Category Archives: Life and things

Musings on ‘disability’


It’s Saturday again. Happens every seven days, regular as clockwork. And that means I write my weekly blog post. This week we had the Ides of March (et tu, Brut?), which conjures up Julius Caesar, Shakespeare, and Cassandra. We had St Patrick’s Day, which conjures up the myths of the Irish, four leaf clovers, and an island curiously devoid of snakes. We also had the death at the age of 76, of eminent physicist, Professor Stephen Hawking.

Hawking is a very famous scientist – which is a rare and wonderful thing. Most of them beaver away in their labs and classrooms, but Hawking was “out there” more than most because he was diagnosed with motor neuron disease at 21 and given only a few years to live. But while his body atrophied, and he eventually was confined to a motorised wheelchair, and only able to speak through a computer, his mind carried on without him. He is best known for his book, A Brief History of Time, where he writes about space and time, black holes, and the big bang theory. But while people like Neil de Grasse Tyson and Prof Brian Cox get out there on the telly to tell people about science, Prof Hawking took a different approach. He appeared on numerous popular TV shows, including The Simpsons, Big Bang Theory, and Star Trek. It wasn’t just about the science – Prof Hawking wanted to promote the cause of people with disabilities.

This little video from Little Britain illustrates. Be warned – it’s very funny, so be careful with your beverage. And watch to the end, okay?

And that gets me thinking about the concept of ‘disability’. Sure, some people are physically disfigured – missing limbs, burns, that sort of thing. But mental ‘disabilities’ are a whole nother kettle of vegetables. Nobel laureate John Nash (played by Russel Crowe in the Oscar-winning movie A Beautiful Mind) suffered from paranoid schizophrenia – yet he could still function at an intellectual level. Indeed, he said the medication he took for his condition blunted his mind (discussed in this article after his death) and he stopped taking it. Another example is savants. You’ve all heard of the movie Rain Man. It’s based on a real man with severe brain damage. Read about him and nine other extraordinary people in this article.

I ‘know’, through Facebook, several people with mental disorders like autism or Asperger’s syndrome. While they might be poor at social skills, some are highly accomplished in other areas. One lady struggled with her ‘mental illness’ for years before finally recognising, in her mid-forties that she was autistic.  Although she struggles with social skills, she writes beautifully, she plays the cello, runs marathons, and is generally a very smart woman. She has a blog (Finally Knowing Me) where she tells about her experience and struggles with autism and everyday life. It’s fascinating – especially if you start at the first post.

Although we humans are tribal and are very similar to each other, we’re not all the same. ‘Disability’ really means a particular individual can’t do some things as well as others. But it doesn’t define that person’s life.

That’s enough of that. I guess my mind went down that track for two reasons – Prof Hawking’s death – and the birth of my nephew’s baby son. Welcome to the world, little guy. May you live long and prosper.


A third anniversary

Attribution below

Today, 12th March, is the third anniversary of the death of Sir Terry Pratchett, author of the Discworld series, a number of books not set in Discworld, and co-author of three books bringing serious science to the masses (The Science of Discworld). He was only 66. During his life he authored many books. There are 41 in the Discworld series alone. He received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth, had a number of honorary doctorates from universities, and won a number of literary awards.




The librarian at Unseen University was turned into an orangutan and has avoided all attempts to turn him back into a human

I am a Terry Pratchett tragic. I have all his books in hardback in a glass-fronted book case to protect them from mould (which is a constant problem here in the sub-tropical north). An orangutan keeps watch over my office from his perch on one bookshelf, a job he shares with Darth Vader, a stormtrooper, and Princess Leia, who preside above the glass-fronted bookcase. (Which probably tells you a few Things About Me.) I’m sure he won’t mind me not using his title, though. I don’t think he was ever that kind of guy. Although apparently he was so disappointed that he didn’t get to keep the sword after he got his knighthood, he made one for himself – literally, right down to digging up the iron ore and making a kiln. You’ll find the details of that story here.

Terry was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2007 and departed arm in arm with Death in 2015 – having written another seven books before he succumbed. Although he was a great advocate of voluntary euthanasia, he died naturally. Alzheimer’s is a horrible disease and I would not wish it on anyone but I find it particularly evil that this man of words had words stolen from him at such a young age (58). While Death is the great leveller, disease is a torturer.

A documentary about him, called Back in Black, was made after his death. Here’s the link to the version on Youtube. Actor Paul Kaye did an excellent job of portraying Terry, complete with his unusual accent. Sure, there were talking heads. His great friend, Neil Gaiman, his personal assistant, Rob Wilkins, Discworld’s illustrator, Paul Kidby, his daughter, Rhianna, and others all contribute information about the man they knew. But a lot of the facts were delivered by Pratchett himself (through Paul Kaye). The stand-outs for me were as follows:

  • Terry wasn’t a child prodigy. When he was six years old his headmaster told him he would never amount to anything. That put a fire in his belly that never left him.
  • He left school at age 17 and never attended higher education.
  • He had an accident as a small child which left him with a speech impediment. And he also had a stutter. As a result, he was bullied.
  • He got a voluntary job in the local library where he read everything he could get his hands on. Books were his friends.
  • Over time he collected all those books he would subsequently write into his head. At one stage he was publishing three books a year. And it seems he also worked on as many as three books consecutively. Wow. Just wow.

