29 December 2007

holiday (the Bee Gees version)

Interim post until I'm home tomorrow with the time and the better gear to insert links and so on...

Well this is a bit of a first for Chateau VVB, as it’s the first post ever constructed offline. As I write, Mrs VVB and I are ensconced just outside the Barrington Tops National Park, which is 20 km outside Dungog, in turn of course the home of Doug Walters. Although, inexcusably, the map of the town doesn’t show his house. Whereas two days ago, in Bowral, all roads led to the Don.

It’s probably also a bit of a come-down for Chateau VVB, a ‘what I did on my holidays’ post rather than the incisive political commentary which we have offered over the last two years. Incisive political commentary cunningly disguised, of course, as two years of obsessive and not particularly original Howard-hating. Anyway, this is a chance to hone and refine, and to rid Chateau VVB of its obsessively chronological writing style. By the time we return to hearth and cat (assuming that the cat has satisfactorily withstood her enforced holiday to the end), we will have been away only a bit over a week but we’ll have been to Foster, Katoomba, Burradoo, Sydney, the Barrington Tops and Armidale.

Rather we will dip, we will linger, and we will observe, all cunningly disguised as witless prejudicial snarking. Bear with us, there may be a morsel amongst the dross.

“Not particularly original Howard hating?” During our stay in Mrs VVB and I took a trip on a Sydney ferry (just around to Balmain and back, the holiday crowds prevented a Manly trip as the queue was about 300 metres long), and as we returned to Circular Quay I asked my long-suffering spouse whether she knew what was the best thing about visiting Sydney? She proferred no response (rolling eyes doesn’t count as a response) and so I pointed across to Kirribilli and said “because that lying little weasel doesn’t live there any more.” Although she hadn’t seen the response coming, she sighed as if she could have guessed. Know what I mean?

Anyway, hearing newsreaders on TV each night introduce a story with “Prime Minister Kevin Rudd” still doesn’t sound quite right and the fact that he went to the cricket, gave us his views on the game and has a suitable jersey to wear on his morning walks (monring walks ffs, I mean I ask you...) all point to the somewhat distressing conclusion that the country has changed rather less than we might have desired.

Back to the holiday, and I’ll warn again that descriptions will be embellished with the usual kind of thoughtless prejudice that has always informed stories from the Chateau.

The first concerns those who drive four wheel drives. These people are all maniacs. Why someone who presumably is reasonably level headed in all other aspects of life would want to endanger his whole family – 3 or 4 of them – by pulling his Landcruiser V8 out in the face of an oncoming semi just so he could arrive at the 80km limit on the edge of the next town about 20 second sooner just defeats me. It may have a big V8, but it’s shaped like a house and weighs three times as much as a whale, it’s not going to accelerate like a Lotus, mate, so just get used to it.

The second concerns the urban spread of Sydney, and particularly the small country-sized suburbs of McMansion land around Baulkham Hills, Kellyville and those other areas in Hillsong territory (ooh, it’s button pressing time folks).

I’d read about it of course, but nothing prepares you for the reality of mile upon mile of identikit two storey boxes, all built within mere centimetres of each other (please forgive mixed imperial and metric measurements, it’s about what resonates you see). But for me the most distressing thing was that, from birth (or house purchase), if you’re in this part of the world you’re in the grip of the oligopilists. The suburbs, the estates, the houses, they're are all the brainchildren of the big developers. The houses, as the ‘McMansion’ pejorative illuminates, are boxes made of ticky-tacky built by the same big builders. But they’re big – enormous – not little, as in the song.

You go to shop, the majors have got you. The names on the billboards are all the same – the Harvey Normans, McDonalds, Video Ezy, Fantastic Furniture, and so on. You’re trapped, no choice, no originality.

No wonder that the brand of religion offered supposedly to compensate for the consumption-based existence is simply more of the same.

I suppose when you build whole regions from scratch, this is what you have to do in these circumstances. The variety you get from organic growth is just a luxury that such rapid increases in population who have to be housed, fed, entertained and furnitured quickly cannot contemplate.

Another observation has to do with ‘luxury’ self-contained holiday accommodation, which is Mrs VVB’s and my preferred type of holiday, with the ‘luxury’ very much in inverted commas – it’s more just good quality and attention to detail that we appreciate. We’ve had really quite luxurious places, very well appointed and with the little touches that make it special such as four different kinds of breakfast cereal. Which is why when we pulled into tonight’s place, we were a little taken aback – it’s rather home-built and rather patchy.

