Sunday, August 28, 2011

Getting there

If you've been though a house move you'll know the chaos you have to put up with for a good few days.

Furniture is, generally, in the right rooms but not where you finally want it.

We have polished timber floors in most rooms and just dragging furniture around isn't good, it damages the floors. So each piece needs to be lifted and moved carefully. I can tell you the muscles feel it fairly quickly...

You have to sort out the artwork to decide which pictures will hang where. Then do all the measuring to get the picture hooks in the right place...after dashing off to the hardware store to get the hooks.

The kitchen is probably the worst. Piles of crockery, glasses, kitchen gadgets all needing to be put somewhere. And usually the first place isn't right when you start to use them, so you move it all around to different drawers and cupboards.

Clothing is much the same. The first priority is to unpack it and hang it in wardrobes or put it in drawers. But when you start to use it you realise it's all over the place and getting dressed means walking about looking for the next item.

So that gets moved too, at least once.

And setting up the electrical equipment. If you move from overseas as we have the plugs have pins that don't fit the sockets so they all have to be replaced.

Wire up speakers, amps, CD players, radios...then you find out that some were damaged in the move. Or in our case, maybe in the crash into our neighbour's house.

But we're getting there.

Most of the heavy lifting is done and most rooms are sort-of organised. At least with the furniture in place and  most of the artwork hanging in place...with gaps where the damaged ones will hang when they're repaired with new frames and glass.

From here it's mainly tidying up. Moving stuff to more convenient cupboards, getting all the books and music sorted out on the right shelves or in the right cupboards.

We had plumbers in last week for half a day upgrading the taps and fittings in two bathrooms and next week we need to organise an electrician to replace seven or eight old light fittings with new ones.

Then I'll have to get out into the garden to see what needs doing there.

Never a dull moment.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Third time lucky

At the third time of trying the shipper finally delivered our belongings. A week late, drama along the way but it's here.

The RTA kept the container for nearly a week doing whatever tests they needed to do in relation to the crash into our neighbour's house.

I would have thought all they needed it for would have been to check that it was secured properly (it was) and that the weight was OK for the truck (it was). 

Why that took a week is anyone's guess.

We found surprisingly little damage, considering. But naturally the stuff that was damaged was stuff I'd have put on the 'please take special care of this item' list.

A beautiful art deco floor lamp (I'm a collector of art deco) shattered. A unique art deco flower vase badly damaged.

A prized hand carved very large Thai wooden horse now only has one ear.

The fax machine is now in two parts, two paintings have smashed frames and glass, but the paintings themselves are OK.

I anticipated much worse after what it had been through.

A sea voyage from Dubai. From and back to base here when the first truck broke down on the F3. Back up the F3 followed by the crash into the neighbour's house followed by the whole rig being lifted up by crane, then dragged at 45 degrees out of the neighbour's drive.

A week with the RTA, back to base, unpacked and loaded onto a furniture truck, then finally up the F3 yet again.

There were 120 packages in all but we managed to get the majority unpacked so the delivery guys could take the packing material away. I'm glad they did because it was almost a full truckload.

We still had twenty or so boxes unopened when they left - clothing, bedding and books mainly - and all that packing material is cluttering up the garage until they come to take it away next week.

And I tell you what, I'm aching all over. Moving furniture around, carrying boxes of books from room to room, assembling shelving is manual labour the muscles aren't used to.

A rest from it tomorrow because we're in Sydney all day.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Overgrown schoolboys...

...yet they'll be ministers in our next federal government.

The standard of our members of parliament is nothing less than appalling.

Today's Sydney Morning Herald reports yet another example of their infantile behaviour:

It was raining heavily in Canberra on Wednesday so, after question time, Julia Gillard walked the corridors back to her office rather than cut across a courtyard as she usually does.

As she strolled past opposition MPs' offices, Christopher Pyne and Joe Hockey, like two schoolyard ne'er-do-wells, trailed about 10 paces behind, heckling. Hockey was bellowing the Engelbert Humperdinck lyrics: "Please release me, let me go, 'cause I don't love you any more …" Pyne, doing his best to affect a menacing gravitas, was taunting repeatedly: "You're drowning Julia, not waving, you're drowning.''

