Monday, 31 October 2011

Birthdays and friendships

Today is my birthday. I don't rail against the years ticking over.  Instead, I am thankful for the gift of life and the wisdom that comes with experience.  I embrace the milestone.

Most years I plan a celebration.  I love to gather people together and look around at the assembly and marvel at the wonderful people I have in my life.  Some of them have been there for a long time.  Some are more recent additions to the fold.  And often there are people who are no longer there.  Perhaps they live elsewhere now or perhaps the friendship has burnt brightly and then faded.

Recently when I was in my old home town of Brisbane, I spent time with friends I have known since university days.  We usually manage to see each other at least once a year.  We don't speak on the telephone that often.  We don't write to each other on email very often either.  We touch each others' lives lightly through Facebook updates.  Yet when we boil the kettle and make a pot of tea and kick back on the couch, our conversations are deep and wide ranging and intimate - as though no time has passed.  It's wonderfully regenerating to spend time with people with whom you share a long history.  So many things are known and require no explanation or back story.

Rediscovered friendships are in a category of their own.  Perhaps wounds have healed or circumstances have brought you together again.

And then there's also the joy of new friendships.  The shared joy and intensity as you discover a new person.   As I get older I notice that it's not as easy to make new friends.  People are settled into their routines and patterns and histories.  This makes the gift of new friendship all the more precious.

Thank you to all my wonderful friends and family.  You have been there for me through many turbulent times and never lost faith in me.  You may have rolled your eyes, shut your eyes or done a double-take on occasion as you watched me, but I've always felt great love and support from the very high quality selection of people which surrounds me. And I never take you for granted.

Happy birthday to me! I'm off to do nice things for myself.  I may take up the suggestion from my three year old nephew and spend some time in the park.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Jerry Springer on the buses

I sat beside a woman on the bus the other morning.  The bus was very crowded and there was a man standing with his back to me, seemingly unaware that he was squashing me.  I commented on this to the woman beside me as I leant closer to her.  She responded with a question.

"Is he cute?"

I had no way of knowing as all I could see was the expanse of his back covered in a hairy jumper.  I just smiled and shook my head.  I thought it unlikely that a man who was oblivious to the people around him would be in any way attractive.  And there was the hairy jumper to consider.

The woman then went on to tell me about how she had met one of her boyfriends when he literally bumped into her in the street.  It was an accident and he asked if he could take her out for a drink.

It was 8:15 in the morning and I was trying to stay in my seat without dying from inhalation of the hairy jumper fibres and was also off to attend a course so was thinking about the day ahead.  I didn't really know where my stop was either and so was trying to pay attention to where I was. The woman's voice was soft and the bus was loud.  I couldn't really hear everything she was saying to me, so this story may be completely made up.

She then went on to tell me that they had the worst sex she had ever had.  When she said "worst" she meant really, really bad.  The look on her face and the level of disclosure so far made me fear that I was about to find out more than I wanted to know.  The man in question apparently had an oddly shaped stomach and she didn't really like him, but thought she'd "give him a go".

Give him a go?  Like buying a new brand of tomato sauce or a different variety of bread.  These are things that you "give a go", not sex with a man who bumped into her on the street (who wasn't George Clooney or Johnny Depp or Hugh Jackman.)

Anyway, she continued by then suggesting that I should approach Hairy Jumper Man. Perhaps I could give him a go.  Was I sitting there radiating some kind of lonely woman vibe?   Thankfully she left at the next stop.  There was something about the intimacy of the crowded bus that stopped me just telling her to be quiet, that I wasn't interested in discussing her sex life and that I couldn't really hear what she was saying anyway.  Or perhaps I just kept listening because I knew it would give me a story to tell.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Going down to Numberland.

I've been out of my comfort zone for most of the last two days.  I've been living in Numberland, Digitopolis, call it what you will.  I've been getting my tax return done for last financial year and also preparing the first business activity statement relating to the collection of GST (that's the goods and services tax for readers who don't live in Australia.)

As someone who just didn't get around to dealing with my tax for more years than I'm willing to disclose here, I now find it equally terrifying and satisfying.  I'm hoping to change the balance and eventually rub out the terror side of the equation all together.  If you've seen the BBC comedy "Black Books" starring Dylan Moran as Bernard Black, I was like Bernard when it came to tax - I'd rather sort socks, clean the oven or invite the religious zealots at the door in for a chat and a cuppa.

I've changed.  I now have a System.  It does not involve a big pile of scrunched up receipts in a shoebox.  It involves the wonders of Excel spreadsheets.

Prior to the System, I used to arrive at the accountant with piles of paper.  To the casual onlooker, it was a cliche.  I was the person with disorganised piles of paper.  The casual onlooker was wrong.  These were highly organised piles of paper.  I used to pay the accountant to add up the numbers in these piles of paper.  This was necessary expenditure, a survival mechanism in fact, to get me through many years' of tax returns.

Under the rules of the System, I still have highly organised piles of paper, but I add them up as I go on a spreadsheet and I don't need to take them out of the house.  Today I achieved something significant.  I devised a spreadsheet - with the help of my accountant - which tracks business expenses for the financial year and tracks the GST.  It's taken hours and hours to get it right this time, but next time I have to think about tax and numbers and money I will just press some buttons!

I can hear you rolling your eyes you know.  Number people think differently from word people like me.  They get excited about the numbers and can instantly see how to lay out a spreadsheet logically and how to reduce the world to a series of equations that can be solved.  Weird.  Alien, even.  After the accountant gave me instructions for the spreadsheet, I had to repeat back to her my understanding of the big picture concept to make sure I could answer the question, "what's it all about?"  I got it right, but the words we used and the shape of the description were very different.

These kinds of differences have led to misunderstanding from my very early days.  I think I was in about grade one or two.  Mrs Perriman was my teacher and we were doing maths, learning the rudiments of basic equations which were referred to as "number stories".  For example  1+2 = x or  4 + x = 6.    We'd spent the whole morning on this stuff and then Mrs Perriman instructed us to write a number story of our own.  At last!  Back to the words.  And so I wrote.  "Once upon a time there was a man called 8.  He had a family.  His wife was called 5 and the dog was 9.  One day.... ".

I got into a lot of trouble.  I was accused of being naughty and told that I was cheeky.  Why couldn't I follow the simple instruction and write a number story?

I think about this occasionally.  I wonder what difference it would have made if the teacher had congratulated me for my version of the number story and recognised the ambiguity of her language for the children who were wired for words rather than numbers?  Punishment seems to be a completely wrong response.  I was sent to the headmistress's office where I was a regular visitor.  I wasn't bad, just bored and obviously my natural talents and inclinations were not being acknowledged.

Being as numerically disadvantaged as I am, there are some things I can do really well.  I'm really good at mental arithmetic.  I can sight read and play complex music on the piano.  I can knit complicated patterns and keep the pattern in my head.  It's weird.  I think I might just suffer from a lack of interest, but I also think that I can follow a process really easily, I'm just not great at working out what the process should be.

Have things improved for kids these days?  I hope so.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

I don't want to.

Today I called one of the small people in my life to wish him happy birthday.  It's a milestone birthday.  He's just turned three!  He lives interstate so I don't get to see him very often, but we've been talking on Skype lately.  Having the visual channel open for communication certainly makes it easier to understand and communicate with a three year old.

I was pretty excited to call today.  I'd made a cup of tea and was ready to catch up on all his news:  there'd been an outing to a Wiggles concert today and a fancy birthday cake was under construction and of course there would be gifts to report on.   I hoped the fact that we'd seen each other in person a couple of weeks ago would help the warm up phase of the call go more swiftly.  I was wrong.

