Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Doctor Who and me on the air

When my local radio station announced a Doctor Who contest, with prizes include a book of DW scripts and five DVDs, I was naturally interested. Write a plot for a Doctor Who episode in 500 words or less? Hey, I can do that.

I sent in my e-mail, and a couple of days later I was listening to the afternoon show and Joel Rheinberger announced they'd be reading one of the entries in the contest.

To say I was happy with it would be an understatement -- the reading with music and sound effects just bowled me over. I almost thought I was listening to the BBC.

So if nothing else goes well this pre-Christmas week, I at least have the consolation of having heard my own words come back to me over the wireless.

They'll soon be calling me the Orson Welles of North Hobart -- though they might have my build rather than my intellect in mind....

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Twelve Days of Turkey

This isn't original, but it seemed to go over quite well when I performed it at our church's Christmas lunch:

On the first day of Christmas my true love said to me

"I'm glad we bought a fresh turkey and a proper Christmas tree".

On the second day of Christmas much laughter could be heard

As we tucked into our turkey - a most delicious bird.

On the third day we entertained the people from next door

The turkey tasted just as good as it did the day before.

Day four. Relations came to stay; poor gran is looking old.

We finished up the Christmas pud and ate the turkey - cold.

On the fifth day of Christmas, outside the snowflakes flurried,

But we were nice and warm inside, for we had our turkey curried.

On the sixth day I must admit, the Christmas spirit died,

The children fought and bickered; we ate turkey rissoles, fried.

On the seventh day of Christmas my true love he did wince,

He sat down at the table and was offered turkey mince.

Day eight and nerves were getting frayed. The dog had run for shelter.

I served up turkey pancakes - with a glass of Alka-Seltzer.

On day nine our cat left home - by lunchtime dad was blotto,

He said he had to have a drink to face turkey risotto.

By the tenth day the booze was gone (except our home made brew).

As if that wasn't bad enough, we suffered turkey stew.

On the eleventh day of Christmas the Christmas tree was moulting,

The mince pies were hard as rocks - the turkey was revolting.

On the twelfth day my true love had a smile upon his lips -

The guests had gone, the turkey too, we dined on fish and chips!

I was sitting next to the wife of one of our ministers and she asked how I'd gone with the Nanowrimo novel this year. "I got through it with a day to spare," I said, "though it took me a couple of hours every night."

"How much did you have to write each day?"

"1700 words is the minimum."

She nearly choked on her cranberry jelly. "You can write 1700 words in two hours??"

I admitted that some days were easier than others....

Thursday, November 29, 2007

final day

Thank goodness for that.

You Won!

So it's official.
Our word-counting robots have analyzed your November novel, and they've delivered their final, binding assessment: Winner.

You did it! You did it! You did it!
This was, without a doubt, one of the hardest years on record for NaNoWriMo participants. At some point in the literary marathon, most of your fellow writers fell by the wayside. They lost their books to work, to family, to school, and to the hundreds of other distractions and interruptions that tend to shutter creative undertakings like NaNoWriMo.
But not you. Not this year.
This November, you set out with the ridiculously ambitious goal of bringing an entire world into existence in just 30 days. When the going got tough, you got writing. Now you're one of the few souls who can look back on 2007 as the year you were brave enough to enter the world's largest writing contest, and disciplined enough to emerge a winner.
We salute your imagination and perseverance. The question we ask you now is this: If you were able to write a not-horrible novel in 30 days, what else can you do? The book you wrote this month is just the beginning.
From here on out, the sky's the limit.
-- from the NaNoWriMo website

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The eyes have it

Saturday was E-Day. In fact it was doubly so. It was Election Day, but it was also eye-test day.

Five years is a long time between visits to the optometrist for anyone, but for a diabetic that's definitely too long.

My problem is that I don't like my eyes being touched, and for a diabetic exam it's usual to put in eye drops to make the eyes easier to inspect. I have never been able to use eye drops; embarrassingly I often struggle if somebody is trying to use them on me.

After a couple of attempts, we manage to work around my problem by photographing the inside of my eyes, then inspecting close-up the parts that didn't show up well in the picture.
The verdict was no sign of diabetic retinopathy and my macular seemed to be OK. However I was overdue for new bi-focals.

Under the Australian health system, the eye test is free. However the spectacles are definitely not.

Have you ever noticed that in this sort of situation if you try and guess how much it will cost, you're always about 30% below the actual figure.

The girl behind the counter showed me a couple of different styles.
"This pair is lighter and would cost about $1100, while these aren't so lightweight but cost about $900."

"I'll take the latter," I said. This month I have to pay the rates, the phone bill and the power bill before I even start thinking about Christmas. $900 is a lot of money at the moment.

Meanwhile, back at the ballot box, the pollsters' predictions turned out to have been right on the mark. The entrenched conservative government led by John Howard was crushed by the swing to Kevin Rudd's ALP.

Both men made speeches on late-night television. Howard was gracious in defeat, while Rudd gave a long speech overflowing with platitudes and cliches.

My main source of disquiet with Kevin Rudd sounds a bit superficial. It's the way he looks; sometimes he feels like an android who's been programmed to play the part of a politician. If they ever do another live-action 'Thunderbirds' movie, I've go the man to play Brains.

Monday, November 19, 2007


You remember the old comic-book villain Eclipso? Nasty fellow with one half of his face painted black, the other half white. That's how I felt when I woke up Wednesday morning.

The left hand of my head felt perfectly normal, but on the right side my eye was watering, my nose was running and my ear was hot and itchy. I've seldom had a head cold that was so compartmentalised.

For the next four days I felt miserable. I wandered around the house scavenging any medication that looked useful.
Vitamin C.
The symptoms went away but they always came back.

I was plunged into despondency. I felt there was no way I could summon up enough energy to get through each day.

The worrying part was that I was halfway through the annual Novel Writing Month and had undertaken to write 1700 words a day -- every day. Up till then I'd been right on schedule, but now I went 36 hours without typing a word.

There may be things you can still do with a heavy head cold, but writing fiction doesn't seem to be one of them.

And as students of Murphy's Law would know, this happened on the least convenient day of the week. I had to get up early because my sister Julie was driving our older sister Pauline to the eye clinic for a cataract operation. And I had an appointment that afternoon with my endocrinologist.

My doctor wasn't terribly happy that I hadn't improved at all, but he did listen to my complaints about being in constant ill-health. He wrote a couple of extra squiggles on the form for my blood test and said to make an appointment with the Diabetes Association for a consultation. He is planning to change my medication so I need to be tutored about the warning signs of the hypo.

*Sigh* I could have done without all this, but that's the way it happens sometimes.

It could have been worse. By Saturday night I had just about shaken off the symptoms without picking up any new ones. I'd even managed to just about catch up with my NaNoWriMo writing project, though it wasn't easy.

My sister's cataract operation went off without a hitch. That was good.

It was just a shame that in the middle of my ill-health I had to go to the office on Thursday afternoon. I felt so dreadful that I had to exert all my willpower to just get through my work.

My boss discovered after about an hour that he had his jumper on backwards. He asked if I'd noticed it and I was at a loss for what to say. It was difficult to explain that if I had noticed it, it was so low down on my list of priorities that my mind (running on emergency power) never got round to processing the information.

Surely the rest of November must be better!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

my november novel

Nothing to do with Halloween, but the last day of October is a worrying moment. For November is Nanowrimo month!

"NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is a creative writing project originating in the United States in which each participant attempts to write a 50,000 word novel in a single month. Despite the name, the project is now international in scope" states their Wikipedia entry.

If you've ever done a Creative Writing course, you'll find the idea of National Novel Writing Month a bit startling. For here the emphasis is on quantity not quality. Can you write a 50,000 word short novel in four weeks? That's about the length of a slim paperback novel. (Not one of those thick blockbusters you buy at the airport.)

The term "winner" is a bit misleading here - this isn't a contest and there aren't actually any prizes. Chris Baty of San Francisco started the whole thing in 1999 with 21 participants. From there, it's gone from strength to strength - nearly 80,000 participants registered in 2006, with almost 13,000 completing their novels (word total for all participants in 2006 was 982,564,701!)

