An equation in hydrocarbons

Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed that I had a letter published in yesterday’s Age. For convenience I reproduce the draft I sent them below. (The Letters editor made a few minor changes to this wording.)

Jacqueline Maley’s piece in The Sunday Age (“A tribute to my noble 2004 Ford Focus”) claimed that it was more environmentally friendly to maintain an old car than to replace it with a new one. We recently replaced our 2004 V6 sedan with a hybrid SUV. In so doing we reduced our tailpipe emissions from 250 g/km to 107 g/km on the combined cycle (source: Australian Green Vehicle Guide). We also more than halved our annual expenditure on fossil fuels. The old vehicle required regular and increasingly expensive repairs to keep on the road. Although we had to part with a fair chunk of capital to purchase its replacement, the fuel savings alone compensate for the income we have foregone. The result is a vehicle that is (as Jacqueline noted) more pleasant to drive, that reduces our impact on the environment, and the running costs of which are predictable at least for the next five years.

(I haven’t provided a link pointing to Jacqueline Maley’s article because it is by now behind The Age‘s paywall.)

My modest epistle coincided with a couple of articles about different aspects of EVs. The piece in The Guardian, “I’m glad you’ve bought an electric vehicle. But your conscience isn’t clean“, by John Naughton, addressed the question of the embodied carbon debt in each electric vehicle, and how far has to drive to repay this debt. The piece outlined the adverse social and environmental consequences of mining minerals such as graphite, lithium and cobalt, all of which are central to the batteries in smart phones and EVs. Naughton began by outing himself as an EV owner. This admission was followed by an epic sneer at at anyone else foolish enough to follow suit: “You’re basking in the warm glow that comes from doing one’s bit to save the planet, right?”. (Maybe that tofu vindaloo had given him acid reflux.)

A similar surely-you-don’t-still-believe-in-Santa-Claus tone surfaced also in a recent New Daily article, “Clean energy often has dirty ethics based on human rights abuses“. The author, Andrew MacLeod, covered some of the same ground as Naughton. He concluded by giving EV owners a (possibly fossil-fuelled) drive-by:

So when someone tells me they are ‘good’ because they have an electric car, but have no demonstrable record in calling for clean supply chains, I don’t think they are ‘good’. I think they have a problem with ethics.

These articles both contain lots of great information. But maybe ease up on the snide remarks, guys! EV owners are not all card-carrying members of the wokerati. Most people would agree that everyone has to do their bit in helping the planet stay within its carbon budget. Of course driving an EV by itself isn’t going to achieve this. However, according to the National Transport Commission, transport contributes about 18% to Australia’s total carbon dioxide emissions. So switching to a vehicle with lower emissions, and which relies less on fossil fuels, does not seem like a bad place to start.

Obviously no fuel, propulsion, or energy storage technology offers a free lunch. Any vehicle, and the fuel it requires, represents a significant amount of embodied energy. I had a discussion along these lines years ago with a former RMIT colleague, who was concerned that the takeup of electric cars would just shift energy consumption from petrol to electricity. This is of particular concern in Victoria, which has historically generated almost all of its electricity from brown coal — one of the dirtiest fuels on the planet. However, we have become so used to pulling into a service station and filling our tanks, we have forgotten that the availability of that tank of petrol rests on ten discrete processes:

  • carrying out geological surveys and exploration
  • drilling
  • pumping crude oil from the wellhead
  • separating the crude from gas, water, and sediments
  • transferring it to land via oil tankers or pipelines
  • “cracking” or refining into various grades of liquid fuels
  • pumping these into bulk storage tanks
  • being distributed via the road network by tanker
  • pumping into a service station’s tanks
  • pumping from the bowser to a vehicle’s tank.

So our tank of petrol represents a huge amount of embodied energy. Of course the same can be said for electricity. In Australia, however, many of the dirtiest coal fired generators are being replaced by gas powered “peaker” units and solar farms and other large photo-electric arrays. These are being supplemented by millions of domestic and commercial rooftop installations. The increasing addition of renewable energy to the grid allows everyone to choose green electricity from their energy retailer. Is this always totally kosher? Of course not. Greenwashing does no doubt occur. Many energy retailers depend on offsetting their emissions in order to label their premium product “green”. This has always seemed a bit like the medieval practice of buying indulgences. Even so, while green electricity may not be all it’s cracked up to be, there ain’t no such thing as green petrol.

As Jacqueline Maley found, it is always easy to rationalise not replacing the old clunker right now. Hybrid vehicles like ours, along with PHEVs and EVs, are just steps along the road to a vehicle fleet powered by renewable energy. But as the Mitsubishi ad used to say — please consider. Perversely, I continue to believe that the perfect need not be the enemy of the good, and that it is better to do something than nothing.

