Bloody Woolworths Homeshop!

How in God’s name can you be out of bloody frozen chooks? I mean, it’s not like you have to regularly order limited stock and promote rapid turnover to prevent the produce going fowl (did you see what I did there hmm?). It’s bloody frozen, it’ll keep for months. There really is no excuse to be short of frozen produce in my opinion.

Safeway Homeshop is Crap….Really.

Online shopping works if it works, if you follow me. My point is that shopping online and having it delivered to my door, is a useful concept and one I’m sure is vital for many. Notwithstanding the obvious benefits to those unable to physically visit a supermarket, the very fact that this mundane chore is removed, is brilliant. Cup of tea in one hand, mouse in the other and not a single jobsworth checking your bags and pockets on your way out, what’s not to like about online shopping?

The Australian Pizza

It would be pure folly to even attempt to explain the train of thought which eventually led to the Australia-shaped pizza but it was fun, if only for me.

I needed an image that I could manipulate, particularly it’s size, without losing quality. I immediately assumed that this was a job for the indomitable Photoshop with which I have little skill and even less patience to learn and so I enquired on a number of graphics-related discussion fora.

Australia shaped pizza
A pizza shaped like Australia! Struth!

The initial response was “make your own” and unsurprisingly, “Pizza Hut” received an honorary mention but eventually, the more mature creative minds offered some useful advice regarding likely candidates and methods for accomplishing the task. However, I would prefer to shave my backside with a blunt, rusty razor and slide down an embankment of nettles on my arse than get to grips with Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro or Corel Draw and not just because I can’t be arsed but more due to the expense involved to use legitimate licensed software.

According to my research, none of the umpteen pizzerias in Bendigo do an Australia-shaped pizza. It would have been simpler to order, photograph and eat. So, even though I [rolleyes]’d at the original, seemingly unhelpful fora replies, I found myself actually making my own rustic pizza. I’m glad I did.

Pizza is incredibly simple to make and there’s no reason why everyone who likes pizza, shouldn’t be able to make their own. In fact, learning to DIY will not only save you money but you’ll appreciate them more as they taste so much nicer than their commercial cousins.

The Dough

2 Cups of plain flour (bread flour if you have it)

3/4 Cup of warm water

1 tsp of salt

1 tsp sugar

2 tbls olive oil

7/8 gms yeast (usually 1 packet)

Sauce and toppings of your choice

Add yeast to warm water.

Mix dry ingredients together in a bowl. Add water and yeast mix and the olive oil. Mix and knead into a ball until slightly sticky. Add more flour too sticky or water if too dry. Little olive oil wiped around the bottom part of the bowl. Drop ball of dough in, cover with cellophane wrap and leave somewhere warm to rise.

Once risen by about 50%, remove and flatten on a lightly floured surface. If you can flatten to about 3-5 mm by hand, great. My dough was so elastic that I struggled even with a rolling pin.

Top with the sauce and your preferred toppings. Bake at 2.20 fan assisted, higher for regular.

The result might not look particularly appetizing but my children loved it!

Now, don’t forget that this produced an edible pizza, ultimately for creating the Australia shape. What it certainly has done is inspire me to learn how to make a great pizza and in due course, I will be posting updates using new dough recipes, sauces and methods, while I experiment to find my favourite combo.

There are hundreds of dough variations and a confusing amount of cooking methods but before I even begin, I am going to guess that the winner will be the humble cheese and tomato Margarita. Second place will probably go to a slightly richer calzone with pepperoni.

This is what I am aiming for…

A great looking pizza
The perfect pizza base!










Anyway, stay tuned and I will share what I find.

Beware the Butcher of Bendigo

Bendigo dog owners are rightly outraged and more than a little disturbed with the knowledge that a sick, sociopathic miscreant is skulking in the shadows, ready to pounce on their beloved pets. The depraved thug is known to be responsible for the callous and brutal slaughter of at least a dozen local dogs including an entire litter of puppies which were bludgeoned to death.

If the thought of an animal serial killer on the loose does little to stir any compassion, take into consideration the very real links between animal and human violence. Many researchers have found that a history of animal violence indicates a high propensity for interpersonal violence. Put simply, those who abuse animals usually move on to human victims. That said, not all animal abusers become serial killers but most serial killers began their killing ‘career’ with animals.

