Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Goodbye 2013

This is the fourth year I've done this meme on New Years Eve. Strange to think that I've been blogging that long. But thank you to The Plastic Mancunian and JK for keeping me on track with this.

So here we go. 2012 in a nutshell.So, what was 2013 about?

1.What did you do in 2013 that you’d never done before?

Felt confident in my career choices - I managed to find a couple of roles that I loved. I now have writer in my job title. 

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

No. Not at all. I think I failed most of them. This is what got said at the start of the year.

I'm 7 kg heavier, not as fit (though still in good shape), but I've remained pretty good on the sunscreen, got the holiday and I'm making a conscious effort with the sugar. At last some of them came into fruition.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

Not this year.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

Thankfully, no.

5. What countries did you visit?

I had two weeks in Bali, Indonesia in April and I went to New Zealand in November for a few days.

6. What would you like to have in 2014 that you lacked in 2013?

This is a bit boring, but more discipline around saving money. 

7. What dates from 2012 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

 The 26 October was just lovely. Time with friends, a really nice hotel room that I got bumped to after a conference under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, a lovely meal at a good restaurant. It was just a lovely day. Unexpectedly really lovely.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

 I got the word writer in my job title. I always wanted to be a writer, it’s now in my job title.

9. What was your biggest failure?

 There is so much I set out to do – get that novel written, run a marathon, buy a house, save money, get a cat. I don’t see these as failures, more plans that got delayed.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Nothing too major. A cold coming home from Bali wasn’t fun. The minor gall bladder attack in early November has rocked my world a bit as I now know that pork belly and fish and chips can’t be eaten at all – and I don’t leave home without Buscopan in my handbag. Thankfully nothing has to be done about it other than keep saturated fats and fried food to a bare minimum in my diet. I’m very fortunate with my health.
11. What was the best thing you bought?

The airline ticket to both Bali and Wellington, New Zealand were pretty special – though not things, they were both great experiences. The pass to the Yoga Barn in Ubud was great too as I got to experience Sound Healing – and I really want to go back and do more work with Shervin.
If you’re looking for things that I bought, there are a couple of Nars lipsticks that I purchased that I get a lot of joy out of – that and the vegetable mandolin that I bought recently. It’s makes chopping veggies a delight.

 12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?

 Julia Gillard’s stoicism and pragmatism in what can only be described as one of the worst cases of bullying I’ve ever had the misfortune to witness – that and her grace in defeat. She gets my vote. I could not act with her bravery – could never do what she did, which is successfully lead a country though a recession. Not saying she didn’t make a few wrong turns, but fair dues, if I was to be dealing with the abuse she was getting on a daily basis from the opposition and the press, I’d be down the police station filing bullying charges. An amazing woman.

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?

In loose order:
Scott Morrison – Immigration Minister – modelling himself and his department’s principles on the Third Reich.
Christopher Pyne - “Education Minister” who has no regard for the value of education.
Greg Hunt – “ Environment Minister” who has no regard for the environment – i.e. allowing dredging and dumping near the Great Barrier Reef and taking off World Heritage Listing status of Tasmanian rain forest.
Joe Hockey – “Finance Minister” for rank incompetence.
Tony Abbott – for just breathing
Bronwyn Bishop – for having no regards for the Westminster rules when speaker of the house and being completely biased towards the LNPs.
George Brandis – for trying to dismantle laws that outlaw racism, bullying and vilification and allowing twits like Andrew Bolt to not have some boundaries
Julie Bishop – for not having a diplomatic bone in her body

And the bloke who bullied me at work earlier this year. Just appalling. Took three months to clear the incident from my psyche.

 14. Where did most of your money go?

Rent, travel, going out and unfortunately car repairs – two minor bingles this year – one my fault, the other some arsehole dickhead ran into my car on the street and left the car with a badly dinged panel. Grrrr. Karma will get them.

 15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

 In no order: Seeing Pinochet’s kittens, going on holidays, posh dinners, cooking (particularly cassata for Christmas), getting out of the job in which I was bullied, seeing old friends.... I excite quite easily.

16. What song will always remind you of 2013?

On the good side, Lorde’s “Royals”

On the not so good side, that awful “Blurred Lines” song gets stuck in my head. Truly repugnant (even without the sexist film clip)

17. Compared to this time last year, are you: (a) happier or sadder? (b) thinner or fatter? (c) richer or poorer?

a)      Happier
b)      Fatter
c)       Richer in many ways

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Exercise, write, sleep, saved money, relaxed.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

 Eat bad food, procrastinated, sat on my hands when getting bullied.

20. How will you spend New Year's Eve?

Probably at home watching telly or reading a book at midnight, but going round to Gloria and Gaynor's place for a light dinner now.

 21. Did you fall in love in 2013?

 No. Maow Maow is still the main man in my life. Strange that the love of your life is your best friend’s cat.

22. What was your favourite TV program?

A couple of standouts – the second series of The Hour was wonderful. I’ve also just found out about Orange is the New Black – wonderfully edgy. There are still the same old shows I watch regularly – Embarrassing Bodies, Masterchef, Mad Men. I’m halfway through season three of Breaking Bad too – now that is superlative telly. The Doctor Blake Mysteries were also wonderful.  

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

I don’t hate  anybody, but I do have a near pathological dislike for most of the current front bench. Ignorant, small-minded, bullying fascists that they are. The sooner Scott Morrison is up on crimes against humanity charges the better. If there’s something like that for the environment, Hunt and Abbott should be up there with them. I’ve never really liked Rupert Murdoch – he can join them. Evil men. 

