Sunday, 30 September 2012

Modern problems - filling the kettle in a hotel room

One of my great life challenges is to successfully fill a kettle in a hotel room.  It sounds like a simple task.  If you've ever tried it, you'll know that it isn't.  In some rooms, the task is so enormous, that I have looked behind the curtains and in the light fittings for hidden cameras.  I've checked for two way mirrors that have a studio audience and a host on the other side.

In most rooms the only sink is the handbasin in the bathroom.  It is using this basin, with its taps, that the filling of the kettle will be done.

If only that were possible.  Depending on the age of the bathroom fit-out, the water spout will be so small or snug against the bottom of the basin, or won't stick out very far over the basin (overhang?) that getting anything bigger than a thimble under the water stream is impossible.  It may be possible to wet one's toothbrush.  Just.  Forget about putting your head under the tap for some water! Alternatively, the tap may have a nice high arch, but the spout lines up with the lip of the basin, leaving just enough room to wet the aforementioned toothbrush.

The height of the kettle compared to the design of the basin and its tap will be ridiculously tall.  Sometimes it is possible to manoeuvre the kettle under the tap, but the angle is such that the water flows out of the kettle as fast as it flows in.  If you notice this happening, whipping the kettle out from under the tap will result in a wet bathroom.  Gently angling the kettle to slide it BACK,  UP and DIAGONALLY, will result in the thimble full of water that had accumulated over the last agonising ten minutes being poured straight down the drain.  The emptying part usually takes less than five seconds.

A few places I've stayed in lately have a better tap design, but have provided a mini kettle.  These mini kettles are so small that they hold about a thimble full of water.  Do you know how many times you have to fill and boil the kettle to make a cup of tea when the kettle only boils a thimble-full of water at a time?  And by the time the tea cup is full, never mind a tea POT, the cup is full of cold water and the tea has gone the colour of week old dishwater.

Other places provide a plastic jug of water in the fridge.  The problem with this is that the water in the jug usually tastes like the jug itself.  It smells like the chemicals from the plastic plant where it was made.  Who knows how long the water in those jugs has been in there!  Even if the water didn't taste like plastic, I'm too frightened to use much of the water because I know that I'd never be able to refill the jug again.  I'm sure it will be written in the fine print I signed that the leaving of an empty jug will result in the charging of a ridiculously inflated water levy.  I'm just not prepared to take the chance.

Some rooms have a bath which solves the problem of the handbasin.  The problem with this is that hotels that are swanky enough to have a bath usually have a handbasin the size of a small reservoir with a correspondingly large tap which presents no logistical problems regarding the filling of the kettle.  This is just as well because in these rooms, my time will be taken up working out my lighting zones.  How many switches can one room reasonably have?  My whole apartment seems to have only one power point;  I am single-handedly supporting the double adaptor manufacturers, importers and retailers.

In the absence of a bath, the other source of water is the shower.  I have, on occasion, resorted to using the shower to fill the kettle.  This required some pre-planning.  Stripping naked to fill the kettle seems like an extreme measure, but the one time I didn't do it I regretted it.  When those labels on the suit say "dry clean only", they aren't mucking around.  It was one of those hand held showers with a hose attached.  At the slightest hint of water pressure, the hose went rigid and the shower head flailed around, spraying water all over everything.  I spent the next day making outlandish claims that the short sleeved safari suit was making a comeback for women, particularly when worn with a sense of irony.

I needed something stronger than a cup of tea after that little episode.

Most inns will claim that their rooms are equipped with complimentary tea and coffee facilities.  Of course they can afford to give it away for free - no one can use them!  (And if you do, you'll discover the teabags are filled with pencil shavings and the coffee sachets with brown powder).  To get around this, I now travel with my own thimble and can fill a kettle with enough water to make a cup of tea in just under an hour.  It's these travel hints that are priceless and I share it now for free.

What's your favourite travel tip?

Friday, 28 September 2012

My favourite things - this week

1. My diary for next week is my favourite thing this week.  There is NOTHING in it!
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 It's not often I feel happy about that, but with the recent frenetic pace, I'm quite happy to know that I can spend some time at home.  I know there's a lunch date sometime.  I have some accounts work to do.  I have some follow up from the empathy project.   These things can all be done at home.  That feels really good!

2. Getting dressed and ready for today's job.  I didn't even have to get dressed if I didn't want to.  I didn't have to shower.  Didn't do my hair and applied no makeup.  I picked up a pair of holey jeans  and a stinky t-shirt from the laundry pile.  Today I was playing a woman suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.  She is currently homeless.  It was a tough gig, but the wardrobe requirements were a dream.

3.  Flying on a plane with no audio visual distractions.  Usually I love the inflight entertainment, especially on longer flights.  Flying back from Brisbane last night there was not a screen anywhere to be seen.  I took the opportunity to put in some quality reading time.  I'm now 100 pages from the end of "Freedom" by Jonathan Franzen.  I'm loving it!  I did plug my ipod in and enjoyed the soundtrack to the Almodovar film "Hable Con Ella" (Talk to her).  It's gorgeous and perfect in the background.

4.  Surprising dining experiences in regional Australia.  I've been out to Traralgon a couple of times in the last couple of weeks, pulling into the Century Inn, right on the highway.  I sighed the first time I pulled, not expecting very much, but I was soon happily surprised.  The food in the restaurant is sensational!  I enjoyed a rib fillet steak with lyonnaise potatoes, baby leeks and red wine jus and a rocket, pear and parmesan salad on the side.  Beautifully cooked and bursting with flavour.

