Xander and Nico's 2005 Christmas Letter

23 December 2005

Cat Lying on Windowsill, 21 December 2005.

(No, that photo isn't upside down. Xander likes to lie on the window ledge with his head hanging like that. He takes after his Mum. He's strange.)

Well dear readers, 2005 has been another year of highs and lows for both Xander and myself. As hard as it is to believe, Xander is now two-and-two-thirds years old! He shows hardly any kittenish behaviour - and that's just fine with me. I don't think I could handle a little bouncing ball of fur constantly getting under my feet and chewing on things. No, Xander is more partial to naps together, a comfy lap to sit on, and "helping" me when I'm cooking (helping consists of sitting next to the kitchen bench, keeping a watchful eye on proceedings, and waiting hopefully for samples to taste!). But he's gorgeous, and now he's fully grown, it's apparent
that he doesn't actually have a weight problem - he's just a very, very big cat (He weighs a bit over 7 kilos - that's 16 pounds).

As for me, 2005 went by in a blur. They say that the older you get, the faster time goes; I didn't used to believe this, but now I can attest that it's true!
I'm not as interesting as Xander, nor as attractive (I tell a lie; I'm not attractive at all), so I'll keep this to a few points:

  • It was the year of working dangerously. Five years after leaving university, I finally got my first permanent job. It's not exactly the life I pictured for myself when I was younger, but who the hell wants to live that life anyway? If we all lived the lives we imagined for ourselves when we were 14, I'd be married to some, or all, of the members of Take That now (hang on, apparently Katie Holmes is living the life she pictured for herself as a child...) Anyway, I've attended my first conference, seen the truth in a cartoon, and realised certain facts of life.
  • I kept not one, but two, of my New Years resolutions. To cut down on my drinking, and gain weight. I'm quite proud of myself for the first; the second followed automatically. Now I need Regurgitator to record a new song - "Blubber Girl".
  • My age has finally caught up with me this. I no longer look nineteen; all of a sudden, I actually look like I'm nearing thirty. Which I am. I've accepted this, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.
  • I've lost none of my propensity to illness and injury. Apart from several bad bouts of flu, I didn't get terribly sick this year, but I did manage to slip in my bathroom, cut my head on the rim of the bathtub, and need five stitches. Oh yeah, and there was that little stomach problem that - trust me on this - you don't want to know about.
  • Sadly, I didn't get to travel this year, at least not as much as I would have liked. I got up to to Port Macquarie in August, but apart from that, a few trips to Sydney was as far as I wne. But I'm a real homebody, so it was probably for the best.

    Well, that about it. If you're really keen to know how the year unfolded, knock yourself out going through our archives. Thank you to each and every one of you who takes the time to read this, and if you find what I've just written nauseatingly sappy, don't worry; I'm usually very cynical and bitter, and this is an uncharacteristic change of pace.

    All the best for the festive season, and we'll see you in 2006.

    Love, Xander and Nico.
  • The Miracle Fat Cure That Business Big Wigs Don't Want You To Know About*

    21 December 2005
    Recently, I've been compiling a list of web search referrals to the Pod. I'll be publishing a list of all the interesting ones soon, but I have to say, by far the most common referral is a search for "Alexander Downer Fishnets". I mentioned this 1996 episode, where the Alexander Downer, the Foreign Minister of Australia, posed in fishnet stockings for a magazine shoot, in a post several months ago. Obviously, I wanted to include a photo of this, but despite an extensive web search of my own at the time, I couldn't find one.

    But Now, I Have.

    Continuing our tradition of bringing you cutting edge news and opinion (okay, okay, just blathering on week after week), Xander and Nico present... Downer in fishnets!

    Where did I track it down? Actually, it really wasn't hard...it just required a little "creative" searching. I leave it to you to take up the challenge, if you so wish.

    I'm reminded of the old cliche, "A week is a long time in politics..." It's almost 10 years since that photo was taken. It's hard to believe that that could be the same man as the grizzled old warhorse we see today.

    As for politics, regular readers may be wondering why I haven't been writing about political issues lately. There's two main reasons: firstly, because it's good at this time of year to take a break, and in any case parliament is on summer recess at the moment. Secondly, it's because having been writing and thinking about these things all year, I've become exhausted and disillusioned about what's happening to the country. But, after the break, I'll be back to my pontificating self in the New Year - in fact, I'm looking at setting up a media watch blog (and will be looking for bloggers to help out - watch this space!)


    I finished my Xmas shopping yesterday, thank Cow! I waited until late evening, when the shops would be less crowded, then took a deep breath and went for it in one long, get-it-over-with session. It's not that I resent buying things for people, or spending money (Lord, no); just that I can't stand to be in crowded noisy retail spaces at this time of year.

    Anyway, all I have to do now is wrap the things. I'm going to approach this the way I did the shopping - one marathon effort (likely on Friday night, when I can at least drink whilst I'm wrapping). Wrapping gifts is not my forte. To the extent that it's a running joke amongst my friends, none of whom are any better at it than I am. It's just that whenever I try to wrap presents, my hands behave as if they have no fingers and ten thumbs, the sticky tape acts in ways which it's manufacturers never intended, and even those little pre-formed bows come undone. The results look like what a five year old who insists on wrapping up the macaroni necklace he made for Mum in kindy would come up with. On top of this, if you've ever attempted to wrap presents in front of a curious cat who likes to be near you at all times and loves playing with paper, you'll understand that Xander puts rather a handicap on the matter.

    Check back here tomorrow, for Xander and Nico's year in review/Xmas letter...I was going to put it in today, but I know that people tend not to read everything if you put more than one topic into a post (and how do I know this? Because that's what I do!)

    *You've by now realised, of course, that this title has nothing to do with the post content. But I've always wanted use a title like this, and if you're still reading I'm impressed.

    Loving Bill Bryson

    15 December 2005
    I've been reading Bill Bryson'sA Short History Of Nearly Everything this week, it would have to be one of the most amazing documents I've ever read in my life. Exactly as has been said, it will change the way you look at the universe forever (sounds like a cult or self-help book doesn't it?) It's taken me nearly all week to read, because I have to keep stopping to think about what I've read (just imagine me with eyes trained over a thick paperback, looking up, staring glassy-eyes into middle distance for some seconds, then saying softly "...wow". I'm normally a speed reader - I once memorably read IT in six hours on New Years Day a few years ago - but this, I need to take my time over. I feel like I've learned more in a few days of reading this book than I did in seven years of high school science classes (which wasn't a great deal, though admittedly I did biology rather than physics or chemistry for HSC. In any case, I can't remember much of high school at this late stage).

    Christmas Sneer Cheer

    13 December 2005

  • For the last few days, I always seem to have the same Xmas carol running through my head, even though the only ones I've heard have been in shopping centres. This seems to be a Hooked On Xmas hangover from my childhood. (Incidentally, the other day I saw a CD advertised as "The only Xmas album you'll ever need". I was unaware that I even needed one).

  • According to some trashy current affairs show or other (I wasn't paying attention to which one), Australian Xmas retail spending is $20 Billion each year. That's $1,000 for every man, woman and child in Australia. I'd like to know where my share of the money is going. I've never had $1000 worth of Xmas presants, and I don't know anyone else who does either. Admittedly, our family has never been big on gift-giving, but still. I'd like some expensive presents some time!

  • Apparently the local pet shop is looking for people to foster their kittens (and puppies) over Xmas. I love this idea, but I fear Xander will not be so keen...in the manner of any settled young adult male who sees that a baby has arrived in the house, I imagine him peering disdainfully at the new kitten, then looking at me as if to say, "It's my Xmas too, and you brought me this?"
    EDIT: I went into the pet shop yesterday (Tues) afternoon to inquire about this. I was informed the pet shop provides everything, all you needed was to pay a security deposit, the sale price of the kitten. I said, "That's okay, I have everything to look after a cat except the kitten food, and I can buy that." It turns out, the only thing they don't want you to have, is other pets. Surely an existing cat owner would be better to look after a kitten than someone who doesn't own a pet? Seems like they don't care how well their kitties are looked after, as long as they don't lose money. Poor kitties. Yet another reason why, I'm glad we got Xander from the RSPCA and not a pet shop.

