Notes from Brisbane, volume 4

Here’s what I’ve learnt after officially one month in Australia (and after just two months if you include the tourist-visa arrival in mid-November)…

An example of companies understanding their use-case and putting a new customer at ease… “Help,” I said, walking a bit nervously into Rode Pool Services, “I’ve just moved into a house and I’m British and the house has a pool and I don’t know what I’m doing…” — $99 later, I’ve booked myself a ‘Pool Instructions’ service: a standard service with an extra $10 for Helping The Stupid. And breathed a big sigh of relief.

The other evening, the pool system itself had seemingly no power, at all; but the other things round the pool were working. I thought something had gone badly wrong with it, and sighed to myself.

“Oh,” said the bloke who came to service the solar heating bit, “it’s probably on tariff 33”. It turns out that tariff 33 is a really clever idea: allowing the distribution company to switch these systems off at times of peak electricity load. Genius. As the website says, it’s up to the electricity company and some days the power won’t be turned off at all. The price is 40% cheaper. And that’s why we have two electricity meters outside the house then. I understand now.

(If you’re wondering: no, you can’t plug in household appliances into a Tariff 33 supply. Hot water and pool pumps only. I briefly ran away with the thought of a separate “appliance charger” socket inside the house.)

The house itself is free of bugs and things: fly screens are a wonderful invention, I’d have loved some in London. The most wildlife I see inside (and outside) the house are the odd gecko. They’re harmless, eat the spiders, and are quite nice.

There are a few geckos who like it near the bins as well. The bins? As in London, a recycling bin and a rubbish bin: the recycling bin only gets emptied every other week, which is strange since I’ve always produced twice as much recycling as rubbish. They’re standard wheelie bins, with a stern instruction to face one side to the road: that, presumably, makes things faster for the bin lorries. They come at about 5.30am or 6.00am and make a hell of a noise.

The postal system (since I’ve just talked bins, might as well talk utilities) is amazingly good. You can apply for a free Parcel Locker: a kind of 24-hour Amazon Locker at your nearest post office. Get something sent there, and you’ll get an email and a text (and a notification on the app and to your Android Wear watch): you then have 48 hours to pop down to the post office and collect it. There’s fiercely-patrolled 10-minute parking outside the Post Office I use. Collection is done by showing a barcode on your phone/watch: automatically a drawer springs open and there’s your parcel. Tracking of parcels happens in the app as well. It’s very good: and a great alternative to the “Sorry you were out” note.

Vegemite’s quite nice, but it is a very different product to the British Marmite: if anything, Vegemite tastes kind of beefy. It has the consistency of butter, and you spread it on in roughly the same thickness as butter as well. I like it: it’s very good to put in sandwiches with other things in, since it doesn’t overpower to the same extent. But I missed Marmite too. The good news is that it’s available in regular supermarkets under the brand name “Our Mate” (Marmite being a trademark for a different type of yeast extract down here, which has sugar as a major ingredient). It’s, as the jar says, delicious. Oh, Marmite, how I’ve missed you.

I now have my Driving Licence (it’s a “Driver Licence” over here). It’s a swizzy hologrammed thing with a chip inside it. We also have our Medicare card: the card that allows us to charge our health treatment back to the government. It’s a low-tech embossed card like something from the 1970s, printed in two colours and not very impressive at all.

Beer? Keen to go for something Australian, I’ve discovered Fig Jam IPA, from Burleigh Heads just over an hour south of Brisbane. It’s closest to a Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA: fruity and quite strong. My more ‘normal’ session beer is what I call Coopers Green: a fairly standard Pale Ale available in the UK. Coopers comes from South Australia, and I’m keen to find a Queensland alternative. (Coopers also, strangely, sells home brewing kits in supermarkets.)

We discovered our nearest local ‘pub’ the other week: it’s a bowling club, about ten minutes’ walk away. We arrived on Sunday at about 7.00pm, to be told they were shutting soon. Some of the people who were sitting outside with their drinks seemed to have probably been there all day. Still, they were quite chatty.

Our local coffee shop, about eight minutes’ walk away, is quite nice but appears to be run by a fierce mum and her two daughters, both of whom must be on school holidays at the moment. It has free wifi, so there is that.

We used Seven Seas Worldwide to transport our stuff from home in a big box: and it’s here, only two months later (and significantly faster than they quoted). They should hopefully deliver it on Monday. I discovered on the day that it arrived that their website has a full tracking facility, so we could have, if we‘d known, tracked the entire journey it took, including the ship it was on. I’m a bit sad I didn’t know that. But I’m definitely looking forward to seeing all our old stuff.

I don’t know what the Australians think “greek yoghurt” is, but it isn’t greek yoghurt.

I think the main thing I wasn’t prepared for is a lack of brand-knowledge: so I don’t know whether a product is an Alba or a Sony, if you see what I mean: whether it’s a premium product or some piece of cheap nonsense I don’t want to get. Supermarket trips are a bit bewildering and long as a result, since I don’t have any brand allegiance at all, and most of the food brands are unrecognisable to me. That lack of brand knowledge extends to television programmes: if there’s a Have I Got News For You here then I don’t know what it’s called and therefore can’t search for it. The TV’s full of unrecognisable stuff, plus lots of British things (and I’m trying not to consume any British media). It’s a learning thing, and I’m slowly getting there.

That lack of brand knowledge also means that I miss the visual cues for store shopfronts. I used to be quite adept at understanding which places I could go into and spend an hour over a coffee doing a bit of work: but there’s a combination here of a lack of coffee chains as well as none of the the visual language of a Caffe Nero or a Pret: so I feel a bit more awkward about using up a table in somewhere that feels as if it’s probably a local independent place. (But then I console myself with the amusing tales I’ve heard of Americans saying “Oh, gee, this Queens Head is so much better than your branch in Windsor,” under the misapprehension that pubs named the same are owned by the same company.)

Anyway, it’s time to put supper on.