Oz: Hiring a car, roadkill kangaroos and Driving into "the bush"

Today saw me hire a car. I figured that it would cost me A$35 for a taxi from downtown Perth back to the airport, plus I wanted to catch up with a ex-C&B buddy who has a ranch close what you and I refer to as “the bush”. His ranch was some 80km east of Perth and involved navigating the Great Eastern Highway, the Roe Highway and the Great Southern Highway…and back again. The trip back was a little fraught with split-timing in order to get the hire car re-fueled and back to the airport in time. Everything, it seems, is much more laid back than here in the UK, most places close up “early”, i.e. between 1600 and 1700. Even with the car hire return staying open “late” until 1730, I was still pushing my luck a little. So much so, the desk was empty and I was forced to use the late key drop facility. I hope that works.

[Update , it seems that it didn’t.  Alison, my wife, received a ‘phone call asking if I still had the car…pretty tricky given that I was in Dubai at the time of the ‘phone call.  And I’d called their local office to let them know what I was doing, so I won’t be expecting to be charged for a second day of hire.]

[Another update: wow! I only paid £23 for the car hire for the whole day…why does it cost so much to hire a car here in the UK? That said, the fuel cost me £25…petrol engine I guess, I’m just so used to diesel these days]

The 80km trip out to my buddy’s ranch was fairly painless, I made a couple of wrong turns that took me off track but only for a couple of minutes. Here in the UK our highways have slip roads on the left-hand side of the carriage way. Not so in Australia, they have a T-junction with traffic lights, which meant that I had to pull across the outside lane (lane 2, overtaking lane) into a slip near the central reservation just to turn right. I suppose it’s cheaper than building fly-overs and slip-unders. Anyway, since the Aussies drive on the same side as the Brits, my mind could focus on other things whilst I was driving…like watching out for kangaroos (roos) jumping out in front of me. Without the added protection of a “roo-bar”, my vehicle was particularly vulnerable. Luckily for me, I was fortunate enough not to hit a roo, never mind see a live one. My buddy whose ranch I was headed for was not so lucky. On Friday he hit a roo whilst on his way down to the Great Southern Highway. He thought the roo had “gotten away”, but this was not the case – during a tour of his homestead/land, see saw his vehicle’s indicator…I spotted the roo decomposing at the roadside. This was somewhat pleasing for two reasons. Firstly, this roo caused A$3500 worth of damage. Secondly, roos are seen as pests down under, they harass livestock and eat their feed. Anyway, my buddy was chuffed that “he got the bastard”. His day was made, glad I could have been of assistance!

It turns out that my buddy’s wife is from Gourock, small world. Even smaller world: I drove into York to buy a small “house gift”, the bloke who sold me the gift was born in Dunfermline, lived in Manchester and moved to Oz some 15 years earlier. He was a “good guy”, I described what I wanted…he sold me a picture frame priced at $24.95 for $15, and a furry toy for $5, wicked. Settler’s Gifts, left hand side of the main street in York after leaving the Great Southern Highway. Kudos my friend, what goes around comes around: I left him with the tale of José Mourinho’s cup medals and eBay. Oh how we laughed.

I’m not sure how my buddy does it. He and his wife run a moderate sized farm, sheep, cattle, crop. And he has a day job working for Currie & Brown, which is the aforementioned 80km back to Perth – that’s a 60+ minute drive. They collect all their own drinking/washing/cooking water via carefully designed corrugated roofs. 1mm of rain can collect some 200 liters of water. Today, we must have got way more than that. I was treated to a tour of the homestead in the ut [utility vehicle], a 2.8 diesel 4×4. Kangaroos were off the agenda pretty much…except the dead one that I spotted and noted in an earlier paragraph.

I did see two kangaroos: this model and a dead one

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Oz: Coming home

WTF. Here I am at the airport, I’ve dropped the hire car off and everything is closed. Even the Departure Lounge. What’s that all about? It seems that the airport only “comes to life” two hours before a departure. Man, it’s a different way of life. Thankfully there is a cafe open, I’m sat here drinking A$6 bottles of Redback Beer, an original wheat beer, 4.7%. I’m sat landside, waiting, just waiting for the Departure Lounge to open.  Man it’s weird, surely places should be open and wanting to take folks money?

Anyway, after lurking around in the cafe for a couple of hours, the check-in desks open.  The travel agent seems to have booked me through to Glasgow using an odd route: Perth to Dubai, Singapore to Glasgow.  Way to go.  I kind of needed this issue sorted in Oz as whilst in Dubai, I had already tried to change my Dubai to Perth flight with little success (my Arabic isn’t good enough to sweet talk an Economy to Business Class upgrade for an earlier flight!)