Terry Pratchett’s Death – a seven-foot skeleton wearing a black robe, carrying a scythe and riding a white horse called Binky – is among Terry’s most popular characters. He stars in several of the Discworld books – Mort, Reaper Man, Hogfather, and Soul Music – and has a cameo appearance in most of the others. Death is fascinated by humans and their foibles. Terry can ask himself questions such as what would happen if Death took an apprentice? What if he decided to be a short-order cook instead of doing the Grim Reaper duty? What I particularly like about Death comes from the little cameos where he turns up to take a life. The recently-departed asks about where they’re going. “Will there be [insert folk belief of choice]” to which Death replies, “Do you want there to be?”

The results are funny, sure. But most of Terry’s books are character-driven. The Discworld is just a nightmare’s distance from our own, but the people are us. He shines a light on prejudice, where trolls and dwarfs substitute for Arabs and Jews or whoever we don’t like at the moment. He talks about women’s rights in Equal Rites, Men at Arms and in fact many other books. He pokes fun at Academia through the (male, celibate) wizards at Unseen University, and contrasts them with the worldly-wise witches, who perform the simple magic of midwifery, medicine and plain common sense.

All that reading Terry did in the little country library stood him in good stead. He often picked up a legend and shook it around to see what fell out. Hogfather, which was made into a terrific little mini-series, is about Christmas – what it used to be, as opposed to what it has become. The Hogfather (Father Christmas) has been kidnapped, so Death (seven-foot skeleton riding a white horse called Binky) assisted by his grand-daughter, Susan, takes on the job of doing the Christmas run, including the obligatory appearance in a department store. Elves are given their treatment in a few books, notably Lords and Ladies. For Terry, they weren’t the noble master race you’ll find in Tolkien. He goes back to earlier times, when they were nasty individuals, prone to playing tricks on people – and not in a nice way.

So today is a day of mourning for me. I’ve read and re-read Terry’s books since that day when I first read the prologue to The Colour of Magic in a newsagency at Perth airport back in the late 1980’s.

I’ve copied this list of his achievements from his Wikipedia page to save you the trouble of looking it up. Not bad for a kid who’d never amount to anything.

Photo by Luigi Novi, CC BY 3.0, w/index.php?curid=22449958

I watched a few movies

I’m not much of a movie watcher, but there are some films which attract my attention. I sat down and watched a few last week – well – two and a bit, really.

The first was Dunkirk. There was so much hype, so many plaudits. An old man who’d been there for the great evacuation said it was realistic. And, of course, the European world war II was very much a part of my studies at university. I’d seen many of the major war movies. The Longest Day (1962) and the Battle of Britain (1969) are stand-outs. So Pete and I sat in our lounge room and played Dunkirk on the big screen.

What a disappointment.

There are three arcs to the movie – the young soldier under fire who makes it through the French lines to the beach. There’s the spitfire pilots doing their best against the German stukas and ME 109s, and there’s an elderly man who takes his boat across the channel to bring the boys back.

We watch the young soldier try everything he can to get off the beach. Gets on a boat which is sunk at its moorings, is shot up in a fishing boat, is strafed and bombed.

For the spitfire pilots, the point was made early on that after they’d crossed the channel, planes could only be over the beaches for about an hour before they had to head back. Well and good. Our pilot shot down some Jerries and ended up having to land his aircraft after running out of fuel. Boy, those spitfires make great gliders.

The man in his boat picked up a shell-shocked man on a sinking boat and kept going to Dunkirk – much against the survivor’s wishes. They also pick up one of the spitfire pilots who was forced to ditch in the sea before they make it to France.

It all sounds good, doesn’t it? I checked later and the film was as authentic as it could be. But for me there were two things: I wasn’t invested in the fate of the individuals (in fact I thought the pilot was an idiot). And I got no scope of the enormity of the achievement. This was a desperate race to get hundreds of thousands of men off that beach, using hundreds (if not thousands) of small craft. That’s the problem when you film vignettes. You’re too up close and personal. I believe that was the director’s intention. Some of my friends loved it, some hated it, some said they enjoyed it regardless. That’s life, I guess. It picked up a swag of Oscars.

Then I watched Hidden Figures, about three black women who worked at NASA during the race to get a man into orbit in the late fifties/early sixties.

Segregation was in full swing, with even nice white people brought up to think of black people as second-class citizens. Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson, all brilliant women, had to prove themselves in a white male world. In total contrast to Dunkirk, I cared about all three. I was so angry for these ladies and the way they were put down and belittled. The movie conveyed the impact of prejudice on their lives in a way somebody like me (who knew it happened but hadn’t seen it) could relate. It was a terrific film.

Lastly, I watched a film given to me some time ago, which won an award as best film at a 2007 festival. Crusade in Jeans is a time-travel movie based on a best-selling Dutch book. The MC is a fifteen-year-old boy who accidentally sends himself back to the year 1212, where he is rescued from a couple of thugs by a bunch of local kids. And that’s about as far as I got.

I’ve never been a fan of time travel, especially going back from our time hundreds of years. I can’t suspend belief sufficiently to accept that a fifteen-year-old boy suddenly appearing in a forest (where he expected to be in a football stadium) would not be a LOT more perplexed than Dolf. In fact, everybody acted as if this weird kid wearing strange clothes suddenly turning up was quite normal. And they could all understand each other. That, in particular, would not happen. Language changes over time. Have you tried reading Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in the original? Apart from that, the changes in food, hygiene and the like would put any modern person at considerable risk.

