The Mean Streets

What a good phrase that is: ” Mean Streets “. It suggests crime, edginess, dirt, poverty, vice, and distress – all the stuff you go on holiday to the Third World for. In my case I went to Melbourne.

You can’t get much meaner than free public transport, and if you are prepared to stay within the CBD of the city, you can ride their trams for free. Choose your time and route and you can be rewarded by overcrowding and public odours. Stay on the tram long enough and you can provide that odour yourself.

If you venture out a little bit on the tram you can select corridors of grot like Fitzroy to do your sightseeing. If your taste runs to hipster cafés and drinking holes plus crap shops and /or public housing, this is your paradise. The denizens are startling but harmless. The food is actually edible, and there can even be surprisingly good stationers and book stores in the main streets.

But there are any number of corners and places that suggest that things are dirtier and more useless than they really need to be. In a city that is always looking for better housing and shopping, it is surprising that this sort of remnanterie can still exist. Served as it is by transport, sitting where it sits, and taking into account the decrepitude of the building structures, it is surprising that Whalen hasn’t been through it and some new shops erected. Perhaps it is beset with historic preservation orders  or perhaps no-one is game to open the drains.

But there are charms. The kitty seen in the picture was sleeping beside its bed in Gertrude Street in a very hot window on a very hot day…but in the manner of all cats may not have wanted to admit to the discomfort. I admire the stamina and the bed.



IKEA Are Doing Something Right In A Wrong World

IKEA – the Swedish meatball and MDF shelving kings – are doing something right, and it is heartening to see it. I would wish that other retailers might follow suit.

I visited their premises today to replace a floor lamp that I had destroyed. That’s not the sort of thing that you often write, but I’m sure the readers have had similar experiences; you set out to do a simple repair and you end up throwing something in the bin and going to buy a new one. In the case of the IKEA lamp, I got away easy – if it had been a motor car or something complex it would have been much more traumatic.

Retail trade in Perth is in a slow period – notwithstanding the Christmas season. Oh, there are sales and promotions galore – the post box is full of flyers – but the shops can be light-on as far as paying customers. There is a lot of stock in the camera shop I write for, and there’s only a week until Christmas to clean it out. In fact, it won’t get cleaned out, and there will have to be a series of excruciating sales in the new year to get back shelf space.

But in IKEA, they are lined up at the tills three-deep. Why? What is there about the place that encourages us to go out there. How many bedside tables or jars of marinated herring can we use? When is our capacity for roll-around steel trolleys filled?

Well, I think I’ve got some of the reasons:

a. The stuff they sell is cheap enough that you do not need to be a mining magnate to buy it. They can still sell things for under $ 10, under $ 50, under $ 100. Try getting that at the trendy shops in the richer suburbs…

b. The stuff is reasonably good. Not everything is European-nobility-exclusive quality. Neither are the customers…even if they pretend to be. But there are few outright duds in the range and if anything proves to be really awful, they take it back without question.

c. If you make a wrong choice, they’ll still take it back. This is a massive safety net under your shopping confidence and makes you bolder to try new things.

d. The staff members are pleasant – sometimes thin on the floor, and sometimes overworked, but always kindly. And the fact that the firm hires a wide variety of people means that you get the feeling that they’ll take care of you.

e. The goods are interesting shapes – even when they are plain. You might not get exactly the style that was in your mind, but you can find something that is pretty close to it. You’ll not be overburdened by ethnic furniture choices that clash with the rest of the house – it can all pretty much fit in.

f. The stuff works. If you buy a bookshelf you can keep books on it and if you buy a bed you can sleep on it. Their ovens cook. Don’t laugh – you can go elsewhere and buy trouble  and failure at higher prices.

g. They have a cafeteria with food that you don’t make for yourself at home. And that does not cost $ 29 a plate.

h. They have parking. Parking that you can go to directly, that is free, and that is secure. You can load up your purchases at an easy bay. Heck, you can pay a very modest fee and they’ll deliver the entire store to your house next day. We know – we bought a kitchen that came to us just that way.

i. Their online catalog is accurate. Oh, Lordy, do I know the perils of the on-line catalogue in other trades. I know that there can be wild inaccuracies that do not communicate themselves to either the management nor the customers…until someone tries to buy what they think they want from a place that thinks it has it…and both parties to the transaction discover that it is all just a shambles.

I looked today at the online catalogue…because I couldn’t find the big free paper one in the spare room. It was clear and organised and I saw exactly what I needed. The department in the IKEA store had the items stacked neatly and labeled clearly, and my money came out in a flash. Good business all round.

Do I have shares in the company? No. Do I get free furniture for writing this? No. But I do get good stuff and good service each time I go there, and a sense of accomplishment when I turn one of their flat cardboard packs into a real piece of furniture.

Less May Very Well Be More

Mies van der Rohe was thinking of architecture when he used a variation of the phrase that heads this column. It has since been adopted by minimalists all over the world to cut away the dross in many aspects of life.

I’ve been looking at the lives of some of the people I know to see if they use the philosophy. In a lot of cases I can be forgiven for thinking that they don’t – they have vast collections of weapons, armour, sewing materials, toy cars, and books…their lives have more more than most. How can they be minimalists?

