#71 Research Weather Vanes

Browsing through the back pages of a gardening magazine recently, I came across a dazzling and tempting advertisement for weather vanes.

Now over my lifetime, these roof/garden accessories have never really occupied my thoughts. They’re nowhere near as vital as, say, a capacious water tank, nor as obsessively absorbing as a rain gauge.

But due to the power of advertising, I looked longingly at these beautiful fripperies and began to hanker after a weather vane for my own little pitched roof.

And so began the journey to

#71 Research Weather Vanes

This activity has thrown up so many questions.

  • How long have weather vanes been around?
  • Who purchases them?
  • Are they in any way useful?
  • Now I’m wandering the streets around home looking for them, how many have I missed over the years? (In short, every one of them)
  • Why are there so many roosters on weather vanes?

This little cutie’s just a block away from home, and yet I’d NEVER spotted it!

Also known as wind vanes (which is a more logical title, bearing in mind the point of the arrow can only tell you where the wind’s coming from) it’s claImed they were invented over 2000 years ago by the Chinese and the Greeks, who independently arrived at the idea.

The Greeks love to say that their design was first, but I’d give bragging rights to the Chinese, as theirs was documented in 139 BC, a full 89 years ahead of the bronze Triton built atop the Tower of the Winds in Athens.

And despite it being the wealthy Greeks and Romans who adorned their homes with wind vanes in the shape of ancient gods, the term ‘vane’ is not a variant of ‘vain’ at all, but comes from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘fane’ meaning wind.

It does seem that they have little functional purpose for most domestic homes, but now I’m on the hunt for them, they’re the prettiest, most eye catching little adornments on a roof you’ll ever see. If you actually notice them.

Another one I’ve blindly walked past numerous times over 27 years

This brings me to the rooster question. I’m beginning to spot so many of these birds that I’ve lost my child-like excitement at finding another vane and feel disappointed if it’s a boring old rooster cut from the same template.

There are two theories for the prevalence of roosters. The first is that in the 9th century, Pope Nicholas 1 ordered their image be placed on every church steeple to remind the congregation of Peter’s thrice betrayal of Jesus (before the cock crowed). The second theory is that the tail is the perfect shape to catch the wind.

I have a third theory. If you’ve ever owned a rooster, you’ll know that they think their rightful place is on top.

It was pleasing to come across another vane nearby that didn’t bother with the rooster theme, though…

Yes. Another one close by that I’ve never noticed before [sigh].


Then I spotted a weather vane on our city’s railway station tower as I was hurtling along the Sydney to Melbourne freeway.  It’s a big one, befitting such a building and I wish I had a camera with a telephoto lens to better see the design.

Almost the cause of a multi-car pile up on the M31

This led to a friend telling me that our Post Office tower also has one. As I first moved to Albury in 1978, this would make it, oh, 40 years during which I’ve managed to not notice it. D’oh.

The ball on top is simple, but the N-S-E-W takes the prize for artistry


One of the problems with weather vanes is that because they’re on the roof, they aren’t convenient to watch. It’d be just as easy to step outside and rotate your face through 360º to feel which way the wind is blowing.

Enter my Bunnings buddy, a peerless innovator and inventor, who’s designed the cleverest system to see the direction of the wind while the family sits in the living room.

With a wire and lever rig that’s way beyond my intellect to understand, let alone explain, he’s connected his roof’s weather vane down through the wall cavity into the living room so that a lever moves every time the vane does:

Here are three positions photographed to show how the lever moves. 

But there’s more genius to this device. The lever has been cleverly attached to the back of a 3-D bird on a water colour painting of his property (done by the very talented estate cartographer, @catherineo’neilldesign) hanging on the wall, such that as the lever moves with the wind on the rooftop weather vane, so does the bird in the painting. 

Can you believe this …?

It’s breathtaking in its beauty and cleverness. But quite scary the first time you visit my Bunnings buddy’s home.  Seeing the bird move out the corner of your eye is akin to being in a haunted house where the eyes of an Old Master’s portrait flick about … watching, watching.