Participants need to write an average of 1,667 words per day, which is about two and a half pages, single-spaced, in a 12 pt font. Now I am a trained touch typist and I could type that standing on my head. But actually creating a story as you type at that speed? That brings some of us out in a cold sweat.

I've taken part in it the last two years with mixed results. The first year I actually made it with a day to spare, which was just as well. I hadn't realised that different word-processors count words differently; my science fiction novel "Scorched by Darkness" was just under the 50,000 mark and I had to add a few more pages.

It was tiring but a satisfying experience.

The following year I ran into problems. I started off writing what I thought was a horror novel in the Stephen King mode and bogged down at the end of the first week because I was trying to fit a round peg into a square hole.

Eventually I decided what I was actually writing was a psychological thriller set in the television industry and it flowed along fairly well from there. Unfortunately I never made up the time I lost and in the end I missed the deadline by about two hours.

Nevertheless, I have a certain fondness for the resulting story "Carlton Marsden is dead"

So tomorrow I have to begin on my novel for this year. Two weeks ago I was worried about this, firstly because I didn't know if I was physically strong enough to do it, and secondly I didn't know what I was going to write about yet!

But the human mind is an amazing thing. Slowly the germ of a plot began to form and some characters came forward to volunteer. While I was shaving one morning I came up with the title - "Bernie Thompson's Unicorn is Missing" - and when I was walking the dog last night I thought of the whole first page.

And no, it's not a real unicorn. But it does play a vital part in the plot.

Wish me luck as I sit down at the keyboard at midnight tonight.

Monday, October 29, 2007

gone north

Last Saturday I got back from Bagdad in the late afternoon. Not Baghdad in Iraq. Bagdad the small town in central Tasmania.

My sister Julie had an invitation to go to the races up north that weekend, and she could get a lift with a friend of a friend if she could get to Bagdad.
It was a nice Spring day, so I didn't mind the drive. I wasn't quite so happy about my car -- the clutch is slipping and it doesn't like going uphill.
Usually we would have taken Julie's car and had mine repaired, but hers was already in dock. She was driving home one evening when the motor suddenly died and clouds of white smoke began billowing from the rear of the car.
Fortunately years of living in the modern world have given her the training to remedy this: she went on-line and bought a new engine.
But getting back to the trip north, I had to have a refresher course in looking after the animals. I ran through the mechanics of feeding the horse and the poultry morning and night, giving the dogs their dinner and keeping the cats happy.
"Every night, walk around the horse to check he doesn't have any injuries on his legs or flanks. Have a look at his eyes to make sure they're OK," she said. "And if one of the dogs dies, don't bury him till I get home."
I looked at her patiently. "How long are you going to be away? 36 hours? I'm sure everything will be all right."

Monday, October 15, 2007

Yin and Yang

Presented for your inspection, two aspects of the modern persona.

Part the first. My older sister Pauline had an unexpected visitor. A tradesman doing some work on the hotel she had owned years ago turned up on her doorstep. He had found some old photographs of her husband that had slipped down behind a wall and recognized him. So he brought them round to her.

Part the second. Driving home from Pauline's the night she told me about this, I saw a car coming towards me on the main road. He started to turn to the left and I assumed he was turning into a side road. Then he turned right. Then left again. Faster than it takes to describe, he shot past me zig-zagging along the white line in the middle of the street. He was either an expert driver or stoned out of his brain.

Part the third. What do those two people mentioned above have in common. One did something good for no reason except that he thought he should. Another did something reckless with no regard for anybody else. It would be easy to say that one was "good" and the other was not.

But maybe it would be more accurate to say that both were human. We have in us the capacity to help or to hurt others. All of us, like a Yin/Yang symbol, contain elements of both dark and light.

The difference between us, perhaps, is that some of us are trying to move from the dark towards the light.

And some of us aren't.

Thoughts from a late-night laptop.


If you like Red Skelton and/or black-and-white comedy thrillers this will suit you down to the ground. I first saw Whistling in the Dark 40 years ago and have finally located it on DVD. It was just as much fun this time. Directed by S. Sylvan Simon in 1941 with a screenplay written in part by Albert Mannheimer (producer Simon and screenwriter Mannheimer would later receive Oscar nominations for Born Yesterday in 1950).

The play it was based on opened on Broadway starring Edward Arnold and Claire Trevor on 19 January 1932 and had 265 performances.

Skelton plays Wally Benton, a radio broadcaster whose program 'The Fox' features himself in the title role as a crime solver. Conrad Veidt and some nefarious characters decide that ‘The Fox’ is just who they need to invent a perfect crime: a murder which will assist them in obtaining a one million dollar legacy. Ann Rutherford, Virginia Grey, and Rags Ragland play significant roles; Henry O'Neill and Eve Arden also appear.

To ensure The Fox's co-operation they also abduct his girlfriend Carol (Ann Rutherford) and his sponsor's daughter Fran (Virginia Grey).

One of the gang is sent to poison their target on an airliner while the dim-witted ex-boxer (Rags Ragland)is left to guard the trio. Wally, who actually is quite intelligent, works out that a severed phone line can be used in conjunction with a radio set to call for help.

With the help of his two lady friends, he calls in to his radio station and begins broadcasting the details of the crime in progress, including their kidnapping.
Rags is curious as to what they're doing but they convince him they're just pretending to broadcast as they do at that time every week and he good-naturedly goes along with it.

But, having been fooled by Orson Welles's "War of the Worlds" broadcast three years earlier, the local police chief thinks Wally's rantings are just another hoax!
Some of the early scenes also show how radio programmes were made in the early days: actors had to go on air live - twice, once for the East coast, and three hours later for the West coast. They performed, standing up, in front of a live audience. Sound effects men behind them watched for their cues, while the actors read from scripts.

This is all vastly entertaining -- the only way it could be improved is for Eve Arden to be given more screen time as Wally's agent instead of only appearing in the first reel.

Film expert William K. Everson commented "So many comedies of the '40s tend to date today, being so locked in to their period, but 'Whistling in the Dark' escapes that fate and remains an excellent comedy." From his notes for a 1989 Halloween double-feature for film fans

Monday, September 24, 2007

The fire of 2007

"Word gets around when it affects our memories."

The Myer department store has been an institution in the main street of Hobart since 1959. Two days ago, Saturday afternoon shoppers noticed a wisp of smoke coming from between the first and second floors.

Within hours, 15 fire trucks were battling to try and stop a fire that had engulfed the building. The column of smoke could be seen from both sides of the Derwent River. By the time night fell, the 19th century building was in ruins -- the worst fire in the history of central Hobart.

There were no casualties but I found this news very disturbing. Back in the 1960s I had grown up on the next block from Myer and had been past it or through the shop almost every day. The record rack in their basement supermarket had been my introduction to buying music (mono LPs for only $1-99).

Most people in the city would have similar feelings. It was like having a stake driven through the heart of the central business district.

The quote on the first line is from a text message my sister received from Madeleine on the mainland. We even received a similar SMS from Libby in France.

I haven't been in to see it for myself. I guess I have this silly feeling that as long as I don't see it with my own eyes, it's not real. If only....

{Interestingly, I read this wasn’t the first fire on that site - the building was first damaged by fire in 1858. It’s not even the first major department store fire on the block!. Fitzgeralds (now Harris Scarfe) in Collins Street was burned in 1911. And the Green Gate cafe burnt down on the same day in 1984 in the same street. Eerie.}

Friday, September 21, 2007

The scent of Spring

You wouldn't think you could lose one of your five senses without noticing it, but that's what happened to me this winter.

One Saturday recently I emerged from the bathroom after a refreshing shower and noticed something was different. I took a deep breath and the air was full of unfamiliar scents -- not that there was anything unusual about them, it was just that I hadn't smelled them for some time.

It was quite distracting in fact. I walked around the house and the garden, constantly surprised by the aromas that surrounded me. I knew that I had been sneezing and snuffling all through the winter, but I hadn't been aware of the extent to which my olfactory senses had been dulled.
I suppose it must have happened so gradually that I just hadn't noticed it.