Mutatis mutandis

We had an appointment with Dr P on Wednesday. On that date the PSA was 3.6, an increase from the previous reading of 2.9. All the comments made in the post for the last appointment (“Onwards and upwards“) apply here as well. The only new information was his reply when I asked him at what PSA score he would change treatments. He said (words to this effect) when the current score has doubled relative to the previous one. I have an appointment with him every four weeks, so, obviously, the PSA would have to double over that period. At the last consult he did a quick calculation of the present doubling rate, but it is nowhere near what he would find alarming (my words, not his.)

There is fortunately no other news. The RAV4 is still great to drive, with just a few quirks emerging in its operations. It has a powered tailgate, which can be operated from the key fob, from a button on the dashboard, or a hidden switch on the tailgate. (It is accompanied in all these instances case by warning beeps like a truck reversing). The tailgate can only be operated from the key fob or the tailgate button, however, when the car doors are unlocked. Another owner pointed out that the doors can’t be locked before the tailgate has finished closing — a process that takes maybe ten seconds. So if you go food shopping while it’s raining, you return to the car with the bags, unlock the doors, open the tailgate, load up, then wait in the rain until the tailgate has closed before you can lock the car. (This assumes you have to go somewhere else before driving off.) Of course, if you park underground, there is no problem!

At least the tailgate doesn’t have that opening technology whereby you stand on one foot and swing the other one underneath the rear bumper. (I’m not making this up! It’s quite common on Euro SUVs, I think.) This calls for good balance if you are burdened with shopping bags. I’ve witnessed people in this situation swinging a foot underneath the back of their cars, fail to do it correctly, and have to have several goes at it, becoming more peeved each time. The wonders of proximity keys!

There were a few other minor things we found mildly annoying about the car. Once it has reached 20 kilometres an hour, the doors automatically lock. One unexpected disadvantage of this is, if the car is in Park with the engine running, and someone in the front or rear passenger seats wants to get out, the driver has to unlock the doors. My beloved became quite irritated when I had to release her from durance vile. (I spent about half an hour reading the manual before I could reverse this setting. Now, when I put it in Park, the front passenger door unlocks.) At the free 1,000 kilometre service we also got the dealer to switch off the speed limit warnings, which were becoming quite irritating. We kept the warnings about red light camera intersections, though! These are but minor foibles in a car that goes about its business in a quiet and calming manner.

Onwards and upwards

We saw Dr Parente on Wednesday. The PSA is continuing its gentle rise: 2.9 at the last test a week before the consult, up from 2.5 previously. Dr P continued to emphasise the trajectory of the increase over the quantum of the score; the former remains low. This time he also made the following points:

  • If I were not taking Enzalutamide, the increases would be much steeper. Therefore (my words not his) it’s doing its job in damping things down.
  • I asked if I needed another scan, but he doesn’t think I need one.
  • At this rate, my doubling rate (i.e. the period of time in which the PSA score would double) is about four months. He said he would only start worrying if the doubling rate got to about four weeks.

I understand Dr P’s reasons (which he has previously explained) for wanting to get the most out of this treatment regimen before switching to another one, giving me another line of chemo, etc. Everything else is still the same, i.e. I’m feeling fine, keeping up the exercise, staying busy, and am not too worried about developments. I continue to see Dr P every four weeks. I start to get a bit anxious around the three week mark, peaking when I have the blood test about a week before the consult. After this, however, I tend to relax and think, well, I’ve done everything I can, we’ll see what he says. The effect of the anti-depressant and CBT combo helps to keep this anxiety manageable, as do the two exercise classes a week.

This week I also had my biennial consultation with my psychiatrist, Dr T. I need to touch base with him periodically so that he can renew the authority for my dexamphetamine prescription. (This last is very helpful for my ADHD.) Dr T said he had a friend with prostate cancer, who was controlling it entirely with diet and exercise. I just said “Good for him”. It’s interesting how many people know PC patients who are using complementary treatments, and who implicitly recommend these treatments to me. (Apart from medical professionals, no-one has ever recommended surgery, chemo or radiation.) I have had the odd comment here and there about the importance of maintaining a positive attitude, and so on.