I had the fortune to sit beside a Aussie traveling to England to work as a vet in Nunetan. Emily was a horsey type, and second to sitting next to the pilot was a good traveling companion. Whilst waiting to pass through the Dubai security channel, Emily noticed that another passenger, some 10 people ahead of us in the queue, had a sticker stuck on her backside. What do you do? Suddenly we’re in a foreign country, the “English multiple queues” scenario has kicked in (which happens to suit the locale)…so we let her get on with her business. Such is life, we can’t please all of the people all of the time. Emily purchased some cigarettes in Dubai Duty Free – these will be the last fags she buys as she plans to use her temporary emigration as an excuse to give them up.  Good onya. Eleven hours in the air passed fairly quickly, some music, some podcasts and a movie – I watched The Sentinel from end to end. As I’ve already hinted at in an earlier posting, the ICE facilities from Perth to Dubai on the Airbus 343-500 were not as advanced as those on the Boeing 777-300ER.

The seven hours flight time from Dubai to Glasgow was a pleasant experience. After take-off the couple sitting on the window and middle seats to my right moved forward one row, leaving me with three seats to myself.  This meant that I spread out, laptop in the middle seat, lunch and coffee on the aisle, beer and wine on the window.  After watching Failure To Launch “on demand”, and failing to stay wake for Firewall (twice), I spent much of this flight skimming the on demand audio CDs.  These included Metallica’s 1991 seminal works [Metallica Metallica, The Black Album] and “no. 1’s from 1980 onwards”.   Each of the “no.1” albums had a few short facts about the year in question – a few that I could remember, Euro = 1999, Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger = 1985.

I must be stressed.  My concentration levels are virtually nil: I spent a while flicking through the “no.1’s” just listening to a few seconds of tunes that I already had in my collection at home.  No focus.  That’s why I’ve fired the laptop up, to try and get some focus by writing this posting.  I really should do something about this: the first sign of stress is lack of concentration.  Heck, I’m a frequent flyer, I should not be stressed.  So what’s getting to me?  Perhaps because I failed to concentrate on the “to do” items that I set myself for the trip out to Oz: stick my head in my Spanish learning material”.  Ditto on the way back – there was a screaming baby a few rows behind me (where are those noise canceling headphones?  not that they would soften the sounds of a baby crying).

Like the route from Glasgow to Dubai, we passed over Iranian airspace.  I can’t help but think that it’s only a matter of time before something happens in this space, both physically and politically.  Probably sad but true.  Iraqi airspace was given a wide berth, I can’t think why, 37,000 is a long way for SAMs (surface to air missiles) to reach, surely?  And surely the Coalition pretty much control the Iraqi airspace? 

Oz: Bobby Dazzler’s

Just a regular day in the office…

I was left to fend for myself tonight – which was pretty good going given that I had been there since Friday night (having company for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, I mean). After a lengthy wander around Perth, I settled on Bobby Dazzler’s – the true blue Australian beer pub, as recommended my my office buddy Jim.

Dinner was super value and the beer tasted good: a burger and a small glass of Cooper’s 5.8% ale. [If the other Jim is reading this posting, are you related to these Coopers?]

A threesome, him, him and her (from NZ, I can tell the difference!) came in and sat themselves down at the table next to me. They muttered for a few minutes over the menu and then left the establishment rather rapidly stating that the menu was “too expensive”. What rubbish. It was well-priced, well-served and well-cooked, an excellent meal. Since I was sat there on my own, I arrived with weaponry: a local newspaper. Man, life is so different over here. Fuel is about A$1.45 (£1 == A$2.48), that’s less than £0.60 per liter. This just goes to show that fuel prices are partly related to population density (not stupidity, although…perhaps): here’s in the UK we are probably reaching over-population and are certainly densely populating many areas of our landscape. In Oz, things are significantly more spread out.

Oz: Team lunch and dinner on Saturday

Despite initial plans for a quick sandwich, as a group we ended up walking through the streets of Perth. Getting the team to decide on a suitable lunch venue proved difficult.  We actually ended up in a typical English-style pub – the Moon and Sixpence. I enjoyed a traditional Oz beer: Redback, on draught.

After a day at work, a day that included a brief walkabout during lunch, most of us ended up in the Fairlanes bowling alley. Oscar unfortunately did not join us…he got stuck in the hotel lift, for over 90 minutes.

Art and I “programming” the bowling computer

Despite a slightly bruised left knee, I managed four strikes, three of which were consecutive (a turkey) giving me a score of 159. The next highest score was 161, from Art. Speaking of Art, he brought along his family: wife Goshi and daughter Sabrina.