And the weather vane to which this marvellous device and painting is attached?

A bespoke masterpiece he designed, of course:


Now that I’ve returned to the gardening magazine ads that set me on this adventure, I’ve realised that vanes featuring icons like a cockerel, a ball or a bird are way too prosaic.

I’m going to have to design a vane that befits my home and my life.

Perhaps something like this one I mocked up on the computer …?

 

 

#70 Commission a Bespoke Design for the Garden Shed

About five years ago, I snapped up a small garden shed at Aldi’s during the two-and-a-half day window they allow you to grab any must-have-item-you-didn’t-know-you-needed before they move on to their next set of specials and you’ve lost your chance.

(Aldi’s specials are so reminiscent of the rotating magical land at the top of Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree. You never know if you’ll find the Land of Goodies, replete with tins of biscuits and chocolates, or Dame Slap’s School where bins spill over with lycra, gym equipment and barbells.)

Anyway, when this particular Land of Desirable Garden Equipment arrived, I was seduced by the kit shed and phrases written on the box like ‘easily assembled’ and ‘few tools required’, so I brought it home to put together over an afternoon.

Three gruelling days over Easter later, and after calling in a friend who’d once built the ‘Taj Mahal’ for his chickens, four of us actually followed the instruction sheets …

(… a stunning achievement on its own)

… and completed the task. Most satisfying.

                                                                    A sturdy little fellow

But despite loving it for the last few years for being so useful, I wasn’t able to get rid of the feeling that it was a little … plain?

So last year, when an artistic friend came to visit for a few days, we made a deal.

I’d

#70 Commission a Bespoke Design for the Garden Shed 

which she’d plan and execute, and in return I’d cook all her favourite meals for the duration.

                                                                      Preparing the templates

I messed up badly, though. Against her advice (artists must DESPAIR of some of their clients), I chose bright blue, water soluble paint for the background, thinking it would look like the sky on a hot summer’s day. But after cleaning and prepping and masking the shed, then applying the first coat, it was obvious this particular blue was more reminiscent of the eye-watering gaudiness of Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

Luckily, before we progressed any further, it began to rain, the water-soluble paint sloughed off and so the idea was shelved for another day, another season.

I slowly stripped it back, before repainting it with a dark green oil-based paint ready for its proper makeover, some day in the future.

                                                                 Looking better already 

Recently, when my talented visitor returned, she made good on her promise.

Watching the evolution of a work of art is inspiring, from first seeing it look like Banksy was indulging in some artistic graffiti using the pre-prepared templates …

… to the meticulous application of the paint…

…to the final masterpiece, and the knowledge that I now have the best bespoke-designed little garden shed in the village!

Five years in the making, but don’t all great things take time?

Thank you so much @province_

 

#69 Outsource Your Blog to a House Guest

“Greetings all,

I was lying contentedly at the Blogger’s feet the other day – I’ve been holidaying with her and the skinny dog while my humans are cycling around Europe – when I heard her muttering that it would be slim pickings on outsidethesquare101 this month because she hadn’t done anything exciting.

I lifted my head in surprise. Nothing exciting? Who was she kidding? She’d had my company for starters.

Why don’t you, I suggested,

#69 Outsource Your Blog to a House Guest

Like me!

She looked sceptical at first, until I reminded her that she’d introduced me to new, exciting smells and that I’d challenged her to exercise more (there’s a reason she’s known as the Blogger, rather than the Jogger).

I added some intense staring for good measure  …

and before long, she was putty in my hands.

So, by way of introduction, the name’s Otto.

I believe I was called after the famed 10th century German king, Otto the Great.

The more prosaic rumour – that it was because my humans love the Italian language and I’m the eighth dog the family has owned – is nothing short of mischievous scuttlebutt.

Legend has it that my fearless father was a Border Collie who was never meant to meet my mother, let alone … well, you know.

Fences and distance were no barrier to him though, for who could resist the allure of the gorgeous golden retriever-poodle cross, living on the adjacent farm? A little over two months after their accidental meeting, their tiny bundle of joy arrived.

