Friday, December 29, 2006

I'm dreaming...

My favourite talk-show on ABC radio, Tony Delroy's Nightlife has moved on to the summer program and the show will be presented by Bernadette Young for the next few weeks. (Bernie Hobbs will take over then, and Tony will return early next year.)

The summer month is always known as "the silly season" in the media, and sometimes it's not hard to see why. At least Nightlife is still listenable to, though many of the usual features are absent.

One of the problems with a stand-in host for this show is handling the midnight quiz segment "The Challenge". This is an institution for ABC listeners and it doesn't take much to rile them if you get it wrong.

Bernadette seems to be doing fairly well, even though one night I think she equalled Rod Quinn's record for the longest time to get through the quiz. They started after the midnight news and ran till 1:30. I think that why Tony manages to keep to schedule is that he knows the rules but he knows when to break them; it's no good sticking to the no-clues-after-halfway rule if you're going through 20 or 30 contestants with the same question.

Of course she has some additional difficulties. The show this month is coming from the studios at ABC Perth and apparently the studio is not generally in use at that time of night -- so the air-conditioning automatically switches itself off. Bernadette and her producer have had to resort to switching off some of the lights in the studio to keep the summer heat at bay. Hence her rather informal attire in the picture above.

Christmas Day was pleasant enough in itself, but the lead-up was a tiring time. December 25th I was up early to get to the 9 o'clock service -- the church was packed and I was glad that I hadn't cut back the number I printed for the bulletin as I have sometimes at Christmas time.

At lunch time I went out with my sisters Julie and Pauline for a meal at Rydge's, a stylish hotel in North Hobart. The food was fine, though I think the jokes in the Christmas crackers could stand improvement.

The weather took a right-turn over the last couple of days. A week earlier we had heat waves and bush fires, then this week the temperature plunged and we actually had snow up on Mount Wellington (though we couldn't see it through the snowclouds from ground level).

I think they've got Bing Crosby working at the weather bureau.

Boxing Day I felt completely washed-out. I had a nap after breakfast and another one after lunch. If I could have figured out how to fit one in, I probably would have taken one after dinner as well.

I can't remember a time when I've been so tired for so long. It just seems that all the energy has been drained out of me. If I don't start getting more rest, I won't be able to think of any New Year resolutions, let alone try to keep them.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

merry christmas to all

The Sunday School children, so the story goes, were invited to take part in the Christmas Eve service.

The minister introduced them to the congregation and said "And the next song we shall sing is a new hymn entitled 'Christmas Love'."

That was the cue for the children each to raise a card with a letter printed on it, spelling out the name of the song.

But one little girl had her card upside down, and when the children raised the cards, this is what the congregation read:


Saturday, December 23, 2006

red sun at noon

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"Remember to water the lawn before midnight," I thought to myself. Total Fire Ban Day meant that the sprinkler became illegal once we got past Wednesday night; any spare water was reserved for fire-fighting activities.

Even though the bushfires this week were nowhere near the city, it didn't stop the sky from turning that creepy colour. The sun was orange,almost red, and the smoke haze spreading across the state meant we could hardly see Mount Wellington (which normally dominates Hobart from any angle you may be looking from).

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It was all distinctly unsettling. The mercury hit 31 degrees midweek (that's about 88 in the old Fahrenheit scale) and it's always a shock when that first hot weather of the summer hits you, no matter how aware you are intellectually that it's going to get hot.

It was really late when I got to bed last night but it was still 15 degrees outside with 68% humidity. Not very pleasant.

One of the announcers on the local ABC radio station said the next day that when he left the air-conditioned studio it felt like the end of the world outside in the street.

But by Saturday morning the following news was posted on the ABC website:

Most of the firefighters working on Tasmania's east coast will be able spend Christmas with their families after both of the state's large bushfires have been controlled.

The cool, wet weather has hampered backburning operations, but the Tasmania Fire Service (TFS) says the Kellevie fire is contained, and the St Marys fire has control lines around most of it.

Incident controller Gavin Freeman says the control lines on the western edge of the St Marys fire still need strengthening, but that work will have to wait until after Christmas.

"The fire has halted and we've got to a point where the tracks are chopped up because of the rain and fuels, lighter fuels, have got wet enough that they won't burn," he said.

On a happier note, my sister Julie is pleased by the Christmas gift she received from the Tasmanian police.

Well, sort of. Let me explain.

Last week she was unhappy to receive an $80 speeding ticket in the mail. It said that she'd been clocked at 52 kph in a 40kph zone in Giblin Street between Augusta Road and Pedder Street. Once she finished fuming, we re-read the letter and frowned.

Where is there a 40kph zone before Pedder Street? There's a school zone after Pedder Street, but that's a different block. We decided to query it when we got a chance.

