Christmas snuck up rather quietly this year which I don’t think was terribly fair.


Thus I was left with the familiar last minute problem.  Ultimately nature has a way of solving problems, it balances things out. In my case I’m fortunate in having a small family and a small, close, group of friends. And I have a small budget so the balance was taken care of. A form of natural attrition.




My grandson was 21 on Christmas Day. Josh is a content sort of bloke and doesn’t seem to want for much in life. However I thought he was old enough to be given a decent lethal weapon so I bought him a Leatherman. You know the things, they have enough tools hidden in them to perform major surgery. Screwdrivers, scissors, spanners, a very sharp knife and pointy thing which I concluded was a marlin spike. I believe they are used to fashion the frayed ends of rope into flashy knots. I find that small truth disappointing as many years ago I was told they were for getting Boy Scouts out of Girl Guides. But let’s not go there.


That was an important problem solved.  The present, not the Boy Scout, Girl Guide, bit. I then had a quick mental survey of family and friends. What to buy for whom? The simple fact is that without exception they all have everything a person could possibly want. They’re hard to impress.

Years ago I had a friend, an English nobleman. He was a dinkum connoisseur of wines and travelled the world to judge various competitions, all expenses paid. Not bad work if you can get. Anyway when at home in his rather grand country house he had regular dinners for friends and colleagues.  The only real rule was they were black tie affairs – dinner jacket, bow tie, the full nine yards. I think that’s a very civilised practice. If you didn’t wish to dress for dinner you could go to the local pub and have a pie, chips and beer. I have to say most of my other friends, the hoi polloi of this world, are very happy in budgie smugglers and T-shirt and, like me, know little about wine.


My noble friend had a wonderful and very expensive trick. There would be a number of wines during the course of an evening but there was always a surprise lurking on the table. Most guests did know a decent wine but this one was decanted – a blind tasting, no label. The trick was to identify the wine. All agreed that it was truly delightful. They would swirl the wine around , immerse their noble noses into the glass, inhale deeply, hold the glass to the light, slurp the content and gasp breathless phrases. I’d simply hoped for another glass. Those were in the days when Australian wine hadn’t gained the world wide attention it has now. The wine in question was from a collection of Penfolds Grange.

It never failed to impress. Try one if you have spare thousand bucks. And at that price it has no medals.  Imagine how good it would be with a few golds.


So my problem was solved. I simply wrote a list of names of family and friends and beside it scrawled ‘Wine’.

But I’m no judge. Well I am actually. I judge by label and price and I can distinguish a red, a white or bubbles from a considerable distance.

I’m also inclined to assume those  medals seen on wine bottles are hard earned and well deserved. So I rode my old bike down the hill to my local wine store. It’s an independent outlet with a wide selection of labels, prices and colours. Some bottles were wearing little Christmas hats and there was a large plastic blow-up reindeer, complete with a red nose, lurking in the corner. The breeze blowing through the door rendered him a little wobbly on his feet. It did cross my mind that wine, red noses and an unsteady gait go hand in hand.


For my son and his wife I chose a bottle decorated with enough medals to put a smile on a Russian General’s face. Then the list descended through silver, bronze and ‘Sorry, you didn’t quite make the grade’. So anybody who received a bottle of wine from me this Christmas has a clear indication of where you fall in my hierarchy of friends. All I can say is look upon your medal count, or lack of medal, as an incentive to be nicer to me in 2018. You have a couple of days to add that thought to your resolutions.

Having made the selection I loaded the wines onto my treadly and pushed it home, uphill all the way. Pushing stuff uphill seems to be a habit these days!

With that I’d like to wish you all a happy and healthy New Year.  


Christmas Greeting from Down Under

I have just realised we have about three shopping days until Christmas and I haven’t made up my mind what to buy myself.

Apart from that, and in spite of my many notes to write a Christmas greeting, I’ve allowed my life to be taken over by too many coffees and cakes with friends, thus time retreated at warp speed.

Sometimes it was necessary to refuel with a glass of wine in the company of a friend or three, especially on a Sunday with Ted.  Ted, now retired, is using his drawing skills on a new project. He, like me, observes people and he enjoys making sketches of them. His new project is to observe and sketch people in wine bars and he has so far compiled a list of 70 bars in Perth and Fremantle. I haven’t seen many sketches but he’s gaining an encyclopaedic knowledge of wine.

It’s been a year of travel and broken resolutions. Why change the habits of a lifetime?


I also had to renew my old passport which I’d grown rather fond of. It had about 100 little inked rubber stamped imprints in it (some countries are very mean) also a lot of those visas which look like badly forged bank notes and take up a full page. I like those, they make me feel I’ve actually been somewhere.

I found that I’d been away for over five of the past 12 months. A sort of record. My iPhone also tells me that I actually walked a total of 1679km on those travels. That is a record. I also made a lot of notes, took a lot of pictures and did very little with any of them. Time wasn’t entirely wasted though. I caught up with many friends I hadn’t seen for years as well as making the effort to meet friends from Facebook and various other bits of social media. Those adventures took me though Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia. These are countries I tend to enjoy as they encourage me to re-read the old works of Graham Green, Orwell, Maugham and others who collectively help me feel as though I’m living in an exotic time warp. That’s if you call ten buck hotels with cold, mouldy, showers and beds which seem bigger than the rooms, so much so it’s impossible to walk around them, exotic. There’s also the added luxury of bath towels which are so thin they could be used as net curtains.
I remember my well travelled colleague Mac saying “You really know you’re travelling when you’re washing your socks and jocks in a bucket of water on a hotel balcony”. He’s right.

Sunset over the Mekong at Luang Prabang

It’s been a year of highlights though I’m not sure  the offering of a  fried rat for lunch in the north of Laos was one of them. It did look tasty though, especially if you happen to be a cat.

A long trip down the northern section of the Mekong has made me plan an even slower trip next year.  Maybe it’s something about Lao hospitality but I was offered some deep fried insects by a lovely old lady en route.

Lunch menu on the Mekong slow boat

I spent a couple of separate months in my favourite spot in Bali where an old mate, Chris, from our respective first marriage days took the trouble to fly from The Old Dart. Coincidently my photo buddy Mac came in from France. Say no more – we had one of the best weeks I can remember. Plenty of food, drink, many lies and much laughter. As long as we each manage to cling to our ageing bodily wreckage I hope we’ll be able to do it again. I may have to work a bit harder too!

I’ve been back in Fremantle for the past couple of months promising myself I’d write a lot more. I’ve got unfinished stories totalling over 30. That’s taking procrastination to extremes.

A couple of days ago I was exploring the town and was stopped by an elegant Chinese gentleman who questioned me about the abstract yellow paint on the walls in the High Street of the Fremantle’s West End.  I told him it was a little difficult to explain, though I did know preciselyy what it was about.


I directed him to the bottom of the High Street, pointing out the steps to the old Round House prison and telling him to walk up the steps, turn around and look back. “All will be revealed” I said.


This is a very clever piece of art work installed by  Swiss artist Felice Varini, who has produced geometric optical illusions around the world.

And so 2017 sped past and ’18 is on the doorstep. With that in mind I wish you all the healthiest and happiest New Year possible and I do hope that at least some of us can catch up somewhere other than on Facebook.

Take care, stay well, watch this space.