His mother answered the call and then went off camera to summon her child to speak to his Aunty.  I could hear the conversation off camera.  She was reminding him that he needed to come and say thank you for his birthday present and allow his Aunty to wish him happy birthday.  There was quiet objection at first, then screams of "I don't want to" came through the internet.  Wow.  How to make a girl feel really loved.  Scream that you don't want to as though you're about to undergo root canal.  Scream that you don't want to as though you're needing to do ten years' worth of overdue tax returns.  Scream that you don't want to as though you've been asked to give up state secrets under torture.  I wasn't wanting to pour a glass of red wine and hold a discourse for an hour  on the merits of an overhaul of the tax system or offshore processing of asylum seekers.  I just wanted to say Happy Birthday.

Eventually he plonked in front of the camera and I got a few seconds of engagement.  I reminded him that it's my birthday next week.  He didn't seem very interested in that fact, but I pressed on.  I told him I'd be ready for him to Skype me and then I'd scream I don't want to when he called me to the camera.  He thought this was pretty funny.  Then he left.

That was pretty much it.  On one hand I admire the strength to know his own mind, but on the other, it took a lot longer to object than it would have to come and speak for a couple of minutes.  Although I do know how he feels.  There have been many situations where I've felt that the only appropriate response was to thrash on the ground and scream I don't want to.  Elegant simplicity.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Rude awakening

It was the antithesis of a peaceful, ordered start to the day. 7am and there was very loud engine sound.  It sounded like chainsaws.  And then the sound of one of those wood chippers.  There were also raised voices, men, arguing about something.  I rolled over and tried to get another 30 minutes' sleep.  It could not happen.  The acoustics had the sounds echoing off various buildings and closing doors and windows did no good.

I decided to get up and investigate, stopping by the bathroom to wash my face.  Only to discover that there was no water!  What kind of scenario was I facing?

As I walked out my front door, I immediately could see where the argument was coming from.  My weirdo neighbour (about whom I wrote in this post) had a tradesman in full fight.  I immediately saw the problem.  The plumber had parked his van in Gottfried's space.  Despite the fact that he doesn't have a vehicle, he reminded me that he "makes no exceptions" when it comes to parking in the space.  The plumber was at the end of this tether and moved the van to park in another space.  These people DO have a vehicle and Gottfried's vibrant community spirit was about to cause him to re-engage with the poor plumber.  I suggested that they could sort it out.  I was only saying to a friend yesterday that I had never seen Gottfried's eyes - he was always wearing his 1930's motoring goggles whenever I saw him.  Today I saw his eyes - narrow and icy and soulless.  My suspicions that he's a serial killer are now being superceded by the view that he is a Pedant.

I made my way to the front of the building wondering what a plumber could be doing to cause such noise.  I saw the big, shady tree in the front yard of the apartment block being killed, literally pulled apart, limb for limb and fed into the chipper. Apparently the tree had become dangerous and was at risk of falling over so it had to go, but it still makes me sad.  The plumber was there to fix a broken tap and couldn't do the work because of the tree works.  The water had been turned off anyway and the junior plumber advised me in a tiny, scared voice that he had knocked on all the doors to let people know the water was going off. I could barely hear him over the noise of the tree dismemberment.  Great timing - 7:30am on a Monday morning to be without water.

What makes me sadder is poor communication.  Both the tree people (are they arborists if they are devoted to killing the tree?) and the plumber had been organised by the body corporate managers, you'd think they could coordinate the works, let alone advise residents that these things were going to be taking place.  Had I known, I would have gone to bed earlier and had a plan to work somewhere other than home today.

How hard can it be?

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Admissions trading.

I thought I heard my friend talk about carbon admissions today.  He said emissions of course, but it got me thinking about what an admissions trading scheme would look like, carbon or otherwise.

A lot of the new carbon economy seems to be about accounting systems and the quality of the reports that the accounting system can deliver.  Whether your report card is showing a good or a poor outcome, how good is the actual report card itself? This is the crux of the matter.  This kind of thinking takes me back to the mid 1990's when I sat on numerous committees whose purpose was to monitor equal employment opportunity and occupational health and safety.  Whether or not the committees were meeting regularly was one of the measures of how successful the organisation was in these areas.  I thought it was pretty pointless most of the time, but to say so would have seen me treated like a heretic in mediaeval times.

There is a theory of management that says you should measure the areas in which you wish to achieve change as the focus from the upper echelons will signal that everyone should be focussed on it.  In other words, shine a light.

So the establishment of Admissions Trading schemes has some appeal.  If focussed on carbon admissions I can imagine that the log book would quantify the timing and quality of farts.  My friend suggested it would also include guilty admissions like "caught the bus when I could have walked".  A whole department could be set up as an adjunct to the Tax Office requiring quarterly statements to be submitted.  A complex algorithm would be devised to work out how my low energy light bulbs and reusable shopping bags off-set your log fire and V8 car.  And it would all be based on honesty.  We would be compelled to admit.

So a broader application is appealing.  I admit all of my guilt.  So do you.  All the admissions get put in a big pot and they mingle.  Out come some more dirty secrets and a bit of carbon which goes on that other register.  The world would feel more open.  Somehow.

But still it's not enough.  Admissions of bad things would need to be balanced with admissions of good things, perhaps admissions to halls of fame.  So I would admit that I parked in the disabled parking spot and this would be offset by an admission to the country music hall of fame by a lifelong banjo player.  Now we're getting into a bit of yin and yang.  I'm seeing the spreadsheet that we would be required to fill in.  There would be several layers of reporting, from the macro level of a nation to the micro level of individual citizens.  It would be tremendously exciting.  Citizens could pool their admissions of guilt together and search for hall of famers to offset.  It would get people talking.  Awareness of the good things which people do in the community would come to the forefront of the collective consciousness.  Admission credits could only be purchased with hours of voluntary work.

It could be handy for the Arab spring nations.  Or for the US as they withdraw their troops from Iraq.  A great little reporting tool to assess governments as they put themselves for election again.

I can't imagine why no one has thought of this before.  A market solution to guilt!  Highly practical.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

I did but see her passing by

With Queen Elizabeth II currently visiting Australia, I was reminded of when I did see her passing by.

I was a Canberra school girl and it was the early 1970's so it may have been a visit connected to the Silver Jubilee.  I was a student at Canberra Church of England Girls' Grammar School and as the Queen was the head of the church, it was a pretty big deal.   The Queen would travel down Northborne Avenue - right past our school!- and we would all be out there in the blazing sun to wave to her ( at her?).  We were issued with a plastic flag on a stick and given very strict instructions (all the instructions were always strict) about how to behave.  And most likely how not to behave.  I was always in trouble because of misinterpretation of the rules.

We filed out to the side of the freeway and stood for what seemed like hours in the sun.  Then the word came that she was coming.  We waved our little plastic flags like maniacs.  I think I may have seen her sitting in the backseat of the car.  Was she wearing a lemon hat?  And then she was gone.  And we all filed back to school.  I think I was thrilled.  I don't really remember.  I know I was sunburnt.

The next time I was caught up in royal fever was when Diana and Charles were engaged and then married.  I don't know why, but I kept a scrapbook.  I loved her hair.  I loved the story of the girl who met a prince.  I loved that she was a dancer.  I was a teenage girl.  These things seem important.

At boarding school we were allowed to watch the wedding on television in the common room.  There was much gasping over the frock and then deep concern at the fact that she'd vowed to a man called "Philip Charles Arthur George".  Would it matter?  Were they really married?  Would they have to do the whole thing again?  Would she have to call him Phil from now on?  The speculation kept us going for hours.

I will confess to watching this year's royal festival, the Will and Kate wedding, with friends.  I enjoyed the pomp and sense of occasion, rather than for any sense of them being in line to be our head of state.  And I knew all the hymns and anthems.  Musical education in an Anglican school and a lifetime of being a chorister sears these things into your brain.  I can still recite the entire Anglican communion service without reference to any books even though I haven't been to church for some time.