24. What was the best book you read?

I read a lot over the year. The two books that sticks out the most to me the most were Christos Tsiolkas’s “Dead Europe” and Michel Faber’s “The Crimson Petal and the White.” Both are older books but wonderful for different reasons. I rather liked JK Rowling’s “The Casual Vacancy” too.
25. What was your greatest musical discovery?

Alt-J, first heard in a cafĂ© in Wellington. Interesting, cool, thought provoking. Rodriguez is up there too. He’s incredible.

26. What did you want and get?

I paid off my car this year. Never a bad thing. I don’t want for much.
Actually, I love my Jawbone Up – a sleep monitor and pedometer in one – great little device.

27. What did you want and not get?

A rich husband who is loving, affectionate, incredibly good in bed who bought me two story town house in Richmond. A cat or two of my own to live in the house with us. A flat stomach - but I take responsibility for that one)  A longer holiday.

28. What was your favourite film of this year?

Of the films I’ve seen this year here are a few of my favourites.

“The Best Offer” with Geoffrey Rush – wonderful, wonderful film.
I really enjoyed “The Great Gatsby” – thought Luhrmann did a great job on that.
“Lincoln” was great – wonderful performance by Daniel Day Lewis.
“The Stories we Tell” a documentary by Sarah Polley – saw it on the plane after missing it in the cinemas. Incredible stuff.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

 I was 45 in August and I got all my friends and we went on Puffing Billy then had lunch at a pub in Emerald and it was great!

30. What one thing made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

 I’m not answering that in the grounds that it will incriminate me J
Oh, okay. Lots of gin and tonic. A decent holiday. Good friends.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2013?

 Relaxed, not expensive, subdued.

32. What kept you sane?

 Friends. Gin and tonics (Bombay Sapphire or Hendricks) Good books and movies. Sleep.

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

 I’m still completely besotted with Clive Owen. However, I’ve got a small thing for Anthony Albonese – there is something wicked in that smile. There is something about Brian Cranston too. I’m showing my age…

34. What political issue stirred you the most?

 The Australian political climate has been inflamed since Abbott and his band of fascist muppets came in. The asylum seeker issue and the environment are the things that concern me most.

35. Who did you miss?

I still miss Reindert, but we talk regularly. There are a few people I miss periodically - that's human, isn't it?
36. Who was the best new person you met?

 Not that I met him this year, but I'm enjoying my new personal trainer, Slap. He's been around since Pinochet left the gym in April - though I still see Pinochet now and then. 

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2013.

 If you feel something isn't right, do something about it quickly to make the situation better. Don't suffer in silence. Shout about what's going on when nobody is listening. Make them hear you.

Bullying is awful. 

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

"Comfort comes to those with faith in mysterious ways." Josh Pyke, Memories and Dust

Here's to a wonderful 2014.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Why I hate being educated

There is a big part of me that hates the fact that I am educated, just as there is a large part of me that dislikes the fact that I’m an idealist.

But in the words of the great Tom Stoppard, “You can’t unstir the jam from the custard.” It’s the second law of thermodynamics  - that the entropy of an isolated system never decreases, because isolated systems spontaneously evolve towards thermodynamic equilibrium.” 

This analogy, in plain language - once you have taken on education, you can’t get rid of it. It’s there for life. Incorporated in your being – just like the jam in the custard. At a basic level, it’s the information you assimilate to read, write and count. At a higher level, it forms your opinions and helps to make you who you are.

In my case, I got to study literature, arts, philosophy, history, with a bit of sociology, psychology and anthropology thrown in for good measure. Oh, put in the mix some French and instructions on how to learn languages and I made it through high school with decent marks in Maths, Chemistry and Music.

This makes me reasonably literate, thoughtful, able to do sums without using my fingers, have an appreciation for things I can’t see, an appreciation for patterns and themes.

My education has equipped me to see these things on a larger scale. It's been really helpful in the work that I do now - instructional design, business analysis, technical writing and systems testing.

This is not to say that I’m over-educated. I have a very ordinary degree, obtained in the early nineties. Over the years, I’ve topped up my education with a couple of Certificate IVs and diplomas - practical skills that have let me change and grow in my career. 

My undergrad grades are nothing to write home about. Going through university when there were no fees to degrees was an absolute privilege. I say this unreservedly. I was the last in a group of people who didn’t pay university fees (okay except in my last two part time years, a necessity after a bout of glandular fever in my third year).

Twenty years ago I had no idea why I was studying Arts, however now I look back and I know that my education has provided me with:

·         A desire to think for myself
·         The knowledge that I don’t know everything
·         The desire to keep learning
·         The need to keep improving my skills
·         A view of the world that extends past the screen door on my flat
·         A love of the finer things in life
·         The ability to laugh at myself and my foibles

I picketed outside of parliament house, objecting to the introduction of HECS in the late 80’s feeling that education, all eduction, primary, secondary and tertiary, is a right for all, not a privilege for the wealthy. 25 years on, I find that our current tertiary education funding schemes not bad at all - that you can get the education and pay later is fine. Take that away and I'll march again with the students. 

That was in 1988. Mandela was still in prison. The Berlin Wall was still intact. Bob Hawke was running the country. Margaret Thatcher was beginning to have some problems. Interest rates were at 17%.

Suddenly I feel rather old.

Arts students have long been berated as the bludgers of the academic world. Why not study something useful like Law or Economics or Medicine? Other than not getting the marks, I got to study things I enjoyed.
It’s helped for me in ways I could never fathom. It’s given me a bigger picture view – the knowledge that there is so much more out there to learn, appreciate, decipher and treasure. Unfortunately, when it comes to funding, Arts subjects are the first to have the thumb screws applied. Remember when languages and music and art were offered in government schools? 