5.  Lipstick pink hire cars.  Everyone looked at the car as I zipped along the road.  It was fun, but I don't think I'd buy that colour.  Resale would be hard, but it would be visible in the parking lot.

Lipstick pink Yaris
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Struck down and alone with my body

I have been exactly like Prime Minister Julia Gillard this week.  I flew into another city (Brisbane) for important work the following day and spent the night vomiting.  As Jonathan Franzen described it in "Freedom", I was alone with my body.

There is nothing lonelier than being ill in a hotel room.  The bed isn't right.  The pillows aren't right.  The temperature control is off.  The noises are unfamiliar.  There are no ice cream containers to put by the bed in case of emergency.

Then there's the whole emergency planning scenario for the following day which plays on the mind.  "I have to be okay for tomorrow."  "What happens if I'm not okay tomorrow?" "I just have to be okay tomorrow."  This played out for the whole night.

I woke up at 6am with a blinding headache and a parched mouth, but could roll over without feeling queasy.  Slowly I eased myself into a sitting position.  I made a cup of weak black tea and spent the next 40 minutes sipping it.  (There is a post coming about the comedy of filling the kettle in hotel rooms).

I hauled myself into the shower and slowly, tentatively prepared myself mentally and physically for the day.  I was facilitating a leadership session and the prospect of being anywhere other than in bed was not pleasing.

I made it through the day on a completely empty stomach.  When the discussion about staff engagement came up we talked about absenteeism and how you pick what's genuine and what isn't.  I reflected on my own experience.  If I wasn't engaged in my work, I'd probably still be lying in the hotel room feeling sorry for myself, even though the worst of whatever it was was over.  I recalled one job I'd had that I wasn't very engaged in and while I was working there I found myself feeling ill more often.  When I'm doing stuff I enjoy and am engaged in, I get sick less often.  Is this true for you?

Before I was gripped with illness I had some time to enjoy the view from the 29th floor of my hotel.  The balcony was tiny and it took all my effort to step out there.

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Tuesday, 25 September 2012

On the roads.

Over the last two days, I've done a lot of  driving to work with a client in regional Victoria.  I quite like driving on the highway.  It gives me time to think and I enjoy listening to the radio.

I was driving a lipstick pink hire car this time.  Today I was dressed in a pink shirt (I packed before I picked up the hire car).  I felt ridiculously matched.  People were looking at me in my lipstick pink car.  It was very girly and initially I didn't like it.  Then I got used to it and I quite like the colour now.

It goes back tomorrow.

When I picked it up, I waited in a line for twenty minutes.  A large group of tourists were hiring several cars.  Their English speaking skills were limited.  It took a long time.  I signed my paperwork, paid and was gone within five minutes.

While driving I was treated to a double rainbow.

Some of the things I thought about:

  • I started to map out when I will take a holiday.  Working freelance means that it can be easy to forget to plan a break - especially in the first year.  I've discovered that I needed to understand the rhythms of demand and accept that.  I know that January is dead, so I've decided to schedule time and I have already started telling clients that I am unavailable during this time.
  • I marvelled at the impatience and recklessness of many drivers.  I worried for one driver who looked like they may have been falling asleep.
  • Why couldn't I open my ereader this morning?  I'm deeply into "Freedom" by Jonathan Franzen and enjoying it immensely.  I read it over dinner as I dined on my own at the hotel restaurant last night.  I read it before I went to sleep last night.  I took it to breakfast, but could not get the book to open.  Very frustrating and one of the drawbacks of digital - this would never happen with a real book!
  • I worry for the missing Melbourne woman Jill Meagher.  Listening to ABC radio (where she works) meant I heard a lot.  I hope she's all right.  I can't imagine how her loved ones must be feeling.
  • I appreciated the landscape, bathed in gorgeous pink light as the sun set.  
  • I cursed the sun as I drove right into its light.
  • I pondered the validity of dead gangland boss Carl Williams' family launching a civil damages suit against the state for negligence (he turned police informant and was murdered while in maximum security).  I didn't reach a conclusion, but it's an interesting question.
  • I spent time thinking about the changes I had seen in the group I've been working with.  One woman was so much more engaged, she was like a different person.  Another man who had been hard to convince, thawed and acknowledged to me (in front of the group) when I handed him an intellectual "diamond".  Another woman was so angry at everyone and everything, I wondered what her life is like.
And so it goes.

Even though the beds at the hotel I stayed in last night are the most comfortable beds in the world, I will be very glad to sleep in my own again tonight.

What have you been thinking about today?

Monday, 24 September 2012

Ripples of gratitude

Since becoming an ambassador for the Gratitude Card Project, I've been enjoying starting little ripples of joy in the world.

Buying jeans and swimsuits can be sole destroying and frustrating exercises.  I encountered the most wonderful shop assistant who tirelessly brought me every combination of size, style and colour before I found the perfect pair.  It was my first experience of giving a gratitude card and she initially looked a bit suspicious, but I was soon rewarded with a wide, direct smile.  Thank you!

When I was recently working at Edith Cowan University in Joondalup over in Western Australia, I walked into the Italian cafe on campus for some lunch.  Rob, the proprietor, greeted me and my colleague as though we were entering his home.  He was proud of his business and interested in us as people.  (Interest in other people is such an appealing quality!)  His home made focaccia was delicious and so was the coffee.  When we went back the next day, he remembered us and gave us the same greeting.  I thanked him for his hospitality with a gratitude card.  He seemed humbled and chuffed!  Thank you Rob!

