Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Exploring mental illness

It's been a strange day.

It seemed darker than usual at 7am. There were trucks reversing, making that beeping sound. They woke me up.

I got out of bed, earlier than I had planned.

Over breakfast, I got into the skin of the character I was playing in a film today.  It was complex and I don't think I've shaken her off yet.

She had Borderline Personality Disorder.  As I took on the details of her life and started to think about how I would bring her to be in the world, I felt myself slipping into the background.  I was providing my own wardrobe, so it was tricky to choose from my own things they needed to speak of her, rather than me.  She had a history of self-harm so I made sure my arms and legs were covered.  I'd been asked to wear no jewellery and felt naked as I walked out the door.  I always wear jewellery.

There was a lot of detail to remember and I had to summons feelings and manifestations of things that I have never myself experienced.  A sense of dissociation, a sense of nothing but black inside and a level of impulsiveness that goes well beyond just being spontaneous, were among them.

And then there was the sadness and difficulty of her life that needed to be brought into focus.

I always find when playing a role that I need to understand and accept the person I am to bring to life.  Today was a challenge, but I delivered.  The power of imagination and the ability to transform into someone else is one of the magical things about acting.  My face felt different.  My body was positioned differently from how I normally sit and stand. Everything was a different shape.

After the director called "cut" I felt myself start to rise to the surface again.  It's interesting that a sense of dissociation and lost time are what I often feel when I come out of a role and these are some of the characteristics of many mental illnesses.

I've put today's character away and learnt that I'm really glad I don't suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder.  And, while my life is not perfect in every respect, I am very happy to be living it.

The first thing I did when I arrived home was put on my earrings, necklace and rings, but it will take a good night's sleep to be fully present again...see you tomorrow.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Political healing

The nightly news is full of proclamations of commitment to healing.  A couple of days ago, it was a very different story.  Healing was the last thing on anyone's mind as the knives were sharpened and wielded publicly as the ALP brawled over who should (or should not) lead the party and therefore the country.

It's good to hear it being considered.  Healing in the aftermath of conflict is something often overlooked.  When I am asked to mediate a dispute, the focus is on resolving the conflict and little attention is paid to what happens next.  Resolving the conflict is certainly important, but it's not the end of the story.  Especially in the context of workplace conflict.

When hostility is openly directed towards others, the instinct is often to fight back.  If this dynamic is left alone for too long it is that much harder to have a healthy relationship once the conflict is resolved.  It's even more difficult when the hostility has been hidden, rather than in the open and questions of bullying arise.

Most people probably don't expect too much of politicians.  I think this is a shame.  Public service through the holding of public office should be a noble thing to be respected and rewarded.  But when the media is telling nothing but a story of jealousy, disloyalty, thwarted ambition, midnight coups and stealth campaigns to undermine leaders, it's hard to cast our leaders in a positive light. These plots are what Shakespeare wrote about in his enduring stories.

The stories of conflict are compelling.  They are hard to turn away from, holding a grim fascination.  I will admit to being drawn in despite feeling shame at the behaviour of those I worked so hard to get elected in 2007.  As the conflict is over (for now?) the story is less compelling.  Watching people make friends again and talk off a script about healing has no drama.  I work with people to resolve conflict, so normally I find this stuff really interesting.  I wonder why?

If the healing had been concentrated on in a serious way perhaps the so-called midnight coup that saw Kevin Rudd ousted as Prime Minister may have been avoided.  We all know that it went ahead.  If the healing had been concentrated on in a serious way after that unprecedented action, perhaps the we wouldn't have a hung parliament now.  If the healing had been concentrated on in a serious way...and so it goes.

At other times I become more ruthless and think the biggest mistake in any coup is leaving a warm body, with a beating heart which can be resurrected later.  By then that heart won't only be beating, it will be filled with vengeful thoughts, if not hatred.

The ends were left loose, unexplained.  There was pain and ego.  The vanquished Kevin Rudd was always going to fight to get his crown back.  Even when it was clear he couldn't win, he went ahead anyway, completing the ritual of political death.

Perhaps the act of bringing the leadership speculation to a head using the formal mechanisms within the ALP has also been part of the healing process.  It may have been the necessary thing to close that chapter and get on with the next.

Healing can be painful.  Think of what it takes to heal an injury - I tore my gastrocnemius (the big muscle in the calf) a few years ago.  The injury was swift and the pain over in a second.  The healing took weeks of intense focus and painful visits to the physiotherapists.  And I still need to be aware that I have a weakness in that leg and be careful.

Same with healing after conflict.  I wonder if they're equipped?

Monday, 27 February 2012

The artistry of "The Artist"

On Saturday afternoon I went to the movies to escape the heat.  I didn't really care what I saw, as long as I had the opportunity to enjoy air conditioning for a couple of hours.  I decided to see the black and white silent film called "The Artist".  What a great choice!

With 11 Oscar nominations, I see that the film won in several categories, including Best Picture, Best Actor in a leading role for Jean Dujardin, Best Director for Michael Hazanavicius, Music (Original Score) for Ludovic Bource, and Costume Design for Mark Bridges. These are all very much deserved.

I was a little skeptical at first, wondering whether or not I would enjoy a silent film.  In this day and age!  But those fears were quickly dismissed as I was drawn in to this story of an actor struggling to reinvent himself in the face of huge technological changes in the movie world, that is, the introduction of sound to movie making.

It is also a charming, old-fashioned love story.  The scene where Peppy Miller sneaks into George Valentin's dressing room and flirts with his tail coat hanging on a stand is joyful, playful and imaginative story telling that wins the audience over with its charm. I sat in the audience smiling widely and enjoying the experience of a story being told with no words.  This shouldn't surprise me, as I spend lots of time talking about the three channels of face to face communication, based on Albert Mehrabian's work.  He says that only 7% depends on the actual words said, the rest is made up of visual/body language (55%) and vocal tone (38%).  Of course it's possible to convey meaning, advance a narrative and evoke feeling without hearing the actors speak.

There are also some wonderful metaphors in the film - the nightmare in the film where George Valentin finds himself voiceless, his battle with his own shadow, the confrontation with himself.  It's extraordinary!

Do not be put off by the fact that it's black and white and is silent...it's a great experience.  Worth having even if you're not just there to cool off in the air conditioning.

However, there is one glaring problem.  Uggie the Jack Russell plays George Valentin's dog and steals several scenes.  Where is his recognition?

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Study of a man's face

The man sitting opposite me on the tram has a face for studying.  It's not a handsome face, but it is a face filled with nooks and crannies and worthy of study.  It arouses no emotion, stirs no admiration.

At first glance, it's all eyebrows and sprouts of hair in unexpected places.  These eyebrows are the thickest and longest that I have ever seen.  They lie above his eyes like juicy caterpillars, pulsating with life.  They are black with a smattering of long, sturdy white hairs that twitch like cat's whiskers.

The eyebrows match the hair on his head - thick, black, wiry.  If he wore it longer, it looks like it would grow out, into an afro, rather than down.  This must be why he wears it close to his head.  This man would look ridiculous with an afro.  I try to picture him as a younger man: thinner, with an afro and wearing a tie dyed singlet.  I can't bring this picture into focus.  Today he is wearing the pale blue chambray with an open collar that marks him out as working in an office at a lower to middle level.  The writing on his lanyard is faded, so I can't tell wear he works but he has to pass security to get to his desk.