I think these comments all come from a good place. People want to pass something onto me that they think could be helpful. I’ve no doubt that complementary therapies can be efficacious with less aggressive cancers. (Of course spontaneous remission can occur at any time.) No-one has explicitly recommended complementary therapies to me, but if they were to, I would ask them for a citation to a gold standard, double blind study, published in a high impact, peer reviewed journal. Evidence for these treatments, however, tends to be anecdotal, and involves only a single subject. The cases mentioned also seem unrepresentative, in that only the success stories are reported. No-one would boast about having abandoned their conventional treatment for complementary therapies, only to find their symptoms recurring; returning to their oncologist, they find that their cancer has become too advanced for any further medical intervention. Statistically, of course, such outcomes must occur. Complementary medicine researchers are attempting to build up a research base of properly conducted studies of these therapies. Meanwhile, I will stick to the treatment I am receiving, unless and until I have a reason to change it.

In more cheerful news, we got our new vehicle a fortnight or so ago, a Toyota RAV 4 hybrid Edge. It glides along in a beguiling way. I have clocked up about 270 kilometres in it, mostly just doing trips to the shops and exercise class. The needle in the fuel gauge is still showing 3/4 full. I gave it its first wash this morning; it was pretty clean, just rather dusty. It is noticeably higher than the Camry: I had to stand on a little step to wash the roof. Of course it towers over the GT (which has become my beloved’s car). I drove behind a GT the other day, and could see right over its roof. The extra ride height on the RAV is handy for getting in and out, although I think the GT kept me somewhat flexible. The former is the sixth Toyota that we have owned, jointly and severally.

Deja vu all over again

We saw Dr P last Monday. The PSA is continuing to creep up: 1.63 is the current score. Context is, as ever, important. At 4 weekly intervals, the last 3 readings were 1.29, 1.44, and 1.63. So the increases are less than 0.2 each time. Dr P said he was “pretty happy” with me, and that’s good enough for me! I still feel fine: the sleep is pretty good, a key component in well-being for me.

Things automotive have been the flavour of the last couple of weeks. Some of you will know that I gave the GT a scrape on the passenger side of the front bumper bar a few weeks ago. I had that fixed last week (coincidentally, the day before taking it in for a service). The guy in the paint shop recognised it as a 2014 model, and said his wife had just sold hers recently. He added that a local second-hand dealer was selling a 2015 GT for about $7,000 more than I paid for mine.

OK, I thought, and checked it out. What he said was spot on. I can’t give a link to that sale, however, as it appears the car has sold, even at that crazy price. As the paint shop guy said — demand for these cars has taken off. While looking through the site, I went down a bit of a rabbit hole. The dealer also had a 2016 Mercedes C180 coupe, with pretty low mileage, at a reduced price. I have always had a fantasy about owning a Benz, so I took it for a spin.

Despite having only a 1.6 litre 4 cylinder engine, it drove very well. The cosmetic condition was pretty good, with just a few minor scratches, which partly explained the reasonable asking price — pretty much in the middle of the Red Book indicated range. The car appears to have had all its required services. (I emphasise this because Benz service histories are now, apparently, entirely digital. So no more logbooks in the glovebox to check.) The salesman gave me a list of dates and kilometres he had obtained by ringing the dealerships at which the car had been serviced, and everything seemed to check out.

Anyway, I researched this and similar models for sale in Melbourne. C class Benzes are actually quite numerous, being Mercedes’ best seller in Australia. So there was a number of other examples for sale in a similar price range. Sense prevailed, however, when it occurred to me that a Benz that I could afford wasn’t one that I ought to be thinking about buying. Mercedes reliability has been extremely variable for the last several years. Fantasies are one thing, but the reality of buying a seven year old Euro car stuffed to the gills with expensive high tech gadgets was likely to be a lot less fun. I could have bought an extended warranty from the dealer, but I felt it was better to avoid trouble. The GT has had absolutely zip go wrong with it in the three years in which I’ve owned it — and it’s fun to drive. As the paint shop guy said — you can’t go wrong with Toyota.

Strange things are happening in the car market. I’m very glad that we paid a deposit in November for a Toyota RAV4 hybrid. At that time we were quoted a waiting period of 3 to 4 months. Had we gone for a Cruiser, which is the model underneath ours, we would have had a 10 month wait. Someone ordering a RAV4 now is being quoted delivery around Easter, 2023. Toyota has paused production at several of its Japanese factories. The one which produces RAV4s has, at this stage, only been paused for a couple of days. All these delays will obviously push out wait times, already pretty decent.

What’s going on here? Household savings have jumped under lockdown. One of the few things that people could spend their spare cash on was a new car in which to go travelling around their state (whenever they could actually do this). The crazy wait times for new cars have pushed up the prices of second hand ones. Specifically too, the RAV4 is a car that is in high demand. The reasons for this are apparent to everyone who takes one for a drive. It is just the right size — less hulking than a Land Cruiser, less poky than a C-HR. Its being available in a hybrid makes it even more attractive.

