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Monday, December 16, 2002
A sense of direction

Melbourne is about the same size as London in area but it has about a third of the population. There are several consequences: the roads are not as crowded and the houses are more spread out. The public transport - at least as far as the trams and trains are concerned - is first rate, as I have blogged before. Finding one's way about is therefore not difficult either by public transport or by car. There is a road pricing system of which more anon.

Travel by car is greatly facilitated by a complex map of the city, in book form, akin to the London A to Z but infinitely better. The book is called Melway and everyone has them at home and/or in their cars. However, because they're used so frequently, they quickly become dog-eared and the pages come loose. The other day, I referred to a complete copy in The Essendon Ritz before setting out on a journey to the other side of the city.

When I thought I was about five miles from my target destination, I pulled up beside the road to look at the Melway provided with the car. To my horror, I discovered that all the relevant pages were missing. This gave me something of a dilemma: should I, perhaps, abandon my trip?

I tried to remember what the map looked like when I had looked at a (complete) copy earlier and I drove as close as I could remember. In the end, when I phoned the host at my destination, I found that I was within a quarter of a mile (400 metres) of my destination. This is far more a tribute to the clarity and comprehensiveness of Melway maps and the logical layout of Melbourne than to my memory or skills as navigator.

This does, however, remind me of an experience I had shortly after first arriving in Melbourne, several years ago. My first sorties involved wandering round the centre of the city, without a map of course, just to get its flavour. For the record, I have a good sense of direction and I very seldom get lost. This time, I continually found myself totally unable to return to my starting points. I was very puzzled; in most cities I have ever explored, I had been able to go wandering almost at random, returning to my starting point without retracing my route. In Melbourne, this sense seemed to have deserted me.

It took me some time to work it out: in the Northern Hemisphere, away from the Equator, the Sun rises in the East and sets in the West. The same is true of Melbourne. So far, so good. The one unexpected difference is that, whereas in the Northern Hemisphere, the sun moves from east to west via the South, this does not happen in the Southern Hemisphere. In fact, the Sun moves from east to west via the North. This means that the midday sun is due North, a strange concept for northerners to grasp - especially when they know for a fact that, at home, the midday sun is to be found to the South.

Another feature one might - wrongly - take for granted is the night sky. It is, apparently, completely different, but I have never consciously looked at it. I’m told it’s very attractive and I do not plan to miss it this time. You’ll be hearing about it…

Small bombs wanted

Australia Post, Australia's postal service, has just published a new regulation, concerning these terrorism-aware times. I cannot find a link to it so I will summarise it for you.
From 15 December (that's today), anyone posting a parcel weighing more than 500 grams (that's about 1.1 lbs) will have to produce (specified) identity information. This will apply to items submitted to a Post Office. Items put in a mail box 'may be subject to security related delays'.
What this restriction effectively says is 'all bombs must be under 500 grams'. Personally, I can envisage a bomb this light and small. I'm sure that potential terrorists can, too. Another tactic springs to mind. It is similar to one the IRA used some years ago.

Firstly, identify someone with impeccable ID credentials who frequently posts heavy items abroad. Take his/her family hostage and give him/her a heavy bomb to post. Tell him/her that the family will be released when the bomb explodes.

I do hope that the authorities are prepared for this. If I can think of it, surely the terrorists can.

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