One of the known warning signs of certain psychopathologies, including antisocial personality disorder, is a history of torturing pets and small animals. According to the New York Times:

“the FBI has found that a history of cruelty to animals is one of the traits that regularly appears in its computer records of serial rapists and murderers, and the standard diagnostic and treatment manual for psychiatric and emotional disorders lists cruelty to animals as a diagnostic criterion for conduct disorders.” and “A survey of psychiatric patients who had repeatedly tortured dogs and cats found all of them had high levels of aggression toward people as well.”

This is a commonly reproduced finding and for this reason, violence (including sexually oriented violence) towards animals, is considered a serious warning sign of potential serious violence towards humans. The following are a few examples:

  • Russell Weston Jr. tortured and killed 12 cats, by burning, cutting their tails, paws and ears off, put toxic chemicals in their eyes, blinding them, forcing them to eat poison, hanging them from trees; the noose loose enough to create a slow and painful death, as the cat/kitten struggles to free itself as the noose gets tighter with each attempt. Later killed 2 police officers at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC.
  • Jeffery Dahmer loved to dissect animals (he learned this in school). Later he dissected boys and kept their body parts in the refrigerator. He murdered 17 men.
  • Albert De Salvo, the Boston Strangler, would place a dog and cat in a crate with a partition between them. After starving the animals for several days, he would remove the partition and watch them kill each other. He raped and killed 13 women by strangulation. He would often pose the bodies in a shocking manner after their murders.
  • In 1998 in Springfield, Oregon 15-year-old Kip Kinkel set a live cat on fire and dragged the innocent creature through the main street of town. He walked into his high school cafeteria and opened fire on his classmates. Two classmates were killed and 22 others injured, four critically. Later that day, police found his parents shot to death in their home.
  • Edmund Emil Kemper III, who murdered his mother and 7 other women, was known to abuse cats and dogs.
  • Carol Edmund Cole, who murdered 35 people, admitted that his first violent act was strangling a puppy.
  • Eleven-year-old Andrew Golden and 13-year-old Mitchell Johnson tortured and killed dogs. A friend of Golden stated that he shoots dogs all the time with a .22. In 1998, in Jonesboro, Arkansas, Golden and Johnson shot and killed four students and one teacher during a fire drill at their school.
  • Richard Allen Davis set numerous cats on fire. He killed all of Polly Klaus’ animals before abducting and murdering Polly Klaus, aged 12, from her bedroom.
  • The 10 year olds Robert Thompson and John Venables, who killed toddler Jamie Bulger had a history of violence towards animals.

Despite the historical recognition of the link between cruelty to animals and violence toward humans, law enforcement agencies, the courts, and social service agencies have, until recently, ignored the well established connection.

  • A survey of pet-owning families with substantiated child abuse and neglect found that animals were abused in 88 percent of homes where child physical abuse was present (DeViney, Dickert, & Lockwood, 1983).
  • A study of women seeking shelter at a safe house showed that 71 percent of those having pets affirmed that their partner had threatened, hurt or killed their companion animals, and 32 percent of mothers reported that their children had hurt or killed their pets (Ascione, 1998).
  • Still another study showed that violent offenders incarcerated in a maximum security prison were significantly more likely than non-violent offenders to have committed childhood acts of cruelty toward pets (Merz-Perez, Heide, & Silverman, 2001).
  • An English researcher found that 83% of families reported for animal abuse also had children listed at high risk of abuse or neglect.

There is also support for the hypothesis that cruelty to animals may be linked to other mental disorders. It can also be an indication that other forms of abuse are also occurring in the home, such as child or spousal abuse. If that wasn’t enough, Schedel-Stupperich (2001) state that some animal abuse incidences have a sexual connotation, and in general, the link between sadistic sexual acts with animals and sadistic practices with humans or lust murders is well known.

Some murderers tortured animals in their childhood, with some of them also practicing bestiality. Ressler et al. (1988) found that 36% of sexual murderers described themselves as having abused animals during childhood, with 46% of them reporting that they had abused animals during adolescence, and that 8 of their sample of 36 sexual murderers showed an interest in zoosexual acts.

So with this in mind, I wonder how Bendigo Police and the local authorities are treating this case? Given the limited intelligence associated with such depraved people, I wouldn’t expect the perpetrator to possess the ability to turn on and use a computer, let alone read this blog.

But should he (and I’m putting money on it being a ‘he’) somehow overcome these debilitating obstacles and find himself reading this……You are obviously deeply disturbed and I would strongly suggest you seek urgent psychiatric help before these cowardly acts escalate into a ‘career’ involving human victims, who incidentally, will most certainly fight back.

