Sunday, 28 September 2014

I dreamed of the city of the hotlands

When I was a boy, I dreamed of a city.
I don't know now if it was a recurrent dream, but even if I only dreamed of it once, it was so vivid that I can still bring it to mind today, 40 years after the fact. 
The city was tall and elegant, crystalline and clean metal spires reaching for a shimmeringly hot blue sky.
My view of the city was from a distance, and around the base of the spires, and covering all the hectares leading up to it was green tree-clad plains. 
When I awoke that day I was filled with dread, and sense of loss, that it was only a dream, and this marvellous city was not there, it was not so close I could reach out and touch it. I couldn't walk the clean hot streets and byways of this wonderful place. 
Instead I was awake once more in my dread world of parental abuse and freezing streets of my home town Bathurst.
Not that Bathurst is an unattractive place, but as I've written ad nauseum, I was abused there and thus my view of the town will always be coloured as night.
However, some time after that I had an experience that not many of us get, when that vision from my dream was made real.
I went with my junior soccer team, Red Tops, for an exchange, billeted weekend with Kogarah Junior Soccer team in Sydney.
The cold of my home town was emotional and climatic.
As we passed over the Blue mountains we got our first view of the eastern plains, and there was my city, turns out it was Sydney.
The view through the bus window was almost exactly as I had seen in my dream.
I had been to Sydney before on family holidays with my parents, so I'm not making out this was some majorly telepathic event that had brought the city of the hotlands to my dreamscape, nothing like that, however rarely have I experienced such a powerful mental experience.
Although I am and always have been very much a cynical, hard-nosed type, having no truck with discussion of dreams and what they mean, that dream did create a change in me.
Having seen the city in my dreams, I was filled with an all-consuming desire for escape from my town and live in this wondrous city.
I played for Red Tops until I was ten or eleven years old, I know that, and so the dream occurred when I was younger than that.
I have no idea when of course, not now, but looking back, I see that my dream showed me that there was a world away from my horrendous parents, and I made a pact with myself that one day I would escape.
And eventually I did, some ten years later.
I can thank my parents for few things, but one of them was the gift of intelligence.
I know it's 'cool to be a fool' at school, but already the clock was ticking and my only means, as I saw it, of escape was to do well at school and thus be able to go off to uni in Sydney.
Some of you who went to school with me may possibly remember this, but particularly in primary school, and to a lesser extent in high school, I would cry if I made mistake at school.
Mostly this was to do with my father's terrifying rages.
He demanded with brutal terrifying screaming, that his children do well at school.
So crying when I made a mistake was largely to do with fear of my father, but a small part of it was that my waking dream of escape from Bathurst was all tied up with good marks at school.

The Chrysalids

Another part of this was my enjoyment of John Wyndham.
Wyndham was an author, most famous for Day of the Triffids, but his other novels are very good as well.
I find it hard to read him today, as he was very sexist.
He couldn't control his furious hatred of women for being stupid.
He wrote in the staunchly conservative fifties, and may have been seen as enlightened for his views on women taking their place as equal to men in intelligence, but take it from me, if that was enlightened, I would hate to see misogynist at the time.

Anyway, another of his books was The Chrysalids.
This book is set in the north-east of Canada some generations after a nuclear war has laid waste to the Earth.
The people of this area, Labrador, have reverted to an brutal 'christian' ultra-orthodoxy, with genetic mutation the sign of the devil.
The central character in the book is David Strorm.
His father is a frankly evil man, who kills anything, human, beast or plant, deemed to be mutated.
Early in life David and others of his age develop telepathy.
This wondrous gift has to be kept secret at all costs, as they will certainly be cast out to the wastelands if the christian elders of their community find out about it, as they would certainly deem telepathy a mutation, and an invisible one at that.
I mention this book, as it starts with David describing a dream.
I can't remember now when I read the book, but it was certainly long after I had my dream, but my experience was so similar to David in the book, that I felt The Chrysalids had almost been written in the hope that one day I would read it.
I struggled for a while to understand what the 'shiny fish-shaped things' were, but of course they were futuristic air- and space-craft.
Without wishing to be a full spoiler for those who may now decide to read the book, the city David dreamed of turned out to be Auckland, New Zealand.
Tucked away at the bottom of the world, New Zealand had been the country that best escaped the direct affects of the nuclear winter that the weapon-mongers had brought to the Earth.
The country had survived, and David was picking up visions of the city at night in his dreams, due to his telepathy.
And like David in the book, I found this vision of an elegant city of the hotlands, comforting, and as it turned out, it was of greater benefit than I could realise at the time, as it lit the fire within me to escape.
One other thing that was part of my dream was shimmering heat.
The picture at the shows Sydney in the sun, but in my dream this city gave the impression of baking, shimmering, almost untenable heat.
Despite the description, this made it more attractive to me.
Again, I'm guessing it was something to do with the cold of my home town, and I fully understand that dreams are not explicable, they have no quantifiable meaning, but I longed for the heat of that city.
Perhaps there was some correlation between the desired heat and the emotional cold of life with my parents, who can really say?
The city of the hotlands in my dream.
Anyway, I did do well at school, despite the bone-crunching pressure my parents put me under, and eventually aged 21 I escaped to the city for good.
Of course it wasn't the utopian metropolis of my dreams, Sydney has its problems like any other place, but it rapidly became my real home, as twenty years later Byron Bay would displace Sydney as my real home.
However I quickly found a place there, away from my parents, and learned to live.

The Midwich Cuckoos

And just a little further on John Wyndham, his most famous book was The Triffids.
After that he is probably best known for The Midwich Cuckoos.
In The Midwich Cuckoos a couple come home from a trip away to the coast and find their village blocked off, with no one allowed in.
They try to find out what's going on, but, as events are to show, no one knows.
Turns out alien ships have landed at various places on the Earth, including their village, and put out some sort of force field, within which everyone is unconscious.
The dastardly aliens then go about impregnating every eligible female within the force field.
The plot then moves on with the village attempting to come to terms with the 'day out', as it came to be known, and the sudden arrival of thirty odd alien children to live among them.
It's a good book, and was filmed as The Village of the Damned, first in 1960, and then a remake in 1990.
I mention it as you are probably most familiar with it, from, how did you know I was going to say this?, The Simpsons.
In this episode Homer and his pals go out on a wild bender and do a lot of drunken damage to the town.
Police Chief Wiggum then announces that, "there was a lot of damage last night, and so we're jumping to the conclusion that it was kids. Thus we are imposing a curfew on all children from now."
Thus, from then on all the kids of Springfield have to be home after dark.
However, Bart needless to say leads a rebellion, and takes the kids out to the drive-in to see the latest horror film, The Bloodening, and this is a send up of The Village of the Damned.
The glowing eyes by the way, represent the mind control that the children have.



