Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Out with the new, in with the old

Gough Whitlam-Australia's
fastest moving Prime Minister. 
I think it was Kerry O'Brien, the ABC journalist who said, when comparing the
government of the day with the Whitlam government, "Remember, we once had a government that left you breathless, rather than saying, 'don't hold your breath'".
Last week, as usual, mostly without realising it myself, I included a bit about gay rights, which then led me to realise that ten percent of the human beings are gay, and so I behoves me to write something about 50 per cent of the population and their lack of rights, women.
I have treated women pretty badly in my time, I'd like to think I'm better now, but really I can't know, I cannot redress individual wrongs, but I can write something here that may help.
The real leap forward for women in Australia came in 1975 with the implementation by the Whitlam government of "no-fault divorce".
Looking back now none of us can conceive what a breakthrough, what a staggering impact this Act had.
Previous to this, divorce would only be granted through the courts by the adversarial system, with one partner proving the other had engaged in a criminally culpable act: adultery, then as now, was common, but also abandonment or felony would work if the court could be convinced.
Please note, felony did not necessarily mean domestic violence either, before 1975 it was generally considered that if a man gave his wife a flogging, she almost certainly deserved it by nagging or other goad.
In doing my research I discovered some appalling carryings-on that take your breath away.
For instance in Alabama the original constitution of 1819 stipulated that a divorce would only be granted with the consent of the court and permission from, wait for it, TWO THIRDS OF BOTH HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT!
Missiles will fly the day this happens.
Needless to say few if any divorces were granted.
Another historical quirk of my researches was that the first no-fault divorce Act of the modern era was introduced in California in 1970, and guess who signed the act into law?
Ronald Reagan.
Reagan is generally considered the icon of conservative values in the States, indeed there was even a plan, thankfully, mercifully, short lived, to add Reagan to Mt Rushmore.
Reagan, the arch Republican was governor of Ca. during the Sixties and called out the National Guard over the Berkeley riots among other acts that got him hated by the better set, but by signing in no-fault divorce it just goes to show that no one is all bad.
But back to Australia pre-Whitlam.
One of the saddest things I ever saw on TV was some footage taken outside a pub, it showed a woman sitting in the back of an EH Holden and her husband was bringing her a middy of beer from the pub.
Sadly I haven't been able to find a picture of this, but take it from me it was conservative Australia writ large.
I don't think it was ever mandated that women weren't allowed in pubs, but the societal pressure not to attend the public bar was almost as powerful as a law.
However, the look on the woman's face in the back seat of this car was so downtrodden and broken that I subconsciously decided that one day I would start a blog and write something about it.
And so to no-fault divorce, I, and I suspect many of you reading this, were still in primary school when Gough came to power, so it was largely before my time, but I have distilled this from that time, from stories told to me by those who lived through it.
A woman who was being beaten by her husband every Saturday night for ten years, finally realizes that she has got to get out before he kills her one drunken night.
That decision itself takes an inordinate amount of courage.
So she then has to find a lawyer to represent her in court.
At the time almost all lawyers are men, so even finding one to represent her is an issue, paying for it another staggering financial hurdle.
Lawyer engaged, she then has to find some, or even 'a' witness.
Her neighbours have heard the abuse going on for the last ten years, but a) her female neighbours are too scared to testify, fearing that they will be beaten up by their husbands, and b) her male neighbours will not testify as comradely support for the husband, who, as alluded to above, was only beating her because she deserved it.
If she was 'lucky', she would still have a black eye or broken nose when she went to court, and this was often the only 'evidence' submitted to an invariably male judge.
It was known for the judge not to be convinced and send her home to another ten years of domestic violence.
So the title of this blog refers to the recent despicable act of the Gillard government to remove a large number of single parents from the single parent pension, introduced at the same time by the Whitlam government, and put them back on the dole.
The single parent pension went hand-in-hand with no-fault divorce and gave those unlucky broken women a measure of financial independence and some means of escape from a DV home.
Even in this modern era, single parents of either sex were struggling even with the SP pension, now many have to go out and find work.
This keeps them from their children whilst at work, and they then have to pay for child-care, which neatly sucks up any money they earn, a hopelessly backwards paradoxical step.
I wonder if the Rudd government is going to complete this unholy double crown and make domestic violence legal again?