My colleague was within ear shot and asked me what had just happened.  I had planned on giving a card to Brett at the end of our week away.  He started to jokingly agitate, asking when he was going to be shown some gratitude?  It made me laugh and laughter is definitely something to be grateful for.  I presented him with a card over dinner in Adelaide, later in the week.  He was genuinely thrilled.  (I gave him another one last week at the very end of our time working together.)  Thank you Brett!

Sue at the University of South Australia also received a card for her happy and helpful support of our work while we were there.  Sue also received a special mention for introducing us to a terrific little Asia corner to have lunch in Adelaide.  As Brett and I were leaving I handed her a gratitude card. Thank you Sue!

A couple of weeks ago I had dinner with my friend Karyn.  It had been a while since we'd seen each other and I had had to cancel plans a couple of times.  Karyn had persisted in making contact despite my occasional lack of communication.  It was so good to see her.  Sitting on the couch in her new home I thanked her for being my friend and gave her a gratitude card.  Thank you Karyn!

Yesterday I stopped by Kit Cosmetics to buy some lipstick.  An hour later Caitlin had worked her magic and given me a make over.  She was lovely and friendly and enjoyed her work.  She gave me a new look which I enjoyed discovering.  She did a great job on my eyebrows, which was a revelation!  After I paid for my purchase, I thanked her for a very enjoyable hour.  Thank you Caitlin!

I think Jenny Peers has done a wonderful thing in creating the Gratitude Card Project.  Thank you Jenny!  I'm pleased to be an ambassador.  Showing gratitude to people for ordinary little considerations makes you feel good!

Who can you thank today?

You can get your very own set of gratitude cards from here.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Sunday slideshow

The iphone camera has been working hard and I've had lots of opportunities to use it.  Visiting different places presents new opportunities, but also provides a fresh perspective on home.

Firstly, some favourite urban shots.

While standing at the tram stop on Collins Street and Swanston Street in Melbourne's CBD, I noticed the building opposite was reflecting the building opposite.  There was also an open window.  I'm really pleased with this photo.

Reflections on an open window
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 While on a recent job at the Alfred Centre, I had some "hanging around time".  I spent it looking out the window and taking photos.  This photo is just a shot of a car coming out of the carpark, but the line markings and trajectory of the car give it extra drama.
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 This is another shot taken from the fifth floor window of the Alfred Centre.  There was a building with a wall perpendicular to where I was.  It was highly reflective.  I like the way the hard lines are broken by the plumes of steam from a chimney that was behind me.
View of the world
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Aeroplane travel has also provided some interesting perspectives lately.

I took this shot from my seat of a DASH-8 while I was sitting on the tarmac at Coffs Harbour airport recently.

Dash detail
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These two photos are also from the seat of a DASH-8 leaving from Coffs Harbour, but on a different flight.

On a wing
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 When there's nothing else to photograph, self-portraiture is always interesting.  A glimpse of how others see you can be had.

The first of these shots was accidental when I was mucking around with the camera during my hanging around time at the Alfred Centre.  I used the window sill as a camera rest and the lighting is coming from the window.  I explored this idea further and took the second shot.

Self portrait, 14 September 2012
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Self portrait II, 14 September 2012
I had a makeover at Kit Cosmetics today.  It was an accident.  I was just there to buy a lipstick, but had a full makeup done, including my eyebrows.  Initially I was nervous when Caitlyn suggested "doing" my eyebrows.  I quite like them and don't think you should muck around too much.  This look was achieved with a brow kit and not a single hair was harmed, or plucked.  Hope I can replicate her work!
Eyebrow makeover, 23 September 2012
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The eye has it
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And lastly, here's proof that spring has sprung!

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What have you snapped lately?

Saturday, 22 September 2012

When I was eleven

Today I popped into the Sun Theatre in Yarraville to see the film, "I am Eleven".  It's a series of interviews with eleven year old children from all over the world.  They talk about their lives and share their thoughts on life, culture, religion, war and many other things.

If you can, take the time to see this film.  It is funny, astonishing and humbling.

It's extraordinary to hear Remi from France talk about the three types of love there are in the world: love for family; love for people you know, but who aren't your family; and love for people you don't know.  I haven't spent a lot of time with eleven year olds, so I don't have a benchmark to know whether this is what eleven year olds generally sound like.  Remi also had clear views about racism and the French Government's tough immigration laws.  It was incredible to hear him speak and refer to himself as a citizen of the world.

Vandana and Ginisha live in an orphanage in Kerala in India.  They have meagre possessions and speak about never having known a father's love, yet they see the beauty in their shabby, even squalid, surroundings.  Their wide smiles and ambitions for themselves in the face of a very hard start in life brings tears to my eyes.

Billy from the UK has a perpetually worried look on his face and an adult turn of phrase.  He's a comedian but it's hard to know if he knows this.  He speaks about growing up, getting married, having children, grandchildren and then "boom, it's all over".  He seems non-plussed but the cinema audience roars with laughter.  His favourite films are "Dirty Dancing 1 and 2" because of the great dance moves.

Kimberly from New Jersey in the US precociously enacts the scene of her future marriage proposal.  Her Jersey accent is pronounced and it all happens on one date.  It's a boy she will meet in college and he will tell her that he likes her hair.  It's all over after that.

Since seeing the film, I've been trying to think about what I was like at eleven.

I know that I had reached the height I would be (167cm) and had already reached puberty. It was really hard to buy age appropriate shoes.

I was bigger than everyone except the Egyptian girl Dahlia Aziz which meant I had to play Goal Defence or Goal Keeper in the netball team and was always cast in the male parts in school plays.