 Photo. Sydney Morning Herald
The Honourable Christopher Pyne. Federal Member for Sturt. 
Shadow Minister for Education, Apprenticeships and Training, 
 Photo. Ray Strange. Herald Sun 
The Honourable Joe Hockey. Federal Member for North Sydney.
Shadow Treasurer.

As the writer of the article, Phillip Coorey, says, by any measure it was disrespectful behaviour towards a prime minister.

But it was more than that. Regardless of the office of the victim it was inappropriate behaviour for any adult. Stupid, childish behaviour by any standard.

From people who will be federal government ministers it's astonishing.

This is the standard of the people who will govern us.

The electors of North Sydney and Sturt should know what they need to do at the next election.

As should electors of all the other constituencies which have sub-standard, unworthy, embarrasing candidates foisted on them.

You can read the full article in the Sydney Morning Herald here.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Still camping

We have no date for the container with all our belongings to be delivered. It's still on the truck and the whole rig is with the RTA while they investigate how and why it ended up in the front of a neighbour's house.

So we're still camping, but thankfully in this weather it's indoor camping. We have power, heating, functioning bathrooms and kitchen, a few odd chairs and a kitchen table. We also have a couple of suitcases of clothing so we're not too uncomfortable.

We won't know what damage there is to our belongings until the container's eventually delivered and unpacked.

It's got the usual fragile glass stuff you have around the house - mirrors, table tops, shelves, lamps, pictures, drinking glasses, crockery - but anything could be damaged in a crash like that.

Fortunately for the people involved, the house and hopefully our stuff in the container, the truck didn't have much speed when it ran into the house. The damage was really caused by the weight rather than speed.

It was a huge slice of luck that no-one was hurt and you'll see why if I describe the location.

Our street, like many in Oz, runs along the crest of a hill. Our side has  enough level land for houses, then the back gardens drop away down a hill.

The opposite side has no level land, it drops away just a couple of metres from the street. The houses on that side have their entrances at that ground level but the land drops away so sharply that from just inside the front wall there's a lower level. In other words, in effect they have their front doors on the first floor.

The house the truck hit has a downward drive and the roof eaves are level with the road, so it's a steep slope. Joining the end of their drive to the front of the house is (was) a timber deck. Fortunately the deck is more than a metre above the ground at that point.

The runaway truck's front wheels demolished the decking and it lurched into the abyss. The bottom of the chassis jammed on the concrete edge of the driveway and that's what stopped it.

The second photo in my previous post gives an idea of the layout.

Had the truck gone into the house, remember, that would have been at first floor level, so it would have crashed through the floor to the lower level.

I don't think there's any doubt that it would literally have totally destroyed the house and it would all have careered on down the hill.  If that had happened the two people in the house and the truck driver wouldn't be with us now.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Back with a bang

Our arrival home is making the evening television news.

Our container arrived...

...through the front of a neighbour's house.

Fortunately no-one was hurt.

Yesterday I posted that the container truck had broken down and they'd re-scheduled delivery for this morning. Promisingly, the truck arrived on time.


Instead of reversing into the driveway to where they'd unload, the driver made a mysterious and very bad decision.

He parked on the slope between the drive and the road.

He and his crew had a coffee and then decided to reverse the truck to where they should have parked in the first place.

The driver later said the brakes failed, including the hand brake. What happened was that the truck rolled forward, across the road, down the driveway opposite and into the front of the house.

Fortunately the house is built on a steep hill and between the driveway and the house is - was - decking over a deep hole.

That saved the house, the occupants, the driver from a very serious situation because the front wheels went into the hole, the bottom of the truck jammed on the edge and it stopped.

As a result, although the front of the truck hit the front of the house it didn't carry on through.

There is, my neighbour tells me, interior damage to the floor, a couple of walls and a bathroom but an engineer has inspected it and said there's no major structural damage and the house is safe.

Two fire trucks, an ambulance and the police turned out and as it was commuter time the road was chaotic for a while.