Bertie Wooster, English
literature's definitive upper class twit.
OK, moving on to something a bit less blood-boiling.
Recently I read an article about gangsta speech in LA and learned that they use the term 'beezer' for nose.
I found this curious because the last time I heard the same slang it was in a P.G.Wodehouse book.
Wodehouse famously wrote about English upper class twits in the twenties.
His stories are generally considered the most fluffy writing in modern English, as light as a superbly finished souffle.
If you sat down and tried to work out two of the most diametrically opposite socio-economic groups in human history you would struggle to do better than the Edwardian uppercrust and gang-bangers of LA.
Yet, they use the same slang term.
How did a term for the nose cross the Atlantic, lie dormant for nearly ninety years, then resurface in a group so removed from Bertie Wooster as to be almost in the realms of quantum unbelievability?
Gang bangers use the same term for nose.
I don't know, and I suspect no one does.
This is another of the curiosities that the English language throws up now and then.
Now I find this fascinating, but then I was hit full force by a 12-gauge geek ray at an early age.
I can assure you that I have more in common with Ross in Friends and Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory than anyone else and it doesn't make you any cooler to say that, infinitely the reverse if anything.
So for those with no job, who I suspect are the only ones still reading at this point, here are a few other quirks of English.
These from Bill Bryson's researches:
'Fall' for autumn is actually an English term, used by Shakespeare.
Rhode Island refers to a land-based state and comes from the dutch term for 'Red Island' which the term originally signified before coming to encompass the whole entity.
Pass the buck has nothing to do with dollars but refers to a buckhorn-handled knife which was passed during poker games to signify who was due to ante up or bet.
California is named for a wholly mythical queen Califia, and that is so apposite for a state based largely on making myths real in Hollywood.
A speech pattern that I have noted (I use it myself) is the modern Australian habit of saying 'yeah, no'.
This is the ultimate paradoxical answer and there is no known attestation, as with so many english terms, to its genesis.
It is in fact the 'hiccup' of English.
A hiccup is defined in some medical dictionaries as 'a spasm of the diaphragm with no known cause or function'.
And this describes saying 'yeah, no' perfectly.
'Yeah, no' is of course an oxymoron, 'Microsoft Works' and 'Military Intelligence' are two others often humorously quoted.
Finally, I'd like to return to one of my well-ridden hobby horses, so sonically picture a Sideshow-Bob-esque growl as I state: Commercial television.
Hamish and Andy with a Philipino superman.
On Monday night I tuned in to the only show I like on Channel 9, Hamish and Andy's Asia Gap Year.
When 8.30 came around I was enraged, to put it mildly, to discover that they weren't on this week as Channel 9 were using an old trick to get viewers to watch their new show.
Those who know me well will tell you that among the many things I loathe as a card-carrying old-fogey are reality TV shows.
Among these execrescences on the bum of humanity the one that I detest with every fibre of my being is Big Brother.
Even I can't articulate fully why this is but I think it is the modern obsession for being famous, and by extension, rich, without doing anything.
I at least write a couple of thousand words each week.
The singing and dancing reality shows you at least have to sing and or dance.
But Big Brother you just, from what I understand as I've never watched that garbage, go into a house and the thinnest woman wins, but only if she appears nude.
So you can see why I was incensed when Channel 9's only intelligent show was replaced with a show from the other end of the spectrum of human thought.
Perhaps the saddest thing is though, 1.3 million Australians watch this trash.
I have printed the ratings for that night below.

1 The X Factor 1,633,000
2 Nine News 1,430,000
3 Seven News 1,373,000
4 Big Brother 1,309,000
5 Today Tonight 1,239,000

In the end, and even irremediably sadder is, I can't figure out which of the five shows printed there is the most repulsive.
Three of the shows are laughably titled news and current affairs, but if you watch Media Watch each Monday you will commonly see all three caught out ignoring facts that get in the way of a good story, and the other two are reality TV shows.
Which brings me rather neatly to close with another oxymoron, there ain't nothing remotely real in a reality TV show.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Lesbians in the lounge and my cervical cancer scare