I had piano lessons, played for as many hours a day as I possible could and attended "gourmet cookery for children" classes with Mrs Quade at the TAFE in Toowoomba.  This meant I cooked dinner for the family on Tuesdays.  I look back at the recipes and laugh at the idea they were considered gourmet, but still remember techniques I learned there like how to skin fresh tomatoes for cooking.

I was in love with Bo Duke (played by John Schneider), the blond one from the TV show, "The Dukes of Hazzard" and would throw a tantrum if I wasn't allowed to watch the show.  My bedroom was wall-papered with pictures of him I had torn from American fan magazines.

I would ride my bike all over town.  I was given a new bike after my brother dismantled my old one and had pieces left over after reassembly.  My parents asked me to take the garbage outside which I did in a huff and returned.  I hadn't even seen the brand new bike waiting for me!

Days would be consumed by reading novels, one after the other.  I think it was at about this age I decided that I would read every novel in the school library, starting with the letter A.  I think I made it to C.

It was at the age of eleven that my worst dental experience occurred, leaving me with a lifelong fear.

My best friend was Angela Seymour.

I think I was in love with Philip Hamilton or Treg Kleidon or one of those boys.  I don't think it was reciprocated, but Philip did attend a college ball with me while we were at university.

I wanted to be an actress or a writer or a musician.

It's interesting to think how much of the person I am today, thirty years later, was evident at the age of eleven.  A good age I think.

What were you like when you were eleven?  Would you recognise yourself?

Friday, 21 September 2012

Up, up and away - musings of a frequent flyer

Written on 20 September 2012 - posting tonight due to broadband failure....

I wake up three times during the night, thinking it can't be time to get up yet.  The first time it's 11:50pm - definitely not.  The second time it's 2:45 am - not quite.  The third time it's 4:30am and it is time.  It's been a while since I had to catch an early flight like this for work and I remember that I don't like it.

My cab driver will collect me at 5:15am.  It's too early to eat.  Despite my aim to go to be early, I turn the light out at 11pm.  That IS early for me.  I've packed and laid out the clothes I'll be wearing today the night before.  I sleepwalk to the shower which wakes me momentarily but thirty minutes later my eyes have that sandy, tired feeling.  I make my way through the airport in a haze. One minute the queues to get through security are enormous; when I look again there are no queues.  I walk through and continue to stake my claim to the title of "woman most swabbed for explosive residue at Australian airports".

While waiting for my latte, I notice a couple of pilots waiting for their coffee.  One of them has his ipad out and it starts playing what sounds like the soundtrack to a movie or TV show.  He desperately tries to turn i off but fumbles and makes it louder instead.

"He can't drive his ipad - hope he's better at the controls of a plane," I quip to my barrista.

Urgent announcements to b

oard my flight are made.  i am them standing in a line that string along the whole length of the aerobridge corridor.

It takes ages to get to row 25 while people try to stow their five piece of hand luggage - why aren't the restrictions enforced?  I take my seat and am happy to discover the aircraft is equipped with individual entertainment systems.  I immediately find episode eight of "Smash" and pick up where I left off on my recent flight to Perth.

We arrive on time but it's still a brisk walk to the other terminal at Sydney airport.  The security lines here are endless and chaotic.  It seems no one has ever travelled before and no one has any idea about the need to empty pockets and not try to travel carrying aerosol cans.  I stride to the front of the queue and make it all the way out without even an explosives check!

I'm at the gate lounge for two minutes before boarding starts.  I take my seat in the Dash 8 and fall asleep immediately, waking as the wheels hit the tarmac at my destination.

My bag made it - I was worried! - and then I find the taxi queue.  Four sneering besuited men take up space with a lofty sense of entitlement.  They make derogatory comments about everyone who walks by.  I eyeball them as I take my place in yet another queue, daring them to say something to me.  My direct approach silences them until two cars marked as belonging to the local business chamber come to collect them.

I learnt from the driver of my maxi taxi that for groups of five or more people travelling in the one maxi taxi, the rate is 1.5 times the usual cabfare.  It can' be applied to fewer than 5 passengers.  Good to know.  He warns me to be careful on the Gold Coast.

I arrived at my workplace for the day and rallied.  I really needed to wake up!  Of course I did and made it to the end of another intense, interest and very challenging day.  I am the only woman in the room - in the building actually - and the dynamics are difficult.

I was happy to walk the ten minutes up the hill to my hotel at the end of the day.  There are some magnificent eucalypts along the highway and they were beautifully lit by the late afternoon sunshine.
Coffs Harbour eucalypt
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Wednesday, 19 September 2012

On the phones today

My head hurts. I've been talking to people on the phone again today.  Not friends, people in call centres representing a business or a government department.  I quite like talking to my friends on the phone.  One of these friends likes to point out that I have a very high standard when it comes to what I expect from people providing a service.  He says that the standard will never be met but that the world would be a better place if it was met!

How funny that the day after such a conversation I would be talking to a logistics company about the delivery of a parcel.

I made a purchase online the other day in spite of my past experience with this particular logistics company.  This morning I was working from home until about 10:30am.  As I walked out of the house, I checked my letterbox and discovered a "sorry we missed you" card.  They had apparently not been able to find me at home at 9am and had left without delivering my parcel, despite the fact I was in my loungeroom and about a metre from the front door.  I now had to call to make alternative arrangements which are designed to incur costs (for me) or require me to travel far and wide to collect my parcel.

During the 25 minute telephone call, I was advised that my property was inaccessible.  It is not.  There is a gate.  With a handle.  Entry is gained by turning the handle and pushing the gate inwards.   It's not locked.  It's not stuck.  You just open the gate.  The gate is right near my letterbox - where the card was left.  So it's not hiding either.