Aussie ski lift prices highest in world

Taking a family vacation to the mountains in order to sample the Winter sports on offer, is going to be an expensive choice this season. Skiing has never been the first choice for budget holiday-makers but Europeans should consider themselves fortunate with the price they pay for their lift passes considering the latest survey by the Australian Alpine Club.

Australian ski lift prices are now the highest in the world, according to an annual survey by the Australian Alpine Club. “The inconvenient truth is that Australian ski lift prices are now more expensive than those in even the most exclusive resorts in Europe and North America,” said Australian Alpine Club President Ian Farrow.

The full article can be found here. The World Lift Ticket Price Report 2008 does go some way to put this in perspective, as the above article doesn’t take into account numerous other factors.

That's me that is!

Nevertheless, skiing is an expensive option in family vacations but should be tried at least once. If you catch the bug, you will certainly find ways to ensure regular trips to the mountains, whether you hock the family heirlooms, hock the children or simply and far less costly, leave your family at home.

A Year Down Under

More precisely, a year has passed since our move to Bendigo, Victoria. In fact the ‘move’ should really be termed an ’emigration’ as we traveled on a sponsored working visa with no intention of returning to British shores.

We arrived in a cold and windy Melbourne with the clothes on our back and what luggage we could carry and although tired from our 24 hour journey, we were ultimately excited at what lay ahead. As part of my wife’s relocation package, 2 adjoining rooms at the Hilton were booked and waiting for us as was an eight seat minibus the following morning. After a couple of hours of payment negotiating (they initially refused to accept a cash deposit rather than a credit card) and without so much as being pointed in the general direction of Bendigo, we loaded up and headed off.

The first thing that struck me after leaving Melbourne behind was the sheer expanse. From any higher ground you could see the bush for many miles. The open space and distance in between dwellings or any considerable urbanisation was surprising having played sardines for the past eighteen months in Southall, West London but it really shouldn’t have been. Everyone knows (or should) that the continent of Australia is bloody huge. In fact, the largest island on the planet is only very slightly smaller than the United States (pop. 301 million) with a population of under 20.5 million.

Bendigo is not hard to find once on the main highway out of Melbourne. It’s straight up the Calder Highway and takes approximately an hour and forty five minutes. It is actually a city but for anyone coming from the UK, it would probably resemble more a small town.

View from our cabin
View from our cabin

We stayed in some bush cabins away from town (sorry, the city) for the initial month while looking for a suitable long-term rental for our large family. Bendigo has a fair amount of property both in the city and out in the bush, rental and for sale but even though prices locally have noted a small drop they are generally rising to a point that local first-time buyers are struggling. Increasingly it’s Melbournites venturing inland who are snapping up properties which are vastly cheaper than Victoria’s capital city. Self-build seems to be very popular over here.

Having rented all my life, the one thing I particularly like about the rental system in Victoria ( I really can’t speak for the other states/territories) is the bond scheme. Your bond is payed at any bank or post office and deposited into the account of an independent third-party who keep it secure for you until the end of your lease. Provided there is no dispute, it is returned in full. In the event of a dispute, the case is heard by an independent body. We currently pay $270 (₤120) per week for a large four-bedroomed split-level house with garden and a separate mini-bungalow for guests/gym/rumpus etc, with the council tax included. In comparison, we paid ₤300 ($680) per week in Southall for a mid-terrace two-bedroomed house with a box room, no garden and extortionate council charges.

Having said that, it is probably wrong to compare the two as the respective cost of living is different. This was one aspect that we researched but the more we researched the more opinion seemed split. Personally, I would say that it is slightly higher here in Australia than the UK but I can afford more meat which is also of a higher quality. Swings and roundabouts will adequately describe the cost of living with some items cheaper and others more expensive and at the end of the day, if you survived in the UK, you will manage here too. Besides, we didn’t move here to make more money. We are actually earning much less but that is more than compensated by so many other aspects of life down under. You’ve probably heard that emigrating to Australia is a ‘lifestyle’ thing. That’s precisely what it is!

From the outdoor barbie culture to the laid back ‘fair go’ attitude, Australia has so much more. We are less than two hours from the beach and a major city even though Bendigo has practically everything you’d ever need. The mountains and all they offer, including skiing, are three hours by car and you only need to walk five minute to be immersed in the bush. I have taken up motorcycling and there’s not much more relaxing than discovering new roads and taking in the scenery. Trail riding is more popular and hardly surprising given the amount of land.