Beneath the eyebrows sits a pair of delicately framed, rectangular spectacles.  Their glass is thick and magnifies his eyes, distorting them. It is the nose on which the spectacles sit that demands attention.  His skin stretches over the great bulb which houses his nostrils.  (The black hair of the eyebrows spills from these too.)  His high blood pressure - suggested by the redness of his complexion - is focussed into this bulb.  It sits there, in the centre of his face, looking as though the pressure will blow his face apart when it inevitably becomes too much.  The pores are open and black, except above his left nostril where there is a large white pustule sitting in moat of shiny white skin.  Perhaps he has had a sunspot or skin cancer removed.  It is fascinating in its ugliness.

His pursed little mouth is unremarkable except for its position in relation to the lower part of his face which is filled with flaps and jowls and chins.  The mouth is like a plug hole sucking in the swirling, flapping skin.  From the large ears spills more of that marvellous hair.

And then he's gone.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Challenge accepted!

I've accepted a challenge from my blog and Scrabble buddy over at SexyMomGP.  The challenge comes from fatmumslim and is to take a photo a day during the month of March.  The photo must be inspired by the keyword of the day.

I love a challenge and am in a YES frame of mind so there was nothing else to do but accept!  It's so easy to take photos these days and having inspiration will help me look for things and see things differently.  Perfect.

Would you like to join in too?  It's easy.  Post on your blog or share on twitter, facebook, instagram or...where ever you like!  The hash tag if you're sharing on twitter or instagram is #Marchphotoaday.  I'll be posting here and you can find divacultura on twitter and instagram too.

Here is the list of March words for each day:


Keywords for March:
1. Up
2. Fruit
3. Your neighbourhood
4. Bedside
5. A smile
6. 5pm
7. Something you wore
8. Window
9. Red
10. Loud
11. Someone you talked to today
12. Fork
13. Sign
14. Clouds
15. Car
16. Sunglasses
17. Green
18. A corner of your home
19. Funny 
20. Before and after
21. Delicious
22. Kitchen sink
23. Moon
24. Animal
25. Breakfast
26. Key
27. Your name
28. Trash
29. Feet
30. Toy
31. Where you relax

I'd love to see what you see!  Come and join us.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Nourishment of more than the food kind

On one hand I've been feeling really appreciated today and on the other I had an encounter that left me, well, puzzled.

There has been some turbulence this week.  Nothing dramatic, just a few bumps, but enough to make me purse my lips and clench my jaw.  The fact I haven't reached the point of not being able to open my mouth is a positive sign that I've been dealing with it.

My uncertainty this week has grown from challenges to the mindset I have when approaching dealings with other people.  That mindset can be summed up as "I give the best of myself to others and have no reason to expect that others will not do the same."  This has been a liberating thing, but it can also be challenging when people act in a way that is inconsistent with this.  Vulnerability is the word that springs to mind.

I've been showered with love today from three women with whom I have very different relationships.  The general theme has been "you're fantastic".  How wonderful!  How lucky I am to have friends in my world who are so willing to be expressive!

After my lovely long lunch with one of these women today, I dropped her at the tram stop in Collins Street and went off to run some errands.  The particular stop is one of those super stops where the tram runs down the middle and passengers alight on the outside.  I was waiting for an approaching tram to stop at the stop before crossing.  To my left was a woman wearing a full bur-qua.  She stepped out to cross and was on her way to walking in front of a tram approaching from the other direction.  I called out to her to stop and took a step to grab her.  She shook me off and said that she was fine.

"I'm not blind you know. I may be wearing a bur-qua, but I can see.  I'm not blind!" she said angrily.

My instinct to stop her walking in front of an oncoming tram was unconnected to what she was wearing!  I was just reaching out to another human being.  Another woman who was also crossing, looked at me and rolled her eyes.

"You just saved that woman's life.  Good work!  She should be thanking you!"

I thanked her for noticing.  It was nice to be acknowledged.

Wonder why the bur-qua clad woman took such offence to my gesture? I was feeling good after being so affirmed by my friends.  Maybe the bur-qua clad woman is in need of such nourishment from the relationships in her own life.  So, I thanked the woman who acknowledged me and it doesn't matter that the woman on the fatal path didn't - I still offered the gesture and that's what really matters.

Thank you to the wonderful people in my life.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

The National soap opera - what's on today?

What a big day in Australian politics!  The National soap opera concludes another episode with a cliff hanger.

Deposed former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd calls a press conference from the US in the middle of the night to announce his resignation as Foreign Minister.  My first reaction was "finally!" until I realised he was not resigning from Parliament.  So while he ceases to be a Minister, he remains in Parliament.  Suddenly he has a little more freedom to campaign, free from the constraints of a ministerial portfolio and cabinet.

It really is a cliff hanger.  Tonight Minister after Minister has explained to the world why Kevin Rudd is bad, was bad, has always been bad and shouldn't lead the Australian Labor Party and should not be Prime Minister again.  Meanwhile, Rudd needs to get back to Australia and deal with Prime Minister Julia Gillard's announcement of a caucus ballot for the leader's position.

Kevin Rudd's announcement brings the leadership rumblings to a head.  For now.  What are the possibilities?

1. Kevin Rudd gets back to Australia and decides not to contest the leadership.  He would still be in Parliament, so Labor and the Australian people are left wondering what it's all been for.  He won't be allowed back into the Ministry, but can Julia Gillard ever function as a leader with Kevin Rudd sitting on her backbench?  I don't believe she can.  Flick the switch and the rumblings will start again.  The soap opera will never end.

2. Kevin Rudd gets back to Australia and decides to resign from Parliament.  In a hung Parliament this has dire consequences as the government would effectively be brought down.  Surely the objective is to hang onto Government.

3. Kevin Rudd challenges for the leadership in Monday's ballot and wins.  If what people are saying tonight gives an indication, he will find it hard to fill his Ministry.  And he has to contend with the independent MPs on whose support Julia Gillard relied to secure Government.  They have said that all bets are off if the Labor leader changes.  Except Andrew Wilkie, who has already withdrawn support for the Government because of the back down on poker machine reform, will support Kevin Rudd.  Hopefully Julia Gillard and the ALP would learn from this experience and understand that if she is rolled, she needs to get out.  How Kevin Rudd is even still in Parliament is beyond me.  The coup that rolled Kevin Rudd wasn't finished - they left the body warm, breathing and able to rise again and seek revenge.

4.  Kevin Rudd challenges for the leadership in Monday's ballot and loses.  Any loss could be by a little bit or by a lot.  One would think that a loss would surely mean he needs to go, but what does that mean in a hung parliament with a majority that can be no slimmer?  If Labor is to hold onto government, he needs to hang around on the back bench until a general election is called and then announce that he will not recontest his seat.  If he loses by a little bit, I can not imagine that he will not hang around and try again.  In the mean time, we, the Australian public will then be watching the whole soap opera again.  The speculation will continue.

Personally, I'm no fan of Kevin Rudd.  I think he showed much weakness as a leader but also much intellectual capacity.  I thought his prosecution of the AWB kickback scandal was very well done; but has anyone been brought to justice?  The issue fell off the table once Kevin Rudd was Prime Minister.  However, I think that we should remember that he delivered Labor a wonderful and important election victory in 2007 and his record shows him as the most popular Prime Minister of all time.  Surely these things make him deserving of some respect.

If the leadership coup that delivered Julia Gillard the keys to the Lodge had to happen, then it was a mistake to rub his nose in it by trashing this legacy.  He's got that steely flash in his eye and he's determined.  Kevin Rudd is not like other people; they would have stepped out of Parliament after being ousted from the Prime Ministership by his colleagues.

My hope is that he is true to his word when he talks about the interests of the Australian people and the ALP. My worry is that he and I mean very different things when we talk about the interests of the Australian people and the ALP.  The ALP is acting like they are in opposition, or like they hold a 40 seat majority.  Neither of these is true now, but one of them is likely to be true very soon if this isn't sorted.