I was then asked if there was a dog.  Not as far as I know.

I asked them to send the parcel to my post office box.  They reacted as though I had handed them a lump of something disgusting.  They can't do that.  They won't do that.

I then said this: "It looks like my only option is to call the company from whom I made the purchase and cancel the order, advising them that the reason I'm doing that is because their delivery partner can't do its job."

The response was: "We can organise to return the parcel to the sender."

It seemed incredible that they could organise that, but couldn't get the parcel to me!

Their next response was better - they are going to deliver the parcel this evening.  I hope.

Next up was the Tax Office.  I don't know anyone who loves calling the Tax Office, but I've generally found my dealings have been pretty good.  Numbers aren't my thing, but I'm not an idiot, and sometimes people who love and understand numbers think you are an idiot if you need to work through the numbers slowly.

Basically I'd made a calculation error on my Business Activity Statement and had to pay some more money.  No problem.  The letter was threatening, yet vague and required a call just to confirm what had happened and what I now needed to do.

I made the call at 3:30pm today.  I finished speaking to the fifth person at 5:45pm!  The fifth person was the complaints department.  The third person in the chain was actually the fourth phone call because of the misdirection to an automated IVR by the second person.  Still following? The second person was one of those people who was very polite and gave the illusion of being helpful, but he was an over-explainer.  After 30 minutes we had not advanced at all.  I had to end the call before I said something better left unsaid.    With the third person I hit a wall when they told me I was not an authorised person to speak about the account.  She was the first person to raise this and I can tell you that my business name is basically my name, so if I'm not authorised who is?  Apparently they can talk to my accountant but not to me.

At this point I was ready to scream or cry.  I could feel my will to live draining out through the soles of my shoes.

I asked to speak to the team leader.  The third person said that she could "hear what I was saying" and "understand where I was coming from" and then she said "BUT".  It killed the mood.  I asked to speak to her team leader again.  She asked me what I wanted to speak to the team leader about. I asked her if she really didn't know.  She put me through.

The team leader was pleasant and helpful and agreed that the experience I'd had this afternoon is not the experience the Tax Office would like people to have.  One can only hope.

After fifteen minutes talking to the complaints department I had all the information and my issue was resolved.  Miraculous!  Why was the only good service provided by the complaints department?  Perhaps the system is self perpetuating.

At the end of the call, I said that the only thing left for me to do was invoice the Tax Office at my usual hourly rate for the two hours I had spent today.  Without blinking, the woman said that it is possible to claim compensation and she referred me to the website.  Of course the first thing on the list of things you can't claim as a loss is "personal time spent resolving an issue".  We could argue about the difference between "personal" and "business" time, but I'm realistic about who would win that.

Now, where's my parcel?

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Public embarrassment - staging an underwear show

Mortification doesn't begin to cover the feeling I had when I walked back into the room where I had been working all day with a colleague.

I had just returned from a visit to the lavatory and walked back into the room saying that I wouldn't mind working in the space again.  The room was just the right size with a wall of big windows.  It was conducive to thinking, writing and being creative.

I pulled the chair out to sit down, smoothed my dress at the back in readiness for sitting and it was then that the moritifcation occurred.  My dress was tucked up into my stockings and knickers at the back!  I had walked the length of a corridor in this state!  I immediately blushed, then cringed, then looked accusingly at my colleague - had he seen?  how much had he seen?  why hadn't he said anything?  Oh god!

He was looking at me, clearly registering that there was something wrong.  So I told him: "My dress is tucked into my knickers! How long has it been like that?  Did I go to lunch like that?" (I'd been to the lavatory just before lunch too.)

Smirking turned into a wide grin as he shook his head.

"No it wasn't like that at lunch."  He went into a reverie.  "I do remember the time I was following a woman who had toilet paper trailing out the back of her pants."  He laughed.

"Did you tell her?"

"No.  I didn't."

He didn't!  How could I trust him in this situation?  Surely after all these weeks of working and travelling together our relationship was such that he would have said something.  Surely.

I spent the rest of the afternoon in a state of nervous paranoia, compulsively smoothing the back of my dress and adjusting my underwear.

The first thing I did when I arrived home was tuck my dress into my knickers to see how bad it would have looked.  I wanted to know what others had seen as I walked the length of that (very long) corridor.  With black stockings, black knickers and a black dress, it didn't look too bad.  Perhaps that's why no one said anything.

I would always let someone know if their dress was tucked up or their fly was undone or they had toilet paper trailing.  I once told my boss her dress was on inside out when she arrived at work.  That's one of those random acts of kindness I reckon.  It's about having and showing empathy.

Tomorrow I'll find the whole thing hilarious and see how I can exploit the story for entertainment.  Until then, I'm off to look at my rear view in the mirror.  Again.

Do you tell strangers embarrassing things they need to know?  Or do you let them walk around in blissful oblivion? What would you prefer?

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Hatred on the trains today - the unanswered question.

I've taken to catching the train to choir rehearsal on Saturdays.  I used to drive, but I found coming home a real drag.  I'd always hit football traffic and it didn't seem to matter which route I took, there was gridlock.  I decided to take the train and see what that was like.  It's quicker in both directions and I usually have time to buy a coffee for the second leg of the journey leaving from Flinders Street Station.  I also build in some extra reading time in my day.

Catching the train on weekends can be an experience as the patrons seem to come from a different world.  It's not workers going to work.  It seems to be junkies, strung out on their way to visit their dealer, or comatose junkies on their way back from seeing their dealer.