Long discussions about what to do took place because the truck loaded with the container is jammed down a deep hole, the road isn't wide enough for a tow truck to manoeuvre even if they could pull it they called for a large crane.

The plan is apparently to lift the front of the truck and drag it back until it's in a position where they can tow it.

It's six hours after the event and the crane has just arrived. I've checked and a lot of men in orange safety jackets are milling about talking, pointing, measuring...

The police say our container is now evidence. They need to keep it for at least 24 hours after they get it out to check that it doesn't break any laws.

The removal company say that as it's a unique situation they can't tell me much more right now.

When the authorities have finished with the container it may come straight to us or it may have to go back to base. They'll give me a new delivery time when they can.

By the way, for anyone who fancies a particularly interesting removal, we're using Allied Pickfords.

I must say that they've been good with communication. They've kept in touch by phone regularly and an executive turned up to apologise and get first-hand information.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Welcome, welcome, welcome

I see from StatCounter that a lot of people are coming here from my now defunct 'Life in Dubai' blog. Thanks for taking the time to do that and welcome to 'Life in Oz'.

We only arrived back in Oz yesterday, I turned on the computer really only to update my virus protection but I had a quick look here to see what was happening. I haven't had a chance yet to do any tracking back to see who the visitors are...some old friends are there I hope.

A quick update for anyone who may be interested - a good non-stop flight on Emirates, although because strong tail winds were going to push us along the departure was delayed for about 45 minutes. (Sydney International has a night time curfew to give residents some noise-free sleep). Even so we arrived early and had to fly around in a holding pattern until the airport opened.

It was about 13C and bucketing down with rain.

Now adjusting to the six hour time difference is the main focus. Going to bed at midnight when the body thinks it's only six in the evening takes a few days to sort itself out.

The container with our belongings was due to be delivered to us at seven this morning. I knew it was all too good to be true - they called to say the truck had broken down. The clutch has gone, they say, so it has to be towed back to base, the container reloaded onto another truck...tomorrow is the new promise.

It's a cool day with a blue sky, a few clouds, sunny, clear air with no sand or cement dust in it -

Friday, August 12, 2011

Police lose the plot

The riots in the UK have made clear to even those who couldn't see the bleedin' obvious - especially the police and politicians - that the police have their policing wrong.

Exactly the same mistakes are being made by our police here and for the same basic reason.

In the UK, here in Australia and in many other western countries, they've changed the reason for their existence.

The primary role of police is preventing crime, protecting law abiding citizens from harm and property from damage. The key word is prevention.

That's what they've changed. And what a monumental and society-changing change it is.

Now they let the crimes happen and try to catch the perpetrators afterwards.

They changed police force to police service and started calling people they deal with their customers.

This change in police culture is broad in its reach. There wouldn't be many of us, for example, who haven't seen police with radar guns hiding behind shrubbery to catch people breaking the speed limit laws.

Allow them to break the law and catch them afterwards.

What they should be doing is preventing the lawbreaking. A police motorcycle rider sitting in full view would deter speeding, would prevent the lawbreaking, would give us safer roads.

At the other end of the scale it's the same. In the UK the rioters and looters were allowed to do as they pleased as the police stood and watched. They did nothing to prevent it. After the damage was done the police are using CCTV footage to arrest the criminals and bring them to court.

The criminal activity spread like wildfire as other morons saw that the London looters were allowed to do as they liked, so they copied it. And they were allowed to carry on unhindered.

What stopped it? Police out on the streets. Doing what they're supposed to do, prevent the lawlessness.

In the UK, exactly as we have here, cuts to the police budgets are blamed.

Simplistic rubbish.

The blame must go to the change in police thinking, on the way the resources are utilised and the thinking behind it. They're no longer a force but a service, with customers. They aren't on the beat, are not visible on the streets, but are sitting back in centralised police stations watching CCTV.

A few years back a mate's shop in Terrigal was ram-raided and a lot of valuable stock stolen. The shop is literally across the road from the police station. But that's all but been abandoned and is manned for only a few hours a day.