So the Queen will be here in Melbourne next week.  Even if I could find my little plastic flag, I don't think I'd be going anywhere to wave it. Although from a crowd observation point of view, it could be fun.

I long for the day that Australia will grow up and claim nationhood for ourselves and give the opportunity for any of its own citizens to one day be head of state, rather than being enslaved to a monarchy that prefers men over women and is in another country a long way away.

In the meantime, here's to Mother England.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Taking to the streets of Melbourne.

Today started being awoken by a phone call.  It wasn't particularly early, but I had been indulging my natural night owl tendencies and had gone to bed at about 2am.  My friend was calling to ask me about comparative wage justice in light of the discussion about the Tax Commissioner using it as justification for the 58% pay increase he is seeking.  You can read the story in The Age here.  His claim may or may not be justified, but it's hard to take it seriously in light of the 3% increase he is offering his own workforce.

After offering my sleepy take on the issue of the day, I turned on the radio to hear the news about the death of Gaddafi.  Except I heard about celebration in Libya before I heard what was causing the celebration.

And then over my porridge, I heard the Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Councillor Robert Doyle, advise that people participating in the Occupy Melbourne protest were being issued with eviction notices with a 9am deadline to leave City Square.  Among the reasons he gave was that it wasn't fair for protesters to inconvenience the public who wish to use the square.  He also cited a negative impact on business.

I had only a vague awareness of the occupation protests in many cities and was not really aware of what was happening in Melbourne until I'd heard the Lord Mayor forget his PR training on the radio earlier in the week and have a go at one of the protesters who called in.  Now, along with the rest of Melbourne and the country, I'm very aware.  I've trawled through their website.  There's some predictable stuff there.  I found the minutes of "Melbourne's first general assembly" quite fascinating.  The revolutionary language makes it easy to skim through it and write if off as cliche, but what really shines through is the idealism.  I love the fact that there's a free shop, a kitchen, a school and some responsibility taken for creating a thoughtful community.  For example:

  • That  homeless people are welcome at occupy Melbourne and have access to any of our resources.
  • That this action is endorsed as a nonviolent action; and that we take communal responsibility to reinforce this.
  • $242 raised for Philippines striking workers during course of meeting.

 It's also interesting to note the areas where there was a lack of consensus.  There were many:

  • That Occupy Melbourne has a ‘no buying; no selling’ policy’.  Result: consensus not achieved.  Referred back to individual.
  • That people identify when they speak for themselves, when they are speaking for a political party or a group.  Result: consensus not achieved.
  • We are against capitalism.  Result: consensus not reached. 

I found the last one a little surprising.  Any wonder it has been difficult to work out exactly what the objective of the protest is.

Then I heard on the radio that the police had arrived in riot gear with horses and dogs and the eviction was on.  Fences were being erected around the City Square and the tent city was being dismantled. My heart sank.  People would probably be hurt.  The disobedient rebel in me secretly rallied around the protesters in the face of the ridiculous stance taken by the Mayor but it was in heated argument with the person who believes passionately in the power and value of conversation.

I decided to go into town and see for myself.  I'm glad I did.

The Mayor's objective to give public space back to the public at large and remove inconvenience sounded like a joke when considered in light of the chaos at the Swanston and Collins Street intersection.  Trams were not moving on these two main city thoroughfares.  The Yarra Trams worker at the Collins Street stop told me at about 1pm that the trams hadn't been going for over three hours.  Instead of the protest being relatively contained in the City Square, it was now in the streets facing off against police.  Meanwhile, City Square sat empty, surrounded by fences, security guards and police.
The intersection of Collins Street and Swanston Street in Melbourne city.  On the left the mounted police can be seen.
Burke and Wills watch over the stand off between police and protesters.

Up close and personal - police keep bystanders off the street and away from the main body of protesters.

I was there for about 90 minutes just observing and taking in the vibe.  There seemed to be more onlookers than protesters and more police than protesters.  As I arrived, I could see mounted police in the centre of the intersection, ringed by police.  The air felt tense but calm.  Then I saw the mounted police start to move forward.  I heard the crowd boo and I felt a chill.  This is where things can turn bad.  I felt for the police actually.  Physically putting themselves on the line for a politician who was being bull-headed and not noticing the own goal he was about to score.

There were all kinds of people around.

I overheard a mother explaining to her toddler that this was happening because of the greedy, rich people and greedy rich people are bad people who deserve everything they get.

I spoke to a bloke who said he was trying to get through to the other side of the intersection.  He had contractors booked for the day and he couldn't understand why the police didn't just break it up and arrest them.  The protesters were breaking the law in his view.  I suggested to him that it was a delicate situation and as much about the PR battle as the actual stand off in the street and that the police were moving slowly, deliberately and carefully.  They wouldn't want to ignite what was currently peaceful.  He shrugged and said he didn't care.  Law breakers get what's coming to them.  I decided not to share the observation that they were only blocking the streets now because of the Mayor's decision to move them out of the Square.

Sellers of the "Big Issue" magazine were desperately trying to take advantage of the crowds to sell their magazine.  Ironically, it didn't look like many people were buying.  A little way away, I heard two men arguing.  One was in a wheelchair and being yelled at by another: "We're doing this for you mate!"  And then, "We've been housing and feeding Melbourne's homeless people for a week."  A little overinflated perhaps.  Or perhaps an understatement of Melbourne's homeless population.  Revolutionary language does seem prone to hyperbole.

A white van, with fashion label "Anthea Crawford" written on the side, drove up Collins Street and came to an inevitable halt at Swanston Street.  The traffic light went green and of course the van could go nowhere.  The driver had a plan though - he started to toot his horn!  Trams weren't running.  There were mounted police and even the horses were in protective riot gear, but the dresses would get through!

Meanwhile a young guy was standing on the tram stop railing to gain a higher vantage point.  He looked precarious but safe.  A man in a wheelchair made his way over and yelled at him to get down.  The guy got the wobbles as he turned to acknowledge the local school prefect.  The wheelchair bound man told him to get down because it wasn't safe for him to be up there.  He eventually went away, but a few minutes later came up and tried to push him off from behind, saying as he pushed, that it wasn't safe for him to be up there.  It certainly wasn't safe if some lunatic in a wheelchair was going to push him from behind.  The guy jumped down and I asked if he was okay.  He was visiting from France.  He explained to me that this was much more peaceful than the strikes they have in France, but the French protesters like it when it turns violent because they gain exposure for their cause.  I welcomed him to Australia (in French of course) and then for some unknown reason further demonstrated my French language mastery by asking for directions to the station and asking for a croissant.  We went our separate ways.

Above the heads of the crowd was a sea of iphones, ipads and cameras being held aloft.  I suppose their grainy, bumpy footage will flood the web.

As the protest now blocked access to the Melbourne Town Hall, council workers in their ties and suits looked down from the balconies.  Another bad PR look.  One valiant protester tried to scale the walls of the Hall Spiderman style, but only progressed a few centimetres before dropping back to the throng.  And all of this took place with the benediction of a giant devil-cherub statue, there as part of the Melbourne Festival's Angels-Demons parade. (Photo below.)

I didn't want to be there if things turned ugly and the rain was making things a bit unpleasant, so I decided to head back to Flinders Street station to catch the train home. As I went past the empty and contained City Square I decided to cross the road to take a photo.  A security guard was watching me.  I took several photos and then he spoke:  "You need to move on ma'am.  This area is out of bounds."

That's public space he's talking about.
The previous site of the protests.  Out of bounds to me and any other passers by.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Big Rain

Last week I was in Brisbane when Big Rain happened.  Of course, I noticed the humidity the moment I stepped off the plane.  It was familiar.  I had come home to Brisbane airport most weeks for many, many years before I moved to Melbourne.  Feeling the warm, moist air even as I stepped into the air conditioned terminal, I was reminded of my life in Brisbane.

I stepped out into the night and could feel my hair frizz.  One of the things I don't miss.  Never have missed.