Dinner was held in south Perth, over the Swan river. The weather was not conducive to “walking it”. I enjoyed a medium to well-done sirloin steak, others enjoyed a variety of fish dishes. Beer: James Boag Premium (lager)

Penny, Richard and I stayed out for a beer. Only one – the bar was loud, it was raining and we had a river cruise planned for the next day. Noted that fuel is A$1.42 per liter, or £0.58…over here in the UK, we’re paying pennies off £1.00. Rip-off Britain again.  I learnt that Aussies “went spare” when the price went through a$1.00. Different cultures, different problems perhaps? No. I don’t think so, we should be striving for unification. We should borrow some more of the ideas from StarTrek and get our act together, removal of financial greed and geographical economies would benefit mankind so much.

Oz: Cruising up river, wine tasting

Today, I woke up at 0615 and by 0630 I was out doing walkabout in Perth city centre. It was an eerie experience, very few people shared the streets with me. Apart from two homeless people, some travelers at the railway station and a surprising number of policemen and policewomen at the said railway station, the streets were empty. Nonetheless, I walked for some two hours finding the Technip and IBM buildings during my travels. Without exception, no shops or eateries were open. Even towards the end of my walk, the only places that were beginning to open their doors were McDonalds and Hungry Jacks (which looks remarkably like Burger King, and I’m guessing that they are one and the same)…so I went hungry and thirsty. On the subject of BK and McDonalds…I note that the prices over in Oz are exactly the same numerical representation as the prices here in the UK, i.e. a A$5.75 meal is £5.75…rip off Britain.

I returned to the hotel and took breakfast with my Spanish amigo Oscar. This was a good thing as the next activity, which promised to provide breakfast, turned out to provide the smallest breakfast possible, consisting of cheese, biscuits and dried fruit. Oscar and I were grateful that we had some real fruit, coffee and pastries in the hotel. After breakfast (the next activity), Richard, Penny, Oscar and I walked down to the Barrack Street piers and picked up a boat that cruised up the Swan River headed towards Guildford and the wineries (vineyards) beyond that. We, Richard, Penny, Oscar, Art, Goshi, Nap, Mat, Peter, Katya, Sabrina, and I blagged the seats at the bow (front) of the boat. The skipper noted via the ship’s microphone system that we might find it cold…cha, not a chance! The sun shone for most of the up river trip, a tan was in the making. The cruise up river was super, the sun was shining, the wine was starting to flow (it was only 1030, lucky I had the hotel breakfast!)


Whilst heading up river, the skipper noted that one of the Swan river’s wooden bridges was so low, that he had to take in ballast to lower the boat in the water. Indeed, we even came to a complete stop as the skipper’s mate checked the boat’s height against the bridge. Part of me though that this was marketing trick designed to impress us!

The Houghton vineyard. Crisp and clear Chardonnay’s, the Classic was nicely chilled and hit the spot. Previously known as the “burgundy”, the Classic had to be renamed because of a dispute with the French (quelle surprise?) So, five bottles of white, 5 bottles of red, that was our choice. Our group, which included many other tourists, did not finish all the wine – it was interesting noting which wines still had over half a bottle of wine remaining.   The Sandalford vineyard. Sadly, I had already written the Sandalford wines off before I arrived – for me, Australian wine is very much an acquired taste, the few bottles of Sandalford offerings that I had drunk in the UK taught me that it was never going to be a taste that I would or could acquire. That said, Penny bought Richard’s parents a bottle of their A$95 offering (A$5 for a tasting glass)…and that did taste rather good. Three whites, a couple of reds and a liquor port were on offer. Despite my personal disappointment, the rest of the group soon finished off the bottles, leaving little or nothing.

You know, I couldn’t help how much this picture at the Sandalford winery should be the water hole on a lovely golf course:


I noted that in both vineyards, the bottles that we started with were all we were going to get…once a bottle was finished, another did not appear in its place. Given that there is a wine glut in Australia right now, i.e. there’s too much of the stuff, producers are destroying grape harvests, I found this “one bottle” rule rather surprising. I’m told it takes some five years from vine planting to decent wine production, many newcomers look into the idea but are put off by the lead time, and rightly so. I guess this is something the French get right, they pop out another bottle when the first taster is empty.

Returning home, the trip down river magically seemed to take a lot less time. The aforementioned low bridge was now passable at speed, with no checks necessary. Adam, the Skipper’s mate, entertained us with some Bobby Darin numbers (a tune that stayed in Oscar’s head and mine for some time).

Mat grabbed this shot of me…nicely done

Some of the wine that we sampled…

Oz: First team dinner

Dinner tonight was in Vivace, an Italian restaurant on Bennett Street. I enjoyed a Caesar salad con pollo followed by espresso. It seems that Caesar salad is the same in Spanish, English and Italian.

I became a tiramisu salesman – I noted that the owner had placed his tiramisu at the back of the display cabinet. My careful marketing skills came in to play: “move them to the front and you’ll sell more”…within seconds of him moving them forwards, he sold five portions. I’m in the wrong job, marketers beware, I’m coming to get ya.