  • I'm still pretty sick. I've got a horrific cold and feel as though my head is going to explode. Everyone in the office has a summer cold; you ought to hear the place. Last night I kept waking up in a panic, unable to breathe. I don't like taking psuedoephedrine - the way it makes your heart race - but I think I will anyway, just so I don't feel like this anymore. Luckily it's pretty quiet at work. Just 10 days till the holidays...

  • That's Why It's Called The Silly Season

    09 December 2005
    This time of year brings much misery to people like myself and my cat, who despite the weather like to get around wearing a gorgeous furry black coat. Because it's summer, which in Australia is accompanied by Xmas. My opinion of Xmas has never been high (though I get into the sarcastic spirit occasionally) and I'm not a keen fan of summer either. But we often overlook it's good points. Apart from the usual suspects (abundant summer fruits, the ocean), here are some of the less frequently acknowledged benefits of summer:

  • No need to hunt for the tea cosy as you stand bleary-eyed in your kitchen making a pot of tea in the morning.
  • It doesn't matter if you don't have time to blow-dry your hair before you leave for work; it will sure as heck be dry by the time you get there.
  • Friends may say, "Just take some paracetamol and you'll be fine!" if you try to use flu as an excuse for not going out, but no one argues with a bad sunburn.
  • You can sleep in, hang the washing out at 1pm, and it'll still be dry by dinner time.
  • Total fire bans are a great excuse to ditch that mosquito-riddled BBQ in favour of a nice restaurant.
  • No need to jump up and down trying to keep warm at the taxi rank or bus stop after a night out.
  • Should you get lucky on said night out, you won't be mortified at the clothes-removal stage, when your partner sees that you're wearing a thermal under your outfit.
  • Winter shoes need to be polished. Summer sandals do not.
  • Lastly...whilst you may find it hard to sleep at night if it's hot, if like me you have a cat who likes to sleep in your bed, you may find yourself having a better nights sleep when said cat decides it's too hot to sleep with you, and slumbers near the fridge!

  • And yet...winter is easier to deal with. You can simply put on more clothes to warm up. And heaters are cheaper than air-conditioners. I've never gotten cloud burn or cool rash. As the temperature goes up, IQs go down. There's a reason why few of the nation's noted thinkers hail from Darwin. Queensland has not acquired it's reputation as the state of the sublime and the ridiculous due to it's temperate climate. The things that matter in Australia get done in the south.

    Adults get too excited about summer. It's a sort of childhood-hangover from the days when summer meant two months to yourself. But Alice Cooper never recorded Office's Out For Summer. There comes no great day in mid-December when the last bell rings, and you run, whooping with glee, out the door, shredding your files and smashing your laptop (though that was possible in the late 1990s, if you worked a dotcom). And you don't return in February to find you've got a nice new supervisor (better than last year's supervisor, anyway) and you've lucked out with a cubicle that's near your friends.

    Nonetheless, I'm going to enjoy my summer holidays. I'd better, as thanks to the Government's IR reforms, it looks like my first proper paid summer holiday could be my last. There is one drawback though...whilst I'm off work I'll have little internet access, so I may have to put The Pod on a summer hiatus. But I don't like this idea. Hunting for a solution...

    On the death of Van Tuong Nguyen, and the Death Penalty

    01 December 2005
    More on the pending execution of Van Nguyen.
    Before I go on, I'll just say, in relation to an earlier discussion in the comments, I'm not seeking here to explore the international politics of the situation. This is my emotional response, not an analysis of international law. Anyway...

    This morning on the front page of The Newcastle Herald, there was an "Execution Timeline" outlining how Nguyen will spend his final hours, until 9am AEDT tomorrow (6am Singaporean time, 10pm Thursday GMT, 5pm Thurs EST in the U.S.) when the noose will be placed over his hooded head, and the trapdoor beneath will be released. 30 minutes later, a doctor will check for a pulse before declaring death.

    That's one of the things which has shocked me so much about this - how cold it all seems. When you hear a statement like "...and lawyers say it now looks all but certain that Van Nguyen will die tomorrow", well that seems utterly chilling. Yes murder is a terrible thing. But to have it out front like that - that a person will die, tomorrow, not because they're old and sick and doctors say that there's no more they can do, but a healthy, young man due to a deliberate, planned, methodical decision of the state - to me that is just the worst of humanity, far more barbarous than anything any individual could do.

    EDIT - And then that odious Piers Akerman writes bullshit like this (I will not excuse the language).

    In a sad coincidence, the US is now about to conduct it's 1000th execution since the death penalty was re-instated in 1976. What you may not be aware of are the circumstances which led to the US re-introducing capital punsishment. It was not due to any public out-cry for re-instatement, nor to the election promises of a politician on a law-and order platform; rather, it was the actions of one insignificant armed robber, Gary Gilmore, who would now be forgotten by all except the families of his victims, if not for one thing: Gilmore did not appeal his death sentence. The US Supreme Court had ruled in the 1960s that the death penalty constituted cruel and unusual punishment, so even though death sentences were still handed out in courts at the time, they were automatically commuted to life imprisonment on appeal. Gilmore chose not to appeal (his psychiatrists unsucessfully tried to use this as proof of suicidal behaviour) and thus faced a firing squad. And capital punishment was back in action in the US.

    Of course, what I've just written in a very simplified account of the circumstances behind Gilmore's case and the re-introduction of capital punishment; to read more, follow the links. But consider this: The US first abolished the death penalty during the same era as most other "first-world" countries, and today is the only "western" country that retains it. It was re-introduced, not because of a public call for it, but because of the possibly unbalanced actions of one petty thug. 998 others have been executed in the US since then, and has a single life been saved due to the death penalty acting as a deterrant? I won't go into that sociological debate now.

    I'll be honest. Until a few years ago I did support capital punishment for "worst-type" offenders. But then I read a magazine article, interviewing the families of Oklahoma City bombing victims ahead of the pending execution of Timothy McVeigh. Most, of course, wanted him to be executed. But I'll never forget a comment made by a father whose daughter was killed in the explosion. The father said of Mc Veigh:

    "If I am to go on with my life, I need to be able to forgive him. And to be able to forgive him, I need him to be alive."
    Would that all humanity could show such grace.

    The Last Chance to Save Van Nguyen

    29 November 2005

    There's not a lot I can say about this, with so much that has already been said. There's an excellent website,
    Australia Unites, which has a case background, news links and an petition you can sign, for what it's worth now; even though it seems like all hope is lost now, "as long as there is life, there is hope" and in any case, no matter what happens, in signing the petition, you can record your disgust about the execution.
    So what I want to post here, is something I posted on the Necro forum:

    Regarding this case, I felt an emotion I never expected to feel: I felt sympathy for Ray Martin.

    Allow me to explain...

    Last week I was channel surfing, when I happened to land on A Current Affair (which I don't normally watch, The 7:30 Report being rather more how I prefer to get political insights). But anyway, Ray presented a clip of the family visiting Van in prison, then went to the results of an SMS poll of viewers, question being: "Do you believe that the Singaporean Government is justified in executing Van Nguyen?"
    The results were 56% YES, 44% NO.

    Ray then remarked, "Well, that's a very close result..." (No, a 12% margin is not a close result. But the thing is, I've seen Martin comment on polls with much closer margins, where he has been in favour of the majority decision, as being "overwhelming majorities". Anyway, I'll go on...)

    Ray continued, "How can we expect the Singaporean government to change it's decision, when opinion at home is so divided?" He was visibly upset. I've watched a little more of his, as I'll call it, "execution coverage" since then, and it's clear that Ray Martin himself is NOT in favour of the execution, that he feels it's rather barbaric, and so I felt sorry for him, being so upset by the unexpected opinions of his audience, in light of the rather sympathetic covereage that ACA has shown towards Nugyen.