The next morning, it was the same.  Moisture everywhere - that feeling of never quite having dry skin.  My hair went straight into the ponytail I had worn for six months while I lived in Darwin.  Long, curly hair is quite impossible in the tropics.  Even the sub tropics.  Storms were predicted for later in the day and it felt right.

From the window of the building I was working in, I could see the sky darkening throughout the afternoon.  I could also see the purple Jacaranda trees.  They reminded me of university swot vac.  When the Jacarandas left their purple carpets of dropped petals, lectures were finished and exams were looming.  There were no exams or text books for me anymore, but still the trees bloomed marking out the semesters more reliably than any calendar.

When I stepped outside I could see why the receptionist had insisted on calling a cab.  For all the good it did. This was Big Rain.  Bucketing in big, fat, wet splashes.  Not even drops.  Then the wall of water.  It reminded me of the first downpour I witnessed in Darwin.  I had never seen so much rain.  You just had to surrender to it.  And forget about your shoes.  I lost a thong once.  It floated away in the deluge. Waiting under the roof for a cab while watching the peak hour traffic go nowhere is a lesson in patience.  There is nothing to be done.  As your hair frizzes even more, even from the restraint of a ponytail.

Then a cab arrives and you know your dry-clean-only suit is going to be soaked crossing the tiny distance between cover and the cab.  The cab driver is cranky.  His last fare took him half an hour to get from such-and-such to here.  Sitting in a cab that isn't going anywhere!  Imagine that.  I pointed out that the metre is still running, but he had some logic to rebut me straight away.  He almost convinced me that the last thing a cab driver wants in his cab is paying customers, even if the cab is caught in traffic.

Somehow, I knew this trip was going to be a debacle. 

He immediately started to drive in the wrong direction.  It may be over a decade since I left, but the streets are imprinted in my brain.  Again, he had some magical logic as to why we were actually going in the right direction - pointing in the right direction is a better description, because we were now part of the car park that was peak hour traffic.  I queried him again and he invited me to get out and walk.  I reminded him that would leave him trapped in his empty cab in the middle of gridlock, without the metre ticking.

Then water started to come through the seal in the window onto the sleeve of my suit jacket.  I thought the driver would like to know there was a leak, but reconsidered telling him, given his incredible ability to turn things to his advantage.  He'd probably tell me it was a mirage.  So I shuffled across the seat.  He looked alarmed and asked me why I was moving.  I told him the window was leaking.  He said it wasn't.  What did I know?  I only had a wet arm and my skin was starting to sprout a downy covering of mildew.

It only took twenty minutes to complete the circle and arrive back at the place where we had picked up the cab.  Naturally, I couldn't help but point this out to him.  This time he had nothing to say.  The fare was almost double what it had cost to travel from the hotel in the morning.

As we arrived back at the hotel, the rain had stopped.  The air was fresh and everything looked new.  I was reluctant to leave the cab and return to my hotel room.  I actually had more space in the back seat of the cab, than I had in the world's smallest hotel room.  The main advantage of the hotel room though?  The taxi driver who had an answer for almost everything wasn't in it.  He wouldn't have fit anyway.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Life without a computer.

My computer has been returned after needing to have the CD/DVD drive replaced for a third time.  I sent it off to be fixed at a time when I also was travelling interstate for work.  It's been interesting to be at home without access to a computer.  Because I run my business from home, I have the computer on all the time.  The lines between work and personal activity do become blurred, after all, I'm a one woman show at the moment, so it could be argued that everything is work and everything is personal.  I'll have more concrete percentages after I visit the accountant next week.

Here's what happened while I was without a computer.

My Scrabble opponents had to wait for me to make a move.

I was unable to pay someone I owed money to. Even with an iphone.  I had previously been able to access my bank's website on my phone, but they upgraded to a mobile site which is great, but it also has limited functionality.  One of the limits is on not being able to set up a new payee.  My bank doesn't have many branches.  To arrange the payment, I had to download a form, print it and fax it back or take it to one of the three branches in Melbourne.  That process had me reaching for my cheque book.

I couldn't catch up with the second episode of "The Slap" on ABC TV's iview.  (I missed it because I was out to dinner.)

I had to physically go into the library and look for a book on the shelves!  Normally I just place an order via the web and then collect the book when I receive an email or text message letting me know it's waiting for me.

I couldn't immediately submit my invoice to a client for this billing period.

I couldn't do the accounts for my brother's business.

I couldn't skype with my friend in the Kimberley Desert.  We had to talk on the phone the old fashioned way. (That was okay.  I was lying in bed for the second hour.)

I had to delay compiling my personal tax records and details for my Business Activity Statement, relating to GST collection.

I made handwritten notes of knitting done and books read for electronic update later.

That's all.  Life went on.  There was some inconvenience, but things turned out okay in the end.  I wasn't bereft.  The most serious problems I would face if I didn't have a computer at home would be to do with banking and running my business, including doing my brother's accounts.  It's just not possible to be computer free, but it felt nice for a little while.

I'd miss my online Scrabble games too.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011


There's going to be a little time between posts where I won't be publishing divacultura and I thought I should let my readers know.

My computer is going to be fixed and will be picked up tomorrow.  The good news is that I caught the problem (for the third time) five days before the end of my extended warranty period.  The computer is taken away and then takes four working days to make its way up to the front of the queue for assessment.  It takes a further two days for the assessment at which point I may or may not get a phone call.  

It's difficult to know just how long it will really take.  The people on the end of the telephone for these situations are specially trained to use evasive language.  When asked any questions that start with the words "how long" or "when" their reflexes kick in.  This means they talk for about four minutes without breathing and pepper their statement with convoluted placements of words like "perhaps", "probably", "might", "maybe", "could", "potentially" with a skill that makes your head spin.  In the hands of these masters I go to pieces and am rendered stupid and ridiculous, making statements like "I don't understand what you're saying".  Of course, this is the worst thing to say because on their flow chart in their special handbook called "How to evade and bamboozle customer time frames" this statement sends them right back to the beginning of the process.  

So, I don't know when I'll be back.  I will be back!  I'll continue to write long hand offline and should have some good tales to tell upon my return.  I hope you'll stick with me!

In the warpath

I've a had a few encounters recently that have left me wondering what's happening in the world.  I've also felt a little unsafe afterwards.  Then I felt angry and resentful as I thought about what was going on.

Yesterday I was catching a tram to an appointment across town.  As we approached my stop, I made my way to the door and waited until we stopped.  When we did stop there were about ten people waiting to get on.  They surged forward, led by a tall male youth who came up the stairs.  I was half way down the stairs and there was no where for either of us to go.  I asked him to wait and allow me and other passengers to disembark.  His response was to puff his chest out and eye ball me. I'm the Queen of the power glare and that's what my instinct led me to do before I realised that this might not be a safe or wise thing to do.  He looked aggressive.  My only choice was to go back up the stairs to allow him on first and then try again to get off the tram.  

What's that about?  A sense of entitlement? Unthinking actions and then the need to aggressively prove himself to be in the right?  Deep insecurity which he hides by showing an aggressive and uncaring face to the world?  

Then here at home last week on a day when the sun was out a soccer match was started on the driveway of our apartment block just as I drove in to park.  There's a really lovely park about three minutes away so I do not understand why people need to kick balls near the cars that are parked.  My car bears the scars of a previous group of kids who would consistently kick their ball at the parked cars.  This day the game was being played by about 6 young men, some I know to say hello to and some that I've never seen before.  I parked my car and locked it and greeted them all (they had had to stop playing while I parked my car).  I then asked them not to play near my car.  One of the men I didn't know made a smart comment that was backed with a contemptuous attitude.  One of the blokes that I do know stepped in and acknowledged what I was saying, but they made no move to play somewhere else.  I asked again but felt the air change - there was a charge of aggression.  I suggested that they play near their own cars so they would only damage their own property.  Then I said I was only asking to be shown some respect by my neighbours.  Then I left and watched from my window as they continued to kick the ball at my car and occasionally land on my car themselves.

