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Two weeks ago I got a lobotomy. Don’t let anyone tell you the brain doesn’t have nerve endings. It was (still is) very, very painful. It all began with my vision of peripherals not working. I would wheedle, I would cajole, I would uninstall and re-install. No matter what I did, nothing would get the mother ship to accept its acolytes. A scanner, a webcam, a sweet little device called a Squeezebox that allows music on the computer to be played through the stereo. My short, squat computer refused them all.

So, the question began niggling at me. What to do? Computer problems have a way of messing with your mind. If only, you say to yourself. If only it would work the way it should. Reformat is such a harmless sounding word.

Our very first lobotomy happened entirely by accident. It was in Hong Kong shortly after the handover from Dos to Windows. I know, I’m dating myself. Despite its reputation as a great place to buy electronics, the IBM laptop we purchased was a major investment. It was the software that was cheap. Something about not paying royalties. Sure enough, six months later there were serious issues.

I took it back to the shop and told the owner about the problem. He smiled at me, took it under his arm and said: “reformat. ok?” I had no idea what he was talking about. It did not dawn on me that he was talking icepick. That I would be picking up a reamed-out brick instead of the clever little crutch that I had come to depend on for everyday life.

Everything we had written and received had been turned into randomly polarized electrons. Contacts, email, articles. I looked at the man in disbelief. “You mean you didn’t save it somewhere?” He looked around the shop to see if my life had been mislaid somewhere among the printers. “Works okay now.”

The very word ‘reformat’ gives me heart palpitations. But time heals, as they say. We forget. Twelve years is a long time. I have everything backed up. It is simply a question of reinstalling my programs and the data. That’s what my rational, intelligent mind had to say. My body got the night sweats. Big brain won. I lost.

All my contacts, appointments, email. Everything My computer guru did the same thing I did to reinstall Outlook data file. He tried. He failed. If you are reading this I may have had your address in my files once upon a time. Not any more. No worries. Someday, someone will figure it out. In the meantime, enjoy the peace and quiet of my absence. Pretend I’m on Mars. I won’t be bugging you anytime soon.

Check back here in a few days. We just returned from nine days down under down under. That’s right, Tasmania. Words and pics will be up as soon as I get the bills paid and a pile of laundry done.

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Chugging along on a boat in Hong Kong harbour is an odd place to get intrigued by the architecture of a train station in Melbourne, but it happened. The weather was miserable. Neil, an old friend from our days in Hong Kong, had seized on the excuse of visitors to gather a few friends, drink some gin and tonics, and gab.

One of Neil’s British buddies had slipped away that afternoon from a high pressure job as managing director of a substantial HK based corporation.  His company had just purchased the business that supplied the roof of Southern Cross Station. He talked of the architecture in awe inspiring terms. “The station is the roof,” he said.

The original train station was called Batman’s Hill (after John Batman, one of founders of Melbourne). It was later changed to Spencer Street Station. In 1856 it became the Melbourne terminus of Victorian railways, linking the City to Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia. The great international Exhibition of 1888 put Melbourne and Spencer Street on the map. At that time, the Railway Administrative Building was the largest office building in Melbourne.

Construction began on replacement for Spencer Street Station in October 2002. It was finished in time for the 2006 Commonwealth Games. Not without major headaches, of course. It fell far behind schedule and went way over budget. It was branded by one politician as a “world class mess.” The construction did take place around an operational rail interchange of some magnitude, handling 60,000 commuters every single day.

The distinctive, giant wave-shaped roof was designed by Sir Nicholas Grimshaw, who has had his hand in some other interesting structures- The Thermae Bath Spa in Bath, the National Space Center, the Eden Project. Inside Spencer, now called Southern Cross, you look down at a maze of tracks. The trains are over-sized versions of the electric train sets of childhood, mechanical puppets in mesmerizing motion.