This morning everything ran smoothly until the second leg of the journey.  The carriage I was in wasn't very full.  Most people around me had a block of four seats to themselves and all the groups of four were filled.  There was an ostinato of quiet conversation.

Then a woman behind me yelled, in her best scrag voice: "I wasn't talking to YOU! That was a comment I made to my BOYFRIEND!"

A male responded: "You want to kill all Moslems?  Do you? Huh? Huh?  You and your weak boyfriend?"

A ripple of fear went through the carriage.  I turned slightly to see what was going on, but was aware that I didn't want to catch anyone's attention.  A few older women quietly moved seats into the front of the carriage where I was.

The yelling continued.  The boyfriend said nothing, he was wired, but there was fear in his eyes.   He was small, but wiry, with the aged face and spoiled teeth of a junkie.  It was the woman who was spoiling for the fight.

She continued to scream at the two men as the train pulled into West Richmond Station: "Leave me alone! It was nothing to do with you! Go AWAY!"

"Yeah, bitch? You want to fight? You say you're too good for us.  You hate all Moslems?"

You get the idea of the exchange if you just repeat, alternating the phrases.

I was finding it difficult to follow the thread of the argument and was pleased when the train stopped at the station and the woman and her boyfriend exited.  The two men continued to taunt her with obscenities.  She obviously thought she was now at a safe distance as she stood aggressively and poked her tongue out at them.  It seemed a bizarre gesture, childish almost, in this intensely adult situation.  It was like a spark on a drop of petrol.  They forced the doors of the train open and continued to hurl abuse at her.  By this time the boyfriend was using the public phone at the station (who does that anymore?) and was leaving the girl to argue on her own behalf.

I didn't know what to do.  I find these situations intimidating because they feel so volatile.  It feels as though a hint of eye contact with the wrong person at the wrong moment could be the spark that ignites the bonfire.  Should I get off the train and wait for the next one?  I've moved carriages before in this kind of situation and been abused and followed as I've moved.  I didn't want to draw any attention to myself.  I stayed where I was.

As the doors of the train closed and the train drew out of the station, the two men addressed the carriage: "Anyone in here want to kill all Moslems?"

Nobody said a word.  By this time, we onlookers weren't even looking at each other.  Silence seemed to be the answer they wanted.  My station came quickly and I was glad to be out of there.

I didn't hear what the woman said to her boyfriend at the start.  I could assume it probably wasn't very nice, but I don't think the response of the two men was helpful to them as individuals or to people of their faith.

Why can't we all just get along?  That's my simple wish for the world.

Friday, 14 September 2012

My favourite things - this week

1.  Being at home for a few nights has been excellent.  I do love to travel, but I also like to be at home where I can play my piano. Melbourne is wonderful - especially the random hail storms and winter temperatures yesterday.

2.  Spur of the moment meetings with friends.  Coffee with one, lunch with another, dinner with another.  All organised at the last minute, on a whim, where I thought I'd just put the feelers out.  The feelers were felt!

Tim Rogers - "let me be the gristle in your tenderloin"
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3.  Watching radio being broadcast.  I was part of a very small audience to the final hour of Raphael Epstein's show on ABC 774 Radio this afternoon.  I had to run to catch a tram and then run all the way to the ABC cafeteria to be there on time.  Also in the studio was musician Tim Rogers, football tragic and commentator, Francis Leach and movie buff Josh Nelson from film blog, Philmology.  It was a mixture of end of season footy party, with some art, refinement and good natured ribbing included.  It was a great way to finish an intense day working as a simulated patient for post graduate paramedic students.  I heckled Tim Rogers, but it's out of love.  How's this for a lyric:  "Let me be the gristle in your tenderloin".  Love it.

Fabulous Dame Edna frocks.
Check out the parrot epaulettes on the frock (left)
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4.  Conversations with random strangers.  My friend and I wandered into the Arts Centre on the way to Flinders Street Station following our hour with the ABC.  We found a display of dresses worn by Dame Edna Everage and Kyle Minogue.  While we were sitting and talking, a man came and asked if my friend would take some photos of him in front of the dresses.  My friend threw herself into the task, directing him to look up, tilt his chin, look majestic and kingly.  It was hilarious to watch him happily and obediently comply.  He then turned into a boring man who talked about his life in the welfare sector, but there was a flash of something fun there.

5.  The view of the city at night from the Arts Centre side of the bridge over to Flinders Street.  The sky was very dramatic tonight and the milder air made it easy to enjoy.

Melbourne at night across the Yarra River
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Thursday, 13 September 2012

Buried in government paperwork

After being away for a week, my post office box was chock-a-block.  I carefully sorted through and handed back the stuff that is addressed to my post office box but is for someone else and also the letters that have just been missorted.  Once I'd completed that, there was still a lot to go through.  One of them was an envelope from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

I opened it and discovered the energy, Water and Environment Survey 2011-12.  Initially I was quite pleased.  I don't mind providing my opinion and I'm passionate about the environment.  My enthusiasm was quickly quelled when I saw it was addressed to my business and the booklet had 23 pages.

I sighed.  I braced myself.  I opened the booklet and took up my pen.  From the first moment, it was clear that this form was geared towards miners or manufacturers or electricity generators.  I'm a single person operating from my kitchen table!

Back to the front page, I read the instructions on the front to see if I was required by law to complete the form.  The wording was vague.  My "cooperation" was sought.  If needed, the Australian Statistician is empowered by the Act to "direct" me to provide the information sought.  Yes, but would I be fined, jailed, sneered at or scandalised if I was defeated by the form?  I called the phone number.

