Monday, 31 March 2014

Whale song rings out in triumph, flippers are linked in joyous dance

At the risk of anthropomorphising, I allowed myself the whimsy of believing that this Humpback Whale was breaching like this in joyous recognition of the decision taken today at the International Court of Justice to ban Japan's hopelessly mistitled "scientific whaling".
In my own way I have a beyond many zeroes point one stake in this decision, having first raised my objection to whaling in 1974.
I wrote to the then Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Fraser, and joined the chorus asking for whaling to be banned.
At the time, Australia still had a whaling station at Albany in Western Australia, so it wasn't just the Japanese, Russians and Norwegians who were doing it.
We Australians were part of this horrendous war on Whales.
Whaling was duly banned in Australia, and it lead to a general world ban on the process, with only the hard core recalcitrants left by the time the nineties rolled around.
Even then, the pressure was mounting and Japan even had to cloak their commercial kill with an imprimatur of science, to allow them to go on procuring whale meat for Japanese restaurants.
This science was rubbish, unmitigated f%^&ing bullshit.
One finding from the Japanese was that pregnant whales showed more hormones in their blood than non-pregnant ones.
Thanks guys.
The world of science couldn't have gone on without that bit of knowledge.
Japan have agreed to abide by the ban and so this is a great day.
However, this ban only applies to the Southern Ocean lapping Antarctica's shores.
The Japanese say they are going to go on whaling in the northern Pacific, close to their shores.
But sources from Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace indicate that there are so few whales to be found there that this would be uneconomic and the Japanese will probably set sail for some years yet, more as voyages of defiance, rather than any commercial reality.
So let's all link flippers and carouse till the second cock in celebration with our mammalian cousins of the deep blue.
Which leads me now, to describe my first "real" job (whatever that means), after I left uni in 1987.
I went off to Canada.
I said to it was to start seeing the world, but mainly I was chasing a woman.
A pattern that would inform my international travel plans for the next twenty years.
The woman in question was the unbelievably beautiful, red-headed Ph.D, Nicky.
What she was doing with me I still don't know.
A closer thing to Caliban meeting T. Petronius Arbiter you will never see.
However, she finished her doctorate at Sydney uni and got her first post-doc work at USC in Los Angeles.
Once she left I convinced myself I was in love with her, but really, as a 22-year-old male, all I wanted was sex.
Nonetheless, with my penis leading the way, I set out for North America.
I couldn't get a work visa for the US, but was able to procure this document for Canada.
Thinking in my usual massive naivete that this was close enough, I went.
Like all Australians, used to the vast open distances of my homeland, I couldn't really believe that California was that far from Canada.
I had a mental image of commuting down to see Nicky on the weekends.
Well, boy howdy, was I in for a shock.
For you see in my usual ham-fisted way, I had picked the second largest country on Earth to live in, Canada, then I wanted to commute across the fourth largest country on Earth, the United States, to see Nicky.
For the record, Russia is the largest, with the wide open road of Siberia stretching across the tundra.
Canada is second, China is third, The US (inc Alaska and Hawaii) is fourth, Brazil is fifth and Australia is sixth.
Vancouver is a stunningly beautiful place, though this photo is a rarity, as it's not raining.
Once on the ground, I realized (in the truest sense of the word) the enormity of the lands before me, and knew I would have to change my plans.
No weekend commutes to LA for me.
And just to digress.
When I arrived, I was met by my friend Darin Sears of Simon Fraser University Soccer club.
I had met him when my club, Sydney Uni, had toured there two years earlier.
As a gift, I took him a bottle of over proof Bundaberg Rum.
I got off the plane and after a night to get over jet lag, Darin and I went out and got on the juice in massive fashion.
In Canada they drink pints, and we had plenty.
We got back to his place about 1am and went to have a nightcap.
I said, "Hey Daz, you haven't tried the Bundy, want a glass?"
He said "Yes".
So I poured him a liberal tumblerful, probably four optic shots worth in the one glass.
He took a sip then made a face like he was having a rectal exam, "Christ, that's revolting", he said with feeling.
I replied, "no, it's not, it's mother's milk."
He replied, "Ok, well you drink it."
"OK", I said, and downed the stuff in one go.
I was unused to spirits, always a beer drinker, but got it down.
And blimey, it was awful.
Anyway, that put the cap on the night, and we retired to our beds.
Well!
The next day I had a hangover of a severity unmatched, before or since.
All day I just sat around Darin's place attempting to recover.
Around two pm I had a glass of water and I vomited it up while it was still cold.
So, Bundy OP rum, avoid it!
Anyway, with my travel plans south to LA on hold for the foreseeable future, I realized I had to get a job.
I scanned the local paper and came across an ad for Greenpeace.
"Wanted; Caring and committed individuals to join our Canvass outreach staff", it said.
It was the first, and definitely not the last, time in my life I had applied for a job without the faintest idea of what the job entailed.
"Caring", I understood, though felt I was too much a boofy bloke for that.
"Committed", well the only thing I should have been committed to was rehab, but that wouldn't be for twenty or more years hence.
"Canvass"? Maybe they wanted me to build tents for them, who knows.
Anyway, I went to the interview and got the job.
Turned out the "canvass" bit referred to political canvassing.
The job was going door-to-door in the suburbs of Vancouver asking for money.
It wasn't particularly what I envisaged when I emerged from the Cambridge of the southern hemisphere with my newly minted science degree, but I would give it a shot.
So out I went.
Boy it was hard.
As you know I've had many jobs in my life, somewhere around three hundred, and though teaching in high schools was the hardest by a wide margin, that job was up there.
Try going up to a strangers door when they are just sitting down to dinner and asking them for thirty bucks, it's very threatening.
Abuse was common, particularly in the more redneck suburbs of Surrey and South Vancouver.
Also the "committed" part came into play on my third night.
In my young-man-numbskulledness, I had not adequately explored payment at the interview.
This a more representative shot of Vancouver.
I thought I would go out for four hours a night, ask people for money, then even if I got none, would get paid by the hour for my time.
No, no, no.
It was commission work, 35% of what you raised was your salary.
A good night was a hundred dollars raised, so your pay was therefore $35 a night, if you managed it.
So you had to be committed all right, committed to earning less than minimum wage, while you got the enviro message out there.
However, I did quite well, I think this was because of my accent.
Almost all North Americans like the Australian accent, and as the weeks went by my accent, already broad as the Mississippi, began to sound like Chips Rafferty trying to sound particularly Australian.
But it seemed to work, and after a short space of time I was promoted to field manager (I now drove the van to the suburbs), and shortly after that, I was promoted to Canvass Director.
And like all promotions to admin, that was when I stopped doing any actual work and began to sit in the office and do bookwork.
And the reason I, like all Canvass Directors in Vancouver, wanted to be in the office, was because of the rain.
Man, does Vancouver have rain.
The west coast of North America follows a pretty standard continental geomorphology.
Southern California around LA is a desert.
Move north to San Francisco and fog begins to appear and green takes over from brown.
Norther still and you get to Oregon, where the rain is a big part of life, then Seattle, Washington, which is known as the Emerald City, due to its high rainfall.
Cross into Canada and you are in Vancouver, where rain is total.
Sydney, where I had spent the last three years, has episodic rain, often heavy, but Vancouver plays in a league of its own.
The rain is incessant, and was best summed up by a t-shirt I saw.
I've done a mock up of it here, as I couldn't find a picture of a real one.
But you get the point, I'm sure.
Vancouver's annual rainfall is averaged out at 1153.1, but just outside town at the base of the ski fields, Grose Mountain registers 2477mm a year.
Compare that with LA with an average rainfall of 350mm.
While starting to sound like literature's biggest bore, Eric Oldthwaite, who thought rainfall figures were interesting, I mention all this because the hardest thing about walking around the Vancouver suburbs at night, was getting wet.
I had to try to keep my information papers and receipts dry.
I had to try to keep myself dry, all to no avail.
Early in my job, the first night it was raining, I rang work and said, "do we still canvass when it's raining?"
Kim, the then Canvass Director, who had answered the phone, gave a snort and said, "Lock, this is Vancouver, if we stopped because of the rain, we'd never work."
I might add, with all this water around, mosquitoes in Vancouver are something else again.
Used as I was to Australian mosquitoes, which are annoying, Canada's mosquitoes took me, to say the least, by surprise.
Forget Aeroguard, over there you need a machine gun to stop them.
You think I'm exaggerating?
Well consider this.
Canadian Caribou migrate a thousand kilometres to get away from them.
Tails twitching in irritation, the Caribou head for the dryer areas of Canada to be free of these pests.
What's more, they, the Canadian mosquitoes, are much bigger than Australian mozzies.
Darin had warned me about them but it wasn't till I experienced them for myself that I knew what he was talking about.
The Mosquitoes are coming! Let's get the hell out.
We were at Soccer training on this field at Simon Fraser Uni.
Here seen with the SFU football team training.
About halfway through practice, the mozzie swarm descended.
At first we began slapping at them, and our arms and legs began to cover with blood.
Rob Merkl, the goalkeeper, couldn't see the ball.
After a vanishingly short space of time, we had to cancel practice, as it just wasn't feasible to be outdoors while this swarm laid hold of our field.
We scurried inside to the change rooms and showered down.
The floor of the shower stall looked like the aftermath of some particularly bloody battle in the Crimea.
So I'll just finish this with a tall tale told to a Canadian friend of mine by his jocular uncle.
This uncle was camping in the Kootenay mountains in British Columbia.
He had pitched his tent and had just finished his dinner when the mozzie swarm came down.
He scrambled back into his tent and zipped up.
However, to his chagrin and surprise, he found he wasn't even safe there, as the mozzies began spearing their probosces (yes, that's the scientific term for a mozzie's stinger) through the wall of his tent trying to get at him.
In desperation, he began hitting the mozzies' stingers back out with the hammer he had brought to hammer in his tent pegs.
My friend, a young lad of six, looked at his uncle saucer-eyed and said, "Did it work?"
"Yes", replied his uncle, "as long as I hit them square on the stinger, and knocked them out clean."
He went on, "The problem began when I missed a couple and their stings crumpled up. They backed off in panic and lifted the whole tent off the ground. The last thing I saw was my tent being carried away over the mountains by two mozzies with crumpled stingers."