But now suddenly my sense of smell had been restored. Perhaps the steam from the shower had been the catalyst.

In any event, I was back to normal. Now all I had to do was get used to the barrage of scents and smells again. I felt like a colour-blind man who has suddenly been given the gift of normal vision -- it's nice, but it takes a while to absorb.


It's not often you get a message from someone saying they're being held prisoner, but there's always a first time.

I'll let my sister explain...

An acquaintance, Jenny, had been discussing with me what to do with a broody chicken she had at her place. I said she could always pass her on to me. So the other day I got a message from her on my mobile phone to say she was ready to bring her over.
I sent back a text message to say that was fine -- I was at my brother's house in New Town whenever she wanted to come over. She sent back a message to say she was on her way.

So far so good, but Jenny forgot I'd said I was at my brother's house and drove straight to my place in Lenah Valley.

She got out of the car and walked out into the paddock, carrying the hen in a box with some straw. I wasn't in sight, so she kept walking.

Now my horse has a lot of admirers and he's used to visitors coming round with little treats for him. When he scented the straw in the box, he assumed Jenny had brought him a snack and started following her across the field.

She was a bit startled by this, and kept trying to move away, but he followed her till she reached the middle of the paddock, near the creek.

Unfortunately this was where the geese had made their nests. September is the season for laying eggs and they are very protective, goose and gander alike. Jenny got this far and couldn't go any further without a full-scale confrontation with the geese.

So she was trapped, not between "the devil and the dark blue sea", but between an inquisitive horse and the aggressive geese. She sent me a frantic text message; I realised what had happened and drove straight over there.

I arrived in minutes and looked out across the fields. "Jenny?" I called out, and a distant answer came back from the other side of the trees.

"Help ... !"

When I hurried down to rescue her, I saw she couldn't have ended up in a worse location. She had five laying geese around her in a semi-circle with her only exit blocked by a hungry horse. She really was trapped.

In the middle of all this my brother sent me a message asking where I was. I phoned him back, but it was difficult to keep a straight face while I described the situation.

I told Jenny I'd just let the dog out while I was there. "How are you with dogs?" I asked cautiously.

"Is he a big dog?" she said warily.

"Yessss, fairly big" I said (he's a Mastiff with maybe a bit of Great Dane).

"I'll stay here," she replied.

But it worked out all right. I took her over to my brother's house and made her a hot drink while we watched the chickens wandering about on his back lawn.

She seemed much calmer by the time she left.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

into Spring?

It's going to be an early Spring based on the readings available to me: the goose-o-meter, the wattle-o-graph and the Horse Hair Index.

The goose in my backyard started laying eggs early instead of waiting till September, and the Wattle tree in my garden was in bloom for Wattle Day for the first time in twenty years.

(Wattle Day began in Hobart, Tasmania, in 1838; in 1988 Acacia pycnantha was officially proclaimed the Australian floral emblem and four years later the first of September was proclaimed as Wattle Day.)

As for the Horse Hair Index - it's obvious to my sister whenever she puts the horse-rug on or off that he's losing his winter coat.

Personally I'm hoping that the end of winter will see the end of this persistent low-level infection that's kept me coughing and sneezing and has meant my Blood Glucose readings have consistently been around 12.5 instead of last summer's 6.8

I'm wondering what my endocrinologist will say when I see him next week.

Friday, August 31, 2007

a red moon

As the Tasmanian winter draws to an end, my craving for citrus fruits has started to abate. I've eaten just about every sort I can get my hands on - oranges, mandarins, tangellos, kiwi fruit.... only grapefruit is off-limits, because it interferes with one of my medications.

I've still been drinking a lot of coffee though, and apparently I'm not alone. A survey released this week reveals that a lot of Australians are drinking more and more coffee. I can sympathise with that, though the guy who drinks seven cups a day every weekend is probably over-doing it.

The big event of the week was the lunar eclipse. The visibility was good from my back yard. It started a bit after 7:30pm (Eastern Australian Time) and soon the moon shadowed over. By about 8 o'clock it looked like Mars - pale orange with a bright white area visible at the top.
I was worried about clouds blocking our view, but it was windy and the clouds moved away to give us a good view from suburban Hobart.
About 9:30 I went out again and there was a brighter rim at the bottom, with a sort of smudge across the face of the moon.
It worked out better than I expected. I wouldn't have been surprised if the weather had closed in just at the vital moment.

Florida, so I read, leads the US in legislation about pirate radio. They have laws that empower authorities at the county level to investigate complaints about unauthorized broadcasters and shut them down. It literally takes years for the FCC to act (not its fault: it’s stuck with cumbersome procedures). The Palm Beach Post says a pirate operating from a tower owned by a plumbing company was interfering with a licensed Low Power FM owned by a nearby church. That led to a Wednesday morning raid and an arrest.

Speaking of radio, I usually listen to the Friday afternoon show on 92FM which features an hour of Theatre Organ music. If you've ever heard a Wurlitzer in full flight, this is the show for you. Go here -

Friday, August 10, 2007

Viewing the PM

The Prime Minister wants to speak to you. That's a hard one to ignore.

For the first time in Australia, a debate between the PM and the Opposition Leader was going to be streamed live over the Internet to churches around the nation. All we had to do was brave the wild winter weather to get to the church hall by 7 pm.

The only webcasts I've seen on my home computer were rather hit-and-miss affairs, so I settled in to my seat with some trepidation about what was to come.

Fortunately some members of our congregation are younger and more technically savvy than yours truly, so they were able to run a long cable from the office modem to their laptop and from there into the Data Projector. Once that was set up, all they had to do was project the live feed onto a screen at the end of the hall and it was just like being at the cinema.

The format was fairly simple. Each politician spoke for 20 minutes, then spent 15 minutes answering questions from church leaders gathered at the National Press Club in Canberra. There was a half hour break between the two men.
There was a lot similar about the two speeches. Each speech broke up into three parts - the valued place of our Christian heritage in the national fabric, the speaker's own faith, and the party political section.

In practice, PM John Howard had the easier run. Coming from the conservative side of politics, he had no compunctions about saying he was a believer and endorsing the role of the churches in national life. Being the incumbent, he was also able to announce Federal funding for the Net Alert project to keep Australian children safe on the Internet.

Kevin Rudd, the Leader of the Opposition, had to walk a finer tightrope. He praised the work of all religions in our tolerant multi-faith society and made vague noises about his personal religious faith, but of course coming from the left-wing he wasn't going to risk being quoted in the media as being a "god botherer" -- it certainly wouldn't have helped his standing with the tree-hugging Greens who think of Gaia rather than God when they contemplate the spiritual realm.

In the end, it was an interesting rather than involving evening. The polls may speculate about a Labor landslide, but I suspect it will take a lot to dislodge the canny Mr Howard from the PM's seat.

The webcast organised by the Australian Christian Lobby was beamed to about 900 churches all round the country. Quite an impressive achievement.

Thursday, August 09, 2007


Not everything you want to know can be found on the Internet. My sister's horse has developed a problem with his hind legs and it was suggested it might be caused by the toxic plant Cape Weed. She scoured the web searching for a clear picture of it without success.

Finally she had to get out of her chair, walk into the next room and take down from the shelf the 1979 Reader's Digest book Illustrated Guide to Gardening. They had a nice clear sketch of the offending flora.

So we spent the afternoon going over the paddock, peering at every weed we saw. I don't think we saw any Cape Weed, but we think we saw a lot of Cat's Ear (which looks vaguely similar) and many seedlings that looked a lot like the Hawthorn tree I bought at the nursery last month.

The problem is that for a layman like me, all the weeds start to look alike after a few minutes of inspecting them. What I need is a nice clear Wanted poster depicting the weeds in question.
Or do I mean an "Unwanted" poster?

My Blood Glucose Level [BGL] reading hit an all-time high yesterday. Last summer it was around 6.9 or 7.5 most mornings, but since I've been snuffling my way through this winter it's been going up and up. Yesterday it hit 14.0 -- a personal best (or worst). I'm really hoping that it's going to start coming down as the temperature goes up.
Already we can see the days starting to lengthen perceptibly. It's no longer dark at 5 p.m. Can Spring be far away?
Not according to the Zelda, the goose who lives in my garden. She has already laid two eggs this week, something that she doesn't usually do until September.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Is it a S.A.D. season?

