Learning from top to bottom

18 December 2018
2018 has been a year of learning and growth for me. So I could really relate when I saw this in one of those best of 2018 in Tumblr things

2018, love and other catastrophes

13 December 2018
Hey everyone, I've been on a bit of a blogging break cause I've been kinda busy. It's safe to say the past few years haven't been great for me, leading to such delightful low points as running down a Central Coast street past a bunch of pensioners in broad daylight with my underpants around my ankles*.

2018 was the year everything changed.

The "colonies" are not a threat to you. They're protection for us

05 August 2018
Aw man, I was taking a break from blogging. See, I'm writing a memoir. I know I haven't done much, but "O.J. Simpson wrote a memoir, and the jury said he didn't do anything at all"1. Anyway, I have no delusions about getting it published; I'm just going to whack the thing online when it's done, and I'm not going to tie anyone up and force them to read it, and I could, cause I went to the gym a few months back, and even had a little go on one of the weight machines, and I think I'm still pretty pumped.

Disability welfare reform must start at the top

05 July 2018
Yet another terrible story of a seriously ill person being told by Centrelink that they don't qualify for the disability support pension.

Single father Robert Laughlin is battling stage 3 bowel cancer. He's currently in a Melbourne hospital, unable to speak or move much, and being fed via tube; obviously unable to work or look for work. Centrelink have denied his Disability Support Pension application, forcing him on to the lower rate Newstart unemployment payment, with its "mutual obligation" requirements to report to Centrelink offices and apply for 20 jobs a fortnight.

Pens down

25 June 2018

Today is a day I thought would never come.

ABC bias and other urban legends

19 June 2018
The Coalition government would like to privatise the ABC. Of course they would, because they can't see the value in anything you can't turn a profit from, especially not one that allows the unwashed masses access to better investigative journalism, local news, drama, comedy, arts and music than they can enjoy on any of the free commercial networks.

This is what happens when you reach out and get help

15 June 2018
With the recent, much publicised suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, social media was flooded with messages urging anyone suffering depression or thoughts of self harm to reach out...get help. I know people mean well. But what help is there?

Baby boomers: change the system or end up in the terrible nursing homes you deserve

06 June 2018

I think I may have mentioned this, but I don't like neoliberalism.

That's okay, because most other people don't like it either. They just don't know it. But the ideology which has spread like a cancer through society for forty years - the ideology of maximising profit at all costs, cutting regulation, firing staff, user pays, and the hell with the values of compassion and decency that just get in the way of making money - they hate it. You can see it in the complaints about the terrible toll neoliberalism has racked on our society - everything from self checkouts, telcos sending jobs offshore so you speak to someone overseas who tells you your service won't be fixed for 6 weeks and can't conceive why that's a problem; TAFE unattainable and unaffordable, people with serious disabilities forced to look for work they cannot do, then they hate it.

The weird psychology of Barnaby Joyce and the Right

04 June 2018
Oh, for a skilled political journalist to have handled the Channel 7 interview with former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and his former staffer turned partner Vicki Campion last night. Then maybe we would have had some answers to the questions that really matter - or at least had those questions asked in the first place. 

No, regrets!

01 June 2018
I used to hate Mayim Bialik. Well, hate's a strong word. But I wasn't too fond of her, what with the whole presenting herself as a neurological natural parenting guru whilst having a bris ceremony for each of her of her sons. I'm still not on board with that but with the videos she's been posting lately, I kind of wish she was my best friend. Like when she posted this video about hating, or at least envying, the people who say they have no regrets. Cause she has a tonne, and she shared a few.

Mayim encouraged her viewers to share their regrets. And I could get on board with this cause Lordy, do I have regrets. Traveling is an exhausting and expensive affair for me cause of all this baggage I carry around. So here are some of my regrets. I'm not going to list them all, cause we'd be here all day and a lot of it's way too personal, but here's a taste of the car crash of emotions I call my life:

  • I regret not calling out a coworker for the appallingly racist email she sent, which I immediately and furiously deleted, on Sorry Day. 

  • I regret all the drunk dialing. Obviously. 

  • I regret pursuing a business degree I didn't want instead of the dreams of acting and writing I did want when I was young.

  • I regret all the times I didn't speak up for myself, all the times I thought oh well, maybe if I'm nice, the adversary in this situation will be nice to me. 

  • I regret not saving money in my twenties. But I was insanely depressed, so...(a lot of my regrets have caveats regarding depression). 

  • But, and this one has no excuses, I regret the time, at age 27 and on the verge of buying an apartment in Newcastle, I thought "I might give life in Sydney a try and buy property later". But no one expects the Spanish Inquisition, or that property prices would more than double since then. 

  • I regret all the concerts and festivals I missed out on in my youth because I didn't have friends who were interested, and not realising I could just go anyway, on my own.

  • In fact I regret so many of the things I didn't do. I was raised with not doing things as default mode, and it was kind of a pattern I stuck with for too long, thinking everything was too hard and nice to think about but not actually do. So I regret all the times I thought about study, or trips, or events, but did nothing about it. My ex husband cured me of this habit and I'm forever grateful for that.

  • I regret leaving the moulded ceiling fixture I so loved in my first adult house behind.

  • I regret all the books I never read cause I was scared to try anything new.

  • So no, I don't live without regrets. In fact I kind of think that to live without regrets means living without learning, or shame, or growth. (And I'm very familiar with both learning and shame). There's some growth there too, and not just in my waistline; I will now absolutely speak up for myself, complain, demand to see the manager, no more do I just give in. And I try to speak up when I see racism or bigotry. I'm now about to finish (last two weeks!) a degree I love that will give me, I hope, lots of opportunity to write about social justice and the things I care about. And you best believe I just do things now, when depression and money permits, even if that's just taking a ridiculously long trip on public transport to a model railway exhibit in some suburb you've never heard of. And if they throw in a sausage sizzle, I might go twice.

    What about you? What are your regrets?

    No more "good blokes": a call for guidelines on reporting murder

    17 May 2018
    Somewhere in Australia, right now, there is a man considering killing their entire family, and themselves.

