Monday, August 30, 2010

King Kong can step aside at 'tax time'

Image: The original King Kong from the 1933 movie. Courtesy wikipedia.

MONSTERS of the big screen, such as King Kong, Freddy Krueger and even Godzilla, fail to evoke as much terror as a certain real-life antihero. A film producer should glorify 'The Taxman'. Imagine browsing the cover notes in your favourite video store: "He keeps his victims in bondage and tortures them for their entire lives – they scramble for their records but no one can escape The Taxman." 'Return of the Taxman', 'Son of Taxman' and 'Nightmare at Tax Time' would definitely get an X rating.

PLEASE forgive my attempt to inject humour into such a serious matter: Every winter many have tremors, not because of the cold but because the end of the financial year brings the dread of reporting to one of the most powerful authorities. My dad gave me good advice. "Never tell lies – but especially not to your mum, your wife and the taxman." That was it, without even a permit for the occasional 'little white lie'. Before I hunt through bundles of paper and ransack the wardrobe, a recent notice in the Classifieds caught my eye.

PHIL Higgins asked, "Are you having trouble with accounting records? Need a hand?" and even gave an answer: "Retired accountant loves a challenge." Phil was born in Sydney and worked for one of the "big eight" firms, Smith Johnson and Company, which evolved into Peat Marwick Mitchell and further into the professional services giant KPMG. In 1971, he moved with his family to Alexandra Hills, which became his base as he continued in commercial accounting on international projects in many countries.

PHIL worked on joint ventures for large-scale interests including the Packer group, CRA and BHP and, mainly in the early 1980s, also the floating of public companies. He retired for health reasons and now takes much satisfaction from assisting small businesses. His main interest is not directly in tax but rather in "resurrection" of business recording, but Phil agrees some tend to suffer a type of tax paralysis in which fear hinders the task of getting their affairs in order.

"PEOPLE fall off the bandwagon for various reasons; in some cases their accountants let them down; in others they are simply scared they haven't done things correctly," he says. "They can be afraid of the taxman and get very bad visions locked in their head about what will happen, when the reality is very different." Phil says small businesses cannot afford to pay the fees that big agencies need for the often-time-consuming task of rehabilitation, so he is happy to provide an afforable service, made possible because of his retirement.

Thanks for joining me to meet the people in the marvellous community of classified advertising. This column has appeared in The Redland Times.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Cafes raise the bar-ista with beans

THE blank looks and 'what does that mean?' headshakes that once greeted a nifty little word of Italian origin have disappeared in the modern era of Australia's oh-so-sophisticated cafe culture. The word has escaped the crossword grids that formerly rested on bare tables beside cups of lukewarm instant coffee – which always seemed to come out half strength even if you asked for hot and strong. Few adult Australians nowadays would need to ask the meaning of 'barista', which appeared out of a cloud of steam over the past two decades or so and now hovers around the crispness of ironed tablecloths.

AS 'barista' has taken its place in everyday language, the evolution of the cafe culture, in fact, has created a profession. Where once the common belief was that virtually anyone could accept money to make a cup of coffee, nowadays society demands a specialist, even when no payment is required. Redland City counts among its entrepreneurial businesses A Class of Barista, which has trained coffee makers for about the past year at Capalaba. Carrying a subtitle as 'the Brisbane Barista School', the business is the brainchild of a highly experienced hospitality manager, Nathan Fleury.

NATHAN spent 17 years in 'front-of-house' food and beverage management with restaurants, cafes, hotels, resorts and even six-star ocean cruisers before he acted to meet the need for barista training in south-east Queensland. He says he affiliated with Sugar'n Spice Coffee to conduct his schools at the Dan Street coffee roast house, is pleased with the handy Redland location and already has trained dozens of hospitality professionals as well as 'home baristas'. "The demand of discerning consumers for excellent coffee means that it is a crucial factor for the cafes," he says. "Coffee is such a competitive commodity, if a cafe does not make good coffee the cafe down the road will get the business."

AT the highest level, A Class of Barista takes gradutates to national accreditation for their skills but it also supports local schools' vocational education training (VET) for Year 11 and 12 students. Nathan says the industry has experienced a trend away from blends to single-bean grounds that have propelled Papua New Guinea's coffee to rank with that of Ecuador and Colombia among the connoisseur's choice. Nathan's passion for coffee comes through as he talks about his search for "one of the rarest delicacies" in the coffee universe: a cup made from beans that have passed through the digestive tract of a small animal that inhabits parts of Indonesia.