Well, if look really carefully I can see the tiny little sections of their milieu that are clean, bare, and soothing. One person does not keep credit cards. Another eschews all interest in Facebook and social media. A third edits out all unused hobby items and gives or sells them away. No-one does it all at once, and no-one lives in a clean white space…or even a beige one. But they have all made a start.

Some are started on the road by chance…they have changed their life circumstances and do not have possessions they once owned. They may pine for them or not – in some cases I think they came to regard the possessions as owning them, and the separation has more freedom than deprivation in it.

Some have looked ahead and seen the entanglements…and have been strong enough to avoid them. There’s a degree of discipline and sensibility in this if a person knows their own limitations and is determined to stay within them.

Some have been attracted by a growing movement in the world for simplicity. This isn’t even religious in some instances – just people wanting to free some part of their psyche from the entanglements of possessions and relationship and acquaintance.

Of course there are detractors. Anything that you do or feel or think will be a target for someone’s disapproval. You have only to set outside a café on a busy street with a bag of Maltesers and pick off passers-by with a slingshot to find that out. You’d think people would be grateful to get free chocolate candy, but No…However, every individual can design their life and surroundings to some small extent, and the incipient minimalist can make those tiny little islands of simplicity in the hope that they will one day coalesce into a haven of calm.

Me? I am going to go through my shed and discard all that I derive no good from. It’s started already and the floor is getting less crowded already. That this will make room for more model building is inevitable, but then model building does me good.

And then I shall start on the clothes closet. The time has come to admit to myself that I shall never wear the historical costumes again. I must find someone who will.

The Verge Collection

Do you have them in your country? In your suburb? The semi-annual opportunity to haul out all the old items that have given up the ghost, or the new ones that you are ashamed of, and let the council haul it all away. Ours is this week and I have created a large little pile.

They specify only good junk – no batteries, paint, or munitions. No old asbestos fences. You are not allowed to throw bodies on the pile. I grumble at this sort of prissiness on the part of the council – in the good old days garbage men would take anything.

But, if you want to lose the old computers, exercise bicycles, Tupperware lids, and floor lamps, you have to comply. You’re not allowed to crowd the verge until the week of the pickup, either.

Fortunately, in addition to the official trucks there is also a veritable army of private scavengers who tour the streets with vans and utes and sift through the piles before the council gets the good stuff. It’s probably illegal, but no-one cares. As long as they observe the unwritten rule of leaving the pile neat when they go, most householders are more than happy to see the stuff vanish as soon as possible. It makes more verge room for the next shift of trash.

I noted today that we lost the garden tubs and the cordless telephone but gained a broken scooter and several coathangers. I cannot for the life of me think why people would add to the pile in the night, but then they might have too much loot on their rickshaw and have to off-load the extra. I once had a prowler leave an untouched IKEA glass shelf that fit my IKEA bookcases – a definite win.

They only do hard goods twice a year, and green waste ditto to a different roster. It is in lieu of giving everyone a tip card and letting them dump their own junk. I think they could up the frequency and people might be tempted to wind back the consumerism a bit. Tough on the exercise machine market and the broken office chair trade, but good for the environment.

46 Years At Bunnings

And Boy! Was that ever a long line at the cashiers…! I went out tonight for some epoxy glue and two sample pots of Dulux paint to my old standard Bunnings store. It’s the Australian equivalent of Home Depot. They do DIY hardware supplies as well as trade materials and homewares. You can pretty well figure on finding some way to do something with the tools or materials there – even if you do not do it as well as a professional.

It is also the male equivalent of the perfume and makeup counters at Myers…you walk past rows of tempting tools and find yourself fingering the impact drills when you really only came there for a paintbrush. It is a marketing approach that the supermarkets use to make you pass by the chocolates and chips on the way to the broccoli. For all I know, Bunnings may sell broccoli.

The shock of the evening came when I realised that I have been buying things from that location for 47 years.It’s expanded somewhat in the time but the core supply of MDF board, paint, and glue have seen me through innumerable models and structures. They never have exactly what you want in a quantity that precisely fits your project – forcing you to compromise or overbuy nuts, bolts, washers, etc. IKEA do this too. In the end if you live long enough and make enough garden furniture you can use up the spare iron.

I don’t build lawn furniture, but I have furnished two houses and a studio through this shop.

Two things I will complement them on – they have managed to source light-duty cheap power tools at extremely inexpensive prices. The hard-users will be disappointed in the Ozito brand, but we hobbyists who under-run most tools will get good value.The trick is to never buy cheap drill bits or abrasive tools for these – the thing that does the cutting must be top-notch.

And the other thing – bless them for staying open to 9:00 PM most week nights. Easter will be a mess, but not too bad – as long as you stock up on sanding belts and tiger bolts  on Thursday you can make it through Friday.

The Little World – The World Turned Upside Down

dscf3289That is not a reference to the famous 18th century marching song nor yet to Australia being Down Under. We have looked outside and we are not down under anything, though the federal government has been doing its best to produce that effect…

It is a reference to the model diorama seen at this year’s Dollhouse And Miniatures Show at Bogan Central. I am an aficionado of dioramas, and particularly the ones of garages, so this scene immediately caught my eye.