Maybe it’s at times like these we need more people to study and appreciate humanities. People who can see the value in learning about history and literature and philosophy. It used to be the case in the Renaissance, when humanity came out of the dark ages into more enlightened times. Why aren't we continuing with this enlightenment?

It also makes me very angry when I see that people of the world don’t have the same access to the opportunities that I had when I was growing up.

Why? I get to apply what I've learned to what I'm seeing. If you don't give all people a wider education, how will they get to know what else is out there? I get to see how my education has helped to form what I think and how I think about it.

Well I’m sitting here looking at the newspapers every day seeing a nightmare of Orwellian proportions unfolding before my eyes. (Literature, ethics)

Misinformation and propaganda fill the screens. Barely a day goes by without me muttering the words. “Just keep drinking the KoolAid, it only gets better.” I wonder if these people know about what I’m referring to?  Well, sometimes I think we’re in our own continent sized Jonestown – Murdoch and Abbott our versions of an uncharismatic Jim Jones. (History, sociology, religion)

I’m finding myself in arguments, discussions and the occasional knock down fight. I refuse to believe that the bulk of the population will sit by and allow people to be mistreated, ignored and treated like cattle on a ship bound for the Middle East for the sin of trying to flee for their lives. Where people are humiliated, given no access to legal aid, medical attention or enough water. Where the facilities make third world camps in the Sudan and Ethiopia appear luxurious. Where people are stripped of medications, family members, legal assistance, hope. When people are dehumanised and treated like numbers. My country doesn't do this to people, does it? (History, sociology, ethics, psychology, philosophy)

Unfortunately, reports from the independent press are relating these stories on a daily basis. 

I’m not buying it. I get the need to balance the books. There is no problem with taking responsibility for your own finances and your own life, just as our country needs to be careful with finances. There is some comprehension that big business is the saviour of all of us? What saviour wants to dredge and dump near the Great Barrier Reef? Or log in wilderness areas that have been set aside for their specialness? (Ethics, philosophy, economics, science)

What government calls itself an infrastructure government but has so little foresight as to not see telecommunications as infrastructure? Or public transport for that matter? Or heath? Or child care? Or aged care? Or manufacturing? (Economics, science, philosophy, planning, common sense?)

It really is shit being an Australian at the moment.

The other thing I said I’m not happy about being an idealist either.

Me, Myers Briggs puts me somewhere between an INFJ and an INFP. I've been swinging more toward the latter lately. An idealist who ha a strong belief that if you dream it, you can be it.

I'm and idealist who really believes that if everybody puts their mind to the problem was can find a solution. I really believe that if you get enough people speaking out about injustice and equality something will be done.

I fervently hold the belief that governments should be afraid of the people, not the other way around. I also believe that if you get enough people with the common good in mind, you can move mountains.

So here is me, sitting here, angry at a country that used to strive to be kind and good and smart and forward thinking, and I see a government with a large vat of cordial ready for the people to drink with the promises of numbing their pain.

It doesn't work like that. My education tells me that were about to come to a tipping point where maybe, finally, we can see some sense.

For if we can't learn from the past, how can we not repeat the mistakes of the future.

Nazi Germany can't be seen as a good thing. The rhetoric coming from the Australian Government at present is akin to a lot of their policies.

Group brainwashing, thanks to Mr Murdoch and his publications - think Orwell's 1984 and Jonestown - not something I want to be a part of.

It's time for the idealists and the educated to start shouting loud so the days of misinformation, callousness and cruelty can come to an end. It's time for some leveled compassion, new ideas that encompass everybody, not just the privileged.It's time to look long into the future, not just for the three years of a term of government.

It's time for people to start thinking for themselves and questioning what is right for all.

The time for passively sitting by and letting things happen stopped in Australia at about 10 pm on Saturday, 7 September 2013.

Get out there and make a difference

(I'll crawl off my soapbox now and go see some kittens. If you can't change the world, kittens will always make you feel better.)

Saturday, December 28, 2013

When the boss is away

The music will play.

For the first time in eight or nine years I’m working over Christmas. Although I’m grateful for the money and pleased that I’m being kept busy, I’m also very aware that I’m in need of a break. Just having this last Friday off would have been welcome, just be able to sleep in, get to the bank, do a couple of odd jobs that are hard to do when you  work out in the suburbs and generally get life into a bit of order.

Alas, my whole team was in and furiously tapping away at the moment in a half empty office. Again, not a bad thing as it was quiet which meant you can get a lot done. Even better, the big boss is not in until after new years we can put in headphones - department rule, no headphones or earbuds or listening to music at at your desk. It's a rule of the department. It's not something that bothers me that much, but working with a bit of music, especially when you have a lot to write can be a good thing. Even better when the office is noisy as the music lets you zone out a bit. Alas, not to be in this office when the big boss is around. 

So, my working Christmas Friday, I got in at 7.45 am, obtaining a park under the building rather than in the outside car park, went upstairs to find half the team already at work, headphones in everybody's ears.

On of the strange things about being a writer, there are days you get a lot done, while other days you sit there wishing you could be elsewhere. 

The writing gods were kind on Friday, a lot got done with the help of a sound track.

Here's a bit of my playlist - I normally write to classical and instrumental stuff - Philip Glass, Vivaldi, Saint Saens - not yesterday where I was at the mercy of what was on the phone.

Here's a few snippets of what came out on shuffle:

Damien Rice - 9 Crimes and The Blowers Daughter

This guy's voice has haunted me for years, though I couldn't tell you his name. Bought two of his albums with my Christmas iTunes vouchers.  Wonderful. Irish bloke.

Nick Cave

Not being in Australia for most of the 90s, I missed a lot of Nick Cave. He has a sweaty groin of a  voice - something you're only going to get in a preacher's son. Intelligent music.