    But then it occured to me, my sympathy is rather misplaced. Not in the sense of feeling sorry for Ray Martin when I should be feeling sorry for the poor young man's family (though of course I do) but feeling sorry for Martin, being suprised by the reaction of his audience. HE has created an audience of right-wing, ill-informed reactionaries, by presenting stories on single mums robbing the system, prisoners living in luxury, etc. And now he only has himself to blame, for the fact that those viewers now believe that the death penalty is just what Nugyen deserves.

    Well, that was my opinion on the forum. I can't say anything more. It just upsets me too much. But I will be observing a minute's silence, even if by myself. Please sign the petition, if you can't do the same.

    Cloud Goes Up, Cloud Goes Down

    21 November 2005
    Hello work week! Well if you're tired of processing data (that's me!), or memorising the periodic table for your science exam, or whatever it is that you're meant to be doing, here's another bloated, multi-subject post to sink your teeth into. (NOTE: actually sinking your teeth into your monitor is not recommended; it will leave unsightly bite marks in the plastic, and may chip your teeth).


    Well I had a rather culturally improving weekend; on Saturday, as I often do, taking myself off to the Newcastle art gallery to see a new exhibition I'd been looking forward to, Margaret Olley's Newcastle. Olley, considered to be Australia's greatest living painter, painted many landscapes of Newcastle in the 1960s and 70s, and the exhibiton is really worth getting along to, especially to observe the astonishing changes to the city skyline between then and now.

    There was an even greater treat at the gallery though -
    Francsico Goya's Proverbs; his last, unfinished series of etchings. Well, they were breathtakingly wonderful. A series of proverbs for which Goya had each created a whimsical etching, blending naturalism and fantasy. There was so much detail in each picture, I could have examined them for hours. Unfortunately, I only had limited time on Saturday, but I will be going back - the exhibit is free, and runs until January - and I heartily recommend to any of you that you do the same if you in any way get the chance!

    Thus inspired, I headed down to
    Eckersley's to get some art suppiles. I've started a new visual journal (just because I have no artistic talent whatsoever, is no reason for me not to enjoy doing it). I think I understand why I abandoned my old journal, which I haven't updated at all this year; as an A4 book, it was too intimidating. Filling up each page seemed like too daunting a task. But I did love doing it, and I've always kept a private diary and I really missed it. So for this journal I bought an A5 hardcovered sketchbook. I figured I'd be more likely to start creating pages if I knew that I had a good chance of finishing them. And sure enough, over the weekend I did create several layouts. I'm still finding my feet, but once I've created a few things I'm really happy with, I'll scan and post them here...


    You know I love to share tales of the human stupidity I witness on a depressingly regular basis. Here's another.
    A few doors down from my house, there was a video shop which recently and suddenly closed down. Now, it's obvious to any half-awake person that the shop has closed. You can see through the windows, that the shelves are empty and the lights are off; there was a large fluro "OPEN" sign near the front door that is now extinguished, there's a heavy bolt on the front doors, and in the door is a large handwritten "CLOSED" sign.
    Well, what you'd expect is that customers arriving at the building would see all this, think "Oh, it's closed down" and walk away. But no.
    I've seen people walk up to the shop, passing the windows, with the aforementioned empty shelves, and reach the front door. Despite the sign and the bolt, they usually approach the doors several times, as if the automatic mechanism wasn't working; then they try to shake the bolt; then usually stand there for a good few mintues, as if expecting that at any mintue, the staff will arrive, open up, fill up the shelves and it will be business as usual.
    I saw one couple - who looked like sensible people, the kind with professional jobs -stand outside the front doors (after the standard lock-shaking) for fully ten minutes, before walking about 20 metres away...then the walked back, to give those doors just one more try.
    I really have to be grateful for the amusement I've had lately, just staring out the window and observing these imbeciles.


    Well, it's the Australian Idol Final tonight. I know, I can hardly stand the excitement either.
    Although it's hardly an original observation, this season of Idol hasn't exactly set the world on fire. Ratings are way down, hardly anyone is voting (there was a big to-do a few weeks ago, when the bottom two contestants were only seperated by - gasp! - only 27 votes. Actually, I've since heard that in reality, there were barely a few thousand votes overall). It isn't just the music industry insiders who are dumping on Idol; a columist in the Weekender noted that she hasn't watched much Idol this season - "And in past years, just the sound of the title music was enough to get my heart racing."
    The problem is, the idea of having multiple seasons of Idol is based on a flawed premise. Although with, say, Big Brother, you can always find another twenty or so morons who are willing to "sell their soul to Channel 10" to quote
    Skye, subsequent series of Idol are predicated on the suppositon that somehow, somewhere, there are 30+ talented singers, capable of having healthy recording career, who for some reason were completely overlooked in the auditions for previous seasons. This clearly doesn't hold up; and apart from the people who turned 16 in the current year, making them eligible to audition, at some stage the talent pool in the country has to be exhausted.
    At any rate, whoever wins tonight...is probably going to wish they hadn't. Consider the past history of winners vs runners up in terms of career success. I can imagine Kate and Emily standing on stage tonight, waiting for the big announcement, staring at each other and thinking, "Let it be her, not me!!!"
    But I'm only imagining that. As you can probably guess, tonight I'll be watching something else.

    The Greatest Night

    17 November 2005

    Being a soccer fan can be a long, hard, thankless task.

    Bt there are moments, moments which transcend mere sport and become truly highlights of your life.

    Last night was one of those moments.

    After 32 long years, Australia have qualified for the World Cup!!!

    Rather than giving a
    detailed review of the game, I'll just give you my highlights, watching at home.

    When Marco Bresciano scored towards the end of the first half, I was so excited I leaped out of my chair and bit my hand (which I always tend to do at moments of high excitement, I don't know why). However, this meant that the score was now 1-1 on aggregate, and Australia needed to score again to qualify. This didn't happen, not in the second half nor in extra time, and you could tell that the Uruguayans were really beginning to flag. The commentators said the game was Australia's for the taking, but they couldn't quite get that chance, and it ended with the dreaded penalty shoot-out.

    I don't think I took a breath during the entire time, until John Aloisi kicked the fourth ball into the net. "They think it's all over...it is now!"

    I didn't get much sleep last night -too late, too excited - and Xander spent the night hiding under my bed, unable to understand why his mum had turned into a shouting, jumping maniac; but it was worth it. I only wish I could have been there for the game, but financial and career constraints made that impossible. Well, now I can start saving my money to go to Germany...

    NOTE: I had a longer post planned, with lots of photos, but photo hosting is playing up ATM. I hope I can fix this up soon.