I've never called the Bureau of Statistics before.  I'm not sure that I've ever spoken to a statistician before.

A woman answered and I immediately knew the conversation was going to be hard work.

"I've received the Energy, Water and Environment Survey.  It looks like it has nothing to do with me.  I'm just a one person operation.  Do I have to fill it out?"

The response was in gibberish.

I tried another tack.

"What happens if I don't fill it out?"

"You need to fill it out."

"When you say I need to fill it out, what happens if I don't?"

"It's really not that hard.  It looks daunting...just tick "no" to everything."

"I'm not just going to tick "no" to everything.  That's ridiculous.  Am I required by law to fill it out?"

"Oh, you've only got the short form.  You should hear the people who ring up who have a copy of the long form!"

I almost fainted.  There's one that's longer than 23 pages?

"You mean there's one that's longer than 23 pages? Is that really the short one?"

"Oh, you've got the long one...You really should fill it out.  For example, look at question 1."

I surrendered.

Before I knew it, I'd ticked "no" to everything, especially the questions about my electricity generating activities.

20 minutes later I was done.  If I hadn't called, I'd still be going.  I'm still unclear what my obligation is, but at least it's done.

Before I had my own business, I thought that small business people who whinged about government compliance obligations were wimps.  Now I understand.

Someone slap me if my politics drift!

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Adelaide photos from last week

Rundle Street intersection, Adelaide.
(c) divacultura 2012

I love the drama of this shot.  The hints of modern buildings in the foreground, the geometry of the lines on the road; and the turrets on the older buildings against that grey sky.

This little piggy
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These little piggies
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These are the sculpted bronze pigs I found in the Rundle Street Mall in Adelaide.  I wrote about them, but couldn't post the photos.  (27 devices, wireless and every other kind of connectivity, and still this is impossible! )  I love that there is even bronze rubbish in the first shot.  It's placed on the top of an actual rubbish bin.

Car park abstract
(c) divacultura 2012
 This was the panelling on a multi-storey carpark in Adelaide.  I like the shades of grey.

Give way
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Walking home from the Village today I noticed this Give Way sign which looked like it had followed its own instruction.

I'm back - round the traps

Apologies for the late return. I was just plain exhausted after the all the interstate travel and work and didn't turn my computer on all weekend.  It actually felt really good to stay analogue for the weekend!  It was great to be home before leaving again on Monday for an overnight stay.  Back in business now.

My weekend was low key, but very enjoyable considering the weather was gorgeous.  Everywhere I went last week, horrible, windy, wet weather followed.  Seeing the sun was an added bonus.

Choir rehearsal was on Saturday morning.  I had to cater morning tea.  There was no time to cook, so it's lucky that I'm an excellent shopper and the spread was a hit.  I finished knitting a pair of socks for Dad while watching "Battleship" on Blu-Ray.  Thankfully it's a good movie to knit to, although Taylor Kitsch and Alexander Skarsgard both commanded my full attention whenever they were on screen.  I used my pass to see "The Sapphires" - thanks Hopscotch Films!  I really enjoyed it and loved the music.  It's good to see Aboriginal stories and faces in mainstream cinema.

On Monday I renewed my ambulance membership.  It had lapsed and I just hadn't got around to fixing it.  I was starting to feel ashamed every time I stood up in front of a room of paramedics students - a daily occurrence these days.  In Victoria they offer "set and forget" renewal.  It sounds great, except you have to ring them anyway to get a receipt!  This seems incredible to me.  I use the receipt to claim the cost back on my health insurance.  Surely I'm not the only person in the world who needs a receipt?  With email and automatic payment, surely a receipt could be generated and emailed at less cost than staffing the call centres to take the calls.

The other things I learnt is that the membership isn't valid until 5pm the day after it's been paid for.  I asked why and was informed that it is to deal with people who join the ambulance today, with the intention of using an ambulance and then cancelling their membership the next day!  Good grief!  they would be the same dirt bags who broke the brand new gates at my apartment block.  (They were reinstalled on Monday and were still intact when I arrived home last night.  So far so good!)

And I've been receiving compliments about my hair all day.  Thanks to Damien, my colourist, who has excelled himself and mixed a red with some rockstar zing.  It's a custom mix, but names like "red corvette", "chilli" and "candy" were mentioned.

On Monday night, I was in a hotel with a pillow menu (lumpy wasn't an option), an ipod dock and a window to allow television watching from the bath.

Back home now where I do have an ipod dock.  Have a good week!

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Adelaide afternoon - wandering around the city

It's kind of okay to be in Adelaide this time. I'm not feeling edgy. That's what I associate with Adelaide: nerves pulled taut to the point of edginess.  It's good not to be feeling like that. Maybe I've been unfair on Adelaide.
After a very bumpy descent I was very happy to be on the ground. I'd seen all the red arrows on the weather map so knew the wind would be wild. It still doesn't really prepare you for the reality of being thrown around for the last fifteen minutes of a flight.
I'm in a gorgeous hotel (no lumpy pillows or surprises under the pillows here).  There are no signs at every turn warning of the danger lurking in every corner of the room and there is free wi-fi and broadband.  Very good. I've been able to download some new music and am currently listening to an album by Piano Circus, a friend's recommendation. It's music for multiple pianos and he is right about the piece "Whichever way your nose bends" being 'painfully beautiful'.  I love the whimsy of the name as well as the sparse atmospheric feel, hypnotic in its simplicity.
Despite the wild and windy weather I was able to go for a walk without being caught in the rain. The Rundle Mall goes forever and has a few lovely arcades which lure for a detour. I found an incredible button shop in one of these. It provided sensory overload and must have contained thousands of buttons. It also had  ribbons and threads and a small selection of gorgeous knitting yarns adding to the colour feast.
Half way down the mall I came across some pigs. One of them was snuffling in the rubbish bin and three others were waiting to be admired. (I have some photos to share, but am still getting the hang of loading them into blogposts when I'm writing on my tablet. I don't understand why it should be complicated.) The pigs made me smile.  (ETA: photos are now posted here)
Tonight I'm going to enjoy some alone time. My colleague is meeting a friend so I'm not going to fight the wild weather; I'm going to dine in my room, taking advantage of the gorgeous looking menu of the hotel's restaurant. I figure if I'm in a fabulous hotel that has a deep bath with a view of the television I may as well enjoy it.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

There's no extra charge for anything you may find under your pillow - when customer service goes wrong.