Yes, this is the current South Australia advertisement song - I don't care. Like most of the stuff Nick Cave puts out, there's a bit of edge and humour to it.

Yann Tiersen

Yout either love or hate Yann Tiersen. I listen to him and think of Paris and surrender fully. Great to write process stuff to.


The soundtrack to "Waiting for Sugarman" has been on my phone for six months. My South African friends adore him. So do I. I'm amazed he hasn't made it in Australia.

Laura Marling

One of my dream group has seen her and reckons she's the best thing to come out of Britain in 20 years. In her early 20's, she's got the most incredible voice. One to watch.

The Smiths

I will admit to being a bit miffed about working on this Friday - but it's nothing that a bit of the Smiths couldn't fix. I don't like all of their stuff - but there are a few gems in the compilation album I have in my possession. This is a favourite too.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Alternate Realities

I'll let you in on a small secret.

I don't really hate Christmas.

As a rule, I really don't like that much. I do think it's a big pile of commercial wank which leaves people stressed out and feeling under appreciated and overwhelmed, but I don't hate it with a passion. The true meaning of Christmas, that of love and renewal and hope seems to get missed along with the plastic crap and tinsel that adorns the place. Christmas just doesn't float my boat at all and I work on a principle of minimal participation - going to the things that I want to go do, not drinking too much, try and get a lot of time by myself and by doing all of this, I tend to cope.

Making things better, I have places to go now.

Christmas has left me scarred, I'll admit to this too.

I remember years where I've been on my own. One Christmas in particular, where I didn't speak to another living soul from Christmas afternoon until five days later when I went back to work. London is not a good place to be when you're on your own at Christmas time. There have been times where I've been with other people's families. That's never a great thing unless you know the people well - that situation feels like your this spare body that nobody knows what to do with. I'm not good at being nice to people I don't know in these times. My immediate family aren't big into Christmas. I'd rather go back to Adelaide when the flights aren't as expensive and there's less stress about the place.

A lot of me disliking Christmas is managing my own expectations. I don't expect presents. I'm not into all the trimmings, though I know I preferred Christmas when I was in England and a large roast meal with a suet pudding went down well, much better than it does on a 35 degree day. The telly on Christmas Day is better in England too.

Spending Christmas with friends is always the best option for me. The best Christmases I've had have been when I've been hanging around with friends, often with young kids about the place. Last year's one with Blarney, Barney and the boys was great. Ended up doing a lot of cooking along with spending time with friends. I'm doing the same this year as I'm working through until the end of January at the moment (contract extension hopefully pending).

My other beef with Christmas is that I'd really like the infrastructure to have Christmas at home, with my own family. A Christmas where I do my own cooking and set my own table and not have to leave the house. If I do that now, I spend the day alone - not something I do willingly on Christmas Day.

I'd also like to know what it's like to wake up next to somebody at Christmas. It's happened once, but that was a very, very long time ago.

Concentrating on what I don't have is a destructive behaviour. Looking at what I do have is far more positive.

All this is fine, until something comes and trips you up. Like today. It creeps up on you when you least expect it. You think everything is under control, locked up in its compartments and tidied away. Nope.

This afternoon, Blarney and I took the boys to the local science museum. As Barney was off with the boys playing golf, we took my car.

It was the sight of the car seats in the back seat of the Mazda.

Logical me saw the funny side. I don't have to put up with the mashed banana in the upholstery, having to retrieve toys at the traffic lights, the endless fights, the ferrying to sports and music lessons, the kid's music on the CD player... the trappings of a child-tethered existence. (Another friend of mine had the exact opposite happen, when she walking into my flat and asked where my "wheelie moo" and "kanga jumper" were. We got in my car and she immediately asked if The Pixies were appropriate listening - until she remembered that her son was home with her husband.)

In the seconds it took to get Chance and Lance out of the back seat, my alternative reality came through.

A life with a child. The managing day care runs, the juggling money, the endless fights over getting off the computer or what is on television or when it's right to go to bed. The sacrifices made for time, career, money, friends all for this other human being that came out of you. Then there's the travel with a child back to Adelaide, the visits from the grandparents, the wondering what you do with kids for Christmas....

All of this flashed before my eyes.

But this is not my reality. Knowing that this could have been my reality makes it all the more strange and slightly upsetting.

Christmas is the only time that I get to think and feel about this stuff, even if it's only for a few seconds.

It hits me like a cricket bat to the head every time I fall over these small cracks in the ether that show my alternatives, highlighting my past decisions. There are no "what-ifs" or "maybes". My life is what it is. In another reality, there is a me with a child, with the rotting food mashed into the back seat of the car which smells of sour milk, the music lessons, the fighting over money... as grateful as I am for my life as it is, there is a tiny part of me that wonders.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Where were you when?

At my desk, this morning, I was greeted with the news that Nelson Mandela had died. It wasn't surprising news seeing that at 95 and the family keeping him alive since July, it was a bit of a blessed release. Sad news, but not surprising. He's begrudgingly been on my Dead Pool** list for many years - not out of malice, but out of a sense that a man who lived 27 years in a South African prison will probably lose a few years of life to stress and hard labour. He lived an amazing life. 95 is nothing to sneeze at.

Nelson Mandela was an amazing man, one who's passing should have seen the Australian Flag lowered to half mast on government buildings out of respect - not that he would see that as anything that needed to be done, but still...

It got me thinking, I will live on, knowing that around 8.30am on this morning, I was sitting at my desk at a large supermarket chain when I saw the breaking news on my computer.

My first reaction was to say a quick prayer of thanks to the universe for sending him here, followed by a prayer that he find a lovely resting place, where ever that may be.