                                                                                 …mini me

Which I believe makes me a Border Groodle, a hitherto little-known breed. And being a combination of the two most intelligent dogs in the world (as rated in every single dog survey ever published) AND the best family-friendly dog known to mankind, you can see how I lucked in from the very beginning.

Add to that my perfect deportment, and I’m pretty irresistible.

As I mentioned, I’m sharing digs with the skinny dog, too. He’s a strange little thing who seems to feel the cold. Very quiet most of the time, but when we’re lying outside and the sun moves, he gives this high pitched bark, and the Blogger rushes out to move his bean bag back into the sun. Talk about spoiled!

And now the silly boy thinks that if the sun goes behind a cloud, he can bring it back with his squeaky bark.

I’ve been having a bit of fun with him lately, ‘cos although we get on well, I can easily put him off his game. If I half-stretch across a doorway, it spooks him out, what with me being a properly proportioned dog and he needing to run around in the shower just to get wet. So he won’t walk past me.

The other night, when he was too sooky to go around me to get outside, he ended up piddling on the Blogger’s best Persian rug.  Did I laugh!

Of course, she just petted him as she mopped it up and told him it wasn’t his fault. Grr! 

So smug on his velvet cushion

And I have no idea how a dog that gets fed three times a day stays so skinny. I’m only allowed one meal at night – you couldn’t call the pitiful handful of kibble I get in the morning a meal – and yet I never lose weight. So unfair.

But I digress. We’ve all three been having some marvellous adventures because the Blogger takes us out twice a day for walks and ball chases and manages to find lots of new places to explore.

First, we went to a park she called by a funny Welsh-sounding name like ‘Adogoffleash’ park where even the skinny dog was let loose.  Apparently he’s never to be trusted off his lead out on the street. Unlike Yours Truly.

It was a foggy morning, not another dog was in sight and we had a ball (if you’ll pardon the pun).

                                                                                              Magical!

Then we went to another place with water and fish and humans on cycles (but not my humans [sigh]) called ‘horseshoelagoon’ and it was so exciting I forgot to let go of my ball and carried it the whole way!


There were cultural outings, of course, which were enjoyably interactive.  I managed to leave my mark at the base of every one of the gorgeous sculptures on this particular walk, so that other visitors with the correct olfactory skills would know that “OTTO WAS HERE”.


But best of all was when I introduced the Blogger and skinny dog to the sights of the city from on high. She did agree when we were at the top that the vista was superb.

I can’t believe they’d never been up to Nail Can Hill before. I’ve got to say she coped surprisingly well going up Hernia Hill, but it was a tad embarrassing for skinny dog and me as she was trying to come down.

As all these fit young runners in their activewear skipped down the steep inclines, looking supremely sure-footed, the Blogger – let’s just say she crouched down and went for a very low centre-of-gravity method of descent, pretending she was inspecting the wild flowers if someone passed. Mortifying!

No doubt about it,  we knew we had the world at our feet.

And my rating of this holiday resort? Definitely five stars.

Hope I can come back again.

Cheerio for now,

Otto”

#68 Become a [virtual] Plane Spotter

Among the myriad advantages of living in a regional city (think smaller mortgages, houses with real gardens, bushland close by, a ‘rush hour’ known as a ‘rush couple-of-minutes’, and proximity to a Bunnings or a Spotlight) is that the airport is situated thoughtfully close to town. Which was the impetus for my latest activity:

#68 Become a [virtual] Plane Spotter

My home is under a flight path, which isn’t as bad as it sounds. Smallish planes might go over a few times a day depending on the prevailing wind direction. They’re like comfort food as I look up and think, ‘Ah good, the 4.50pm from Sydney’s running on time. All’s well with the world.’ 

Recently, a Local Council newsletter advised us of a website called ‘flightaware‘ where all the comings and goings of aeroplanes into, out of, or over Albury can be followed in real time.