I wrote a tongue-in-cheek explanation of my stance in the sexy side of time travel.

I’m almost all movied out for now. Although I will take the time to see The Lady in the Van. (I would LOVE for Maggie Smith to play Granny Weatherwax in a Pratchett movie.) I’ll do my best to see the screen adaptation of Good Omens. Apart from that, I haven’t seen The Last Jedi yet. The DVD should be out soon.

Just a final thought – we still call them ‘movies’ and ‘films’. I wonder if young people (as opposed to old farts) still know why those words are used? It’s all digital images, after all.


That’s it for the Winter Olympics – bring on the Comm Games

Olympic torch Sydney 2000

The Winter Olympics is over for another four years. In 2022 it will be Beijing’s turn and I’m sure that will be lovely for them. In 2020 the Summer games will be held in Tokyo, and the Football World Cup (the round ball game) will be held in Qatar in 2022. But we’ve also got the Commonwealth Games, happening a few hours south of us at the Gold Coast in just a few months. Hurrah! (No, we won’t be going)

I remember watching the 1962 Commonwealth Games on our (very new) TV in Perth.  We were given time off from school because of the Games. They were on in November-December, and as I recall it was stinking bloody hot; hotter than usual for the time of year. The Queen came to visit and we got to go to the new stadium in our school uniforms and wave at her and Prince Philip. The City Fathers built Perry Lakes stadium, the swimming centre, an athlete’s village – and most important of all, the Narrows Bridge. If one considers what Perth paid, and what Perth gained from the games, the ledger isn’t bad. Several stadiums and sporting facilities were built and used over many decades. The bridge was a wonderful thing, joining the two communities north and south of the river much more easily. That infrastructure has stood the test of time.

The Olympic stadium at Sydney, soon to be demolished

But when it comes to hosting such major sporting events, things have changed on several fronts. Sydney hosted the Olympics in 2000. It was extremely well run and I, for one, had a great time. Yet not even twenty years on, the Olympic stadium at Homebush is going to be demolished and replaced. South Africa built a new stadium for the football world cup because there was no suitable venue. Since the World Cup it isn’t used. When the infrastructure was built for the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, the poor people around the area were cleared away. Same thing happened in Brazil in 2014 – a poor country spent billions – at the expense of its poorest citizens – to host an extravaganza. Is it worth it? This report from 2003 reflects on what Sydney gained from the exercise. Here’s a report on the 2010 FIFA World Cup and what it did for South Africa. In brief, these sporting events are run at a substantial loss for the host city.

As time has gone by the Olympic movement, started with such high ideals, has become another case of snouts in the trough in the bidding process.  It’s no secret Qatar bought the right to stage the 2022 FIFA World Cup. But that wasn’t an isolated case. This article applies a blow torch to the Olympic bidding process. These days few countries can afford to spend the billions needed to secure a bid. That is especially true of poor nations, who have to build infrastructure they can ill-afford for a few weeks of sports.

And for what?

A bit of jingoism at the kayak races

Sure, it’s a great spectacle and the world gets to see exceptional athletes, but after the doping scandals with the Chinese, the Russians, Lance Armstrong, Ben Johnson, Marion Jones and Maria Sharapova – to name just a handful – I’m pretty cynical. And that’s sad for the REAL athletes. It’s not new. We all know the East German swimmers (just one example) were doped to the gills. The Tour de France seems to be more about hiding the doping these days. Russia hosted the Winter Olympics in 2014 – and their whole national team was barred from the 2018 competition for cheating. Athletes can excuse using drugs because ‘everybody does it’ and there’s no other way of competing. Performance enhancing drugs are rife in any high-level sport. And if it’s not performance enhancing, it’s sports fixing, such as in cricket – I remember Hansie Cronje, South Africa’s captain, convicted of match-fixing, as well as a few Pakistani cricketers.

Look, I don’t have a problem with the Olympics or all the other world sporting events per se. It’s a great way for the world to get together. But let’s get rid of the bidding process, which only lines the pockets of the organising committees. Here’s just one report on the FIFA scandal, where executives took bribes.  If cities don’t have the infrastructure for such events without spending billions of tax payer dollars, they shouldn’t be bidding. It’s just a way for the rich and famous in those places to big-note themselves. Cities like Los Angeles, which famously actually made a profit from the Olympics, already had the stadiums, and put the athletes up in university accommodation. Heck, I reckon Sydney and Melbourne could host the Olympics with little extra expenditure, as could a number of American, Canadian, and European cities. The biggest outlay would be for security.

It has been suggested the Olympics should be run every four years in the same place, perhaps in Greece, where the whole thing started. But maybe that’s a bit over-ambitious. Maybe several large cities could take it in turns to host the tournament. Or something.

It doesn’t HAVE to be just one host. There’s a World Cup for cricket. Granted, there are far fewer countries involved, but those events are held differently. When the cricket World Cup is in Australia, matches are held all around the country. Same thing can happen in the sub-continent, where games are held in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India, and Pakistan. And so on. Teams use the existing cricket grounds, warts and all. Lots of cities benefit from the matches and from the increase in visitor numbers. I don’t recall anybody having to build a new stadium, or housing. Many more nations play the round-ball game than cricket, but the load could be shared between a number of countries – especially in Europe. After all, international club matches are played over there all the time.