I suspect it is 1:12 scale – so much of the dollhouse work is this size. I think it a good choice for many house and room miniatures but it is somewhat of a rarity amongst the scale modellers and diecast collectors. But more on that later*.

dscf3291This garage is a simple open cutaway with a workbench, fridge and accessories, a vehicle and three figures. It is notable for me in the choice of materials for the truck and the detail of the tools.

I don’t think I have ever seen this sort of model vehicle – patterned after a Model A Ford pickup – made in polished wood. I am used to seeing it in 1:24 or 1:16 as a plastic kit or in 1:18 as a diecast. Indeed I have several in my collection. But a wood kit seems very strange indeed. Not bad, and certainly not badly-made, but somewhat of a leap from the reality of the rest of the diorama.

The figures are suitably dressed, but readers of this column will have learned previously what I think about including human maquettes in scale scenes.

dscf3290The score for me is to look at the turning lathe on the workbench. This shows real observational powers as well as imagination on the part of the builder. It is this sort of detail that really makes a small world come alive. I am wondering if the builder will decide to make it a working workshop in the future by leaving tools on the bench and dirtying up the environment,. I know what I would do, but then it is not my little world.

* Sun Star diecast models are available in 1:12 scale and are absolutely perfect. You can get several Morris and Volkswagen types in this scale. I aspire to one… one day, but am always distracted by 1:18 offerings…


The House Rules


A friend of this writer has just been given the keys to her new house. As she is a co-subscriber to Facebook, she will be reading this column. So here goes with the advice for the new home-owner…

a. Houses make noises. They make more when they are very new and very old. Things move and creak and occasionally thump. They also hiss and splash. You can start up wide awake and panic if you wish, and run around and try to find out what it was, but it will still happen again next week.

b. The paint that looked good in the shop will look different at home. Paint with it anyway – you will grow accustomed to it.

c. ” Easy Clean Up ” appears on many paint tins. It is a taunt by the paint maker.

d. Yes, that is a crack in the plaster. No, it is not your fault. It is also not the fault of the builder. It is the fault of the fault. Wait 5 years, plaster it over and paint again.

e. Not. Enough. Electrical. Points. I know you asked for 57 of them to be put in each room and the wiring loom looks like the CINFOC of the NIMITZ but you will still be trying to find a double adapter to plug in the coffee pot. Double adapters sales keep Bunnings in business.

f. It’s not raining now. One day it will. And you will discover if the gutters work. Every day is an adventure.

g. None of your furniture fits. Resign yourself to that. At least you are not trying to fit your stuff into a 5th floor apartment with a bay window.

h. That Mwahahahaha sound you hear is the local IKEA accountant. I’m not gonna tell you why…

i. You can close the front door from the inside and no-one can say you nay. This is one of the most powerful sources of pride and comfort you will ever have.

j. Every month you pay your mortgage, you own a little bit more. You are actually advancing, not retreating.

k. You can keep a pet. You can keep 2 pets. You can keep 18 pets. Legally. But you can’t keep ’em off the bed…

l. Lawn. Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you.

m. If you don’t want a lawn, consider digging a gun emplacement.

n. After you put up curtains, you can run around the inside of the house in the nuddy. You can also do this before you put up curtains but expect a different sort of reaction from the neighbours.

o. Floor coverings are a breeze if you have enough pets. Just comb them until you reach the level of carpet that you need.

p. Neighbours have parties. Just like destroyers have sirens and steel mills have blast furnaces.

q. Expect to lose three mail boxes per decade to thieves. You wouldn’t expect the sort of people who steal mail boxes to be the sort of people who would actually get mail, so I reckon they sell them on to South America in a sort of a postal slave traffic. Possibly they make bongs out of them. I don’t know. If I ever discover where the mail box my late father made went to after the thieves took it, I am going to steal it back.

r. They also steal wheelie bins, plants, garden ornaments, and light fixtures.

s. An internal burglar alarm is a good investment. So is a revolver.

t. Good fences make good neighbours. Willy willys blow down good fences. Then you find out what your neighbours are really like.

u. Housewarming parties are fun if it is not your house.

v. The dog is going to become extremely territorial in the new house. This is as it should be. Give him a dirty old rolling and lolling place under a shady tree.

w. You cannot tell your neighbour what colour to paint their house. Be thankful that they are not from Finland. Finns have a colour sense that is bracing, to say the least…

x. Buy three of whatever light fitting you have selected as the feature for the front of the house. You will break it and Bunnings will never have a replacement. By buying three you can get at least a decade of style before having to drill more holes in the brick and trying to make the entry look good.

y. I’ll bet you thought that the drainage in the laundry was going to get rid of all the water. The mop’s in the closet.

z. Yes, I know the house has flyscreens. No, I don’t know how the mosquito got it. Here’s a thong*. Deal with it.

And welcome to the Homeowner’s Association.


* Flip-flop sandal for the North Americans…