However, the compensations are the wildlife – so far we’ve had a wallaby, some kangaroos including one with a joey in the pouch, a possum, various birdlife and who knows what else, all poking around the balcony. The noises outside are quite amazing, it’ll be an interesting night.

Update after the fact: no, they were just money-grubbing penny-pinchers and it wasn't a good look after people who showed it can be done really well for the same money.

However, the one thing that these two places had in common was some interesting reading. The luxury place had the New Yorker. Somehow – probably passed on to him by relatives – my father used to get the New Yorker when I was in my early teens. I was fascinated to dip into it again some 40 years later to discover that it retains the same ‘look and feel’. The writing is brisk, insightful, and with the same mannered, slightly ironic tone I recall from all those years ago. The cartoons are still very New York although if anything, their quality had dropped a bit I thought, compared to the writing.

When I mentioned my love of the magazine to the proprietor, his eyes lit up and we had a good chat about it.

Whereas here, I find Car magazine. I used to get Car back in the days when the late, the wonderful, the iconoclastic LJK Setright was its main correspondent. Unlike the New Yorker, Car had been updated several times and is now a bit too ‘try-hard’. But it still retains its great section at the back wherein all cars on the UK market are listed, not only by useful statistics but also a great summary under three headings, viz. ‘For’, ‘Against’ and ‘Verdict’. Which leads to some magic commentary.

“Maybach: For – Powertain, equipment. Against: Truly vulgar. Verdict: Shows the difference between taste and money.
Perodua Kenari: For – Plenty of headroom. Against – but people might see you in it. Verdict – upsetting.

And speaking of cars, we came out of Sydney today along the old Parramatta Road (the rule for the trip has been ‘no payments to bloodsucking monopolists who run privatised motorways’). And I was pleased to see that Parramatta Road is still mainly a car alley with lots of new and secondhand purveyors, much as they purveyed when my mates at I would trawl the road in the early 70s looking for our dream cars. Mind you, the massive concentration of ‘big box’ and other retailers around Auburn is new, and also generates a bit of traffic.

Apart from that, our trip out of Sydney was smooth and then we headed north through Windsor and up the old Putty Road. This was, I believe the motoring writers’ test track of choice back in the 60s when car manufacturers used to just give them a car to test and hang the consequences, rather than the more stage-managed efforts that seem to occur nowadays. The road is an appealing mix of very tight, twisty hilly bits with some open touring over the higher country and there was very little traffic, which was utterly different to last year when we got stuck in a 30km traffic jam outside Bulahdelah. As indeed the news reports said was happening again this year.

Although I’m still a car fan, I’ve slowed down a lot and with Mrs VVB observing that unlike me, she has no steering wheel to hang onto, I take it somewhat easier than I used to. So when the local yokels scream up behind in their 4WDs on narrow, bumpy roads, as they do, I’m looking for somewhere to pull over and let them past. No wonder that deaths of young blokes in the country are still disproportionately high as indeed they were when I was growing up in central NSW, and three classmates perished during years 11 and 12.

However I still find sharing the road with the terminally death-wished a little disconcerting. That said, on a suitable piece of back highway today, I still managed to sit on an easy 120 which Mrs VVB noticed but didn't take exception to, as the Saab is quite comfortable on smooth surfaces, but it hates choppy surfaces and suffers from terminal understeer on tighter roads, which mean you carry car speed into corners that then cannot be satisfactorily washed off or compensated (with great dollops of turbo assisted throttle) without undue distress to the passenger(s).

We’ve done a bit of bushwalking but regrettably as neither of us know much botany, we don’t range far as one piece of subtropical rainforest looks much like another I have to admit. But we enjoy the solitude and the restorative properties of nature.

Well that's it, will update (or possibly delete) later.

Update: if anyone really wants me to insert links to explain Doug Walters, Donald Bradman, the Putty Road, LJK Setright or anything else that doesn't immediately strike a chord, let me know. Otherwise, take it as read. I'll post some photos later - most of them are on film, not digital.

We have returned to hearth and cat, the cat is mightily pleased to be home again. And speaking of cat, the best memory of the whole trip was seeing a cat hanging out the window of a car when offpsring no 1 took us for a day trip to the Fitzroy Falls and Kangaroo Valley. It has its tongue hanging out and fur flowing in the breeze, just dogs usually do. It looked wonderful.

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