Glasgow is a beautiful place and was European City of Culture in 1991.
I just want to say from the off that I will in no way now, or ever, make light of cervical cancer and the women who suffer from this dread malady.
It is no joke and as you will see if you stick this post out to the end it was no joke for me either.
To get there we not only have to go all round the houses, but across the world as well, on the journey we meet courageous Johnny, a gay stockbroker, Johnny's marvellous mother, Margaret, his fractious father, Bill, Johnny's friend John Turner the protestant priest, one of his, John Turner's, female clients and Nicole and Jenny, two lesbians I shared a house with.
So fix your tray table back and put your seat in the upright position as we fly to Glasgow, Scotland and get things moving.
The residents of Possilpark had to go to great
lengths to get the landlord to
 turn the central heating on.
In the northern summer of 1993 I was living in Glasgow, once again I was Trying To Be A Writer and as usual, failing stupendously.
Glasgow has a fearsome reputation for street crime and urban decay, but I never had a problem in my whole time there, and I worked for a newspaper in the worst slum in Glasgow, Possilpark.
I found the people there couldn't have been nicer to me and particularly my friend Neil's family.
He introduced me to his cousin Johnny, his aunt, Margaret and uncle, Bill.
And when I say they couldn't have been nicer, this meant that whenever I was hungry or cold I would infest their couch till they gave me some food.
Johnny worked for a charcoal-suited, chestnut-panelled brokerage house and told me that he had to keep his homosexuality a secret at work as he strongly suspected he would be fired.
The movie Philadelphia hadn't yet come out (it would be released while I was living there) and at the time all over the world gays like Johnny had to live a double life, out to his family, but buttoned-down and straight at work.
I came to admire his courage greatly.
Any slip of the tongue at work, "I went out to that club, He Man's on the weekend", for instance, could lead to a sacking.
So Johnny became my first male gay friend, my first gay friends, of either sex, though were Nicole and Jenny.
Nicole, Dik-dik was her nickname, and Jenny were superfit rowers.
They had both been selected for the World Championships the previous year and lived together in Sydney's inner west.
I used my cuckoo-like abilities to move in with them.
I needed somewhere to doss for a couple of months before flying out for Asia and then the UK with Neil.
So I showed up to the flat one day while Dik was at work and told Jenny that Dik had said it was all right for me to use the couch for a couple of months.
Then, when Dik got home from work and Jenny was out rowing to Brisbane or wherever she went on her training, I told Dik that I had dropped in and Jenny had said it was OK to doss till my flight left.
Divide and rule, it's pretty easy.
By the time they had talked about it I was rusted onto the couch watching The Simpsons.
It was a very learning experience for me as Nicole and Jenny broke my Bathurst-based homophobia, I learned that a) gay people are real and b) they are ordinary folk with hopes and dreams and c) they don't have green skin and five heads.
Life in Bathurst tended to make one believe that gays were akin to aliens.
The experience that most remember of that time was this.
One summer Tuesday I went home at 2.15 to find Dik (she was a highly-skilled physiotherapist), dressed in shorts and t-shirt, rubbing oil into a nude Jenny in the living room.
I stepped through the door to be confronted by what I have subsequently learned is the holy grail of male heterosexual fantasies.
But here's the thing, my major concern was that one of my sitcoms, Roseanne, came on at 3pm and I wouldn't be able to watch.
So I changed my shoes and jogged down to the local olympic pool and did my laps.
I did do 40 instead of my usual 20, as well as ran five k to get there and back, so maybe the sexual overtones had got to me after all.
And before you ask, as Neil did with his tongue hanging down to his knees, I don't have any pictures of that incident, nor any of Nicole and Jenny, nude or otherwise.
So with my homophobia receding I became friends with Johnny and, as with all my friends, began to moan about my childhood.
Once Johnny learned that when I began moaning that was it for the next four hours, he said, "perhaps you should speak with my friend John Turner. He works as a counsellor."
Johnny did this as a friend, but mostly so he didn't have to listen to me for another four hour moaning session.
So he arranged a meeting for me with John Turner, we met at Johnny's flat during the working day and I quickly added another to the Courage Hall of Fame.
And to explain the back story of why, here's a potted history lesson.
In 1916 the Irish were revolting.
The country rose up against the hated London rule of their country and declared an independent Ireland.
However the northernmost province, Ulster, heavily populated with protestants came against the new union and asked (demanded) that they still be ruled by London, and thus Ulster became Northern Ireland.
This lead to the troubles and the rise of the IRA (catholic) and various protestant para-military groups to counter them.
The Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) were two of the more prominent.
This religious animosity quickly spilled across the Irsih Sea to Glasgow (you can see from the map that Glasgow is nearly as
close to Belfast as it, Belfast, is to Dublin) and is epitomised by the rivalry of the two largest soccer teams in Scotland, Glasgow Celtic (catholic) and Glasgow Rangers (protestant).
To say these two teams are rivals is to barely hint at the scale of the feeling between these two teams and their supporters.
Put is this way, the largest news story in Scotland after world war two, by a country mile and then some, was when Rangers signed a Catholic.
So a priest in Glasgow, of either religion, holds a much higher importance in society than in just about any other country than perhaps Italy.
I mention all this to give you an understanding that the religious divide permeated all levels of Glasgow society.
Johnny's father, Bill, is a lovely man but with one really annoying habit, he loved to start, then sustain arguments.
And one of the things he liked to argue about was religion, he was a jocular supporter of the UVF and had "Support the UVF" written in pencil on a soon to be painted wall in his kitchen.
One Sunday Johnny was home with his parents and Bill had started an argument (again).
Things went their usual way and at one point Johnny's younger brother said, "But dad, what if Johnny marries a catholic?"
Johnny remarked drily to a friend that was there, "I think he'd be rather relieved actually."
Which just shows (to me anyway) the illogicality of prejudice.
Bill spent his life railing against catholics, but in the end if Johnny had brought home a young catholic woman and announced her as his fiance, that would have been (we suspect) better than if he had shown up with a young man and reported that this was his "life partner".
But family squabbles aside this religious divide had far more serious consequences for some, and John Turner was one right in the cross-hairs.
For you see, John Turner was the only openly gay priest in Scotland.
I met John Turner at Johnny's flat while Johnny was at work and within microseconds understood what a massively powerful man I was privileged to be with.
John Turner is dead now, killed by a skidding car on an icy road in Germany, his funeral had to be miked up to allow those who couldn't get into the church to hear from outside where they formed ranks four deep.
The gay community of Scotland and the rest of us cannot quantify his importance, then or now.
As usual I ignored all this and began moaning about my own problems.
At that time my alcoholism hadn't really surfaced and my main problem was hypochondria, thinking I had a disease or injury that I didn't.
The most insane of these fears, and believe me the word insane in the current context is exact in its use, was when I was sixteen I thought I was about to die from cervical cancer.
In science class in year ten, a girl sitting behind me put up her hand and asked "is it true you can get cancer from having too much sex before your sixteen?"
Mr Cartwright, the teacher, answered, "Yes, there is some thought to that, and that's Cervical cancer, difficult to diagnose and nearly impossible to treat."
I had had my first (and only, at that time) sexual experience at the age of 15yrs and 11months, I turned green and began sweating in fear.
My mental illness was at its peak then, I now know, ten years of hiding under the bed had induced just a little anxiety in me, and it was exhibiting in hypochondria.
As I'm sure you all know, cervical cancer is a female only disorder, but the only thing I took out of the exchange between the girl and Mr Cartwright was, "cancer...sex...before 16. Yes."
I spent six months in true fear that I was going to die.
Additonally, I couldn't seek medical help because my parents had banned me from having sex.
You see if I got hurt or sick doing something allowed, mowing the lawn for instance, then I could be treated.
But my parents had point blank told me that I couldn't have sex and thus I believed that they would prefer me to die than be treated because I had broken one of their fifty gazillion rules against doing anything fun.
It was a harsh world I can tell you.
Anyway, leaving that dark mire, let's return to Johnny's well-appointed living room, and what else would you expect from a gay man's pad?
John Turner, once I had bent his ear for an hour about my hypochondria, told me an interesting story.
One of his female clients also had hypochondria.
And like me, she had spent most of her childhood listening to, and occasionally, trying to stop her parents smashing each other up.
Sometimes, John told me, she had got between them and was physically trying to hold her father's arm to stop him smashing his mother's face.
I asked John why these similar stories could lead to the same symptom, hypochondria.
John replied, "Well, it's difficult to say, but it seems to me that she sought to control her parents fighting, but couldn't. Then mentally it seemed to her that the lesson was 'I can't control my world, therefore I can't control anything, and therefore, even my own body is beyond my control.'"
And thus hypochondria.
John's client had gone through many cancer scares, all thankfully imaginary, as well as HIV.
I in my turn thought I was going to die of cervical cancer, as stated, Parkinson's disease and Tetanus.
It is of course richly ironic that the one disease I did have, anxiety disorder, was about the only one that didn't fill me with fear.
So I'll close with this story that is funny now, but deffo wasn't then.
As I've said repeatedly, to friends verbally and written here, I am not attempting to tell any of you how to be a parent, but am happy to state that I hope these stories of my parents tell you definitely how not to do it.

