment.  The Tasmanian government has already ripped up one application to visit their obscure little landmass and I'm waiting until the last minute to submit a replacement in the hopes of getting the latest news.  Because, yes I had planned a trip to Tasmania.  If people can just pretend not to have symptoms for another forty eight hours I will actually be going.  

It had to come to this eventually.  After years of sniping, criticising, ludicrous accusations and very serious death threats I am finally going to beard my Tasmanian correspondent in her den.  Her children have been hustled to a safe location and all sharp implements within a fifty mile radius have been removed.

"Come to Tasmania," she said.  "It will be fun," she said.  "I can show you all of the places where a body can be hidden so it will never be discovered."

"Why would I need to know that?" I asked.

"I didn't say you would need it," she responded.

Despite the threat implied in the previous remark I was so desperate to get out of town that I agreed.  Then she told me she would take me off to the most remote and uncivilised parts of Tasmania (no, not Hobart.  Apparently there are places even more remote and uncivilised).  To ensure I didn't try to escape she has recruited a relative to keep me from hurling myself from a moving car on the way.  

"Will I see platypuses and Tasmanian Devils?" I asked hopefully.

"There's every possibility," she said encouragingly.

"What does that mean?"

"It means no!"

I will however see dogs and such fish as have managed to survive her tender mercies to date.  Also on the agenda are trees, mountains and a train.  Plus pubs, quite a lot of pubs apparently.  Our destination is the west coast of Tasmania; home of trees, mountains and, well, that's about it really.  The scenery should be impressive.  The wifi access will not be.  Once we have revelled in the grandeur of nature we'll drop down to Lake Pedder to revel in the monumental destruction of nature.  Truly Tasmania has something for every taste.  Unless that taste includes warm temperatures, reliable electricity, a functioning health system and adequate internet access.

My metal bird flees suddenly diseased Sydney on Saturday morning and after a flight of two hours and fifty years back in time I shall arrive in Hobart where my correspondent will be waiting with a car.  She has assured me that the boot is spacious and I should be quite comfortable.  My correspondent has previously claimed that a platypus lives in a creek near her house.  Given my previous experience of not seeing animals on holiday I don't expect to see it unless somebody runs over it just before I arrive.  If they do I will take pictures.

So if you don't hear from me for several days its probably because I am roaming the remote parts of Tasmania.  Or I couldn't be bothered.  There is also an outside chance that my correspondent has buried me in a shallow grave.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Plague Update #50 - A Corporate Response

 "I forgot the nozzle for my butt cushion!'

It is statements like that that make me realise how much I've missed working in the office.  At present our little team of pusillanimous virus avoiders are still getting away with spending one day out of  the working week in the office.  The rest of the time we continue to lurk under the blankets in our various domiciles while the term "working week" becomes increasing deserving of the inverted commas.

I have missed the office and the vibrant interplay of personality on personality (although apparently HR are delighted that the interplays of my personality have become somewhat less vibrant) and just being in the presence of other people.  People going about their daily tasks, greeting their fellows and bemoaning the fact that their forgetfulness has left them without a vital component of what I am going to assume was part of a sophisticated sexual fetish and not merely an attempt to get comfortable in the office.  I heard the nozzle comment and knew I was back.

Each Tuesday such of our team as can be coaxed from their panic rooms slink nervously through the city flinching at every near human contact (and read that however you wish) until they gather their courage in both hands and charge for the doors to our building in a desperate attempt to put the disease laden outdoors behind them as quickly as possible.

It has to be admitted that the building management and my employers have have combined to make the experience of reentering the corporate domain as surreal as possible.  Signs abound warning us not to congregate in groups.  One of those signs is over the single hand sanitiser dispenser in the lift lobby that we're all encouraged to use.  

Lift use has been speeded up by making the whole process of ordering a lift take longer.  Rather than have masses of people crammed into slow moving lifts a handy new app allows one to order a bespoke lift that will whisk you and others heading in your direction (up) to your destination.  At least in theory, in practice the lobby is a crazed scrum of people hysterically waving their phones at an intermittently functioning security sensor which periodically permits the fortunate to enter a lift. Once actually on the floor the quickest way to access our offices is to wait for somebody walking by and hope they let you in, in violation of all security and disease prevention protocols.  Don't worry, they will.

