ukelear reaction

They say you can never go back, but that’s not strictly true. You can go back, as I discovered recently when revisiting an old stomping ground. It just might help if you are accompanied by a ukulele.

Seven years since leaving the sleepy coastal community I called home it has been transformed – not as you might expect by developers, but by housewife troubadours.

To say the area has been ‘uked would be an understatement. In a community of 13,000 people there are now no fewer than eight ukulele troupes performing publicly.

When you revisit old turf you must expect things have changed, but when you ask someone what’s been happening; “Well, I’ve taken up playing the ukulele” is not the first response you expect to hear from any friend … much less all of them.

But it seems ukuleles are like that – kookily infectious.

My friend’s group is called Ukenasia and members promise a dose of their music will either kill you or cure you. After an impromptu solo lounge-room rendition of Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue I can see what they mean.

But, as one of the uke virtuosos of the day Daniel Ho observes, it is “impossible to listen to a ukulele and be sad”.

Thanks to the likes of Melbourne Ukulele Kollective, the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain and the speed-metal group Uke til U Puke, the “jumping flea” as the instrument’s name roughly translates from the Hawaiian has gotten under everybody’s skin.

A resulting serious ukulele shortage in Australia last year caused much consternation

Dare I call it a ukelear explosion?

more than one true dog

It’s strangely serendipitous that when you turn the word god on its head you wind up with a dog.

After all, isn’t what many of us find wanting in the case for the creator: some solid, furry evidence.

At the risk of sounding like a dog-botherer, there are times when it might serve us all to be a little more dog-like – not so much in matters of faith and hope, but expressions of joy.

This is not to be confused with happiness. Happiness – like its cousins contentment and satisfaction – is a much more restrained and highly individualised state. You can measure happiness. Australia’s Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten argues happiness is the key to boosting productivity in the country’s workforce. Happiness is the new buzzword in the HR departments of institutions like RMIT. But can academics really expect to find joy in RMIT’S new “Behavioural Capability Framework”?

Moments of true joyfulness are rare in adult life because with age we seem to lose the ability to live fully in the moment. We are generally too mindful to abandon ourselves completely, at least without the aid of drugs.

But we can still recognise pure joy when we see it in dogs and small children.

When the poodle-cross hits the beach she is completely beside herself. Maddened by delight she’s running, barking, digging, jumping and dashing back to bite our feet all at once.

She radiates the same gleeful feeling as she sticks her head out the car window ears streaming in the wind as we hurtle headlong into a new day.

And with a dog as your witness what’s not too enjoy?

a muse on emus

The road is long and, it must be said, not particularly winding from Melbourne to Dubbo.

Traveling like so many during the Easter break, we managed to hold out until the still-flooded plains around Jerilderie.

I spy with my little eye … Ooh, look there’s an emu! And another, and another.

Clearly this was very fertile territory for the bird popularly assumed to be the avian emblem of Australia, but why do we hear so little about this distinctive native.

No one worries about emu facial disease, no one gets accosted by people in emu suits collecting for the wilderness foundation and emus have never once been cited as a reason to hold up a wind farm development.

There are no chocolate emus at Easter or larger-than-life emus in the essential tourist guide to gi-normous fibreglass landmarks. Even Ossie, the most celebrated big bird on Australian television, was an ostrich.

Sure there may be 600 gazetted places named after the emu, but how many of them are places you’d actually want to wind up?

Even the emu’s place on the national coat of arms seems to be prosaic than philosophic.

Accordingly to popular mythology it was chosen as a shield bearer because it can’t walk backwards. But how many birds can?

More likely it got the gig because it was the only creature of sufficient standing to counterbalance the kangaroo. Really, think about it – a koala would get tired having to hold all that weight above its head.

“Perhaps they got the job’, the driver suggests as we near Narrandera “because they are ‘armless!”

Ha! How very emusing.

carrot sticks

Spending an hour on patrol with a parking inspector is probably not everyone’s idea of a good time, but sometimes walking a mile in someone’s shoes helps provide perspective.