The Talk.

I went to school with a marketing genius.
His name was Grant Foster and he wrote away to some address for a job lot of condoms.
Once they arrived word got out that you could buy one or more off him.
This was marketing brilliance because me and all the other pubescent boys at Kelso High had to buy one.
If you didn't, you were tacitly admitting that you were't having sex.
I wasn't getting anywhere near having sex but like most bought one to at least let it be known that the possibility was there.
So I put the condom in my wallet and then forgot all about it.
One afternoon subsequent to that I was studying at my desk and my mother came out to speak with me about something.
She noticed my wallet and said, "look at the state of this wallet, it's on its last legs."
(Those of you who read last week's blog will know that then as now the state of everything I own is deplorable, all those items quickly looking like a street man had discarded them as too shabby.)
My mother picked up my wallet and began shaking it, and everything in there fluttered or clattered down on my desk.
Amongst which was the condom which I had completely forgotten.
When I saw it land my heart went not just into my mouth but through the top of my head.
I had to frantically think of a story to explain it.
Not easy to do off the top of your head, actually not easy to do any time.
A sleeping bag for a mouse? A water proof for one finger?
My mother noticed it, picked it up and said "what's this?"
She turned it over and then the penny dropped. 
She said "OOHHH, LACHLAN!" and turned on her heel and walked away.
I sat there in true terror.
As stated above my parents had flat out banned me from having sex.
The punishment for this trangression would be major in a way that made the previous ten years of abuse look like a bedtime reading of Alice in Wonderland.
In the end it turned out to be worse than anything I could imagine.
A few days later I was studying again when my father appeared at my side.
"Your mother tells me that she found a condom in your wallet, is that true?", said my father.
"Yes-s-s-s", I said staring obliquely in his general direction through slatendecular eyes.
He then went on, but before I report the next bit of dialogue, the penny dropped for me and I realised that my father was about to give me THE TALK!
Sex, the birds and the bees.
Given the already hopeless track record of my parents, even at the time I remember thinking this ought to be f@#$$^#ing good.
My father continued, "I take it you know what venereal disease is?"
"Yes." I replied.
"And I take it you know what pregnancy is?"
"Yes," I replied as before.
He then went on, "well I don't want any of those things happening to you. So just concentrate on your  [HSC] studies and your L-plates and forget about sex."
So there you have it, the birds and the bees from Theo Barker, just don't.
And of course many of you will have picked up on the fact that a condom was the simplest and most effective method of stopping either pregnancy or venereal disease.
Logic was to that talk what fun is to cleaning a toilet.
Most of my thoughts about it as distilled and written here came of course many years afterward, at the time, like all these talks throughout history, both parties involved would have paid a large sum of money to be anywhere else on Earth to avoid the crucifying embarrassment of the situation.
So there you have it, another example of how not to be a parent.
I really hope this helps, it certainly does me to write it.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