The Kraken Wakes

And since the topic of John Wyndham has come up, it behoves me to mention his another novel of his, The Kraken Wakes.
This book follows the fortunes of a radio journalist and his wife, Mike and Phyllis Watson, and begins, as all good sci-fi novels should with the Earth undergoing inter-planetary invasion.
'Fireballs', as they're called, rain down out of the sky, and descend into the oceans of the Earth.
As it turns out these fireballs are bringing creatures from Jupiter to colonise our planet.
Due to the pressure differential between the two planets, the only place these aliens can exist in any comfort is at the very depths of our oceans, where the pressure is approximate to those of Jupiter.
To start with there is no problem with our species inhabiting the land, and the Jupiter lot in the depths.
However friction soon starts and we humans poke the bear by dropping a couple of nuclear bombs down into the depths to give these creatures a message.
They, unsurprisingly, resent this, and a war starts between the two races.
It is not a conventional war as we know it, no bullets fly, instead the creatures from Jupiter come up with a a variety of fiendish ways to attack the humans of the surface.
The most devastating of these is setting up atomic reactors under the polar ice caps, and melting the ice.
the seas rise, and the humans have to constantly scramble to higher and higher ground to escape the encroaching ocean.
It's as good a lesson in the effects of global warming as one could hope for.
London, where Mike and Phyllis live, is half inundated.
The ocean is not now at Dover, but in London itself, with the tide coming in up The Strand.
Mike and Phyllis leave London, by boat, needless to say, and go to live in their holiday cottage in Cornwall.
Not long after they arrive, the hill upon which their cottage stands become an island.
The book seems to be heading for a conclusion with Mike and Phyllis planning to gather up all their supplies, and every litre of petrol they have, and make their way south over the ocean to the tropics, where they can at least grow their own food.
However, just as they are planning this hope is born again.
A scientist they had previously worked with has found a way to kill the creatures of the deep, and so the ice caps are once again protected, and begin to refreeze.
The water levels stabilise, and there is hope for the future.
And the last page of the book has Phyllis contemplating the future.
it is a long hard road still, with many cold years of little food to go round, but she says:
“I’m coming to life again, Mike,” she said. “There’s something to live for.”
So as a literary analogy for us, it can't be beaten.
Currently we face the same fight with global warming.
The Abbott government, and others like them, are out to lead us to a drowning death with their desire for quick, dirty profit from coal.
However they can be beaten and sensible government can return to the lands of the Earth.
Many who know me well will be picking themselves up off the floor to read that, the internet's most prolific whinger [Whinge means constant complaining for my north American readers] being optimistic, however, I would bring a note of cautious optimism to the future.
Once I wouldn't have thought it possible to escape the terror of my childhood, but a random dream gave me some hope.
Likewise with a bit of effort Tony Abbott and the rest of those destroyers of our planet can be kicked to the curb.



Mind you, tomorrow another letter could arrive from the tax department, and then it will be back to full on moaning, but let's just enjoy this moment in time with the future ahead, and moaning, for a brief moment, in the past.





 







Sunday, 21 September 2014

Yes, there are still good monetary reasons to put solar panels on your roof

As many of you who have been reading this blog know, I, just a little, disagree with how this country is
being run.
While I love living in a democracy, and much of the information I need for my articles, both here and at Independent Australia, is therefore available for me to access, the downside of a democracy is that anyone can vote.
This leads to ANYONE being able to get into power, and so we have Tony Abbott as prime minister, and Campbell Newman, Dennis Napthine and Mike Baird in power in Queensland, Victoria and NSW, respectively.
Although I worked for Greenpeace when a hotheaded young man, and recently with Australian Seabird Rescue in the environmental field, my activism was reignited by my friend Antony over the last few years.
Antony is an engineer, a 'green-gineer', as I refer to him, and he reminded me that there is no bigger fight than the environment, and no other time to fight for it than now.
Thus my major concerns with the conservative governments around the place are that they are destroying the planet - making it unlivable for all of us - and all for short term monetary returns.
In a perfect world only those who continued to support the coal industry in the face of all scientific evidence to the contrary, would die because of global warming.
However, the idiocy and greed these people display of course leads us all to be under threat from a rapidly deteriorating environment.
The worst thing, sorry among the worst things, that the Abbott government has done is the scrapping of the Carbon Tax.
The Abbott government have been supremely successful in laying all the ills of the economy at the foot of the Carbon Tax.
This is enormously enraging for me, as the maths says it just isn't so.
But with any remotely less-than-optimal thing to do with money the Abbott government have stridently cried out 'it's the fault of the Carbon Tax'.
Dog poops on the footpath in South Yarra?
The Carbon Tax did it.
Old woman mugged in Logan?
The Carbon Tax did it.
Your car broke down on the Cahill Expressway?
The Carbon Tax did it.
Next year the carbon tax drops from $US23 a tonne of coal, to U$10 a tonne.
That's due to a complex economic finagle where the price goes from fixed, to floating.
The intricacies of that need not worry us, but those who saw my most recent article at Independent Australia will know that AGL recently informed all their customers that with the scrapping of the Carbon tax, your power bill will go down 7.8%.
Thus, if the Abbott government had removed its head from its arse, and kept the carbon tax, it would have been only 3.4% of your quarterly power bill.
The last bill I saw was for $700 for the quarter, thus the Carbon Tax would have been a measly $23 of the bill.
And for this miserly price the homeowner would have been contributing to the most effective way of Australia reducing its greenhouse emissions.
As you know if your a regular reader, there are few poorer than me in this country, and I would be prepared $23 a quarter to enable the human race to survive.
However, for purely ideological reasons the Abbott Government have scrapped the Carbon Tax, and so we have to fight now to get it back at the next election.
Equally unforgivable is the scrapping of the Renewable Energy Target (the RET).
The RET was put in place by the Howard government in 2001, and its purpose was to encourage investment and use of clean, renewable sources of power.
It was a great initiative, and it shows how far this country has sunk when I, of all people, get around to saying that John Howard was a better prime minister than, well, ANYONE.
Tony Abbott is worse than John Howard, and I never thought I was see the day dawn when I would be writing that anyone was worse than John Howard!
Now I have had extensive conversations with Antony, and many others, trying to get a handle on why the Abbott Government hate the RET so much.
It's still not clear.
The main reason seems to be that they really like (to put it mildly) the money that comes from coal.
But even that hardly covers their antipathy to the RET.
I think it has now become a personal punch-up.
The Abbott government see giving in on the RET as 'losing to those dole-bludging, bong-smoking, hippies'.
I struggle to utter over this.
Using renewable power is clearly good for the entire human race, yet those numbskulls in Canberra want to scrap it just so they can say they won the fight.
Anyway there is considerable confusion around the scrapping of the RET, and so I thought I would clear things up a little for everybody.
If the question is, "Now that the RET has been scrapped, should I not bother to put solar panels on my roof?"
The answer is a resounding 'YES, still bother to do it'.
What has changed is the financials around this issue.
When the RET was in operation the plan was to put solar panels on your roof, and then sell excess power back to the state government.
At first the state government, at least here in NSW, offered 60c a kilowatt.
However, so successful, so mind-bendingly, staggeringly, successful was this, that people signed up in their droves.
A contender for the stupidest man in history, Barry O'Farrell, the then state premier, nearly gave birth when the putative bill for this was presented to him by the state treasurer, and turned off the tap, reducing the price from 60c to 17c a kilowatt.
Not that NSW couldn't afford this I might add, the problem that Barry's government had was that if the citizens of NSW kept this up, then his government couldn't keep opening more coal mines, and therefore receiving the lovely money that came from this.
So that is the situation today, 17c a kilowatt, and with the official upcoming scrapping of the RET, many are wondering if they should abandon the idea of solar panels.
Well, I would say no, if you can afford the panels, put them on for environmental reasons apart from anything else.
The money flow has changed though, but here are the financial reasons for doing this.
Whereas before you put solar panels on the roof and 'made' money from the excess, now you do it to 'save' money.
The most recent quote I heard was $3,000 to put solar panels on the roof of a standard family home.
You then having invested in solar, now start saving money with every bill.
A standard power bill for a year for a home like this is around $1,000-$1,500.
But now with solar on the roof, the homeowners have to undergo some organisational changes to get their money back the quickest.
The major uses of energy in any home, the world over, are heating and cooling.
And the biggest chewer of juice of all is air conditioning.
Cooling in the summer, and warming in the winter.
So what you do now is set the air conditioner to automatic, and as soon as the sun is high enough over the horizon and power is flowing to your panels, the air conditioner comes on.
If both parents work and the two kids go to school, the air conditioner stays on all day and cools the house, free of charge.
Then when you come home at night, you switch the air conditioner off at dusk, and enjoy the cooled house for the evening.
How much will this cost/save?
I went over to the wonderfully useful Smarter Choice website and used their energy efficiency calculator.
If you were to run the air conditioner for twelve hours a day during the six months of summer.
This would cost you near two grand using coal fired power.
And what of heating?
Using the same calculator we learn that if you run your air conditioner's heating function for say six hours a day, two hours in the morning when everyone is getting ready for work and school, and four hours in the afternoon, to provide heating for the evening in the home, then the price of winter heating would be close to a thousand dollars.
So as you can see, for your initial outlay of three grand, you get your money back in one year.
While the sun is shining power to your air conditioner is free.
So it seems like a no-brainer to me, if you've got three grand, put solar on your roof, and within a short period your power bills will go down to next to nothing.
And of course, you will be doing more than anyone to ensure that the human race survives on this planet.
And by the way if you think I was going over the top listing an air conditioner as needing to run twelve hours  day, then consider this.
If one of the people in the standard home mentioned above were to stay home during the day, for instance a parent who is the home maker, then running your air conditioner all day is not unreasonable.
As this graphic shows:
 