    There may, in fact, be more than one. Probably is more than one, in fact. But we know it's a man; perpetrators of familicide, or family annihilation, are almost exclusively male. Maybe he's lost his job, gambled his way into debt, believes the world is an evil and corrupt place; maybe it's for no reason at all. For whatever reason, he's decided that he wants to die. Not only that, but that everyone he loves most should die with him. And why not? If he was to simply kill himself, he'd be leaving them with the debt, with the shame. For that, he may be remembered as a coward.

    But the man planning how he can wipe out his entire family can be sure that if he does so, that act of murder will not define him. He'll be remembered as a good bloke.

    Like Geoff Hunt, who pointed a gun at the heads each of his three children and his wife, and pulled the trigger. He was remembered as a lovely bloke, a hardworking family man, driven to despair over his wife's traumatic brain injury and sparing his family the pain of their unbearable lives. As with reports from the Margaret River shooting that one or more of the children have autism, the mention of disability adds to the redemption of the murderer; the stress of coping with a loved one's disability makes murder all the more understandable. And when the murder of the Lutz-Manrique children in 2017 was described as "an act of love", it tells us that the lives of people with disabilities are not quite worth living.

    Channel 7 journalist Robert Ovadia is apparently angry that people are challenging the good bloke narrative. Ovadia asks whether we need to spell out that mass murderers are bad people, before stating we need to leave Aaron Cockman, who described his former father in law, who'd murdered Cockman's four children, as a good bloke - alone.

    The people who needed to leave Aaron Cockman alone are the media who broadcast the words of a man who was obviously in shock hours after losing his children. But no one was challenging Aaron Cockman. They were upset and angry that yet again, a man who murdered their entire family was being remembered as a good bloke - in one case, described as such in the headline of an article despite no one quoted in the article describing him that way. 

    The NSW Coroner found that Geoff Hunt murdered his family because of an "egocentric delusion that his wife and children would be better off dying than living without him." That is how we should be talking about family annihilators. Not what great blokes they were. The man planning how he will kill his family does not need to know his actions will be rationalised, explained away, forgiven. In the murderous, egotistical scheme he's devising, he doesn't need encouragement to see himself as a hero.

    Do we need to spell out that mass murderers are bad people? Yes. We need to say that good blokes don't kill their wives, their children, their grandchildren. We need the next "ordinary decent bloke" who plans to slaughter his entire family to know he won't be remembered as a good guy. We have guidelines for how suicide is reported in the media, to discourage anyone who may think of copying; we need guidelines on reporting mass murder. Of course family are entitled to remember the deceased however they choose; it doesn't mean the media need to report it. When it happens again - and of course, of course, someone killing their entire family will happen again, cause the world is a bit shit - then at least we can know we are trying a bit harder, as a society, to prevent it. 


    14 May 2018
    This blog started life from the Xander and Nico pod, so yes I will post to wish my cat a happy birthday. When you have your own blog, you can post whatever you want.

    Onward Christian Hypocrites: The strange logic of Trumping God

    06 May 2018

    All truth is in the Bible

    I don't think there's anyone who, by now, does not believe that at some time in the last 15 years, Donald Trump had sex with Stormy Daniels. The details of who paid how much when to shut who up about what are all a bit hazy, but it's pretty much agreed by everyone that the President of the United States, weeks after his third wife gave birth to his fifth child, had sex with a porn star. 

    Not a good look

    01 May 2018
    I felt annoyed, kinda disgusted and above all, tired when I saw this photo of NSW Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham at a Greens trivia fundraiser. But I was just plain furious in the aftermath. 

    Why can't we have anti depressants that work?

    18 April 2018
    I had another mental health episode recently. You wouldn't know anything was wrong to look at me; no talking to angels or strangers. But inside, I felt dreadful; an emotional flu, spiritual hangover, psychological gastro. Without going into gory details, in weighing up my options and desperately wanting to feel better, I considered heading to hospital. But I didn't, because aside from not much being in the mood for boiled carrots, I knew there was very little they could do to make me feel better. Sure, they could give me some valium to take the edge off and make me sleepy for a few hours, but that was about it.

    Pharmaceutical treatments for depression are still stuck in the Prozac era of taking some pills, waiting three weeks and hoping for the best in the meantime; yet as I discovered there are other treatments which may well offer longer term cures; but the powers that be have decided we can't have them.

    When it comes to antidepressants, we really haven't moved pharmacology much past the Prozac Nation era of the early 1990s. There have been minor developments, tinkering here and there, but SSRIs and SNRIs remain the fundamental pharmaceutical approach to depression. If someone suffering severe depression seeks medical help, the best they can be offered in most cases is to take these pills and hope there will be some improvement showing in a few weeks time.

    There is some evidence that SSRIs are linked to increased rates of suicide, particularly in the early stages of treatment; whether this is because the drugs elevate energy levels before they improve mood, or due to another mechanism, is still a topic of intense debate in the psychiatric community.

    Perhaps the worst aspect of modern antidepressants - aside from the fact that they don't actually make you feel better - are the absolutely horrendous side effects when you quit using the drugs. Symptoms of discontinuation syndrome include dizziness, confusion, fatigue and the brain zaps which will be familiar to anyone who's suffered from them (you know when you're falling asleep and feel like you're falling? I had that happen when I was walking down the street. It wasn't so great). Nearly half of users who tried to quit were unable to because of the severity of symptoms. My current primary medication, Effexor, causes withdrawal symptoms within hours; this is especially grim when I run out of pills near the end of the fortnight and have to wait a few days to afford to fill the script.

    And when people stop taking them, they are still depressed.

    So I kept searching for answers and found myself in forums for people who felt just as bad as I did. People struggling with severe depression, complex trauma, PTSD, able to openly share how bad things were and what they felt were their options. And of course the subject of suicide came up; someone said how they'd been dealing with the fall out from sexual abuse for decades, they'd tried every treatment available and now they were ready to give up. And someone said to them, I understand where you're coming from but before writing life off entirely, please try DMT. It will change everything.

