Friday, 29 August 2014

Yarra Valley

After early morning fog, the day was sunny and mild - not bad at all considering that, officially, it's still winter.   After a slow start (and a quick check of the US Open on TV!), we headed to Yarrawood for a great platter, with a view over the vineyards and down the valley.   Then a wander around Healesville (including checking out the second hand books) followed by coffee at Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander.

It may not sound a lot, but after all, part of the idea was to "recharge our batteries", and, taken at a leisurely pace, it was enough to fill the day.  We then headed for a freshen up and  to the Yarra Glen Grand Hotel for great pub meal for dinner.

View down the Yarra Valley
Giant Steps/Innocent Bystander, Healesville

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Balgownie Estate

It's nearly spring, and unexpectedly we found we had a bit of a gap in our diary, so impulsively we booked a couple of nights in the Yarra Valley at Balgownie Estate. On the way here, after pausing at a nursery, it was a minor challenge to find a winery lunch mid-week in the winter [Edit - yes the information is there, it's just a matter of having it to hand when needed!], but we ended up at Rochford where the meal was pleasant enough, although in hindsight perhaps a little more substantial than we really needed!
Driveway at Balgownie by night

I was vaguely aware of the existence of Balgownie Estate but it's larger than I realised. We opted for a “garden terrace” room which gave us all we needed (spacious, nice bathroom, good heating, internet included, “garden view” but no spa) at a somewhat more modest price than the rooms with a spa and "valley view".   Rae's Restaurant at the resort is no doubt a fine restaurant, but after our lunch, its fixed price dinner menu was somewhat wasted on us.

View at dusk from "garden terrace" room
Same view, next morning - lots of fog!

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Shoe sizes

My el-cheapo but comfortable sneakers wore out, but the store had some that were almost identical.    I tried on a pair that were labelled as being the same size as my existing pair but they didn't fit.  The next size up fitted nicely.  Yet on closer examination, the shoes that fitted were identical in actual size to the earlier pair, even though labelled differently.
Yes, they were cheap, and, yes, both pairs were made in China - but it does serve to show just how unreliable the sizing system is.    How anyone manages to buy items such as these over the internet without the ability to try them on is a mystery to me.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Financial Planning

I established some "settings" for my financial affairs a little time back, and to date have seen no reason to make any big changes.    Without going into too much detail, I might say that one element of my arrangements is not to put all the eggs into a single basket, nor to rely on a single "financial adviser".  That's not saying I don't seek advice, and I do my best to keep abreast of the main issues while trying to avoid the temptation to micro-manage or to make "adjustments" in haste.  In any event, I find that with the passing of the years, my enthusiasm to monitor matters in this area on a short-term basis is waning.

So when I received a phone call recently from a financial adviser associated with one of the superannuation funds suggesting we have a "chat", I wondered whether I needed to bother.   Good sense prevailed, however, and I took up the opportunity.  

It seems that I am broadly "on track", and it was good to get a little detail filling out my understanding of some of the changes that are currently occurring.  But, importantly, it was pointed out to me that one issue of which I was aware needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.    In this respect alone,  the discussion was definitely worthwhile

Monday, 25 August 2014

The real CPI

The real CPI?  The one that matters?   Yes, the Cappuccino Price Index

Unfortunately it doesn't seem to be updated very often, but I suppose a lot of research has to be done which must be time-consuming.

I wonder if the results ought to be sorted by postcode.  Every time I buy coffee I seem to pay at least, and often more than, the average.    Where are those "good-value" coffees at less than the average price?   Perhaps we need a "coffee watch" site as happens with petrol - or would this offend the ACCC?

I also wonder where the all-pervasive coffee cards fit in to the calculations?  Does this index take account of the fact that, if you're loyal, every 6th or 7th coffee is "free"? Or are these cards disregarded on the basis that most people are like me and have a pile of cards with two holes stamped and can never find the right card when I return and have start all over again with a new card?

Friday, 22 August 2014


At the Elizabeth Street tram terminus.....all nice and cool for the tram drivers while they have a "comfort stop"!

Notice the air-conditioning unit on top of the toilet?