I remember waiting in my room in a share flat in Kensington, Adelaide on a hot 11 February 1990 waiting for him to be released. Nobody had seen  him in nearly 30 years. The sprightly septuagenarian was a delight to see. Who could have predicted the next 24 years?

Thinking back - other momentous moments:

Elvis - he died a few days before my ninth birthday and I was stuck in bed with a really bad cold and the news came over the radio.

Steve Irwin - at my desk in the office where the dead pool was run. The recalcitrant journalist came running over to my desk and claimed, "We'll that's a bugger - nobody had him." I just remember thinking that he died doing something he loved, lucky bloke.

11 September 2001 - I didn't get the news until the next morning. Waking at 6.30 am I turned on the news as is my normal habit and tried to find a channel that wasn't playing this strange action movie. It took a few minutes to work out that all of what was going on was real.

Lady Di - 31 August 1997. I was in London and there was a persistent knocking at my front door of the apartment. One of my downstairs neighbours was standing there in tears. "Pand, Lady Di is dead?" she wailed.

Somewhat bemused at the sobbing, nightie clad woman in front of me, so I took her in, made her a cup of tea and turned on the telly to see the news. Unfortunately, it was true, though I couldn't understand why my downstairs neighbour was a) so upset and b) why would I need to know this information at 7.30 on a Saturday morning. It was sad news, but it could have waited until a respectable hour on a Saturday.

That was the start of a surreal week, culminating in taking the bus down to a friend's place to watch the funeral on the following Saturday - and shedding a tear as Tony Blair read from Corinthians 1:13. I was the only person on the 139 bus down Abbey Road which would never happen on an ordinary day. London was silenced that day. I remember seeing the funeral cortege go past on Finchley Road a few hours later, dragged up there a ten minute walked away by the same neighbour. I remember her saying that I would remember that day forever.

I will never forget the flowers that were strewn across Finchley Road that day. It was like something out of a sad fairytale.

It seems, however, that most of the time I receive this sort of news, I'm at my desk at work.

My most momentous hearing of news.

The death of my father.

At the time I was living illegally in London. The day before had been wonderful. The first real spring day in mid-April, I'd had a good day at work, followed by a great drama class and a good night down the pub with the class.

At about 8 am the following morning the intercom went in the flat. The police were at the door. I just remember thinking that I was about to be deported and how humiliating would that be.

The policeman told me that the phone in my flat was off the hook and could I call home. (Flatmate had a dodgy phone in his room where this happened regularly. This was in the time before mobile phones.)

I knew that it was going to be my grandmother or my father who had gone. It was the latter.

You remember these moments. When the bottom falls out of your world, try as hard as you can, you don't forget.

** The Dead Pool was something we did at an old job - run by a recalcitrant ex-journalist, at the start of a given calendar year, you nominated ten famous people you think may kick the bucket in that given calendar year.

The people on the list need to be obituary worthy. We're not talking about putting your nana who's got end-stage cancer on the list.

There is no malice or willing about this. An extra point is given if the person is under 40 (So a couple of people cleaned up when Amy Winehouse shook this mortal coil a few years ago). It appears that this is a favourite hobby of Newscorpse, oops, Newscorp journalists. Should that surprise me?

It can be seen as a bit tasteless.

It is, but as I align well to the recalcitrant ex-journalist and it appeals to my slightly macabre side, it's something that I've continued on the sly.

It's not something everybody is comfortable doing - and I state clearly, it is not a death wish, but a speculation of the future.

My current list - now that Nelson Mandela is no long with us :

1. Ariel Sharon - ex President of Israel
2. Kirk Douglas - actor, purveyor of bad plastic surgery
3. Prince Philip - Mr Queen, casual racist and Minister for the Inappropriate
4. Zsa Zsa Gabor - heavily married socialite with formaldehyde for blood
5. Justin Bieber - brat
6. Gough Whitlam - Australian Legend, ex Prime Minister, hero
7: Lindsay Lohan - unfortunate yet talented Hollywood train wreck
8: Billy Graham - Famous American God Botherer
9: George Bush Senior - Delusional American Ex President
10:Clive Palmer - Heart Attack (and by-election) waiting to happen

Sunday, December 1, 2013

A Visit to the Money Police

This getting old stuff thing is bloody awful. Bits starts to ache, things start to sag, some things start to take longer, other bits don't work. It's just crap.

Making things a little more scary, finances and money.

It's been on my mind for a while. The finances thing. The "what ifs" and the "maybes" and the "what-abouts" when it comes to money.

There is so much information out there - it's really daunting. Mortgages, superannuation, pensions, shares, property, derivatives, accounts - ARGH. When you break it down, it's all just numbers. Numbers and money and your own hard work. But what are you supposed to do about all of this. Where are you supposed to jump? What are the choices? What shouldn't you do?

Making matters a bit more tenuous, spending ten years working in finance and banking has put me off anything to do with things financial. Money goes into a bank account and then it goes out. Some gets siphoned off into a high interest savings account, there is a float for when I'm between jobs so that rent and bills are covered for a few months - and that's it. It seems that people who work in banking fall into two camps - those who rake it in - and those who really don't care, don't want to care, or stuff up badly. I've fell into the don't want to care camp after losing a lot when tech stocks fell from the sky in the early 2000's.

Not helping matters, working in investment banks in the mid-nineties with all the dreadful stereotypes - the cocaine flowing in the bathrooms, the sexism, the 12-hour days, the Panamanian slush funds, the bullying, the inequity - all if it has left a bad taste in my mouth. I know how much the sector has been cleaned up and regulated, but still. Memories of being whistled at and groped stay with you. Not good.