And just to finish off, since we're on the topic of North America, more translating, a couple of things I forgot last week.
A Bogan is a red neck.
That thing on the left is a Canadian Mosquito.
The origin of the term "Bogan" is uncertain, but most likely has some derivation from the Bogan river, which is in the middle of nowhere here in NSW.
Very rural, very backward, much like Alabama.
Thong is another that causes cross-Pacific confusion.
In North America, a thong is a microscopic bikini bottom, "anal floss" is one slang term for it.
And please note, though offered an "on-a-golden-platter" opportunity to show a fat-free young woman in a thong bikini, I have resisted, though it would increase my page views through the roof.
Instead here is a non-model male in one.
In Australia, a thong is one half of a pair of flip-flops.
We more commonly say "I am wearing my thongs", to denote the pair of footwear.
Why the meaning has diverged across the Pacific is uncertain.
The origin of the word thong in the English language is from Old English thwong, a flexible leather cord.[3]
Which is easy to therefore see why it came to be known as a thong bikini, or just a thong.
The original "leather cord" meaning also applies to the footwear.
And I think, as this pic of me in my thongs shows, why it came also to mean thongs plural for footwear.
As you can see the strap part comes up between my first two toes, and forms a shape not unlike that which goes between the buttocks in the swimwear pic.
I mention this because it has lead to minor confusion when conversing with an American visitor to our shores.
I do remember when in Cairns talking with a young American woman and she was asking what is the best footwear to wear when walking around on the Barrier Reef, where she was going the next day on a tourist boat.
I answered, "You can wear your thongs".
To which she evinced some considerable confusion and replied along the lines of "What has my bikini got to do with it? I'm asking about shoes."
