I don't like feeling helpless and I don't often feel intimidated, but I am at a loss to know how to handle these kinds of situations.  It feels so volatile and I end up wrestling between my sense of safety and my sense of justice.  

The bizarre thing is that the stakes are low in both these situations.  It would be very easy for the men in these scenarios to make different choices without much detriment to themselves - if any.  

What to do?

Monday, 10 October 2011

A girl's best friend.

Taking my car to the mechanic arouses mixed feelings for me.  On one hand there's the fear of the unknown, on the other hand there's the confidence of handing the power and responsibility over to somebody who knows what they're doing.  Finding a new mechanic is on a par with finding a new gynaecologist.  The first visit is a real test.  It's not just about how good their work is, but also, equally important, is how they deal with me as a person.

My faithful little 1994 Mazda has just clicked over 81,000km.  She's had one prang.  Apart from that the tyres are the most expensive item and I had to put in a new thing to make the air conditioner work again.  Otherwise, the regular services and TLC keep everything going nicely.  I only drive her when I need to, choosing public transport where possible.  Public transport is cheaper, quicker, better for the environment and I get to read and eavesdrop while I'm travelling.  I also find it less stressful than peak hour driving.

Last week I had to work way over the other side of the city and I had to be there at 8am, so this was an occasion to drive.  Coming back I noticed the engine was revving very high while I was idling at traffic lights and the temperature gauge was showing "very hot".  When the lights went green and I started to move again, the temperature returned to normal.  I don't know much about cars, but I knew that it probably wasn't good.

So I rang Darren and explained everything that had happened.  We've been seeing Darren for about four years now.  I trust him.  He rings me and explains everything to me as though I'm a sentient being.  He answers my questions without judgement and I don't hear him laugh when I put forward my suggestions or descriptions.  He might have a very quick mute button on his phone, but the impression is that he cares and he doesn't treat me like an idiot.

Darren advised me to top up the water in the radiator before I drove it again.  Despite the good relationship I now have with Darren, I just couldn't bring myself to admit that I didn't know where the radiator was.  And what kind of water?  Tap? Evian? So my solution was I just didn't drive it until I took her in this morning.

"How'd you go with the radiator?  Was the level low when you topped it up?" was Darren's greeting.  Efficiency.  That's good in a mechanic.  But it was truth time.  "I didn't do anything.  I didn't drive it until now when I've brought it here to you, Darren."  I went all hot.  He maintained eye contact.  Did I see the beginnings of a smirk?  "That's ok.  We'll take a look today and I'll call you and let you know."

Great.  Off I went for my 30 minute power walk back home to prepare for a two hour phone conference.

90 minutes into the phone conference the other phone rang.  It was Darren.  My heart beat a little faster.  Was it going to be good news of the we-fixed-it-with-sticky-tape-and-she's-all-fine-to-go-once-you've-made-a-tiny-payment type?  Or bad news of the oh-god-you'd-better-sit-down-you'll-be-postponing-your dental-visit-and-yes-we-have-a-payment-plan kind?

I love it when Darren calls.  He goes into such detail about what they've looked at (the right park light globe was out, so we've replaced that) and also explains how the car works.  Over the phone.  I have no idea what he's saying.  I understand the individual words.  But that's the end of my comprehension.  When I was at university a friend used me as a guinea pig for his new IQ test methodology for his Masters in Psychology.  It considered different areas from the standard test and included a section on mechanical aptitude.  I remember that part of the test was all if cog A is turning anti clockwise and lever C moving from east to west, how many revolutions will cog F make in 30 minutes.  I didn't know.  I didn't want to know.  I couldn't even get engaged in the puzzle to be solved.  I just randomly marked boxes and was done in record time.  The report came back with glowing results on literacy, reasoning, spatial awareness and patterns.  In relation to mechanical aptitude, it said that the subject has a low level and indeed, appears to lack interest.  On the basis of this statement alone we concluded that his methodology was spot on.  Darren was still talking and I heard him say, "...just keep an eye on the level and top the radiator up every now and then."

Darren, Darren, Darren.  We've known each other long enough to know that this approach will not work.  "Darren you'll have to show me what to do when I pick the car up tomorrow."  Lightning fast on that magic mute button.  "Sure.  No worries."

It's so unlike me not to know how to deal with any potential situations.  Any other situation and I'd happily read the manual and make sure I knew what to do.  But my car is the area where I outsource all responsibility and knowledge.  I have male friends who just seem to have been born knowing about engines and how to fix them.  Amazing! I've considered this from a feminist point of view too.  I don't feel shut out - I'm just not interested.  While ever there's someone I can pay to help me and who doesn't talk to me like I'm a fool, I figure, I don't need to steal time from other things I'd rather be doing.

Go Darren!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

In Der Raum

The windows are dark and the door firmly shut.  If you didn't know it was a bar and you had a booking you wouldn't even know that it was open for business.  The bar is Der Raum in Richmond and it is wonderful.  I went for a pre dinner cocktail last night before heading off to a nearby restaurant.  We had a booking, so pressed the buzzer and waited to be granted entry.

As the door opened we were greeted with a glorious smell - heady and spicy and perfumed.  Real aromas, not manufactured or synthetic.  We were shown to our booth and given a moment to soak up the ambience before being handed a menu.  The menu has two degustation style menus on the front page.  One will take you on a tour through 5 cocktails and the other through about 8!  I don't know whether they are full size or smaller tastes to account for the number you'd be drinking if you decided to take this on.  Individual cocktails can also be had.  Thank goodness!

While we perused the menu (helpfully laid out across two axes sweet/dry and sour/spiced) we were served water in Vegemite jars!  Then a brown glass bottle with dry ice vapour coming out the top.  It had a mouthful of dry vermouth and chamomile vapour in it, provided to cleanse and dry our palates.  One must have a prepared palate.  We placed our orders - I ordered Demetri's Afternoon (high on the sour scale), and my friends ordered Perfume and something with Sake with an-almost-haiku for a name.  It sounded lonely, that's all I can remember.

I immediately wished I'd ordered the Perfume. It had jasmine flowers and jasmine vapour and was obviously one of the reasons the place smelt divine.  I was a little underwhelmed by my choice.

While we waited for our cocktails to be made we were served a "puff" - a delicate, cold concoction of tomato, basil and freeze dried black olive.  We were instructed to put the whole thing in our mouths at one time.  It was a complete mouth experience with everything coming alive and every taste bud standing to attention.

It actually wasn't as pretentious as it sounds. I enjoyed the whole sensory, sensual experience and the service was excellent.

If you're not a member, you do need to book.

Staged kisses.

"In tonight's class, we're going to practise kissing."

These were the first words uttered by the teacher at an improvisation class I took some time ago.  We were part of the ensemble performing in a season of Theatre Sports and some of the stories had gone a bit astray when the people on stage squirmed away from kissing when it was obvious that the scene called for it.  In retrospect, it does seem a bit odd to have a newly engaged couple shaking hands to celebrate, or the reunited couple hugging, albeit warmly, or the couple farewelling each other with a wave as he goes off to war.  An audience knows how a story goes and things become stilted when the natural flow is interrupted.

So there we were, in class, and it was clear what that evening's curriculum was.  Some rules of engagement were set up and it was made clear that two people would just get up on stage and be given the beginning of a scene.  We were to carry the mantra "I am going to kiss you" in our heads throughout the scene and at the appropriate moment, lock lips. It did not matter what combination of people got to their feet.  This is the joy and terror of impro - you never know what's going to happen.  As a performer you have to be free and fearless to go where ever the story requires you to go.  Audiences love it because it could go wrong at any moment.  It's like trapeze without a net - audiences want the performer to succeed, but would also be secretly thrilled if it went wrong and they are just so very glad that it's you and not them up there.  It could go wrong!