    N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) is a psychedelic compound found in the ayahuasca and other plants. It's been called the spirit molecule, an experience which cannot be expressed in words (although this very long and odd article from VICE tries). It's been used in South American spiritual ceremonies for centuries, and there's a tonne of testimonies online of people who have used them successfully to treat depression, anxiety and PTSD, but in Australia DMT is a Schedule 9 substance prohibited except for research purposes.

    Many online commenters suggested one should travel to South America for the authentic ayahuasca experience under supervision of a shaman, but if I was able to afford an overseas trip I wouldn't be so depressed, so that's out. There are DIY groups holding ayahuasca ceremonies in Australia, but you have to know they right sorts of people to be invited, which I don't, and anyway it all sounds a bit too much like ponchos and white guys with dreadlocks for my liking.

    What I would like, without having to break the law or learn Spanish or hear bongos, is to be able to take myself along to a nice, clean medical centre and access treatment that would actually make a real, tangible difference in the way I feel.

    The Greens yesterday launched their policy of legalising cannabis for adult use, a sensible move long overdue (and I don't even smoke the stuff and still won't if it's legalised; I just never liked the way it made me feel). But overshadowed in the fuss is the Greens calling for more research amid concerns that Australians are missing out on a global renaissance of psychedelic drugs used in treatment for depression, addiction and in palliative. Australia is lagging behind on use of psychedelic drugs in psychiatry and there are no trials underway, with authors of an article published in Australian Psychologist advocating for the research into their use lamenting the conservatism in academic and research circles (remember when Australia used to be a forward looking, innovative nation? Now we can't even have decent internet let alone medical research).

    Stephen Bright and Martin Williams write in Australian Psychologist that whilst a range of effective therapies have been developed for conditions such as obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder and phobias, current treatments for severe depression and PTSD are not as effective. Psychedelic drugs enjoyed a period of successful use in psychotherapy:

    First synthesised by Albert Hofmann in 1938, LSD [...] led to a paradigm shift in psychiatry as numerous medicines were developed based on this new understanding of the brain. In the context of psychotherapy, LSD itself was also found to be effective in the treatment of a range of mental disorders, including addiction, anxiety, and depression. Just one or two sessions of LSD-assisted psychotherapy were found to produce profound, rapid, long-lasting positive effects with little need for further interventions, unlike psychoanalysis which involved years of therapy sessions.

    But despite little direct evidence of ill effects, the recreational use of psychedelic drugs in the 1960s lead Richard Nixon to ban all use under the guise of the War on Drugs, despite the protests of psychologists and psychiatrists as to their therapeutic value. Moral panics were indulged, risks wildly exaggerated. We know now that the War on Drugs has been one of the largest and most expensive failures in human history, but as the rest of the world begins to wind back the prohibitions on therapeutic use of psychedelics, Australia remains stuck in moral panic mode.

    It seems that there are drugs out there that when you take them, can make you feel better right away and offer some long term relief from symptoms of severe depression and trauma. Can we have them please? The war on drugs has had many terrible effects in four decades, certainly one of which is that people struggling with severe symptoms of trauma and depression cannot access real relief. For myself and others like me, any risks have to be weighed against the risk of the days when I don't know if I should board the train I intended to take at the station or jump under it. Let's get the trials going; I'll be the first one in line. 

    The appalling legacy of Jocelyn Newman

    03 April 2018
    Howard government minister, political matriarch, social reformer and Godmother of Centrelink Jocelyn Newman passed away over the weekend at the age of 80.  Don't go to a Centrelink office to express your grief, though; security guards are trained to surround you if you cry. Instead, I thought we'd take a chance to reflect on Ms Newman's terrible legacy.

    Campbell Newman being interviewed (cropped)
    No, not him.

    When I refer to Jocelyn Newman as a social reformer, it is not a compliment. Ms Newman was architect and engineer of Centrelink, the interface of the Australian welfare system. Centrelink was established on Ms Newman's watch in 1997, combining several previous government departments such as the Department of Social Security and the actually useful Commonwealth Employment Service into a one stop shop of human misery. It's worth reflecting that it whilst the Liberal party claims to be for individual choice and small government, it was a Liberal government who created a horrifying byzantine bureaucracy. They labelled it all under the auspices of choice but for Australia's disadvantaged, the "choice" means submitting to the routine humiliations of Centrelink, or resorting to poverty and potential crime. And for all the rhetoric of a single government agencies reducing inefficiency, duplication and waste, the myriad sections of Centrelink are often completely separate from each other, unable to access each other's systems or even contact other departments.

    A full account of the miseries Centrelink uses to punish those who require its services would be depressing to write and tedious to read. The mainstream media brings us frequent accounts of Centrelink woes, sometimes ironically, such as in this article from the Daily Telegraph about the Welfare Super Bludger, which is not a really shit new children's superhero but a mythical recipient of Newstart allowance with the article highlighting one putative job seeker who stuffs up. (Apparently the guy misbehaved at 99 job interviews. How does anyone get 99 job interviews in a single year, let alone through employment service providers?!). There's little indication of larger issues, such as the cost of all the monitoring, the fact that people with disabilities are largely forced to rely on Newstart (and comply with "mutual obligation" requirements) instead of receiving the disability support pension let alone basic problem the ratio of jobseekers to jobs. 

    It all feeds in to the myth of the welfare bludger, whom everyone seems to know - any facebook post about the low rate of Newstart is flooded with irate commentators describing their neighbour who's been on the dole for years, spending all day playing video games, getting tattoos and going on holidays - triggering endless audits and crackdowns that but never shows up in audits. When there are not enough jobs to go around - especially with the loss of blue collar and unskilled employment - demanding job seekers comply with mutual obligation requirements is a farce. Requiring job seekers to show up at an office for a day a week applying for jobs that don't exist without addressing any of the reasons why they became unemployed serves little purpose other than to punish the job seeker for being unemployed in the first place. It's not at least giving them a chance or getting them out of the house; it is demeaning, humiliating and horrible.

    And today we won't even get started on the changes to granting of the disability support pension with insanely restrictive criteria forcing thousands of ill and injured people to deal with the job search system and providers with no understanding of disability - again, all to catch out the mythical bludger:

    "The best form of welfare is a job" is the homeopathy of social services. It doesn't work and it makes no sense, but its adherents cling to it with religious fervour and become defensive and angry when challenged.