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Electioneering (2)

I had a quick word with the team installing the new signage at the local station, and commented that there must be an election coming on!    They tactfully responded that, yes, there had been a little pressure on them to get the work done!

Anyway, the new displays are kinda nice, although I reflect that, even though it's nice to know if the train is late or cancelled, there wouldn't be a need for all this information if the trains could be relied on to turn up when they're supposed to.  Moreover, the signs on the platforms only tell you what trains are running;  they don't 'fess up to cancellations (although they can give messages about disruptions).  You have to work out that a train has been cancelled by its absence on the display.

And Daniel Bowen wasn't too impressed with  the location of some of the signs.....

Wednesday, 20 August 2014


The Livingroom is no more, now it's Allium.   I read on the website that Livingroom has been around since 2007, but the owners redecorated and re-launched it earlier this year.

Allium?  It's Latin for garlic and apparently is the name for the onion family!     The dining space has been broken up with a curtain, and this, along with carpet on the floor in the lower area, has softened the atmosphere.   The menu continues to be interesting.  The prices don't seem to have increased;  in fact, they might even have dropped very slightly.  

I liked my entree which (I quote) was "Jerusalem Artichoke Entree with Pickled Shiitake and Mandarin", and the steak that followed was good too.   Favourable reports were also heard about the rolled lamb shoulder.  For desert  we shared a "Parsnip parfait".   Interesting use of a vegetable, and quite effective actually, but I don’t think I could picked it if I hadn't read the description first.  There are some good pictures here

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

The Abbotsford Convent

It was a winter weekday, and impulsively we decided that we ought to check out the Abbotsford Convent.   Of course, we knew of its existence, but it's out-of-the-way for us and a little tricky to get to (choice of the horrors of Hoddle Street or a circular route through Kew).   The closest I had ever been to it was when I worked on for the tramways during university vacations, when there was a bus yard (long since gone) on the other side of St Heliers Street, which was a meal break location for the tramway buses.

I read that the Abbotsford Convent Foundation celebrated its 10th anniversary this year.   The Good Shepherd nuns sold the site in 1975, although the Good Shepherd Foundation still has a presence at the neighbouring Church and hostel, and the farmland became the Collingwood Children's farm.

The convent itself became part of the Lincoln Institute and subsequently La Trobe University.  The University sold the site in the late 1990s, and a residential development was proposed.    However, with State Government assistance it was returned to public ownership, and the Abbotsford Convent Foundation was established to own and manage it, with a focus on arts, culture and learning.

Convent bakery
There are now numerous studio and office spaces, and what is described as an extensive program of events. We enjoyed poking around the buildings and extensive gardens.   And, of particular interest to us (!), there are a number of eating and drinking venues, at least one of which appeared to the patronised by (may I say?) "artistic" types.    We had a pleasant lunch at the Convent Bakery, and were happy with everything.   But of course, we were there at a quiet time.  I can understand that it must get very busy at times, particularly weekends, which no doubt explains the rather ordinary reviews.

Monday, 18 August 2014

The shade sails

I was a bit surprised, a few weeks back, to see a number of large poles (11, I've been told) appear in the  playground in our local park.  Clearly they are intended to support shade sails.   Oh well, I thought, even though there are probably better uses for ratepayers' money, the park user group has perhaps decided that these are a good idea.    Since I haven't participated in the user group, who was I to complain?

Weeks passed.  Then, a few days back, we were approached by a neighbour in the street.  Would we sign a petition saying that the residents don't want shade sails?   They'd be too big, too intrusive, unnecessary for many months and would collect leaves, and the user group is opposed to them - as are the 70 locals who had already signed the petition.

It was explained to us that although the park user group suggested about 5 years ago that more tree plantings would be nice to provide some shade, no-one had  suggested shade-cloths and the poles were erected without any consultation.  The user group had no idea they were coming, and apparently even least some of the local ward councillors were said to be unaware that they were being erected!

Why am I not surprised to hear that the council bureaucracy appears to be on a mission of its own here?

We signed, and I shall watch developments with interest.