By visiting this site it’s possible to explore the once secret and sometimes silent world above us. That white streak in the distant sky or the plane coming in overhead to land can be identified and followed without leaving home. (And I thought online jigsaw puzzles were a marvellous way to waste time.)

All this activity above us, all the time. Who knew? 

And by clicking on any one of these tiny icons, it’s possible to find out anything you want to know about that particular plane. Its origins, who owns it, where its travelling to, if it’s on time. It’s like Facebook for planes.

But more exciting than this is the chance to track planes on their descent into Albury Airport, watching their blue icons get closer and closer to their destination before the little aeroplane blip suddenly – poof! – disappears.

The distant roar of the engines thrusting into reverse tells me it’s landed safely.

Flights are not always as straightforward as you’d expect them to be, though. What, for example, was this pilot up to in the first few minutes after he left Albury? 

                                                                               Wouldn’t you love to know. Specs left at home?


Recently, while I was doing some virtual plane spotting on my iPad in the kitchen, I noticed that three planes, a Rex, a Qantas and a Virgin, all from Sydney, were coming in at about the same time. The battle that ensued in the air for pole position was quite mesmerising.

Straightforward at first, the three blue planes are all lined up, Rex leading across the Hume Weir (which I now realise looks surprisingly like a whale’s tail), followed by Qantas then Virgin …

… spaced perfectly so they’ll arrive in sequence.


But wait! Qantas takes a quick turn left – heading backwards! Oh no, he’s ceding second place to Virgin.


In an instant, though, it changes again. Virgin loses confidence in her position and takes a quick turn to her right – also heading backwards – to leave the chequered flag for Rex, no competition!


Once Rex lands and his blip disappears, it turns into a tussle between Virgin and Qantas for second spot as they appear to do aerial acrobatics. 

Don’t ask me what this is all about, but surely someone needs to look at the scheduling timetable if it’s this messy to get them all in safely.                                                    By now, Qantas has totally lost the plot. He’s coming in a distant third


But apart from the sporting aspects of virtual plane spotting, there are some very practical advantages too.

If I’m going out to the airport to pick up any incoming passengers, I can see well ahead of time if their plane has left its destination as expected.

AND, I can time my departure from home so that my seven minute car journey to the airport begins when the blue blip of my passengers’ plane indicates it’s exactly seven minutes away from the airport. Needless to say, it’s taken some time and complex calculations to work out where, exactly, the plane’s sweet spot is. Oh, the satisfaction when we both arrive at Albury airport simultaneously.

No more having to pay the Council parking fees at the airport should I be left hanging around waiting because the plane was running late.

Hang on a minute. Maybe Council should have thought this through before they let us in on the secret…

#67 Rediscover Jigsaw Puzzles

Following a recent posting on this site about investigating a mystery, a friend told me about Mystery Jigsaws.

As I’d recently set up a new jigsaw puzzle in the living room, this was interesting news. To think I’d reached retirement age without ever knowing that all jigsaws aren’t made to the same formula. The mystery ones, apparently, provide a murder scenario where completing the picture provides the solution – or at least gives you further clues needed to solve it. Sounds intriguing.

My friend has promised to loan me one of hers once I’ve completed the behemoth that is crowding out my home at the moment.

But this news got me thinking about whether there are different ways to enjoy doing jigsaws.

#67 Rediscover Jigsaw Puzzles

Because unless you live in a multi-roomed mansion, they really are quite unwieldy and space-hogging.

This view of what’s happening at the moment will show you what I mean (and I had to move it from the living room onto a bed and crowd it all together just to fit it into this panoramic shot).

First, there’s the large board – backed with non-slip material – needed to support the emerging puzzle, then the almost-as-large, also non-slip board to house the pieces that are still homeless, plus the inverted lid for further leftover or special pieces and of course the all important lid photograph to help with identification and placement.

It’s the stuff of nightmares if the living room has to be reclaimed when visitors arrive.