SUCH a cup is rather expensive but Nathan hopes one day to have the chance to hand over as much as $90 for the treat. That is how far the cafe culture has come. We know that one will be hot and strong. Thanks for joining me to meet the people in the marvellous community of classified advertising.

Classie Corner, which celebrates its 30st anniversary in 2010, year, now appears in The Redland Times, a Fairfax Media/Rural Press newspaper. Image is Microsoft clipart.

Rust sets in as trust loses a 't'

Image is Microsoft clipart.

A 't' has dropped off one of the most significant words in our language. Good old-fashioned trust: it's still around but the 'rust' seems to have set in. Once upon a time, it was in so many places we took it for granted; nowadays society seems to regard 'trust' as a characteristic of the gullible. A police officer recently told on ABC Radio of the continuing success of internet scammers in gaining trust of those who fall into their bulging email addressbooks. The interviewer expressed dismay at anyone falling for the faulty English in the spam messages. This dismissive attitude is understandable.

SCAM spam examples in my trash folder are hardly worth quoting, even to illustrate their basic lack of believability, but the following is rather cute: "I want us to team up and convince the bank to release the money to you as the nearest person to our deceased customer ... " And another, direct to the point: "I will soon retire from the bank and without wasting time I will like the fund to be release into your account." But the police officer emphasised no good would come from blaming the victims who for whatever reason – whether promised riches, romance or anything else – have bestowed their trust in someone communicating in this bizarre manner from a remote and exotic location. He said the scammers were ruthless criminals known to kidnap and even murder.

THIS was 'heavy stuff', just when I had been thinking about trust and feeling grateful to the many dozens who have trusted me when I have called at an odd hour to talk about their classified advertising. An elderly reader recently lamented the general suspicion in modern society. We had a good cry together because, as this column's 'intro' tries to say, modern life has turned into a monster that keeps snacking on the 't'. The reader was sad that her kids had to tell their kids to be wary and suspicious of everyone; it never used to be like that.

IN my email inbox last week, sandwiched between messages from a "Reverend" and a "doctor", and wrapped in others from a "casino", a "lottery official" and a lonely heart named "Eva", another reader simply asked for the phone number of a person about whom I wrote a few weeks ago. This showed there is good reason to check the email subject lines carefully and not just delete the unfamiliar – a seed of trust was in that weed pile.

IN the marvellous community of classified advertising in local papers such as The Redland Times, trust has taken root in a stable culture over many generations. We've bolted on our 't's because we know life's always been a bumpy ride.

Digital TV = Fingernail-curling frustration

Image from

A SUBSTANTIAL mood of frustration is seething behind the doors of many Australian households.Again we can blame the digital age but this time the cause is neither the home computer nor the internet connection. The internet hook-up gauntlet seems surprisingly to be leaving fewer bruises on confidence with technology as 'techno-time' has continued its forward march with refinements. But just as one set of fingernail-curling circumstances subsides, another has emerged. And the level of mass annoyance was immediately evident when this writer visited to find a synonym for this article.

AT the top of the list of the sponsor notices on the 'frustration' page was, the Federal Government site explaining the changeover to digital television. This association undoubedtly proves that reception problems are widespread.Sudden disruption of the images and loss of sound on digital TVs risks driving the nation crazy. Just how many times can a dad miss seeing his league side cross the try line, a mum miss a judgment on a cooking show or a daughter miss the punchline in her favourite soapie before they call in an expert to track the fault.

'PIXELATION' - in this sense meaning a breakdown in the image - has graduated from the ranks of computer jargon to true 'household status' with a vengeance.The term has also featured in the Classifieds as antenna experts including Birkdale's Tony Woodcock offer to end the frustration for suffering families. Tony and wife Jenny have equipped their firm, Antenna Express Installation, with state-of-the-art test equipment and proudly proclaim: "This business employs or engages antenna installers who have been endorsed under the Australian Government's Antenna Installer Endorsement Scheme."

TONY has been in the antenna trade since he was a Sky installer in New Zealand in the mid-1990s. He came to Australia in 1998 and climbed on roofs around the nation for Foxtel before the couple settled down about six years ago in their Redland City base. Tony has found most digital reception problems, such as pixelation, stem from the use of older antenna systems. "It is very important to have the correct antenna in the correct position on the roof because factors such as trees, the general terrain and the height of the nextdoor house can all have an effect," he says.

A FEW of Tony's clients have been lucky enough to have just a small fault in the wall plug but he says the interference can come from anywhere in the cabling and connection system. In addition, this digital age has a new technical term, 'impulse noise', describing certain types of interference, for instance from the household electrical systems,Tony says the modern 'quad-shielded' coaxial cables have four layers of protection against impulse noise. However, he says the fault tracking requires an individual assessment in each case.