What needs to go is the selection of the host country through a bidding process. That leads to the corruption we’ve seen in the International Olympic Committee and FIFA. What about a rota?  Eg for cricket, we could have Australia/New Zealand, sub-continent, United Kingdom, and Africa, each hosting the games, which take place every four years, so it’s your turn every 16 years. The Rugby World Cup and the FIFA World Cup could be run in the same way, by grouping countries.

And actually, while I’m up here on this hobby horse, I would also suggest it’s time to shut down the United Nations, which is loooong past its use-by date. It was a nice idea in 1945, but greed and self-interest make it a toothless tiger. The world is paying a hefty price to keep politicians in the manner to which they’ve become accustomed in New York. And the world isn’t getting much in return.

I read with sadness that Barnaby Joyce has succumbed to the media pressure and resigned as leader of the National Party. I wish we could go back to the good old days when personal lives were just that, and parliament wasn’t a reality TV show.

Oh well. I guess it just means I’m old.

And in other news, I’m nearing 40k words in my new book, now tentatively titled “Mystery of the Ice Warriors”. But that might change. It sounds a bit Famous Five, doesn’t it? Read a snippet here.




The week that was

Today I want to talk (very briefly) about Barnaby Joyce. (For non-Australian readers, he’s the deputy Prime Minister, and leader of the National Party. His marriage is on the rocks and his new partner, who was a member of his staff, is pregnant.) IT’S NOBODY’S BUSINESS.  The man has a wife and four kids who don’t need the laser glare of public opinion intruding into their lives. They’ve done nothing wrong. In fact, I don’t think Mr Joyce has done anything wrong. I’d take a guess and suggest his marriage was on the rocks some time ago, and he’s turned to somebody he works with for comfort.  That’s never happened to anybody before, has it? Granted, it might have been wiser to not make a baby until arrangements were settled. That’s never happened to anybody before, either, has it? And the ‘job for the girlfriend’ – I gather she’s qualified. Once again, it’s not exactly a novelty. Jobs for the boys/girls has always been a thing. Provided the person has the skills, it’s a non-issue. Maybe there are a few irregularities – was a government-paid job created for the lady, did Mr Joyce take advantage of perks for his new accommodation – but it’s a side issue in the major job of running the country.

It used to be (in this country, anyway) a politician’s private life was exactly that. Harold Holt was known for having an eye for the ladies. Bob Hawke admitted to bringing girlfriends into the Lodge (Australia’s PM’s home). They were both married men – and they’re just a couple of the more well-known examples. None of that made the headlines, let alone endless discussions in the House or on the news. I guess in these days of reality TV shows the opposition parties and the media tend to zero in on something much more entertaining to the masses than the mundane task of Governing the Country.

Our national debt is in the billions, our welfare system is creaking, and all we have to talk about is Barnaby Joyce’s extra-marital affair. This isn’t the bible belt in the southern USA. Get over yourselves. Please.

Which segues nicely into the most recent insanity on the other side of the world, where a teen wielding an AR-15 murdered seventeen kids at the school he used to attend. How many kids have to die before the assholes in the NRA (National Rifle Association) realise it’s not about them? It’s all been said so many times before. “Thoughts and prayers” – bullshit. At least Prime Minister John Howard had the balls to stand up and be counted after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996. (That article is well worth your time) And Australians, appalled by what had happened, went along with the new gun laws. No civilian needs a semi-automatic weapon. For that matter, I read the other day that the killer who murdered fifty-eight concert-goers in Las Vegas used armour-piercing bullets. The man who sold the ammo has been arrested for manufacturing the rounds without a licence. Why in anybody’s name would a civilian need armour-piercing bullets?

Many, many people in the US are as sickened by the unending violence, and the do-nothing mentality of the government, as I am. Newspapers have railed against the inertia. This article appeared a year ago. It illustrates on a map where mass shootings occurred in the US in 2015, then shows Australian mass shootings for the same year. I’m sure we all remember Sandy Hook, when tiny children were gunned down. I hoped America would wake up then. But the NRA is an all-powerful lobby with too many senators in its pocket. And too many Americans are still inclined to say it’s not about the guns, it’s about mental health. Hello, America. You’re not the only country with people with mental health issues. And yet Australia, the UK, Canada, Europe, Japan – none of those nations has mass shootings so regularly that it hardly gets a mention in the news. Take a look at the graphs in this article. It’s all about the guns, really it is.

That little kid up there with the assault rifle? Kids in America are brain-washed into thinking that owning a gun is a God-given right, that it’s in their constitution. It might be worth reading this to see what the second amendment is really all about.

And in other matters, I’m making progress with my new book. You can read about that here at Spacefreighter’s Lounge.

Fun with technology

In these days of rapidly advancing tech I’ll bet we’re not the only people who upgrade their equipment and then have a perfectly good, not particularly out of date piece of equipment that they might as well sell. I had a Samsung Tab A which was now superfluous to requirements, so we listed it for sale on Gumtree.