    Thanks God It's Friday - I Can Have Whine

    11 November 2005

  • Finally, the heatwave we've been suffering under for the past few days has broken. I'll give you an idea of how hot it was on Wednesday: at 5:30pm I put out a load of laundry. Now, the spin cycle on my washing machine doesn't work very well, so the clothes were still pretty soaked. At 6:30pm I went out to the bins, and checked the washing on the line; most of the lighter items were dry, and even the heavy towels were no more than slightly damp. Now that is a hot day.
  • The arrival of summer also means the non-ratings period on the TV. That means, for those of us too poor for pay TV, we have nothing to watch for the next few months than re-run, mostly American, drivel. Ugh! It seems to me to be a chicken-and-egg situation; is no one watching because the programming is so poor, or is programming so poor because no one is watching? I plump for the former. Think of all the free time people have over the Xmas/New Year break, and especially with the long school holidays; surely if there was something better to watch, wouldn't people be in front of the TV? As it is, I think the local video store (well, DVD store - for some reason, despite the supremacy of the DVD, people still refer to "the video store") will be making alot more profit from myself in the months ahead.
  • The title of this post refers to the fact that, for some bizaare reason I can't remember, I've given up drinking during the week. This at first led to an unexpected side effect - feeling much worse the next day, as I wasn't sleeping well. I bought a bottle of valerian, which helped somewhat, but is really no subsitute for a few cleansing vodkas before bed. Last night I cracked, and had a couple of beers. It should have been a wonderful thing after a week of sobriety, but in reality it just meant a night of poor sleep interspersed with frequent tips to the bathroom. Get completely trashed or don't bother at all, that's my philosophy from here on!
  • They always say that the first part of you that ages is your hands. It's certainly happening to me. I may still get asked for ID (and last week I was actually refused purchase in a bottle shop because my ID is out of date, and "you don't look 18"!) but my hands look like a those of a woman who's approaching 30 and has led a somewhat dissolute life. Lush have some good handcreams (see my previous post) so I must check them out!
  • Don't you hate it, when you stumble across a great website, don't bookmark it, and then can never find it again? It happened with the graphics site which I used to create the title of this blog. I can't remember how I found it, and subsequent searches (using lots of different keywords), checks of my net history etc, have failed to locate it again. I have absolutely no idea what the site name was, and have given it up as a lost cause.
  • My job involves alot of analysis and number crunching. Whilst I love the fact that I don't have to deal directly with the customers, anything to do with numbers does not come easily to me, and I really need to concentrate. Unfortunately, the sales staff are continuously popping into my cubicle with questions, updates, problems etc; with the result that I lose my train of thought and have to start over (which I really don't have the time for). I'm too timid to ask people to stop interrupting me...man, I wish I had my old office! But it's been converted into a "relaxation room".
  • I've just come across a likely candidate for "stupidest customer ever". One of the sales people faxed a contract to a customer, with an X in the box for her signature, and a handwritten note saying "please sign here" in the space below. So where did she sign? Right beside the note. I bet all her friends wear "I'm with stupid" t-shirts, and she doesn't understand why...


    Well it's the 30th anniversary of the
  • Whitlam dismissal. I was going to write a brief analysis, but there's been so much else written on the issue elsewhere. I'll just provide you with a few good links:
    ABC News summary of events
    Interview with Gough Whitlam
    Interview with Malcolm Fraser

    Also, it's interesting to reflect on the fact that Malcolm Fraser is now revered as a champion of human rights, republicanism, reconcilliation - everything, basically, that the current Liberal government does not stand for.
    Barry Jones, ALP Federal President, has said that if Fraser wanted it, he'd be granted life membership in the ALP but said "I think Fraser is more of an independent." In any case, here's a story on the relationship between Fraser and Whitlam now...

    When Bad Rock Groups Turn Good

    07 November 2005
    This morning I saw Grinspoon performing on Seven Sunrise. Is it just me, or is seeing Grinspoon "up and attem" at 7:30 on a Monday morning rather disturbing? Let alone on commercial breakfast television?!? Okay, sure, three of them have kids now. But still. I had a good look at them, and I couldn't tell if they'd gotten up really early, or whether their performance was one of the last stages of an all-nighter. I was a pretty big fan of Grinspoon in their early days, but like with everything else, I just gave up about four or five years ago. I thought it was fairly prescient that the Grinners referred to Eskimo Joe as "Eskimo Blow" in the lead up to the ARIAs, Grinspoon never having won an ARIA award (The guys were also pretty scathing about losing out to Killing Heidi a few years ago, I might add). EJ may have critical acclaim now, but it's a point to keep in mind, that in the late 1990s, when Grinspoon had built up a respectable career and fanbase, Eskimo Joe were basically regarded as a novelty song band. Just because they can now release a song like "To The Sea", doesn't mean that some of us can't remember shouting out the lyrics to "Sweater" whilst off our faces!


    My main achievement of the weekend was to...break my blender.
    Political analysis I can do, but remembering a simple thing like, "After you put ice cream into the blender, take the spoon out before you switch the motor on", is apparently beyond me. Anyway, the motor is utterly wrecked, and the major cog which holds the jug to the base vanished somewhere in the kitchen, never to be seen again. So I can't even fix the damn thing. I would have to break the blender at the start of summer, wouldn't I? I rarely use the thing in winter; occasionally I'll make soup. But in summer I use it every day to make frappes and smoothies, and to crush ice (it's often called into cocktail service on the weekends as well).
    Dammit, I'll just buy a new blender. At $6 a pop for a frappaccino thse days, that's only 5 lousy GJs or Starbucks drinks, when I can make much nicer ones myself at home!

    All Hail the Goddess of Weekends

    04 November 2005
    I can't remember the last time I was this exhausted at the end of a working week. Even now, I'm still at the office past quitting time, because after finishing my "real" work, I have to complete all the myriads of status reports required by modern business. This won't be a very long post; I want to get out of here as much as you do.

    Weekends have been great, ever since the decision I made a few weeks ago, to stop trying to make plans, organise outings etc. That way, I'm not setting myself up for any let downs. Basically on Friday evening I stock up on all the food, alcohol, DVDs and whatever else I'll need, then I go home and Xander and I bunker down. I only leave the house to get the newspaper and any essentials I've forgotten, unless there's a special event on, like Necro. This may sound awfully boring and lonely, but it isn't; and it's better than calling people to make arrangements and finding that they're all busy, or worse still, waiting for the phone to ring. (I usually switch my phone off, turning it on once or twice a day in case someone's left me an urgent message.)

    We're happy, the little guy and I, being weekend hermits like this. I read, do puzzles, paint, do some embroidery, write...(and clean the house!). He loves having me there. Although now that summer is upon us, I'm finding dead cockroaches all over the house, clean as my house is. Xander is an excellent roach exterminator; I just wish he was as good at disposing of the evidence. Sure, I could use roach spray to prevent them getting in the house, but it worries me. Bug sprays say on the can that they pose no threat to domestic pets, but how can I be sure? Has anyone ever done any long term studies on whether the use of insecticides causes, say, an increase in the rate of feline leukemia in five or eight years time? I'd rather not take that chance.

    The only thing I really miss on the weekends is the internet. I feel so cut off without access to friends blogs and journals, and to email. (And I feel like it's a waste that there are times when I could be earning neopoints, and I'm not). But having the greatest social life in the world wouldn't change that. And who needs a great social life anyway?

    Okay, now I've finally turned into the mad cat lady I always feared I'd be!

    The Hole Problem

    03 November 2005
    Local readers may well be aware of the Big Black Hole in Sydney. For the rest of you, welcome and allow me to explain...

    Basically, what happened is that at approx 2am AESST yesterday, there was a rock collapse in the construction of the Lane Cove Tunnel, leading to a 10 metre crater in the ground...with a block of apartments, situated above the construction site, left hanging over the hole. More on the story
    here; it's a pretty good overview, although I normally use ABC news for my links. This is a temporary link.

    The hole below the apartment block.

    Have you ever stood on the top of a high diving platform? And looked all the way down to the water? That's how deep 10 metres is...over 30 feet. It's a big hole.

    An aerial view of the apartments, perched above the hole.

    All the residents were immediately evacuated, and no one can say when they might be allowed back in; although there have been assurances that the building is not about to collapse, yesterday there was hourly updates on the news of the balcony at the front corner of the building, which you can see in the lower left-hand conrner of the above photo. Hour by hour, we watched it sag further and further, as the surrounding walls cracked, until finally at 18:30 AESST yesterday, it collapsed into the hole.

    The balcony gives way.

    This morning on the breakfast TV shows, they broadcast slo-mo "action replays" of the balcony collapse, which I though was just dreadful. It wasn't just the balcony that collapsed, but the entire front room; you could see people's personal possessions falling along with the balcony. Sure, it may make for great TV - I've heard commentators remarking on the "amazing footage" and "spectacular scenes" - but these are real people who lived in this building, about 50 of them, who had to suddenly flee their homes in the middle of the night, with no time to collect any possessions, and who face the prospect of losing everything if the building does collapse or require demolition (the latter is looking more likely at this stage).