I can't speak with authority about the women's toilets (honestly officer) but the men's have helpful advice on such matters of personal cleanliness as washing one's hands and when one should perform such an act.  This starts off sensibly by stating "after you have used the toilets" and rapidly deteriorates to the point whereby it is warning you to wash your hands after handling animals or animal waste.  This is not really useful to office staff unless you are part of the team that mucks out the ferret fighting pit we maintain in the loading dock.  I lost fifty dollars there last week.  Some people say it's cruel and degrading, others complain that matches clash with partner meetings.

Once you have navigated the lobby (ankle deep in hand sanitiser) and persuaded the security sensor to provide you with a lift and finally imposed on a less than security conscious colleague to give you access to the floor you can finally take your seat (if indeed you still have one) and commence the days work.  At the end of the working day you have to wipe down your desk with a wet wipe.  I would encourage you to do that as soon as you arrive.  After all there are only so many hours in the day and you've already spent most of them just getting to your desk and besides the ferret fights start at three.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Silly After Action Report - Blood and Guts

An assault engineer fiddled with the hose on his flamethrower and was rewarded with a squirt of fuel that soaked his uniform.  His comrades backed nervously away.  The rain was pouring down outside but there didn't seem to be any point in taking chances.  One soldier pulled out a cigarette, the warning label on the packet said "An exploding flamethrower can seriously damage your health".  With wincing care he put the cigarette away again.

"What are our objectives today?" asked one of the soldiers who had moved so far back he was practically in another unit.

A gefreiter pointed at a large building rather like the one they were in across the road.

"That's it."

"It looks just like this one.  Can't we just change the signs and say we captured it?  I'll bet higher command would never know."

"We tried that once, we occupied Dortmund decked it out with Polish street signs and told the fuhrer we'd captured Warsaw."

"What happened."

"Another unit did the same thing with Emden.  It all got a little bit embarrassing.  Particularly since some bunch of overachievers had actually captured Warsaw."

"Are you sure?"

"Well they said they did and there were plenty of Polish street signs all over the place so I think we have to believe them.  Anyway since that debacle its been a little harder to get away with tricks like that."

After my near endless list of screw ups in the previous scenario you will be pleased to hear that I lifted my game in this one and only barely managed to lose.  Having enjoyed a brief sojourn in east Africa Dave Wilson dragged me to the rain soaked streets of Stalingrad to play Blood and Guts a scenario from one of the seventy odd campaign games that revolve around the fighting in that city.  I think this one is from Red Barricades but it could be any of them really.

Here I shall take command of a large number of well motivated, well equipped Germans looking to capture the building next door (and associated rubble) from a similarly enthusiastic group of Russians.  The Germans have to select one of two victory options for this scenario.  They can either capture building K22 and two other multihex buildings within the Russian set up area or they can win immediately if they capture all stone building and stone rubble locations north of the road that neatly bisects the playing area.  This is the option that I decided to go for.

It certainly looks like the Germans have the tools to do the job.  I have seven 838 elite squads. A dozen 548 elite squads and fifteen first line squads looking a little shabby and out of place in such august company.  This bunch are led by no fewer than eight officers spearheaded by an awesome 10-3 (you just know he's not going to survive the game don't you).  To assist with the going forward they have eight light machine guns, two medium machine guns and two heavy machine guns.  Plus six demolition charges and three flamethrowers.  Three not particularly impressive StuGs roll on to provide close fire support assuming they don't bog on the rubble on their way to the front.

What can the Russians show against such magnificence?  Well how about thirteen elite squads, thirteen first line squads, a .50cal machine gun, two heavy machine guns, two medium machine guns, four light machine guns and a molotov cocktail projector.  To spread the love he has twenty two concealment counters, twenty four factors of minefields and a 76mm gun. These guys are led by five officers including a none too shabby 10-2.  Lurking in the rear are six squads of elite troops in reserve along with another leader and a flamethrower and DC of their very own.

At start

Above is the at start set up.  All non interior factory hexes are fortified and each of us got to fortify six more locations.  I had to display mine, Dave didn't.  As you can see I've divided my force into two groups.  The larger on the right to capture the factory across the road.  If I can take that I'm a long way towards achieving the victory conditions.  The other force on the left is to put some doubt into Dave's mind as to which objective I'm going for and to prevent his troops there from helping out their no doubt beleaguered forces on the right.

Things went quite well at first, on the right I fried and sizzled his up front troops and gained a lodgement in the factory.  In the centre I pushed forward, capturing a smaller and less sexy looking building which would serve as a base for my 10-3 commanding a pair of hmg toting squads.  On the left a half squad charged across open ground and blew a hole in a fortified building he was obviously keen to hang on to.  I say "obviously" because he had mined the actual building hexes so that anyone going in stood a good chance of being blown up before they reached the door.