I'm in a hotel in Western Australia. Its address is "Grand Boulevard".  The minute I heard the address I prepared myself for disappointment. It's not really a boulevard. There's nothing grand about it. I see no evidence that I am in a city.

The walls are so thin communication is possible without technology of any kind. My colleague reported hearing me wake up this morning. We weren't in the same room. When I asked what he had heard, he told me he heard me turn the light on! No gentlemen callers on this trip.  The pillows are lumpy - all four of them.  But the bathroom is clean and the bed is comfortable, apart from the pillows. They are lumpy. All four of them.

It's not the worst I've stayed in.

There was the infamous incident involving surprises lurking under the pillow.

I had arrived at this particular hotel at around 10pm in the middle of an intense week of travel and meetings in various cities.  All I wanted to do when I arrived was have a shower and snuggle into bed.  Instead, at 11pm I was on the phone to reception in a less than happy frame of mind.

The first part of the plan had gone well enough. I was showered and dressed in my night attire (I love that phrase) and in bed.  As I was getting comfortable - on my side with a hand under the pillow - I felt something odd.  I lifted my head and moved the pillow which led to the discovery of tissues -used and belonging to someone else -under the pillow. Lumpy pillows would have been preferable.

I leapt out of that bed and tore the sheets and blankets back.  Looking for - and hoping not to find - other foreign bodies.  Then I picked up the phone. I expected that anyone would be horrified to learn that this had occurred in their hotel.  Non-plussed is a more accurate description of the reaction.  I had to ask for another room.  There were none available.  I had to propose that someone come to my room, very quickly, with clean bedding.

I was virtually asleep on my feet so I stripped the bed so it could immediately be remade with fresh sheets.  The hard faced sourpuss who attended was not happy that I had stripped the bed.  Apparently I had destroyed the evidence! As a consequence, she had no way of knowing if I had concocted the story. My response was sarcastic; along the lines of "of course I concocted it.  My aim was to be arguing with you, dressed in my pyjamas, at 11:30pm, in my third city of the week!" I then stood back and watched her make the bed.

She didn't apologise. She didn't show any empathy for my situation. The used tissues which were under the pillow of my bed were an imposition only on her.  I was just the person left with an urge to boil my pyjamas.

The next morning on checkout my plan was to wait and see if they acknowledged or apologised for the incident.  They didn't. It was as if it never happened. They told me how much I owed. Before I paid I asked what consideration I was to be shown for the dirty bed. They looked embarrassed and said it wouldn't happen again.

"I know it won't.  Well not to me anyway. I won't be staying here ever again," I responded.  I had been a regular guest, staying there two to three times a month.

Only then did they try to keep me as a customer. It was too late.

You might think that the customers who would be most loyal to an organisation would be those who had never had a problem in their dealings.  This is wrong. There's some research that shows the most loyal customers are those who have had a problem that has been well handled by the business.

On reflection this rings true when I think about the tissues in the bed incident. I probably would have gone back if they had dealt with me and the situation better. The main thing that was missing was a simple apology. And acknowledgement that what had occurred was unacceptable.  Instead I was left with the feeling that this kind of thing happened all the time and it was really annoying when people complained about it and further, only annoying people would make a complaint.

As I sit in the brown decor of my hotel room on Grand Boulevard (that is neither grand nor a boulevard) I give thanks for lumpy pillows on a clean bed and rest easy in the knowledge that I won't need to boil my pyjamas.

Do you know how to apologise?

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Sunday slideshow (on Saturday) & publishing update

 Yes, it's Saturday.  Sunday is the day I feature my photos from the week, but this week is going to be crazy, so I'm doing it now.  I've been receiving some great feedback about my photos - I'm pleased that you like them.

My usual daily publication schedule will be interrupted this week and I'm not sure when I'll be able to publish.  I'll be back in business next Saturday, 8 September.  

In the meantime, if you need a fix, why not trawl through the archive and read some of my older stuff?  Or click on the suggestions at the end of each post and see where you end up.  There's also my "What I've made" and "What I'm reading" pages to explore.  You might even find something to inspire you.
And don't forget the GIVEAWAY of five packs of gratitude cards from the The Gratitude Card Project. Just leave a comment over on the Question Time post telling us who you would like to thank.  I love reading all your comments.

And now, here's this week's slideshow:

Vintage cigarette advertising
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An interesting instruction
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Outdoor tables at Kinfolk Cafe, Bourke Street, Melbourne
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Classic inner city.  The cream Vesper looks great against the dark green wall.
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The ceiling of the aptly named Cathedral Arcade in Melbourne.
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Abstract: Looking through the tram window.
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Looking down Collins Street.  Melbourne Town Hall on the right.
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Elizabeth Street.  I often look up at this building.  Can you see the table and chairs and plants?
(c) divacultura 2012