And don’t get me started on the risks of losing pieces and never being able to complete the final picture to your complete satisfaction. Or the discomfort of bending forward in an extremely uncomfortable position whenever you work on it. Or the horror possibility of the dog jumping on the boards and scattering pieces as he romps around. (Yes, he did.)

Not to mention that French puzzle I tried to complete during the Olympics. It not only had the last piece missing, but gave me a duplicate bit I didn’t need, instead!

Who’s ever seen this before?

But I may have found a solution to all these problems.

After a visit to the App Store, I downloaded this for iPad:

Does this mean there are ‘adult-friendly’ jigsaw puzzles? Ooh…

If 8.92K users score it 4.5 stars, it must be pretty good.

And it is.

Its maximum size is 550 pieces – but they can be rotated to increase the degree of difficulty – and you scroll up and down in the side panels with a flick of your fingers before dragging the required piece into place, beginning, as usual, with the borders.

AND you can change the background to suit your picture, choosing from an assortment of colours available. From this:

…to this …

to the boring, but easier-on–the-eyes:

AND, if you click on the round icon at the bottom of the screen, you can simultaneously view the whole picture while you’re solving the puzzle. The image can be dragged and positioned so it’s never in the way:

 

AND, by upgrading the app for a few dollars, you can use your own photos to create jigsaws, which also removes the advertisements. (That’s Oddies Creek, above, near home) .

NO missing pieces, NO extra pieces, COMPLETELY transportable, NO back strain, NO space restraints and NO dog incidents. And did I mention the satisfying ‘click’ you hear when a piece fits into place?

AND you get a gold star when you complete it!

Something rather unexpected has happened, though.

Waiting endlessly for doctors’ appointments, for late trains, or for fog-delayed planes is such a pleasure now.

 

#66 Sing in a Karaoke Choir

According to a study published in The Conversation last year, a shared song – “our song” – is the musical glue that binds friends and lovers. And because neuroimaging research shows that music provides a “super stimulus” for the brain, a spot of group singing with good friends would be a no-brainer, surely?

However, despite an ability to read music and play the piano, I cannot, to save my life, sing in tune.

But what if I could perform in a choir, accompanied by the original artist? Mightn’t my tuneless warblings be drowned out in such a scenario? Couldn’t I pretend that I, too had a voice?

#66 Sing in a Karaoke Choir 

Fortunately, I have a small cinema at home –  called Cinema X –  that can double up as a tiny auditorium if needed. It has lovely views over the garden when the dark curtains are drawn back, allowing light in. Ideal for a spot of communal singing.

There’s a large television in the room, and because a clever young person showed me how to ‘cast’ from my iPad to the screen using a special connection, it’s possible to find any artist on YouTube and project it onto the television. The excellent surround sound is an added bonus.

So all I needed now was a willing choir. And a program.

Enter my friends from Discovery Group. We’ve been meeting regularly for years now, and each month we try out a new activity.

All I’d have to do was ask each person who was able to attend to provide me with a list of their two or three all-time favourite songs and bingo, we’d have a program.

Hmm. Easier said than done.

Many found it extremely difficult to limit their favourites to a mere three songs, so the lists I began to receive via email grew … and grew … and grew.

Fortunately, one of the musical members agreed to take on the role of choir director, so the two of us pondered and culled and collated and listened to YouTube offerings until at last, our program was complete:

It may be possible to guess our ages from the play list. Not a Beyoncé song to be heard…


Well, we had a ball, though you’ll notice that all the participant’s identities have been hidden to protect the innocent.

Some songs we belted out with gusto, like the Shirelles ‘Will You Still Love me, Tomorrow?”

Our musical director took her duties seriously, baton and all

And some, like Don MacLean’s Vincent, we sang very gently, wiping our eyes surreptitiously along the way:

Click on the arrow if you’re game

We’re itching to do it again, when all our Discovery friends are available to come.

There was a lot to learn, of course, like avoiding keys that were way out of our comfort zone (looking at you, Nick Cave), or songs that were a tad too slow, or not well enough loved.

Next time, with this practice session under our belt, we’ll be even better, we’re sure.