 
 




Monday, 24 March 2014

Do you know your monkey keeps dipping his balls in my beer?

The title of this post is the second last line of a joke I told my friend Eric on Sunday.
He laughed straightaway.
My work colleague Scott took a moment to get it, but as he (Scott) pointed out, I made the mistake of telling him before he had his morning coffee, so he has an excuse for being obtuse.
Since its had good reviews I will finish the post with the whole joke.
But first a bit more on Permaculture gardening.
The top photo here shows some cherry tomatoes growing very happily in among Eric's pumpkin vines.
This brought a few principles into play.
Firstly, "Ten hours observation is worth one hours work".
You are best served by not racing out into the garden and commencing digging and planting straight away.
The best thing is to just take the time to observe your garden first.
My sort of client. While
I stood around and took pictures,
Eric weeded the vege bed.
See where the shade lies in the morning, follow the sun and see where it lies in the afternoon.
Observe the slope, know where the water wants to run.
Observe what weeds are growing, but don't pull them out.
All of these can be useful when observed.
On a side note, as a professional gardener the last thing my clients want to hear is that I want to stand around looking at their garden for ten hours, while being paid.
However, if I did do that, I would be able to save them more hours of my paid labour time as the seasons move.
Why is that?
Well, take the weeds.
When I was studying Agriculture at high school with our great teacher Lindsay Cartwright, he defined a weed for us, to wit: "a plant growing in the wrong place."
I did struggle with this definition, it seemed laughably simplistic, but now I can (thirty years later) see that it is a good definition.
Thus, the cherry tomatoes in the pic above are technically a weed.
But of course they are nice to eat, and since they grow themselves, volunteer is the technical term, they can stay.
Many old school gardeners think you need to plant things by themselves, as the weeds take away vital nutrients.
I have rarely found this to be true, and often growing together has other, greater advantages.
In this case, the tomatoes are benefiting very nicely from the shade of the pumpkin leaves.
And when you think about it, if your garden is all volunteers, like the cherry toms here, then you have very little work to do except pick the fruit.
Other weeds tell a story as well.
Part of your observation is to see what weeds are there.
This will tell you a lot about what will grow in your garden.
Wandering Dew (tradescantia) for instance tells you where the dew falls heaviest, and so you should grow plants that need lots of water there, Penny Royal, Nasturtiums and Watercress are three.
If your soil is hard underfoot with few or no weeds growing, then plant Comfrey.
Comfrey has a hard, sharp drilling tap root, which breaks up the soil and allows air and moisture to get to the sub layers of soil.
A common weed up here is Farmers Friend, or Cobbler's Peg.
It's not clear why they are known as "Farmers Friends", most likely because the thorns cling to your clothing, and so after working with them for a very short space of time, the farmers shirt is covered with the things, and thus due to the clinginess they are known as your friends.
However, I have found that a better use of the name is that they provide perfect planting holes for you as the gardener.
Farmers Friend
Pull one up and when the roots are out you have a perfectly formed hole with the soil around it broken up to plant your desired plant in.
Also in Permaculture, biodynamic, crop-rotated, call it what you will, gardening, one very important aspect of home gardening is to give your soil time to rest.
Eric almost certainly wouldn't call himself a Permaculture gardener, but as this pic(right) shows, he is doing it perfectly.
Here's me looking (as usual) dorky behind Eric's other vege bed, next to the one with the pumpkins and cherry toms.
This bed has had all plants removed, then covered with mulch, and now is just resting.
The soil will recover, the little animals that live in there will have a chance to rejuvenate the ground, and when the time comes a new rage of plants will go in there.
And on the topic, when will we plant there?
Well, it goes against everything we white visitors to Australia know from our northern ancestry, but here in the sub tropics, we wait for Autumn to plant.
In Europe and north America of course spring is the time to plant.
Try that here and the moment spring turns to summer your plants will die a thirsty death.
So Autumn, though it comes with decreasing day length, is a better time temperature wise to get things going.