Apparently, also, there is a world-wide shortage of semiconductors, of which modern cars have an increasing number. Intel is building a couple of new factories to supply this demand, but they will take a couple of years to come on stream. Meanwhile, most semiconductors are manufactured in PRC. Someone posting to a discussion list muttered darkly that MG, now under Chinese ownership, doesn’t seem to be affected by this shortage. Conspiracy theorists take note –today your garage, tomorrow the world!

New wheels

Yesterday we went to the local Toyota dealer and put down a deposit for a RAV 4 Edge hybrid .

A replacement for our faithful 2004 Camry had been mooted for quite some time, especially as bits kept on having to be replaced, and a kind of intermittent groan from the passenger side under the dashboard became more frequent. Our garage had been able to fix this when it first became apparent. Unfortunately it un-fixed itself, and became quite distracting. A proper fix would have involved taking off the dashboard, and would have cost $2,000-odd. Anyway, the old girl gave us sterling service for 16 years, and still drives well. A new set of tyres is unfortunately required, the old ones being unroadworthy, but at least we won’t have to re-register it — the rego only expires in May, 2022.

This actually fits in (fingers crossed) with the availability of the new car, which we won’t get our hands on until March or April. RAV 4s have been extreme popular of late, with hybrids especially requiring long wait times. According to one report, the Cruiser (previously the top model) has a waiting time of up to 14 months. (The local dealership quoted us eight months to get hold of one, against three for the Edge.) Why the delay? Apparently there is a worldwide shortage of semiconductors, with which modern cars are replete. Covid has apparently also gummed up supply chains in various ways. Demand really took off as well during the various lockdowns; when international travel became impossible (and remains problematic), people decided to travel within Victoria. All this, and a desire to get it done, meant we were ready to sign on the dotted line for one of the new model. Time is money!

We only drove a couple of cars yesterday. The first was a hybrid Camry, which felt very smooth and quiet. Then we hopped in a RAV 4 Cruiser, really just to compare and contrast. We both liked it a lot. It is a very easy car to sit in and figure out what does what — something that all the tests I have read say. It is a medium size SUV, with the increased height giving a better view of the traffic. RAV 4s have a very similar drivetrain to the Camry, being both mild hybrids. As drivers of these vehicles know, the switching between the electric motor and the petrol engine is very unobtrusive. The RAV 4 is actually a shorter car than the Camry, which is now approaching 5 metres in length. But the SUV body allows you to chuck a fair bit more gear in the back. The Edge is also AWD, which wasn’t on our list, but will give driving in rain more secure feeling. This feature is doubtless the majority of the price increase over the Cruiser. The rest goes on a new front bumper, and what could be a rather busy trim, featuring an orange stripe. (We only saw this on the large screen at the dealership, and in a brochure — none of our model has landed in Australia yet.) Apart from an extra 3KW of grunt, the Edge is basically the same vehicle as the one we drove, which had plenty of urge. All those people chasing one can’t be wrong!

The mild hybrid was a bit of a compromise from a plug-in hybrid or a full EV. The last we rejected on grounds of range anxiety. A recent trip to Daylesford revealed only one charger in the main drag — being hogged by a Tesla both times we passed. OK, the infrastructure is improving, but what do we do in the meantime? Also, Toyota doesn’t make a plug-in hybrid or an EV, and that was the make we were inclined towards. To date, we have, jointly and severally, owned five Toyotas — one each of the Camry, Celica, Corolla, Crown, and the GT. These have all been extremely reliable. The local dealer is also only a tram ride away, a consideration for getting the thing serviced. The cost of dealer servicing is generally usurious, but the RAV 4 only needs servicing every 12 months, and the first five services will cost $200 each. If services are carried out at a dealer, the five year warranty becomes extended to seven years. (This is nice to have, but I don’t expect we will need it. When I bought the GT I shelled out for a three year extended warranty, which I’m happy to say was a complete waste of money.)

The damage to the GT has been fixed for quite a while now (the repairer replaced the bonnet, and resprayed the driver’s side front guard). I still haven’t been reimbursed for the the excess I paid on my comprehensive insurance to have these repairs done. However, someone from our insurance company rang me on Friday and told me that they had obtained the monies from the transport company’s insurer. I will believe it when I see it, but it is definitely looking hopeful.

Level pegging

Updates to this post are minor, made only for clarity.

My beloved and I went to see Dr P on Wednesday, October 27th. The PSA is very slightly elevated — 1.01, up from 0.94 at the previous test. However, Dr P. said this is within the measurement error of the machine. So we weren’t to worry. He emphasised that he was still happy with where I was at. I am to see him next on 22 November, on which date I will also be having another Zolodex implant.