Oh the mechanical irony!

The first car I ever saw that had electronic diagnostics on the dashboard was a Nissan Bluebird.
My recollection is this car was owned by a friend of my father's, Max Palmer.
One day I got in it to ride somewhere, and watched with wonder as the the dashboard displayed a little graphic showing that some of the doors were open.
This graphic (right) shows some of the common ones.
Anyway, even then I was clearly on my way to being a scientist, or perhaps just a smart arse, because I watched the dashboard in wonder at this electronic display, then asked Mr Palmer, "How do you know though if it is the graphic that is malfunctioning, and not the door or whatever it is displaying?"
I can't recall Max's answer, but I don't think he was able to give one, because there is no answer.
In the end there is no way of knowing if it is the part of the car, or the dashboard that is at fault.
Worse than that, if the bulb in the dash blows, and a bit of the car goes wrong, then you are not being informed of a potential problem.
In the end I felt it was the ultimate "Who will guard the guards" sort of conundrum.
NB: When Lisa Simpson asked this of Homer in the episode where Homer forms a drunken vigilante group, Homer replies: "I don't know, Coast Guard?"
Anyway this topic of whether it was the engine or the dashboard that was at fault came up on The Big Bang Theory.
For reasons that have left me, Leonard, who normally drives Sheldon to work, can't do it, and so Sheldon has to ride with Penny.
He observes with considerable angst that Penny's check engine light is on.
He asks her what this means, and Penny replies, "Oh don't worry about it, that's been on since I bought the car."
To which Sheldon replies, "Well shouldn't you check the engine?"
And Penny replies: "Well it was still there last time I checked."
I mention all of that because since I bought my new old car from my friend Tom, the 'CHECK ENGINE' light comes on.
Once I start the car and drive a five kilometres or so, the 'CHECK ENGINE' light some on and stays on.
I checked with Tom, and he told me, much like Penny above, that this light had been on all the time he was running the car, and he never had a problem.
Tom also told me that he had got our mechanic, Paul, to check this out, and he said there was nothing wrong with the engine, it was just a little electronic ghost in the machine.
Anyway, recently rego time for my car came up, the car is really on its last legs, and I thought about getting a different second-hand car.
Sorry for blurred photo, but you get the idea.
However I'm sure many of you have been in this situation yourselves, and will know that if you scrap your old car, and buy a different one, all you get is a whole lot of new, and completely other set of mechanical problems.
So after much soul searching I decided to re-register this car, and just drive it until it stopped by the side of the road one day.
So I took it out to Paul, got the pink slip done, and then went about the business of re-registering it.
So last Sunday, I went up to Clunes to see my friends Eric and Shelagh.
Normally I go up there to do some gardening, but I am still out of action due to my hand being in a cast.
I had an enjoyable time with them, talking Aussie rules and other topics.
Please note: Eric is a Collingwood supporter, and I have shown (I feel) massive maturity in still being friends with him.
Anyway when it was time to go I got in my car and drive home.
To my unholy consternation just as I was coming down the hill to Bangalow, the 'CHECK ENGINE' light went out, for the first time in five years.
'ARRRWWWWGGGHHHHHH', I groaned internally, 'that can't be good'.
I immediately concluded that either the dashboard display has finally begun to work, or more likely, the engine wasn't.
That would fit with me just re-registering it.
I got home all right on the day, but now I've gotta go, I have to take the damn car out to Paul and get him to check the engine.