Member for Watson, Tony Burke, said tonight on 7:30 that the government needed to do two things.  Shame he didn't list 1) choose a leader, and 2) get on with it.

Running parallel to these shenanigans, I am facilitating various of programs about leadership.  I'm immersed in the theory and practice of leadership and very conscious of functional and dysfunctional leadership behaviour. This leads me to think "you need to come on one of my leadership courses".  Seriously.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Wish they'd all $%&#*%@ grow up

Swearing is under the spotlight as a result of the leaked out takes of former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.  (You can see it here.)  ABC political panel discussion show, Q & A, is deep in discussion about whether such behaviour makes him fit for public office.

I've watched it and I'm wondering what all the fuss is about.  This is a man frustrated, probably working on little sleep trying to record a message while speaking one of the Chinese languages (Mandarin or Cantonese, I can't remember.) We all suffer from frustration.  I imagine being a politician would mean you're exposed to pretty high levels of frustration all the time.

While I believe that it's reasonable to hold people in public office to high standards of behaviour, I also think it's reasonable to remember that they are merely people.

Daniel Hannan, the poor overseas guest on Q & A said tonight, everyone swears and he didn't really expect that Australia would be filled with swooning maidens blushing at the language.  I don't think that is what's going on.  The footage can only be viewed through the lens of the current leadership rumblings.  If you go to the movies or turn on the television you'll hear far worse and it will be spoken by people who can act. Generally.

The footage is bizarre.  I watch it and see a man acting out a tantrum.  It's as if this was filmed last week to look as though it happened a couple of years ago and then "leaked" to give Rudd the opportunity to tell the world that he used to be a naughty boy, but he's all better now.

Labor needs to stop acting like they're in opposition and start acting like they're in government. Labor's behaviour is on track to deliver us Tony Abbott as PM and that is a disgrace.  I don't care if a leader shows frustration.  I do care if they direct it at other people, particularly other people at a power disadvantage.

The video means nothing.  Can we talk about something else now?

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Floral delivery

I haven't had very many encounters with the police or emergency services in my life.  Today I called 000 to attend a very violent argument somewhere in my apartment block.  Living in such close quarters with other people makes me nervous when there are volatile, angry men around.

The call reminded me of one of the earlier encounters I had with police, not long after I moved to Melbourne.

I was living in Richmond in a double fronted worker's cottage and had one of the front bedrooms.  I remember it was a Thursday night at about 9:45pm.  I had just watched "ER" on TV and was lying in bed reading.  My room had one of those old wooden sash windows that slides up and down and can be propped open at various certain heights. It was April, so quite cool at night, but I had the window propped open about a hand span.

Suddenly the blinds and curtain rattled and I saw a hand coming through the window!  I screamed and ran out of my room.  One of my house mates ran towards me and screamed when she ran headlong into me.  There was a lot of screaming.

"There was a hand.  A man!  Through the window!"  I screamed at her.

We looked at each other, wide-eyed and pushed open my bedroom door wide enough to see that there was a bunch of flowers on the floor of my room.  No people and no hands.  We pulled the curtain and blinds back and saw smudges of hand prints in the dust on the window sill.

Flowers! I threw them outside, sealed up the window tight and slept with the light on and my tennis racket beside me.

The next morning I called a friend who was a member of the police force and told him what had happened.  He asked me if I had called the police and when I told him I hadn't (it hadn't even crossed my mind) he suggested I should.  So I did.

I called the local station directly.

"Junior Acting Trainee Probationary Constable Smith speaking?" an uncertain sounding voice said at the other end of the line.

This would be interesting.  I told the story of what had happened the night before.  He duly listened and then asked: "Did the hand have any distinguishing features?"

All I could think to say in response was "Four fingers and a thumb.  And some flowers. Which were left behind."

"And did the hand belong to a male or female personage?"

"Male, I think."

"What distinguished the personage's hand as being of a male persuasion?"

"It was big and hairy. The hand I mean."

Suddenly the whole thing felt very silly.  When he asked for a description of the flowers I started to giggle.  I gasped out a description and waited.

Junior Acting Trainee Probationary Constable Smith paused and then provided a very accurate recap of the story, translated into police-speak.  He then said: "Why are you providing this information?"

Because there's an outrageously generous florist out there, scaring the pants of unsuspecting women by strewing flowers randomly through open windows?

Instead I said: "I just thought I should let you know in case you know of similar incidents in the neighbourhood or in case one comes to light.  Should I do anything?"

"I suggest you make a note of what has happened so that you remember for next time," was his winningly helpful suggestion.

He said he would drive around and be on the look out and that I should call the station immediately if anything like this happened again.  Thankfully it didn't.  I'm not sure that Junior Acting Trainee Probationary Constable Smith was the man to keep me safe.  Maybe he wasn't the wordy type but would be heroic if my honour needed protecting.

It took a long time for me to open my bedroom window again - it may have been as late as the following summer.  It never happened again and I have never received such a dramatic flower delivery again.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Don't rubbish me!

As I started my car this morning I noticed a man arrive at our bins with his rubbish to dump - large cardboard boxes.  The bins are one of the things that I don't like about living where I live.

There are 28 apartments in my complex and we share six skips - three for general waste and three for recycling. The bins are right at the entry and are very untidy.  People regularly dump rubbish near the bins and sometimes I feel like I live beside a garbage dump.  The bins barely accommodate all the rubbish from 28 households and by the time collection day arrives they are bursting.

Recycling is the other problem.  People put any old thing in the recycling bins, despite the helpful sticker the local Council has provided showing clearly what can go in the bins and what must not be put in the bins.  Plastic bags seem to confuse most people.  They spend time carefully sorting their recyclables and then place in a plastic bag in the bin!  The guide to recycling is published in English and we're a very multicultural area, so maybe it's a language problem.  Then there are the people who make no distinction and just put their rubbish in the bin.  Or beside the bin.  I'll never understand that one.

I also emerged one morning to discover they had been set on fire.  While it was fascinating to see that the plastic of the bins had melted and left a pile of rubbish, it was a revolting mess to have at the doorstep for a few days!

Anyway, back to the man lurking at the bins.  I had to drive right past him on my way out, so I wound down the window of the car and stopped to speak to him.  He was flattening all his cardboard to place in our already overflowing recycling bins.

"Hello!  Do you live here?" I knew he didn't but I gave him my most friendly smile.

"Um, no.  No I don't," he replied looking a bit nervous.

"You're not thinking of dumping your rubbish on your neighbours are you?"

"Um. No, I mean, well, I can't fit it in," he reddened.  He had one of those complexions that blooms guiltily.

"Oh, okay," I said, still friendly.  "Where do you live?"

"Um, what do you mean?"

"Oh I just want to know where you live so I can dump my rubbish at your place.  You wouldn't mind would you? I mean my bins are overflowing with the neighbourhood's rubbish.  Don't know why, but my neighbours seem to think that my home is a garbage dump for them."  I furrowed my brow and shook my head.

"Um, no. Um, what? Oh...um..." He had one of those tongues which becomes tied when feeling guilty.

I waited.

"Could I put this in your bin? Just this once? Please?" He looked like a little boy asking for a lolly or a cake.

"I'm not going to tell you what to do.  You wouldn't have thought of asking if I hadn't stopped to talk to you.  I just ask to be treated fairly and with respect.  You decide.  Bye!"

I drove off.  I could see him standing staring at his rubbish, frozen in time.  At least he was thinking about it. He was scratching his head anyway.