“It’s about sharing a finite resource,” my companion explained. “In attempting to change behaviour you can use the carrot or the stick. If I have a chance I will use the carrot. That’s why I make all my notes and take my photos before I hit print – to give people that few extra minutes to get back to the vehicle. There’s no point in being a total prick about it.”

Exactly! Just why are we are so hellbent on trying to achieve compliance through punishment?

Like when was the last time someone was actually fined for allowing their dog to poo on the pavement? It’s ridiculous. You virtually have to catch the dog in the act, then collar it to read the rego tag because – being a wanton lawbreaker – it’s hardly going to tell you its real name and address.

But bureaucrats in one Taiwanese city did recently dramatically improve pavement sanitation by rewarding with lottery tickets people who handed in bags of dog doo.

In another trial scheme in Sweden, fines collected from speeding motorists were pooled in a lottery for those captured on the same speed camera actually obeying the limits.

Just as inducements can work to reduce the numbers of people transgressing rules, they can also be used to encourage growth, as Macedon Ranges Council recently demonstrated by rewarding a Woodend vet clinic with a rate cut for creating jobs.

Bring on the carrots.

not so trivial pursuit

Hip, hip hooray! It’s 50 years since Australia’s first coin-op laundromat – set up by former American WWII vet David Cameron – opened in Melbourne

It’s a fact of the rare and lesser-spotted variety – so obscure you won’t even find it in the local version of Trivial Pursuit.

Indeed you may wonder how I even know, much less why anyone would care.

Yet discovering that it’s a commemorative occasion for the coin-op made my heart skip. It’s just the kind of thing a gal needs to hear when she’s about to pitch a day in the life of a laundrette as her best story idea and risks being hung out to dry by the editor.

One little factet and suddenly spinning a sordid yarn about other people’s dirty laundry had become a serious examination of social history, a thesis of sorts.

It’s the all-time best thing about journalism – the weird and unexpected things that come out in the wash.

Not a day goes by when you don’t learn something astonishing.

Like the frequency with which people leave their false teeth on trains or how much greenhouse gas is emitted by the average cremation.

Ditto spending the best part of half an hour listening to someone talk about bagpipes, for example, may sound like a headache. But knowledge is power, especially in a household always so divided during the now-traditional Anzac Day AFL match.

Hence my little jig when I learned you can’t play the Essendon theme song on the bagpipes very well because the great Scottish instrument has only nine notes. But Good Old Collingwood Forever translates brilliantly.

Now that’s what I call paying the piper and calling the tune.

of mice and men: a horror story

Living in what might euphemistically be described as a renovator’s delight, the first cold wet snap of the year spells R – A – T.

On account of the fact we have a few shrubs out front, we’ll call it a bush rat.

Privately, I call him Ben because there are just the two of us locked in this battle, the man of the house being in complete denial. “It’s a mouse”, insists he.

Last year, about this time, the dog bailed Ben up in the Tupperware cupboard.

Managing to wrestle him into a plastic water jug and slam on the lid, I marched upstairs to wave the furiously scrambling beast under the partner’s nose. You call that a mouse?

Admitting nothing, he just calmly inquired: “Now what are you going to do with it?”

Good question! “Ben, most people would turn you away …” I, on the other hand, stomped three kilometres down the road and released him in a nice council reserve.

Now, he’s baaack!

Having tried unsuccessfully to purchase snake poo and discovered “humane traps” are actually for ensnaring gullible people who believe any rodent with half a brain would be caught dead entering a repurposed dolls’ house through a “rat flap”, it was time for aromatherapy.

Mixing 100ml of peppermint oil with equal parts of water, I squirted window frames, gaps in floorboards, across benchtops, under doors, behind bookshelves till the place smelled like a Tic Tac factory.

Then I waited. It wasn’t long before the first casualty staggered downstairs, coughing and blinking.

“What are you doing? My eyes are stinging, I can’t breathe,” gasps he.

WARNING: This all-natural product may repel husbands.