As could this class.

I jumped to my feet first along with a man whom I liked and trusted.  What a relief! I knew it would be okay.  The scenario given to us was a cliche, but that was good because everyone knew where the story had to go:  I was a woman at home alone.  I'd called the plumber because there was an apparent problem with the hot water. My husband was away.  He was there to fix it.  With his strong masculine presence.  (That's how plumbers fix things you know.)

So the scene started.  I had my mantra in my mind.  The temperature of the scene was increasing.  Our eyes were locked.  It was time for the pay off.  He started to move towards me. And...I broke eye contact!  I had also broken the magic and mood of the scene.  What was that about?  I felt terrible.  We were directed to try again.  We rewound the scene to a few beats before the kiss.  I wasn't going to break eye contact this time!  We kissed.  But the magic had been used up. Our classmates in the audience applauded.  An important lesson had been learnt.

I think I looked away because I had a crush on my scene partner.  Our first kiss was going to be as other people in front of other people.  How confusing! I had become myself in the scene and was in reality rather than make believe.

For the next couple of hours everyone in the class went through the same experience.  After class, notes were swapped about who had played by the stage kissing rules and who had become a little over enthusiastic.  For the next few performances if people needed to kiss, they all kissed.  We had broken the hoodoo.  And then it became a little bit old hat.

It was certainly one of the most memorable classes I've ever taken.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Simulating for real.

Yesterday I spent the day being a depressed woman.  I was working as a simulated patient for one of the medical education institutions.  By the end of the day, I was exhausted and just didn't have it in me to post anything.

The scenario was intense - chronic, debilitating disease, two previous failed suicide attempts, a father who had committed suicide and a current plan to be successful in her third suicide attempt.

What a way to spend a day.  My wardrobe brief was to not care about my appearance or hygiene. I literally got out of bed, put on the first clothes I could find and went to work.  (After a hearty breakfast - you can't do this kind of work on an empty stomach.)

I really enjoy simulated patient work.  It's hard work and the pay is poor, but I choose to do it because I think it's also very important work.  The more realistic I can make the encounters, the more challenging and beneficial it is for the students.  I also learn a lot about different things.  Often they are things I don't want to know.  For example, I have more knowledge about the risks of childbirth than anyone could ever want or need.  I also know a lot about what happens when a woman has had three miscarriages in a row.  These scenarios all highlight how critical skillful and sensitive communication is to a patient's well being.  Yesterday I was shocked to discover that people with a firm suicide plan will talk about it in detail if asked the right questions.

In playing my role yesterday, I was often surprised at what made me angry but also what connected with me on a human level.  Simple genuine comments about my children's love for their mother had an incredible effect. It was like turning on a tap.  As an actor doing this work surrounded by science people, I will inevitably be asked about crying.  How do I make myself cry?  And how do I do it again and again and again for eight hours? This is an impossible question to answer, especially in this work which is unscripted and improvised on the spot.  It's part of the mysterious transformations that an actor goes through. I know that it's got to do with being really present and my breath helps me a lot. I also think that people who are actors have ready access to a range of emotions that most people don't.  In ordinary life, the extremes are often kept locked away and "under control". That's why it can be such a buzz to go through these kinds of emotions, even if it means crying on queue every 10 minutes for eight hours.

I also contemplated the impact of this scenario on the students.  Most of them were deeply affected by their conversation with my character.  They all started breathing again once the final bell went and they knew the conversation was over.  They all thanked me and I wished them luck for their exams.

One girl in particular showed an amazing level of empathy. I could feel her humanity reaching out to me as we talked. At the end she asked me whether any of what I'd said was true.  I assured her it wasn't my story and that I was playing a role. And that I was fine! Then she hesitated before asking me if she could give me a hug.

I said yes.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The man on the steps.

Imagine being that guy.  The guy who stands on the steps of the Victorian Parliament.  He's wearing a high visibility vest.   Just in case you'd have trouble seeing him.  It's also got the police insignia on it.  He's the only person on the steps.  He's the only person standing anywhere near the front of the Parliament.  Is that actually the Parliament?  I've never actually seen anyone go in or out.  Maybe it's a front.  Maybe they just want us to think this is where all the state politicians hang out.  They're really out in the country.  Holding community cabinets.  Having a whale of a time.  Probably.  Not.  Apart from the two old men pointing and staring at him.  Perhaps that guy, standing on the steps of the Victorian Parliament is so effective at his job that he's scared everyone away.  He doesn't look that scary.  There must be something about him.  Maybe it's something we can't see. Body odour? He might have one of those silent alarms - a high pitched sound that you can't hear but drives you mad so you leave.  Oh hang on, that might be something to keep dogs away.  Look, it's working, there are no dogs near the Victorian Parliament either.  He must be lonely.  There's no one to talk to.  It doesn't even look like he has a walkie talkie.  It might interfere with the silent alarm.  What would be the point of the walkie talkie anyway?  I mean, what's he going to say? Who would he call?

"Hey Bruce. There's no one here."

Sounds like a perpetual existential crisis.

What's the imaginary Bruce going to say?

"Hey Bob.  Watcha doing?"

Bob's possible answers:


"Just standing here."

"Talking to you on the walkie talkie.  Idiot."

"Scaring away the bad guys.  It's what I do."

"Looking good in my bright yellow vest.  Man, I hate this vest.  I really hate yellow.  Vests make my torso look big."

"Waiting for the girl I love to come out and say hello.  But she only ever walks past, carrying her cafe latte.  She doesn't even know that I exist.  But I know she exists.  Boy, do I know she exists.  The way the sun catches on her hair every morning as she walks up the steps. When there's sun.  On days when there's no sun I just smell her perfume.  I see her the minute she gets off the number 96 tram.  Sometimes I smell her first.  I stand here willing her to turn her head and notice me.  Just once. That's all I'd need.  And I'd be happy.  I'd die for her."

You can hear Bruce rolling his eyes.

"Bob, you're never rostered on the steps on the protest days.  Not since that incident with the vegans in the late 1990's.  You're not going to die for her.  Or for anyone.  We've talked about this.  Mate."

Bob replies:  "..."

"Mate?"  says Bruce.

"..."  then - "I love her.  She doesn't even know I exist.  I have to let her know I exist."

"Don't do anything stupid Bob.  You know what happened last time.  We spent months trying to get your hair back to its natural colour.  And the incident with the super glue doesn't bear thinking about."

Bob hangs up his imaginary walkie talkie.  He has a situation.  A little old lady - probably in cahoots with the two old guys who were casing the joint earlier - is approaching at a rapid, well, slow, no, glacial, pace.  With the zimmer frame and the 98 steps it could take a couple of hours for her to reach him.

He can't take any chances.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Booger me!

The other day I was doing some pre-purchase research shopping.  I've got some tech purchases on the horizon and want to make good decisions.  I believe I know what I want, broadly, but there is some fine tuning to do.  So I went for a look.

The first bloke who spoke to me was friendly enough.  He could answer all my questions quickly and easily.  He wasn't judgemental.  I won't be buying from him though.  You see he had a booger, a booby, a piece of dried snot hanging from his nose.  As he was taller than me, this was quite off putting. It was all I could see and it's all I can remember of him.

In facilitating corporate education about delivering feedback I often raise different feedback scenarios to gauge comfort levels in delivering feedback.  The body odour and the booger are both on the list.  People often tell me that their decision about whether to give feedback is entirely dependent on the relationship with the person; the more casual the relationship, the less chance there is that the person who needs to know will be told that they have some nasal hygiene to attend to.  Yet universally, everyone says that if they had the issue, they'd want someone to tell them.