Flinders Street Station offers a homey contrast to the spectacle of Southern Cross. It is a well-loved landmark, built in glowing yellow stone, adorned with clocks indicating the departure times on each line. It was the result of a world-wide design competition held in 1899. First prize went to two railway employees, whose design included a giant dome and clock tower. Despite its mammoth size, it has a cozy appeal. Very Victorian.

It is the central railway station of the suburban rail network, right in the heart of the City. Each day, over 100,000 people thread their way through the turnstiles and descend to the platforms. Outside, friends meet up “under the clocks” to coordinate their plans for the evening. The building has a ballroom tucked away somewhere.  Unfortunately, it is no longer in use.

Needless to say, the weather and years of heavy use have taken a toll and it has recently undergone significant and costly redevelopment, cleaning and repair. Worth every penny. Despite the increasing numbers of cars on the road and increasing frustration with the overcrowded conditions on commuter lines, Melburnians love their trains.

They make extended suburban living possible, the little house with the roses in the backyard miles (kilometers) away from the centre of the city. The place to putter, the place to call home.


To those readers who are actually following my foray down under, my apologies for such a long absence. It was due to two brief trips and the annual necessity of getting our tax information together. The first journey was to the strange and surreal city of Hong Kong. We had the good fortune to reside there for a little over three years, before, during and after the Handover.

This trip back gave me a chance to deal with a family matter, renew some relationships and catch up on half-a-dozen movies that I missed during the last year. Thank God for airline entertainment. Deja Vu, in case you missed it, stars Denzel Washington in a tense, action-jammed, sci fi thriller. I couldn’t really make sense of it at 3:30 in the morning, but it was eminently watchable.

Hong Kong is a city that demonstrates its impermanence daily. Shortly after we moved there, one of the landmark hotels in the center of the city was torn down to make way for an office building. It had just undergone a million dollar upgrade to its lobby and rooms. One of the constants during our stay was the Star Ferry terminal in Central. It seemed iconic, as “present” and permanent as the Colonial buildings, even though it was built after the War. It was a wooden, ramshackle building at water’s edge, holding its own against the onslaught of skyscrapers. This year it disappeared, moved and morphed to make way for a highway.

A stone’s throw from the new ferry terminal is the newest, most fashionable mall in Hong Kong– the International Finance Centre. If I had been in the the market for a Gucci handbag or a huge, high definition TV, it would have been high on my list. The mall and buildings are spectacular. Plug it into Google, load up Quicktime and you can will get views from the 71’st floor of either of the two buildings.

In Chinese, you don’t ask someone how they are. You ask them if they have eaten yet. To people who have lived through famines, this makes eminent sense. You can’t possibly be fine if you haven’t eaten. The American Peking restaurant in Wanchai looked exactly the same as when we last went there. “Friends always complain about the service and the food, ” said Neil, “but they just don’t get it. This is the place we came before we had a pot to piss in…. It’s not about the food or the atmosphere. It’s about bringing that old spirit back to life.”

It was wonderful to catch up with Bea and Neil, a Canadian/British couple who have returned to Hong Kong after building a boat and actually launching their dream of motoring around the globe by sea. A decision to adopt brought them back to Hong Kong. They are now the proud parents of a baby girl.

How Man treated us to a dim sum lunch on the floating restaurant in Aberdeen. Actually, it was the floating restaurant’s baby sister. The big one is undergoing renovations. I met How Man by getting lost, stumbling into his village while I was in training for an ill-advised 100 km charity event. He is a highly energetic explorer/environmentalist, president of the China Research and Exploration Society. I was lucky to find him at his home base. There will be more about this meeting later.

John and Perveen Crawford entertained us at their home in Hong Kong the day before a trip to Vancouver. It was a delightful evening. There were six of us, and we covered a lot of conversational ground. I couldn’t help bring up the one subject that made headlines in Hong Kong. Perveen, who earned her pilot’s stripes while we were living there, has signed to become the first Hong Kong astronaut in Richard Branson’s craft.

I once interviewed a doctor for a drug survey and then asked him for a “prescription” for lunch. Where else could such things happen? Only in Hong Kong.

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