The secret of eternal happiness

Mr Barker's wardrobe supplied by St. Vincent de Paul.
Rather an ambitious title for this post, but stay with me through my multiple discursions and you'll find out what it, the secret, is.
It all started at the gym a few months ago.
I swiped in at the front desk as usual and the nice young woman behind the desk said, "what do you do for a job?"
"I'm a gardener", I replied, then added, "why do you ask?"
"Because you're always so filthy."
I looked down at myself and I had to admit she had a point.
I do remember to take off my boots if they are mud-encrusted, a not uncommon occurrence up here, but usually my shoes are the only things I change.
But then I've never really understood the point of dressing nicely to go to the gym as within a short period, particularly in summer, your clothes become a sweaty, rumpled mess.
As a gardener I am each day up to my knees and elbows in soil, weeds and mulch, and these various outputs of the Earth seem to find me comforting and cling to me with a touching degree of affection.
I might add, when I was living as a freaky hippy down near Port MacQuarie I realised I needed a job so applied to the local indigenous council for an advertised position as web designer/system admin for their new website.
My girlfriend at the time was on the panel that interviewed me and later that night she said, "I take it you weren't aware that there was a twig stuck in your hair during the interview?"
I wasn't, and I didn't get the job either.
So most of my life I've felt an affinity for this character from the Charlie Brown comics, PigPen.
I hasten to add, I don't want to attract the nickname PigPen, but even I have to admit that it is pretty apposite.
So put your seatbelt on as we swing wide through some sidebars before returning to the main point.
When I did my teacher training I had a very good lecturer called Mike King.
He told us many useful techniques and one was, "never give out schoolwork as punishment, because the kids will come to see all schoolwork as punishment."
(If they don't already, I certainly did.)
When I heard this and understood what a good point it was, I suddenly realised another of the infinitely, ludicrously poor parenting techniques that my mother used.
To wit: she made us do housework as punishment.
Thus when my brothers and I made our various escapes from Bathurst we all refused to do housework and were appalling people to live with.
We were pigs.
We were slobs.
We made Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons look like an anal-retentive neat freak.
My elder brother Robert lived with two mates from his rugby league team in Coffs Harbour while they played for Sawtell in group 2 of the NSW Country Rugby League.
The three of them had one pot, one plate, and one cup.
"We ate in relays," Robert said.
So Noel would cook his pasta, then eat it, pass the pot on to Les, who would cook his pasta while Noel used the plate to eat, then Robert would have his turn.
I presume they washed each item between uses, but there's every chance they didn't.
I likewise was appalling and remember in my second year at Uni living in a flat in Newtown, Sydney.
My room had two boxes about waist height with a couple of slabs of particle board across them which was my desk.
I had a matress, with no sheets or blankets, to sleep on and that was it for furniture.
My clothes lay in a huge conical mound on the floor and my one concession to a system of cleanliness was this.
When it was time for bed I would take off what I was wearing and throw it on the top of the pile, then next morning I would take a shirt and pants from the bottom of this fecculent mass and put it on and go to uni.
My logic was impeccable in that whatever was on the bottom of this teetering, mouldering pile had been there the longest and therefore I hadn't worn said items for the longest period.
Not a good system, but a system nonetheless.
What my long-suffering friends who had to sit next to me in lectures thought is not recorded, probably though, now I think about it, their clothes were in a similar state of terminal decay.
However, bad as the situations of Robert and myself were, they were nothing compared with what awaited me in our middle brother, David's, flat on the shores of Botany Bay in the summer of 86/7.
At the end of the uni year I had a job as a storeman and packer at a factory in Redfern, so I gave up my flat and went to mooch off my brother for the summer.
He had a flat in San Souci in a block with the title Sans Vista, obviously chosen by a someone not conversant with basic French as it means "Without a view", a title unlikely to get renters queuing to sign a lease.