I will confess, I didn't tell him.  He deserved to know, but I just didn't know what to say.  I tried the subtle hint thing - surreptitiously wiping my nose.  When that didn't work, I did it conspicuously.  Surely his salesman training in rapport building would cause him to mirror my body language at some point!  It didn't happen.  So he was left ignorant and without a sale.  What are his work colleagues doing that they have not let him know?

What I find interesting is that if this had been friend or even a close work colleague, I would have just said, "You need to wipe your nose."  They would have done it.  There might have been a moment of awkwardness, but they would have been grateful.  End of story.  Why then is it so hard to tell a stranger?  Perhaps there's a fear of that moment of awkwardness - you can ride it out with someone you know well, but don't know how a stranger will react.  I suppose he could have punched me on the nose.  Looking at the guy, I reckon he just would have dealt with it and continued to talk to me about my tech needs.  Maybe there would have been a little flush of embarrassment.

I've given all kinds of personal feedback to people.  I once told my boss that she had her dress on inside out. I once told an actor that I had to kiss on stage that he had bad breath.  I once told a female colleague that she needed to deal with her body odour, not take her shoes off in meetings because her feet smelt terrible and wear something that didn't expose her breasts when in a work setting.  These tasks often fall to me.  I just tell them the news factually.  Once the embarrassment is forgotten, everyone is generally relieved.  (The next time I saw the female colleague in question, she was wearing a skivvy!  Problem solved.)

I think the only time I've given a stranger awkward feedback was when I walked out of the women's toilets behind a woman who had the back of her skirt tucked into her pantihose. Imagine that! She was mortified when I used a very gentle voice to tell her that she needed to fix the back of her skirt.  I just could not let her continue on in the world.

I am feeling a little guilty about Booger Boy.  Maybe I'll go back and explain why he didn't get the sale.

Monday, 3 October 2011

My grammar was wrong but I still meant what I said.

Yesterday I had my grammar corrected. In case you're wondering, it wasn't because I was the author of the GASP email response to a customer complaint. (I know the correct use of the word "whom".)  It was in one of my tweets.

My Sunday morning started with political fix watching The Insiders on ABC television.  I often tweet during the show as I enjoy engaging with other viewers.  Brendan O'Connor was the political guest.  He's Minister for Home Affairs and Justice and Minister for Privacy and Freedom of Information so the vexed subject of asylum seekers inevitably came up.

I'm very puzzled by the current Government position to change legislation to enable off shore processing of asylum seekers.  As long as it isn't on Nauru, because that's where Opposition Leader Tony Abbott wants it done.  Of course Abbott is unable to say anything other than "no" in response to anything the Government says.  Bizarrely this means that the Liberal Party and The Greens are holding the same position and will force a situation where asylum seekers are processed on shore.  This is one occasion where you will hear me saying hurrah for Tony.

I tweeted: 

"What's wrong with processing #asylumseekers on shore? How strange that Tony Abbott is likely to deliver on shore processing. #insiders"

Given that Australia shoulders a tiny burden of the world's refugee population and that we have been at war in some of the places from where these people originate, I don't understand the paranoia and insistence that anyone arriving in a boat must be held at bay.  At all costs.  Especially given that most of the asylum claims are actually accepted!

Anyway, this is the response I received from a fellow tweeter whose name I won't publish here:

"Symbolic -a psuedonym to repell Muslim invasion. Greece is building a 15km flooded trench to stop Turk muslims #asylumseekers".

Now most of this didn't even make sense to me, especially the use of the word "psuedonym" (sic).  To me, this tweet represented the worst kind of bigotry and I decided to respond with a bit of humour:

"So they're creating the conditions to have boat people?! #asylumseekers".

I thought this would probably end the discussion, but should have known better.

This response arrived:

"R U aware of Eur/UK problems? Islamic refugees dont leave their facism at the border + future gens freedom is at stake. #auspol".

Wow.  This was the first time I've heard the accusation that all Islamic refugees are fascists.  If the people fleeing are fascists what are the people they are leaving behind?

I responded:

"Of course I'm aware. Refugees are a problem everywhere in the world. I hope someone would grant me #asylum if I needed it."

But I was wrong.  Apparently.  As my correspondent was quick to point out:

"Wrong. Refugees arent a problem, Islamic refugees are a problem. Others integrate-not dominate. NO to facist women hating Islam."

Why is it only fascist women who aren't allowed to hate Islam, I wonder?  I'm fairly certain that this guy wouldn't grant me asylum if I needed it.  I think the grammar in his final tweet rubbed off because my response came out like this:

"I say no to people hating bigots."

And here is where my friends stepped in to save me.  Of course I should have added a hyphen so that I was saying no to people-hating bigots, in other words, bigots who hate people.  

But even with my omission I still like my statement.  I wish there was less hate in the world.  And that arguments made sense.  How does processing asylum seekers off shore deal with this guy's issue?  The only thing that does make sense is to put hate aside and reach out to help.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

The rejection letter

I decided that I would write back to Diana, given that she took the time to write such a heartfelt and personalised proposition to me (see my previous post Love in the Letterbox.)

Dear Diana,

You were quite right when you said that your letter would be a surprise to me.  Although you went to great trouble to provide an explanation, my surprise has not dissipated; if anything, I'm more surprised now than I was before I read your letter.

I am indeed registered with an agency, but our wires have been crossed somewhere.  I didn't know that my temp agency had another division which provides services of an altogether different kind.  Looking back, I should have paid more attention.  That question they asked in the interview about what I was willing to do seemed pretty intense in the context of temporary receptionist work.

I don't know how much you paid your agency to get my email address, but you should definitely ask for your money back.  You see, I am not a man.  I do have sincere and honest eyes (brown), but I am lacking in the other specifications you have made.

To tell you the truth Diana, when I read about your life, I was a little surprised that you were even looking for a man.  Between being a lawyer (and the confidence that gives you), reading all of Stephen King's novels, your daily tennis and golf games and all the communicating you're doing, I wonder whether you would actually have space in your life for me.  I've met people like you before Diana and I know that it's only a matter of time before my honest and sincere eyes are not enough to keep your attention and it all starts with that hot pro at the tennis club, or the husband that you're representing in the divorce case.  What kind of a lawyer are you anyway?

The other thing is that you're too young for me.  I won't pretend that I'm not thrilled to be approached by a younger woman - even if it is through the misguided and possibly corrupt efforts of either your dating agency or my temp agency.  While I commend you for committing to a literary oeuvre, to have only read all of Stephen King's novels, does not bode well.  I read a lot and you'll never catch up.  What would we talk about?  And you're too tall for me.  I'd have to wear heals all the time and my podiatrist says I have to give them up.  And at that ridiculously light weight of yours, I'd be worried that you'd blow over in a strong wind.  (How you manage to stay upright long enough to hit the golf ball I'll never know).  I just don't want the trouble of constantly having to make sure you're weighed down.  It's too depressing.

We do have some things in common...brown eyes, for example.  Actually, on that subject, sorry to ask, but do you have two eyes?  Or just the one?  I was a bit confused when you said your "eye colour" was brown and given the other syntax errors, I wasn't sure what the situation is.  I hope you don't mind me asking, but I don't think I could be with a person who is one-eyed.  We are also both women so that's another thing we have in common. Hey, don't get me wrong, I'm as open minded as the next gal, but I don't think you really know what you want.  You seem very man focussed.

Enjoy your vacation ( we call them holidays here).  Australia is a great place to live and I'm sure you'll have a fun time.  Hope you don't have trouble getting through Customs and Immigration at the airport.  It seems like you definitely have something to hide, otherwise why would you be so emphatic that you have never been here? To find out more, I suggest Google as a great starting place.  If you don't have access to the internet, then your local library can probably help.  They may even have a Lonely Planet guide you can borrow.

Diana, I'm sorry to tell you this, but I don't think it's going to work out between us.  I don't think I want to be with a woman right now.  If I did, I'd probably look a little bit closer to home.  The whole long distance thing can be a bit of a bore, especially when you'll be out on the golf course when I'm trying to get you on Skype.  And the time difference could really make things tricky.