When I arrived home I found the bins so stuffed with his rubbish that they don't close properly.  Guess the carefully crafted guilt trip didn't work.

I've had this conversation with other people who think it's okay to dump their rubbish on someone else's property.  It's amazing how people will justify what they are doing - their bin isn't big enough, it's just this once, they have a lot of rubbish this week.  If you fill your bins you have a couple of choices: store the rubbish until the bins have been emptied; take it to the dump or a recycling centre (yes, you have to pay for this).  Or you could approach a neighbour and have a conversation.  I'm sure that if you asked first instead of just dumping, the answer would be YES!

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Minister response - MYKI may change

Yesterday I was told that the Minister and the Minister's office was aware of me and the issues I have raised about MYKI.  At last!

After receiving the news from Liberal Member, Mr Andrew Elsbury, that the current processes for switching MYKI cards to match changes in concession status was "suitable" and that bank cheque refunds would continue to be used, I am pleased to let you know I have a better story to tell today.

Wade Noonan MP is another of my local representatives whom I contacted about the MYKI refund debacle which I've written about a few times.  (I'm still trying to work out state representative structures in Victoria!)  Today I received a letter from him, along with a letter from the Minister for Transport, Hon. Terry Mulder MP, addressing the issues I have been raising since May 2011.

The Minister opens with a conventional thank you for raising the issues and notes that he has also been contacted by another local representative.  I'm pleased to see my local representatives following up issues raised by their constituents.

Then we have the inevitable political point scoring in the second paragraph: "The Coaltion Government inherited myki from the previous Labor Government. myki was substantially over budget and behind schedule. The Coalition Government is continuing to work to fix these problems."  This whole paragraph seems to have little to do with me. I know what happened with myki and just want to deal with the present and the future.  Since the letter is actually written to Mr Noonan, I guess some sniping at the political opponents is inevitable.  Shame it's not useful.

Some history of what actually happened in my particular case is then recounted.  It is emphasised that the closing balance of 94 cents was refunded to me in full. by cheque.  Then: "The bank fee of $10.00 is a fee charged by Westpac and is not controlled by the TTA" (Transport Ticketing Authority).  Oh look, that's true.  It's a little amusing to see the government engaged in the national sport of  bank bashing, albeit at a low level.  The bit that is controlled by the TTA (or the government) is the decision to use bank cheques to provide a refund, rather than use the smart card technology to place the balance on the new card.

The lead is buried right in the last paragraph: "The process required when a myki user changes concession status may change in future to allow a balance transfer from the old myki card to the new myki card.  The TTA has advised me that it expects to have an improved process in place by December 2012."

Light the fireworks! The bets are hedged with the "may change" in that first sentence, but I'm pleased that at least this ridiculous process has been acknowledged and there is now a time frame of December 2012 in place to "improve" it.  Time will tell.

My reason for writing about this is to encourage others to take up issues of public interest.  Users of the ticketing systems are the ones who know where the problems are and also suffer when these problems are not rectified.  Our elected representatives are there to represent us.  Today with email, it is relatively simple to correspond with them and stay in contact.  Give them feedback.  Ask them questions.

I noticed that there is a red sticker on the Metcard machine at my local unstaffed suburban train station advising that it will be turned off on 27 February.  MYKI is being rolled out to everyone, so now is the time to identify the issues and fix them.

Now, when will they widen the exit points and put in more readers so we can actually get out of the station during peak hour?

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Pop up park in action

I wandered into the village today to run some errands and escape the heat in the Sun Theatre.  Here's what I saw before I disappeared into the darkness:


I love how the blue of the planter boxes matches the blue of the sky.

Before the movie screened, a short film showing the installation of the park was shown.  It really is hard to imagine cars driving on this piece of Ballarat Street when you see people lounging around and enjoying the park.

I really do hope it will be made permanent.

* The movie I saw was "Shame".  It is extraordinary, but probably not to everyone's taste, being, as it is, about sex addiction.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Calling the government - EPA, FWO, MYKI

Calling government departments was my main task for the day. Or you could say I was living in the land of acronyms.  I called the Fair Work Ombudsman in relation to some work I'm doing for a client.  I called the Environment Protection Authority to report a terrible smell in the neighbourhood and I made various calls as part of my ongoing quest to bring to light and have fixed the wasteful and complex processes which sit behind the Myki ticketing system.



It is quite interesting to reflect on the different approaches and qualities of  the various departments.  I discovered that it takes quite a bit of persistence to move from being "handled" within a process to finding someone with whom to have a real conversation.

It was my first time calling the EPA.  The sound of the call centre in the background was so loud I had to repeat everything I said at least twice.  I've never logged a smell before and had to answer quite comprehensive questions about the quality and nature of the smell.  I'm not sure how successful I was.  It was sort of sulphury and had a chemical edge, kind of like a bad chemical sewerage smell!  Then they wanted to know which way the wind was blowing.  I almost wet my finger and stuck it in the air, but decided that was overkill.  I think I decided it was south-west, but I don't really know.

Then I was asked to say where the smell was coming from.  I imagine that if I knew, I would just call and say the local pet food factory is stinking up the neighbourhood again!

Imagine having that job.  Working in a call centre where your job is to log complaints about smells. She was very nice, but that would drive me crazy.

Anyway, I have another reference number to add to my collection of reference numbers from government departments.  Maybe I should turn them into art one day.  How depressing that would be.

My calls about Myki started by calling the actual government.  I posted about the two line email I received from a staffer of one of my state government representatives (Andrew Elsbury).  I followed up the response with a further email.  When that elicited no response I called the office and was advised that it would be "looked into".  Ah, the sure statement that nothing will happen.  Mirrors are what you look into! Then I received an actual letter (sent to the wrong address, but oh well) dated 6 February.

The letter thanks me for my email and includes the predictable blame shifting sentence: "Myki was a system inherited from the previous government which had significant problems."  I can't tell from this whether Mr Elsbury is claiming knowledge of the ticketing system or the previous government - which one is he saying had significant problems.

I am then assured that "Since coming to Government the Coalition has sought to improve this system to deliver a better public transport system for Victorians."  Well they would say that wouldn't they.  We do know that the old Metcard system is to be phased out by the end of the year.  One would hope that the ongoing back office problems with Myki need to be sorted out quickly. Seeking to improve and actually improving are not necessarily the same thing.

Then there's the interesting bit: "After looking into your matter (sounds like a weird science project) and speaking with the Transport Ticketing Authority they have informed me that they will continue to use bank cheques for refund purposes." So this is what I already knew from the two line email I received from the staffer.  What has not been addressed is when and why this changed.

I have previously written about the advice I received through the Transport Ticketing Authority when I made a complaint to the Public Transport Ombudsman.  They advised that the process of issuing bank cheques to return money stored on the "smart" Myki cards would be replaced in the "near future".  So I'd like to know what has changed and what has informed this decision.

It's really quite hard to find out.  When you ring your local member, you get the staffer and unless they happen to know about the issue you're raising, they will generally know less than the person they work for.  Their main focus is to deflect and divert your attentions in the hope that you will give up and go away.  I'm sure my name must be on a list somewhere by now.  They should consult that list and realise that I will persist.

The final sentence of the letter is very revealing: "While the delay you faced for such a small amount is understandably frustrating I believe that this method has been used as it is suitable for the majority of situations."  Apart from largely missing the point of my complaint, I love the naive faith that the system would only have been designed with the best in mind.  I suppose it would be okay for the government to be the last people using cheques. Didn't they get the memo about the dawn of the digital age?

I've called the Transport Ticketing Authority to follow up why the plan to change to a sensible refund process that's compatible with "smart" card technology has been abandoned.  I'm waiting for a call back.  So I called Myki again today to see what else I could find out.