    The scene after the collapse

    Engineers are pouring thousands of cubic metres of quick-drying concrete in an effort to fill the hole, but as I've pointed out, that's one big hole. Now I never studied engineering at uni, nor even physics at high school, and I know nothing at all about it. You could tell me that the Opera House is built on a foundation of fencing wire, and I'd believe you. But I've grown up in an area prone to mine subsidence and earthquakes, and I've seen quite alot of buildings under construction. So I'm left to wonder...why aren't the engineers putting up solid metal struts, to secure the walls of the building which are still on solid ground?

    This has caused yet more tunnel related problems for the State Government. Not least, because this building is situated on one of Sydney's major arterial roads, leading to traffic chaos - there's no word on when the road will re-open.

    Well, I'll continue to update the situation as it comes to hand (or you can follow the news links to see what's happening during the 18 hours a day when I'm not online...)

    The Melbourne Cup - Much Ado About Nothing

    02 November 2005
    Well, the Melbourne Cup has been run and won for another year. If you want to get an idea of all the hype there was, see here. Me, I was utterly nonplussed by the whole event. First of all, because I don't gamble, ever (sorry to be a wowser...but I think that if there's one thing on Earth that truly is a sin, it's gambling. Okay, bigotry and gambling). 

    IR Reforms Show Coalition's True Colours

    28 October 2005
    The Australian Goverment's proposed industrial relations reforms, which they have called "work choices" (you've got to admire the Orwellian synchrinocity of the moniker) may be one of the worst things to ever happen to the average Australian. Now, I've often labelled things that the Howard government has done as being dreadful for Australia. When they were first elected, shortly before my 17th birthday, I wrote a long, impassioned essay in my diary (no blogger in 1996!) about how dreadful it all was. I debated with myself as to whether I should transcribe that essay here, but decided against it; it's poorly written and rather banal, and in any case, at that age I was capable of only abstract criticism, not cohesive analysis. But I do remember, several months after that election, when our local Medicare office had been closed, massive job cuts had been announced at the ABC, and in the public service, and it generally seemed like Australia was going to hell in a Prada backback (that joke made sense in the mid 1990s, trust me) saying to my mother "Since the Liberals were elected, it seems like things are worse than they've ever been."

    If only we knew.

    The provisions of the Work Choices legislation - no matter what their website says - mean scary times ahead for the average worker. The main point for me, is that workers, instead of being protected by union awards, will now have to sign "workplace agreements" to negotiate their working conditions. Howard has said no worker can be sacked for refusing to sign an agreement, or refusing to agree to the conditions laid down by their employer...but he's also said that if an employee doesn't like the terms of their agreement, they can always look for another job. (Does anyone else hear the adolescent echoes of "While you're under my roof...and if you don't like it, you can move out"?) Where are we supposed to go?

    There was another little detail of Howard's comments I found almost charming, in reassuring us of the 1950s mentality we've come to expect from little Johnny. When an interviewer put it to Howard, that younger employees may be too intimidated to negotiate workplace agreements, Howard said (sic), "There's no reason why the [younger employees] couldn't take a lawyer, or their father, or older brother to the negotiations." (I guess Mum won't cut it, huh John? And notice that he didn't say they might bring a union delegate!)

    Of course, we can always rely on Clarke and Dawes, and their segment on Thursday night's
    7:30 Report for a spookily accurate light touch on the Government. Here's their take on this legislation...

    Well you can read more on these legislative changes if you like (lord knows, I've given enough links). Though I ask you to please sign this to register your disapproval.

    But it gets lots worse. The government are also trying to introduce anti-terrorism legislation that includes unprecendented governmental proposals in terms of stop-and-search powers, racial profiling, and even (until it was
    blocked by the state premiers a shoot-to-kill provision. Clarke and Dawes, again...

    And what's more - what's perhaps the worst - the Government was attempting to introduce these Bills on Melbourne Cup day itself, and the next day.
    I weep for the sorry state of the
    federal opposition, but they've made a pertinent observation in accusing the government of being drunk with power in attempting to do this, and I have to agree. Since the 2004 election, when they gained control of the senate, there's been no checks or balances on the Government and I think most of us lefties are afraid; afraid of what Howard and his ilk will do, afraid that Labor cannot possibly manage an election win in 2007. John Howard will have to retire eventually, and that will leave us all under the evil empire of the Smirk...

    One last thing.
    I don't believe in compulsory voting. I believe voting should be voluntary, because let's face it, most people don't know or care much about politics; to them, "politics" means "men in gray suits in parliament house" and not the issues that affect our lives. And I don't believe that the future of our country should be in their hands, because they simply want to avoid the $20 fine for not voting.

    Well, if you're now feeling as angry as I am,
    go here to punch John Howard!

    The Wonder of My Hair

    24 October 2005

    Well, as I've been describing, I'm growing my hair out (I had waist length hair for about five years, until I had it cut into a short bob in August 2004). This has now reached the "very annoying" stage; my hair is just too short to tie back, and hangs on my neck, getting sweaty and caught in my shirt collars. Also, it looks really shaggy, because it's several different lengths where the layers are growing out. Now the sensible thing to do would be to go to the hairdressers for a trim. But, as I think I may also have mentioned before, I'm terrified of the hairdressers. I'm much too timid to get my point across, so when I get in the chair and the impossibly perky hairdresser says "So, what are we having done today?", I smile nervously and murmur, "Just a trim, thanks."

    At which stage the hairdresser usually looks personally wounded at this insult to his craft. "My darling," he says, with accompanying hand gestures, "I don't do trims. You wouldn't ask Peter Costello to do the school tuckshop budget, would you? I have a vision for you. You will look gorgeous."

    Then comes the scariest bit of all. He smiles and says, "Trust me.".

    And all I can do is nod and then slam my eyes shut against the fear.

    Moments later, I hear furious slicing, chopping and otherwise mangling of my poor hair, which never hurt anybody and certainly doesn't deserve this. On and on it goes, until finally the stylist steps back, beaming, and I gingerly put my glasses on, to view my almost-bald visage in the mirror.

    "There you go dear!" exclaims the stylist. "Or do you want it a bit longer?"
    I feel like crying and screaming. If I had any nerve at all, I'd leap to my feet, turn over my chair, and yell, "Yes I want it longer! But it's a bit late now! I look like an eight year old boy! YOU IMBECILE!!!.

    But I'm gutless, so what I do say is, "Um, that's great, thanks very much" and pay meekly. Usually I even leave a tip.

    Of course, I have had hairdressing disasters that were not due to poor communication or over-zealousness. You know you're in trouble if, towards the end of your haircut, the stylist stands back and mutters, "Oh...damn. Uh...you know, I think you've got the kind of face that would look great in hats!"

    So, forgive me if I look a bit scruffy for awhile longer.

    Working Hard, Or Hardly Working?

    20 October 2005
    Yes, I'm still busy at work.

    Which is why I'm within a hair-trigger of walking into the boss's office, screaming "I QUIT!", and storming out.

    As you may know, I'm employed on a permanent part time basis. But lately, I've been working full time hours. I'm on a salary, so I don't get any overtime. What is supposed to happen, is that I get days off work in lieu. But everytime I try to take a day off, I get phoned at 7:30am and told "We really need you into work!" so I go.
    You may ask why the company doesn't employ me as an official full time employee. Well that's because our parent company is about to be fully privatised (you've figured out where I work, haven't you?) and there's a hiring freeze. Actually, several people in our office have been made redundant, and I'm now employed part-time to do the job that two full time employees used to do.