End of German turn 1
Above is the end of German turn one.  Things look good don't they?  Unfortunately this is about as good as they would get for a while.  The two massive Russian stacks aren't all broken btw, they just have a broken unit on top of them.  My StuGs rumbled slowly forward through the rubble to support my main attack but then I forgot about them for a turn because, well, idiot.

It turned out that the large stack I was approaching in the factory consisted of a pair of elite squads, a medium machine gun and the .50cal guided by his 10-2 leader.  It was sitting in a fortified location.  This was the rock upon which my attack would break.  In his turn Dave unveiled this death machine and swept the bulk of my troops out of the factory again.  His 10-2 left to rally some troops but would soon return.  Over on the left it turned out that I had managed to set up a lot of troops in LOS of his 76mm gun with unfortunate consequences.

Not looking so great now are they?

Still thing could be worse.  I was definitely pushing forward in the centre and my own 10-3 kill stack had reached a convenient position on the upper floor of what appeared to be the only undemolished building in Stalingrad.  Expendable halfsquads had swarmed over the rubble and now the only thing that stood in the way of victory was the factory on the right.  I rallied the survivors of my first attempt (and finally rolled my StuGs forward) and prepared to assault again.  Incidentally you may notice a hero or two and the odd fanatic squad running about the place.  My dice weren't particularly impressive in this game but I appeared to have an absolute mania for rolling snake eyes on rally attempts.  I can't say that it did me any good.  Failing morale checks with nine morale troops was a challenge the dicebot was proud and pleased to accept.

My next effort in the factory would involve my freshly rallied troops going back in this time with a StuG in support.  Results were mixed.  My troops were once again swept away in a hail of fire but the StuG stayed put and mangled some of the other defenders.  Dave's defence was starting to rely more and more on that single kill stack as its supporting troops were whittled away.  In the centre my own kill stack amused itself by slaughtering anyone that Dave tried to send in to man the 76mm gun.  The crew died early and he lost another squad equivalent trying to reclaim it.

The way seems clear but I have no one who can take it

In bad news for my StuG Dave had managed to get a squad with a flamethrower into the factory and my StuG would not survive the experience (I had misjudged how effective flamethrowers can be against armour) but my third attempt against his kill stack would surely bring success.  Another StuG (commanded by a 9-2) was parked right next to them with a wide array of weapon toting psychopaths.  Nope, he shrugged off two 12 flat attacks, two 16+2 attacks and an 8+2 attack and then proceeded to sweep the area clean of German troops again.  The most positive thing that happened for me was he managed to malf his medium machine gun.  He then sent a squad into CC with my StuG and killed it.  One of my flamethrowers fried the life out of that squad immediately afterwards but it was poor compensation.

At this point I'm getting a definite sense of deja vue

Despite this things weren't looking great for Dave.  Most of the other troops in the factory were broken and I was creeping around occupying more hexes and squeezing him into a smaller and smaller area.  He was fighting a desperate rearguard action and didn't seem to have too much hope.  It looked a little different to me.  Yes I was pushing forward but his kill stack reigned supreme and I was running out of troops.  So I made a fatal decision.  I brought my own kill stack down from the building and sent them into the factory.  Big mistake, big big mistake.

Not only did removing the kill stack from its overwatch position give freedom of movement to his reinforcements previously lurking in the rear but entering the factory exposed my 10-3 to fire from his .50cal.  It wasn't really my fault that this was the occasion when Dave decided to roll a four on a 24 flat shot and it wasn't really my fault that of five separate units in the hex to take the KIA random selection it was naturally the 10-3 that went down but it was still an idiotic decision on my part.

That was it, I had three squads broken (and casualty reduced on the LLMC) my best leader dead and Dave's reinforcements swarmed forward recapturing much of the terrain I had taken.  I sobbed my way through a concession and booked in for therapy.  Bizarrely in comparison to the previous game I was actually happy with my performance in this one.  It's nice to get back to just ordinary levels of incompetence.

The last point at which it looked good.  It got very sad and ugly just after this picture

 The wreckage of the German assault force cringed inside their starting location grateful to be alive.  A pair of them, under the direction of the gefreiter, were engaged in hanging up a big sign with some writing on it in Russian.

"Do you think this will work?" asked one of the soldiers.

"As long as higher command doesn't have Google Maps," replied the gefreiter.