It's been nice while it lasted, but please, don't contact me again.


Love in the letter box.

I received a heartfelt proposal this morning.  It came by email and was a pitch to form a meaningful relationship. I've decided to disregard the fact that it came from a woman in Poland and consider it instead on a human level.

It starts "Hello Mr!" A rather formal beginning for a love letter (especially since I'm a woman) but we don't really know each other yet, so I'm prepared to say "hello" right back.

"I understand that this letter will be a surprise for you." This shows she has empathy.

"I shall explain to you." She's prepared to give me details and take the time to explain.  I'm prepared to listen.

"I asked the agency to find a man for a serious relationship." She's being honest about her situation.  A good start for any relationship.  Wonder how much she's paying this agency?

"They gave me his email address." There's somebody else?

"And so I write." I think this email is the email she's referring to. Not sure where they got the intel that I'm a man...must update my records.  In the meantime, I'll keep an open mind.

"My name is Diana."  Nice name - means the "huntress".

"I am 27 years old." A younger woman.

"I was born in Poland." We all have to be born somewhere.

"But now I live in London." She give no insight as to whether this is a good thing.  The use of the word "but" suggests that she may have fled in unhappy circumstances and misses her homeland.  Dreadfully.

"I am a lawyer."  Oh well.

"I like my job, it gives me confidence in myself."  Good for you Diana.  It must be hard to be a lawyer if you're not confident.

"I am very sociable girl." Clearly.

"My friends say about me that sometimes I talk too much." Maybe this is why she left Poland.

"But I love to communicate."  She might be a Gemini - with my Gemini ascendant, this could be a good match.

"And do not see anything wrong with that." What is wrong with that?

"I also love to read books I've read all the books of Stephen King." I love to read too, but have not read all the books of Stephen King.  I would advise Diana to pay attention to Steve's syntax, it will help with her own written communication.

"Every day I go play tennis and golf." She must be very busy, what with the lawyering and communicating and Stephen King books, now there's tennis and golf?  Every day?  I'm starting to wonder whether Diana would have time for a relationship with me.

"My height 178cm." I don't think I can be with a woman who is taller than me.

"My weight 54 kg." Too skinny.

"My eye color - brown."  Something else we have in common.  Mental note - does she only have one eye?

"My hair color- light brown." Yep, just like my hair is red.  What woman has their own hair colour anymore?

"I had a long relationship with a man." Me too.  Hope it wasn't the same man.

"We have been together for over 4 years."  She needs to really look at the syntax - it sounds like they're still together.  Yet she's making this proposal to me.  What kind of person is Diana, really?

"But he drank a lot and very deceiving me." I'm not sure what this all means, but it sounds bad.

"I did not want such a relationship and we broke up." You go girl.

"I want a man in whose eyes I see the sincerity and honesty."  I've got the eyes, but not the bits.

"I need a responsible man." Don't we all?  Why are you asking me, I'll take the first one I find.  She's not getting him.

"Now you know a little about me." A very little, but more than you might think.

"If you are interested please contact me on my personal e-mail." It's so impersonal.

"Here is my email address ......." Funny how that address is different from the one listed as the address of the sender of this email.

"I'll have a vacation in 3 weeks." Good for her.

"And I plan to visit Australia." This sounds like a threat.

"I never was in this country."  Sounds like denial to me.  Guilty conscience?

"And it is interesting to me to know all about Australia." The Lonely Planet guides are great.

"I would love to see your letter." I bet you would Diana.  I've never heard the word letter used to mean that before.  It's a bit soon to be showing you my letter!

"Please tell me about yourself." Well, I'm actually a man who was born in Poland....

"Your work, interests?" It interests very much.

"I'm curious to know all about you." Me too!

"With the best regards."  Generous - nothing but the best for me!

"Diana".  I think my spam detector was right.

Oh well.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Soaking up the atmosphere.

On a wintry grand final day, with no particular plans, I ended up watching the game with a friend who lives nearby.  Just the two of us the couch, drinking cups of tea and talking incessantly about the game and the commentary. I even took my knitting. I know a little bit about Australian Rules football, having been surrounded by it since I came to Melbourne.  Next to my friend, I looked like an expert.  We amused ourselves fantasising about our own anti-football commentary show.

I was raised in a rugby union household and only got turned onto Aussie Rules when I moved to Melbourne.  Joining the footy tipping competition was a good way to get into the centre of the culture.  I rapidly learned how to talk about footy in a way that sounded like I knew what I was talking about.  "It's good for footy" with a big smile and confidence worked as well as "It's bad for football" with a sage shake of the head.

The football culture is so strong here that grown men are willing to sing their club song with the merest prompt.  In a country where singing is not often considered to be masculine this is remarkable.  And the songs are so twee and charming you can't help but smile when you hear them.  The best thing of all is hearing your own club's song played in victory at the end of a game, especially when it's recognised to be the best song of all.

The grand final harks back to battles on an ancient Roman scale, where men put their bodies on the line and look grief stricken and disbelieving if they do not succeed.  The spectacle is mounted in the greatest arena, the MCG, and today, even in freezing, wet conditions, almost 100,000 fans turned out to watch the game at the ground.  I picked up the newspaper and read the sports section - something I rarely do.  Of course it's fish and chips wrapping now, with its wrong predictions; columns about why the Pies will win seem ill-conceived and laughable in hindsight.  Of course the other columns, the newspaper providing balanced coverage.

I am struck by the lack of verbs in the headlines:  "Grand final pleasure and pain", "Sure Things and Mystery Men", "The blessing and the curse", "Secrets of Mick's success".  As markers to stories about action they are oddly static and flat.  As a student of journalism at university, we were always taught that good headlines have verbs - they have to make the story live.  We did a unit on sports writing and I thought I would rather die.  "Avoid cliche" we were instructed.  How can this be done, when you are essentially writing about the same thing time after time?  Just the key moments happen in a different order with different names attached.  I couldn't bear it.  This was an exciting game of footy with a lot on the line for both coaches - one coaching his final game, the other at his first grand final... Empires are built or fail today...there's a lot at stake....drew first blood...scrappy flowing footy...bloody umpires.

You get the picture.

That's why the idea of my friend and I as anti-sports commentators is so appealing.  Our main commentary involved vocal empathy with players as they hit the ground.  Sharp intakes of breath, groans and grimaces accompanied by shouts of "ouch" filled the repertoire.  Inane chatter about the need for Geelong to try harder, commentary about Dane Swan's two full sleeves of tattoos and how much it would have hurt when Cameron Ling's nose went into the back of another player's head almost had us sounding professional.  We thought so.

It was the discussion about how to tell the difference between the two teams that would have given us away.  How do you spot the difference when one team is dressed in navy blue and white and the other is in black and white?  You look at the direction of the stripes of course.  And don't neglect the fact that one team was in white shorts and the other in black.  Who chose white shorts as the colour for a football team?  Certainly not the mothers who have to wash them.  It also became easier to spot the difference when Cameron Ling's jumper added some red from his bleeding nose.

And where was the bloke who'd been in a hyperbaric chamber all week?  Did he bring it?  How was his knee? What is a hyperbaric chamber anyway?  And how about that other bloke's groin?

Then we heard one of the real commentators say "at this stage of the game it's a long way down for the big men".  It's the same distance it was at the beginning of the game.  They can't have shrunk.  I would think getting back up again might pose the greater difficulty.  If I went down and was lying at the bottom of a pile of men who are mostly 200cm tall (or more) and had just hit my head on the ground, I'd be inclined to just ask them to let me have a little lie down for a few minutes.  Not for long. Just a little lie down.  Until next year when all the teams start from scratch again and all the hope and promise of a new season makes it possible for last year's loser to be this year's winner.

2012 will be the year of the Tigers.