Naturally, I checked on the net to find out how to remove my data and restore the device to factory settings. It’s not hard, just requires a bit of dexterity because you have to hold down the home key (on the front) while also holding down the power key and the volume up button (both on the side). [1] That all worked. People came, paid us money, and left with the tablet – and, as it happens, a second tablet which we hadn’t yet listed – also in good condition, but a little older.

These folks live in Maryborough, about 40k from us. Not long after they would have reached home we received a message that while Pete’s old machine worked just fine, my ex was asking for a google sign-in from the owner. Me.  The message says “This device was reset. To continue, sign in with a Google Account that was previously synced on this device.” They’d set up Pete’s old machine without any problems. WTF?

I was nonplussed, to say the least, and started digging around on the net. The lockout is an anti-theft approach developed by Google for units running its Android OS. I had used the tablet to check my mail on Gmail, and to make purchases from Google’s Playstore. Naturally, that required a username and password, so the device was registered as mine. Without my username and password, the device was rendered useless.

Well, that’s pretty nifty. But I’ll bet I’m not the only one who ever wanted to sell a phone or tablet.  Eventually, I tracked down a site which explained the situation. BEFORE I reset the tablet to factory settings I should have removed my user account. Samsung’s own site says nothing at about a Google account – which I think is pretty ordinary. However, (armed with a print out of instructions) we took a drive to Maryborough to fix the machine.

But it was one of those days. We were a kilometre up the road when I asked Pete to go home so I could write down my Google password. Then the Merc’s useless navigation system failed us again, trying to send us down what was left of the road after that part was blocked off. Then, when I logged into the device it sent a confirmation code to my mobile phone. Which was… at home. So we took the tablet home. BTW, Pete’s old unit didn’t have that problem because he didn’t have a user account on the machine.

I had intended to cook a whole chook for dinner, but by the time we got home, it was too late, so we went to the golf club’s restaurant for dinner, and wasted a few bucks on the pokies. (I’m over it, really. There’s no skill involved, just dumb luck – and we didn’t have any.) We ate a nice meal and went home. As soon as we turned into our driveway, I said, “Oh fuck, I left my bag at the restaurant.” I don’t take my bag anywhere much, unless I’m on my own. But for this trip to the golf club it was a bit like the old lady and the fly. I took the bag to carry the purse, I carried the purse to carry the membership card… So Pete turned the car around and headed back the way we’d come. It was going on for nine, but the place had been virtually empty except for us and maybe two other tables, one of which left before us. While we were there we asked if Sunday night was always that busy. They said it was hit-and-miss, but they thought all the regulars might have been all partied out after Saturday’s John Farnham et al concert. On the way back we thought they might shut up shop early. But we were in luck. The nice lass who’d looked after our needs all evening had found the bag. She tried calling us, which was possible because we’d signed in with our club membership. No, I didn’t have my mobile with me – I rarely carry it since I’ve retired. And anyhow, the number on our membership was wrong. The nice lass returned my bag, and fixed up the phone number while she was at it.

So there you go. You’re allowed to laugh. Here’s the link to the article about removing your account from a Samsung device. We’ll deliver the device back to the new owners today. And I’ll take my bag, and my phone – just in case.

On supermarkets and packaging

I’m old enough to remember when the supermarkets did away with big brown paper bags and replaced them with plastic bags. The reason? To save the trees. Looking back it sounds crazy. These days everybody is wringing their hands over plastic and how it pollutes everything. Paper is basically organic matter, and will break down in land fill – while plastic… probably has a half-life.

While we’re down memory lane, do you remember when milk was delivered in glass bottles to your front door, and you left out the empties for the milko to reuse? Do you remember when kids used to collect discarded soft drink bottles to cash in for threepence (or something) a pop? It certainly kept the beaches clean. The disgusting scenes we see after a pop concert or a festival would be a happy hunting ground for enterprising kids. South Australia is the only Australian state that retains deposits for glass recycling. These days, soft drink bottles go into recycle bins, and milk comes in plastic bottles or wax-covered cartons which end up in land fill.

When I was young my mum would walk to the little shopping strip nearby, carrying her shopping bags, and buy meat from the butcher’s, veg from the greengrocer’s, and groceries from the grocery store. Then she’d carry the bags home again. Her purchases were either wrapped in paper, or placed in paper bags, or left loose. The world has changed. Now, we drive to the shop in our cars and buy lots of stuff we probably don’t need and take it home (very often) in plastic bags.

Now the supermarkets are being very environment-conscious by phasing out the use of plastic bags. Yes, we take home our shopping from Coles or Woolies in plastic bags, and then we reuse the bags as bin liners. When we go to Aldi, we take our reusable shopping bags – because Aldi charges for plastic. Very noble of them, I’m sure. But I suspect it’s more about economics than environment. They don’t have to buy one-off purchase plastic bags, and make provision for them in their stores.

It all sounds very “green” doesn’t it? But if I didn’t have shopping bags to use as bin liners, I would have to buy… plastic bags!  And especially in Aldi, it’s not possible to buy food without packaging. You can buy 500gm of green beans in a specially-inflated plastic bag, but not a handful of beans to have with tonight’s roast. Meat is presented on Styrofoam (or something) trays covered with plastic. Bread comes in plastic bags, water (!) comes in plastic bottles. Increasingly, products like salad dressing that used to come in glass come in plastic. Have you ever wondered what’s in that plastic bag with your green beans and lettuce? It’s an inert gas which keeps the vegetables fresher for longer, and that’s why the contents go rotten the day after you open the bag. We’re told this is to keep food hygienic. Maybe it’s to keep it saleable for longer.

