Across Continents

Ken's Blog

Drive-thu coffee

March 26th, 2011

Drive-thu coffee from Ken Roberts on Vimeo.

Drive-thu coffee. Great idea. Great beverage. And no need to worry about securing my trusty steed whilst grabbing a hot drink.

[With especial thanks to Ian and Judy at MuzzBuzz in Cairns]

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Who’s watching who?

March 25th, 2011

Reassuring face. "Locco". Host of 4CA’s morning show I’d met a few days earlier. And keen cyclist. Ten am. MuzzBuzz drive-thu coffee bar. He’d been up since four. Suspected he needed caffeine more than I did. Felt honoured he’d dropped in on his way home from the studio. Casting an experienced eye over Emma, my trusty steed, and all the kit.

Our conversation brought to a close a little too abruptly than I’d have liked. Arrival of the first of two local TV news crews. Interview. Then riding footage. On the road. Loop after loop. Different angles. Close-ups. The cameraman running alongside for a while. Doing my best to keep the speed to a minimum. Just enough to avoid looking unsteady.

Crew - web

Second news team. Subtly different style. More close-ups on my trusty steed. Choosing to place the coffee bar in the background. Pulling up for a beverage on the bike would have been a great touch. But, no doubt, perceived as too promotional. Relying, instead, on proprietor Ian to shoot the scene for the website.

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Monika’s on Lily

March 24th, 2011

Tantilising aromas of freshly baked muffins. Banana cake. My favourite. Prepared on the premises. And great coffee. A small cafe – "Monika’s on Lily" – owned and run by Monika. Of course. Helped by Mum Ela, together with Emma and Kate. Always welcoming. And very understanding. I’d mistaken Ela’s Polish accent for one of a neighbouring nation. Mortified at my mistake. Quickly begging forgiveness.

MonL - web

Always a quiet admiration for the Polish work ethic. Not afraid of hard graft. Long hours. Doors open six am. Cyclone flood damage cleaned up so thoroughly you’d simply never have guessed. Not even the slightest hint of dampness in the air. Add a family wedding for good measure.

[You can find "Monika’s on Lily" in north Cairns on the corner of Lily Street and the James Cook Highway – a kilometre or so south of the airport]

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Moving on

March 23rd, 2011

Final foray into Cairns before the push south. And a chance for a final feed with fellow hosteller Paul. A merchant seaman by trade. He’d spent a few years in London. Seen more of Europe than I’d managed. Great raconteur. Rasping voice.

Venturing along the seafront Esplanade, we’d discount vouchers for a seafood buffet at a local hotel. Part of a well-known mid-range international chain. Greeted by a stern Swiss maitre d’. Authoritarian. Behind her a collection of bland laminated signs. Informing "guests" of the dire consequences of being caught smuggling food out of the dining room. And other misdemeanours.

I’d asked if she was from the German or French part. German she rapped. I’d guessed as much.

Escorted to our table on the veranda, I’d made the mistake of returning to the bar to order drinks. Paul insistent he’d pay for dinner. Intercepted by a kindly foot soldier. I should return to my allocated seat. She’d then come and take my order. Firm about this. Best to comply. Obedient.

The buffet fare was surprisingly good. Remarkable. No supervision. No attempt at portion control. Their missed opportunity. Our delight. Seconds irresistible. Contemplating filling pockets with bread rolls. Just for the fun of it. Should have brought the wooden horse.

Bemused by their notions of customer service, I’d sought to order more drinks. Only to be told I’d need to get them from the bar. The woman who’d earlier ushered me back to my seat had gone home. Left feeling I should have apologised for my ignorance. Being plain rude.

Despite the draconian service, it’d been a thoroughly enjoyable final finale. Great conversation. And curiosity as to just what the staff would do next. Cleared tables. Stacked chairs. Lights out. Went home. Leaving us and a few other poor souls on the veranda. Time to move on. For both of us.

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A little lubrication

March 6th, 2011

"How 80’s". Conceited. Germanic. Not quite what I’d expected when I’d popped into a local, albeit expensive looking, bike shop. After a small tube of lithium grease. More than sufficient for my needs. Proven to be quite effective over more than 20,000 kilometres. In the depths of winter. In the searing heat of the desert. Absolutely no need for any of the more exotic products. With their eye-watering price tags. Chose to leave rather than engage in debate. Pointless.

Brian - web

Pleased that instead I’d entrusted my trusty steed’s front wheel to a smaller shop nearby. Brian’s. Chosen because I’d had a peek at his workshop. Confident he’d do a good job changing the bearings. Best ten bucks I’d spent. Saving me a day’s frustration.

Flying had necessitated dismantling my bicycle. Simply to get her into the bike box I’d acquired in Hong Kong. Once unpacked, bit of an overhaul had seemed sensible. Mostly re-greasing before re-assembly. Checking for wear and tear. A few modifications for the Tropical climate.