Next, I've mentioned recently that a greater numbers of North American readers have come
in, and so am going to provide a few clarifications to help them.
Firstly, Byron Bay, my current home town.
Byron is the Australian analogue of Portland, Oregon.
Both towns are built on the hippy culture.
Peace, love and mung beans.
The two photos how the similarities between the two towns.
My home town of Bathurst is best exemplified in the US by Wichita, Kansas, or Omaha, Nebraska.
I once read in a novel somewhere a character saying, "admitting your from Omaha is like admitting you've got gonorrhea".
I didn't like my home town, though many do, and presumably many like Omaha, though why is still a question.
Sydney is a combination of New York and LA, a beach side capital with a heavy cultural overtone.
Melbourne is Chicago.
Our national capital, Canberra, is best matched by Little Rock, Arkansas.
Of wordage, 'pissed' is a common source of confusion.
In Australia it means drunk, in the US it means angry.
I remember once staying in a backpackers with many US visitors.
One afternoon I sat down at the common table and said, "Man, I was pissed last night."
A young American said "Oh, why was that?"
I looked at her in some confusion and said, 'because I drank fifteen pints of beer."
We then continued for a while till we understood we were using the word differently.
NB: The next day she came in and said, "I drank ten vodkas last night and I can tell you I wasn't pissed at all, I was very, very happy."
Fanny is another.
In the US it means your backside, in Australia it means a women's sexual organs.
With fertile field for confusion and embarrassment.
This was best exemplified by Bill Bryson, an American, married to an Englishwoman and lived in Yorkshire for twenty years.
One Saturday Bill's wife spent most of the day preparing for a dinner party.
When the guests arrived and were seated, Bill announced, "I'm sure you'll love this food, my wife has been busting her fanny all day to prepare it."
With, as you can imagine, some hard to describe looks from the assembled English guests.
Another one I came across recently is 'biased', meaning heavily favouring one side over another.
When I wrote it, with two esses, as I thought it was spelled, the red line came on under it showing it was misspelled.
I took out an ess and the red line disappeared.
This website, Blogspot, is American, so I realized that this was the American spelling.
And here's why.
In the States they say 'ass' for backside, we say 'arse'.
So by writing 'biassed' like this, I was effectively saying that the person in question had two bums, as in bi-plane and bi-cycle.
Actually, considering I was writing about no-brain senator Ian Macdonald this was stunningly accurate.
He has got two arses, one at the top of his legs and one where his head should be.
Which brings up the eternal wrangle over whether American spelling is wrong or just different.
Americans tend to go for logical, phonetic spellings, while we here in Australia and the UK, stick to more arcane usage.
So in the US they would write 'nite' and 'lite', while we would spell it, 'night' and 'light'.
I don't mind the US usage as it makes more sense, particularly for those learning English as a second language.
Realise has an ess in Oz, but a zed(zee) in the US.
I have adopted the zed spelling as the word is pronounced with a buzzing, zed-style sound.
Programme and program have been raised lately, with our no-brain Prime Minister saying we must use the 'programme' spelling, as its older and 'more better' (His words).
Turns out the US usage, one em, no ee, is correct, and has been in place since the eighth century.
I might add, the word 'Fall' for Autumn is an old English word, used by Shakespeare, among others.
Why it thrived in the US and fell away here is uncertain.
Other word usages are different, but don't lead to confusion.
Americans say sidewalk, we say footpath.
We say pedestrian crossing, North Americans say cross walk.
We say four-wheel drive, in the US it's an SUV(Suburban Utility Vehicle).
Even there, I think you can see that the American usage is more accurate in this modern day.
Here in NSW there are more SUVs registered to city addresses than farms.
Four-wheel drives were classically the work vehicle for farmers.
These days they are the work vehicle of the soccer-mum, bought with the laughable idea that they are safer.
As is well documented, more children are hit by four-wheel drives in the driveway of the family home than on the road.
Anyway, I have been busting my (American usage) fanny all morning on this column, so now it's time to go surfing.
Here is the joke.
A guy goes into a pub.
The pub's entertainment is a guy playing the piano while a monkey dances on top of the piano cabinet.
The guy orders a beer and when it is placed in front of him he takes a sip, then puts it down and looks around the pub.
At the same time the piano player turns on his stool and sings around to the audience in the pub.
The Monkey, quick as a wink, jumps down off the piano, runs up the bar and dips his bollocks in the customer's beer.
Then he withdraws and runs back to the piano and resumes his dancing.
The customer sees him do it, but is not quick enough to stop him.
So he turns to the barman and says, "Hey that monkey just stuck his balls in my beer."
The barman says, "Oh, shit, sorry mate, he does that if you take your eye off him, let me get you another."
He pours another beer and places it in front of the customer.
Now the customer crooks his arm around the beer and keeps an eye on the monkey.
But as the beer goes down his attention wanders and he goes to light a cigarette.
Again the monkey, sees his chance, runs down the bar, and dips his balls in the beer.
At this the customer gets up, goes over to the piano player and says, "Hey mate, do you know your monkey keeps dipping his balls in my beer?"
The pianist, still playing, replies, "No, but if you hum a few bars, I'll see if I can play along".
See you next week for more appalling jokes and large amounts of prose garbage.








