Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Another short story

There’s a sign on the gate ‘Carnivorous Plants for sale’ and I want to buy one but where’s the guy to give my money to. He was here a minute ago.


I know, I know, it’s been a while. I’m sure I have been doing stuff (like getting my tax paperwork ready – a perennial exercise) which has kept me away from these pages, but I am back.
Australia remains in the throes of a Federal election campaign and the more I see of the jockeying and posturing for position, the more I think that some people have no idea what “democracy” actually means. Or maybe it’s just me that thought that in a democracy, a group of people votes in the person in the area they want, who then, together with people voted in by other areas, s/elect the person to lead them. It doesn’t seem to work that way in a two-party preferred system. Before you even have the chance of running for one of the major political parties, you have to gain “pre-selection” for a particular seat. Too bad if you wanted to run and you are not the party favourite. But you can always run as an independent. And sometimes, independents do seem to hold the balance of power in Parliament. That being said, I admit that I really don’t understand the whole political jag (although a friend has patiently tried to explain it to me on a number of occasions).
I don’t know whether it’s a coincidence or not, timed to run in the lead-up to the election, or as a result of the recent bombing of an Australian Embassy overseas, but ads have just started up here telling people to be “alert” for suspicious things as they go about their everyday lives – is someone taking photographs of a landmark building, has a car been parked for too long outside a building, is there an unattended package left on a bus or at a transport station? Of course, at the same time, if not in the same ad break, there are also the ads for the Liberal Coalition reminding us of how John Howard (current Prime Minister) has done and will continue to do whatever it takes to make and keep Australia safe – including pre-emptive strikes on territory belonging to our Asian neighbours.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Snow business ..

We visited Orange the weekend before last, in Central NSW, to attend a friend’s 50th birthday party. We were lucky enough, as well as being part of the celebrations, to see snow, and more snow. Very exciting stuff for we city dwellers. We saw sleet about a month before (during our last Orange visit) but this just made our weekend!

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Hutzpah ... or something

A report on page 9 of 'The Daily Telegraph' (Australia) (15/9/04) says visitors to prisoners in jail will be banned from going to the toilet - they can, but if they do the visit is over. It seems some visitors have been using toilet breaks to smuggle contraband into jail. Justice Minister John Hatzistergos said some visitors were known to smuggle drugs into jail by swallowing condoms filled with narcotics before excreting them in the toilets and then passing them on to visitors through kissing. I guess it's a whole different culture but seems you'd have to be pretty keen or desperate!

The Village

M. Night Shyamalan, creator of "The Sixth Sense", "Signs" and "Unbreakable" has another movie out ... "The Village". We saw it at the weekend even though we had also seen numerous tepid reviews. After being completely hoodwinked by his previous efforts, I wanted to walk out of the cinema this time knowing that I had worked out the twist ... before he revealed it. I also wanted a good scare in the process - but not so much that I wouldn't be able to get to sleep that night. Well, M. Night is a master of misdirection and surprise and he did deliver - but to what level depends on how high you set your expectations. One review said the biggest tragedy would be to pay to see this inapt and inept production. That was a bit harsh. S/he must have been wearing the bad colour at the time - the one that attacts those of whom "we do not speak" who live in the surrounding woods.
In an aside, apparently reviewers have to sign an agreement that they won't reveal the twists in "The Village". You'd think that would make for a fairly short review, especially if done in conjunction with that other adage "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all".
But make up your own mind. "The Village" is probably playing at a cinema near you.

Forensic Investigators

A new program started on one of our commercial television networks last week. I’ve only seen it the once so far, and I’m not sure I want to see it again. Not that it was that bad – although it did seem a little wooden in places. No, it’s more a philosophical concern I have … though some of that might be dispelled if I knew for sure whether the footage they show of interviews with the murderer were re-enactments (not billed as such) or actual footage. (In this morning’s paper there was an advertisement for Blue Heelers (police drama) and Forensic Investigators – and the heading “See him caught. Him him speak.” Even though it was ambiguous about which program it referred to, my money’s on Forensic Investigators – probably because the picture they used seemed to coincide with the face I saw in the FI previews. But are these people actors or are they real?
And there’s the question of how difficult it must it be for the families of the victims to see it all again. Hopefully the program will focus only on crimes which have been solved so bad memories are not trawled up for naught (except the hope for television ratings).
The first episode, about multiple murders in Frankston, Victoria, in the early 1990’s didn’t seem to give that much of a CSI-approach to forensic investigation. It seemed that the big breakthrough in the case was provided by two constables, who had been called to investigate a suspicious car that, as it turned out, was parked across the road from where a murder was committed. Had the car not been reported, and had the police not investigated, it is hard to know how long it would have taken for the taskforce to catch the killer.

Ready, SETI, gone

There was news last week that a radio signal had been received from space. The signal, around a minute long, was traced to a point between the Aries and Pisces constellations and apparently did not bear the signature of any know astronomical object. Pretty exciting news this in the New Scientist. Until later that day when a report in the BBC News had astronomers denying the ET signal which had apparently been detected through the SETI@home screensaver that uses computer downtime to analyse telescope data. Over the last 6 years when the program has been in operation, it has detected hundreds of thousands of signals, of which only 150 have survived the interference test, but none has ever been classed as a potential signal from ET – not even this one. As one of the astronomers quoted in the BBC article said – “it’s not new and it’s definitely not a signal”. (But would they tell us if it was? What kind of reaction would there be if people believed that contact had been made with extraterrestrials? Given the reaction we give people from other countries some times, it’s not looking good for our intergalactic neighbours!)