    Anyway. You can understand that I'm poor, and I'm bitter; I am sick of working so hard, and ending up financially little better off than I would be on unemployment. I'm normally a pretty timid person, happy to work extra without complaining, but this is really reaching "last straw" status. I'm contemplating going back to uni (though can I live on student money at my age? Anyway, everyone hates mature-age students, I know I did when I was 20) and wondering whether I should just have a summer of leisure in the meantime. Lord knows, Xander would be happy. He's never grown out of being upset when I leave in the mornings - and he's nearly three now, hard as that is to believe (those of you who've been following the blog from its early days will remember when he was a tiny little kitten!). He sees me taking my keys off the key rack and putting my coat on, so he knows I'm about to go; some mornings he wraps himself around my ankles, sometimes he blocks the front door with his body, sometimes he just wails pathetically, but his message is the same "Mum, the office can go hang. You should stay here." And he is right.

    Because this is ridiculous.

    That's my rant done with!

    Quote of the Day

    19 October 2005
    "Different politicians handle you in different ways, but [Tony] Abbott has always handled us the worst.
    He tries to ignore you, which is fantastic. First, it makes him look petty - which isn't that hard, let's be honest - and second, it gives you a free go at him.

    Sometimes, you feel sorry for politicians when you ambush them. With Tony Abbot, you never, ever feel anything but fantastic. Being an a***hole to that man makes you feel like a wonderful human being."

    -Chas Licciardello, from The Chaser. No wonder I love those guys.

    For more on Tony Abbott, see here at Cotard's blog (language warning - but utterly justified, and utterly hilarious).

    Jury Duty

    11 October 2005
    Well my little chicks, you may be wishing me goodbye for a while. I'm not going to be at work...I've been called up for jury duty. A few weeks ago, I got the letter telling me I was on the jury roll this year, but I was quite surprised to, a few days later, receive the letter telling me that I'd been empanelled.

    Of course, it's easy to get out of jury duty; the fact that I haven't tried will tell you something about the dullness of my job, insofar as that jury duty seems a preferable option. And I say this, in light of the unpleasant experience I've had at the Newcastle Court house...not as a defendant (I was always too smart to get caught, haha) but as a member of the public. When I was doing Legal Studies for HSC, we went on a class trip to the courts; intending to witness minor matters, but ended up at the scetencing hearing, of a woman charged with murder after throwing her baby at a wall. Well, you can imagine the effect that that had on a group of 17-year-olds...all of the girls were crying, and a lot of the guys looked close to tears, too. Anyway, citing what he called "a life of extreme privation", the judge scentenced her to three years, so counting time served, she would have been released by 1998. It sickened me then, and looking back, sickens me more now.

    But I won't be facing anything like that this time. For a start, it's highly unlikely I'll actually be selected for duty; since I've known I was up, whenever I mention to people that I've got jury duty, they always remark how they've been up, but never empanelled. Also, I think that the defence selectors will pick up on my extreme prejudice against, well, absolutely everyone, and knock me off. (I suppose I could get out of it by wrapping my head in aluminium foil and, when questioned, say it's to stop the aliens from stealing my thoughts). But if I do get selected, so what? I'm actually hoping I am; I'm looking forward to it. It's only District Court, so it will only be a fairly moderate matter (I just hope it's not a drugs trial, I think I've heard a case of that nature is coming up in the court soon, and I may well know the people involved) and in any case (pun intended!) I'm always looking for new experiences to write about. Nico, ace court reporter, coming soon!

    All The Trouble In The World

    06 October 2005
    The latest Bali bombings have really hit home. Most of the Australian victims are from Xander and Nico's own home town, Newcastle. There was a large group that travelled together, organised through a local college which my 16 year old step-sister Leasa attends. I went to my father's house for dinner on Monday night; the people from Newcastle killed are the parents of her friends; and she was very, distressed. I might ask if she wants to go to the service for the victims tonight.

    I've heard it repeatedly said on the news that Newcastle is a "city in mourning". Well, yes and no. People are keenly aware of it, but no one talks about it; it's as if it's just too much to bear.

    It was eerie watching the footage of the victims arriving
    home in Newcastle, because the scene is so familiar. There they were, being wheeled on stretchers through the same ambulance bay as I was myself last May following my fall. When the TV showed one horribly injured man raising his bandaged arms to applaud his carers as he entered the hospital I cried and cried (and am still crying now).

    It makes me sad to think of the younger people I know (and the ones I don't) growing up in a world where terrorism fears are considered a normal part of life. They no nothing else but the terror level alert. But maybe it was like this at the height of the Cold War, with fear of the A-Bomb. I don't know. Maybe then, it seemed like that was how the world was always going to be - how could it ever change? But the Cold War
    did end, and we can only hope that one day there is no more terror threat either. Yes, I am aware that the politico-economic circumstances of the Cold War are entirely different to those of the War on Terror. But that's not the point I'm trying to make; just that I wish that I could say to the people who think that we've always been afraid, that the world wasn't always like this, and we must pray (in whatever way we can) that one day we will all feel safe again.


    There's more to the Bali connection for me, even than that.

    Friends of mine were planning to go to Bali. It was only after
    Shappelle Corby was convicted that they decided to go to Queensland instead (there was nothing Xenophobic about it - all of my friends are pretty left-leaning open minded people - they were just too afraid of what might happen to them). So if it wasn't for that, they would have been in Bali on Saturday night. Forgive me, I can't write too much about how that would have been; I can't even think about it.

    The Dumbest Question Ever

    28 September 2005
    Australians are notorious for looking for the "Australian connection" in anything. Bill Bryson has supposited that this is because the rest of the world doesn't pay attention to us, so we have to pay attention to ourselves. But it does reach ridiculous proportions.

    Another Day, Another Dollar...

    26 September 2005

    Which is pretty much all I'm left with from my pay packet after taxes, bills and bus fares.

    But I shouldn't complain too much about my job. After all, today there's a reflexologist coming in to the office, and I can enjoy a reflexology appointment, not only that I don't have to pay for, but I'm actually getting paid whilst I receive it. How many people can say that? I'd rather it was a neck massage though, I've been having alot of problems with my neck and back lately (oh, the perils of age!)

    It was just a sedate weekend, I met Boof and Funky in town and we planned to go to the markets, but once we got there we were too tired to bother looking. They asked me did I want to go to dinner that night, but I couldn't really afford it, as I'd splurged on the Red Dwarf series one DVD, finally! I do like the later series better, but I decided to start at the beginning and collect the whole set. Other than watching that, and a lot of football, it wasn't a weekend to write much about, so I won't.

    Boof, Funky, Geoff and the other guy are going to Queensland for ten days. This lead me to the horrible realisation that they won't be here for the NRL Grand Final. This made me...well, not cry, but certainly I was on the verge. We always watch the Grand Final together! I feel like an adult daughter who's always enjoyed going home for Christmas, only to discover that this year, her parents are going to Europe. (Of course, this wouldn't apply in my family. Apart from anything else, the only reason my parents would be travelling somewhere together is if they were travelling to the World Ex-Spouse Bickering Championships).

    Mark Latham, You Bloody Idiot!

    16 September 2005
    Before I start this post, let me just say I'm on the record here as having been a staunch Latham supporter in the past.

    Latham, mid-2004

    That's all over now. Shall we proceed...

    Well, Mark Latham, former leader of the Federal Labor party who resigned in January,
    four months after losing the election, has published his diaries, basically spewing
    venom at Labor, the Liberals, the Federal Press Gallery, and everyone else. Normally for
    a story like this, I'd have links so you could read all this yourselves, but I must say,
    this has been one of the hardest stories to
    Google that I've ever done. Links are broken or missing (for example, the official Pariliament house website's link titled "Member for Werriwa gives you this), and where active, are often to subscription-only newspaper services.

    Now, I haven't read the book yet. No one has; it isn't released until Wednesday, and
    excerpts have been tightly controlled. But I have read his From The Suburbs, and
    you can find my review in my
    December archive on the 14th (sorry, no post permalinks) and I wonder if the diaries will have such a turgid style. But I did see the Enough Rope interview last night, and I think that all that needs to be said is there. It's being re-broadcast next Monday at 9:30pm; also there's apparently going to be a transcript on the website, as soon as Legal gives the all-clear (News Limited apparently tried to block the screening last night as they hold exclusive serialisation rights to the diaries over the weekend).