I learnt that people complain about this issue regularly.  We all need to do this if anything is going to change.

I learnt that there are people who believe that there is money actually in the card.  They believe that exchanging cards results in a need to get the money out of the card and return it to the person who put the money on there.  This must be why money can be put on the replacement Myki when the reason for changing cards is that the old one was lost, stolen or defective.  It says so on the form.  Although, it still takes 10 days for this to happen.  I was told today that the reason it takes so long is that the money has to be removed from the old card.  The reason it can be done at all in this situation is that the card is being "replaced".  In the situation of a new card being issued because of a change in concession status, the card is being "refunded".  This is an enormous difference.  Apparently.

I feel like taking my card to the Myki Discovery Centre and cracking it open so that it can be seen, once and for all, that the money is not physically stored in the card.

So I'll add another reference number to my collection - this time in the special section indexed as "M" for Myki.  And contact the other members of parliament whom I have already contacted about this issue.  It will be interesting to hear what the Minister for Transport has told them.

In the meantime, I believe that we all need to make our voices heard when we come across wasteful and stupid government processes.  You can do a lot by email if you don't want to go through the call centre experience.  Soon there won't be the back up of Metcard as a second ticketing system.  These problems need to be fixed now!

I'd love to know your experiences with Myki - especially the "back office" processes.  Have you complained?  What were you told?

Monday, 13 February 2012

Peril on the roads

Police were out in force the other day, watching people alight from trams and ignore the official crossing spots.  I was amazed by how unaware people were of their surroundings.  Even as the police called out the individuals who stepped off the tram stop onto the tracks in front of the tram, more people followed them to meet their fate of on the spot fines for jaywalking.  While the police were dealing with the people who had walked in front of the tram, others set off in the other direction to cross the road against the lights!

Now I can imagine some people would say that the police should be out there catching real crooks, rather than targeting law abiding city workers who are just trying to make their connection to get home.  I think that a blitz on this stuff is a good idea every now and then.  In between pedestrians plugged in to ipods and unaware of their surroundings and drivers sending texts, reading email or talking on their mobile phones, the two are bound to meet in unplanned and unpleasant circumstances.  Regularly.

The other day I was driving on the Tullamarine freeway and needed to move across into the lane on my right. The traffic was heavy so I tried to nudge across and ask permission from a particular car to be allowed into his  lane.  Good old fashioned eye contact wasn't possible.  When I looked across to communicate with the driver, his eyes were down on the mobile phone he had in his left hand as he sped along at about 100 km per hour!  I decided I didn't want to be anywhere near him on the road and changed lanes a few cars ahead of him.

I remember talking to a young woman I came across in a training program I was facilitating.  She was loudly talking to the others in the group about the fact that she was working at that particular place so she could earn money to pay off all her fines.  She was nineteen years old!  Since she was so forthcoming about it, I decided that I could ask her about how the fines came about.  She blithely told me that it was from speeding and using her mobile phone to text while she was driving.

What a great combination!  A nineteen year old behind the wheel of a high powered car, on her provisional license, concentrating on her mobile phone while she was driving faster than the speed limit.  How she arrived anywhere in one piece is a mystery.  I put it to her that she might feel in control and certain of what she was doing, but she could not control or predict the behaviour of any other driver on the road.  One driver could do something unexpected at the precise moment of inattention; her focus on her phone rather than the road could cost her her own life, or threaten someone else's.  She shrugged.

Knowing what I know about the driving behaviour of people in her age group (based on working with them) there is no way I would put myself at risk as a pedestrian!  I'm not wearing kevlar pants or a helmet.  My handbag and iphone won't protect me in a collision with a car, a tram or even a cyclist.

Occasionally I contemplate purchasing a push bike for local trips.  Then I witness a near impact and I put it to the back of my mind - it seems I would be literally risking my life to put myself on the road on a bicycle in a sea of inattentive drivers and distracted, cocooned pedestrians.  Walking across the road is dangerous enough!

I feel for Melbourne's tram drivers.  It must be nerve racking, trying to navigate this course of constantly moving obstacles when you are driving a large metal vehicle which is attached to rails and can not change direction.  Is it any wonder there are now signs inside the trams reminding passengers to "HANG ON" because the tram driver may need to stop suddenly.  Surely a couple of minutes waiting for the light  to change so the road can be crossed safely, is not going to mean dire consequences in most situations.  If it was, I suspect the pedestrian would be easily spotted as someone under stress and wouldn't be listening to an ipod.

So back to my original point, on the spot fines for jaywalkers give the opportunity to raise awareness about the rules and appropriate behaviours.  I overheard some of the conversations  being conducted by members of the police force.  It was great to hear them actually educating offenders.  There should be more of that!

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Architecture in the city

After a very enjoyable lunch at Chin Chin I wandered around playing with the camera on my iphone and the wonderful Instagram app.  I'm impressed with the results.  What do you think?

Face to face with time.
(c) divacultura 2012

Cityscape I
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Skyline construct
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Reverse facade.
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Deconstruction.
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Myer sky.
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Geometric city.
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Sun Theatre art deco.
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What's your favourite?

Do you use Instagram? I'm divacultura over there too.

Land of the abandoned TV

It's about 7 minutes' walk from my house to the nearest train station.  There is the trail of abandonment.

With a grafitti message added.
(c) divacultura 2012

Face down and abandoned.
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Just hanging out on the nature strip.
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Two's company, but it's still lonely out here.
(c) divacultura 2012

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Yarraville gets down.

Yarraville held its annual festival today.  The streets in the village are closed to cars and there are stages at the four points of the cross roads where music of all kinds is played throughout the day.  Local traders bring their wares onto the street and you can't walk a metre without coming across someone you know.

One of the main events of the day is the Pet Parade.  I made a special effort to be in the right place for the parade this year and could not believe what I was seeing.  There were dogs everywhere, often dressed in clothes to match their owner's outfit.  Yes, that is correct, the dogs and owners were in matching outfits. The first pair I saw parade were two girls, one dressed as a lady bird and one dressed as a bee, leading their small dogs dressed as, you guessed it, a lady bird and a bee. Next in line was a dog wearing a grass skirt and Hawaiian lei.  It was called "Hula Dog".  I decided that I had better leave before it started playing the ukulele.

The beginning of the parade was highlighted by the less than wondrous performance of Archie the Wonder Dog.  Archie was a non-compliant Jack Russell (is there any other kind?) who is probably in heavy contract negotiations right now as a result of his failure to perform any kind of trick at all.  He just stood on the stage and looked around really.  I may have seen him do a high-five, but I couldn't be sure.  He seemed to be receiving treats from the owner regardless, so I reckon he must be a pretty smart dog - smarter than the owner anyway.

While I was sitting waiting for the event, I witnessed something very bizarre.  Gus was a very placid and patient dog.  He looked like a Labradoodle.  His owner had two dogs, him and Sal which was some kind of standard looking black dog.  I watched as Gus and Sal were costumed by their owner.  Gus was put into a black dog suit and Sal was put into a grey poodle suit.  The children belonging to the owner were given matching grey dog hats to wear.

The suits were quite ingenious - lots of Velcro and elastic.  As the woman fitted Gus (the dog) into his (dog) suit, Gus stood there with a look on his face that said something along the lines of: "If I stand here still enough she'll be able to quickly get the suit on.  The quicker the suit goes on, the quicker I can get out of this thing.  I can't believe that I have to get dressed in the middle of the street.  I mean, who else is expected to do that?  You'd think I would be afforded the dignity of a dressing room.  Even someone holding up a blanket would be better than this.  Oh, that's right Sal, run away.  I reckon you've got the right idea.  I look ridiculous.  I hope I don't run into anyone I know. "

"At least no one can recognise me in this get up."
(c) divacultura 2012
After realising that the dogs were all obscured on stage by the fold back speakers, I decided that I'd seen enough.  I wandered around the rest of the festival.