Monday, 15 September 2014

A new record for complaining, even for me

This Wolverine had nothing on me when it came to being hungry.
I did a post on Facebook recently, which some of you may have seen, following my surgery, the declawing of my left hand.
The surgery went well, but afterward I received a couple of shocks that set me back a bit.
So I'll go back there to the approximate beginning.
To have surgery, you have to "fast" - eat nothing for a certain amount of hours before hand.
In my case my admission time was 11.30 am, and so my last food was at 9pm the night before.
I think it's hugely ironic that the process is called "fasting", as there's nothing fast about it - never do the hours drag as slowly when you can't have any food.
As many of you who may have been through the process yourself will know, if you give up smoking, your appetite increases.
Partly because nicotine is an appetite suppressant, and partly because once you stop smoking, you are fidgetty and need something to do with your hands, eating snacks is thus a common way of getting through the quitting smoking period.
I quit smoking four odd years ago now, and one of the things I have since come to enjoy is getting my sense of taste back, and enjoying good food.
So fasting was a strain.
Then, one the morning of the op, you can't drink much.
I was allowed to have a cup of black coffee, but that was it, no water even after 7am.
Plus, and compounding the sense of strain, turns out I wasn't even allowed to chew my nicotine gum.
I'm still addicted to the gum, even four years later, it's not a good thing, as it disturbs your digestion, but I still find it comforting to be able to chew it.
And thus clearly, this morning of the op, already starving, and stressed out, I couldn't chew my gum.
The reason, by the way, is that chewing gum is like drinking fluids, it puts lots of saliva into your stomach.
This is bad because if you vomit while under anaesthetic the fluid can go into your lungs, and you can come out with pneumonia.
So, foodless, drinkless, and gum-chewing-less, I was finally ready to go.
My friend Ivan had volunteered to drive me up the coast to the hospital at Murwillumbah.
He arrived on time and off we went.
So eventually under I went, and the skilled surgical team cut open my left paw and removed the fibrous tissue that was occluding my tendons.
I came out from under at about 6pm in the evening, after a period of grogginess, I began to recirculate normality.
When I began once more to take an interest in things around me I noticed that there was a tray of food next to my bed. 
I fell upon it like a Wolverine of the tundra.
When I say it was food, it barely answered that description, the laughably-titled 'edibles' consisted of a single sandwich, white bread with cheese and two small pots, one of fruit and another of yoghurt.
From this remove, I seriously doubt the above-mentioned Wolverine would have eaten the stuff as quick as I did.
BTW: The wolverine's scientific name is 'gulo', from the latin for glutton.
So I'd nailed my first food in 20 hours, and was still gapingly hungry.
What's more, I'd had the same operation on my righthand some years ago, and when I came out of that surgery, I was offered a similar sandwich as a snack.
And this time, I had thought that this miniscule tray of food was afternoon tea - oh yeah, there were a couple of biscuits on the tray, helping with the misconception.
So eight seconds later when I looked down at my now empty tray, it suddenly occurred to me, in conjunction with noting the time, now seven pm, that I may have been mistaken, and this wasn't afternoon tea, but dinner.
I sought clarification from a passing nurse.
I pointed at the tray, and said, "Er, excuse me, but was that dinner?"
She replied: "Yes."
My heart sank, and the nurse doesn't know how lucky she was that I didn't take a chomp out of her, so hungry was I.
I went on: "Oh, um, is there any other food in the hospital, a coffee shop or anything?"
She shook her head, "No, sorry, there's a vending machine in the lobby."
I nodded lugubriously, we all know what sort of food, and the quality thereof, is in vending machines.
Thankfully my wallet had a ten dollar note in it, a rather uncommon occurrence due to my recurringly parlous financial state, and so I got off the bed and made my way shakily down to the lobby.
There I discovered the vending machine containing, as expected, chips, and chocolate, and cookies in plastic.
Just looking at it was giving me indigestion, however I had no alternative, so I got my ten spot, and inserted it in the machine.
The name of the machine was 'Surevend', and as soon as I saw it, I was brought to mind of the monorail episode of The Simpsons.
Homer is driving it and the thing comes to grief due to a faulty and old fan belt, the brand name of the fan belt is 'Seld-m-break', which it then goes on to do.
And likewise for me here in the lobby, as soon as I saw the words 'Surevend' on the note slot, I knew I was in trouble.
Surevend enough, it wouldn't take my bill.
I tried repeatedly, but it soon became clear that paper money was out.
So stomach rumbling to levels that would contravene local noise regulations, I got back in the lift and went back upstairs to my ward, and down to the nurses station.
I asked if the assembled staff could change my ten for some coins, this they helpfully did and I went back down to the vending machine.
Thankfully it took my coins and I picked the least worst food I could, a packet of chips.
Then munching on my crisps, I went back up stairs.
It was now about eight pm, and since I'd been asleep, under anaesthetic all afternoon, I was now wide awake.
I watched my usual show on the TV, Rules of Engagement, and then went back to my bed and began a sort of fidgety read of my book.
However it was hard for me to concentrate, as I usually only read to put me to sleep, and since that wasn't going to happen, I found it hard to concentrate.
Thankfully though, the bike race from Spain, the Vuelta a Espana, was on TV later, and so I had that to look forward to.
Time passed in a sort of stasis-like haze, and then at midnight the bike race came on and I went down to the TV lounge to watch it.
I enjoyed that and every half hour went back down to the vending machine to get some more food.
This is how I reacted to being woken after only two hours sleep.
However, even as I ate it, I knew I was setting myself up for severe digestive problems, and that did happen.
I think my complaint is that I know hospitals suffer terribly from funding cuts, but I would have thought that with people coming out of surgery, who have been fasting for hours beforehand, a decent amount of reasonably healthy food should be available for them to eat.
Apparently not.
So with the bike race over, and my money gone, I went back to my bed, and read my book again.
Eventually, at long, long, last, I was sleepy, and fell asleep around four am.
I had been hoping for something of a lie-in, but was about to be severely disappointed.
Due to the nurses shift schedule, I was awoken just two hours later at six am, to take my observations, blood pressure, pulse, temperature and the like.
If the above mentioned nurse nearly had a Lachlan's-mouth-sized chunk out of her arm, this nurse nearly got a backhander.
This is not really a complaint against the nurse, she was only doing the right thing, by checking on my health, it was simply that I'd only fallen asleep two hours before, and no one likes being awoken after only two hours sleep.
If I was Wolverine-like above, this time I was more like a bear, snarling with lack of sleep I watched as she put the blood pressure cuff on my arm and inserted the thermometer (In my ear please note, if she has tried it at the other end, murder would have been done).
That done she packed up her equipment and made to leave.
I noted the clock on the wall said six a.m, and so asked the nurse: "Er, what time is breakfast?"
"Eight o'clock," she threw over her shoulder as she left.
"Oh, f%^-ing great," I said under my breath.
Tired as I was, I couldn't get back to sleep, and so then had to sit on my bed for the next two hours.
Breakfast, when it finally came was, to put it mildly, another disappointment.
I had ticked the vegetarian box when asked about food, and rarely have I wanted to rethink this lifestyle choice as then.
I'm a vego who doesn't eat eggs, and so my breakfast consisted of a bowl of cornflakes and a piece of raisin toast, untoasted, and a cup of International Roast instant coffee.
I'm not particularly a coffee snob, but enjoy mid-range, plunger coffee at home.
So to say this strange brown liquid was an assault on the taste buds barely hints at the scale of the desecration that occurred inside my mouth.
Go out and lick the road if you want to recreate the experience.
Anyway, 'breakfast' over inside thirty seconds - indeed it took longer to open the little corn flakes box with my left hand in a cast, than it did to eat it - it was now time to go home.
I was being taken back to Byron by Community Health transport.
I'd already put my friends through enough, so was happy to use this great service.
However, when I called them they said they couldn't be there till 11am, thus I had another three hour sitting on my bed session.
Then I had another shock, after my right hand surgery, I was in a cast for only a week.
This time, as I was now solemnly informed, the stitches and cast had to stay on for two.
Not a long time, but as many of you - Jane and Gloria I know for sure - know, being in a cast is no fun.
Not less fun, but none.
So much of my mighty achievements of giving up the drink, smoking, and the like have relied on being able to undertake physical activities, surfing, cycling, gardening among them, and so now I was in a cast for not one week, but two, and it really made me badly depressed.
Things haven't got better, and I'm kind of avoiding people at the moment so I don't have to have the conversation again.
Eventually the transport volunteer arrived, and he was a great guy, right into renewable power, drove me in a hybrid, hated Tony Abbott, everything I could have asked for.
That hour long drive was the first thing I'd enjoyed since Ivan dropped me off.
Home again, and now it was Friday, so that meant doing my sport column for Independent Australia.
To say typing was difficult is an understatement, however I churned my thousand words and then,..., well my normal reward for doing some writing was of course to surf or cycle, but that was now out, and so I made my sad way home, via the dvd store, and began the process of watching the empty hours pass.
Saturday I did some research for an article I was writing, and then back to empty hour filling.
Sunday came and thankfully I had been invited up to Clunes to have coffee with gardening client Eric, his wife Shelagh and his son Michael.
This was my first time behind the wheel, and I was a little nervous, but found that I was able to drive approximately well.
However, I was just becoming sort of relaxed when I went over a pot hole near Bangalow, and a new noise was added to the hum of the engine.
It was a sort of a tick- and a tacking kind of noise, rather as if someone was playing half a castanet in my spare tyre bay.
I waited and hoped it would go away but it didn't, and so I pulled over nearer Bangalow, and went around to find out what was wrong.
Turns out the electric relay for the trailer had come loose, and was bouncing around all over the road.
Well, one thing I am an expert on these days is pulling my car back together on the side of the road, using whatever I can find in the back of the car.
So I found some string, tied it up and went onward, trying not to think of what this was gonna cost to repair.
However, I got to Eric's, and spent some time with his family, and that did help.
Then homeward, and more DVDs.
Monday and went to work, more half-a-hand typing.
I am thankful for the surgery, already I can feel that it's gone well, but now this is my fourth time in stasis due to a cast and/or stitches in the last four years - hand surgery, two broken bones and a cut across my penis from my surfboard fins - and my tolerance has genuinely run out.
I've already impersonated a wolverine and a bear, I think the next person who tries my patience is going to get the full Velociraptor treatment.