    Jocelyn Newman cannot of course solely be blamed for the sorry state of affairs for Australian job seekers today, just as Centrelink cannot really be blamed for the policies they are forced to enact, like denying dying people the disability support pension. It's takes an entire government, and their mindset of the disadvantaged as a societal evil writ in policies punishing the poor for their very existence, for that. (Not that Labor is ever much better; witness the Gillard Labor government turfing single parents, regardless of training or childcare or anything else, off single parenting payments and onto Newstart).

    In truth, it's been decades of bloody minded adherence to neoliberal policies in spite of all evidence that has created the whole welfare hell; but in creating Centrelink, Jocelyn Newman opened up a corporatised, centralised portal to that hell.

    It's worth examining how far the current Australian welfare system has strayed from the ideals under which it was established in the days after World War Two: 

    "The moment we establish, or perpetuate, the principle that the citizen, in order to get something he needs or wants and to which he has looked forward, must prove his poverty, we convert him into a suppliant to the state for benevolence.

    That position is inconsistent with the proper dignity of the citizen in a democratic country. People should be able to obtain these benefits as a matter of right, with no more loss of their own standards of self-respect than would be involved in collecting from an insurance company the proceeds of an endowment policy on which they have been paying premiums for years."

    Which raging lefty socialist uttered these words? Why, it was Robert Menzies. Now there's a legacy I'd like to see revived.

    The only guide you'll ever need to the Reserve Bank of Australia Museum

    24 March 2018
    Some people mark the end of their treatment for cancer by going to Disneyland or swimming with dolphins. I celebrated the end of my treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome by visiting the Reserve Bank of Australia museum. Don't hate me cause you ain't me.

    You may not even have known there was a museum at the Reserve Bank of Australia HQ, which is on Martin Place in the Sydney CBD, bucking the trend of Australian government entities being based in Canberra. I didn't know there was a museum there, until I happened to be walking past after completing treatment at the Sydney Hand Hospital and saw the small sign proclaiming the existence of a museum. I decided to go in and take a look. I figured somebody should.

    I neglected to take a camera to capture my experience in the full, rich detail it deserved, so photos are from the Reserve Bank Museum website. It was less busy when I visited. Considerably less busy. In fact I was the only person there, and the nice but not overly friendly lady behind the desk look slightly startled to see me (although people often look slightly startled to see me, once including John Cleese. But that's another story). She walked me in, explained the layout and exhibits, and told me there was a university group visiting from Sweden I think it was? and I was welcome to join their tour if I wanted, but I'm sure none of you will need smelling salts to learn that I decided I'd have a look around for myself.

    The museum is dedicated not to the economic history of Australia in general, with all its panics, crashes and housing bubbles, but to the history of Australian currency manufacture, a very specific and odd focus, considering Australian money is printed elsewhere - at Cragieburn in Victoria, for those of you playing at home - and one that may well be rendered completely redundant by technology in a few years. They do not give out free samples, although I'm sure every Dad whose ever visited asks.

    Image showing a £20 note

    For history buffs or those who like to reminisce fondly about old money, the museum is interesting enough in a low grade sort of way, with chronologically organised displays ranging from a brief and unsatisfactory paragraph about the barter system in traditional Aboriginal society; through rum currency; shillings and pence, the introduction to decimal currency (Menzies wanted to call the Australian monetary unit the Royal, I learn with very little surprise) and on to the bragging rights to our world leading polymer currency. I never did find the Swedes, but I did run into a class of bored and unhappy 12 year olds being lectured by a museum guide about the introduction of polymer currency, with the new $5 featuring a portrait of the Queen "...of course this was in 1992, when she was considerably younger". "Well, we've all lost some bounce since then", I chimed in sympathetically, but met only with blank looks, I decided it was time to call a halt to my brief new career as assistant docent, and moved on.

    I was pretty much done with the museum after about fifteen minutes, but didn't want to leave quite so soon. When I visit these niche museums, I'm always worried that if I leave too soon, I'll hurt the staff's feelings. You walk past the guides on your way out, and feel you've let them down somehow. "I'm sorry, you've got a great little museum here, but it's just not what I'm looking for right now." But I was hungry and tired, and decided I was going to have to make a break for it. Luckily on my way out the nice guide lady was busy with actual Reserve bank staff, so I was able to leave without upsetting anyone, unless they read this guide, and I'd like to think I'm actually encouraging people to check it out for themselves.

    The Reserve Bank of Australia Museum is located at 65 Martin Place, Sydney, and is open from 10:00am to 4:00pm Monday to Friday excluding public holidays and NSW bank holidays. The author traveled on an Opal and has this weird itch on the back of her knee.


    20 March 2018

    It's coming up to autumn in my corner of the world, and my friend Ridge* and I have been discussing going on a cruise. I know - I know! - I can't afford it. But I've been through kind of a shite time, what with all the custody stuff, and maybe if I save real hard... I know cruises aren't everyone's idea of fun - someone on Twitter described them as going on holiday at a Westfield mall - but I like the all inclusive aspect; you just get on the ship and switch off your brain for six days. My brain is always whirring to dark and uncomfortable places; it needs a rest. And above all, at less than $100 a day if you get a good deal, covering travel, food, accommodation, activities and sightseeing, they're cheap.

    Anyway, it's fun to day dream, although slightly unsettling. Once you've been searching for cruises, the logarithms dreamed up by the boffins of the internet keep showing you stories about cruises, nearly all of them bad

    Cruises have been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons. A ship was forced to return to Sydney last month after a brawl broke out after a toilet queue (I bet it was rice on the buffet. Everyone assumes it's the seafood, but did you know rice is actually the leading cause of food poisoning in Australia? See, read this blog, you learn something). That same week, another ship  returned to dock early and nine passengers removed after claims of repeated brawls and trouble allegedly started in a fight over a thong (the kind that goes on your foot, not your butt).

    If you die on a cruise, you want a bunch of other people to die too. If you die with other people, then you're part of a tragedy. The Prime Minister will make a statement, flags with be lowered, you'll get your name on a memorial plaque. If you die on your own, then you'll forever be just the idiot who fell off a ship.