Yet, on the good side of things, in my middle-aged circumstances, I'm lucky that I get paid well and have no debt to speak of. Having no dependents also goes a long way as there is nobody relying on me for food, shelter, clothing, education and new electronic goods.

The other side of things, in my middle-aged state, there is a part of me who is wondering when the rich husband is coming to sort all of this stuff out for me. I don't want to think about this stuff. It just makes me feel completely inadequate most of the time. I have my parent's questions roaming around my head. Why don't I have a house of my own? When am I going to buy a house? Don't I know that property is the only way to go?

Thing is - I think about owning property and I think of deadbeat tenants, council and water rates and boring body corporate meetings. And houses have gardens and I HATE gardening. I like living where I live, my lifestyle isn't supported in the suburbs and I like living near my friends. I also like walking to work for the most part, being near everything and know that getting home from the city late at night is about a $15 cab ride on an expensive night.

I also realise that many of my peers did all this stuff ten years ago. Then again, most of my peers got married ten years ago and now have school aged kids and very settled lives. I don't fit that mould.

There are lots of good things about my life - but the time has come to get the head out of the sand and start looking to the future. Not something I do that well as I like to live in the moment and long term plans are something I don't feel comfortable with. The best I can do at the moment is that I want to go to Bali or somewhere like that when this current contract is over and then go find a new job.

A couple of weeks ago, my attitude shifted a little. I had a couple of long conversations with an old friend who's currently trying, and succeeding to increase his personal wealth. He started to inspire me. Following this was the last dream group, encouraging me to take control and power over myself and my circumstances. He's managed to turn his situation around - why couldn't I?

So it's time to audition financial advisers. Or the Money Police as I like to call them.

The first round was last week. A group with a rather splendid sounding sounding advisers in a very grand looking building off a leafy city street.

Unfortunately this was the day that it decided to bucket down and the day that I left my umbrella at home so I turned up looking like a drowned cat to these splendid offices.

The two gentlemen who I was there to see were very nice. Older - probably had a Seniors Card in his wallet. The other fellow was a neat, brushed Gen-Y.

Then they got asking me the questions, some of which I have no clue about.

What was I earning? (Could answer that.)
What debts did I have? (None - this is something I'm very proud of.)
Car? (Modest and paid off, but needs nearly a grand of repairs to fix the front panel that some arsewipe drove into into while parked in South Yarra a few weeks back.)
Savings?(Could be better, but at least I have something in the bank)
Superannuation? (Again, not bad considering I had eight years away from the country in the nineties.)
Insurances? (Not doing that badly there, but could save a bit on a few things.)
When do I want to retire? ("What's retiring? Can't see it happening.)
What do I want for my financial future? (I don't know.)
What sort of things are important to me? (Travel. Friends. Having enough to be comfortable.)
What did I spend my money on? (I don't really have a clue, but I know I can save more.)

I explained that until a few years ago I was earning less that the national average wage and I had no inclination of remaining in Australia. Thankfully things have picked up, turned around and despite the current dodgy government I'm looking to stay in Australia.

And that rich husband hasn't turned up to take all the worries away.

So now what?

I asked some questions? What about my status as a contractor? What could they do for me? What sort of charges was I looking at? What sort of service could I expect? What sort of options would they give me? Would I have to be poor for the next twenty odd years?

They had answers. Good answers. I liked they told me that I could still travel and that I didn't have to be poor. Until they looked at my current situation in detail, they couldn't do a complete rundown, but I got a few indicative numbers. Then I flinched.

I left and made my way to the gym to see my personal trainer - who I told the Money Police that was not an optional extra in my life. I'd rather give up coffee than my weekly session with Slap. It's all about priorities.

So I have a lot to think about, as well as seeing other versions of the Money Police to find the right fit.

My friend was right - don't jump at the first guys you see, ask questions and find your strategy.

It's all scary.

Just working out what I want is scary. So far all I've come up with is that I was an apartment or flat, inner city, with floorboards and either a balcony or courtyard. I also want a chaise lounge, decent bookshelves and two cats - house moggies, one that will get called Marmalade and another one - preferably black, called Rhubarb.That is all I can see myself wanting. These things and the rich, loving, nice, gentle husband who will put up with me and if I'm lucky sort out all this shit for me.

That's as far as I've got.

On this scary journey, I feel like I've run a marathon, even if I've only made the first, few tentative steps.

At least I've started.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

I Dream of Gina

Bloody dream group.

You think it would be easy after all this time in the group. You have a dream, You give a dream and then you have a week to go through the consequences. For those who've seen me through the process, you know that there is a bit of a process in working through a dream. Normally, I'm cactus the day after, processing what ever has gone one, then things get better. It is a confronting, thought provoking, at times angering, at times calming. You never know what is going to go on until you get there. You never know how it's going to effect you.

So last Wednesday I ended up giving my dream. One that I'd had in the morning and one that left me rather perplexed. It's a bit of shit of a dream, when you think about it. Worse than the Tony Abbott one from a few months ago. Worse than being on a fishing boat in the middle of a swirling sea with the hold full of dead, frozen men wearing the dress of Communist China. Worse than being an invisible person at the funeral of a friend.

The dream, I was with two friends in the Gina Rinehart's apartment at night stealing some of her dinner service - three side plates that were stainless steel, very ornate plates that were in the pattern of the Sun God figure from the Roman Baths at Bath. The three of us left but we were intercepted by the police. We told the police that were going to give the plates back.

Strange dream. That I was dreaming of Gina Rinehart scares me somewhat. The stainless steel (though they were very dull for stainless steel) plates got to me as they were in the pattern of a a Roman Sun God that I know from a wall in the Roman Baths in bath. That they were stainless steel and not sterling silver seemed a bit strange. Stainless steel is clinical, it's used in surgery, it takes out the smell of garlic from your hands.