As the day wore on, the kids were more sugared up on fairy floss and ice cream and the parents were sick to death of trying to manoeuvre their semi-trailer sized prams through the throng of people.  I caught some interesting snippets of conversation:

"Stop asking me for things!" This was a mother to a child who had obviously been doing nothing but asking for things.  The child looked to be about 5 years old.  It was unclear whether the instruction pertained only to the confines of the festival or applied for the term of his natural life.

"No Jason, you are not going on a ride until you've eaten all your ice cream!" The mother who said this looked normal enough.  Just looking at her, I wouldn't have thought she was some strange vomit fetishist who fills her children full of ice cream before attaching them to machinery which would spin them around at very high speeds.  Any appeal that side show alley may have held, quickly diminished.  I didn't fancy being covered in vomit, even if it was mint-choc chip.

As I walked by the kids' stage, a band of kids looked like they were about to start playing.  They looked to be about 10 - 12 years old and comprised a bass player (also the front man), guitarist, key board player, drummer and brass section with two saxophones and a trumpet.  They looked pretty good up there and I waited for them to play.  It took the sound guy about twenty minutes to get everyone plugged in and ready to go.  Suddenly they started playing the "Peter Gunn" theme.  They were pretty tight and were in tune which is a great start.  Then everyone would stop playing for a couple of bars of improvisation from various instruments. You really can't believe how much the whole rhythmic structure of a piece can completely fall apart in the space of four bars until you hear it happen.  The drummer would count them back in and they'd play again as a tight unit.  When they started playing and singing other contemporary pop songs, I decided it was time to go.

The pop up park got a work out and the astro turf is looking less than stellar.  I caught a couple of bands which I really enjoyed: The Junes were rocking in the IGA carpark and The Mercurials were a great way to finish the day outside the video shop.  Earlier in the day I had caught a little bit of  Rebecca Bernard and Amanda Testro.  They called for a volunteer from the crowd to turn pages for their final song.  A small girl clambered on stage.  She did her best, but it can be hard to wrangle several pieces of A4 paper in a high wind.  There was a pause of about 2 and a half minutes between pages.

That sums up the vibe: friendly, comfy and a little bit daggy.  Love it!

Friday, 10 February 2012

Reflections on a Very Big Week

It's been a very big week.  I worked every day!  For most of my life I have been in full time employment and was required to turn up five days a week.  Sometimes this involved travel and very long hours.  I don't do that any more.  So here I am, absolutely exhausted after turning up for 5 consecutive days - something I haven't done in over a year.  I feel like taking a moment to reflect on what's different about working 5 days in a row as a freelancer and 5 days in a row as staff.

1. As a freelancer my responsibility ends with the delivery of whatever I was hired to do - in this case facilitate leadership development programs.  The upside is being able to focus on the task at hand.  The downside is not being able to know the next chapter in the story.  The upside is not becoming entangled in organisational politics.  The downside is not being involved in organisational politics. (Really.)

2. Hired-in consultants have freedom to be more frank with a business - that's what we're paid for.  The thing is, I've always been very frank and direct in my conversations with people and that didn't always work so well.  Some organisations think they want their staff to speak truthfully but react by threatening or severing the employment relationship.  Having this freedom is more in tune with my natural style.

3. As a freelancer I am paid much more than I was paid to do the same work as an employee.  Yay!

4. The flip side is I have no job security.  Future work is dependant on whether clients like the work I'm doing now.  I want them to ask me to work with them again.  I want them to recommend me to their colleagues. I have to take every opportunity to network.  Luckily, this is really working for me.  This is a very effective reward and recognition scheme - if I'm not doing good work and cultivating relationships, I don't eat.  Today two future jobs came through on the phone - one which is a referral from within my network to someone whom I don't know (Yay!) and the other is the third piece of work for a person I met when I was working on the same project for a day.  We networked and about 6 months later she hired me.

5. As a freelancer I work with a variety of people regularly.  Sometimes it works well and sometimes it is hard and not enjoyable.  I love this! It's so wonderful to have new people to play with.  It's also great to work in a context which requires a conscious approach and presence to succeed.  Each time I work with someone new, I love that I inevitably learn so much from them. I worked with terrific people this week.

6. As a freelancer, I am running a business of my own.  Running a business requires planning and straight talk about money.  Often money ties into the nature of the business relationship.  The art is in recognising what's important at any given time.  This week, the conversation was about money.  I'll talk about the relationship later. (Thanks to my brother who helped me work that through.)

Working permanently or working freelance both have their benefits and their struggles.  We're all different and what works for one person might not suit another person.  I can honestly say, I never envisaged that I would be working freelance and running my own business. It's been a fabulous surprise!

Have you made the move from permanent employment to freelance?  Or maybe you've moved the other way?  What do you like best?  What do you miss?

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Unlicenced in Melbourne today.

Busking permits are required in the city of Melbourne and from memory there is an audition to go through as part of the application process.  The idea is that this provides a certain level of "amenity" for people in the city.

Knowing this, think about this: I was walking down Swanston Street after work this afternoon, heading towards Flinders Street Station, when I heard a man screaming.  He was screaming as part of something that sounded like it could be a performance.  People walking towards me, coming from where the man was were sniggering and shaking their heads.  Then I saw him.

There was a bearded man wearing a slinky, short dress with a bright yellow floral print on it.  He was "singing" apparently to accompany the puppets which he was controlling.  I think they were puppets.  From a distance the one he was dangling looked like it could have been some kind of bird, but as I came closer, it just looked like a bunch of sticks attached to strings which were attached to a puppet frame for him to use.  Behind him on the footpath was a pile of all these "puppets".  He was jiggling them up and down and scream-singing nonsense to the peak hour crowd.

It was bizarre.  But as I walked past, I couldn't help but smile.  He was a sight to behold.  Even the fact of this bearded bloke and his choice of frock was bold, even before you consider his musicality and the weird stick puppets.  I didn't want to meet his eyes (they were crazy eyes) but I found him quite compelling - it was hard not to.  He was completely committed to his performance and the energy he was giving off was very positive.

Initially my thought was "what's that terrible racket?", but having been in the presence of this man I'm thinking that he did offer some entertainment value, albeit unconventional.  And he sure knew how to wear that dress.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Going the pick in public

Sitting on the train on the way home, I chose a group of three seats.  Before long a man sat beside me and another man sat down in the third seat which was facing me and the first man.

The third man had his ear phones in and seemed engrossed in whatever he was listening to.  No sound was bleeding through so I couldn't tell whether he was getting down and funky, listening to a podcast, or an audio book.  He was sitting side on to me, so I wasn't part of his visual world.

Soon he started to rub his nose a little bit.  He'd rub, tug and then twitch. Rub the nose, tug and then twitch.  He repeated this a few times, but clearly, it wasn't getting the job done.  The twitching escalated.  His top lip became involved.  Something up there was worrying him.  His next move was to abandon the subtleties and just put his finger right up his nostril.  He swirled it around and dug a bit before withdrawing it and studying what he had mined, before rolling it in a little ball between his thumb and fingers...I'm not sure what happened after that.

If you've spent any time watching primates at the zoo or on television you will have seen the grooming behaviour on display.  Humans do this stuff too, but usually we choose to do it in private - unless we do it driving in the car.  Many times I've stopped at traffic lights, looked at the car beside me only to see the driver with their finger well up their nostril. Or squeezing their pimples.  Or plucking their chin hairs.