Some plastic can be recycled, but a lot, like film wrap, can’t be. Then there’s bottle tops, sandwich bags, biros, throw-away plates and utensils – you name it. These are the things which end up in the ocean, creating vast islands of plastic rubbish. We’ve all seen photos of dead seabirds with their stomachs full of plastic. The remote Pitcairn Island group has some of the most polluted beaches in the world – and it’s not local garbage.  Mind you, plastic breaks down, sure – into tiny particles that are all through the food chain because they’re swallowed most especially by fish.

Pardon my cynicism but when big supermarket chains fold their hands and preach ‘environment’, I go looking for the money. If you sell beans in bulk no-one has to weigh them to calculate the cost. If you over-package everything it takes less time to process (barcodes and the like) and small items are harder to steal. Oh – and it’s easy to hide the fact that the contents have been reduced without a concomitant reduction in price, unless you read the label. The bags keep food fresher, so you can sell it for longer.

I don’t think the answer to plastic waste is going to come from sanctimoniously banning plastic shopping bags, and I don’t see us going back to the good old days of the shopping strip. Heck, even when you go to a grower’s market on the weekend you’re offered a plastic bag for your farm grown bananas. But… biodegradable alternatives to plastic have been around for a decade. Here’s an article that discusses some of them. Even if they cost a fraction more, that has to be better than killing off our wildlife through our pollution.

I’m sick of hearing all the platitudes about climate change. The climate’s changing. Get over it. I wish governments around the world would spend some money on getting rid of plastic packaging, and especially do something about those floating plastic islands.

Oh – one thing I think Aldi does very well is its eminently sensible approach to shopping trolleys. People pay to use them – a fee which is returned if the trolleys are put back in the racks. Saves damage to cars, and having to pay for young people to collect them from where they were abandoned in the car park. I wish all the supermarkets did that. I reckon the cost of the locking mechanism for trolleys would quickly be recouped by a reduction in stolen/lost/damaged trolleys, and not having to pay a trolley collection agency.

For anyone interested in my latest book, you’ll find an article about that here.

And having dumped that horrible beach scene on you, here’s a nicer one to make up for it.


Super blue blood moon? Ho hum

Blood moon in eclipse

The Big Event of the week was, of course, the Super Blue Blood Eclipse moon. Forgive my jaundiced lack of excitement. The so-called super moon is just a shade closer to the Earth than a common-or-garden-every-28-days full moon. Nobody makes a song and dance when the Moon is at apogee (furthest away from Earth), but that happens regularly, too. The blue moon is so named because it’s the second full moon in a calendar month. A month is something we humans dreamed up to divide the year (the time it takes for the Earth to travel around the Sun) into more manageable pieces. It has no further meaning. And the blood moon (the reddish hue) is because of the eclipse. Up there’s one I took earlier (2014, actually).

Yes, I looked at the gallery of wonderful blood moon photos online. I had to wonder about some of them, but anyway, here’s mine.

Bat flies in front of super blue blood moon (honest)

Eclipses do have an effect on wildlife, though. Even lunar eclipses. Maybe it’s some sort of mystical crow thing, but the local crows must have been planning their corroboree for weeks. They started group singing at around 1am (just about the time the lunar eclipse finished) and kept it (and me) up for hours. Some of the buggers still hadn’t gone to bed at 6am. I hope they had the mother of all hangovers.

For some time now I haven’t talked much on my own blog about what I do to entertain myself and maybe earn enough for the occasional bottle of wine, since I retired. Oh, didn’t I tell you? I write books. Sometimes people buy them, but the numbers have dropped off over time. Too much competition, not enough marketing. But I digress. I also take photos. Sometimes (but not often) people buy them, too.

In my writing world two things have happened.

The first is that after a hiatus of quite a few months, I’ve plunged into a new book. I’d had the beginnings of this story sitting in my work-in-progress file for several years. I stopped because I didn’t know where it was headed, thought about re-purposing it for another story line, then decided it was fine where it was. I explained it all in greater depth here. I’m ploughing along with it. As usual, writing isn’t easy. But challenges are great, aren’t they? Keep the little grey cells active and they’ll ward off Alzheimers.

The second thing that happened was that one of my books from last year WON AN AWARD!!!! Read all about it here. The SFR Galaxy Awards aren’t the same as the Booker, or the Nebula Award. I don’t expect to be the next great best-seller. It’s an award in a niche sub-genre (Science Fiction Romance). Books are not nominated, and it’s not a popularity contest. The judges are readers/reviewers in the genre and they give an award to whichever books they want to, based on their own criteria. For the Greater Good won an award for the most coveted cat. Whatever. That particular judge decided to showcase my book, and I’m surprised and humbled – and yes, pleased as punch. It has reinvigorated my enthusiasm for writing, which can be a rather thankless business. For more information about the book, including where you can buy it, go here.

