365 Unusual Things: 253-259

253. A magpie came and stood on the balcony railing holding a live, kicking lizard in her mouth, showed it to me for 20 seconds, then flew away.

254. Saw an orange and black sunrise over the ocean at 5.20 am.

255. On the beach this morning someone had made some sand art with a rake, and left a message: ‘Have a great week’.

256. There are 10 wet yellow roses scattered over the shoreline this morning.

257. The checkout girl in the supermarket today was wearing a lanyard with the words ‘Smarter than I look’.

258. Saw a kookaburra that had caught a crab.

259. At a table outside a fish and chip shop, where some customers had left their unwanted food and paper, an ibis stood eating chips.


365 Unusual Things: 246-252

246. Outside the back door of a local art gallery today I saw a neglected statue of the Madonna and Child. The gallery owner says someone gave it to him to restore but he’s too busy with his exhibitions.

247. Walked to the end of a small island in the middle of a pond thinking I was alone until I heard a hissing behind me. It was this swan sitting on a nest.

248. Saw a high school boy lapping up pond water and drinking it while his 3 mates stood by laughing. Even more unusual, he wore a mask but the others didn’t.

249. Beside a stream I saw a prickly pear planted by an unwary gardener. It’s highly invasive and took many years of eradication using an Argentinian moth to get rid of it from farmland. No one with this knowledge would ever plant one here.

250. A townhouse near me has pulled out its front garden and concreted the whole space. It’s unusual in this area where everyone has some sort of garden as a rule.

251. Saw an Australasian darter on a submerged branch. First time I’ve seen one in my area. Often called ‘snake bird’ because of its long neck.

252. Woke to the news that the Queen has died. Unusual and unwanted news.


365 Unusual Things: 239-245

239. In a grocery store I’ve never been to, in the fruit and veg section, I saw bananas hanging from a frame of metal branches like a banana ‘tree’.

240. After weeks of watching episodes of a survival series, Alone, where people have to build a shelter out of branches and a tarp, I stumbled upon a small shelter built exactly this way beside my local pond. The branches are held together with duct tape.

241. Teaching English to a South American Spanish speaker today, discussing language ‘false friends’, we both learnt that while constipado in Spanish means a head cold, the English ‘false friend’ means something quite different. I’ve learnt Spanish on many occasions but never learnt this word.

242. Today I saw a Spiderman beanie on the ground. Two days ago I saw a Batman cap on a seat.

243. Today I received an email from a book! I ordered it from Better World Books a while ago. The message began like this:

“Holy canasta! It’s me… it’s me! I can’t believe it is actually me! You could have picked any of over 2 million books but you picked me! I’ve got to get packed! How is the weather where you live? Will I need a dust jacket? I can’t believe I’m leaving Mishawaka, Indiana already – the friendly people, the Hummer plant, the Linebacker Lounge – so many memories.”

There were 3 more paragraphs like this. I was about to delete it as spam when I saw my order details at the bottom of the page.

244. Today is the first day of spring. Officially.

245. My favourite grocery store has today removed half of its manned checkouts and replaced them with self-serve checkouts. I thought I was onto something enjoyable and predictable. But no.


Black and white animal handlers

In my album of photos from Egypt, taken in 1941 and 1942, there are some photos of a monkey named Kan-Kan performing in the street, muzzled and held on a leash by a handler. When I went to my local zoo a couple of years ago, I took photos of animal handlers, such as the woman with the snake here on the right. The animals are equally interesting to the spectators in each photo, but the demands of the handler are visibly different. If we wanted, we could compare these two images and think about changing times and views about animal welfare, but I’d rather think about old photos versus new photos.

My photo taken in 2020 is not the best. The pattern detail on the snake is clearer than the monkey fur. What is really clear are the edges of the people, the chairs, and the stones in the wall, while the background architecture in the 1941 photo is a bit fuzzy. But look at the creases in the clothing in each photo, there’s not much difference.

One particular function we now have in cameras is indoor photography. Even amateurs like I am can simply put the camera on the automatic setting and it adjusts everything according to the light. But in the 1940s most photos taken by the soldiers who were sent to Egypt (like my father who owned the photo), were taken outdoors. The camera he used was probably the Kodak Brownie box camera that I now have (but don’t use). In fact, every one of my father’s photos in this old album was taken outdoors. And any photos that do show interiors seem to be taken from outside the door, looking in, for example in this mosque.

I think this particular old photo of the performing monkey and its handlers is more interesting than the new one, probably because there are enough characters and action to make colour irrelevant.


365 Unusual Things: 232-238

232. There’s a guy living in his car in my street, parking often outside my house. The morning temperatures here are mostly below zero Celsius. This morning he started up the engine at 4 am, sat there a while, drove off, probably to warm up, and by 7 am he was back.

233. Saw an excellent performance of an orchestra today, a project of U3A (University of the Third Age).  It was unusual for me to watch an orchestra; I have no musical gifts.

234. Walked to a new part of a nature reserve and saw a fox-proof fence that runs for many kilometres, enclosing 1253 hectares, and protects native animals from foxes and feral cats.

235. A man behind me at the grocery counter had a trolley choc-a-block with bottles of milk. When I quipped that he seemed to like milk, he told me he doesn’t. He was buying it for a charity pantry.

236. Saw a man sitting in the street eating mackerel from one can and drinking coconut milk from another.

237. On my walk this afternoon I saw two kissing couples. In the few years I’ve lived in this suburb I’ve only seen one couple cuddling beside the water, so it’s unusual to see two within a few minutes. And in winter.