It's as if people forget that the windows are clear and they can be seen.

Perhaps it was a similar effect with the third man on the train today.  He had his ear phones plugged in and so therefore he was invisible.  Well, I have news for him: he wasn't invisible!  And neither was what he harvested from his nose.  Please don't go the pick in public!

Sunday, 5 February 2012

City visit photos

Sky high grafitti.  How did they do this?
(c) divacultura 2012





(c) divacultura 2012

The walls of the women's toilets somewhere in Melbourne. 
From floor to ceiling, the wall is papered in the envelopes from vintage paper sewing patterns.
This shot is between the two mirrors above the hand basins.  You can see my elbow reflected on the front. 

Cricket ticket.

Doing things I've never done before is something I like to do as often as I can.  Expressing this thought, I've suddenly realised it's quite hard to express unambiguously.  I do new things regularly - that bit is not new.  It's the actual "thing" that I'm doing that is new.  Phew.

After spending a day visiting my home city I attended my first ever live, professional cricket match!  Those of you who read about the cricket saturation I've endured every summer since I was born may be very surprised at this.  Actually, I'm surprised too!  So how and why did this happen?

A (female) friend of mine is quite into her sport, including the cricket.  We were watching the tennis on my new television one evening and she was talking about having been to the actual tennis to see Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal play.  We then moved onto the cricket and suddenly, plans were being made.  A 20/20 match was proposed and I figured it would all be over in less time than most operas, so why not take advantage of living in the same city as the famous Melbourne Cricket Ground?

Cricket ticket. (c) divacultura 2012


I am amazed to say that I really enjoyed the whole experience.

We met opposite Flinders Street station to make the trek to the hallowed ground (as she put it), along with most of the other 64, 998 people who attended the game that night.  People were in a friendly mood, the weather was stunning and Australia had been killing India every time we met.  I quickly saw evidence of flag wearers - young men dressed for the beach and wearing an Australian flag as a cape.  Very sensible, I thought, although I had my pashmina in my handbag and wouldn't need the flag to keep warm if Melbourne forced us to experience its famously fickle weather.

Approaching the ground, my nerves started to take hold.  I knew that we were sitting up quite high and all I could think about was the incident I'd previously had at Etihad Stadium involving George Michael.  (To cut a long story short I could get up, but getting back down with my fear of heights was challenging for me and the person I was with.)  I was sitting up quite high, but the rake of the seats isn't quite as steep, so this wasn't a problem at the G - except when I looked up, bizarrely, or when there was a balloon being batted around by the kids in front of me.

I was very surprised at how different the live sporting event looks on site, compared with how it looks on television.

Firstly, there's the scale of things.  On television, it doesn't look as if the batsmen have very far to run.  I've always wondered what the big deal is if they can just take a couple of steps and wander across.  On television, it also looks like the bowlers don't go very far - I was amazed to see how far - and fast - Brett Lee ran when he was bowling his very fast balls.  And also the wicket keeper was as far behind the facing batsman as the distance Brett Lee had run.  Eleven people spread out across the ground leaves a lot of unguarded ground.  Especially when you consider there are only nine left after the bowler and wicket keeper have been allocated.  I gained a new appreciation for the work that the fields men have to do.  Cricket was starting to look like a seriously technical game of skill.

Secondly, there are the cameras.  The first one I saw was the Spidercam which is suspended above the action in the middle of the field.  I'm not sure where the operator sits, or if there is more than one operator, but watching it swooping and retreating and spinning was like watching a ballet.  When I watched the highlights on television, I now understood how those shots were taken.  Wonderful!  Dotted around the ground are the fixed cameras with huge zoom lenses on them for filming the crowd and there's the guy out in the middle riding the segway and filming things.  I'm not sure what that footage looks like.

During the time between innings, I was amazed at how much stuff was happening on the ground.  The Australian team came out to warm up, there was a pyrotechnic display and there was a KFC sponsored competition to catch a cricket ball fired from a cannon.  So much of it is about giving air time to the sponsors for the television audience at home.

If I was worried about boredom, I quickly realised that there would be no time.  There were regular broadcasts of snippets of music designed to elicit a united crowd response - the beginning of the Addam's Family theme (lots of clicking), the start of Queen's "We Will Rock You" (lots of clapping and stamping), Harry Belafonte singing "Day-o" (lots of day-o-ing).  Most of the time the expected response was clear, but I remain mystified by the regular Mariachi's trumpet snippet which resulted in something sounding like a cross between a groan and a cheer.

At times there was so much going on it was easy to forget that there was a game of cricket in progress.

The tradition of pitch invasion was perpetuated.  A bloke ran frantically, his bare feet slipping out from under him as he almost made it to the crease before security realised and gave chase.  Play stopped.  The crowd cheered.  Just before he made it, he was smothered by four men and escorted from the ground.  The big screens flashed the reminder that there is a $7800 penalty for doing this.  We figured it would be hard for him to say "it wasn't me, your Honour", given the number of camera angles available and decided that his mates must have chipped in to cover the fine as part of a bet.  The security response was more rapid when a balloon later floated onto the outer field.

Many people left before the end when it looked certain that India was finally going to win, but the game finished with a very exciting final over.  The Romantic in me was hoping for a tie, but it wasn't to be.  I was very glad that we had stayed until the end.  It seemed unsporting to do otherwise.

Walking back to Flinders Street Station, the crowd was a little less exuberant but still polite.  A group of boys ran shouting a redesigned version of the warcry: "Oi! Oi! Oi! Aussie! Aussie! Aussie!" they shouted, leaving everyone hanging.

$36 for three and a half hours of interesting entertainment is pretty good value.  My friend happily answered and explained all of my annoying questions.  A friend like this is an essential accessory for the first timer, although exactly how LBW works is still beyond me.

The most amazing thing is that I think I could see myself going again.  Maybe.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Visiting my home city

Yesterday a friend from interstate had a whole day to hang around until the thing he was here for started in the late afternoon.  I was thrilled to have a friend to play with on a week day (usually everyone else is working and I have to keep myself company) and then I started to think about how to fill a day.

We met at Southern Cross station and walked up to Hardware Lane for a late breakfast, coffee and general catch up.  The city working crowd had thinned by this time and we were able to sit outside and enjoy the gorgeous day.  My friend is someone I only see every now and then.  We met at Summersong a couple of years ago and collaborated to write a song in 2011.  It was over breakfast that he chose to present me with a gift for the day.  More on that later.

After breakfast we went to the State Library to see the Modern as Tomorrow photographic exhibition.  It was free and not crowded.  The conversation flowed around what we were seeing and what we love about black and white photography, especially when looking at the photographs on some album covers.  They really lent themselves to imagining what the people in the photographs were thinking.  Our stories became wilder and more imaginative as we were exposed to more stimulus from the exhibition and the people around us.  Walking out of the building we saw a man talking animatedly on his mobile phone.  He was sitting on a bench in the front garden.  It was his clothing (or rather, his colour palette) which distinguished him.  Apricot coloured shirt, apricot/dark salmon coloured pants, with hair dyed to match.  I admired his purple suede boots as we walked past.  He may have been a second cousin to the Mustard couple I wrote about the other day.

We set off in search of lunch with no real plan and were distracted by a trip up the stairs to Metropolis book shop on Swanston Street.  With its light, airy space and books sorted into categories like graphic design, architecture, typography it's easy to lose yourself in beautiful books and images.  An early Justin Townes Earle album was playing and that made me like it even more.