Digression: Speaking of badly named things or places.
I heard one afternoon on the radio a guy from the Realtors institute saying that the worst place name in Australia (possibly the world) to try to sell real estate was Dismal Swamp.
At first I couldn't believe it, but here it is.
And just to combine my digressions, before returning to my brother's flat, one of the reasons there is no "meaning of life" or not one "Secret of happiness" is that each of these nebulous concepts is highly specific to the individual.
Thus there must be seven billion "secrets of happiness" on this planet.
A tribesperson from Ethiopia only desires a regular supply of food to be happy.
A north Korean wishes for the removal of the clinically insane leadership and brutal totalitarian generals to attain some degree of contentment.
An Argentinian only wishes to win the world cup soccer, preferably beating Brazil 9-0 in the final.
A Chilean likewise wishes to win the World Cup, first, beating Argentina in the semi, then gubbing Brazil 10-0 in the final.
An American Republican wishes for all democrats voters to be forcibly relocated to a communist country and another, bigger gun to have in their home.
And so it goes, we all want different things to be happy.
A vole.
So back to the flat.
I opened the door and all I saw (at first) was dirty clothes.
They covered the floor in every direction, shin deep.
In amongst these clothes was a series of trails like Voles or Pikas leave in the grass as they scurry about the tundra collecting their food.
I should add at this point that both my brothers arrived independently at a system for clothing that meant they never had to do a wash, they bought a new set of work clothes every Friday.
Thus, there on the floor of my brother's flat was every piece of unwashed clothing he had bought for, well, god knows, but say a year, easy.
I followed the little trail down the hall to the door of the second bedroom.
I shouldered open the door and found that every other piece of junk my brother had was stacked inside.
Vole trails.
Boxes of junk, unused winter clothing, opened and unopened mail, electronic components (my brother was a minor Dick Smith-ish character and liked tinkering with stuff like that) were all in there.
I observed the terrain and noticed a tilt in the topography against the far wall and guessed that the bed was there.
I kicked and shoved the junk aside and waded, rather than walked, over to the bed like a beach goer moving through waist deep water.
I picked up a box of Christmas decorations and saw in the space under it, the top of a mattress.
So I "made" my bed.
This consisted of taking the various pieces of junk off it and depositing them around the room wherever I could find somewhere to stack it where it didn't immediately fall off it and clonk me on the head.
Once I had enough surface area to sleep on I threw my rucksack down on it and went to explore the rest of the flat.
And believe me, "explore" is the correct term.
Neither Livingstone (Africa), Sturt (Murray river) or Giles (Nothern Territory) faced the same trepidacious passage as I did wandering along my brother's Pika trails.
If some Japanese soldiers who didn't know the war was over had been hiding under the couch it wouldn't have surprised me.
The floor I have described as covered with soiled clothing and moving up in elevation things were just as bad.
Every level surface of that place above floor height had one, or more often, many takeaway food containers on it.
The little table in the hall had at least thirty, certainly the stack was a metre high, KFC chicken buckets on it, with the phone clinging precariously to the edge.
As you can see in the pic the buckets are shaped to stack neatly inside each other and clearly each evening he had come home eating his chicken then stacked the box inside last night's.
In the kitchen every cup, plate, pot, bowl, knife, fork and spoon in the place was stacked, dirty, in a huge teetering mound in and around the sink.
Any other square millimetre in the kitchen without dirty crockery on it had more takeaway food containers on it.
McDonald's, Hungry Jack's, you name it it was there.
The only part of the flat that wasn't covered with detritus was the little table-cloth sized porch out the front, but as you will soon see, I was gonna fix that!
I'd like to say from this remove that the first thing I did was set to and clean up, but I was as slobby as my brother.
Also, those of you who have been watching this space will probably guess what I did next.
That's right, I went and bought some beer.
All that  flat really needed to be "really" messy wasn't it?  A load of empties cluttering up the joint.
Without harping on it (I hope) my brother and I had different reactions to our parents' abuse.
I, in the words of a country song I like, invested in "Cigarettes and whisky and wild, wild women".
While my brother David overate.
He is very obese, apart from overeating, he overate the worst fatty kind of shit food that you could find.
The only green thing in the flat that remotely resembled food was some fungus growing on the carpet.
So I hied me round the corner to Ramsgate shopping centre and bought a case of beer.
I brought it home and discovered with some surprise, but then understanding, that the fridge was empty.
Why empty?
Clearly, he only ate from Maccas and such like, so didn't go shopping in the conventional sense.
Why then was the fridge on?
Of course.
I opened the freezer and sure enough it was stuffed to the gills with ice cream.
However that suited me so I put all my 24 cans in the fridge, opened one and then wondered what to do with the box.
To say there was not a square picometre of space left was an understatement.
I wandered back uptrail to the living room and saw the glass door leading to the porch.
I opened it and saw a wonderful area to stack my beer boxes.
I put the box out there and then commenced "what I did in my summer holidays", viz: drinking a can, going out to the porch, crunching it underfoot and throwing it in the box.
In a staggeringly short period of time the number of boxes mounted and in another trifling gesture toward domesticity, if a box fell off the top of the pile onto the lawn below I would go out and put it in the bin.
(I really wish I was making this up.)
The weeks went by and David and I became friends with the Kogarah Council Health Inspector who began dropping by, asking us, at first, "to clean this F*^%&ing filth pit up", but by mid-summer he began coming on Friday afternoon and having a beer with us.
I still get the occasional Christmas card from his kids.
Then my mother came to visit, and two things happened that were unique.
First she did some housework (we had a cleaning lady back in Bathurst) and twenty or so loads of washing later, the living room carpet reappeared (it was light grey. I had wondered.)
And finally we return to the "secret of happiness".
Despite the filth, for the first time in our lives my brother and I were happy.
I'm thinking now that it was the first time we had been able to spend in each other's company without our parents present, and so we weren't, for the first time in our lives, cowering under our beds while our parents smashed up the house.
I was under way at Uni, passing (mostly), while my brother was in his dream job, working with computers.
I stored and packed my boxes at the factory, earned some much needed money, then went home to sunny San Souci and drunk beer on my brother's couch.
So there you have it, the secret of happiness is to live in filth.
I encourage you to turn your house into a pig sty.
I certainly worked for me.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

The largest sexual organ of them all and clammy females in my bed.