All this boost to creativity is a great thing. I realised the reason I hadn’t finished that next book in this series was because my original concept for moving from the finished book (Kuralon Rescue) to the next book was flawed. The character dynamic didn’t work. Once I’d sorted that out, the cover I’d had done for Kuralon Rescue didn’t quite work anymore – although the story was fine. I decided to redo the cover myself. That had the additional benefit of allowing me to hone my Photoshop skills. The result is at left and I’m very happy with it.

I’ll be doing the cover for the new book myself, too.

Also after a considerable hiatus, I’ve taken out the camera again. The lorikeets appear to have had a Summer break from the pool fence, but they’re back. We’ve made friends with the local magpies and it’s quite funny to see one running over to say hello when we go outside. The youngster is quite happy to take a morsel of bacon rind from our hands, but the parents are a trifle more wary. We also have the usual crowd of butcher birds, noisy miners, blue-faced honey eaters, and the rarer pale-headed rosellas, as well as an occasional kookaburra, crested pigeons, pee wees and so on. I’m glad to say the koels and the channel-billed cuckoos have buggered off back to PNG (they’re migratory).

But we can’t get rid of the bloody crows.

So… here’s a few photos.

Scaly-breasted lorikeet – slightly smaller than the rainbow lorikeets

Blue-faced honey eater

They’re not always cute little guys

Pair bonding calls for grooming

Young butcher bird – they go black and white

Pale-headed rosella




The celebration of a nation

It’s the 26th January, 2018. Today is the 230th anniversary of when Captain Arthur Phillip planted the British flag at the site of what became Sydney in the state of New South Wales. The place is New, it’s in the South, and it’s a bit weird, like Wales. Get it? The Dutch were even less original. They called the whole continent New Holland. What a laugh. I don’t think there’s anywhere in the world that’s less like the Netherlands than Australia.

The 26th January has become Australia Day. When I was young (I must be honest) it didn’t mean much more than an excuse for a long weekend. Whatever day the 26th fell on, the closest Monday became the holiday. That changed not all that long ago. These days the holiday is on the date, whatever day of the week it might be. (Except, I believe, in the Australian Capital Territory (AKA Canberra) where they get a long weekend. [1] Really, as far as we Western Australians were concerned, British colonisation didn’t start until Governor Stirling sailed up the Swan River in June, 1829. WA didn’t have much to do with the Eastern States until the gold rushes in the 1890’s. All the other states were much the same. For quite a while you had to pay taxes to cross the Murray River between Victoria and NSW.

I suppose Australia Day is the equivalent of Columbus Day in the US – the day the White Man arrived. And that is why the date has become controversial to a minority of the population. Some (I stress ‘some’) Aboriginal people contend that it’s invasion day. And I suppose it is – for that tribe in Sydney when Philip arrived with his convicts and marines. (The Eora people) But it wasn’t for the Nyoongah in the area around the Swan River – that came forty-one years later. And so on, around Australia. However, I’ll concede it was the first deliberate landing by white men, with the intention of staying. (A few Dutch people became permanent residents quite by accident).

It constantly amazes me that the young are so ignorant of their own history. Why desecrate a statue of James Cook (who sailed up the East coast in 1770) on Australia Day? Many have no idea why 26th January is celebrated at all.

The REAL Australia Day, when the Commonwealth of Australia was created by uniting the Australian states into a federation, happened on 1st January, 1901. It’s the equivalent, more or less, of the American 4th July. But I think we’d all concede that January 1st is a bit busy already, what with fireworks and such.

What other date might be suitable for Australians to jointly celebrate their nation? Um… how about the date when Australians were no longer counted as British citizens? That was… oh… 26th January 1949. I guess the problem is that unlike the French, the Americans, and the Russians, we didn’t have a rip-roaring revolution to celebrate our nationhood.

It’s tragically true that many aboriginal people were shamefully treated – sometimes not so long ago, as I related in my post on my visit to Rottnest island. But life goes on. European history is a litany of invasions and take-overs. On a largish island off the coast of France, the Danes ousted the Romans who ousted the Celts. The Normans took over from the Danes – with murder, massacres, and repression much more common than we might believe. These days those different elements have all melted together and we call them Poms – okay, British.  I find it refreshing to see Australians who count themselves as aboriginal, supporting retention of the 26th January as our national day. Jacinta Price, who is a half-aboriginal Alice Springs councillor, says ‘aboriginal people have become professional mourners and it’s time it stopped‘.

Well said, Jacinta.

26th January is a historically significant date. But that’s history. I love this country. I wasn’t born here, but it raised me. Today I will be celebrating what makes this nation such a great place to live. Enjoy Dorothea McKellar’s evergreen poem, as read by the author.

As for the history – I must applaud The Australian newspaper for its six-part serial on the voyage of the First Fleet to Australia in 1787/8. It’s a wonderful series of stories, describing the epic voyage from the point of view of various people who took part – willingly or unwillingly. The vignettes are put together from historical sources of the time – letters and journals written by people like Arthur Phillip himself. I’m not the only one who would love to see these essays published in book form. They’re the sort of thing that brings history to life – not dates and names. The convicts, in particular, suffered great hardship on that interminable journey, stuck below decks amongst the rats and the filth. There are tales of attempted escape, attempted mutiny, female convicts trading sex with the sailors and marines for small favours, the birth of a baby during a storm on Christmas day – and more. Look for a book written by Trent Dalton and illustrated by Eric Lobbecke. The Australian is a subscription newspaper, so there’s no point in a link.