I struck up a conversation with the guy attending the shop about his choice of music.  He seemed happy to talk of his love for Justin Townes Earle:  "His first two albums ripped my heart out, threw it on the ground in front of me and stomped on it."

From the intensity of the statement I gathered that this was a good thing and nodded enthusiastically.  I was nervous about revealing my love of the third and most recent album.  The minute I did, he shook his head and the passion cooled.  I felt the need to justify my taste:  "I only discovered him through this third album and have gone back.  He's GREAT."  I kept my tone and facial expression carrying a suitable level of gravitas.  We were friends again.

Neither of us walked out of the shop empty-handed - I found two books about creativity from Keri Smith which another friend had tipped me off about and I'd been looking for.  One of my favourite titles was a collection of passive-aggressive notes by some pretty unhappy people - usually involving food in communal fridges in work places and share houses.  A book about paper engineering may require a return visit.  I think I have a new favourite book store.

For lunch I offered Federation Square or Degraves Street and we had Japanese share plates sitting outside at Chocolate Buddha in Federation Square.  On our way to the tram, we were lucky to encounter one of the Theo Jansen "Strandbeests" that is roaming around Federation Square at the moment.  They are amazing to look at, with a strangely organic, animalistic vibe - hard to achieve when you consider they are made out of PVC pipe and lots of cable ties.

Then it was time to get in the car and take my visitor to his event.

Spending time in your city with a visitor is a wonderful thing to do.  Apart from the opportunity to hang out with a friend,  I saw my city with different eyes.  There were little geranium covered balconies hanging off buildings I'd never noticed before, pieces of graffiti I'd never seen from that angle before.  And on the drive, the best sight of the day: a blokey looking bloke driving a pastel coloured 4 cylinder car while looking a little self conscious.  On the side of the car was a sign advertising "Jade's mobile waxing".  He looked like he wanted to explain what he was doing driving that particular car!  But maybe that's just my assumptions clouding the real story - why couldn't he be Jade, the waxer?  Maybe he's a floor waxer...

Anyway, my friend (who is a type designer) presented me with a wonderful gift over breakfast.  It embodies the things I think make a great gift - simple, meaningful in a way which tells you the gift giver has thought about what to give, memorable and unwrapped.  I held out my hand and was given a wooden uppercase  letter T (my initial).  I loved it instantly.

It's not perfect.  It's a little bit rough around the edges.  One side is dark and the other light. There's a splinter missing on the cross bar but it's a strong, true letter which can not be mistaken for anything other than a letter "T".  It suits me to a tee.

(c) divacultura 2012

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Time sprints on.

I turned the calendar over from January to February today.  It seemed too soon to do it yesterday.  I couldn't believe that one month of the year was gone already.  Every year, it's the same thing - how time flies.

Why does it feel like this, I wonder, given the actual pace of time according to our manufactured systems for measuring and counting time is fixed?  It is true that we refer to the days in winter as being "shorter" than summer days.  What we really mean is that the period of daylight is shorter because of our orbit around the sun.  A day is still a full 24 hours long and these hours are still comprised of 60 minutes, with each minute being made up of 60 seconds.  I'm not sure what comes next in the line of division, but you get the idea.

So it is our perception of time that changes, not time itself.

Having spent three weeks relaxing on holidays with no deadlines and no requirements being placed on me by others, I was not aware of time.  It didn't seem to be passing quickly or slowly.  The days were just what they were.  Almost from the moment I arrived back in the city though, I started to feel the sense of "time flying" again.  I think I've realised why.

My mindset is completely different when I'm on holidays.  I am living more in the present moment and less focussed on what is happening tomorrow or next week, or even "next".  When I'm back in work mode in the city, I have to have a plan for most days.  I'm needed to be places with people, or I need to prepare to be somewhere with people.  This is an even bigger focus now that I'm self-employed - I have to have a future focus to make sure I have enough work and enough clients to earn money.

The lesson for me seems to be to find a way to stay in the present, or at least spend some time each day being consciously in the present.  Otherwise, I'll be turning the calendar over to December tomorrow.

One of the things that helps when I'm on holidays with my family is to go for a walk with Alfie, the Jack Russell (you met him here).  Alfie is completely in the present.  He happily runs along and then his nose will pick up a scent and he'll follow that for a while, then there will be a puddle which is worth inspecting and then a hare will run past and Alfie will be off.  It's instructive to watch.  He works without a plan or an agenda.

There used to be three dogs to walk - Alfie, a Kelpie and a Labrador.  This sense of being in the moment was even greater when there were three of them to watch.  They seemed to be playful and curious and just happy to be in each other's company, walking along in the afternoon sunshine, enjoying the moment.  This seems like a good thing to do.

Is time flying for you? What do you do to slow it down?

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

It really does make the world go 'round.

We all need it.  Most of us wish we had more of it.  Sometimes we fight about. We're happy to get it and some people are happy to give it.  We use it most days.  I'm talking about money.

On my way home today I left the city from Flinders Street Station.  It was the first time I had travelled in peak hour in a while and I was amazed at the number of people crammed into this space.  As I descended to the platform on the escalator my mobile phone rang.  I was talking on the phone as I walked along and I noticed a man and a woman coming towards me.  They seemed to be sizing me up and as they approached they closed in on me until they were standing directly in front of me and I couldn't easily pass.  They started to talk to me about their need for money with no regard to the fact that I was actually in conversation with someone else.  I realised later that I had stopped listening to the person on the other end of the phone because I was assessing my personal safety.  When I realised that the two people were no threat to me, I merely walked between them.  I looked back to see they had already found their next quarry.

On this evening's television news, three of the top stories were about money, but angles were all really different.

Firstly, there was the news that workers in the community sector in Australia have been granted a significant wage rise by Fair Work Australia.  The basis of the claim was that workers in the sector were not being paid equally, when compared to other workers doing similar jobs in other industries because they were predominantly women.  If you're into the detail, you can read the decision here.  

I've worked in the community sector (as a fundraiser for an organisation supporting people suffering from a particular disease) and I know that I was being paid significantly less than what I would have been paid if I had been doing the same work in another sector.  Some of this was offset by the ability to salary package and receive a significant tax benefit, but not to the extent of the increase brought into effect by this decision.

The story started by explaining the decision, then focussed on a particular young woman and what the decision would mean for her.  Next it reported on what a dissenting member of the full bench said when they ruled against the majority.  Predictably, next were the reactions of employer groups.  Now there's a headline, I thought: Bosses rail against pay rise.

In stark contrast, was the story of the former owner and boss of Grenda Buslines, Ken Grenda, who sold his family owned bus company for $400million.  He gave $15million of it to staff, recognising the people working there as being critical to the success of the business.  This brought a tear to my eye.  The footage of workers talking to their boss (and about their boss) was moving.  So were the stories of how the significant amounts of money had arrived when it was badly needed.

In particular, I was impressed when Mr Grenda said that many of his employees had been with the company for all of their working life and he felt some responsibility for them, apart from the fairness of rewarding their service and loyalty.  You can read that story here.  It's hardly surprising that the company has been so successful!

What a great point of contrast with the bosses opposed to the pay rise granted to community service workers.

Lastly was the story of 10,000 more people joining the biggest class action in Australia's legal history as  Bank SA and St George Bank were joined to the action against bank exception fees.  A classic story of the little people joining together to fight something that banks have long held as non-negotiable.  You can read more here.

So, there was a lot of stuff about money today.  Hardly surprising really.  Ken Grenda stands out for me and I loved the way this ordinary looking bloke, who seemed genuinely humbled by the attention, showed what being a leader and a boss is all about.  Pass me another hankie.