Monday, 17 March 2014

Stokesy and the Byron Redemption

The gorgeous Rita Hayworth, still the most beautiful ever?
Those who have been watching this space will know that I have spent a bit of time moaning about movies that were so bad they should never have been made.
And if they had been made, someone with an ounce of sense and taste should have got them and burned the print so that they never saw the light of day ever again.
The Bodyguard, Independence Day and The Beach are three that immediately spring to mind, followed by my lunch doing likewise and springing out my gullet just at the thought of them.
So I'd like to mention here a movie that I did like, namely The Shawshank Redemption.
This movie came from Stephen King's book, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.
The title (spoiler alert) refers to how a character in the movie put a poster of Rita Hayworth up on the wall of his cell, ostensibly to look at, and to give him some visual stimulus for his late night self-actualisation.
[Sidebar: The Who song, "Pictures of Lilly" refers to a poster that Pete Townshend had on the wall of his bedroom which he, er, self-actualised to. Just thought you'd like to know.]
However, he then commences to tunnel his way out of the prison by hacking at the wall behind the poster, and then covering it over in the morning before the guards checked his cell.
The movie was set (I think) in the thirties and Rita was generally considered the most beautiful woman in the world at the time.
Maybe still.
Anyway, the movie really resonated with me as in a much less fraught way, my life had overtones of that of Andy, the character played by Tim Robbins.
He was convicted of a double murder he didn't commit, then sent to Shawshank prison for double-life.
There he was brutalized by the guards, raped by the "bull queers", and generally staves off death and humiliation on a daily basis.
And so it was with me.
At the age of five I was sentenced to ten years hard labour in the gulag of Prospect St, where I wasn't sexually raped, but emotionally I was, and daily at that.
I left Bathurst at 20 and embarked on an adult life adrift in the world of substance abuse.
Failed jobs, failed relationships (including a failed marriage to a wonderful woman who deserved better than messed up me), failed life really.
In the movie Andy uses his skills, some luck and a great deal of daring, and makes his way out of the prison through the sewage outlet.
A metaphor if there ever was one.
Free at last, he takes $300,000 he embezzled from the prison's crooked warden, and makes his final escape to Mexico.
Eventually Morgan Freeman, the other main character gets out of prison legally, and buses his way down to Mexico where they live, well no other expression covers it, happily ever after.
Likewise, I was eventually shat out the "fail" pipe of Sydney's corporate world and began drifting around the north coast.
One day I was in a backpackers in Port Macquarie, broke, on the dole and drinking enough booze to swim in if it could have been collected in a large container.
Then an event occurred that changed my life.
Well, two really.
Firstly, I was in the backpackers ostensibly looking for a job and a place to live.
I was a member of a hippie commune nearby, and perpetually on the couch of a friend.
One morning he told me (perfectly reasonably) that I couldn't sleep on his couch for the rest of my life, and that I had to find my own place and start getting my life together.
So later that week, he dropped me and everything I owned at the backpackers in Port.
I booked in, then, being me, went out and bought a cask of wine and began hooking in.
A couple of weeks went by.
I wasn't surfing then due to hangovers combined with depression, but I was at least going for a walk each day.
One morning as I set out I went past a little table in the hall upon which was the local paper.
As I passed by I thought to myself, "I really should start looking in there for a job and somewhere to live".
I went on my walk, and as the walk went by it occurred to me that if the closest I had come to getting a job and a place to live was walking past the local paper and half thinking about maybe reading it, then perhaps I wasn't that motivated about the whole idea.
And as I walked that thought crystallised, "I hated Port Macquarie".
I then reasoned, if I'm already homeless, on the dole and living in a backpackers, then why don't I do that in a town I really like, Byron Bay for instance.
So I continued my walk, becoming increasingly excited about the idea, when the second event of the day occurred and showed my decision to be the right one.
I was waiting for the pedestrian light to change at a set of traffic lights when I noticed a car full of young bogans pull up.
Out of the corner of my eye I realised they were kind of staring at me, then the lights turned green and they took off.
As they did, one of them lent out the window and yelled, "get a haircut ya' fuckin' hippy".
At the time my hair was down to my navel at the front, and my beard was catching up.
I was annoyed to put it mildly, and at first my temper nearly took over and I was going to chase the car up the road and kick their lights in.
But that wasn't possible of course, and so I continued my walk.
As I meandered through the autumn suburbs, I eventually cooled off and realised that all unknowing, that young bogan had done me a favour.
He had reminded me why I didn't like Port Macquarie.
Those who are young are young bogans given to yelling out the windows of cars, and those who are older, are just older bogans.
So if I did follow my original Port-centric plan I would be working with the former and renting a room off the latter.
No, this town had nothing for me.
I returned to the backpackers and coincidentally some Irish lads I had met there were heading up the coast the next day, and they offered me a lift.
I will return to that trip another day, as, even for me it was wild.
It was the most stoned I have ever been in my life, so it's quite a story.
However, all of the above finally delivered me to my real home, Byron Bay.
It would be a long hard, perennially broke decade, but eventually I would find a place here.
Now I can finally call myself a local.
This is a perennially tricky classification, particularly in the surf, but my ten years here has now put me in the "new local" class.
And bringing it back to the Shawshank Redemption, this week as I surfed I felt like Andy.
I had escaped my parents and Prospect st, I had escaped from the years of substance abuse in the corporate world of Sydney.
Now I was set to live out my life in a sub-tropic paradise.
While Andy had to use cunning and fortitude and endless nerve to escape to Mexico, I had done it by mainly because a bogan yelled at me.
So that just shows how lives can turn on a sixpence.
So the weekend just past, I had a great time with Colin Stokes and his partner Erietta, who had come up for a friend's birthday party.
6% of the Kelso High class of '82.
I haven't seen Stokesy in thirty two years and hadn't even really spoken to him by phone, email or even Faceplant much.
But one Sunday it occurred to me to ring him.
"Stokesy", I said, "I feel we missed an opportunity to be friends when at school".
He asked why, and I referred to one of our year who was a fairly poisonous piece of work, and had (seemingly) taken great pleasure in stabbing others in the back.
To your face this person was your best friend, once you were out of sight, he began digging the knife in.
Stokesy was one who got the stab, and so I didn't spend the time I should have back then.
Anyway, it all came good in the end and we had a great time.
Those of you who have seen my rants at the new address of IndependentAustralia, should be aware that it was Col who put me on to them.
He took a look at my irascible jibes and said, "IA is full of ratbags and the like. It's just the place for you."
He is right, it is.
While he was up here we caught up on old times and discussed the political climate of the day, and attended the March in March against the Abbott government.
All in all a satisfying weekend.
So the count is now five, six if you include me, people from the class of '82 who have visited the Bay.
Russell Meadley, Col, Sharon Spurway, Robyn Harrison and Cazza Meadley.
I missed Genna Newton due to a busy gardening schedule, while Jenny (formerly Louise) Harvey lives just up the hill at Alstonville.
Now I know many of you reading this love the old home town, but if you can get a weekend away, this is the place to come to.
Winter is the best time, there are no crowds and you don't have to scrape your windshield before setting off in the car.
So I look forward to seeing you here.
Just be aware, due to the all-pervading beauty of Byron, many who come for a holiday are still here ten years later.
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!