Naught to complain about

I read the Guardian Unlimited online and it has a great "News Quiz". One of the questions this week: What driving offence led to a woman appearing in court in Oslo. The correct answer: receiving a parking ticket while stuck in a traffic jam. And people complain that Australian police revenue raise!

Monday, September 06, 2004


Here's my recent writers' group homework, where we had to write about "Morning". I sent it off to the local paper but it wasn't used, so rather than let it go to waste, I'm sharing it here.

At primary school I wrote:
The time of day I like best … is just at dawn when I can rest …

At 44, I’ve lost my passion for mornings.

4.30am a paw caresses my cheek. Cat No. 1 cannot find crunchies in his bowl unless you show him. I stir them with a toe then crawl back into bed, not disturbing cat No. 2. I have become better at sleeping like a pretzel.

4.50am the newspaper crashes against the front wall of the house. Didn't hit a window. This time.

5.10am the alarm pips. It is set to lowest volume and not on 'Reveille' so as not to disturb my partner.

Stopping via the study to turn on the computer, I hurry to the kitchen to feed the cats and prepare No. 2’s insulin injection. Instead of buying a barbeque last Christmas, we had our cat diagnosed with diabetes.

Back to the computer and 30 minutes checking emails and downloading newspapers onto Palm.

On the treadmill for half an hour, 2km. I am careful about “hitting the wall”. Most elite athletes are happy to, but if I do it means I have crashed backwards off the machine.

Into the shower. Hopefully there's enough hot water. I have a shower routine. If I vary it, I end up doing most of me again. Sometimes I get interrupted and when I get out, I still have shampoo in my hair. Back I go.

What to wear? Albert Einstein had the right idea – was it Albert Einstein? He wore the same sets of clothes so he didn't waste time deciding. It’s easier to put black with black.

Breakfast. It’s hard not to have the same thing, or to find time to make microwave porridge. If my partner is having toast I want some too. (This is not without some concern, because we then need to make sure the toaster is off.)

How are you going, I ask – which we both know means I am running late as I check wallet, glasses, Palm, pen, bus ticket, back pack ...

Ready to go but first I have to check everything is off, toaster, stove, walking machine, computer - and the alarm is on, and the door snicked and closed properly.

Can you hear me? Toaster’s off, stove’s off. I try to work out systems like only turn the light out when everything in that room has been checked, re-checked, checked again.

The pressure isn’t as great on Wednesday’s when our cleaner comes. We know she’ll turn off things. Her house burnt down a couple of years ago.

I don’t mind going back to check things – as long as there’s enough time. I am so unsure of myself some days … most days. I can do the reporting – this is off, that is off – but when I’m asked if the stove was off, I can't answer with any degree of certainty. Back I go.

It’s worse in winter because then there's the heater to worry about. It’s not on my mental checklist (ditto the fan in summer) and I can forget about it until I am about to set foot on the bus – and then I agonise all the way to the next stop about whether to get off the bus, go home and check.

Our reception windows at work look out over the inner west – so if there’s a fire I will have some advance warning. Yes, that pall of smoke rising near Parramatta Road is because I didn’t turn the kettle or something off properly this morning.

All of this I can bear … what makes it difficult is that my partner of 14 years has caught some of my neuroses. The only thing worse than questioning myself is having both of us doing it.

No, these days the time of day that I like best … is the weekend.

Leslie Ash update

Some time ago I blogged about UK “personality” Leslie Ash who had contracted a superbug after going to hospital in April. I’ve now seen a report of her enjoying her first night “out” albeit on crutches. This would seem to be a good result given earlier reports suggested doctors had told the 44-year-old she may never walk again. The superbug, a variant of the deadly MRSA bug is apparently not uncommon in the UK hospital system.

Making a spectacle of oneself?

Just what we’ve always wanted … A German company has invented glasses that come apart to double as chopsticks. Dubbed “sushi specs”, they have detachable arms that double as chopsticks – or, if you prefer, you can have forks attached as an alternative. The designer of the glasses, Ralph Anderl, came up with the idea when he realized people nowadays want to “eat on the run” and that meant they needed to have implements with them. The specs can be made into prescription glasses – or sunglasses for those who prefer al fresco dining! But you have to know what you’re eating – once you’re got the chopsticks (or forks – and do they give you two forks so you can dine with a friend?) detached, you can’t use the glasses as glasses again until they’re reattached. The $300 glasses are apparently “flying off the shelves”.

Have you done it yet?

There is a name for it, but I can’t remember it at the moment – looking yourself up online. A recent survey of American net users by MSN reports that people are more likely to look themselves up than they are to look up a member of their own family … except for people over 59 who are more likely to try to find out about their family and ancestors. While some people “Google” to find out about prospective dates, the survey suggests most people are more interested in finding out about themselves … and I admit it, I have done searches for my own name on Google – and there are lots of me out there!!


“Authorities are puzzled in Chile after a number of motorists reported seeing strange creatures resembling dinosaur kangaroos.” UOL Noticias Populares says the two metres tall creatures have been spotted in a desert area north of Santiago. One witness, Hernan Cuevas, said “A weird animal looking like a dinosaur with two legs and huge thighs crossed the road in front of my car.” Police in the area say that while it isn’t strange for people to see things in the desert, it is odd that so many people have reported seeing the same thing at the same time. According to the report, the police are “intrigued”. As am I. What do a kangaroo and a dinosaur have in common – well, if you’re thinking about a T-Rex, they both have “ridiculously short arms” (thanks Rowan), and kangaroos and velociraptors are decent jumpers … but besides that … ??? I suppose it’s a good thing that given there are often reports of kangaroo herds roaming the main streets in Sydney, Australia, that they’re not the Chilean dinosaur kangaroo. (On another note, isn’t it good that people in Chile know what a kangaroo looks like!)