Then there was the talk of the dream. Discussions about me stealing a bit of power, not feeling worthy of being powerful, not having any permanence, my absolute fear of commitment. Lots of stuff came up  - and all of it has been resonating, chewing over and keeping me awake at night for a bit. Not that Gina Rinehart was in the dream - but it was her place and I was stealing her things. And then there is Bath, and the Sun God, that I remember sitting in front of for a long time the last time I was there.

When we look at dreams we look at the people in them. Like Gina Rinehart. I try not to think about her an how she's raping the countryside and gathering wealth at the rate of knots. I find her a rather sad character, one that warrants some pity. A daughter of a wealthy man, forever proving herself as the son he didn't have (yes, I know that's ringing a few bells). A woman who's alienated most of her family. A woman who's not overly feminine. A woman who appears to not fit in completely in any world she inhabits, even though she's a paragon of the corporate world. Other words that got bandied around were evil, screwed up, lonely, sociopathic... some of these words I can apply to myself - some I can't. It's a bit hard admitting that there's a lonely sociopath inside you. I'll admit to this one. Family trait.

As for Bath, why would that come up? I love Bath - the city in the South of England. I've been there three times. Studied it at University. It has healing waters. It's a beautiful city.

It's also about the only place I've been on holiday with a boyfriend. I've been there twice with a boyfriend in tow - different boyfriends, different years. Still, it took me a while to work that out. The last time I was there in 2010, a friend was talking about coming with me, but that didn't happen. Bath is a city of promises, some broken, and memories, mostly good. That was another thing that came up in the group - my almost pathological fear of commitment in all forms. I won't even commit to getting a cat - though in my defence, I travel a lot and I don't think it would be fair in the creature.

This dream group can be very befuddling. 

I've been keeping an eye on myself over the week and discovered a few things:

I comfort eat after I've been around hospitals - even visiting them. 
Exercise is a drug - and a good one at that. 
I prefer it when my flat is semi-clean.
The thought of seeing a financial adviser later in the week is about as palatable as having two-yearly pap smear with a cold speculum.
I have no concept of what it is to be in a long term relationship - not ever being in one I just don't have a clue.
Friday night movies are the best way to chill out after a hard week.
Sleep fixes almost everything.

Unless you have Gina Rinehart in your dreams.

I'm interested in seeing where this takes me.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

In the beginning...

Being a writer is a tainted business.

There are things that they don't tell you about when you embark on this journey - such as striving for perfection will never get you anywhere other than frustrated, upset and hardhearted. Or that writer's block is the most soul destroying thing on the planet. Or that there are days when you really, really, really don't want to write, even when you have either a section of a manual (or in my current state, polish an application letter an a CV that needs to be done by the end of the night) to get in my a certain time. Then there are times when you are writing, but you're not writing what you want to be writing. And then, when you're writing what you want to write, you're not happy with it....

Being a writer sucks big time, sometimes.

Then  I remember.

"In the beginning was the word. And the word was God (or which ever deity you desire) and the word was with God (or you self-appointed deity)"

These are the first words of the bible, if you want to go with the King James version, that is. Other groups will be aware of these words. They've been around for a while.

It was a word, the word that started everything. One little word.

Okay, not everybody believes in God or has this view. As an agnostic, I'm fine with this one. Not that the world had to start anywhere, but why shouldn't it start with a word? Words are some of the most powerful things in the world.

Think about it. Words are one thing in the world that you can never, ever take back.

Pretty powerful stuff. Intense, potent stuff really.

What would have happened if Martin Luther King had never talked about having a dream? Or Kevin Rudd had not said "Sorry"? Winston Churchill declaring war on Germany? (That speech may not have happened, he had a heart attack in the days before and must have been feeling like crap when he said them)  So many things have been said over the years, decades, millenniums - and no word, once said, can ever be taken back.

Actually, Winston Churchill said some great things. I like this one in particular - very relevant for Australia today.

All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope.

Then thinks of the things you've said over the years - the "I love you"s said and unsaid, the yes's and not no's and I don't think so's... The single words that lift a person to a position of greatness or crush them like a bug under a shoe. So much gets said - or unsaid.

It's big stuff when you get your brain around it. Your words have the power to change things.

But the thing is, as a writer, you don't see this often.  You certainly don't think about it. You don't get the feeling that your words can change things. Writing is what you do. It's just writing. Some of us write for a living, others for fun. It's just what you do.

Speaking to a friend who's also a writer, they were saying of my current job, that I could know how powerful my writing could be. Okay, I'm currently writing management training materials for a national supermarket chain - but it's true - maybe something that I'm penning will be the lines that help somebody reach the next step on the ladder. What I'm writing could be helping to make the future CEO of a national business.

I never thought of what I do like that. If you ask me, I just write training material. Simple as that.

I never think of the impact of what words can do. Or the impact of my words.

It's nice to think that something that you have said, or something that you have written may have positively impacted on somebody - just as it's mortifying to know that you've hurt or offended somebody by your words.

Words have the power.

Okay, this isn't new stuff at all, far from it. Philosophers have been writing about this stuff for centuries.

It's just that in this time of objectionable rhetoric, bullying and divisiveness, what power could the right words have to swing some sense into the nation?

For in the beginning was the word.

What an honour and a privilege it is to be a writer.

Now to find the right words.

(I've always loved this song - fit for purpose it goes with the moment)

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Things We Don't Get Told

Maybe it's the reading material or what I've been watching on television lately. Maybe it's a visit to an unexpected museum or two. It's put me in a reflective frame of mind.