IF you see Tony on the roofs around the Redlands, give him a wave for me.Thanks for joining me to meet the people in the marvellous community of classified advertising.

This column has appeared in the Redland Times.

It's enough to make you scream!

THROW out the daily crossword -- here's an idea for all 'wordnuts' out there to form a new compulsive habit.This word game beats racking your brain over cryptic clues 'down' and 'across'. Some may say it deserves a patent; others may suggest some serious counselling. At risk of chorus of "get a life" feedback, Classie Corner today launches 'The Great Exclamation Mark Hunt!'. It's easy! It's fun! It's addictive! No maths involved!

THE exclamation mark has long been a sacred symbol of grammar. In the publishing professions, we have been conditioned to use it so sparingly that this tiny blot of ink on paper almost gained a heritage order. Crusty old sub-editors on journals of record would peer over reading glasses, sneer and utter, "Never", at any noviciate who dared press the holy key. The less fervent traditionalists would tolerate the occasional indulgence. The mark has carried a downmarket status in the highbrow world of grammar. "Serious" writers have often scorned it as the tool of the advertising copywriter; such critics may betray some professional jealousy because we all know who pays the most tax.

OF course, the exclamation mark has also been a hallmark of 'sensationalist' reporting but few journalists want to be paraded on Mediawatch so we keep a leash on the !-finger. As the handy websiste notes, the mark is known by "various slang terms: bang; pling; smash; soldier, control; screamer", but certain terms that have been heard around the editing desks are not suitable for this G-rated location. Nevertheless, strict grammarians chanting "only use it when appropriate" have failed to the keep lid on the !-box.

IN the new age of communication through email and 'texting', the exclamation mark has proliferated like the plague.The tiny symbol certainly becomes more important in the abridged messages flashed around on mobiles.The intruiging exercise of working out whether an exclamation mark is warranted is the game plan for The Great Exclamation Mark Hunt!

GRAB any page of the Classifieds, search it for '!', and work out whether it's needed. A page I just scanned expounded: "This is not a carboot sale!" So next Saturday, I'll get down to the monthly markets at Russell Island Motel to make sure no one dares deviate from the "art and craft" theme. So now its LOL! and thanks for joining me on my !-hunt in the marvellous community of classified advertising.

This column has appeared in The Redland Times, Queensland, Australia.

Shedding light on mushrooms

A LONG tradition in primary production continues at Thornlands where the son of an Italian immigrant from the 1950s applies the knowledge and skills under a brand name that is synonymous with the heritage of Redland City. Eprapah Produce is the business of Peter Comuzzo, who for the past 16 years has specialised in growing mushrooms. Peter employs five people to help him send up to 2.5 tonnes of mushrooms a week to Rocklea Markets from the property he bought 22 years ago. He was one of four children of the late Mario Comuzzo and his Blackbutt-reared wife Norma.

THE family farmed at Wishart for about 30 years before, as Peter says, the fields there "started growing houses". The Thornlands property was Peter's first venture outside the family small-crop business, which had irrigation from a creek. He started his own venture with lettuce, tomatoes and eggplant. "The property has two dams but we soon pumped them dry," he says. "That's why we went into mushrooms - they don't take anywhere near as much water."

ALTHOUGH the output may appear substantial, Peter says it is small compared with some large-scale production in South East Queensland, where the biggest operator produces about 70 tonnes a week. Mushrooms give stability of year-round growing but Peter says consumer demand picks up considerably during winter. "During summer, there is more choice of fruit and vegetables so more competition for the household budget," he says.

MUSHROOMS have high protein content and have been promoted as "the meat for vegetarians", Peter says. Despite the emergence of exotic mushroom varieties in recent years, Peter has stuck with the tradional. 'Buttons' are his biggest crop but he also produces smaller volumes of field mushrooms, or 'flats' as they are known in the industry.

REDLAND householders have a bonus from the by-product of Eprapah Produce's farming - a constant supply of spent mushroom compost that is ideal for gardens, big and small.Peter says the growing medium is replaced in nine-week cycles, resulting in the availability of 300 blocks of compost a week. He sells the compost in 20kg bags and delivers locally for free.Winter is not only the ideal time to throw a handful of buttons into the minestrone but also to dig some compost into the home garden before the warmth of spring.
Thanks for joining me to meet the great people in the marvellous community of classified advertising. This column has appeared in The Redland Times, Queensland, Australia. Image from wikipedia.