In the British parliament debate on the riots PM David Cameron said that at any one time only 12% of officers are on the beat. He refuses to accept that the police cannot be organised more effectively.

I'm sure the same applies here.

We need more effective use of the police we have and they need to go back to basics.

They need to be out on the streets preventing crime.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Nearly there...

I've just received an e-mail from the shipping agent in Sydney to say our container-load has been cleared by Quarantine and Customs and is ready for delivery.

I'm amazed, I assumed it would take much longer and I anticipated a bill for fumigation and/or taxes, neither of which have been mentioned.

We're in on Sunday morning so I'll call the agent on Monday to arrange delivery as soon as they can.

Can't wait to be back!

Monday, August 08, 2011

As you were.

With the current GFC dominating the news I thought it would be relevant to copy & paste from my Dubai blog this post which dates from over a year ago:

Learning from mistakes?

Major factors behind the global economic meltdown:

Historically low interest rates held for a very long time.

Vast amounts of money spent or committed by governments.

Banks' tele-sales people pestering consumers with phone calls offering credit cards.

The financial industry creating 'complex financial instruments' (actually worthless pieces of paper), sold to each other and unsuspecting investors for huge amounts.

Huge salaries and bonuses for bankers and other business executives, based on short-term (this year's) profits and share prices.

Retailers offering big-ticket items at big discounts with no deposit, nothing to pay for several months and financing at very low interest rates.

How we're dealing with the global economic meltdown:

Historically low interest rates held for a very long time.

Vast amounts of money spent or committed by governments.

Banks' tele-sales people pestering consumers with phone calls offering credit cards.

The financial industry creating 'complex financial instruments' (actually worthless pieces of paper), sold to each other and unsuspecting investors for huge amounts.

Huge salaries and bonuses for bankers and other business executives, based on short-term (this year's) profits and share prices.

Retailers offering big-ticket items at big discounts with no deposit, nothing to pay for several months and financing at very low interest rates.

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Albert Einstein

I've never believed the old cliche 'we learn from our mistakes'. The evidence is that we don't, we just keep repeating them.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Two part economy

I've been living in Dubai for the past six years, and I see an interesting comparison with Australia.

Let me give a brief bit of background.

In Dubai we had the construction boom the whole world was talking about.

There were two important things the world got wrong about it, which is relevant to the subject.

One, "that's what oil money does". In reality, oil money had nothing to do with it.

Dubai has never had much oil. There's been a brief burst of income from the sixties from a couple of small fields, which was very sensibly invested in infrastructure.

Two, "Dubai is all about real estate". In realty, from its beginnings in the 1880s, it was about business, about trading. Oil is less than 5% of the economy.

Actually there's a third thing the world misunderstood. 'Dubai' didn't put the mind-boggling sums of money into its vast developments. A huge amount of the money was from outside investors, who poured literally hundreds of billions of dollars into the emirate.

Dubai, as always, put money into infrastructure designed to support the real economy, including a vast new road system, the first Metro rail system in the region, a huge new public bus fleet, huge development of Dubai International Airport and the start of a brand new airport which will, when it's eventually finished, be the largest in the world.

(Sceptics should bear in mind that in just fifty years Dubai International has gone from start-up to now being the world's fourth busiest international passenger airport, with 50 million passengers. It's also the world's seventh busiest cargo airport, handling nearly three million tonnes last year. And it's rapidly climbing both league tables.)

I'm not really digressing, because the point is that Dubai very clearly had a two-part economy. The boom of the temporary real estate bonanza was one part, the other part, the important part, is the real underlying economy.

That's where I see the comparison in my first sentence.

Australia clearly also has a two part economy, the temporary commodities bonanza and the real underlying economy which is the important part.
As with Dubai, the wealth being generated by the bonanza isn't being fairly or widely spread. As with Dubai, it's dependent on outside factors beyond our control. As with Dubai, it will come to an end. And we need to strengthen our real economy for when it does end.

We need to get on top of the situation, and quickly. The irreplaceable natural resources are being taken, huge profits are being made but as a nation we're not getting our fair share.