238. Bought a raffle ticket tonight and won a meat tray. First time ever.


365 Unusual Things: 225-231

225. I was looking over the railing of this small bridge when an old man came to me and said ‘Don’t just look, you should jump’, and he made a diving gesture with his arms. He again said ‘Jump’, and when I said ‘No’ he said ‘Why not?’

226. Today I read an obituary for my former French lecturer and learnt that though he was Irish he failed English at school, but got into Trinity College in Dublin to study French.

227. At the local golf club this morning a guy making an announcement for a prize draw spoke so loud into the mic that the evacuation alarm was triggered. He kept announcing over the top of it.

228. This morning I went to a local pioneer village which is normally frequented by tourists but I had the whole place to myself for half an hour.

229. Had major dental work done today. The dental assistant was yet another one who is learning English as she goes.

230. Noticed the different classes of customers in two adjacent cafés a few feet apart in a shopping centre, one a donut place, the other a regular coffee place. The customers in one are well dressed, healthy, employed. Those in the other are scruffier, fatter, poorer.

231. Walked to a nature reserve this afternoon and saw a kangaroo and her joey eating grass as one unit.


Black and white ruins

A few years ago in Les Angles, France, near the Spanish border, I came across a collapsed cottage, its roof shingles caving in, door hanging off, woodwork tumbling to the ground. I took a photo of it, not because of the decrepitude but because of the colours. Every one of the dark grey shingles was partly covered in orange lichen, the stones of the walls were of varying earthy tones, and the door was a rich cedar brown. But today I’m switching the image to black and white to see how it compares with an image from my father’s WW2 album of a bombed building and a boy raising his arm. (Defiance? Victory?) The photo was taken in the Middle East, probably Egypt. Both buildings in the photos are ruined, no longer habitable, probably beyond repair.

I like the softness of the 1941 image. Despite it being a scene of war damage, the picture is easy to look at, I don’t need to see more detail. What’s there is enough. Usually I turn away from shots like this, confronted as we are these days with countless graphic scenes of destruction on our news pages. But this one I can look at.

By contrast, the recent image of a French cottage in a ski town in the Pyrenees is starkly clear. I suspect a weighty load of snow has brought down the roof. This photo which I took in 2015 has definition to each of the shingles, stones and pieces of timber, even a few nails sticking out of the boards, making it an interesting image to analyse. To compare the blocks in the foreground of each image, those in the 1941 photo are roughly defined but not sharp like those in the newer one. The building in the background of the Egyptian photo looks interesting and I would like to see more of its detail. So, my conclusion is that the newer photo is more useful information-wise, but the old picture from World War Two gives enough information about war, and no more is needed.


365 Unusual Things: 218-224

218. Went to the new Nepalese café in my street and saw a painting of dancers in Kathmandu, signed Painter Krishna. Also saw a large photo of the Nepalese royal family who were assassinated in 2001.

219. Watched a band rehearse this morning where the woman at the microphone was singing and knitting at the same time, not as a gimmick but just because she can’t not knit.

220. Bought a 2300-page book that has pages 1607 – 1670 accidentally placed at the back.

221. Came across a tree I photographed a few years ago with ducks sitting in it. Today it’s completely dead.

222. Three years ago I asked someone the name of my favourite barista, and was told he was Kyle, which I’ve called him ever since. Today, thinking about his slight Chinese accent, I asked him if his name was actually Kyle. He informed me it’s Ki. He has never corrected me. This would be unusual for someone with an Anglo name, but migrants are often satisfied with ‘near enough is good enough’.

223. Rose early to photograph the sunrise for the first time this year. It was beautiful. Within minutes grey clouds came, stayed and drizzled on me all day.

224. A friend who told me a week ago that she wouldn’t have time to come and see me any more came to see me today.


365 Unusual Things: 211-217

211. Saw a woman walking a cat on a leash in Gundagai.

212. Having lunch at the local golf club I saw a man heading onto the course in purple polka-dot pants and matching hat.

213. At the café/restaurant of the golf club, an Uber Eats driver brought a delivery of food to the receptionist which she tucked under her desk.

214. I was approached in the street by a woman with a petition to ban a certain Communist Party. She assured me that my first name would be sufficient. I didn’t sign it.

215. A large man arrived 2 weeks ago to rent an Airbnb apartment on the other side of my street. He was wearing shorts and t-shirt on a very cold winter day, and stood outside for the first 2 hours waiting for the owner to let him in. Today his car, parked in the street, is wrapped in police tape that says “Under investigation”.

216. A storm at one o’clock this morning made the solar fairy lights in my trees come on with every lightning flash.

217. After two storms and non-stop rain all day yesterday, the pond flooded and the cut reeds that are left to float on the pond for the birds were washed up onto the path. Stinky and sludgy.


Black and white war planes

Today I’m comparing a photo from about 1941 of a huge propeller plane in World War Two, probably a bomber, with a photo I took last weekend of an F-111C in the RAAF museum in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales.

I took the F-111 photo with my new camera, a Fujifilm X-E4. I’m no professional. I use a camera simply because I can’t take decent photos with a mobile phone, can’t hold it steady, am likely to drop it since it doesn’t have a wrist strap like my camera does. Actually I use a camera so I don’t look like everyone else.

The details in the new photo are outstanding. When I click on ‘full size’ in the WordPress info I can read the writing on the plane, and the bars of the fence around it are each defined. Clicking ‘full size’ for the old photo reveals little more of the plane, but I can see details on the young pilot’s face, a space between his teeth and prominent ears, which would help me identify him if I found another photo online to compare it with. There appears to be snow on the ground, suggesting it was December 1941 or January 1942.

My father captioned this photo McGowan RAAF. I’ve searched the War Memorial website for a pilot by this name who was flying in the Middle East (where my father had been sent) at the end of 1941, but I’m yet to identify him.