And I learned that do-re-mi is a very good place to start and that Julie Andrews is a great teacher.

Anyone who can help me sound vaguely in tune gets my vote.

 

 

#65 Fulfil Youthful Desires

Driving to a friend’s property recently, jolting over gravel roads and rutted country tracks, I recalled his youthful desire to ‘live in a house at the end of a long dirt track, at the end of a long dirt road’.

Good for him, I thought. Because although his choice wouldn’t be mine, he’d managed to satisfy a decades-old, primal urge and achieve his dream. It’s not a bad idea to decide what you really want in life and go for it.

#65 Fulfil Youthful Desires

Of course, reality and the compromises of adulthood means these desires sometimes have to be achieved in less straightforward ways, and often take longer than planned.


I grew up, as many of us probably did, thinking that if we could just sneak back into our bedrooms quietly enough, we’d discover our toys had sprung to life and were all playing together. Not unlike Andy’s assorted pals in Toy Story.

I remember desperately wanting my beloved Teddy, in particular, to come to life.

but alas, my footfall must have been too heavy 

Even today, Teddy sits next to my sister’s bear for company in the hope that, one day when my back is turned….

But it wasn’t until I was in my early thirties, that I discovered the next best thing to teddy bears.

Dogs.

They really are like your favourite soft toy come to life.

First there was Molly, the black spaniel, who I inherited accidentally. She seemed to love me instantly, but had no time for anyone else, apart from my mother. When we discovered in her latter years that she had shotgun pellets scattered throughout her body, her general lack of trust and dislike of men in particular, made complete sense.

Then there was Topsy, the short-haired border collie. She became so famous that my sister penned an ode about her, that began,

Topsy is our border collie
Chasing cars her greatest folly
Once she caught a pickup truck
A stroke of unexpected luck…

And now I have my quiet, somewhat independent whippet who scored an entire blog posting last October. All of them wonderful in their own better-than-a-teddy-bear way.


What impressionable child didn’t long for a Secret Garden after reading Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel of the same name? A walled-in, hidden garden known only to a robin (swoon), locked for years by a father with a broken heart (double swoon) that eventually unlocks the secret to good health and happiness for all who labour there.

Several years ago, when my house-block gained an extra little wing (like an upside down L), my green-thumbed neighbour, Anna, had a very clever idea.

Neglected and a bit bleak before Anna saw its potential.

Why not create a garden of fruit trees, and vegetables, and flowers for bees, hidden between the back of our houses? In an area so secret, it was visible and accessible to no-one but us.

While Anna has moved on to bigger and better gardens, her legacy remains.

And without a doubt, my secret garden opens the gates to contentment.

Glimpsing tranquility


When I first visited the city I now live in, nearly forty years ago, I fell in love with its autumn colours and in particular, a tree whose leaves were of such vibrant intensity that they seemed to be on fire.

‘That’s the tree I’m going to plant one day,’ I promised myself, ‘when I have a garden of my own’.

So different to the colours of the city of my childhood, with its grey pall, bitter winds and horizontal rain. (Think Narnia, but without the charm of snow)

Screen Shot 2018-05-24 at 3.38.42 pm

…the tree of my dreams, the rhus

Fast forward twenty years when I finally had my own home with the ability to plant anything, anywhere.

But in the intervening period, the desired tree of younger years had turned into the devil incarnate:

Thwarted, I meekly gave up.

Then someone mentioned that the crab apple tree had wonderful blossoms and great autumn colours, so I planted one and waited excitedly for the first year’s display. It was deeply disappointing, with leaves much more akin to pale yellow flames than a roaring furnace.

Next came the persimmon tree …  

Attractive, yes, and definitely warmer than the crab apple, but still it didn’t meet the remembered beauty of the forever-out-of-reach rhus tree.

Until …

Why not plant a Japanese Maple, reputed to have flaming red foliage in autumn?

And lo! It came to pass that in the autumn of 2018, my long held desire sprang to life.

Take that, rhus tree!