    But genuinely terrible things can happen on cruises, and with issues over jurisdiction, justice can be hard to come by. There's an organisation called International Cruise Victims who are not, as one might first assume, a bunch of Baby Boomers complaining about the wine service, but the victims, families and friends of crimes on cruise ships - murders, sexual assault, disappearances. I spent some time reading around on the site; many of the stories are truly horrific.

    And you'd think any or all of this would put me off, but no. I want to go on the damn cruise. 

    So there's the question of what kind of cruise to go on. Ridge and I want to avoid: families with small children; schoolies; the  elderly; Baby Boomers; bucks and hens tours...that doesn't actually leave very many people we would actually want to be stuck out at sea with for eight days. We discussed going on a gay cruise, but a gay cruise is not without its issues; whilst Studs n Suds night may be fun at night, it's not so much fun when it's ten am and you just want a cup of tea and you have to step over two guys fucking in the corridor.

    Food, wine and comedy cruises sound like fun, but they only go out to sea for a few days and back again. We want to actually go somewhere, even if its just for a bit of wading and buying a t shirt that seems fun on Mai Tai island and looks ridiculous in Sydney Central Station. And a bit of sun would do me good. How does an Irish person end up with Vitamin D deficiency in Australia, cause I did (my iron stores are too high, though, if anyone's running a bit short). This is all right in the inner west, where every natural skin colour is considered all right, but is very odd when I go to the parts of Sydney where white people don't like brown people even though they spend all their spare time trying to get as brown as possible.

    David Foster Wallace compared the cruise experience to being in the womb; a tranquil, pampered nothingness. I think my first time around was marred by osmotic resentment, so I'm keen to have another go. Who wouldn't want to be born again? Yep, a cruise is just what I need. I'm ready to float on warm, tranquil waters and emerge red, screaming and covered in goo, counting myself lucky to have survived. 

    * He picked his own pseudonym. So don't blame me. 

    The Best Church in the Whole Wide World

    03 March 2018
    I need a new church. As I've mentioned, I moved house recently. My old church wasn't perfect and I certainly didn't agree with them on many doctrinal issues, but they were a sedate enough bunch and served my spiritual needs adequately. In inner Sydney moving 5km might as well be moving to a different state though, and it would now be a pain in the arse to get to Sunday services in time on public transport, so I've been looking for a new church.

    My quest for a new church could be summed up pretty well in this comic from Berkely Mews:

    But I'm going to prattle on about it for another few hundred words regardless. Evidently, churches have decided a big reason people don't go to church anymore is not feeling welcome when they get there. And what churches have decided to do, pretty much all of them, is to assign parishoners to stand at the door of the church in the manner of greeters at Walmart and welcome newcomers, except it would be like if the Walmart greeters then followed you around the store. Be a first time attendee at most reasonably sized protestant churches these days and there will be someone at the door wanting to know who you are, where you're from, if you're from the area, do you go to church normally and which one, what do you do...there's no chance of slipping past them and quietly taking a seat waiting for the service to begin either, as they'll insist on sitting next to you and, very likely, introducing you to people on the way. Now, I'm sure some people really appreciate this welcome to a new setting. But if you're shy, awkward or going through a hard time - in other words, people who may well be seeking spiritual comfort - it is a nightmare. 

    Feeling a bit low, I went to the evening service - which, given it was advertised as a "fun, informal community!", was probably my first mistake - at a local, mainline protestant church. There was the usual "HI HOW ARE YOU WHAT BRINGS YOU HERE?!?!" when I walked in, but nothing too bad. The service was pretty okay; I liked the music, the guy playing the guitar could really sing. But then there was after. Oh god. I wasn't allowed to leave. Every bloody person there had to be introduced to me. Beverages were shoved in my hand. I only just avoided being forced into table tennis. But worst of all was the incredibly nosy person who wouldn't leave me alone, asking question after personal question, seeing my reticence as a sign to go in harder. In desperation I even mentioned that the social thing is a little off putting for introverts in a new church and she's like "well, we won't leave you all by yourself!"

    At length I managed to leave, feeling a little upset, even a touch violated. When I left, the pastor noticed, and started off a chorus of about 30 people yelling "BYE NICOLA! - this was awful. I felt obliged to acknowledge it though, so I turned around and stood there grinning awkwardly.

    All this made me consider going back to the Catholic Church. Oh, I still disagree with them about... Well most stuff actually. But the Catholic Church is a lot like McDonald's. You walk in, no one cares who you are, you do your little ritual (whether it's the Eucharist or ordering a big Mac), you walk out. No awkward chit chat, and no matter where you go in the world you know what you're going to get. No one wants to know where you've come from, your faith background, if you're new to the area or if you want to be introduced to everyone. In fact, chatting at all in a Catholic church is forbidden, particularly in the Irish Catholic tradition I was raised in. In a Catholic Church in Ireland, the closest you might talk to someone is if, say you saw your brother across the pews for the first time in a year after he'd been missing in a war zone, you might just nod your head slightly to acknowledge each other. Even that might earn you a reproachful "Ah-HEM" if there's a particularly diligent nun nearby.

    In the end, I couldn't quite go Catholic but I think I've found the right church for me. They follow all the beautiful and complicated liturgical traditions I love, without the bit about the Pope; but the best bit is no one talks to you. There's a brief thank you to the person who hands you the hymnal, but that's it. The only discordant note was when I went to use the washroom; as I emerged, I saw one of the priests pulling up skirts of his voluminous robes, to save time before using the facilities himself. But that's okay. Frankly, I'd rather he defecated in my hand than go through the bestest church in the whole wide world again.

    FWIW Going to church occasionally doesn't change anything my feminist and democratic socialist beliefs (and if I'm challenged about issues such as a woman's right to choose, I just like to say "I'd like to concentrate on getting the Christianity in Acts 2 right first before we worry about things that aren't even in the Bible"). Yes, the Abrahamic religions are inherently patriarchal and some would say sexist. But there's massively sexist dirtbags in atheism as well.  I'm feeling like the problem might be letting dickhead men run things unchallenged, not religion or the lack of it. 