 





Monday, 8 September 2014

If you haven't got suitable friends, we won't operate

My left little finger has been permanently contracted for ten years or so.
Another week, another bureaucracy raising my blood pressure, this time the hospital system.
This all started some years ago when a genetic disorder which I didn't know I had, it's called Dupuytren's contracture.
This is the arrival of a thickening node of fibrous tissue in the hands, feet, and sometimes, though thankfully I've been spared this, on the penis.
Though I have had plenty of risable comments from other guys about how I got this clawing of my hands, usually to do to with a "man's self love".
However, my contracture has been caused partly by genetics, those of Celtic and Scandinavian ancestry are particularly at risk.
This fits as our family trace our ancestry back to Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Cornwall, England.
Men are more at risk than women, but the most common cause of Dupuytren's is alcoholism, and that of course fits for me as well.
I had one on my right hand as well, and that was operated on some years ago, very successfully, and my right hand now functions well with only this scar to remind me.
So I'm looking forward to getting the surgery done, and regaining the use of a fully-functioning left hand, however the process of going into hospital, is beyond stressful, and it's prejudiced against those without much social support.
Actually, first I'll backtrack a little.
This all started four or five years ago when I was playing soccer on a Thursday night.
As I've mentioned before this was an attempt by me to stay in shape.
However it had a ludicrous component as the guys I was playing against were all in their twenties and thirties, and to see me wallowing along in their wake was very funny.
Anyway, this night I was sprinting next to a young man from Israel, named, Levin, when my right hand came forward, and his left hand came back.
His knuckles collided with the back of my right hand at speed, and broke my third metacarpal bone.
A spiral fracture of the bone leading to my ring finger.
Man, did that hurt.
I stopped playing and went round to the hospital, they did the x-ray, confirmed the break, and told me to drive up to Tweed Hospital Fracture clinic the next morning.
They told me at Byron Bay A&E that I had to be there by seven.
In my ignorance, I thought they meant 7pm.
Oh no, 7am, Lachlan.
So the next morning I maneuvered my self one-handed behind the wheel of the car and set off.
At Tweed they examined the break, reset it with a new cast, and in so doing noticed the Dupuytren's contracture on my right hand, and so put me on the list to have it operated on.
18 months later my number came up, and I went in for surgery and had my right hand opened up for the first time in ten years.
Once the right hand was done, they then entered me on the list for the left, and now the time has come for that.
However, things are a little different this time, and so the stress has been even higher.
When I went in for my right hand op, I was told a week in advance what time my operation would be.
This, as I've now realized, was crucial, because I was able to get all my ducks in a row regarding transport up to Tweed, fasting and all the rest for the surgery.
I say that because my surgery time then was 7am, and like an international flight, you have to check in well before that, six am in this case.
Now I, again, in my unholy ignorance, thought I would drive up to Tweed, have the surgery, get in my car and drive home, singing all the way as the after affects of the drugs spiralled around my cortex.
No, no, no, it's general anaesthetic, Lachlan, and for insurance purposes, you can't drive a motor vehicle for 24 hours after going under.
So I couldn't drive.
However, my friend Jim came to the party and did me such a massive favour by picking me up at five am, thus having to get out of bed at four, and drove me up.
Surgery done, the next group of friend's Tom and Becky, drove up to Tweed to pick me up, bring me home, and provide accommodation for the night.
This was important as one of the measures that goes under the heading of safety is that you can't be alone on the first night out of hospital, in case you fall over, or have some other mishap.
Right, so that was the right hand, stressful enough, but we got there in the end.
However, this time, things are kind of in flux.
So I'll just refer to the phone call I had with the hospital.
The phone rang, and I pressed answer and learned that it was the check in staffer at the hospital.
She went through a few things with me, type of op, name, age, weight, health status, general ground work.
Then I said: "Can you tell me what time my operation will be?"
Her: "No, you'll have to ring up the day before."
Me: "Oh, um, that's going to make it difficult to co-ordinate things."
Her: "Yes," or words to that effect.
She went on: "How are you getting here?"
Me: "Well since I'm staying in overnight afterward, I thought I would drive."
Her: "No, you can't do that, I'm sure the surgeon won't want you driving after the operation. Can a family member bring you?"
ME: "No, I live alone, my only immediate family are eight hours drive away in the Hunter valley."
Her: "Oh, well can a friend bring you?"
Me: "Well various friends have offered, but the driving ones have all got to work Thursday, so if I knew what time the operation was, we could at least do a workaround with their working times."
Her: "Oh, well, no, there's no way we'll know what time the op is till Wednesday."
Me: "Oh, um,...," then I had a thought, "what about community transport? Would that be an option?"
Her: "Yes, it could be."
She then looked up a number and gave it to me, then rang off.
So I rang community transport.
They were at least trying to help, however the number that I had been given was for elderly patients, and as such I couldn't use them.
But they gave me a number for another community transport group.
So I rang them.
I told them of my requirements, a lift to Murwillumbah hospital from my home of Byron Bay.
The nice lady there then asked me the question that I am already heartily sick of, "What time is your operation?"
Me: "I don't know, they said I couldn't find out till Wednesday, the day before the operation."
I went on, "when I had my other hand operated on at Tweed hospital, I had to be there at six am, for a seven am op, if this time is the same, can your organisation help me?"
Her: "Ah, er, no, I'm sorry, the earliest pick up we can do is six thirty."
I gave a long suffering sigh, the lugubrious sigh of a man going through enough stress without having to co-ordinate an interconnected series of transport operations involving multiple friends and others.
So I salvaged what I could, "Okay, so if the operation is during relatively normal hours, you can take me up to Murwillumbah, that won't be a problem?"
Her: "Yes," she said, "as long as the pick up is after six thirty, we can help."
'Well that's something at least,' I thought, then thanked her and rang off.
OK, so now things were relatively in play.
My friend Jim, had said he could take me on another hospital trip but only as long as wasn't during working hours, which for him meant before seven a.m.
So if it's early Jim can take me, if it's late, the community transport can help.
But even then, I think you appreciate the massive service my friend Jim is doing here.
If it's a six am check in, he is going to get up at four am, drive round and pick me up, then drive me the forty-five minutes to Murwillumbah, drive back to Byron, then go to his work for the day.
What's Jim's work?
He's a bus driver, and will then drive for the next several hours.
Final summary of all that is that if I didn't have friends like Jim, and the surgery was early, then I would have to drive my perennially unstable car to the hospital, watching the temperature gauge like a hawk all the way.
Then find somewhere near the hospital I can park it for more than a day.
Park the car, go in, have the surgery, then wait until 24 hours have elapsed, and drive the car home one-handed.
Thus, the message is "unless you have suitable friends we won't do the surgery".
As my friend Michael said when I saw him on Sunday, "They seem to have this airy assumption about the levels of support that people have."
Okay, so that's getting there.
There then comes the problem of escaping from the hospital.
When I had my right hand done, I went out into the recovery room and waited there for Tom and Becky to arrive.
After a time I was heartily sick of that and so thought I might go for a walk out and get my circulation going.
I went up to the desk and said "I'm just going for a walk, if my friends arrive could you tell them to call me on the mobile, and I'll come back."
The woman at the desk then said, and this floored me I must say, "Sorry, you have to have someone sign you out."
EXCUSE ME!
I reared back, "Sign me out?!" I said, "What so I..., what so I can't even go for a walk?"
Desk woman: "Sorry, no, you have to be signed out of our care."
Me: "But what if my friends had car trouble, and couldn't get here today? Would that mean I have to stay here in this waiting room until their car was fixed?"
She didn't say actually 'yes' to that, but that was certainly the substance.
However, luckily, Tom and Becky arrived not long after that and signed me out, and we went home via the fish and chip shop on the Tweed River, and as was well.
I mention that because this time I was planning to leave via community transport,and thus would be checking myself out of the hospital.
My friend's Sandy and Pete offered generously to pick me up, when I asked them, but that was when I thought I would be out on Thursday, but they both have to work on the Friday.
However, another friend, Eric, a valued gardening client at Clunes, offered to pick me up on the Friday and I'm so thankful for that.
However that now means Eric has to drive from Clunes to Murwillumbah, pick me up, then drop me in Byron, and then drive home to Clunes before 2.30pm as he and wife Shelagh have guests coming over in the afternoon.
Thank you Jim and Eric, and all the rest who made offers.
Without you, I'm not sure what I would do.
And I would say in closing that I'm not having a go at the staff of the hospital, they're busy enough with all the cuts made to the health system.
There's nothing they can do to reduce the stress, but this whole process is stacked against those with less social support.