Tasmania and Iceland have a lot in common, I've always thought (the small matter of volcanoes aside). I've often read things about SAD - Seasonal Affective Disorder, a mood disorder also known as winter depression or winter blues. Most SAD sufferers experience normal mental health throughout most of the year, but experience depressive symptoms in the winter.

(The Icelandic word is "skammdegisthunglyndi". "Skamm" means short, "degi" is day, "thung" is heavy and "lyndi" means mood ; it appeared in print as long ago as the late 1800's, according to Wikipedia.)

Being an Australian male, I usually have little time for these sorts of psycho-babble afflictions, but this winter has hit me harder than most. For one thing, it's the first really cold winter we've had since my diabetes was diagnosed. My doctor advised me to get a flu shot, but I came down with a virus before I could get it done.

Ever since then I've snuffled and sneezed my way through most days, groping my way out of bed each morning like a groundhog emerging from hibernation. During the afternoon I've started drinking three cups of coffee in a row, something I usually never do; it's as though my body is seeking extra energy from somewhere.

I was thinking about this on Sunday, which has been a particularly difficult day in recent weeks. I think this is because I'm sitting in my pew in church before I've even seen the sun. This is one of the classic SAD problems.

Probably things will improve when the days begin to lengthen. I certainly hope so.


It's twelve weeks since I became entangled with the bureaucracy of the Centrelink department. I've been through the job-seeker training sessions and the job interviews and all that and now it had come round to my return visit to Centrelink.

I won't pretend I wasn't nervous. I had a folder with all the papers I might possibly need and I spent the last 24 hours doing everything I could to prepare.

Then when I was standing in line at their office, all the possible excuses and explanations that had been running through my head were just too much. I switched into job-seeker mode, following the job-seeking videos they kept showing me. Be attentive and responsive, but don't talk too much or volunteer information.

I wasn't even thrown off track by the fact that the woman who was interviewing me had some sort of Continental accent and was very softly spoken. She whispered her way through the interview and I sat there and watched her black-painted fingernails wander around the desk and her keyboard.

She tapped away at the computer and then told me in a murmur she didn't need any more information.

Her lips moved again. " " she said.


"One hundred and fifty" she whispered softly.

"I'm sorry? What about it?"

"$150. That's how much we'll pay into your bank account tomorrow."

"Oh. Right." I picked up my little booklet. "I've filled my Job Seeker Diary. Do I need to get another one?"

"No," she mouthed almost silently and I left, carrying the folder of documents which I hadn't even opened while I'd been in the office.

It was an odd sort of experience, but not as unsettling as I had been expecting.

I remember a saying that my father was fond of. "We can't change the past and the future doesn't belong to us." I guess he was right: today is the only day that we can do anything about.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Let our motto be "No Left Turns!"

If you drive a 30-year-old car you must expect a few quirks and difficulties. Lately my old Toyota has developed a new problem, namely that whenever I turn left the right hand door flies open. (I think the doors both need re-hanging.)

The last few weeks I've become pretty good at driving with one hand while holding the door closed with the other. It's not too hard, but I don't think it really adds to the standard of my driving.

It has had one good result though. I usually drive whenever I'm going anywhere with my sister Julie, but lately she's been quick to say "Let's take my car" whenever we are going out.

Can't blame her I guess -- it must be a bit nerve-wracking sitting in the passenger seat watching the door on the other side opening and closing every time we make a left-hand turn.

But I am glad last week is over. Apart from the two days I spent at the office, there were two quiz nights, a wedding and a visit to relations. By the time we got to Monday, I was glad to be free to just call in for coffee at Café 73, buy a few things in Moonah and drive in to North Hobart to see some pictures at one of the galleries, visit the organic produce shop and pick up something to eat at Praties.

Probably also something to do with the fact I haven't had a holiday for twenty years. The level on my psychic energy must be hovering down in the lower end of the meter.

Unlike my Blood Glucose Level I'm afraid. It's been going up steadily for the last month, meaning I've left it too late to get a flu shot for this winter. Before that I was around 6.9 or 7.5 most of the time, now I'm up around 10.0 and 11.0 (in fact after over indulging at the wedding reception I hit 13.0 for the first time I can remember -- but that was a one-off.)

This has also been the coldest winter we've had for years in Tasmania. Julie pulled out of storage her warmest overcoat, a stylish blend of wool and cashmere; she's owned it for years but it's never been cold enough to wear it before. She is less pleased about the conditions on her property: "It was muddy before, but now it feels like someone brought in a truckload of mud and dumped it on top of what was already there."

The last few years I've taken up reading again two British comics that were childhood favourites, 'The Beano' and 'The Dandy'. Not all of it is as much fun as when I was 10, but it makes for an entertaining few minutes before I go to sleep each night (I used to read novels in bed, but I need new glasses). However lately their publishers have been having a fad for sticking free gifts to the front cover and this is a bit annoying: it's difficult to detach them from the covers without causing damage (they use tape rather than the stuff they use for attaching CDs to computer magazines!) and in some cases a heavier-than-usual toy almost destroys the magazine during the long sea voyage from Dundee to Tasmania. Enough already, guys.

But I am enjoying the new series of 'Doctor Who' on ABC television. David Tennant does a good job of capturing the manic energy that has always been a part of The Doctor and his sadness at missing his previous sidekick Rose is a quite believable sub-plot.

I haven't yet seen the spin-off 'Torchwood'. Robin Johnson phoned me last week to warn me it started on digital television that night but I said that I wouldn't be watching as it was too much trouble to plug in the set-top box. He was a little surprised; maybe I should have explained further that the set-top box is surrounded by chickens, making it a little difficult to get at.

I'll just have to wait till it comes out as a DVD or makes it to free-to-air television.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

midwinter blues

Frank Muir and Denis Norden usually join me for lunch on Fridays. Their long-running show MY WORD used to be a staple on ABC radio when I was growing up but for some reason it's now rarely heard in Britain or Australia.

However it's still a regular feature on American public radio, and KIPO Honolulu streams it at a convenient time for me to enjoy the show while eating lunch on Friday.

If you haven't heard it, I recommend keeping an ear out for it. For more information, try this link:

I haven't posted much this last couple of weeks. I feel so tired all the time -- maybe I'm coming down with another virus. Certainly my BGL (Blood glucose level) readings suggest something is up. A month ago it was down around 8.0 most of the time, but it's been going up steadily and is now hovering around 11.5

Things at the office have been a little difficult equipment-wise this month too. The modem packed up for a few days, but a replacement arrived yesterday. And the photocopier repairman swears that he has now received the part he's been missing to fix our copier.

But the HP printer/scanner is being a nuisance: to make it work properly I have to turn it upside down and shake it before using it. Not ideal.

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Monday, June 18, 2007

winter ahead

I think "capricious" is the word I'm looking for to describe the current climate in Tasmania. Last Saturday my two sisters took me to lunch at the Waterfront Hotel in Bellerive, looking out over the marina. It was a pleasant sight, staring out over the yachts and the blue sky while we ate.

The following morning there was frost on the lawn when we left for church. By Tuesday there I could see snow up on the mountain when I stepped out the front door to bring in the daily paper.

Quite a shock after the "indian summer" we had in May. It's still a few days to the winter solstice but the cold is becoming a part of daily life. I've taken to wearing gloves if I go outside at night, and taking Gingko tablets to ward off chilblains.

Last night it went down to zero (32 degrees in the old Fahrenheit scale) -- I felt so cold I went to bed fully dressed and just pulled the blankets over myself till I warmed up.

At least I don't have to be up at sunrise anymore to attend the Job Centre. I had a second interview there and they explained that I've now graduated to a slightly different classification. I now have to show that I've applied for 4 jobs every week instead of 5, but I still have to keep track of my hours so they can tell when I've put in a hundred hours of job-seeking.

I won't say the extra money doesn't come in handy -- I can now just about make ends meet. Just as well I don't have expensive tastes though.