    01 March 2018
    Posts have been a bit scarce lately because - I don't even want to know how many times I've posted this in the fourteen years since I started blogging - I've been moving house. Again. What can I tell you. Luckily, with so many moves under my belt, I've got the whole thing down to a fine art: starting two weeks ahead of moving day, I pack one beautifully organised box full of books, clearly label it "BOOKS", stick it in the corner of my lounge room and do nothing else until the day before the move.  

    I hoped that maybe this time, though, things could be different. Looking online for boxes, a major retailer's website promises me that I can  "Take the stress out of moving with Officeworks handy moving guide". Excellent; who doesn't need to destress when they're moving house. So I read the guide, which seems mostly to consist of suggestions to purchase Officeworks products. However, they are a big smart corporation and I am just a people, maybe they know something I don't; and anyway the fact I'm moving all the fucking time clearly indicates I'm in no way qualified to make decisions regarding my own life. Anyway, I head to Officeworks.
    Officeworks has gone down the Walmart path of having a greeter at the front of the store, which is kinda weird. I mean, it's okay if you're walking in with a spring in your step, and can respond to their "Hi, how are you today?" with a cheery "I'm excellent! Thank you. I'm so looking forward to purchasing binder files.". But if you're like every other person who's ever gone to Officeworks and you're just trying to get the materials for the class project on food groups then get out as fast as you can because it's late and your child only told you at bed time the thing is due tomorrow morning and you know you'll be up until 1am doing the damn assignment for them even though half of you wants to strangle the little shit darling child, well, the perky welcome seems only to poke fun at your gloom. 

    In between all the packing, you've got to find removalists, unless you've got friends willing to help you move, and I don't. Pretty much every removalist firm also promises to take the stress out of moving. Look, if everyone could just get together and designate one of you to stress out of moving, because it's not happening at the moment with everyone fighting over the job.

    Moving day arrives, much too soon. Removalists have ridiculous start times. I'm not at my best in the morning, partly cause of medication I'm on and partly cause I'm a lazy bludging lefty that's everything that's wrong with this country. Can we kick off around ten, I ask when I make the booking. No can do; the morning slots are 6am (6am!) and 8 am. I pick the latter. At any time of day, it's not great having strangers in my house, touching my things. I know that these are technically my employees, and I shouldn't feel guilty for needing to sit down in front of them and not lifting boxes myself - that's a big reason why I needed to hire movers in the first place. Nevertheless, it feels weird sitting down in front of guys lugging my stuff, and I make sure to sit on a hard surface on an angle of at least 20 degrees to the perpendicular, whilst adopting the facial expression I normally assume on thinking about Sydney property developers, to let them know that whilst I am reclining, I am not taking any enjoyment from the experience and am not just sitting around like a pampered princess whilst others work for me.

    Not that the removalists didn't hesitate to let me know their feeling that I was Marie Antoinetting the move. My new flat is up several flight of stairs, which was explained when making the booking, but I was still treated to a litany of complaints about every last one of them, as well as the company they move for, the heat, and that Donald Trump is just trying to do his best. (I can't help but feel they'd find the stairs easier to manage if they'd given up on the chain smoking, which they did, lavishly and with gusto, whilst handling my soft furnishings). They even complained to me, on their seventh or eighth trip down to the truck for more cartons, that I have too many books, and I'd have flung them off the balcony if there weren't a bunch more cartons to go. Saturate my nearly new pillow top mattress with disgusting Marlboro smoke? I'll smile politely and let it go. Disparage my books? You are not getting a tip.  

    Finally, my stuff was in my new house, the movers left, and I had the opportunity to really take stock and organise my possessions in a way to bring me comfort and happiness and help me live my best life, so of course I set up the TV, got put the kettle, and shoved everything else in a corner where it can stay for the next several months.

    There was a minor issue with my power supply, and I had to ring the power company. On the third ring, without my pressing anything, the IVR said "please hold while your call is being transferred". Corporations are getting in early with transferring calls these days; they do it pre-emptively to everyone.  When I was transferred through to the right department, the hold voice said "Moving house is stressful. And while we can't carry the boxes for you, we can at least ensure the power is on the day you move in." Finally some honesty, not another corporate entity promising all but to assemble your bed then give you the best sex of your life on top of it. Now that would be moving.

    The Hollow Woman

    19 February 2018

    I read Lena Dunham's article about her decision to have a hysterectomy at the age of 31 with a great deal of interest. I've never been a big fan of Ms Dunham for all of her clunky clueless white feminism that leaves those of us who are white and poor, queer and disabled on the outer, when there's a heap of white feminists who are poor and pissed off and trying to make space for ourselves. but of course it's impossible not to feel a great deal of sympathy for Ms Dunham having to make such a heart breaking decision. Even so, I find myself second guessing the choice. Maybe it is human nature to think we know better, stemming from a subconscious need to protect ourselves, thinking that it, whatever it is, can't happen to us because we know better. If she wanted a child so much, why didn't she have just one and arrange the hysterectomy at the same time as the c section?

    This post isn't about Lena Dunham though. It's about me, and the other women like me. The mothers who don't have primary custody of their children. Except it's not called custody anymore, someone will tell you, sometimes after you've just poured out your sadness to what you thought were sympathetic ears. You don't have custody because no one has custody any more; we now call it being the primary carer. It should be legal to slap those people.

    Don't even get me started on men's rights groups, the ones that claim women are favoured in custody cases. Very few Australian custody decisions end up in court, and of the ones that do, the courts nearly always leave the children with the parent they're already staying with. No matter if that's the mother or the father.

    The next thing people want is to know to why. It's still so unusual, after all. As much as we give lip service to the notion of shared care, most people still believe, deep down, that a mother should be with her young children, and they wonder if something is wrong with you - is it drugs? Violence? I've written about my struggles with mental health, is it that? Actually, in the end, my situation is pretty simple. My ex husband and I were living with his mother when we separated, so remaining separated under one roof was never an option and I was the one who had to leave. I wanted to bring my son with me, of course I did. But my ex decided that it was better if Mr G stayed where he was, in the neighbourhood he was used to and I couldn't afford to live in. I had to leave without him.