Tuesday, 11 March 2014

More on Depression

The perpetual Sunday of Wallerawang.
I have a friend who is depressed at the moment, he did say he was, and that's a good thing.
However, even as he said it, I remember thinking that he was "lucky", in that he knew he had the problem.
I put "lucky" in inverted commas because no one with depression is lucky, but I couldn't think of a better word to describe it.
Perhaps I'll put in a bit of levity that sort of describes what we're talking abut here.
Wallerawang is one of the most drack, depressing places to live in NSW.
It's a small town outside Lithgow, and brings to mind a welsh coal mining village on a Sunday.
The chamber of commerce once ran a competition and the first prize was a weekend in Wallerawang, all expenses paid.
Second prize was two weekends, and all those who didn't win were offered a lifetime there.
Same with depression, last prize is having it, second best is at least knowing.
And I'll just digress slightly to hark back to my life as a boy growing up in Bathurst in the seventies.
The time I dreaded most was Sunday afternoon at around five pm, particularly in Winter.
All my sport was done for the weekend.
The shops were now shut.
All I had before me was cleaning up the kitchen after my mother made the Sunday evening meal, then homework, and then bed.
And a quick word on my mother's cooking.
Her goal, so it seemed to me, was not so much to produce food as create the most mess she possibly could in the shortest space of time in the area, and spread said mess across the largest possible area.
She seamed hell bent on using every pot, cup, spoon, knife, and utensil that not only existed in our house, but on the entire Earth.
Since my brother's and I had to clean up, she seemed to feel it necessary to make sure we had plenty to do.
She brought no economy to her labour.
In retropsect, this was probably a deliberate policy to ensure that she and my father got the longest period possible watching Sunday night TV, without being asked for attention from those most annoying things, her own kids.
This period of a Sunday, wouldn't be characterised with a name until it was brilliantly labelled by that greatest of writers, Douglas Adams, he called it, "the long, dark, teatime of the soul".
Here is the quote in full:
“In the end, it was the Sunday afternoons he couldn't cope with, and that terrible listlessness which starts to set in at about 2:55, when you know that you've had all the baths you can usefully have that day, that however hard you stare at any given paragraph in the papers you will never actually read it, or use the revolutionary new pruning technique it describes, and that as you stare at the clock the hands will move relentlessly on to four o'clock, and you will enter the long dark teatime of the soul.” 

Some of you reading this still live in Bathurst today, and may resonate with this.
Indeed, in my heavy drinking days, I can remember thinking to myself one Sunday as HG & Roy came on at 2pm, 'Alcohol and marijuana were almost certainly invented to help me deal with Sunday afternoons.'
But back to my friend's depression.
It's an appalling thing to have, but if you can at least recognize, if you can be "lucky" and recognize that you have it, that brings you 0.000001% up.
As my friend spoke that day, I was, as a fellow sufferer of course, immediately seized with the feeling that I should do something.
But you can't "do" anything to solve a friend's depression. (Well, giving them a million dollars would certainly help, but I'm sure you would get the point.)
All you can do, if you don't have a lazy million handy for ready disbursement, is listen.
And I'd like to think I did that.
He sipped his his herbal tea, I drank my coffee, and long silences ensued.
But that's Ok as well.
More often than not someone with depression doesn't want to talk, and I'd like to think that in some microscopic way, just occupying the air nearby can be a small difference to making the sufferer not feel alone.
Last night I added to my help by texting my friend and told him to feel free to call after seven (when his free calls come in on his mobile), if he liked.
He didn't call, but that's Ok as well.
I'd like to think that even the text was a microscopic help for my friend to not feel alone.
Which brings me to a book that I read that is worthwhile reading for anyone with a mental illness, or a friend of someone with mental illness, or, now that I think about it, anyone.
It's called Intimacy and Solitude by Stephanie Dowrick.
This book was the first to point out that there is a difference between being alone and being lonely.
I truly thought they were one and the same thing, and if I was alone I was ipso facto, lonely.
But Stephanie shows that being alone sometimes is essential for mental health.
Being alone too much is not good, never being alone is equally, not good.
As ever with mental illness it is a deucedly tricky line to draw, and there is no 'recipe' answer for 'how much time should I be alone?'
It brings to mind an episode of Walt Disney I saw as a boy.