    So I'll let you make your own judgements on that. My remarks at this stage (and this will make sense if you've read or seen the interview) is, "Mark, your family is not the entire Universe...you could easily have made a statment after the tsunami. And yes, you have driven people away from Labor. If you hate them so much, why are you still a member?"

    Hasn't someone aged?

    Latham, September 2005.

    Celebrating The Chaser

    15 September 2005
    On the Chaser forum, there's a thread for people to suggest their own items for the newsbar. Here, in no particular order, is a selection of my favourites (in order to get the full experience, may I humbly suggest you turn your head sideways and scroll down the page to read them):

    Unfunny Chaser headline lifted from The Onion

    Channel 9 defies Ptolemy, Copernicus: Declares Eddie centre of universe

    Australian Idol Reject Finalist leaves with dignity

    Andrew Bolt fired for objective journalism, goes quietly.

    Kerry O'Brien nails politician with absurd hypothetical

    Mid-morning news presenter listens to guest, asks unprepared question

    Lateline interview finishes without 'running out of time'

    Sensitive new age male student secretly downloads Paris Hilton sex video

    Glen Robbins: ‘I am ready to win a gold Logie’

    Viewer still confused over Mick Molloy’s digs at Steve Vizard on The Late Show

    Bob Ellis predicts Kim Beazley victory, still not joking

    Irony of phrase 'Two Party Preferred' not lost on National Party

    British TV show spoilt by viewer constantly guessing where he had seen actors before

    Elderly bus passenger walks through entire bus, to exit from front door

    Teenager finds pornography oddly less tempting after 18th birthday

    Stupid email question writer told to 'just bloody Google it'

    Apathy Society apparently 'not worth joining'

    Roller shoes' market share stumbles, falls, breaks wrist

    Radiohead to release feel-good hit of the summer

    Thom Yorke announced as Gillette’s new face, wrists.

    Woman gets Foxtel Digital Sky News UK just to understand Dead Ringers jokes

    Dead Ringers fan points out you don't really get Mad TV's jokes either

    Australian Idol contender feels urge to rearrange classic for no reason

    Olivia Newton John releases new album: Fund My Retirement Please

    Womyn looking for a real myn's myn.

    Nico’s cow-orkers do not go out of their way to make her life more difficult

    (Okay, I made the last one up myself)

    Howard's Telstra Moment

    08 September 2005
    As you are probably aware, if you're reading this in Australia, the main political story in the news at the moment is Telstra; the government wants to sell its remaining 51% share in the company, but are having problems, because the new board of directors, headed by Sol Trulijo, are basically coming out and saying that the telco is up a long creek with no paddle, riddled with problems. Apparently John Howard, our honourable PM, has been aware of these issues since August 11, but it's only now being revealed.

    Spring, Where A Young Man's Fancy Turns Lightly To Thoughts Of The Cricket

    01 September 2005
    I'm sure it won't come as much of a surprise to any of you that I'm not a cricket fan. The Irish tend not to be fans of the sport. But as I see it, cricket has little to recommend it. At least if you hate the football, it's over in two hours. Cricket can go on for five days and at the end, there still can be no winner. People have tried to enlighten me as to cricket's supposed charms, but with little success. I have a friend who is, in all other respects, a sensible and highly intelligent man, but is nonetheless enthusiastic about cricket, who spent a patient two hours last summer attempting to explain the cricket to me whilst some test or other was on. Sadly, I was paying very little attention to what he said, because all the time he was talking, all I could do was stare at the TV and think, "Darren Lehman's got bosoms!" (I must grow up. There's a TV commercial for a door sales company that runs regularly around here, and I get the giggles every time the announcer gets to the part about "lock, knobs and knockers").


    Anyway, to cheer everyone up, here's Xander:

    As I'm sure you all know, there are certain things you cannot do in life. You cannot carry on a sensible conversation in a nightclub; you cannot make a waiter notice you before he or she is absolutely ready; and you cannot make a cat look at the camera if he doesn't want to. Especially not Xander, who knows what I'm trying to do whenever I get the camera out, and tears about the house in all directions to make capturing his image as difficult as possible.

    I Want To Dialogue With You About Utilising Resources

    30 August 2005
    If that sentence made sense to you, you've been spending too much time at the office and I recommend you take a mini-break; Port Macquarie is quite nice. Alternatively, you could take a week off work with horrible stomach problems, but I don't recommend that so whole-heartedly.

    I don't know about you, but as I look around my office I see signs of brainwashing everywhere. There's slogans on posters and sticky notes and every kind of promotional gizmo you can imagine. Mission statements, value statements, customer service charters, visions: all encouraging the harmless office serf (that's me) to become one of the crowd, blend in and toe the company line. Does that sound familiar? Yes, I fear my company, like so many large corporations, is actually a cult. Consider this:

    * Cults separate you from the rest of society... companies make you work so many hours you never see the rest of society.

    * Cults make you wear unattractive outfits... Companies make you wear unattractive outfits too, except on casual day, when they make you wear casual unattractive outfits.

    * Cults want all your money... Companies want all your intellectual property.

    * Cults make you chant... Companies make you answer the phone the same way every time.

    * Cults teach you to clear your mind of all independent thought... Companies make you attend meetings.

    Spooky, no? Of course, I'm not saying my company is a cult. Now if you'll excuse me, apparently someone has put free drums of Kool-Aid in the break room.

    On Attending My First Conference

    16 August 2005
    Last Friday I was off to Sydney to attend my first-ever conference. Few of my friends have corporate jobs (mostly teaching, nursing, trades etc - real skill and caring needed, two things I will never have) and so they were under the impression that attending a conference was somehow glamorous or at least exciting. You're probably way ahead of me on this - it's not. For a start, read the phrase "business travel" carefully. Also, few of the world's corporate high-flyers travel to conferences on CityRail (but how else was I going to get there, really? I wanted to get the XPT, but there wasn't one at a suitable time. At least the company paid for my train fare).

    So it was in slightly less than a chirpy mood that I arrived, and did the rounds of meet and greet. There was also a major concern to my mind - our company's Sydney offices are located in the Australian HQ building of a major American company, with the logo prominently displayed, in the centre of the CBD. Call me paranoid, but sometimes I can't help worrying about terrorism. On top of that, although it suprises alot of people to know it, I can actually be very shy sometimes and having to make endless small talk, in a business environment and under management scrutiny, was very difficult for me. (And, she reports bitterly, there weren't even any sandwiches).

    I won't bore you further with the details of the conference itself. You can get the drift of it from any Dilbert book, or just imagine fifty bored admins slumped in chairs hearing "Core changes to customer focus...drone, drone...paradigm reorganisations of strategic alliances drone, drone..." Suffice to say that by the end of it, I don't think hearing the words, "You've won $15 million on Lotto!", would have been as welcome as, "Okay, we're finishing an hour early today..." I could barely restrain myself from pumping my fist in the air. It meant that I got a chance to do some shopping. I immediately headed to Lush, as I badly needed some Fresh Farmacy. It's the only thing that has ever worked on my alternately dry and oily, and always ugly and red, skin. It's so good that I was planning a trip to Sydney solely to get some; now I won't have to. After that, I tried buying other stuff, but I felt so self-concious in my business attire - like I said, I'm more at home in an amusing t-shirt and stripy socks and carrying a tattered backpack - that I went home.

    And I have had enough of trains for a while!

    Sunday I headed along to town to see the much-vaunted Market St Markets...which are supposed to "revive" the Newcastle CBD. Now, few people could wish this to happen more than myself, but I just don't know if these markets are the thing to do it. I found them pretty standard market garb, and there weren't many stalls. Certainly nothing I'd consider worth making a trip to town for, and I enjoy both markets and trips to town. I fear that the Newcastle Alliance may have to think of something else.