I am a bit late posting this because the consult came at mid-way of an extremely busy week. On Monday I parked the GT at the back of the IGA supermarket on Maling Road, Caterbury. I noticed a truck unloading in a right-of-way next to my parking space. I went to four places on Maling Road, at all of which I checked in, using the Service Victoria QR code reader and digital vax certificate. When I got back from the last stop (the IGA supermarket, as it happened), the truck had gone, but I noticed a bit of damage on the car bonnet and driver’s side guard. (There wasn’t a note on the car acknowledging responsibility.)

I whizzed back to the supermarket and asked if they had had a delivery that morning. (I’d chosen not to get a receipt for the items I’d bought, but, via the Service Victoria app, was able to show them that I had been in the store within the last half-hour.) They were very helpful and gave me a copy of the receipt that they had received from the delivery driver. The latter wasn’t an employee of IGA, but was working for a transport company. The invoice gave me his name and other useful information.

When I got home I wasn’t sure whether to call the transport company or my insurance company. I hadn’t seen how the damage occurred — I was only inferring that that it had been caused by the truck driver who’d made the delivery to IGA. So I rang my insurance company (Apia) and explained what had happened. They agreed that there was only circumstantial evidence that a third party was involved, charged me my excess (which I paid over the phone by credit card), and set an assessment and repair appointment in train.

After this I rang the transport company. They were unexpectedly sympathetic and said they would speak to the driver, and that someone would call me back. I didn’t have great hopes from this. However, I was pleasantly surprised to hear from the company the next day. They had indeed spoken to the driver, who said he hadn’t had any traffic accidents on his run. However, they had looked at footage from a video camera mounted on the back of the truck. This showed a pole, called a pogo stick, which the driver used in unloading the truck. The driver had leant the pogo stick against the truck, causing it to fall onto the bonnet of the GT as the truck reversed out of the right-of-way. So they acknowledged responsibility for the damage. (I thought this very decent of the company to put their hand up for this, and said so.)

To cut a long story short, after exchanging a few SMSs and emails, I received an indemnity form to fill in and send back. According to this the company said they would pay the amount of my insurance excess, if I, my heirs and descendants and so on, undertook to make no further claim on them in this matter. Rightio, I said, and filled it out and returned it to them forthwith. (What is this mysterious company’s name? I haven’t received the money yet, dear readers, so I am keeping schtum until I do. However, I expect the amount to be forthcoming.)

In the same week

  • I had two in-person exercise classes at the exercise physiology practice;
  • via Zoom, had a German lesson (for which I hadn’t done much hausaufgabe);
  • also by Zoom, had an appointment with my psychologist;
  • hooked up our barbecue (which had been sitting out in the garage for eighteen months or so after having been gifted to us by a former neighbour), in preparation for a Cup Day get-together with friends;
  • drove the GT out to Blackburn to the damage assessor/body shop place, where it resides until Friday (Apia shouted me an Uber back home); and
  • baked two sourdough loaves.

The loaves turned out well, the BBQ works fine (although I have to clean the grill plate soon), and I have been adapting well to only having one car between us. Actually, my beloved and I got by perfectly well with one car between us for twenty years. It is only in the last seven years that we have had a car each. As far as I am concerned, I would be happy to trade both the Toyotas in on an EV.

I can’t preview this post as I used to be able to, so I am just going to post it as is.

Marching on

I had my appointment with Dr P this morning. The PSA has gone up slightly again — to 4.8 from 3.7. However, the scans I had on Monday didn’t reveal any new activity. So I am still radiologically in remission. Dr P said there was a spot on my chest which was probably causing the increase in the PSA. (On the way home I checked the list of metastases, or “spots” in doctor-speak, that he gave me in February, 2019. This showed one on the sternum — this is probably the one he was referring to this morning.) Dr P referred me to a radiation oncologist for stereotactic treatment of that spot; I will be having this treatment starting on the 23rd.

(I had stereotactic radiation treatment a few years ago — after the operation and before the chemo/hormone treatment. So it is quite familiar. All these treatments are pretty refined, and fortunately don’t seem to cause me many side effects.)

Anyway, Dr P is not worried about the blood test and scan results — “not even close” were his exact words. I am certainly still feeling fine. The sleep continues to improve, and this always makes me feel better. I will continue with the exercise classes twice a week. (Ditto with the hormone treatment unless and until I need a different one.) I had another Zolodex implant after the appointment with Dr P. After that we had a coffee on Maling Road, and I went to the greengrocers.