Friday, 15 August 2014

The Cat Cafe

Goodness, a news report about a cat cafe?     I see from the website that you have to book, and that it costs $10 an hour (plus the cost of coffee and food, obviously). 

I had an opportunity to take a walk up that way.  It's at 375 Queen St, right up near the Vic Market.  I went past, but not in.   The cats seems to have landed on their feet, so to speak, as the building is an impressive bluestone structure.  

Footnote - I see that the idea started in Japan, and that you get 2 hours with the cats  at the London equivalent!

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Buying a badge

I had a little talk to the guy diligently selling  "Vietnam" badges.    Or, rather, I lent him my ear for a couple of minutes.  He was quite happy to tell his stories, but he wasn't much of a listener!  Just for the record, he was an infantryman in 1 RAR.
And I'm not sure that I like the design of the badge (but I didn't tell him that), although I assume that it represents the Long Tan cross.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014


My efforts at photographing the lunar eclipse a while back weren't brilliant, but since then I've learned a little more about my camera.  I now know how to work the controls, although they're so sensitive and fiddly it's quite a challenge to set them.   So when I was reminded by the ABC weather report that there was a "supermoon" (because its orbit had brought it close to the earth), I though I'd have another attempt.

Still not all that terrific, but maybe with a bit more practice?

Tuesday, 12 August 2014


Inkerman Street, St Kilda isn't our usual stamping ground, but we were with a group that included family members, and went to Machi.   I now know that this neighbourhood includes Mr Wolf and the Newmarket Hotel, (both in Good Food Guide) so perhaps the area might be deserving of closer attention in the future.

Machi gets mixed reviews on Urbanspoon (of course, it's not alone in that regard) and doesn't make it into the current Good Food Guide.   There's a bit of a Western edge to the Japanese menu (slow cooked lamb shoulder?).  As one review puts it, it has "a menu that includes traditional Japanese dishes and imaginative mod Oz creations".  But the Japanese side shone through in other ways, as everything was attractively presented and the service was certainly attentive.

We shared everything and so were able to have quite a range of dishes, but in particular we loved the prawn tempura.  The miso baked barramundi was good too, and there were good reports about everything on the seafood platter.  As for the desert platter......!

But no, it wasn't the cheapest night out we've  ever had - but this was partly because we like to have some wine, and the wines on the list (and other drink prices) are a bit on the pricey side (we weren't there on Tuesday, when apparently you can BYO).

Monday, 11 August 2014

Buying a cable....

We all agreed that we needed a longer VGA cable as part of the AV set-up at the Church.
I checked at the local Dick Smith and was surprised that the price was nearly $60, and at Officeworks it was nearly $40.   My initial reaction when I first saw it at Dick Smith was, it's what we need, it's here and I can have it now.    But, for once, I paused......

Back home, and a few mouse clicks later, yes, it was in Mr Smith's on line store, on special for about $12.    But on attempting to place it into my "cart" on the Dick Smith site, lo, the price reverted to the store price.   Seems the one-day special was just ending, so instead of getting hot and bothered, I just moved on and found what we wanted was readily available on e-Bay at prices from $15 upwards.   But there would be a delay while it was mailed, and I don't have Paypal....all too fiddly.

Long story short - I remembered Computers and Parts Land!  It's been a while since I have patronised them, but they're still there and the item was on their website for $12. It did involve a trip to Notting Hill, but I was out and about in the car anyway (and just happened to find a reason to drop into the nearby Bunnings as well), and the instant gratification made up for the time I spent going out that way.

Not the smartest looking retail establishment around and set in a field of warehouses, but as in the past, they've got just about anything you might need and the prices generally seem to be as good as you'll get anywhere.


Friday, 8 August 2014

Occupying seats

Noticed on a recent train trip. The passengers concerned quite deliberately placed just a couple of items on the opposite seat as soon as they boarded.

No, the train wasn't completely full.  Perhaps about 50%.    But I wasn't impressed.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Tracking aircraft

The loss of MH17 was a true disaster.    It's a bit sobering to reflect that this is the very flight we travelled on last October (from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur).