The importance of being dumped

Elsewhere, I'm can't quite recall what brought this up for me this week, but as I walked restlessly alone along the beach I was reminded of a party I went to in Sydney when I lived there in the nineties.
But a little background before we get to that.
This was in the period after I had been dumped and I was still reeling from the affects of that.
I had quit my high-paying job, and as such was soon homeless on the streets of Sydney.
I spent some time squatting, with permission, in the gutted shell of my friend Derek's half renovated terraced house in East Balmain.
There was no electricity or hot water, and so I slept on the bits of floor that were still there, and showered when I went down to Bondi Beach for a surf.
I ate take away food, McDonald's and such like mainly, and coped as best I could.
With no power, I couldn't watch TV of course, not that I had one, even if the power had been on, and so I began to read even more voraciously than I normally did.
I went to counselling when I could and one of my therapists, Nick put me onto Intimacy and Solitude by Stephanie Dowrick.
I've mentioned this book before, and still to this day recommend anyone and everyone read it.
In those pages I learned the difference between alone and lonely, and many other valuable things.
Once I'd finished that, I then became addicted to so-called self-help books.
I went to the library whenever I'd finished one, and got out another.
As such, I then became something of a bore on the topic of emotional stuff.
Since most of my socialising revolved around drinking in pubs with engineer types I knew from the computer industry, while watching the rugby league game on the Friday night, you can imagine how this constant harping on 'chick books' that I was currently reading went over.
However it had a long term affect, and I'm pretty sure that these days my emotional intelligence is just a little higher, and that can be traced back to those long sessions of reading by torchlight in the gutted shell of Derek's house.
Derek's house where I did my reading.
[For my north American readers, in Australia torch means flashlight, not a flaming brand as carried by angry mobs of villagers as they go to set fire to Dracula's castle.]
Anyway, so one weekend a friend mentioned a party at his old share house.
He said: "Yeah, they're having a party, it's being hosted by my old flatmate, Brian's, girlfriend."
He went on: "I can't stand her really, she's pretentious beyond belief, and so far up herself she's got two heads, I don't know what Brian sees in her really, but there will be plenty of hot birds there."
Sorry, by the way, but that is how I, like my friend, talked and objectified women in those days.
Anyway, clearly I had nothing better to do so I decided to go and check the party out.
I went with a friend from the computer industry, a Scotsman, Ian.
And it was pretentious.
I don't know what we were thinking, really, as ever being young men, we had the vague notion that we may pick up one of the hot women that we'd been told about, and hook up.
However, the the usual laws applied, and those single hot women who didn't already have boyfriends, were quickly snared by the men there, also pretentious, who had the most money.
Obviously, once I mentioned that if this putative sex partner were to leave the party with me and we went back to see my etchings, it would be into the gutted shell of a half-renovated terraced house, interest in me dropped precipitately.
So we come at long last to the nub of the story.
At one point latish in the evening we were in the kitchen area of the party and with Ian, I was talking with the pretentious woman who was hosting the party.
I, as usual, vouchsafed that i had recently been dumped, and was suffering from it.
(An unspoken part of this constant telling people of this dumping, was that I was hoping some woman would take pity on me and offer a shag. They never did.)
Once I'd said this, the pretentious hostess of the party said, "I've never been dumped."
Bald statement of fact, as she saw it.
Ian, my Scottish friend, then said, and I loved him for it, "And you think that's healthy?"
The tenor of the woman's remark was "I am so fantastically desirable that I have never been dumped, whenever there is dumping to be done, I will do it."
The tenor of Ian's remark seemed to be that you cannot be any chance of being a fully formed, well-rounded human being, if you don't go through the horrendously painful process of at least one dumping in your life.
And I have to say that, all the empirical evidence then and there, seemed to prove Ian right.
This woman was beyond pretentious, and if some part of that formation was that she had never been dumped, then clearly Ian was right on the money.
She didn't much reply to Ian's comment, and soon the conversation turned to other things.
However, we ad our revenge, and this shows you all out there 'never be pretentious', as it will come back to bight you karmically.
Later that evening, Ian and I and some others were in this woman's bed room smoking pot out of sight of the partying throngs.
I packed the bong then handed it to Ian, however, in my laxity, I let go too early, and the device fell on the floor.
The condition we left the pretentious hostess's bedroom.
A shower of filthy bong water then sprayed up, and covered the end bit of the Doona cover on the bed.
All of us there looked at each other with a wild surmise.
We knew who's bedroom it was.
We could imagine her reaction when she found out.
We acted.
Without a word, we leapt up like Saturn rockets, and without a word, left the bedroom, and then the party.
If she had been a remotely nice person, we would probably have offered to clean it up.
As Ian and I got in the taxi we shared an unspoken agreement that really she got, albeit accidentally, what she had deserved from the moment she said, "I've never been dumped."
So I hope you never get dumped, but if it does happen, sometime later you can take small comfort from knowing that it has undoubtedly made you a more rounded human being.





Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Talking logic with the tax department

Freshwater Beach, Harbord, Sydney, while living nearby I learned the mail only brings bad news.
Another one of those weeks, highlighted by a truly bizarre exchange with the tax department.
This all started a couple of weeks ago when my friend Becky told me that there was a letter for me at her place.
My heart sank, the mail never brings good news.
Have you noticed that?
My main recollection of this phenomena was when I was working back in Sydney an an IT contractor.
As a contractor I would do a week here, a month there, sometimes a six-month block, and sometimes I would have a few jobs on the go at once.
Anyway, for this reason I would often get the Herald on Saturday and go to the IT part of the employment section.
Most of the jobs there would be listed under the different employment consultants firms, and they would often have ten or twenty jobs that I could do, web designer was my job title.
There were five or six big firms advertising there, and so some Saturdays I would apply, with my CV attached, via email, for sixty or more jobs.
For reasons that I've never satisfactorily been able to explain, if they turned me down for a job, they would send me a snail-mail letter, rather than an email.
If they wanted me for the job, or at least an interview, they would call me on the phone.
Thus, if the news was they weren't going to employ me, they would send a letter.
The upshot of that was that our postman would sometimes deliver me forty or so rejection letters on a single day.
In the beginning, I would open the letters and read of my rejection, but as time went by, I began to throw them in the recycling bin unopened, knowing full well the contents.
So that period of my life set up the pattern of "the mail only brings bad news", so why bother reading it?
So this recent Sunday, I tried to relax and leave it for Monday, but the worm of anxiety got to me and I decided to get it over with.
I cycled round to Becky and Tom's house and got the letter.
It had a window on the front.
In fact, it had two.
It looked bad.
It was bad.
It was from the tax department.
Douglas Adams famously wrote, "It is not surprise that the phrase 'pretty as an airport', does not exist in any language.
Elsewhere I've written of three things you never want to hear: "You better come and see me from your doctor", "audit" from your accountant and "head gasket", from your mechanic.
So today I'll add to the list by saying this: "Never in the course of human history, has a therapist ever said to a mentally ill patient, 'what you need is a letter from the tax department, that'll really fix you up'".
I am of course a raving nut job, perennially mentally ill, though better these days, thanks to not drinking mainly.
However, if anything was going to send me back to the damn drink, it was this letter.
So the letter said:
"Dear f%^king dole bludger,
We note with glee that you haven't done your tax return for 2014, and it's now overdue.
Please rectify this at the earliest, or we will come round to your house and take the pittance that you are currently eaking out a living on.
Of course, we are picking you because you're an easy target, Gina Rinehart has stolen much more from the country, but she has high-priced lawyers, so we're picking on you."
Or words to that effect.
The nub was that I hadn't done my tax for this year.
And the reason for that was that last year, 2013, I went in to Centrelink in search of my group certificate, to do my tax.

I had long ago come to understand that trying to get away with anything with Centrelink is a hopelessly stressful process, and then and now, have always been honest with Centrelink.
Thus doing my tax on time was part of the regime.
Anyway, that year, 2013, the Centrelink staffer told me that because my main source of income is the Disability Services Pension, which is non-taxable, I no longer had to do a tax return.
[For my north American readers, Centrelink is the equivalent of your department of social security.]
"Okay", I said, "but what about my small gardening business income, surely I have to report that?"
"Yes", the staffer replied, "you need to do a profit-and-loss statement for the tax year 2012-13."
"Fine," I said, and went back to my desk, pulled up my work spreadsheet for the year, got the figures for my entire year's gardening, filled in the form, took it back to Centrelink, and lodged it.
All good.
So then when this year rolled around, I did the same thing, lodged my profit-and-loss for the year, then forgot all about it.
That is, until the letter arrived asking where my tax return was.
So Monday came and I phoned the tax department.
After some waiting I got through to a young woman.
"Er, yes", I said, "Um, I got a letter from your department saying I hadn't done my tax return and so am calling to check it out."
She said fine, took my tax file number, then pecked at her keyboard.
Eventually she replied, "Yes, Mr Barker, you do need to do a tax return for this year."
"Oh", I said, "But Centrelink told me last year that I didn't need to do one because my income is so low. Is this because of my small gardening business?"
She pecked again, then said: "Yes, that's correct, if you earn one dollar from a business, you need to do a tax return."
"Oh", I said, "does that mean I need to do one for last year as well?"
"Yes", she replied, "if you earned one dollar from a business in that year, you will need to do a return for that year as well."
"Why then", I returned, struggling to word it right, "did you not send me a letter last year then?"
To which she replied: "it's not the responsibility of the tax department to tell you to do a tax return."
I rubbed my forehead is bemusement, "So", I went on, "although you sent me a letter reminding me about this year, it wasn't the tax department's responsibility to send me one last year?"
She then stonewalled: "It is not the tax department's responsibility to tell you to do a tax return."
I wanted to go on, I had a few choice things I wanted to say to her, and the tax department as a whole.
However, if I've learned that trying to scam Centrelink is hard, another thing I, and indeed everyone on Earth, has learned, is don't piss off the tax department.
I should add, I've never tried to scam Centrelink willfully, any trouble I've ever had with them has been with trying to frantically report my erratic income correctly, invariably failing, and then getting the dread 'please explain' letter from Centrelink, and having to attend the office to sort it out.
So back to the woman at the tax department.
She then says: "Okay, so you need to do a return for this year and last year. When can you do it?"
To which I replied: "Does it matter? It's already a year late, isn't the fact that I'm going to do it enough?"
"No", she said, "I need an agreed filing date, or the tax department will commence legal action."
WHAT? Legal action?! To recover what? I don't owe the tax department anything from my two returns, what were they planning to take I cannot even conjecture about, my surfboard (Net worth $100), or perhaps my car (net worth: even less than my surfboard).
[I've now filed the two returns, my taxable income for 2013 was $1,400 and for 2014, $480.]
So at this point I just wanted to be off the damn phone and a million kilometres from this mess, so I took a guess, "how about two weeks from today's date?"
She then pecked at her keyboard and then said: "Okay, that will be fine Mr Barker, you will file your two returns by September 8, and that will mean we don't have to commence legal action."
"Fine", I grumped into the phone.
The woman then came close to death by saying, "Is there anything else I can help you with today?"
WHATTTTT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!???????????, I screamed mentally, 'help', that's a laugh.
And 'else', that's laughable too, she hadn't helped with item one.
I wanted to answer, and by cripes it was a close thing, "Yes, it would greatly help me if you go out into the street and hurl yourself under the next passing bus and f^%&-ing well die."
Thankfully I didn't say that.
Instead I just ended with (and this is honestly what I said), "No, you've already done enough to increase my mental illness for the duration."
Then I hung up on her.