The day went a bit pear-shaped after we got home, though. I should explain, for those who haven’t been to our place, we are in the rear unit of two. Another pair of units is directly to the north of us. As we approached our place, we saw a police car on the nature strip and a fire truck and an SES truck in the street. As we passed the units beside us, my beloved glanced up their driveway and exclaimed “Oh, my God!”. A car was sitting in their driveway at right angles to the boundary fence. When we got up to our driveway, the car belonging to the neighbour in the front unit was parked outside our garage. This was all highly unusual!

We asked one of the coppers what was going on. Apparently someone in one of the units to the north of us, while driving out of their garage, had lost control and gone through the boundary fence. This had flattened a section of the fence, and knocked a hole in the garage of the front unit on our side. (This was why the neighbour’s car was outside our garage.)

Our garage has a party wall with that of the front unit. The police and SES therefore asked to check inside our garage to see if it too was damaged. There was a small crack in our garage wall, but no other visible damage. As a precaution, though, the SES put a prop inside our garage to reinforce the roof where it joins our neighbour’s. The latter went to the trouble of tying up the prop to prevent it from falling onto our car, should the wall shift. (They were very concerned that they get this prop back — I assured them I would keep an eye on it. I reckon if the prop fell on the Camry, we would be up for a new car — they are hefty pieces of kit!) Our neighbour’s garage is quite badly damaged — one can see straight through the wall where the impact occurred. She will have to leave her car in the street for the time being. It was just lucky no-one was hurt.

Everyone was very calm and pleasant. One of the police helped me drag some stuff out of the garage to let the SES put the prop in. The police also helpfully supplied us with the contact details belonging to the driver of the car. Armed with this information we rang our insurance company and explained what had happened. They will be sending out someone to assess the damage to our wall in the next few days. No-one actually said “You can go on parking your car in the garage”, but we inferred that this was a fair thing to do while we are waiting for any remedial work that might be required. TBC!

Broken out and washed up

My beloved and I returned on Thursday from a couple of nights away, which we spent in Daylesford.

The end of lockdown has brought an exodus from Melbourne into country Victoria. I wasn’t sure that we would get anything in the rush, even though we were going mid-week. We ended up with a place called Lake Orchard Villas. The main draw with this property was its location, walking distance from the lake. You could also, theoretically, walk to restaurants and shops on Vincent Street. This would have involved a couple of fair size hills, though, so I have to ‘fess up — we drove.

The villa had two bedrooms, a spa bath, and a kitchen. The last was essential in allowing us to make breakfast for my beloved, ensuring that she got at least one “safe” meal a day. Being weatherboard, it was all very charming in a Chekhovian sort of way. The only really startling thing was a whistling kettle. (The first time I boiled it, I thought I had set off a fire alarm.) There was even a bowl of chocolates, of which I had one. One could sit on a little balcony out the front, and there was a bigger area at the rear with a barbecue and a large dining table. We are planning to go again, when I will definitely be looking to fire up the BBQ one evening.

An unexpected feature of the place was Netflix. We watched several episodes of Emily in Paris, a rather anodyne series about a young American woman suddenly sent to Paris for her work. The whole thing is really an excuse for some gentle cross-cultural comedy, and to show off the leading lady’s wardrobe. (That of her boss, with whom she has a fractious relationship, isn’t bad either.) It is all quite fun and totally undemanding — just the thing for a holiday.

We returned on Thursday via Clunes and Ballarat (where a modest-looking restaurant yielded a cracking Chinese meal). The next day the dishwasher people arrived (early) to put in the new dishwasher. I had been a tad nervous about this. Old dishwashers tend to leak: if the guys removed the old one through our place, I could see the carpet getting stained. Fortunately they had a trolley with soft tyres, allowing the appliances to be brought in and taken out via the courtyard. Once up the steps, everything happened on a tiled floor.

The installation was mostly uneventful. The old dishwasher had started leaking, and this moisture was mopped up by the installers before putting in the new appliance. Dishwashers sit on adjustable feet; if these are jacked up, the gap which this creates underneath is hidden by a kick plate. The Siemens was not quite as high than the old Dishlex, so I had to choose between having a noticeable gap at the top (between the dishwasher and the underneath of the bench) or a bigger one underneath it. I chose to even them out and have some gap top and bottom. The new kick plate is a lot more recessed than the old one, and this exposes a grout line in the floor tiling that we had never seen before.