I've never had much luck using i-Tunes. Twice I've tried it out and both times I ended up uninstalling it. I just couldn't get the hang of using it.

But I have found a substitute that seems easier to use. Podcast Alley's website has a lot of the same radio shows available for download and is a lot simpler for me to use.

For example I can now easily download the Big Broadcast -- five hours of vintage radio comedy, drama and music produced and hosted by the award-winning team of Mark Magistrelli and Mike Martini. It can be heard live on Public Radio Station WMKV 89.3 FM in Cincinnati, Ohio on Saturdays from 7 PM - 11 PM (EST/DST) or streamed on the web at

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

I was the midnight arborist

The weather gods play pranks on us at times. One windy night last week I drove my sister back to her house and I took her dog for a walk before I went home. As we turned for home the moonlight fell on her neighbour's driveway.

"Oh oh," I thought. "What's that big leafy mass down there?" Part of a tree had fallen from my sister's property onto the driveway downhill of her house.

So we gathered up a saw and a flashlight and started work. One of us would saw for a bit while the other held the light, then we'd change places.

It didn't actually take as long as I'd feared. I wondered if we'd find a really big branch in the middle, but it wasn't as bad as that. In less than half an hour we'd cut through the branches and dragged them out of the way.

The funny part is that my sister's neighbour may not have even noticed when he came out to drive off the next day. He might think to himself that those branches looked different, or wonder what that pile of debris was by the sidewalk.

But he probably would not suspect that two people had been out in the moonlight playing lumberjack so he could get to work on time in the morning.

I wasn't sorry when they told me on Friday at the Job Centre that I didn't need to come in every day from now on. "This concludes the formal part of the course," they said. I was diplomatic in my response.

What actually went through my mind was that I no longer had to get up at sunrise in the Tasmanian winter. That could only be a good thing.

I've been so tired the last three weeks that it wasn't funny. The size of the sleep debt I've been building up must be massive. The occasional nap before dinner just wasn't helping.

From now on I'm supposed to seek employment under my own steam. I don't see it will make a lot of difference to the results.

My only shot at a job interview seems to have come to naught. I suspect that they looked at the date of birth and said "We wanted someone mature, not halfway to senility."

Melbourne radio station 3AW has celebrated 75 years on air with the launch of a book about the station's history. Margaret Campion, the author, said 3AW is Melbourne — 75 years of Radio began as an essay for a history assignment at TAFE. "I heard on radio there wasn't a history of 3AW," she said, "so I wrote one."

3AW remains the most-listened-to station in Melbourne despite a recent fall in ratings (especially among older listeners for some reason). The Australian recently commented that "The music-led recovery has failed to eventuate for
commercial FM radio stations in the latest radio ratings
survey, as talk stations in Melbourne (3AW), Sydney (2GB)
and Adelaide (5AA) continue to lead their markets."

Personally I can't remember the last time I listened to a commercial music station. Oh yes, I do recall it now -- it was the time there was a power failure at the transmitters and all the ABC stations went off the air.

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Friday, June 01, 2007

on the air

On another site, someone asked if there was a list of stations that you can pick up that still play the old time radio shows.

These are the ones that I know about.

And of course there are also

Sunday, May 27, 2007

sleep no more

Monday I fronted up to the Job Net office for a short interview. This wasn't a job interview, it was an interview about a job, if you see the difference. Basically they wanted to see me so they knew whether or not to recommend me to their client.

I wore a clean white shirt, black trousers and a conservative tie. I probably looked like a supermarket manager.

At least I wasn't nervous - I seemed to have a little man in the back of my head ticking off all the things that they'd taught me about job interviews. Make eye contact (but don't stare). Don't give "yes" or "no" answers (but don't talk too much either). Sit up straight and pay attention (but don't look too stiff).

All those videos they showed us must have done some good, since the interviewer seemed to be impressed (she told me I had "a wealth of experience") and said she'd recommend me for an interview.

We shall see.

Wow I've been tired this month. And it doesn't take much to work out why. Having to get up at dawn to make it to the Job Centre course, I'm losing two hours sleep three times a week. That's the equivalent of a night's sleep every week.

Maybe I can take a nap before or after dinner every night. It would go some way to make up for it.

As it is, I'm only semi-conscious by the end of the day. Forget the random breath-testing, they should stop drivers and give them random sleep tests.

My sister is running out of stuff to read. This is no problem for her - she just waits for me to bring over a new lot of books.

I've tried taking her into book-shops to browse, but she just waves a hand and says "You know what I like." So another one of my unpaid jobs is family literary consultant (I used to do the same thing for my mother, who had similar but slightly different tastes in novels).

Maybe I'll trawl through the attic this week. There are several thousands books up there, of all ages, types and subjects. There are a lot of pre-war whodunits, which are a particular favourite of my sister, so I shouldn't have too much trouble in making up a bundle.

What a mixed bag the local weather has been this month. Just a few weeks ago, light winds and almost stationary cold fronts saw the city blanketed with fog. This week we've had unseasonally warm weather, and next Wednesday the Met Office is saying we may get highland snowfalls.

If I do end up getting a job out of all this, it's going to be hard to know what to wear for the day when I leave the house in the morning. (Yes, I know nearly everybody has that problem, but over the years I've never had to do much commuting so it's all pretty new to me.)

Last Sunday night I was listening to the Stained Glass Bluegrass music show on the web-site of WAMU Washington DC. Since they gave out their e-mail address several times, I fired off a note to them while I was listening.

About half an hour later, the deep-voiced compere announced that they'd had an e-mail from Michael in Tasmania, where it was almost midnight. (This must have surprised his listeners who were just sitting down to breakfast, but it was actually more to do with Time Zones than time-travel.)

The era of instant communication still amazes me. To think that I can tap a few keys on my laptop and only minutes later hear my words being read out live on a radio station in America.... that's mind-boggling to somebody who grew up in a decade in which sending a message to America required an airmail stamp and ten days of time.

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Call me Rev

Powerpoint presentations in church in place of the sermon are something I'm not used to yet. We had quite a reasonable talk with all that stuff flashed up on the wall, but I couldn't help feeling that it was a gesture to the modern attitude that you have to have something to look at while you listen.

I suspect that this would make it difficult to interest the younger generation in the art of the radio play where you have absolutely nothing to distract the eye.

At least it kept people's minds off the fact that the church bulletin was in a right old mess this week. Between ill-health and some disturbing news, none of us had been 100% on that day and I had managed to reverse the details of the morning and evening services.

This led to a flurry of e-mails with corrections and corrections of corrections. I hate to think how many electrons were sacrificed in this cause.

I'm into my second week at the Job Centre and I'm beginning to get the hang of it. I'm glad that I didn't have to go through all this when I was the age that some of these job-seekers are.

Next week I have to go and see one of the other employment services. It's not a job interview, but it's an interview about a job if you get the difference. I presume the middleman wants to see if I'm worth recommending to their client.

When was the last time I had to go to a job interview? I think it would have been 1988 -- when I was probably a little more presentable than I am today. Older, heavier, less healthy.

Well, it will be interesting anyway.

But if my financial and medical status is below average, at least my spiritual standing has received a boost. Yes, thanks to clicking on that button on their web-site, I am now a duly ordained minister of the Universal Life Church (head office: Modesto California -- where else?).

I trust that my fellow citizens will treat me with the deference my new status is deserving of.

It might be best if you didn't mention this to any of the people at my church. I'm not sure they'd understand.....

I've go to admit that episode 4 of the TV show Primeval was quite amazing. The dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures in previous episodes looked convincing, but we've become used to that in this age of computer animation. But the scenes where the escaping dodos were running around while the heroes tried to capture them was mind-boggling.

Top marks to the special effects wizards. It looked completely real, though we knew intellectually that it couldn't possibly be happening.

In the modern world, I'm afraid seeing isn't believing!

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

schooled for work

I won't pretend it wasn't unsettling to find myself at a job training centre at my time of life. My only past experience with employment services was hiring people from them. Now I found myself in a room with a gaggle of other clients, most of them young enough to be my grandchildren.

