February 04, 2005 GMT

[Them] Hello. Nice bike.
[Me] Hello. Yup. You're British, aren't you?
[Them] Yup. Driving around Oz. Flying back home tomorrow. Where are you
[Me] Near Newbury.
[Them] So are we. Woolton Hill.
[Me] Thatcham.

Turns out we all drink at the farm as well. Unbloodybelievable. So not only are they taking my next parcel back with them to drop off at Don and Pauline's, they've done a video of me to show to the chaps at the farm as well. As you've probably gathered, I have the bike back.

Quarantine is murder. I spent most of yesterday at the docks, and had two inspections. I knew up front that it was going to be vicious, but I didn't expect having to strip every piece of gaffer tape off the bike, retrieving dead leaves from the bottom of the toolbox, scraping sand out of the ends of my tent poles, junking of the paper air filter I was keeping 'just in case', complete emptying of all the luggage, removal of back wheel to jetwash the brake drum (I could go on but you'd lose the will to live).

Anyway, all sorted now, new gaffer tape applied, panniers repacked, and ready to set off for Alice tomorrow. And it's pissing with rain (absolute heaven).

Posted by Cynthia Milton at 08:51 PM GMT
February 14, 2005 GMT
Zen and the Art of Tappet Adjustment

I've been learning lots of new vocabulary. Schooners, stubbies, pokies, all sorts of things. The only disappointment is that Sellotape is no longer called Durex but has been renamed Sellotape.

Road Hazards (the Quick and the Dead)
Skeletons (usually dead and never very quick)
Stubbies (ditto)

Road trains are reputed to be rather vicious but Ive had no trouble, really. Think of a British-standard artic but with three or four trailer units instead of only one (there's a max length of 53.5m). They tend to travel at around 110km/h so are easily overtakeable - you can see anything coming in the other direction at least five miles away.

The Stuart Highway runs for 2000 miles from Darwin south to Adelaide, bisecting the continent and going through the middle of the Outback. Most of it is comparable to the average British B-road in terms of width and surface (of which more later). Roadhouses dot its length, on average 100km apart, although there's a 250km gap between Coober Pedy and Woomera as the road goes through the Prohibited Area. A roadhouse usually consists of a petrol station with a cafe and bar attached, a campsite of sorts and some basic motel accommodation. In this territory it's wise to plan your stops carefully.

There's a great bike dealer in Alice (agents for BMW, KTM and the Japs) who fitted a new pair of Trail Wings. But, I hear you say, you had new tyres in Bangkok. So I did. But Aussie roads are topped by a particularly abrasive species of tarmac (so the bike people said) which not only wears your tyres square very quickly but causes them to disintegrate at an alarming rate. I was almost on canvas by the time I got to Alice. I also had a bit of welding done (the spotlight bracket which broke on my third day out and has been irritating the hell out of me for months), and they insisted I use their tools to do the bits of furtling I wanted. Jolly nice chaps.

Then I went out into the desert to see a big orange rock.

I've arrived in Adelaide, which I hadn't intended, but what the hell. Nice campsite, anyway. From here I plan to wander up the Barossa Valley and visit some of the wineries, so don't expect anything very coherent from me for the next week or so.

Oh, and Robert M Pirsig was quite right, really (although many of us slated him at the time). Which is why I just *knew* it was the left-hand exhaust valve, and only that one.

Posted by Cynthia Milton at 08:53 PM GMT
February 24, 2005 GMT
A Night at the Opera

The Australians have three obsessions: booze, gambling, and how wonderful they are.

Bottle shops abound, often the drive-through variety; as do pubs (of course) and booze seems to be available on a much wider basis than I've ever seen before.

A big crowd-puller into the pubs are the pokies. These are, apparently, a sort of one-armed bandit on which you play poker. Many pubs have entire rooms set aside for these. As well as having the pokies, many pubs also double as betting shops, complete with TV monitors showing the races and the odds. This can get a little annoying (for me) at times as there's a new law that 50% of pub indoor space must be non-smoking; so they make the gambling bit the smoking bit, which rather buggers up the quiet drink and read the newspaper thing.

I had a close encounter with (I think) a wombat in Wagga Wagga. There I was, sitting outside my tent having a nightcap (Jacob's Creek Shiraz is about 4 quid a bottle) and I saw what I thought was the silhouette of the campsite cat. I made the usual noises (I speak cat) and the shadow approached timidly. Next thing I know, a pair of large round brown eyes are looking up at me. Not a cat, then. Rather sweet, though, and very friendly.

Talking of campsites, a conversation I had early on, in the Kakadu:
[Them] Do you want a cover?
[Me] Er, beg your pardon?
[Them] Do you want a cover? It's going to rain tonight.
[Me] Thanks all the same, but the bike's used to getting wet.
[Them] No, not for the bike, for the tent.
[Me] Er, sorry, not with you.
[Them] It's going to rain, and you'll get wet.
[Me] I don't think so, not unless we're talking 6 inches in an hour or something. I mean, tents *are* waterproof enough for most normal conditions, and my sleeping bag's waterproof as well.
[Them] Your tent's waterproof? Blimey, this we have to see.

So they did. Quite a lot of oohing and aahing. Hmmmmmm.

Oh yes, the bike. Well, called at the BMW dealer in Sydney - very helpful chap called Andrew Kelly (the spit of Rory McGrath and an R90S owner) at Tom Byrne M/C welcomed me, sat me at his computer and telephone, with a coffee, to contact shippers and things, couldn't have done more. And the nice young man at the shipping company is also being very helpful - apparently the price will vary depending on whether the flight goes via the US or Europe. Best not to delve to deeply into that one, I think.

I expect you remember my fitting a new gearbox before I left, having done a cost/benefit analysis and deciding I'd rather it was Mr.BMW's problem if anything happened? And having to learn "My gearbox has exploded" in 23 different languages? Well . . .

. . . it started misbehaving in the usual manner a couple of weeks ago, and on Tuesday I decided enough was enough. So it's going in to the dealer on Saturday for a checkup; Cooper's have (I hope) faxed the original paperwork over as proof of date of purchase; the above-mentioned Andrew is confident there's a box at BMW Aus in Melbourne; and I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

And last night I went to Tosca at the Opera House. It was stunning, as is the building. Cheryl Barker singing Vissi d'Arte was spine-tingling. And John MacMasters' Scarpia very scary - the rape attempt was particularly good. And, being here, there are enough bars to prevent the usual scrimmages you get in Europe in the intervals, not to mention terraces overlooking the harbour with amazing views of the Bridge and everything lit up.

Posted by Cynthia Milton at 08:57 PM GMT

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