There is an abundance of flora and fauna if you take the time to look. Admittedly, I rarely get the chance to observe much of the detail while riding but it’s clean and quiet. It’s wise to take some precautions if you decide to trek out in the bush. Thankfully there are no sharks out in the bush but there are snakes and spiders and they’re not just confined to the bush. This is something that worries many thinking of a move here but the reality is that there is really very little to worry about. Toxic and venomous creatures do exist but you soon learn to live with the very remote possibility of being bitten. Provided you take simple precautions you should never lose a limb through necrotic arachnidism.

If there is anything that will bother you, it will be the bloody flies and other than ‘hoons‘, nothing annoys me more. They are not dangerous to my knowledge but they are more persistent than the most over-zealous and committed Jehovah’s Witness to ever grace your stoop. Both roos and wallabies (and wallaroos!)are broadly considered as vermin and are certainly a menace to motorists and motorcyclists. It’s not a unique experience to be leaning right into a bend at considerable speed only to be confronted but a couple of the beasts, nonchalantly loping across the road on the exit. Only luck has prevented my bright yellow bike from being redecorated with the guts of Australia’s national animal.

Bendigo is the most progressive city in Australia and there’s something for everyone. I was informed that it’s a great place to bring up kids and I have to agree. The schools are very good and children can walk to and from by themselves. It’s safe to let the older ones go the shop by themselves and the eldest loves the fact that he can go into town by himself, meet up with friends, go to the cinema and then a burger afterwards without any hint of a problem. There is so much to do outside of school or work and it often involves outdoor activity. There are numerous sports clubs for cricket, footy (Aussie rule football), footy (proper football called soccer here) basketball, netball, rugby, cycling, athletics, martial arts, fishing and much more. There are so many more clubs and societies catering for a myriad of hobbies and interests.

One of the many reasons we chose Victoria was it’s climate. Of all Australian destinations, Victoria’s climate is probably the closest you’ll get to the UK. Winters are wet and often cold but there are more warmer days and the Summer lasts longer. I’ve only been here thirteen months but from what I have noticed there are two seasons, Winter and the rest of the year. We are currently experiencing a severe drought and this coming Summer is predicted to be hotter and drier than last. Having spent last (UK) Summer in record temperatures of 38°, the initial shock of 42° during the ensuing Aussie Summer wasn’t so much to endure, especially given that it was a very dry heat. I have to admit that I was rather worried about pushing baby to and from the school to pick the little’uns twice a day but plenty of sun cream, water and a good pushchair sun cover helped to eliminate the sun if not the heat. A kindly neighbour even offered to pick them up in her air-conditioned car on a couple of incredibly hot days, which brings me nicely to the people.

More often than not, the average Aussie will be an instant mate and with very few exceptions, they have been friendly, approachable and very helpful in my experience, always willing to fire a ‘G’day’ in your direction. I have made numerous friends since my arrival, the vast majority of which are Australian but one or two Brits also. One thing I have noticed is that many British expats spend more time with other British expats and this is a curious trait of those from the British Isles that I have noticed in many of the countries I have had the pleasure of visiting. I know that especially during the initial period after a big move that it might be comforting to have others around you who have shared the experience of relocating a family to the other side of the planet and that being part of such a social network might make the transition smoother but until you integrate, I don’t believe you can really settle.

That’s just my opinion and is in no way meant to be a judgment of those who feel a need to stick with one’s own. We have always had to rely on ourselves with no help from family or close friends so I guess it’s second nature to be somewhat more resourceful or self-reliant under difficult conditions and being open to new cultures and traditions helps.

A somewhat less effective foray into integration and networking was establishing Bendigo Forums. The idea being that those considering relocating to the region will rely on the Internet for information and perhaps even discussion forums for ‘first-hand’ intelligence. If, like most, you arrive with all your worldly possessions and the proceeds from your recent property sale, then you’ll be laughing. If, on the other hand, you arrive with very little but a notion of starting a new life down under, a willingness to integrate and a desire to make it work, you will experience the best of yourself, the Australian culture and it’s people.

And so a year on, my wife has seemingly profited from the inability of her employer to retain staff (the reason they recruited her from the UK in the first place, I guess) and secured promotion. However, she is now expected to take on two or even three times the workload for very little financial gain in what is one of the most stressful jobs imaginable.

I am in the process of establishing my own web design business, while taking an increased responsibility for childcare and maintaining the house. Yes, it’s a struggle and we’re not yet in a position to save but I can honestly say there’s no place I’d rather be.

It’s been a hard but wonderful 2007 and I for one, look forward to an even better 2008!