    Maybe you think you'd never give your kids up without exhausting all options, without fighting to the end. Maybe you would. If you ever find yourself in this situation, drop me a line and let me know how you're getting on. You might find things are a bit different than how you imagined, if it ever happens to you and I really hope it doesn't.

    It's happening to me though, and I can tell you it's horrible. Maybe we should be beyond biology, past the stereotypical gender roles that women belong with their small children; but I am not. I feel the pain deep inside, of the child I bore being taken from me, I am the hollow woman, I am the cat going crazy when her kittens are taken away, I am Medea, I am Rachel, refusing to be comforted. I am not there to feed my child dinner, give him a bath, read him a story; my little boy goes to bed without his mother to tuck him in and kiss him goodnight. I have missed a thousand hugs, drawings, imaginary cups of tea served from toy kitchens. Divorce is one thing. It's very sad, but it can in the end be dealt with. But this? All my pretty ones? Did you say all?

    I get to see him once a week. That's if I'm lucky, at the moment, because that separation has made him so attached to his Dad that he doesn't want to leave. Do I give in to my own broken heart and insist he comes stay at my house, or do I try to make my child happy by saying he doesn't have to come with me this weekend? What do I do in this awful situation? What on Earth do I do? There have been times where I've insisted, and he cries for his father at bed time. There have been times I've walked away from scheduled pick ups, gone home alone, collapsed on the floor sobbing, closed the door to his room because it hurts so much to see his things, to see his toys lined up forlornly waiting for him, thrown out the kids' yoghurt and crumpets he likes, that I could hardly afford to buy, because they've passed their expiration dates, uneaten.

    Time marches on, months turn in to years, and the gulf between us only grows. I am told how lucky I am that to have so much time to myself, how good my ex is for stepping up. Yes, it is good that the man I share a child with is able to capably handle parental duties. You know what would be better? If my child lived with me.

    "I couldn't stand it if that happened to me. I'd just die!". Here's the thing, though. You don't just die from pain, no matter how bad the pain is, you don't just stop existing, as much as you might wish to. And you still need to eat, drink, sleep and ablute. You try to take pleasure in the ordinary details of life, and I do, most of the time. But then you've some painful reminder how skewed and chaotic life is. This isn't what I signed up for. You see and hear children everywhere, and they're not yours. Sometimes you see children being hit, pinched, sworn at. Other people mistreat the children they do get to live with. There are children brought into the world unloved and mistreated. The bitter unfairness of it all, and there is no where to put your pain and rage.It's not like your kids going away to camp. Please don't tell me how sad you were when your kid went to camp.

    There are things you can do to try and bear it, and I do try. I lived next to the beach for a year, went on long walks in nature, and the loneliness drove me mad. I have exercised, with tears running down my face as I wracked up distance on the rowing machine. There are at least the wonders of modern psychiatry to rely on. There's a delicate chemical balancing act in my body with the rainbow of medication I taste every day. It's not quite perfect. My legs and feet are swollen to the point the only shoes I can wear are some ugly old men sandals; this is merely a fashion problem in a Sydney summer but it will be an issue as the weather cools. I'm reluctant to upset things by changing medications. There are legal avenues available. I know the ins and outs of the system.

    So if I don't want your advice and I don't want you to tell me how you wouldn't cope, what do I want? I understand the desire to fix things, I do. But I'd like to be able to speak up without feeling judged or derailed. Decisions made years ago brought me here, and there's no easy fix. I'm still a mother. But that means something different to me, something my darkest thoughts could never have imagined.

    Barnaby Joyce, Parts I & II

    08 February 2018
    The establishment media finally broken the story every politically attuned social media user in Australia has known for months; that Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce was carrying on an extra marital affair with one of his political staffers. Which would be no one's business outside of those directly affected, except for the role Joyce took campaigning against marriage equality, and the underhanded actions of major news outlets stealing work from the independent journalists who did the work on the story. 

    It's completely feminist to "silence" Katie Roiphe or anyone else

    14 January 2018
    Fear not, women. If you've been worried whether you're doing feminism right, there's plenty of men willing to evaluate your performance. 

    Is public transport pushing up the road toll?

    05 January 2018
    Australia's road toll is rising again. The number of people killed in road accidents has been declining for decades - with seat belt laws, random breath testing, improvements in motor vehicle technology - but now it's climbing again, seen particularly over the recent Christmas New Year period, with 66 people dying in car crashes. Road experts and police are blaming the usual main causes of crashes - speed, fatigue and alcohol - and the more recent cause of dangerous driving, mobile phone use behind the wheel. 

    But there could be another factor, an aspect of modern life causing an increase in distracted and dangerous driving, as touched on in this Facebook post: 

    People are turning more and more to public transport in larger cities in Australia, and that's a great thing, but could it be contributing to the increase in the road toll? People spending less time during the year behind the wheel, polishing their skills. They're instead on buses, trams and trains, where they don't bear responsiblity and can use their phones all they want. 

    But then it's Christmas, and they're getting out the car they usually only use to drop their partner at the station when it's raining and for weekend trips to Bunnings, and they're driving hundreds of kilometres on motorways and highways they're not used to. Could the lack of practice be a factor in crashes? Are these out of sorts drivers and their rusty skills causing accidents? 

    I don't know if it is true or not. I don't know if people doing the sensible thing and using public transport during the year is causing a decrease in sensible driving during the holidays. But I do hope the boffins who research such things are looking in to it, and if so what to do about it to make things safer for everyone. 

    Just don't be this guy. Not only from my hometown of Newcastle, but the very suburb we lived in when last up there; and I saw this and thought I bet the late night comedy shows pick this up: 

    Don't be this guy. And I sincerely hope I never, ever find out what sort of disgusting video he was watching.