    We finished off the weekend with a cleansing ale at the Brewery. Much talk and laughter.

    Finally, I've made the decsion to grow my hair long again. It seems to have stopped falling out, and is getting quite thick again, so I should be able to manage it. Long hair just suits my clothes and my general style more, and I found it was actually easier to look after - just tie it back, rather than having to worry about washing and styling it every day (I washed my long hair as often as it needed it, in case you're thinking I'm a soap dodger. But it did need washing less). Also - and all my own research has found this, even though they may initially deny it - most guys do seem to rather prefer women with long hair. I realise that this is a sweeping generalisation, but there it is. At any rate, these days I need any advantage I can get.

    Anyway, what they hell? If I don't like it, I can always cut it again. Even if I am doomed to spend the next few months looking very, very shaggy as it grows out. Must resist temptation!

    The Holiday Post

    10 August 2005

    Town Beach, Port Macquarie...this was actually taken at about 2pm, although it looks like early morning.

    Okay, I've finally gotten it all together...culled from my notebooks, camera and memory, here's my account of my holiday (this may take awhile to read, so you might want to get a drink before you settle in...but did you expect anything less?).

    Newcastle was looking a bit sad under a grey, drizzling rain as I boarded the XPT for Port Macquarie via Wauchope on Thursday afternoon. On a mid-week afternoon, out of season and with school in session, I'd expected the train to be half empty, but to my consternation I had a seat mate. So I sat, squashed, for about an hour, till I got up to visit the ladies and realised that everyone was bunched up at the front of the carriage, to make life easier for the on-board staff, and the rear carriages were empty. So I grabbed some seats to myself, sprawled out, and settled in to enjoy the journey. The train journeyed inland up into the mountains, before heading back towards the coast. We passed through Maitland, Dungog (I considered visiting my old friend at the museum there, but sadly there wasn't time), Gloucester...and by now I badly needed a cigarette. A beer wouldn't have gone astray either, but there was only lite beer available on the North Coast services for some reason - regular beer being freely available on all other Countrylink train services. I decided just to forgo this, and the on-board meals, and wait till I arrived to get a drink (it wasn't easy!).

    Eventually the train arrived in Wauchope, and I took the connecting bus for the 30 minute journey into Port Macquarie. It was dark by now, and the grey drizzle at home had turned into a rather steady rain, but I didn't really notice as we pulled into PMQ itself. I hadn't been there since 1995, and then with my parents, so my memories were a bit hazy. Anyway, the place looked far livelier than I expected, especially for a wet winter week night. I was pretty tired though, so I got myself a huge serve of deep-fried seafood, an even larger quantity of white wine, and retired to my lodgings for the night.

    So on Friday morning, I set off early to explore the town centre. I grabbed some breakfast, had a wander and checked house prices in estate agents windows. There were quite a few interesting shops, and I was amazed to discover several shops that sold Goth clothing. In particular, I was very taken to discover a full skirt made of variegated layers of velvet, most unusual and not the kind of thing that you'd find in Newcastle. Then I checked the price tag. $275. $275?!? I couldn't believe that Port Macquarie could support a market for that kind of thing. But I did buy a very inexpensive corset, and also some jewellery.

    All this was very well, but I wanted to get a feel for the "real" Port Macquarie, so I went into the town visitors centre to see what was on offer. I paid little attention to the brochures for camel rides, waterskiing and rainforest tours, but immediately was drawn to the literature from the Historical society. There was a well-mapped and easy walking tour of the town historical sights, so I set off on that. It took me up the hill from the town centre, towards the beach, where I stopped at an overlook that was the site of the town's original cemetary, where I spent a few suitably reverential minutes of reflection. Only four headstones remained, and three of those were too weathered to be read. I took a photo of the fourth, but it didn't come out.

    From there, I walked down to the beach, but it was too windy to sit and soak up the sun, so I decided to walk along the breakwater past the river back into town. Along the breakwater, I discovered something wonderful. It was lined with large flat rocks, and each of them had been decorated by a group of visitors or locals, with pictures, messages, welcomes or whatever else they wanted. Most of them were dated within the past three years, and there was suprisingly little graffitti. Here are some of the rocks I managed to photograph:

    This rock says, "It has better to have loved and lost..." etc, etc. Sometimes I think I would have preferred the never-loved part.

    I'm not sure what this is meant to be, but it's cute.

    "Got Nothing to Be Thankful for? Check your pulse!" I bet the people who painted this rock drink a lot of herbal tea and play the bongos.

    This is meant to be Sami Lukis, former Today Show weather host. I have to admire the effort, if nothing else.

    I love this idea...seems like a much better way to remember a friend than putting an ad in a newspaper which will just get thrown away.

    These rocks extended the full length of the breakwater, about 2km, and you didn't even notice how far you'd walked because you were too busy looking at them. There was one in particular that creeped me a bit...it was a couple describing how they'd been married at the headland one sunset, with bats and dolphins around. I had a dream only a few weeks ago that I was attending a stranger's wedding at sunset, on the coast, with dolphins in the water and bats in the air. But the thing is, this dream was very recent, and this stone was painted in 2004 on occasion of that couple's second anniversary. Spooky.

    Back in town, I decided to visit the local historical museum. I didn't have such high hopes after the Dungog museum - which basically looked as if three local men had cleared out their sheds after fifty years, put all the stuff in one room, and called it a museum - but the one in PMQ was wonderful (but then, I'm a sucker for this stuff). Anyway, I was particularly taken with the displays of antique dolls, replicas of the town in convict days, and an exhibit of bridal dresses and the brides of the local area throughout time. The museum even provided a rack of child-size wedding dresses, so little girls could dress in replicas of what they'd seen, which I thought was a wonderful touch.

    By now, my never-reliable energy levels were beginning to droop, so I went back to the flat for a nap, before getting some dinner and - foolishly - deciding to give the local nightlife a try. I say "foolishly" because on my stroll through town earlier that day I'd only seen two buildings that may pass for clubs, and they were both labelled, "nitespots". Nonetheless, I wandered into the closest hotel, however right away realised it was a mistake. I was the oldest person there. And I mean I really looked like the oldest person there, even though I often get asked for ID at home. That was something odd I noticed about PMQ - there were hardly any people in their twenties. Lots and lots and lots of retirees, quite a few families with kids, what seemed like an abnormally high number of teenagers, but the whole time I was there I saw barely anyone my age. I guess unless you worked in a shop or in tourism, or had a trade, all the twenty-somethings from PMQ had had to leave to get work in the cities. Also, there's no university there, which might otherwise keep people in town a while longer. 

    At any rate, I left the pub without a drink, went back to the apartment, and finished off the wine in front of Big Brother Up Late.

    The next day I nursed an appalling cheap-wine hangover, and basically crashed out in front of the TV. I know that was a waste of time and I should have done something more interesting to write about, and I'm sorry.

    Anyway, it was with quite irrational excitement that I boarded the train home. Even that short amount of time away was too much for me. I wonder if there is some sort of prize for the most homesick, home-bound person on Earth? But of course there couldn't be, because no one nominated would want to travel to the awards ceremony. It's a pain, really, be being so attached to home and reluctant to travel; it basically means that, unless I get over it, a career in politics is out. But is it really so wrong to just feel happiest and most comfortable at home with Xander? On the train that day I kept thinking that every turn of the wheels was bringing me closer. But that novelty wore off fast, and I spent the trip doing puzzles (I wrangled a seat to myself again...though may I just say, those tray tables are a bitch to write on, and more so if you're left handed). 

    I did notice one interesting thing on the way home...the number of people who came out of their houses to wave at the train, not just kids but people of all ages (though once again, no twenty-somethings, and few teenagers this time). I hadn't seen this happening on the journey north, as it was dark before we really got into the boondocks. Anyway, I'll refrain from making any condescending lefty comments, and just say this: Will someone please give these people something to do?

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