The kitchen floor is tiled in a diamond pattern. Underneath the cabinets, for some reason, this changes to a square grid pattern. The grout line from the second pattern is what is now exposed, along with a gap of 1.5 cm or so underneath the dishwasher. It is possible to have the old kickplate trimmed and fitted back underneath the dishwasher. That will mean that it matches the cabinet underneath the sink, but not the dishwasher door (which is stainless steel). Anyway, all these things can be fiddled with at our leisure. The installers ran a test load, and the Siemens is certainly incredibly quiet compared to the Dishlex, which used to groan, gurgle, and thump away.

I had a bad moment reading the warranty leaflet, which mentioned a factory warranty of two years. This was a surprise, as the store had advertised a five year warranty for this brand. I got on the blower to the salesman, who knew straightaway what I was ringing about. The leaflets are printed overseas, and reflect the warranty offered in other places. Siemens dishwashers in Australia have a five year warranty. He sent me an email to this effect so that I had it in writing.

Having taken what will probably be the last trip in the Camry, I read with interest a road test of a Mercedes Benz GLC 300 PHEV. (PHEV, as you will no doubt know, is a plug in hybrid electric vehicle.) This was the same model that we had hired over a year ago when I won sixth prize (!) in the 3MBS-FM radiothon. (That one, though, had a diesel engine.) The GLC is a big vehicle, to be sure, but I really enjoyed punting it around the Dandenongs for a day. $80,000-odd is out of our range, though, so we will probably end up with another Camry. The last one is still going strong after sixteen years, just getting a bit elderly and cranky — like one of its owners.

Isolation diary day 6

Today kicked off with a real expedition. We had to be out of the house to give our cleaning lady an open go. I hadn’t driven the GT for over a week, so I decided to give it a run up to the Dandenongs. So we headed up the highway through Ferntree Gully and took the familiar left turn up the mountain.

The last time we had ventured this way was about eighteen months ago, when we had the loan of a very large Benz for the weekend. Readers will recall that I won sixth prize or so in the annual 3MBS-FM prize lottery. A free hire of a Benz was the prize that time. We had requested one of their sedan models. That weekend, though, they were trialling a Sunday opening for the Grand Final, and consequently wanted to keep a few smaller models for any punters who wandered along. Consequently we got a monstrous GLC four wheel drive, all $90,000 worth. I liked it rather a lot, but it was too large for my beloved, so we thankfully gave it back to the dealer the next day. Mercedes Benz Toorak must have known we weren’t prospects, as they never called us to ask whether the experience made us feel like putting it in our garage for keeps. 

Back to this morning, and the GT proved just the vehicle for the windy roads leading up to Mount Dandenong. We stopped for a coffee at Olinda; my beloved made the purchase, which we consumed in the car. (It was drizzling, and quite parky for, err, is it late summer? Early autumn?) Our return was as uneventful as the outward leg had been, and the route led us conveniently to Canterbury Road. My beloved went to the pharmacy in Maling Road, and joined the queue lining up to be served in the doorway. (This pharmacy is only a small establishment; I think the idea was to regulate the number of punters per square metre to the present rather draconian level.)

While she was thus occupied, I leaned against a post on the far side of the road, trying to look as if I had something useful to do. This charade was bolstered by the appearance of an elderly gentleman, who headed in my direction carrying a white cane, then did a 90 degree turn a few feet in front of me, obviously intending to cross the road. I was able to scuttle up to his elbow, scan the traffic in both directions, and advise him that it was safe to cross. (As Dad would say, quoting G&S: giving artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative.)

Back home, my beloved got to work, like all her colleagues — only the CEO is physically in the building today. (Is this allowed under OH&S? At RMIT, if you wanted to work late, at least one other person had to be there , in case you fell and broke your leg or something equally inconvenient. But CEOs appear to be invulnerable.) Phone calls were fielded by us both. In my case it was my writing buddy Graham, a fellow labourer in the memoir writing vineyard. We are guide, mentor, philosopher, and friend to each other in this intermittent endeavour.

This evening our very first online grocery order is to be delivered. This service is not available to any except the most deserving, into which category we appear to fall. A few of the things I requested are not available, something about which I was forewarned. (Substitutions have been made in a couple of cases.) Yesterday we received a delivery, also a first for us, of fruit and vegetables from our local greengrocer. A couple of the mangoes were sub par — fortunately, we have ordered some from the supermarket as well. With this exception, getting our grub this way was extremely convenient. The order was placed by SMS, the payment effected (as real estate agents like to say) by bank transfer. So we are managing to keep ourselves fed without a lot of effort.  