I find it a bit hard to explain why I felt so uncomfortable. Certainly I was outside my comfort zone -- it felt a little like being back in school, with elements of an airport waiting lounge.

One of the problems was that the class was full of all sorts of people. Some old, some young, some experienced, some newcomers. The staff weren't able to tailor their lessons to any particular level and it was difficult to work out what we were supposed to be doing.

I ended up getting most of my information from one of the older women (OK, she was probably a couple of years younger than me). She explained how things worked and showed me how to log on to the Jobsearch website, even though she'd never used a computer herself until a week ago.

She was unimpressed by the mixing of ages in the same class. "Some of us are here because we want to be here, some of us are only here because they have to be. And some of the girls...well, just let's say my daughter seems like a little angel in comparison!"

I was sorry she was leaving the next day for a job in the northern suburbs. She was a real help to me.

Six hours seemed like a long time inside that place. Staring at computer screens filled with lists of jobs, poring over pages photocopied from the newspaper classified ads, watching videos of how to behave at interviews.

I was getting a headache by the end of my first day. It didn't help that about three days beforehand I'd come down with my first head cold of the year. On Sunday, I could swear that every time I tilted my head I could sense fluid sloshing around inside my skull. Sleeping was difficult too, which doesn't help when you need to get up at dawn. In short, I wasn't at my best.

The weird part about it all is that I still get to go to my regular job two days a week -- then the other three days a week I have to make like I'm looking for work. The ways of bureaucracy can be strange.

One week down, three weeks to go.


Last Friday night the Moonah Arts Centre presented an evening guaranteed to please the nostalgic. "Broadway: Strangers in Paradise" was put on by soprano Charlotte McKercher and tenor Michael Kregor accompanied by pianist Shirley Trembath.

The songs they chose were a mix of the familiar and the obscure. They began with songs from South Pacific and My Fair Lady, and ended with Show Boat and Kismet.

In between we heard Kurt Weill songs from Lady In The Dark and Street Scene, a bracket of Stephen Sondheim songs from the 1970s and songs from musicals we'd never heard of like Jekyll And Hyde, The Secret Garden, Wonderful Town and The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

Great stuff - even the Sondheim songs were good and you may have noticed I'm not a fan.


The mice are still a problem in the house. One evening
recently I was walking past the sitting room and from out in the hall I could hear a ferocious gnawing sound. A few minutes searching and I discovered an Easter egg forgotten from years ago. The mouse's attempts to get through the cardboard and plastic surrounding it had resulted in an unbelievable amount of noise for such a tiny rodent.


Old Time Radio shows that I've listened to this week:
Abbott & Costello, The Whistler, Words at War, Fibber McGee & Molly, Jack Benny, The Falcon, X Minus One, Dragnet, Bill Stern's Sports Newsreel and Sherlock Holmes.

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

consternation by moonlight

Full moon

The full moon shines down on all of us, on the personal tragedies and the small triumphs of everyday life.

Wednesday morning it took us a couple of hours to bury one of Julie's dogs. Tai succumbed to an unsuspected tumour and it was little consolation to hear the vet say she'd never seen a Shar Pei live to that age before.

In the afternoon I had an appointment at that big federal office building in Collins Street. I've stayed out of the welfare system ever since I stopped receiving the Carer Allowance, but now I was putting my toe into the waters of the unemployment system.

They told me they would pay me some money each fortnight -- not a fortune but more than I expected -- and I would also receive a Healthcare card. That would certainly be welcome; it would cut out most of the charges for my medication.

But there's no such thing as a free lunch. Not only did I get a little Job Seeker Diary, but on Friday I had to see the Steps Employment Service. This was a further step into the system: they said I'd be doing a training course on how to look for work, five days a week for three weeks.

"It takes three weeks to learn that?" I said and they nodded. So I guess I'll just have to get used to the new routine.

It seems there's no such thing as being slightly unemployed, any more than being slightly pregnant. You're either in the system or out of it. And it looks like I'll be in it from now on. Stay tuned for more news.

The television show Primeval made its first appearance on Australian TV on Saturday night. It's not that great a show (although I would have loved it when I was 14!) but what intrigued me was the scheduling of it.

You see, the Nine Network has had a perfectly shocking record when it comes to screening science-fiction in recent years. Brand new episodes of Star Trek were routinely screened at 1 o'clock in the morning some years.

It will be interesting to see if they persist with it. Their demographic usually skews to the older end of the graph but after all it is Saturday night.

London Rhythm is heard on Fridays at 9 p.m. and Sundays at 9 a.m. (that's Cincinatti time so the Friday evening show is heard just before lunch here in Australia). I always enjoy tuning in over the Internet on

Alan and Judy Seeger, always fans of the Big Bands, began collecting vintage recordings of London dance bands and West-End stars in the 1960s when they were in England making television featurettes. Their collection of classic British recordings was the starting point of their WMKV radio program, London Rhythm.

The show features Pre-Beatles pop music from the English Music Hall to the TV age with emphasis on the great London Dance bands of the ‘30s and ‘40s.

The Seegers have lived in New York City for more than 40 years where they produced and/or directed over 400 films and television programs.

About WMKV

The latest article on blogs

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Friday, April 27, 2007

Another year??

If I'm typing a little slower than my last post, it's probably because I'm a year older than I was last time. Wednesday I celebrated the 36th anniversary of my 21st birthday, if that's the word I'm looking for.

Even the cat gave me a break for once and let me sleep in for a few minutes without insisting I get up and feed him at the crack of dawn.

That evening we went out for dinner at the Mexican restaurant on the waterfront. I was joined by ten friends and/or relatives who toasted my health. I had my first Margarita, which my dictionary describes as "a cocktail made of tequila and triple sec with lime and lemon juice". Madeleine tasted hers and said it tasted just like a soft drink; yes, I said warily, a couple of those and we'll find you under the table moaning that your lips have gone numb.

I scored the usual round-up of gifts -- a CD from my favourite radio show, the DVD of a movie I missed on television last week, a bottle of French wine (from Caroline, natch), some home-made biscuits, some tomato relish and a new science-fiction paperback. The last came from Steve, who made a point of mentioning it came from K-Mart; I thought at first he was expecting kudos for his frugality but he actually meant it was an unusual place to find cutting-edge fiction.

Overall it was an enjoyable enough birthday, though if I had my druthers what I'd actually have liked as a present was an extra hour of sleep every night.

It never ceases to amaze me what you can find on the Internet. My newish hobby of collecting old radio shows has gone from strength to strength as I have discovered whole networks of fellow aficionados of this form of entertainment.

In the beginning I started out buying things over the net, but now I have but to ask "Does anyone have a copy of Jack Benny for May 4th 1948?" and somebody will instantly respond with "Sure, I've got a nice clear copy of that; I'll send it across to you tonight." No money changes hands - merely a combination of barter and sheer goodwill.

This is the way that the Internet was supposed to work before the Spam merchants and the sexploitation tycoons moved into cyberspace.

Speaking of IT, it was amusing to notice the chain of events when my boss wanted some letters sent out urgently last week. He wrote them out at home by hand, then scanned them into his computer. Turning them into a PDF file, he e-mailed them to the office, where I printed them out and typed the resulting manuscript to be printed out on our official letterhead so they would be ready for signing when he reached the office.

It worked, but it did seem to me that there must be a shorter way of doing this somehow!

The mouse problem continues. We have two traps in operation and have now captured and released 35 little rodents. I have been taking them down to the railway bridge and releasing them there, so if you see a news item about rail services to the northern suburbs being delayed by a plague of mice on the tracks, don't say anything.

It's reaching the point where the first thing you do in the morning is switch on the kettle, fetch the newspaper in and check the traps for little visitors. They are very small mice -- "tiny" would not be overstating it -- and while I can't bring myself to poison them wholesale I am not happy about the damage they do to anything edible we forget to lock up.

I haven't been game to ask the neighbours if they are suffering similar problems. If they are, that's one thing, but if they aren't then they may look at me askance, wondering what unhygenic conditions prevail in my household.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

south by southwest

I threw a tantrum last week that would have done credit to a two-year-old. It was just too much to bear.