We must maximise national income from the boom while it lasts, to invest in developing the real economy. In both infrastructure and business.

For example, we need a rethink on tourism, which includes appointing new people with new thinking. Since the Hogan 'shrimp on the barbie' campaign we've got it wrong time and time again and our tourism revenues have long been on the slide.

We need more manufacturing, and in particular value-added industries.

Sending so much raw wool overseas for others to turn into consumer products and sell around the world at a good profit is the least possible business we can do with the resource.

We should be keeping plenty of it back here and processing it for our designers to turn into high-value materials, fabrics, clothing, furnishings.

We cut down our trees and sell them as woodchip. We should be using it to create more wealth for ourselves by making everything from top level furniture to toothpicks from it.

Exporting being difficult because of the tyranny of distance has long since been untrue. Our big trading partners are now in Asia, but even north America and Europe are easily reachable with modern transport.

We need an efficient, fast rail system to move material around the country to manufacturing and export points. We need airports - and an airline - relevant to the twenty-first century.  And we need the ports upgraded so that we can ship exports out efficiently instead of seeing dozens of ships anchored on the horizon waiting to get in.

The frustrating thing is that with the quality of our politicians and the level to which our politics has sunk, none of it will happen.

We'll continue to let the bonanza slip away from us and we'll continue to do the simplest thing possible.  Shear it, grow it, dig it up and send it in bulk overseas for others to make the profits from.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Dept. Store extinction

Here in the rest of the world Australia rarely gets a mention in the media.

It's usually the bizarre - the neck bomb story from Mosman is curently making news internationally, shark and croc attacks get coverage, 'roos attacking pensioners and other animal stories do to.

On the serious side there's the very occasional story about how we avoided the GFC, our high interest rates, and the Aussie dollar's rise is included in foreign exchange stories sometimes.

The big retail slump is one such story currently getting Australia into some of the news outlets.

While the reduction in spending is pretty much across the board the reports emphasise that by far the worst hit are the department stores.

And last month of course David Jones gave the markets warning that a dramatic slump in sales would result in a half year 20% drop in profits against last year.

I'm sure they'll all trot out the usual excuses - the high dollar, people buying online or overseas. But, have you been into a dapartment store recently? I was back in Oz a couple of months ago and wandered around a few of them.

That's where you'll see the root of the problem.  It can be summed up in one word. Boring.

Strange, but not unusual for far too many companies, that the management can't see the obvious.

I couldn't believe how boring, how uninviting, unfriendly, bland the stores are.

Boring shop design - although in reality 'design' is too strong a word to describe the layout.

Boring products, displayed in the blandest way possible.

No customers in sight, so the stores are manned by bored staff who stand around in their bland, empty environment for hours on end. Nothing to do but move a few hangers aroud, shuffle things on shelves.

Department stores have turned themselves into the dinosaurs of retailing.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Nearly there

I did the final paperwork for the move back to Oz today, which was cancelling the Dubai residence visas.

My sponsor did mine but as I sponsor Mrs Seabee I had to battle the bureaucracy myself to get hers cancelled. And to get back my deposit of AED10,000 ($2,5000), which I had to pay to get her visa in the first place.

Actually, for a government department, it wasn't too bad. Waiting around is inevitable but it's an orderly numbered tickets system and plenty of seating while you wait to be called.

For the visa cancellation you need both sponsor and sponsored's passport, your airline tickets showing that you're actually leaving, the inevitable photocopies of it all and an Arabic letter detailing what it is you're applying for.

Every office has a small, crowded, chaotic typing centre which issues the appropriate letter, for a small fee and after a long wait.

Deposit refund is another section, another numbered ticket, another long wait in the typing office for an Arabic letter, photocopies of all the cancellation paperwork, a walk in the 50C heat to the bank branch outside where after a short wait I was given my deposit back in cash.

So that's all the paperwork done and the flight is booked, arriving in Sydney on the fourteenth.

The tracking system says the ship with our container has arrived on schedule in Sydney. Customs and Quarantine will take a couple of weeks or maybe a bit longer, so hopefully it should be delivered not too long after we arrive.