And just because it’s so damned entertaining – here are the late great Douglas Adams’s thoughts on Australia. He was wrong about the snakes, though. Oh – and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Terry Pratchett’s wonderful novel The Last Continent. It’s about XXX, not Australia. But… <whispers> it really is about Australia. Sir T took the mickey out of every legend, every icon, every grand old Aussie characteristic. Nothing was sacred. Vegemite, beer, the man from Snowy River, Ned Kelly, Nellie Melba and the pavlova, Mad Max… Recommended.

And to finish, please enjoy a few photos celebrating the wide brown land.

The Great Australian Bight

The south coast

A grey kangaroo

Flinders range

Murchison gorges

Pilbara sand

The road and the sky

Lazy summer days

While my friends in the Northern hemisphere complain about the short grey days and the long cold nights, we in the South are either enjoying long summer days, or complaining about soaring temperatures. Many of us are also enjoying the summer holidays. For us, Christmas signals the beginning of the big break before work resumes around February. That includes the media and the TV stations. It’s the time of yet another re-run of shows like The Big Bang Theory, Thirty Minute Dinners with Jamie, or Nigella’s cooking show. Ho hum.

But Wait. There’s cricket. You can’t beat a few days on the couch watching an international test match, or a one-dayer, on TV. The boxing day test is a highlight of the sporting calendar. I recall one year, Pete and I both caught a flu while on holiday, so we holed up in a motel room and watched the boxing day test from bed.

While a lot of people think cricket is slow – and it can be – I think test cricket is an absorbing game of strategy and tactics. Played over five days, six hours a day, in any weather except rain, it can be physically and mentally draining. The one-day form (50 overs a side) is more exciting, but less challenging for the players, and the 20 overs a side version (T20) is called the Big Bash League for a reason.

I watched a one -day game yesterday, between England and Australia. Oz batted first and only managed 261 runs, which is pretty ordinary. Seemed the Poms were going to have our lot for dinner. As our batsmen and the fielding team trailed off for the lunch break, I remembered a famous one-day match played many years ago between Western Australia and Queensland.

It was in the 1976-77 season. My then-partner and I had been visiting family. They also enjoyed the cricket so we listened to the match on the radio. Because it was played in Perth, Perth viewers couldn’t watch the match on TV. (The idea was to get crowds to the ground, but at over 30,000 there already, it was pretty much at capacity.) WA was all out for 77 in 23 overs. (Back in those days an innings was 40 overs, with 8 balls per over. Today it’s 50 overs with 6 balls per over) Our team was going to be creamed. So my partner and I went home.

He turned the radio back on after the lunch break. I confess I wouldn’t have bothered. I’m not a masochist, and the Queensland team was undoubtedly going to win. After all, their line up included Greg Chappell, who became Australian captain, and Vivian Richards, who became West Indies captain. Both of them are amongst the top ranked batters in the history of the game.

But nobody had figured on D.K. Lillee, one of the greatest fast bowlers the game has ever produced, and then at the top of his considerable powers. In the rooms during lunch WA’s team captain, Rod Marsh (one of Australia’s legendary wicket keepers), tried to gee up the side – “There’s a big crowd here. Let’s not let them down. Let’s make them fight for it.” To which Lillee responded, “Make ’em fight for it be buggered. We’re going to beat these bastards.”

Dennis reckoned WA could win. He blasted Viv Richards with four bouncers in the first over. In those days batters didn’t wear helmets and those balls are whizzing through at 130km (about 80mph+). Then he bowled him with a good length ball. One down. David Ogilvie hit a couple of fours before he, too was given his marching orders. But now the Qld score was 2 for 23, and they only had to get 78. Should be a doddle. Next batter was Greg Chappell, who had made a century on debut on the WACA ground not so long ago.

Remember I said cricket is about tactics? Rod Marsh (wicket keeper, standing behind the batter) signaled to Dennis Lillee to bowl a bouncer down leg side, expecting that Chappell would try to hook the ball. Rod was moving into the expected trajectory of the ball before it was bowled. Chappell tried to glide it down to the boundary and watched it land safely in Rod’s gloves. Dennis had 3 wickets for 11 runs, and the rest of the WA players knew they were in with a chance.

The rest, as they say, is cricketing history. Queensland was bowled out for 62. It was only fitting that Our Dennis took the final wicket of the day.

The late seventies and eighties was a great time for watching cricket.  Reading through a list of the men who played that match was almost a who’s who of Australian cricket, not to mention the great Viv Richards who was spearhead of the all-conquering West Indies team for many years. Such a shame the Windies is now a spent force, although individuals do make their mark (and a lot more money) playing in the Big Bash and India’s T20 league.

But that was then. The match I was watching that jogged my memory ended up predictably with England easily defeating Australia. But we still won the Ashes in the test cricket series!

Here’s a little video about the Miracle Match which will give you some idea of what it was like. It’s just over 7 minutes long. Ah, the memories.

There’s a book based around that match, with biographies of all the players. Here’s the link on Australian Amazon.

Did somebody mention tennis? Summer, Australian open? Oh, that. Two people grunting at each other as a ball whizzes from one side of the court to the other. For me tennis is right up there with formula one, just below grass-growing as a spectator sport.

But to each their own.