How's this for a distinctive plant?
This thing is, believe it or not, a lily.
It is close sibling to the better known Gymea Lily (below).
The Gymea is characterised by a red stamen, and the mighty beast on the right has a white flower.
I believe it is called the Madagascan Flax Lily, but may have the country wrong, anyway I will confirm that before publishing deadline.
(Yes, even I have deadlines, self-imposed, but they exist nonetheless.)
I am only in the picture for scale, I didn't plant it, tend it or have anything to do with making it what it is.
It grows in the garden of my Clunes client Eric and is another tribute to the amazing fecundity of the soil up there.
There has been a bit of a plant theme running the last few weeks and I realised that this picture had to go in.
Every time I look at this plant I am reminded of my luck.
Many of us never find their place in life, and so despite my seemingly eternal poverty and ceaseless moaning I have to say I have been astonishingly lucky in that I figured out what I wanted to do and where I wanted to live.
And it all came to me in one moment.
I was surfing at The Pass in Byron on my annual holiday, away from the IT world of Sydney, and I looked across at the green clothed slopes of Wollumbin (Mt Warning), as represented in this pic (right).
My family have been farmers for generations and as I looked at those slopes I began thinking, "There are few better places in the world to be a gardener".
(NB: there is a subsidiary philosophical lesson there as well. All your best ideas come when you are surfing.)
So that holiday I returned to Sydney with some excitement, that itself was a novel feeling, and began making plans to leave the city forever.
Eventually I unhooked and finally drifted into town one rainy Saturday afternoon with everything I owned under my arms or on my back.
In retrospect I would have done it with more money (sand dunes are not so much fun to sleep on when it is for more than one night), but then that's a third philosophical lesson, that Paula, my wonderful therapist wholeheartedly agrees with, that all of us would have done nearly everything differently if time machines existed.
So enough philosophy, let's move from plants to animals.
But before we do I'll tell you about Ray Braduick.
I read this story in a Bill Bryson book and it still fascinates (me anyway).
Ray was a keen amateur pilot and his favourite thing to do was to take his Gypsy Moth up for a spin at dawn on a Sunday morning.
One Sunday he did as usual and was startled, to say the least, to see the horizon carpeted with Japanese Zero fighters.
Ray lived in Hawaii and this particular Sunday was December 7, 1941, and the Zeroes were launching their attack on Pearl Harbour.
They fired upon Ray, and he sheared off and due to skill and luck, landed his craft and lived to tell the tale.
Therefore Ray became the first American to take part in World War II.
However no one remembers him, as they do Sir Edmund Hilary, or Roald Amundsen, first to the top of Everest and the South Pole, respectively.
And thus, I have a fund of disconnected stories that I think are interesting, but have no real connection to anything else, so I am going to bung a couple in here.
So, unconnected stories.
First: I believe I hold the world one-legged standing long jump record.
When I escaped from Kelso High School, my first real job was as laboratory attendant at Charles Sturt Uni.
Among my myriad tasks was collecting leaf litter in the sclerophyll scrub at Sunny Corner (a misnomer if ever there was one) about 20 k east of Bathurst on the Lithgow road.
The lecturer, David Goldney, I believe, had placed wooden-framed trays with a wire base throughout the forest and once a month I went out and collected any plant matter that had fallen into the tray.
David used this as a measure of the "speed" of the ecosystem.
So one winter morning I drove out and was bashing through the forest doing my collecting.
I came along the path and stepped over a fallen log and as I looked down to keep my footing was rapidly and irremediably discombobulated to observe that a Tiger Snake was lying in the grass a mere 20cm below my rapidly descending right boot.
I have no recollection of the next few seconds.
The next thing I do remember was standing on the path some three metres from the snake looking back.
Slowly, ever so slowly, my limbs began to return to my control.
The shaking eased and it dawned on me that powered by pure fear I had leapt off my planted left leg, no doubt shrieking like a debutante afeared of getting mud on her dress, cleared the log (approx 70cm high) and launched myself the full three metres to an entirely new grid co-ordinate.
Climbing the air ladder farmers call it.
So there you go, I can't prove it, certainly there were no measurements, but I nonetheless claim the world one-legged standing long jump record.
For the record, I can say this was possibly the only time in my life that I was happy that Bathurst is so zarking cold.
Why the snake wasn't hibernating I do not know, but the bone-chilling freeze of that Sunny Corner morning kept the beast sluggish and little interested in the activities of any large endothermic mammals nearby.
Next, clammy females in my bed.
At the time I was living in a converted garage 10 k or so west of Byron toward Mullumbimby.
(NB: I have a dream! A simple dream really, to one day live in a building designed to house humans, not cars as then, or a tent as now.)
I slept on a sleeping roll on the floor and one night I was blissfully asleep when all of a sudden, SPLAT!!!!, a green tree frog landed on my face.
As with the snake above, to say I was merely disconcerted is a completely underwhelming term to describe my reaction.
I went from prostrate on the floor to clinging gibbon-like to the rafters in less time than it takes scream, "What the zarking buggary was that!!!"
 This particular frog and I had coexisted quite happily for some time, she lived in the drain hole under my downpipe which came down on the outside wall next to the door of my bedroom.
This night she had hopped the wrong way and entered my dwelling, then unable to get back out she had commenced hopping around the perimeter wall of my sleeping area trying to find an exit.
Eventually her staccato progress had brought her to a point where her way forward intersected with the start of my bedding roll and with one more hop and we were getting some genuine face time.
An ice age later my heart rate dropped below a hundred and I loosened my grip on the rafters and returned to earth, literally and metaphorically.
I switched on the light, grabbed the frog, returned her to her drain hole and closed the gauze door that I had forgotten earlier when I went to bed.
I found a half-smoked joint in my ashtray, fired it up and with the calming smoke regained the ability to sleep.
I checked my bed from top to bottom to see if anything else had decided to pay me a visit, found it clear and went back to bed.
As I drifted off to sleep I understood that nature had provided me with a little thumbnail of where my life was at.
The first female in nearly a decade to willingly get in bed with me was not even the same species, and even then I had responded by leaving said bed with the rapidity of a Saturn rocket.
I really, really needed a girlfriend.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