However,  I was interested in the map that appeared on the internet shortly after the event, showing that hardly any commercial aircraft were near Ukraine.
On closer investigation, I find that you can see the location of a lot of the world's commercial  flights (including corporate planes) at Flightradar 24 and at Planefinder.   These sites use information transmitted from planes, particularly from ADS-B transponders (but also other sources).  They take a moment to load, but it's fascinating that this information is available to the world on just a click of the mouse button.  There are clearly some committed people out there that go to all this effort.

Just the same, some of the information looks a bit dodgy, particularly on Planefinder.  This site appears list a number of Aeromexico flights in Australia, but I think they are actually Pel-Air Aviation flights (do they use a similar flight prefix - perhaps something like AM)?   Also, Planefinder appears not to have a good coverage of China, but this doesn't seem to be an issue on Flightradar24.   Perhaps there are other strengths and weaknesses, too, but who's complaining, as the sites don't even carry advertisements. 

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Flying to conclusions

The following post appeared in a Trip Advisor forum:
"I will be flying in from UK to Melbourne and note there are 2 airports and with price differences.
I plan to stay in a central /CBD location.
Do I select Melbourne International (cheaper fairs [sic]) or Tullamarine (more expensive)?"

Just goes to show that a little bit of care has to be taken when doing it yourself on the internet.    'Coz "Melbourne International" is the name of an airport in Florida!

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Auction technique

Every real estate auction is different, and - apart from knowing what your upper limit is - there's no one rule for bidders that's invariably applicable.    However, as a long-term observer of the auction scene, I do know that agents' usual advice to "bid strongly" is not necessarily the way to go.  It seems to me that often it just communicates to the auctioneer that you're interested - with the risk that the price might drift upwards before the property is put on the market, and that this is likely to more than off-set any possible effect of "scaring off" other bidders.

Be that as it may, we recently attended a nearby auction, where there were two bidders, both quite diffident.  True, it was an executor's sale, but successful purchaser impressed me.  She dithered in her bids, asked for time to consult her husband, suggested a coffee break and generally gave every indication of being indecisive.   Perhaps she was - but I wondered if it was all an act?   Because the upshot was that the auctioneer put the property "on the market" at what I considered to be quite a low figure, and the consensus amongst the neighbours (who watch these things very closely!) was that eventual sale price was very reasonable.

I still don't know whether the "strategy" was by accident or design....but I came away impressed.

Monday, 4 August 2014


Winter has really caught up with us!

Over the past few days we've had very low temperatures overnight, cold winds, rain, thunder and hail (see images)......but also some wintry sunshine.

Edit:   Perhaps this was the same hailstorm that Daniel Bowen experienced?

Friday, 1 August 2014

Restaurant "attitude"

I guess this post belongs in the "letting off steam" category, but just the same....

We went for a casual meal at one of the newer restaurants in our local shopping strip.  It was a wintry week night, and there weren't many people about.  In fact, when we got to the restaurant, there was only one other table occupied, with two people on it.   But where were we seated?   On the table immediately adjacent to them, almost shoulder to shoulder!    This is a restaurant with perhaps a dozen other tables (I'm guessing), none of which were occupied, but apparently it was felt that the groups of two had to be placed at the tables most suitable for that number (all of the others seemingly seated 4 or more people).
Lots of restaurants around!

Perhaps we ought to have said something, but we made the best of the situation.    It was the attitude that "got" to me.   Why cram people up so that the small groups sit on the smaller tables just to "save" the larger tables for larger groups "in case they arrive" - which needless to say, they didn't.

The food was nice, but running a middle-of-the-range restaurant in our part of the world is a highly competitive business.

Another issue is that we weren't allowed to BYO wine, on the basis that they had a "full bar".   Errr.....yes, the bar structure was indeed nice, but there was no wine list, just a couple of choices in each category. Well, that's the restaurant's decision, but in this part of the world, BYO is nearly universal.

I won't mention names but in a strip where restaurants regularly open and close and even some of the more established places seem to have fewer customers, I'm not sure that the people running this one fully appreciate that little things matter when it comes to customer service.