Before we got round to this, she received a second letter. It said that due to a "procedural error" they would not be proceeding with the matter and to disregard the first letter.

I presume that "procedural error" is a euphemism for mistake. They have probably had a string of indignant letters and phone calls from people who received the same letter.

So that's her present from the police force this year.

Those of us with a warped sense of humour may enjoy the following list:

Modern Christmas Carols for...
* The Schizophrenic: Do You Hear What I Hear, the Voices, the Voices?
* Amnesiac: I Don't Remember If I'll be Home for Christmas
* Narcissistic: Hark the Herald Angels Sing About Me
* Manic: Deck The Halls and walls and house and lawn and streets and stores and office and...
* Multiple Personality Disorder: We Three Kings Disoriented Are
* Paranoid: Santa Claus Is Coming To Get Us
* Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, (Did I Jingle Bells??), Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells (Or Santa Won't Come!!)
* Agoraphobia: I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day But Wouldn't Leave My House
* Conduct Disorder: I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus So I Burned Down the House
* Social Anxiety Disorder: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas While I Sit Here and Hyperventilate
* Attention Deficit Disorder: We Wish You...Hey Look!! It's Snowing...Is That a Reindeer?>

Yule be sorry

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I'd like to buy you all an Irish Cross as a Christmas gift, but since I can't here's a picture of one instead.

The Christmas season is coming on fast, but I don't recall ever being as disorganised as I am this year. I always seem to be tired nowadays. I thought it was tiring back in the last years of my mother's illness, but I don't feel much better this year.

I feel as though I'm living next to a giant building that's blocking out the sun, keeping me in the eternal shadow of its shade. Maybe I'm having an anxiety attack or something.

At least Thursday afternoon at the church office wasn't quite as bad as I had thought it might be. Our minister Robert had done two of the three orders of service and brought them in as PDF files, so that was a big help.

With Christmas falling on a Monday and the special Carol service on Sunday night, we had to do three lots of printing -- one lot for Sunday morning, one for Sunday night and a third lot for Monday morning. The photocopier was behaving itself, thanks heavens, unlike some recent weeks.

I had feared we might be there till 6 o'clock or after, but in fact we finished at 5:20 pm. Surprisingly early, I thought.

Part of the appeal of the radio in the early days was that it was a participatory adventure. It was sound without sight. The listener had to supply the setting for the drama and the locale for the news report. This partnership now is gone as the TV provides everything needed. Everything but imagination. -- Bruce D. Callander

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I hope that's quite clear.

Monday, December 18, 2006

don't forget to breathe

Sunday morning began with a really strong cup of coffee. I was short on sleep, and there's nothing more embarrassing than nodding off during the sermon in church.

Especially since I was reading today's Bible text this morning. The second chapter of Matthew isn't too difficult for reading -- no awkward names like the Old Testament or long involved sentences to trip up the unwary.

What some people don't think of the first time they have to do this is that you have to read the passage aloud a couple of times. It's not the same reading it over to yourself. You need to be aware of how the words feel as they emerge from your mouth.

For example, in today's text, Matthew 2:1-12 I needed to pick a spot to breathe in the ninth verse, otherwise I would end up having to hurry through the last few words. And it's a good idea to practice getting the right speed; while reading too slowly can sound tedious, if you get rattled you'll probably speed up and gallop through the text with indecent haste.

Something that I often have trouble with is what to say when I finish reading the Bible in front of the congregation. Some people have a little formula that they recite after the reading, but I didn't feel comfortable with it.

After some thought I settled on a simple declaration "So it is written." I used it this morning; I'll see how I feel about it next time my name comes up on the roster.

I was so tired that I slept for an hour on Sunday afternoon until it was time to tune in for the Coodabeens radio show.

My sister however didn't nap. She was busy working on her Christmas cards for this year.

You see, I'm quite happy to buy a card, sign it and post or give it to the person in question. Julie however spends hours creating a personalised Christmas card that expresses her personality and the ambience of her home and animals.

This takes a lot of work. Sometimes days at the computer and the printer. In one extreme case she didn't finish working on the cards until Christmas Eve afternoon and spent the evening driving around hand-delivering them to all her friends' mail-boxes.

There can be times, I think, when too much determination can be as bad as too little.

Old Time Radio shows that I've been listening to this week:

Barry Craig, Phil Harris, Wild Bill Hickok, Hopalong Cassidy, Fibber McGee & Molly, Family Theatre, Hancock's Half Hour, Hollywood Barn Dance, Weird Circle.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

mousing along

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That mouse with the sweet tooth continues to make a nuisance of himself. I had thought that we'd gathered up all the chocolates and other confectionery in the kitchen, but apparently not. Following some chewing sounds, we came across a plastic bag containing half a dozen sachets of sugarless drinking chocolate.