With the mouse problem in my place this summer, we've spent weeks using a humane mousetrap to catch and release dozens of mice. They've eaten every piece of chocolate in the house and I have to lock up the bread before I go to bed every night.

So you can imagine how I felt when I discovered my cat had a new hobby: catching mice outside and bringing them into the house alive!

I lost it completely. I ranted and raved while he looked unruffled.

Finally I levelled a finger at him and bellowed "That's it. You're fired!"

The cat yawned.

One saturday recently we took a family trip down the Huon and drove down to Cygnet.

The Cygnet area was first explored by Bruni D'Entrecasteaux who sailed up the Huon River in 1793 and named the narrow bay Port des Cygnes (the Port of Swans) because of the large number of swans he observed in the area.

The first European settlers arrived in 1834. In 1836 orchards were planted and by 1840 Port Cygnet (as it was known at the time) was surveyed and land blocks and streets were laid out. My ancestors arrived there in 1851 and prospered in the apple industry.

We ate lunch in the hotel that my great-grandfather had owned; there's a framed photograph of him in the back bar. Julie was impressed that she got ten different vegetables with the roast. Then we drove around the town while my cousin Winnie told us stories about her childhood. Stopped to photograph the little school where my father was educated during World War I.

Just out of town was the little farmhouse that used to be our family's home. It looks smaller than when I first saw it as a five-year-old, but that's not unusual. The property feels very different because it's no longer surrounded by apple orchards, but it was good to see the house looks smart and well cared for.

There are oak trees just next door, and Julie stopped and filled her pockets with acorns even though I don't think she'll live long enough to grow an oak tree from scratch.

historians' discussion
We had an appointment to see local historian John Dance. He has a house full of memorabilia including a couple of photographs of my grandfather that we hadn't seen before. A few questions produced the unsurprising news that he was in fact a cousin by marriage.

Julie's genealogical research seems to be providing us with a never-ending supply of new cousins. So far two of her oldest friends have turned out to be distant cousins. I guess that isn't surprising on an island like Tasmania -- Iceland has a similar set of circumstances.

The drive there and back was enjoyable. The wooded hills looked as though they had changed little since my grandparents lived there. It didn't take much imagination to picture them making their way through the orchards and down Slab Road to the village of Cygnet, a long way from Hobart on those twisty 19th century roads.

The hills above Cygnet

Collecting old radio shows in the Internet era means you can graze freely through all genres and levels of entertainment, from the most banal comedy to the most engrossing drama.

Even different episodes of the same programme can be notably different.

Take for example episode #152 of DRAGNET 52-05-08 "The big gamble" -- in this one detectives Friday and Lockwood are on the case when a cop is shot during a raid on a gambling club.

Observe the three act structure marked by three differing styles of dialogue - first the detectives are shown in a low-key, almost sympathetic conversation with an informant.

Then after the shooting, the interrogation of a suspect is conducted at a sharp staccato pace, the words being shot out like bullets from a machine gun.

Finally the confrontation with the man whose negligence caused the shooting -- outwardly polite but their words practically drip with disdain.

Much imitated and often the subject of parodies, this is still a show that repays listening.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

into April

Easter Tuesday there was a narrow window on ABC radio between the end of the cricket overnight and the start of the afternoon football broadcast. Tim Cox's morning show took the opportunity to throw away the playlist and have some fun with their music.

I don't think I've ever heard Cole Porter's "Let's Do It" sung by Louis Armstrong with the Oscar Peterson Trio till that morning. And when one listener requested a Johnny Mathis ballad "The Twelfth of Never", Tim found it on his producer's i-Pod!

Along with a re-run of their visit from talented Canadian vocalist Serena Ryder, it made for some entertaining radio.

The Wine List for last month:

De Bortoli Sacred Hill Traminer Riesling 2006

spicy fragrant Traminer blended with fresh citrus Riesling to make this pleasant medium-sweet wine

De Bortoli Sacred Hill Rosé 2005

raspberry fruit flavours with a crisp finish, a medium bodied wine for all occasions

McWilliams Inheritance Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2006

blend displaying floral and herbaceous aromas with hints of lychee, displaying ripe peach character and a crisp finish

Jabiru Classic White 2005

blend of Colombard, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc from fruit grown in the Adelaide Hills region of the state of South Australia

Warraroong Estate Long Lunch White Wine 2005

blend of estate grown grapes from the Hunter Valley producing a light easy drinking wine with a fruit driven palate

Red Poppy Vineyard Riesling 2006

classic Riesling with touches of lemon, lime and citrus blossom from South Australia

Snowy Vineyard Snow Bruska 2005

soft red from Australia's coldest climate winery

De Bortoli Sacred Hill Semillon Chardonnay 2006

blend of mature Semillon and ripe melon Chardonnay has soft oak character and rich dry finish

Have you heard Tasmania's seas are three degrees warmer than usual -- oceanographers are saying it is a good time to go swimming.

Waters on Tasmania's east coast are the warmest they have been for this time of year since daily records began 14 years ago.

CSIRO oceanographer David Griffin says satellite images show the east Australian current is travelling further south than usual, bringing the warm water with it.

Researchers also want biological evidence of the warming and are keen to hear from any beachcombers who find unusual species washed up. (Sounds just like the first reel of an old horror movie doesn't it?)

Thursday, April 05, 2007

quizzed by the under-13s

horsing around

Equine misadventures continue. Julie was still tending the wounds from where Shadow fell off the bridge, when she got a phone call from one of the neighbours.

I'm going away for a couple of days, he said, but I thought I'd better let you know that your horse's eye is all swollen up. Aaaaagh.

We went over and examined him. He must have run into a branch or something, we thought. Julie had a bottle of saline solution that she thought might be useful for washing out the eye.
horsing about

The horse didn't think much of this and it took us a while to work out that he was much happier if we took some warm salty water and bathed his eye. It makes sense -- would you like it if somebody sneaked up on you and squirted cold water into your eye?

After a few days the eye looked a lot better. Julie sent a text message to her neighbour to let him know that things were going OK.

I hope it's not true that things come in threes. Two mishaps like this are enough.

Meanwhile we were out at the monthly quiz night run by the Irish Association. The content of the quiz depends on who is setting the questions, and we've found in the past that the younger the quizmaster the worse for us old codgers.

You can imagine our feelings when we saw the two girls who were in charge of the questions. One of them looked about 12 years old (though I guess she must have been older than she looked). The second of the eight categories was The Wiggles!

After the first couple of rounds we were trailing the field. I think we were next to last.

You get to choose what you think will be your best category and play your Joker, meaning you get double points for that round. We looked at the list and went for Capitals And Cities, figuring that good old-fashioned geography might be safest. And in fact the Amnesiacs (our team name) didn't do too badly.

The night went on and one of our team went up to examine the scores on the blackboard. She came back and said we were equal second.

"What??" I said in disbelief.

"We're equal second," she repeated and everybody's jaw dropped. Had we really gone from second-last to second place? It seemed impossible.

After the last round, the figures were added up and we were tied for first place with a team of young women who called themselves The Beach Girls.

The organizers went for the tie-break questions. These turned out to be all sports related, which would have scuttled my chances but we did have one sports expert on the team.

One question. Both teams got it right. A second question. Both teams scored again. A third question. Both teams had the right answer, but our expert Caroline gave such a detailed answer that they declared us the winners.

Incredible. Somehow we had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. The Beach Girls took their defeat in good part, declaring "Next time you're going down for sure!"

I couldn't believe it.

It just goes to show the truth of Winston Churchill's speech which said "There are three things to remember. Never give up. Never give up. Never give up."

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

doctor doctor give me the news

coffee $2

The new coffee machine was a good omen I thought. I arrived at the hospital and found they'd finally replaced the machine they used to have in the old hospital.

It was pretty elaborate. If Doctor Who had a dalek barista, this is what it would have looked like.

A two-dollar cappuccino helped settled my nerves while I waited to see the endocrinologist.

What was I going to say to the doctor? I had made up and discarded a dozen excuses over the last week. It was obvious that I couldn't live up to the promises I made last time about improving my lifestyle and controlling my diabetes.