Libraries are all closed not, of course, so I have reactivated my Overdrive account from our local public library for reading e-books. There is a fair number that I have either downloaded or placed holds. I am going a bit slowly with our current book group book. (Meetings of the group are suspended, along with most other things, until further notice). The book is No friend but the mountains, by Behrouz Boochani. It has undeniable authority and terrific urgency, but I find I can’t read it for very long. 


Poetry on wheels

In the 1970s, my parents went on their first overseas trip. I was living in the family home in Mosman. (They probably asked me to look after the place for them.) I was enjoying the freedom from parental oversight. I managed not get up to anything too terrible, except for damaging Dad’s car.

He had left me the key to his still pretty new HQ Holden. I was probably just supposed to take it out once a week to keep its battery charged. It was more fun to drive than whatever old bomb I owned at the time, so I may have interpreted my brief rather liberally. So it was Dad’s car that that I was driving home one night along Bridge Road in Glebe, when someone pulled out in front of me and scraped one of the Holden’s near side panels.  

I was a feckless university student in my early twenties, with only the vaguest idea of what to do. I pulled over and exchanged details with the other driver. Then I did nothing more. In my defense, insurance claims were a complete mystery to me. And of course I wasn’t the registered owner of the Holden, so I may not have been able to do much. But I somehow forgot to let Dad know what had happened. (I doubtless rationalised it as not wanting to spoil their trip).

He noticed the dent when I went to pick them up at the airport. When we got home, after they told me about their trip, I told him the story. What remained of his holiday mood must have evaporated fairly quickly. Dad must have loved me a great deal not to have torn a strip off me for general hopelessness. His forbearance continued over the years — he never once reminded me of the episode. I had only thought about it a few times until, forty-odd years later, I heard that Holden was finally withdrawing from the Australian car market.

Dad and I didn’t go to sporting matches or fish. Instead we bonded over music, chess, and cars. I can claim to have introduced him to Haydn, whom he came to love almost as much as Mozart. We played the occasional game of chess, although he was much the stronger player. (I did beat him once that I recall — quite an Oedipal moment.) We also spent quite a few hours fixing my various old bombs. At that stage of my life, I seem to have changed my car over about every two years. Dad was always involved in these purchases, and in working on them when they required some attention. They provided a handy source of problems to solve, something that Dad always loved. 

Dad was quite keen on cars too. In days of yore there had been a Pontiac with a crash gearbox. The first car that I remember of his was a tan and white FE station wagon. This was our car in Darwin. I have vague recollections of my parents talking about shipping it it on the train — presumably the Ghan — so they must have had it in Adelaide as well.

After we moved to Sydney, Dad was able to trade the FE in on a new car, his first company vehicle. I remember him or my mother joking that his employer was sick of looking at the old FE in the car park. He chose another Holden, a white HQ wagon with a V8 engine. (Yes, that was the one that I was driving that night.) After that, he owned a Falcon, and a Mazda 929. All these were station wagons.

I have owned a few cars in my time, but never a Holden. In Sydney, I had been the owner of four vehicles:

  • a 1957 Austin Lancer;
  • a Wolseley 24/80 (a rebadged Austin Freeway);
  • a Valiant station wagon; then
  • a 1968 Toyota Crown.

The Crown was fully imported, and my first Japanese car. It was an extremely solid vehicle, and far more refined than its Australian counterparts. After that I briefly owned a Volkswagen Passat, then a Mitsubishi Sigma wagon.

When I moved to Melbourne I brought the latter with me. Living in St Kilda and working in the city made it redundant. For the first time since turning eighteen, I had no car. Mum was concerned that this would inhibit my dating activities. Fortunately my beloved had her own wheels.

For most of our marriage we got by with only one car: initially her Corolla, then a Peugeot 405. The Peugeot was our only new car purchase, and our most exotic choice. It was reliable and great to drive, but spare parts became more expensive, especially as the years wore on. We reverted to Toyota for its replacement, a 2004 Camry Azura. Sixteen years and 150,000 kilometres later, it is still her daily drive. 

We became a two car couple about seven years ago when my beloved’s family gave us a 1990s model Ford Fairmont. I drove it for five years, during which time it proved extremely economical and reliable. (Local cars did improve out of sight, but the market had moved on.) It became surplus to requirements when I rather rashly bought a Toyota GT 86; a red one, no less. When I saw this car I thought — to quote Primo Levi — if not now, when?

At the age of 65, I enjoy having a sporty drive. Being low slung, it is a totally unsuitable car for an arthritic old fart. I don’t care; getting into and out of it keeps me a bit flexible. It is only taken out to get the shopping, drive to the train station, or to go out to coffee. Dad always bought cars on the basis of function, but I think he would have felt the touch of fairy dust this one sprinkles over the most routine trip.