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[Ken entrusted Emma’s front wheel to Brian at London Cycles on Sheridan Street, Cairns]

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Brief encounter

February 27th, 2011

Scrubs up well. Not my words exactly. Rather those of breakfast radio presenter Mike "Locco" O’Loughlin. Describing Queensland Premier Anna Bligh. On air. With her. Aussies bit less deferential than might be the case in Blighty. I mean, could you imagine a British broadcaster mentioning something similar to, say, Ann Widdecombe?

Bligh - web

I’d come along to Queensland’s 4CA Talk Radio to chat with "Locco". My slot delayed a little by the chance appearance of the Premier. Whatever her politics, I’d a huge admiration for the leadership she’s shown during the various natural disasters that have beset Queensland of late. And a great choice of warm-up act. I was chuffed.

Always difficult to judge your own interview. As ever, completely cuffed. No idea exactly what’ll come up. Reliant on my Official Audience – my Mum and Dad – for feedback. Faith in their frankness. Thumbs up. Enjoyed teasing "Locco" about the drizzle outside – in truth, record Monsoon rains. And he’s a fellow cyclist. Chatting off air with him about his own experiences of riding along the banks of the River Danube. The route I’d followed across Europe.

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Back on dry land

February 20th, 2011

Back on dry land from Ken Roberts on Vimeo.

Simple enough to find crocodiles in captivity. Local zoo. Even a couple of farms where they breed the predators. But a bit too touristy for my liking. Wanted to see them in the wild. After all, that’d be where I’d be camping. Reckon if you know how to find them, you’ll learn how to avoid them. It’s a theory.

Rowan, my very experienced guide with an intimate knowledge of the river, had spotted a croc basking on the bank in the late afternoon sun as we’d headed upstream. But, spooked by the boat’s engine, it’d disappeared before I’d chance to get it on camera.

Returning downstream in the dark, it’d been much easier to hunt down the predators. Emerging to feed. Kneeling in the bow of our metal boat – an inflatable probably not a good idea – I’d a powerful torch to scan the water’s edge. Looking for the very distinctive, unmistakable, red reflective glow of their eyes.

Along a three mile stretch of river found eight sets of eyes. Got within feet of one. Small. Maybe a metre long. Close in to the bank. Alas, its shadowy silhouette far too dark to capture on camera. Scared? Adrenalin flowing certainly. Excited. Very aware these are cunning, crafty creatures. Probably why they’ve been around for so long. To be treated with respect. Fall into the water and you risk serious injury, even death.

If I was a bit nervous it was back at the slipway. For someone has to jump into the water to pull the boat up. And that’d be me. Rowan at the helm. Very careful to scan around with the torch. Looking for red eyes. Water may be shallow but crocs don’t exactly have a deep draft. And they’d know it’d be a place where people inevitably dump old bait into the water. Tempting morsels.

[Author’s note: This was no amateurish river trip. Rather, Ken went with an experienced local guide. And a thanks to Jon for sending me an article about how to try and fend off crocodiles if you do inadvertently fall into the water. Others had suggested I try local nightclubs..]

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Gone fishin’

February 19th, 2011

Gone fishin’ from Ken Roberts on Vimeo.

Fair to say no animals were harmed in the making of this video. Didn’t catch a thing. Well, apart from the live bait we’d netted earlier in a small creek. But great fun nevertheless. Roughly a quarter of a century since I’d played with rod and line.

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Deliverance

February 18th, 2011

Deliverance from Ken Roberts on Vimeo.

Ken heads up the Barron river. In search of crocodiles. In the wild. And a spot of fishing.

[Author’s note: With especial thanks to Rowan – at the helm – my very experienced guide]

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Little and large

February 17th, 2011

E-mail from an old family friend. He’d visited northern Queensland some years ago. Birdwatching. Sharper eye than mine. Noticing a certain statue of Captain Cook had something of a dubious salute. Had it inspired Adolf Hitler, he joked? A grain of truth? Well, the swastika is based on a Buddhist symbol.

Nazi saluting black Bavarian gnome
Cook - web

Controversial? Seems Captain Cook is a bit like the proverbial yeast extract. Loved or hated in roughly equal measure. His arrival in Australia oft described by indigenous people as invasion. And the statue in Cairns? A well-known, if unofficial, landmark or any eye-sore beside the main north-south highway? The community split.

He’s been re-sited at least once. And has had a change of clothes. Used to sport a blue jacket with yellow buttons. Advised he’s also had some repairs in the trouser department.

Captain Cook and his dubious salute
Gnome - web

Cairns isn’t alone in displaying "art" some find distasteful. Even controversial. Back along the river Danube, in the small German town of Straubing, there were Nazi saluting black Bavarian gnomes. Ironic art, I hasten to add, rather than any resurgence of Fascist ideology.

[Author’s note: With especial thanks to Mike for his sharp eye and dry wit]

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