Apparently it was the cocoa that had attracted the rodent's attention, since he had gnawed open one of the sachets, sugar-free or not.

I have a humane mouse-trap somewhere. I must get it out and try catching him. It won't be hard to decide on what to use for bait - a chocolate truffle or similar will do the job.

Meanwhile other pests are making their presence felt. There were so many flies in the house last month that we bought a new screen for the back door. Our remaining cat Paco is a bit puzzled by it; so far he has worked out how to get out, but not to get back in again. I'm sure that with time he'll get the hang of it.

Wednesday I had a whole list of things to pick up and to do. I had it all written out on a scrap of paper, crossing them off as I went like that guy on television.

If you'd been watching my progress on a map, I would have zigzagged back and forth and made big wide circles around the city, from Chesterman Street in the north to Weld Street in the south.

Traffic was getting heavier with the Christmas rush, but I was more worried by the slow but steady build-up of that smoky haze in the air. All the hills and mountains on the horizons were becoming harder and harder to see, and there was just a faint tang about the air.

Reports about the fires on the east coast dominated local radio broadcasts, and the local newspapers must have ordered up big on red ink to print all those colour photographs of raging bushfires. The one that struck me the most was a picture of a couple standing at their back gate watching fire-fighters try to quell a blaze that was literally a stone's throw from their boundary. None of us want to imagine ourselves in their place.

Hurrying through the mall on my way to the bank, I stopped for a moment to take a second look at a display in the window of one department store. It was a giant snow dome and inside it, a cheerful looking penguin and a teddy bear were standing under a signpost reading "North Pole." I wondered if I was the only passer-by who was disturbed by this sight.

My sister meanwhile was over at her house feeding the livestock. Two of the goslings survived from the last batch of eggs, and two of the older geese have died during the year, so she finishes 2006 with the same number (11) in the gaggle.

Meantime at my house Zelda the Suburban Goose continues to "rule the roost" in the back garden. I have only to cough when I walk out into the kitchen first thing in the morning for her to give a honk that she's ready for breakfast. For an animal with no visible ears, her hearing is very acute.

I hadn't realised that Rod, our Associate Minister, hadn't been there when I've mentioned National Novel Writing Month in the past. When I happened to mention it in conversation, I had to explain the concept - writing 50,000 words during the month of November.

He stared at me. "That's about 1500 words a day," he said. "It must just pour out of you like a tap."

"Would that it were so!" I thought to myself.

And since it is December the television stations are well into the "silly season". Looking at some of the programmes on offer it's easy to see why it's called that.

Some of their decisions don't really seem to make a lot of sense. For example, who decided to screen the final season of Star Trek Enterprise at 2 a.m. on Monday morning? That's a time slot almost designed to make sure that the target audience isn't watching.

And can we please have fewer programmes about autopsies screened in the early evening? I'm usually late getting dinner on the table and this doesn't do much to encourage my appetite.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

the Grand Hotel

2006 Dec 06 grand

No, not the Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, not even the one with Greta Garbo. We were at the Grand Hotel in Huonville, on the banks of the Huon River and we were wearing funny hats and eating plum pudding.

Yes, it was that time of year again and we were all enjoying an early Christmas Dinner with a group from our church.

I even ran into a fellow blogger, John Dekker, who said "Glad to see you finished your novel."

After eating, my sister and I took a stroll into downtown Huonville (not a long trip). I wanted to get a newspaper and as we turned we were facing a plant nursery with a notice telling us to follow the signs to the bookshop.

Julie looked at me. "Want to take a look?" I sighed. If we hadn't seen the notice, I wouldn't have had to decide whether or not to go in.

I used to spend a lot of time in second-hand book shops but not in recent years. Three reasons. It doesn't cost a lot, but it costs something. It takes time, which I never seem to have enough of. And most importantly it fills up space, which is a big factor after forty years of buying books.

But we went on in. Julie was delighted to find the proprietors owned a small black kitten, which obligingly sat there washing itself while she took pictures.

We wandered around the shop, which had the look of having once been in a bigger store. The bookshelves were large and imposing, but they were crowded together as though they had once been in a larger establishment.

The subjects were arranged thematically, so I found the whodunits just below the True Crime stuff. I'm always on the look out for traditional mystery novels since Julie reads a lot of them and I need to keep one step ahead of her. I sorted out half a dozen for her, and picked up a few old issues of Argosy and The Countryman for myself.

Nowadays I'm not up to reading many novels. The concentration required and the strain on my eyes is a problem for me. It took me a long time to come to terms with this -- for years I kept buying books that I knew I'd never get around to reading.