    2018 Reading Challenge

    03 January 2018
    I've always been a voracious reader, mostly non fiction - I'm only sorta joking when I say I read most of the non fiction books at my local library before I moved to Sydney - but with the advent of smart phones, my phone replaced a book in my bag, and I've been reading fewer actual books. It's been worse since I started university, and was studying what I enjoyed - but I had quite enough of politics, crime and policy as my "day job", and it cut back my reading for pleasure even more. I scroll social media, I read long form articles (so many long form articles), but not actual books.

    Since last year, I've been trying to rectify that. I tried uploading the books I was reading to this blog, but it was annoying and I stopped bothering, and then I finally joined Good Reads. And now, I'm doing the 2018 Reading Challenge.

    I'm hoping to read 80 books this year, tough but doable (I notice I've slowed down a lot, and I no longer have a big commute to read on). There were people on Goodreads noted as having completed their 2018 challenges already; I don't know, if you've already read all the books you hoped to read in a year on day one, maybe you should aim a little higher. As for me, I've no reading plan; there's a couple of books I really want to, or feel I should, get to reading (Infinite Jest?) but apart from that I'll see where the mood and library selections take me.

    If you're on Goodreads, please add me as a friend so we can track each others' progress - and if not, do sign up; it's fun and we should all be reading more.

    2018 Reading Challenge

    2018 Reading Challenge
    Violet has read 0 books toward their goal of 80 books.

    New Year, New Republic? Maybe it's time for a new idea

    02 January 2018
    Oh dear. It seems the "success" of blowing $100 million dollars on a survey to tell us what we already knew about same sex marriage has rather gone to Malcolm Turnbull's head. I suppose you can't blame him, after all - success isn't something he's had a lot of in recent years; we haven't seen a Prime Ministership that started in hope collapse into a chaotic heap like this since Kevin Rudd.

    But having a taste for postal surveys now, he's proposed we have another one, this time on his pet subject - that Australia should become a republic. Now, it seems to me a no brainer, and not just because of course I'd think so, I'm Irish. Surely it is time that we took our destiny into our own hands. Surely both logic and national pride states that we should have an Australian head of state, rather than the offspring of a minor branch of German nobility who happened to be on the British throne when the music stopped on a convoluted European game of musical chairs two hundred years ago? Surely looking to mother England is a bit ridiculous still, in modern, multicultural Australia, where you can't sit in the Australian parliament if you're a dual British citizen but can't be Australian head of state if you're Australian and not British? 

    But it's all even more complicated than that last sentence. A republic isn't a done deal. Remember the last time an Australian republic was a thing, with the Constitutional Convention back in 1998 and the resulting referendum in 1999? The republican movement, headed by a then dashing young(ish) Malcolm Turnbull, lost. Most blamed the model of Republic presented to voters, and that definitely played a big part - not just that Australians were asked to vote for a prospective head of state elected by the parliament not the people, but also the fact that there was debate over the model all at allowed the monarchist movement to wedge the electorate to their success.

    That a referendum on a republic lost at all in the year of 1999 is a thing of wonder. It's difficult to envision just how unpopular the monarchy was, back in the Nineties. You had the Queen seeming like a dour old toad watching her unattractive children have ghastly sex scandals and messy divorces, then Princess Diana was killed in a Parisian car crash and in the ensuing Royal silence, half of Britain and the world was baying for their blood, with not a small number convinced the Royal Family engineered the crash themselves. 

    Yep, we were supposed to be loyal to this lot.

    So we hated the Royals then, and still voted to keep them. Now, good grief, if love for the Royal family makes us hold on to the monarchy then a republic would have no chance. The Queen, through successive gold and diamond jubilees, has been transformed in public sentiment from a grumpy and expensive old biddy to a beloved and revered figure, adored for nine decades of public service and not nine decades of life in unimaginable luxury due to a quirk of genetics. Throw in Will and Kate, and now good grief Harry and Meghan Markle, and the popularity of the royals looks assured, at least until the gap between this lot hitting middle age spread and their children attaining adulthood and gossip column status. (They'd want to watch it, William is really balding there).

    I'm not excited so much as just grateful British royals can no
    longer pretend India is theirs. Photo: Popsugar. 

    Any new campaign for an Australian republic will have to compete not only against the tired old arguments of Monarchists - that the Queen is really Australian, that the governor general is our head of state, stability, security, we can't change the name of the RSPCA because it will confuse the puppies - but against the popularity of the young royals. It's understandable that people get excited about them (although some of them are very defensive about it) but it doesn't mean any of them should be head of our country.

    In fact, celebrity is a good reason to get rid of the constitutional monarchy. America is doing just fine without a monarchy (Trump government notwithstanding); they have a royal family to admire, read about, gossip about and mark life's milestones with. It's the Kardashians.

    The Kardashians offer all the benefits of a royal family, and many more. Yes, they're famous for being famous - and so, basically, are the Windsors. But there's no taxpayer subsidies for the Kardashians; they pay for themselves. They're not restrained by protocols of royal decorum, so if they want to pour champagne through the air into a glass on their butts, have a baby with their sister's boyfriend's ex girlfriend, and torment us with a 25 day Christmas card that WAS SUPPOSED TO REVEAL A PREGNANT KYLIE AND IT DIDN'T AND I'M FURIOUS, they can.

    But then there was this:

    You can't tell me seeing that happiness after seeing the struggles up close isn't better than the British royal family.

    And the Kardashians? Wedding after wedding after wedding.

    But there's the biggest advantage of all that the Kardashians have over the royals. When we get bored, we can just move on. No one needs to mint new coins or have referenda or anything; we can all just find a new family to obsess over, the staff at JB HiFi can move all the Kardashians DVDs to the $6.99 bin, and that's it. Quick and simple.

    We need to become a republic. We can still watch Wills and Kate and Harry and Meghan; they might even visit sometimes. We can have parliament choose a president, which seems a safer option, or go for the direct election model, which is more likely to win public support and means more chances for democracy sausage, if we do run the risk of President Shane Warne. And we can choose our own families to vicariously share life's journey with.

    Let's make it a point of the republican campaign - you can like the young new royals without letting them rule us (someone else can figure out the wording - I can do the sociology, not the soundbites). It's time to mark our country's maturity in becoming a republic, even if we have to admit our own immaturity and celebrity obsession to do so.

    Recent posts

    Back to Top