I sat myself at the head of the table, through luck more than anything else.  Oscar, from Chile, was sat next to me. Oscar and I spent much of the dinner exchanging language tips: he gave me a lot of Spanish tips and I gave him English tips (amazing I know, but hey, people change). Katya sat next to Oscar – she is from Las Republica Dominica and as such also “habla español”. This is the way to learn the language – Oscar actually spent the bulk of the weekend sorting out each our various language concerns.

Bizarre, there we were sitting in an Italian restaurant, practicing Spanish…and English – it worked both ways.

Oz: transit time in Dubai

0100 – 0930 was spent in the Dubai International airport flight connections hall. An impressive setup, very well appointed in many respects, except one. There aren’t enough seats. It’s a holding area for a lot of airlines who are ferrying their passengers further east or back home to Europe. Anyway, the Duty Free is reasonably well done, plenty of choice, and if my brief foray into the mobile ‘phone prices was anything to go by, some bargains could be had. I didn’t find the noise reducing/canceling headphones that I have been looking for, nor did I find the Seiko Divers 200m kinetic timepiece (plenty of other flavours, but not that one).

Not surprisingly, this brief stopover (it didn’t feel brief at the time!) in an Arab speaking environment took me back to my five years in Libya. Sadly all I could remember of the language were a handful of the numbers (both spoken and written). It seems however, that the UAE is like most of Europe, English is commonplace. Memories that I did not realise I had came flooding back: the sound of a gentleman “clearing” his throat in the washrooms, wow! And the ladies, some with their ill-fitting shoes, often one or two sizes too small. The black outfits, some covering themselves head to toe, others being a lot more brazen. One thing that is very different about the women here: most of them are carrying mobile ‘phones. Perhaps the women in Libya are too?

The airport itself seems to be huge. It took us about 10 minutes on a coach to get from the aircraft to the terminal building. The Emirates fleet is huge, hence the size of the airport perhaps? Because of the size of the fleet, there’s no room for inefficiency – everything seems to run rather smoothly, very efficient. Internal transport for the elderly, the infirm, woman with children and the downright lazy takes the form of 4-seater electric golf buggy-like devices. Thankfully the airport has aircon – it was 36c outside last night at 0100 when we arrived.

I must be wearing my invisible clothes again. People just seem to “not see” me and end up walking through me. My lack of visible presence also means that it is me who ends up weaving in and out of crowds. I don’t see anybody else doing this. Similarly, I could be looking at the Seiko watch display or the Citizen display and somebody will walk in front of my view – something that happens when I’m shopping in Tesco too. I usually stand back from displays and shelves of food…so that I can see what’s on offer. It’s usually very obvious what I’m doing, yet folks still walk in front of my view, interrupting what I’m doing for their own gain. It’s very selfish, but I don’t think folks realise that they are doing it.

On the way to Oz: Glasgow to Dubai

Glasgow to Dubai – Boeing 777-300 Extended Range (ER) with Emirates own Information Communication Entertainment (ICE) system including a 9″ screen in each headrest installed. Sweet. A seemingly endless supply of visual delights including films, comedy, sport, cartoons, etc. followed by some classic [Atari] games like Missile Attack/Command, Tetris, Chess and some 30 or so others. E-mail and SMS services were available at a cost, hence I did not partake in the activity (partly because I haven’t bothered to setup an e-mail address for WordPress posts as yet). It was a powerful aircraft, albeit the power came from just two engines – two rather large engines though.  

I traveled on the Wednesday after Thursday the UK security services discovered the plot to use liquid explosives on flights to the USA.  Luckily I was allowed to take my laptop into the cabin (even though it is a Dell, a Dell with a good [Sony] battery I might add!)  I also took my generic MP3 player, loaded with material from DNR and various other podcasting sources.

The flight duration was nearly 8 hours. I had my usual aisle seat, the middle seat was vacant and the window seat was filled by Graham of AXIS. Graham has worked in Dubai for the last 15 years, and like me, he struggles to understand the customer service ethos in the UK. Anyway, the flight, it quite literally flew by.

Upon arrival in Dubai I was stunned at the size of the Emirates fleet, more so when I realised just how many 777s are in their fleet: virtually every jetway we passed on the way to the transit lounge had a 777 of some description parked up. Awesome.

Anyway, the transit lounge was to be my home for the next few hours, from 0100 until 1000.

Dubai Duty Free had some interesting tourist stuff…

And some nostalgic soft drinks…so cheap too

NxtGenUG podcast 4

NxtGenUG podcast no.4 is now available.

Show #4 – The one with two MVP’s Tuesday, July 25, 2006
Featuring an Ex MVP and now Microsoft employee: Daniel Moth on life in Microsoft. Rich talks about his impressions of XLinq and dave thinks VirtualEarth is the best thing since Ordinance survey maps!

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