So we wandered out of the store, through the refreshingly moist atmosphere of the newly watered plants in the nursery, and out into the street again. We finally made it to the newsagents, then up the street for a Devonshire Tea at a little cafe in the main block.

It was one of those long summer afternoons, so it was still light when we came out. We strolled back to the hotel to pick up the car, enjoying the sensation that our forefathers would have wandered along this same street on their trips to town in the 19th century. The town might have changed a little, but the hills of the Huon Valley would still look the same if my grandfather were to return for a visit.

Just across the main road from the Grand was a quiet little park on the riverbank. Spaced along the river were a series of wooden statues, carved from trees planted to celebrate the relief of Ladysmith in the Boer War. We ambled about, admiring the workmanship in the statues and the tranquillity of the river. Not a Jet Ski or a speedboat to be seen.

2006 Dec statues

The only subtle sign that all was not right with the world was that almost undetectable hint of smoke in the air. It was a long way to the fires on the east coast of the island, but the prevailing winds had blown some in.

Within five days of our idyllic afternoon in Huonville, the north-east part of the state was in flames. Gale force winds stirred up a virtual firestorm near St Helen's and the news was full of stories of disaster.

Casualties have been very light, but it was unsettling. Anybody who was in Tasmania during the terrible 1967 bushfires will never forget it. The sky filled with that terrible ruddiness, as though we were perched on the edge of an active volcano. The heated air that caught in your throat as you watched specks of ash drifting down from above.

Not happy memories.

Penelope Trunk, author and blogger, recently wrote a column on the subject of "burnout" and very thought-provoking it was.

Burnout doesn’t come from overwork but from an inability to get what you need from the work, according to Christina Maslach, professor at University of California, Berkeley. She created the widely used Maslach Burnout Inventory to test one’s level of burnout. The six areas of burnout to watch for:

1. Working too much
2. Working in an unjust environment
3. Working with little social support
4. Working with little agency or control
5. Working in the service of values we loathe
6. Working for insufficient reward, whether the currency is money, prestige, or positive feedback

People who are suffering from burnout tend to describe the sensation in metaphor of emptiness — they’re a dry teapot over a high flame, a drained battery that can no longer hold its charge.

Like most research about happiness, it comes down to your connections with other people. Maslach found that married people burnout less often than unmarried because a spouse provides another means for fulfilment.

So make sure you are reaching your goals and maintaining close friendships, and you probably won’t burn out.

That was certainly interesting, because I've experienced some similar emotional reactions, though I wouldn't say that I suffered any of the shortcomings listed above. My way of phrasing it was to compare myself with a motor vehicle -- one that was constantly used for short trips, day after day, and never had a chance to charge up its battery.

Eventually there comes a day when that car is not going to start, no matter how normal it may seem to look at.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

homage to a cat alone

Jezebel at keyboard

It's never good when you lose a pet. In this case it was particularly upsetting for my sister because her cat Jezebel seemed to be on the mend after some extensive (and expensive) medical care.

She had regained her appetite, looked a lot brighter and had even caught a mouse for the first time in years.

Unfortunately she went into a sudden decline one Monday. At midday she was perfectly normal, then she had some sort of bad turn and by 7 p.m. the Vets had said there was nothing more they could do for her. A sad day indeed.

Most of my spare time in November was taken up with the international novel-writing project NaNoWriMo. The idea is that everyone starts writing on November 1st and completes 50,000 word stories by the last day of November.

I managed to get through with a couple of days to spare last year, but this time I didn't make it to the winning post. Partly it's because I haven't the stamina I had last year, partly it's because I hit a problem with the plot in the first week and never got back on schedule.

I did finish the 50,000 words but it was two hours past the deadline, so I didn't get the coveted "winner" designation on the NaNoWriMo website. *Sigh*

My novel (or novelette if you prefer) this year was a psychological thriller set in the Australian television industry. I was so disorganised that I haven't even thought of a title for it this year.

I still had 6,000 words to write on the final day. I thought that if I really put my head down I might just do it, but it was a Thursday so I spent all afternoon working in the church office. If it hadn't been for that, I reckon I might have made it.

Still, there's always next year.

The Full Moon is on Tuesday December 5. The evening sky is now devoid of bright planets, but Saturn can be seen in the early morning sky near Regulus, the brightest star in Leo. By the end of the week, keen-eyed observers can see Mercury, Mars and Jupiter just above the horizon half an hour before sunrise, a foretaste of the rare triple massing next week. (Personally I hope not to be awake at that hour!)


If you actually believe in the value of individual freedom and responsibility (which not many people do, though many claim to), you pretty much have to agree that people have the right to decide for themselves what to do with their own bodies—if they also accept responsibility for the consequences. And that is something that our current culture has aggressively discouraged, to the point of making it practically impossible.

-- Stanley Schmidt, editor of ANALOG