Sunday night the Walt Disney show came on with a truly catholic mixture of shows, from Goofy in cartoon, to hopelessly misanthropic 'wildlife' documentaries.
However, there was some good stuff hidden in there, and the episode I am thinking of was about a man who was a lighthouse keeper on an island off the California coast.
He lived there all his adult life and enjoyed walking among the seals, the otters and the birds on the island.
Then one day a government official arrived on the island and told him they were installing an automatic lighthouse and he would have to retire.
He accepted his fate and filled in the paperwork.
he returned to LA and moved into a small unit, and walked among the 11,000,000 people who throng the LA basin.
And, as the narrator said, "For the first time in his life, he was lonely".
It was point well taken, though it would be thirty years or so until I really began to understand it.
Just because yu are with people, doesn't mean you are not alone.
And I think that stems from the company you are in.
If the bulk of the people you associate with are 'energy thieves', those who stress you out just looking at them, then loneliness in their company is sure to follow.
How do you pick an energy thief?
A good sign is if you can see they are not listening when you talk, but are already thinking of what they are going to say next.
Sidebar: the way to tell a real loony is if they start speaking while you're in the middle of a sentence.
So being in company is not in and of itself a solution to feeling lonely, it seems to indicate that the quality of the company is crucial.
This point highlighted to me in the movie Forrest Gump, a great film in my opinion.
Forrest's best friend, Bubba, dies in the Mekong, and afterward Forrest says, "Bubba was my best good friend. And even I know that ain't something you can find just around the corner."
And that is right, not just for a "best friend", but any friend, you don't find one around any corner.
Which then begs the eternal question, 'how do you find a good friend?'
Sadly, there is no easy answer to this.
Most of our associations are formed with whoever you see regularly, in childhood, those at school, as an adult, those at work.
Workplace friendships are often with those you get support from under the despotic regime of some fat, power-tripping boss.
The real test of a friendship is whether it continues after a job change by one or either party involved.
Again, from personal experience I would venture that many men claim that other men that they play sport with are their friends.
Well, maybe.
For me this theory was thrown out when I was playing with a club back in Sydney, one January, that is Summer, it occurred to me that I hadn't spoken with anyone from the soccer club since the last season ended in September the year before.
Thus I thought, 'are these people truly my firends?'
Turns out that some were and some weren't, like any human mix of people.
I might add, two of them particularly showed they were my friends by loaning me money as an adult, when I was deep in the grimpen mire of poverty.
But it was food for thought, some of which I am dispensing in distilled fashion here.
So that brings us back to the question, 'how do I make friends?'
Even the above lack of answer ("No easy way") is even obviated by the essential cussedness of human nature, which seems to predicate that you can only find a relationship, sexual or friend, when you're not looking for one.
And to quote Brian from Life of Brian, "Well what chance does that gives me!"
It seems that we reek of desperation when we are looking.
We exude pheromones that tell the passing world that we are a complete, alone loser.
Thus our only chance is to stop looking, then that which we seek will fall from the clouds.
And that kind of leads me to, once again, highlight the hopelessly paradoxical frustration of depression.
I have tried before in this blog to describe what depression is, and failed utterly, as have so many before me.
So I'll just give this example which shows that it just makes not one whit of damn sense.
You cannot attack this thing logically.
As one character said in the film O Brother Where Art Though?, "It's fool who goes looking for logic in the chambers of the human heart".
He was talking male-female relationships and why people choose the people they do, but the quote could equally apply to depression and its super-complexities.
So the example.
When I was a boy I suffered from homesickness, in retrospect, it was one symptom of full-blown depression.
Whenever I had to spend some time away from my parents I was terribly fearful and anxious.
I would cry myself to sleep, begging for my parents, "I want my mummy", I would squeak in my lonesome bed.
And of course that made no sense at all as I was severely abused, physically and emotionally, by both my parents for a period of about ten years.
If logic applied one would think that periods away from my abusive parents would be little havens of peace, free from the tempestuous fury of my parents raging.
Yet it didn't and it makes no sense to me now.
Perhaps it simply highlights the fact that what humans fear most is something different.
Even a life with abusive parents was familiar, remove me from that and I couldn't cope.
Women commonly report this when trying to escape abusive relationships.
The outsider looking at the situation says, "It's obvious, you have to leave him."
But of course, it is never, ever, as simple as that, and likewise with my homesickness.
Seems that being beaten up and screamed at every second day was familiar and I couldn't cope without it.
Which brings me to something my friend Norman said.
Norman is a wonderful man, he was Men's Health Counsellor for Sydney's Northern Beaches when I met him.
He was/is full of wisdom and he told me this, "All children think their childhood is standard across society".
So I thought all kids spent their childhood hiding under the bed.
A sexually abused child thinks all children suffer the sexual depredations of a near relative.
A lucky child who has a happy and sunlit childhood think that all kids have this same wonderful youth.
Invariably it is only upon adulthood that may children begin to understand that what happened to them as child was not normal.
So to finish on an uplifting note after all this talk of horrendous depression, and a lesson that I hope many, if not all, parents are able to follow.
When I was playing for Sydney Uni soccer, we were gearing up to attend the annual inter-varsity tournament, IV, as it's called.
That year it was being held in Brisbane and we had organised shared cars to drive up there.
I was going with my friend Antony in the car of another player, Andrew.
His, Andrew's, father was lecturer at our Uni, and was very supportive of Andrew's sporting and academic careers.
In the winter he would find the time to watch Andrew play home games for the soccer club, and in the summer he would find time to bowl and throw balls to Andrew in the cricket nets to help with his training.
We drove up on Sunday night, and Antony and I went around to Andrew's home.
When we got there we put our gear in the car, then went inside to make last-minute preparations for the trip.
Andrew had to pop up to his room for soemthing and so Antony and I waited in the kitchen area for him to come down.
Andrew's father wasn't home, but I noticed a note from him to Andrew on the kitchen bench, (please forgive me for reading someone else's correspondence, but that's human nature).
The note said, "Andrew,
Hope it goes well for you in Brisbane.
Have a good time, you deserve to."
Doesn't get more supportive than that.





 



 


Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Lord of the Dance.