The three catalysts. JK Rowling's "The Casual Vacancy". The movie, "The Help" and an exhibition that I saw in Wellington about survivors of the Holocaust.

It got me thinking about what we are told and what we are not told.

I'll start with the Holocaust exhibition - a photographic and musical exhibit documenting survivors stories. Stories that spoke of hope, despair, courage and fortune. They talked of having their humanity stripped away, being treated like numbers, cattle - being treated as if they were nothing. Moving, powerful stuff.

"What passing bells for these that die as cattle?"

I spent an hour watching each of the stories presented on screen. Men and women in their seventies, eighties and nineties, telling of the horrors to which they and their families had been subjected.

All you can do is bear witness and hope you can do everything in your power to stop this happening ever again.

You wonder how people deny there ever was a holocaust. It was the second time I've felt complete shame in 24 hours. The first time happened a few hours before in the other museum in Wellington - they had an exhibition about asylum seekers in New Zealand. Stories of hope and compassion.

There are Holocaust deniers out there. Despite the deaths of six million people, people still are saying this didn't happen. How? In the face of all the evidence, there are people who are adamant that this didn't happen. Or don't with to have the facts discussed or published.

"Only the monstrous anger of the guns. 
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle 
Can patter out their hasty orisons."

It's like they believe if you say nothing, it never happened.


Next, the book, "A Casual Vacancy" which I've been trying to read for a few months now - I'd get so far and have to put it down. I finally finished it. Great book. A book about small town life, bureaucracy and perceptions. A great read, probably made better by starting over and reading it properly.

A book about cause and effect, about actions and consequence. A book that takes in all manner of society, from the upper educated echelon to the gutter dwellers. Really well done in many ways.

I then turn to my facebook page and see a friend angry about the new government repealing the school kids bonus - money that most parents in low to middle income families use to pay for uniforms, books and everything else that kids need for modern schooling.

"No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells; 
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, –
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells; 
And bugles calling for them from sad shires."

One of the central characters in the book, the daughter of a drug-addled mother, who barely attends the privileged school her location allows her has none of the trappings of most of the other kids in the book - parents who have the income to send them to private schools, the music lessons, the school trips - even the clean uniforms. Another character provided some hope in this girl. He included her, helped her on her way, saw the benefit of spending time and money on this person who would otherwise get lost.

As a childless middle-income earner surely I probably should be angry about the amount spent on education. However - I'm not. Publicly educated, I went through university when it was free. The kids of today should have the same access to the education I had - including the music lessons, art classes, libraries and the like.

Unless you are privileged, it appears these classes and choices, like learning languages or an instrument aren't not an option, unless you pay extra. These classes - the lessons that teach you about humanity and beauty,or similarities and differences - they aren't there for everybody any more.

What candles may be held to speed them all? 
Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes 
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes. 
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;

I so want to live in a smart country - a country that nurtures excellence and thought and innovation for everybody, not just the privileged, the moneyed and the fortunate.

And then I hear about the repealing of the school kids bonus, the stripping of the scientists from the CSIRO, the dismissing of the Climate Change Commission (as well as the Aging Population Commission and a few other "left wing" councils") and the lack of a science minister in our government and I feel very ashamed and disheartened.

But if you don't tell people about it, don't publish it, don't put it up for comment, who's going to complain or know about it?


Then comes to movie. "The Help". Based in Mississippi in the early 1960's, a movie based on the coloured "help" who raised the children of the privileged white folk. It's a wonderful film.

At one point, I found myself tearing up as Abiline, the maid, comforted her small charge who had been admonished unfairly by her mother.

Looking her straight in the eye, she tells the child, "You is kind. You is smart. You is important."

Being a person who's had major struggles with self-esteem, of course I'm going to get all snuffly. You tell a child something often enough they start to believe you.

Until a few years ago, my mantra was "You are fat, you are ugly and you are stupid."

Think about it. If every child was brought up to believe that they are kind and smart. I'd like to add in a few more adjectives with which to tell everybody from a young age. Things like "You are responsible for every aspect of your life. You are responsible for leaving the planet better than how you found it. You are compassionate. You are forward thinking. You are selfless.

What sort of world would live in if everybody was brought up to think these things?

What sort of country would we live in if our government thought like this?

The line of thought continued into this morning when I went for my monthly massage. The conversation while my calves were being pummeled turned to politics. This often happens during massages. Elke and I talk about all sorts of things. It started with the rescinding of the school kids bonus and went from there. Elke and her partner have a school-aged child.

"I hate how this new government wants to keep everybody ignorant and punish the poor."
"You and me both."

Elke, a long term permanent resident is looking into becoming a citizen. She's had the issue forced.

"I can't stand by and let this happen. Why isn't this country screaming at the hypocrisy and injustice? I don't know why people aren't screaming about all of these awful changes. Why aren't there demonstrations on a daily basis? "
"Neither can I."
"You know that this is how Hitler started. Keep them misinformed. Keep them ignorant. Make them angry. Create a class war."

Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds, 
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

It's being able to gain access the things that we don't get told - feeling all of the options and knowing the truth.

Such a big call.

So for the moment, I will keep reminding myself, out loud, hoping that others hear and do the same.

I am kind.
I am smart.
I am important.
I am responsible for my words and actions.
I am compassionate.
I am responsible for leaving the world in a better state than how I found it.

Looking at these statements, it doesn't appear to be that hard.

Even if at present the people of this country are treated like mushrooms, kept in the dark and fed on excrement, we can be the best kind of fungi we can be.With a bit of nurturing, we can be magnificent.

(The poem, Anthem for Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen seemed apt. The youth of a hundred years ago had something to fight for, an were proud to stand and be counted. Can the same be said of us today?)