However, what it now meant was that instead of going surfing, or riding my bike, I had to now go home and find all the paperwork needed for two years of tax returns.
And just as I was contemplating that less then fun activity, Susanna, came over to my desk and said "there's a letter for you".
She nearly died as well.
It was hardly Susanna's fault, but clearly I was already gun-shy of letters.
The picture shows my state of mind more than adequately.
I saw with a sinking heart that this letter was from the NRMA, I say sinking, because this could only mean spending more money.
Sure enough it was a cunningly worded invitation to register my car for the next year, price for the Green Slip for this year was $400.
"Oh, for f%^*'s sake", I screamed internally.
Apart from anything else, all this was happening in winter, when I don't have much gardening work, and so my extra income is low: scratch that, nil.
So once again I rubbed my fevered brow, which was now rapidly developing grooves.
I gave a lugubrious sigh and decided well first things first, I better go and find all my paperwork for the tax.
I better at least do that.
But then just as I got up to go and do that, my phone beeped, indicating that I had a message.
I opened the message.
It was an automated message from my gym telling me that my autopay gym fees would be coming out of my bank account in three days.
It's only $34 but in the context of the above, it hit me like a Mike Tyson haymaker.
I sat back down at my desk and this time put my head in two hands.
This indicator of the disbursement of $34 may seem odd to many of you to get so upset about, but I can only say that when your income is as low as mine, even small things like this can be tipping point the likes of which lead to letter carriers returning to their place of work and firing rounds from a submachine gun at the assembled multitudes.
That's where the expression 'going postal' comes from by the way.
And man I was homing in.
So then I finally got up to go and find my paperwork.
But as I was walking out the door of my office, my phone beeped again.
I nearly jumped over the porch at the front of our building such was the state of my nerves, however this was a small good thing.
It was a gardening client, Amanda, asking if I could come and mow her lawn.
My manic Monday, with the tax department and other stressors on my mind.
Excellent, a little bit of money, so I texted her back and suggested I come out the next day, Tuesday of last week.
She agreed, and then I put the phone away.
I went to my place and began digging out paperwork, not enjoyable, but at least I had the promise of a little money coming in from Amanda's mow.
Well, that was all fine until about seven pm that night when a storm broke over the area the likes of which would have made Noah start hammering faster.
Most of us like being indoors on a rainy night, and I generally do, but this night as I watched the water tumble down I knew that I would not be mowing for a while.
A duck may have (just) made it across Amanda's lawn, me with a mower, never.
So I went about my business, with the tax thing looming over my fragile state of mind, and no work to speak of.
Then toward the end of the week things began to dry out and I got the text to go up to Joanne's place at Possum Creek and mow her lawn.
So Saturday I loaded up the car and off I went.
Joanne has/is been very valuable to me as a client, and never more so than now.
I told her of my money woes and the damn tax department, and she very generously agreed to pay me in advance for my next mow.
Terrific, I was slightly ahead.
Then with things drying out, my phone went nuts.
First Raelee at Suffolk Park called me, so I arranged to do her lawn on the Monday.
Raelee very conveniently lives next door to Amanda, so I teed that up as well.
Great, two lawns for the Monday.
I should preface this next bit by saying that to keep my mental illness stable I try to never to more than two lawns in a day.
However rainy periods are quite stressful, as often the first sunny day after a long period of wet, makes my phone ring with people wishing their lawns mowed, and then me, desperate for money, has to do more than two in a day.
And so it was, that on this Monday, I was just getting organised when the phone rang.
It was another valued client, Terry, asking if I could come down and do her lawn in Ballina today.
I hesitated, but then figured that Suffolk Park and Ballina were at least in the same direction, so agreed.
However, I have two lawns in Ballina, and so now this meant that I better do that one as well.
I phoned my other Ballina client, Caitlyn, and thankfully got through, she said, "yes", do the lawn.
So off I went, down to Ballina, two lawns done, then back in the car, back up the coast road, and into Suffolk Park.
Across two more lawns then finally homeward bound.
Tired but with the satisfactory feeling of having earned some money.
This picture shows me far to the left of the road.
So it was probably no surprise that this was the day that there was a traffic accident and I joined a nose-to-tail line of traffic inching slowly toward town.
No one likes traffic, but I suffer more than most because of my typically 'Lachlan' car: AKA falling apart, held together with duct tape, every day a new thing wrong with it.
When I bought the car my friend Tom told me that it had a leak in the head gasket.
However there is a treatment in it, a sort of gunk, that flows around the engine block and seals the leaks.
It works OK, but I have to check, and fill usually, the radiator before I drive even one kilometre.
So inching along in traffic is very stressful for me as it is the time when the most strain is on the radiator.
To alleviate this, each time we stopped dead, I turned the engine off.
[BTW: if you've ever wondered about the fuel consumption issue for doing this, if you're engine is off for more than forty five seconds, then you save fuel by switching off. Less than this and it's better to keep the engine running. Of course it's a gamble each time you switch off if your going to be stationary for more than 45 seconds.]
Another quirk I have though is that when stopped, I like to pull far over to the left, well away from oncoming traffic.
This is some odd fear that I'll be sideswiped by the oncoming traffic while still.
It doesn't make much sense, but then not much of mental illness does.
So at one point I pulled to the left and switched off, coincidentally next to a line of five garbage bins that were out on the curb for collection.
While sitting there, three motorcyclists came up on the inside to pass through the traffic jam.
The first two scraped through with a bit of effort, but the third rider was an immensely fat man on a true wanker-mobile, a fully decked out Harley which looked like it weighed as much as my car.
Bike and man probably would have gone over on the truck weighing scales.
Next thing I know he says, "could you have got any further over? Move your car", in an aggressive tone of voice.
WELL!
Most of my trouble in life has been with depression, but I've had my temper incidents I can assure you.
One week at soccer for Sydney Uni I received the ironic Golden Handbag from a team mate, Steve Wade.
This award is given out each week for the stupidest thing done on the field.
An own goal, a bad tackle giving away a penalty, or something equally silly.
I got it for "inciting a riot".
We were playing an ethnic team with several hundred supporters on the sideline, dwarfing our own support of a few student's girlfriends.
I was put through on goal when an opposition defender grabbed my shirt and pulled me back.
Instead of running on, breaking his grip and scoring a goal, my temper launched in a millisecond, and I turned on the defender like an angry bear, and began remonstrating with him in the fiercest manner.
Their crowd stood up, things were getting ugly, and it was only the cooler heads among their supporters, and ours, and good control by the referee that stopped St John's oval being the site of a bloodbath.
I make that point because as this guy on the motor bike spoke to me so aggressively, the rounds of temper began to roll into the chamber.
My hands began to shake, the adrenalin flooded, and I was within an ace of getting out of the car, grabbing my pruning saw or mattock, and having a word with him.
However, thankfully, I seem to have learned something about life.
Only took me 49 years, but better late than never.
I quickly realized that having an angry incident here while stuck in traffic would not help me.
I would be upset and shaking for the rest of the day.
Also, he could see my numberplate, and minor though the fear was, I knew I would then always wonder whenever I parked my car if this guy would see it, recognize the plate and vandalise my car.
Also, and this is truly the power of bloggery, I knew I would be able to write it down here, and give my side of the story.
So I gave him a stare that would have ignited metal, then switched on and moved my car over.
He then said 'thank you' and rode off.
I'd like to think my stare gave him some semblance of understanding that he was dealing with a nutjob, but you can never know.
Anyway, I do feel better for having written it down, and I do feel better for not having got involved in an angry incident that could have had longer term ramifications in my life.
And I'll close by saying you can do no worse than check out the South Park episode where they deal with Harley riders.
The well made point of the episode is that because Harleys are unnaturally loud, (the emission control is scant, or non-existent, on purpose) everywhere the riders go, people turn to stare at them in annoyance at the thunderously loud disturbing-the-damn-peace noise they make.
The Harley riders in the episode say, "They must all think we're pretty cool, have you noticed that everyone looks at us when we go by?"
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Everyone turns to look at them because they are a bunch of wankers, not because they are cool.
And none more so than the one who I interacted with in the traffic.
See you next week for yet another ration of moaning about the state of the world and my position at the bottom of the financial tree.