I was at my desk with my head deep in some piece of complex journalistic endeavour when my work colleague here at Byron Central Apartments whispered, "Hey, come and look at this."
My immediate unspoken answer was that 'I'm too busy', but then Susanna doesn't send the balloon up for no reason, so I went to take a look, and I'm so glad I did.
For there, in the main piazza of our workplace was a middle-aged man dancing.
It wasn't an overly warm day, so his entire attire of shorts and a cap would have caused comment on its own, but then as we watched his cavorting, we realized that his dress was of far less note than his actions.
He didn't seem to have any music (that we could hear), but instead seemed to be dancing for the sheer joy of it, and damn right too.
Seeing him reminded me that when I started this blog a year ago it was called 'Only in Byron' and the genesis of it was the crazy characters that inhabit my town, and here was one writ large.
We watched him for a while, but he took no notice of us and continued his dancing with every semblance of enjoyment.
It was a genuine 'Byron Bay Moment' (BBM) and reminded me of a twist on the famous saying that my flatmate Tash had told me when sharing a house with her in Bondi back in the go-go nineties.
The original quote is from William W. Purkey and reads: 
"You've gotta dance like there's nobody watching,
Love like you'll never be hurt,
Sing like there's nobody listening,
And live like it's heaven on earth.” 
Our shorts-wearing friend in the photo is certainly doing the dance part of that.
Well Tash added her line, "And Fuck like you're being filmed."
And judging from the noise that came through the common wall between our rooms at Frances st, Bondi, she was putting the philosophy into practise on a triweekly schedule.
But leaving such salacious talk of flatmate bonking aside, I would like to add my own line, which is: "Garden like you've got no money."
My training for gardening stems from two main pieces of education, my degree in Science, working in biology and chemistry for three years, and a two week intensive Permaculture course, which I completed in 2001, not far from where I live today in Byron Bay, in a tiny rural village called Tyalgum.
Peraculture is a trademarked word, and it basically refers to sustainable design, not just for gardens, both large and small, but ANY design, your house, your shed, your suburb, your workshop, you name it, anything can be designed, and redesigned to be more sustainable.
Trying to sleep while Chico's
claws dig in is not easy.
Permaculture has a few tenets that are always worthy of repeat, one is, "Nature and wisdom rarely disagree", another is, "There is no such thing as a waste, only an unused resource".
So it was with great pleasure that I was able to put this into practise recently.
Recently I had to move house and so I loaded up my meagre belongings and moved into town.
The multi-trunked, hairy palm on the
right was the one to be removed.
However, I couldn't move into my flat straight away and so was happy that pharmacist Fleur was able to offer me temporary accommodation at her lovely home in Suffolk Park, south Byron.
It was a wonderful stay with the only slight disconcercion coming from her two cockatiels.
You had to be ready, as at any moment, the male bird, Chico, would suddenly feel the need for company and land on your head.
So with a gardener on the premises Fleur asked me to cut down a palm tree that had been bugging her.
I said 'I would' and we headed out to appraise the job.
Happy to be able to pay for my accommodation with contra work, I set to and removed the palm.
As I was working, and as I watched the pile of green refuse grow from the cutting, I mused 'there must be a way' to make use of this rapidly building pile of green waste.
The waste pile only half formed.
So I worked away and eventually came up with a plan.
This particular garden is in a very exposed position at the top of a ridge line and very dry, so I decided to use the trunks of the palm to make a border for the garden, and the leaves of the fronds as mulch.
Palm fronds are of little or no use for nutrient, but would provide good cover, enabling moisture retention, which on the sand dune that is Suffolk Park, is vital.
The tedious process of stripping palm fronds.
NB: "Bare soil is death", is another Permaculture tenet.
So with the palm cut down, I then began the process of stripping nearly 500 palm fronds of their leaves to get a ground cover.
I can't say it was the most stimulating time I spent in the garden, but I've spent plenty of time doing worse.
Luckily for Fleur though there was no surf in the Bay at this time and so I worked away, frond by frond, and covered the surface of the garden bed.
The fruiting body of the palm, I cut each time I found one and stuck it in the cut off base of the former palm, and to my delight, birds began coming in and eating the fruits as I worked, so the garden had had an eco-bonus for the local wildlife as well.
In the end I was happy for several reason a) I'd been able to "pay" some rent, b) I had covered some bare soil, c) the local bird life had benefited, and d) it had cost Fleur nothing.
the next phase will be to plant in among this ground cover, with Fleur favouring a Mulberry tree.
I agree with the choice as anything that is productive, e.g a food bearing plant, is always a better choice in this modern world of ever narrowing margins of viability for our eco-systems.
NB: On that topic, Fleur didn't plant the palms, they were there when she got there.
Job done: The trunks of the palm made the
border and the leaves of the same plant
provided ground cover. The fruiting bodies made a colourful feature.
So with my gardening done and the birds fed, eventually the day came when it was time for me to finally take possession of my new flat.
And just a piece of superb irony here, I've mentioned it before, but it's always worth a revisit.
For the last six years I have lived in a tent on the outskirts of town, the irony is that due to my Wandering Albatross of a life one Sunday arvo I realised that the longest I had ever lived anywhere as an adult (six years), was a tent.
But now I was moving into an apartment built for human beings.
And so with great pleasure I took possession and it's already been wonderful beyond my imaginings.
No longer do I suffer if I forget something at the supermarket, my tent was four k out of town and so getting back in the car and revisiting Woollies was a major endeavour.
Now, if I forget something I can just walk three minutes and get what I need.
Secondly, there are no rats.
I can't really overstate what a difference this makes.
Back in the tent when I was preparing for bed, I had to near spring clean the bloody place to ensure that there were no food crumbs or any other food waste lying around or sure enough come three am I would be woken by the truly unnerving skitter of rat feet on the floor just centimetres from where I slept.
Thirdly, I can walk to the surf.
Although my new place is $80 a week more pricey than the tent (and I might add, even the tent was $170 a week, such is the housing pressure in Byron), I have already reduced my petrol consumption from $120 to $60 a week, and so am doing something for the atmosphere and reducing my 'real cost' of my rent to the old levels.
The only downside of the new place, and bringing this post back to design principles, is the noise that occurs at night.
So you may be wondering what this picture (below) portrays?
Well it is the back wall of the backpackers opposite my new place.
This particular wall is of the shower/toilet block and as such it leads to an almighty echo of reverberating noise at three am when the backpackers come home form Cheeky Monkey's, the late night cheap venue for these revellers here in the Bay.
Every night (partying doesn't stick to the weekend here) three am comes and an assortment of Kylies Courtneys, Joshs and Kurts, come back pissed (Please note for any North American readers, in Australia and Britain, 'pissed' means drunk, not angry) out of their tiny minds and go into this block for their late night ablutions before passing out on their feculent beds.
But that is a small price to pay for living close to the beach, and saving a tank of fuel a week.
Mind you, I remember reading once in Mad magazine of a good technique for getting your point across to the neighbours who like partying.
What you do is record their party after midnight, then the next night when your neighbours are having a quiet night to recover, you play it back at high volume with a speaker placed carefully to funnel the sound in through their bedroom window.
In my current case, I get up at six a.m these days and so I think that would be a good time to broadcast a replay of the previous night's events.