But when I got into his office I was stunned. He opened his folder and ran down the list of test results -- each was either "normal" or "improved."

"If you continue to make this sort of progress, I'll have to think about reducing your medication" he said cheerfully.

"I'm speechless" I replied. I honestly never dreamed that I'd have such a result. Even good news can be a shock when it's that unexpected.

"Pride is said to be the last vice the good man gets clear of." - Benjamin Franklin.

I was reading recently about Ben Franklin, who once embarked on a plan to achieve moral perfection, only to discover this was "a task of more difficulty than I had imagined."

He drew up a list of 13 virtues as follows:

The interesting thing is that originally he had only put twelve virtues on the list, but a candid friend pointed out that Franklin was often overbearing in debate and conversation.

Franklin added humility to his list and did his best to remove words like "undoubtedly" from his vocabulary. He avoided contradicting people even when he knew they were wrong.

As a result, he found people were more receptive to his ideas and he became known for his tact and diplomacy.

Maybe there's a lesson here for us. We've often heard that "low self-esteem" is a problem, but the opposite extreme can be just as undesirable. We all know persons who are difficult to hold a conversation with because they are sure they're right and are only too willing to explain why at length.

Whenever I can, I try not to come out and tell people that they're wrong. If I think they are I'll say "I'm surprised to hear that." If I'm certain of it, I'll say "I'm very surprised to hear that." Let those that have ears hear, as the good book says.

Perhaps we should all take a leaf from Franklin's book. Resolve to be a little less dogmatic and a little more diplomatic. It might make the world a bit more pleasant for all of us.

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Monday, March 12, 2007

hold that horse!


Unexpected midnight adventures can sometimes result from horse ownership. Just ask my sister Julie.

Monday night we'd been out to the monthly quiz night run by the Irish Association at the New Sydney Hotel. We'd finished second in line for the silver medal category, but it had been an entertaining evening as usual.

So there we were at Julie's house. I was playing with her cats while she got ready to give the livestock their late-night feed. Then over the sound of the radio, there was a loud noise from outside. "What was that?" we said and looked at each other.

We only discovered after Julie went outside that her walnut tree had unexpectedly toppled over in the lower paddock. And Shadow, her horse, was nowhere to be seen.

It took us quite a while wandering about the paddock in the dark with very small flashlights to find him standing by the fence in the upper paddock, completely silent and motionless. A bit of a change from his usual outgoing and demonstrative manner.

Apparently he had been standing down by the footbridge when the tree toppled over and he got such a shock that he spun around, slipped off the bridge and scraped his shin scrambling out of the creek. By the light of our torches we could just make out some nasty looking abrasions, but the blood seemed to be just weeping slowly as it ran down his legs.

Julie fetched the headstall and fitted it onto his head. She handed me the rope and told me to hold on to him while she fetched her First Aid supplies.

So there I am standing out in the paddock in the moonlight, hanging on to a large nervous ex-racehorse. I hoped for two things -- that Julie wouldn't be too long and that Shadow wouldn't take fright at anything.

At least everything was quiet. Standing there at the top of the paddock we looked down to the house and off in the distance the road. All the homes were dark and quiet, the neighbours unaware of our activities. At least I hoped they were -- anybody seeing our lights bobbing around aimlessly in the darkness might have been tempted to phone in a UFO report.

Julie returned and we led him over to the shed so we could see a little better. "Hold him ... if you can. Let go if you need to." said Julie warily as she picked up a bucket of water.

I watched as she threw the water over the wounds. The horse's head went up as the bucket of water hit him and he jumped sideways a step. Julie made soothing noises and he eventually decided nothing nasty was happening.

Julie looked over at me and said "That was all right. I wasn't sure about giving him to you to hang onto, but I couldn't pass on ten years of experience with horses in ten minutes."

"That's OK," I shrugged. "He wasn't too bad."

We inspected the wounds that Julie had washed down, then she sprinkled them with powdered sulphur. (This is basically the same stuff that people used to put on their wounds before antibiotics came along.) He definitely didn't like this, but we managed to get a bit on.

Over the next few days, Julie kept this up and the wounds gradually wept less blood and the swelling began to go down.

It just goes to show you -- most evenings I sit there with the cats while Julie takes care of the animals, wondering why I bother to accompany her every night. But every so often I feel that I might be needed after all.

I keep getting queries from people who want to buy my house. Not real estate agents -- these are people who wander in off the street and ask whether I've ever thought of selling the place.

One particularly persistent couple returned to add that if I needed any help in moving out they'd be happy to assist me. Well, thanks, (I guess) but I think that would be my responsibility.

It's always interesting to consider how you're seen by other people. In this case I suspect they may see me as one of those old codgers who might need a nudge to start thinking about moving from the family home.

I actually had one couple turn up who'd looked at the area on Google Earth and were impressed by the size of the backyards in my street... Sheesh!

A vague memory surfaced of someone on a television show years ago giving advice to house-hunters ... "Buy the worst house on the best street." Hmmmmm.

It's true that I haven't paid much attention to the house since my mother died. The grounds certainly have that uncared for look and the interior is even worse: literally every flat space is cluttered with bric-a-brac, while in some rooms there has been a desultory attempt to bring order out of chaos.

Perhaps this winter I shall be able to pull myself together and make some progress at last.

Monday, March 05, 2007


Arthur C. Clarke obviously still holds a fascination for me, since I got through "Jupiter Five" last night between going to bed and putting the light out. I haven't done that for a couple of years.

It's a wonderfully entertaining story, though maybe a little low-key by modern standards. A scientific expedition to the moons of Jupiter makes an amazing discovery, as illustrated on the cover of IF in 1953.

Thanks to the Centrepoint newsagent for helping me get re-acquainted with Clarke. If it hadn't been for them including Reach for Tomorrow among their bargain paperbacks, I might have taken years to getting around to re-reading him.

One of my readers was surprised to see me write a piece about Clarke without mentioning 2001. I guess that's because I'd read all Clarke's novels and short stories before that famous movie was released.

I remember getting a letter about 1969 from Gary Woodman in Melbourne (whatever happened to him?) saying "I've just seen the most extraordinary movie. You've got to see it, even if you have to fly to Melbourne."

That wasn't necessary -- I was in the audience as soon as the film was released in this state, and sat there stunned as the end credits ran up. In fact I think I sat there for a couple of minutes before I could collect myself enough to leave the cinema.

The end of February has brought with it some milder conditions. And about time too. Last week not only were we plagued with an invasion of tiny little flies that followed us everywhere, but the humid weather made life very tiresome. One night the humidity reading was still 90% at midnight, which is almost unheard of.

Roll on autumn, that "season of mists and mellow fruitfulness."

"Hiro, there are tweleve and a half million people in this city. Not one of them can bend space and time. Why do you want to be different?!"

Yes, I've been watching Heroes on television. I've only seen the first five episodes, but it certainly is an intriguing show.

The plot is complex and involved, but what struck me was the whole ambience of the story.

Let me explain. Heroes makes no bones about being in the style of super-hero comic books, frequently referring to them in its dialogue, though it isn't based on a comic book itself.

And that's what intrigues me. Over the years I've seen many comic books adapted for movies or television and seldom have they captured the essence of the original. Lots of colour and movement and people in funny costumes seems to be enough, they feel. (The makers of The Flash television show had to fight the network every inch of the way to try and make their show more like the comic book.)

But Heroes succeeds to a surprising extent in replicating the experience of reading one of those complex story arcs that used to be all the rage in Marvel Comics when I was a teenager.

Whether it manages to keep up this standard or not remains to be seen. But I for one shall certainly be watching next week.

Sheridan Morley died recently and his Sunday night slot on BBC Radio 2 has been taken over by Alan Titchmarsh to present Melodies For You. The programme remains, as ever, a pleasant mix of light classics and show tunes and has been extended to a full two hours.

But by the vagaries of scheduling, this means that there is now a news bulletin at the 135 minute hour mark before the show resumes for its final 20 minutes.

It seems to be one of the pillars of public broadcasting around the world that everything stops for the news. I remember the furore that was caused a few years ago when ABC television cut away from the final moments of a cricket test match because it was time for the evening news!