The worst p-plate test experience of them all and botanico-sexual kinks

To paraphrase the Two Ronnies: "In a packed blog today!" we will be a bit all over the place, but then since that accurately sums up my life, let's go with it.
So let's start in the garden.
Following last week's post in which I showed some pics of the aloes in Eric's garden and at my place I received this picture from my friend Mike.
He lives not far from Bondi in Sydney's east and had a similar planting story to tell.
He bunged a small aloe stem in this bed four years ago and now he has this magnificent beast.
The flowering is a curiousity.
I have been working in Eric's garden for five years and have never seen the flower before.
Additionally, plant things, flowering and otherwise, tend to happen earlier for us up here in the north, so to see these flowers spring forth at the same time 800k to the south piqued my interest.
As I said to Mike, "It's as if an aloe switched was flicked across the state".
It's most likely something to do with the season, colder than usual?, wetter than usual?, no frost?, some frost?
Who knows.
In the end for whatever reason these flowers appeared, they are food for the soul.
Elsewhere in the undergrowth I had an interesting job this week, pruning grass trees.
Those who know where I live will immediately assume this means enormous marijuana plants, but no, Grass trees, of the genus Xanthorrea, look like this (right).
This grass tree, however, looking like the botanical equivalent of an uncared for shetland pony, is in need of some attention.
Pruning these things is not something to be taken lightly, indeed the second half of the title of this post refers to what is going on in this second picture (below right).
Now I love plants, but that doesn't mean I am going over the top and expressing my love for them physically.
To deal with the xanth you have to get very personal with them.
The down hanging brown growth has to grabbed by the handful and cut away bit by bit.
To do this you have to get heavily personal and invade the plant's personal space.
Usually the dead material is full of ants and these spread up your arm in waves.
However I find it satisfying to clean them up and is one of the things I like about gardening, variety.
I've learned a little in my chaotic life in the workplace (I've had over three hundred different jobs. That includes part-time work as a student and each garden I label a different job, but even so that seems a lot) and one of those things is that we want some variety in our work and some sameness.
If you are driving to work and can go over in your mind what is coming up, that is stress reducing.
If you face unmitigated chaos in your work from the moment step across the threshold, that is very stressful.
Particularly if the chaos is different from yesterday's and you know tomorrow will be different again.
This was best learned by me when I took a job at a bakery in Byron.
I was living in a rustic shack west of Bangalow with no toilet.
I was on the dole and basically staring out the window.
The finished result.
I developed the real bad habit of having a drink at 11 in the morning.
After some weeks I ran into a friend and told him "I've got to get a job. I need to get out of that bloody shack during the day."
My friend said, "I used to do deliveries for the bakery in Byron and as far as I know, they've haven't been able to find a replacement. Why don't you ring them?"
I now know why they hadn't been able to find a replacement.
The job was every definition of a living hell.
And the relevant part was this.
After 1am the only things that are open in Byron are the nightclubs and the only place that the nightclub patrons can get food at that time are the two bakeries.
My bakery was 50 metres down the street from the infamous Cheeky Monkeys backpacker bar, which closed at 3am.
I started work at 3 and every night I would step across that threshold to be confronted by a sea of screaming drunk backpackers demanding pies and sausage rolls.
No coffee in the staff room and warming up for work, I went from half-asleep to stressed in the time it took to put my foot across the door.
Indeed it was while working there that I was suddenly reminded that I came to the north coast to be a gardener, not deal with drunken idiots.
So I'll close this particular strand of discourse with this panorama shot of Liz's wonderful garden and the peace I find there.

And so to the p-plate stories.
I'd like to say there has been a flood of correspondence, but I've had three stories, so I'll call that a flood.
The first is from Jane Williams and those who have suffered Bathurst, or Byron for the that matter, over Easter will understand.

Jane wrote:
"Such fun getting your P's back in the day!
Mine was in 1980, the Easter long weekend (didn't realise this when I booked it!) I didn't have the question and answer test just the Cop in the car!
Straight up William Street through all the bikie traffic that was in town and then a hill start near Stannies.
At that time that was where all the police stayed for the weekend, so there were cop cars coming and going while I was doing the bloody hill start!
That over I had to go to some random narrow street, (to this day I'm not sure where) and do a three point turn.
I ran up the gutter while doing this but I was distracted by the cop asking me questions.
I was pretty sure I would fail, but he said he hadn't failed anyone that day and he wasn't going to fail me!
Back to the Police Station and I had to angle park between two motor bikes!
Did it perfectly!!!
All in all he only asked me three questions!
Does make you wonder Lock Barker why there are so many bad young drivers on the road these days.
I only had my L's for three months and the only accident I've ever had wasn't my doing!
:) Btw Lindsay Cartright was a great teacher! There are still a few of the "oldies" left from when we were there! :)"

Thanks Jane.

Next is from pharmacist Fleur.

Fleur wrote:
Walgett was humming this day.
"I had one of those non event driving tests,  in Walgett I got my L’s on the first day of the Easter school break, and then my P’s the last day , so had my L’s less than a week.
Having made my appointment with the police, he got in the car, asked how long I had been driving, which I truthfully said years... on the farm, chatted about the weather, the shearers strike and so on.
He directed me across town, (not far) he got out went in and saw a bloke, came out and we headed back to the station.
He went through the list of things I had to achieve in the test... hill starts, traffic lights etc all blissfully ticked off as not possible to do."

Editor's Note: Walgett is flat! A town planning lecturer at Charles Sturt Uni had a student there and his assignment was to fully map the town, including contour lines. The student emailed back that Walgett was at 130m above sea level and the 131m contour line was 40k out of town. He didn't have to put contour lines in the assignment and Fleur didn't have to do a hillstart.

Fleur continues:
"The next time I drove was in Sydney traffic 6 months later , in the rain at night , in my brother's bomb of a mini, that had a very loose gear box, what a freak out that was.
I’m not sure who was more stressed, my brother or myself."

I'd say any other road user nearby - Ed.

Finally, this story is not an urban myth and easily tops the list for best p-plate story ever.

One of Fleur's friends showed up for her driving test in Walgett. The cop was waiting outside the station with his clipboard.
She gave her name and they got in the car and started the test.
Right from the start things went wrong.
She bunny-hopped her first attempt to pull away from the curb, the seat was in the wrong position with subsequent difficulties of putting the correct pressure on clutch or accelerator pedal.
When she went for the blinkers she constantly turned the windscreen wipers on.
After some minutes of staccato travel around town the cop said, "Have you ever driven this car before?"
Fleur's friend said, "No", looking curiously at the cop.
The cop replied, "then why did you choose to do your test in it?"
Fleur's friend answered very confusedly, "I didn't, you provided it for me."
There then presumably followed two looks of wild surmise, followed by a rapid u-turn and fast return to the police station to find the owner of the car inside reporting, again presumably, in outraged tones that her car had just been stolen right in front of the police station.
Needless to say she didn't get her Ps that day.