Thursday, October 30, 2008

Farewell faithful desk

So now we come to the final day. Yes, Thursday will be my last day at the church office, where I’ve worked part-time for the last two decades.

It will seem strange at first not to be there every Tuesday and Thursday. I fall into routines easily, and a habit of twenty years standing will not be easily broken.

This was the second of the only two jobs I’ve had in my life. It wasn’t difficult work, for the most part, but sometimes it was a bit overwhelming. I was there two days a week every week since 1988 -- no holidays or sick leave on that sort of job.

I hope that I was useful. Several people were nice enough to say kind things about my work. A couple even said “I never thought of you not being in the office!”

My response was “Sometime in the future, someone will say ‘This wouldn’t have happened when Michael was in the office.’ But whether they mean that’s a good thing or a bad thing remains to be seen!”

Time to clean out my desk, gather up the personal possessions that have colonised the area around my workspace, and try and leave things the way I would have liked to find them when I started there.

Still to come is the official farewell on Sunday, with the special morning tea, the gift presentation and the inevitable speeches. I will have to steel myself for that ordeal. One of the Elders invited me to lunch and presented me with a framed photograph of myself at my desk.

To quote from my father’s favourite song:

And now, the end is near;
And so I face the final curtain.
My friend, I’ll say it clear,
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain.

Regrets, I’ve had a few;
But then again, too few to mention.
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Where's the money gone?

The chronic global financial crisis has wiped trillions of dollars off world stock markets since it first erupted last year - but where has all the money gone? Nowhere, according to analysts quoted on the NineMSN website:

From New York to Tokyo, via London, Frankfurt and Paris, investors were gripped by another roller-coaster ride of turbulent trade last week.

Across the globe, equity markets have now slumped by 30-50 per cent since the same stage of 2007, as confidence has been ravaged by the collapse of the US subprime housing sector and the subsequent credit crunch.

Economists say markets have suffered massive "paper" losses that do not relate to the disappearance of cash - but instead to a dramatic drop in value.

"When we say that trillions of dollars have been lost, this is a miswording," said economics professor John Sloman at the University of Bristol.

"What we should say is: trillions of dollars of value have been wiped off from the stock market's value, which is totally different," he told AFP.

"It's not money, it is value, which is basically the price (that) people are ready to pay at one time."

Robert Shiller, professor of economics at Yale University in the United States, drew a comparison with the drop in the price of a house.

"Suppose one day you ask a real estate agent to estimate the value of your house if it were to be sold," Shiller told AFP.

"The next day you ask a second real estate agent to estimate the value of your house, and the second agent gives you an estimated value that is 10 per cent lower.

"Have you lost any money? Certainly not, the currency notes in your pocket have not changed, nor have any of your bank accounts.

"But you would be poorer, in a very real sense. It is just the same with the stock market. Nobody loses any 'money' in the strict definition of that term, but they have lost value."

(Of course it would help stop the panic if the media stopped making it sound as though we were all losing millions of dollars in cash every day.....)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Stalk the ball

“This is a game for all ages which provides mental and physical stimulation. It combines strategy and precision and is a bit like snooker on grass or a combination of chess and golf. It is an ideal opportunity which allows for social interaction.” My sister read from the Adult Education brochure, adding “And it’s just around the corner. We should sign up for it.”

She read on. “This course will show you the basics required to play the game of croquet. Six 90-minute sessions.”

So this month we’ve been spending our Saturday afternoons out in the sun hitting coloured balls with wooden mallets.

They started us off simply, more or less playing the simplified game known as Aussie croquet. After a while in the first lesson, I started getting the knack of hitting the ball. Then they introduced us to the more subtle aspects of the game.

“Roquet, croquet, continuation,” I muttered to myself. “Stalk the ball. Mind the angle. Check your V. Ball in the hand. Make sure they touch....” I was starting to get a little dizzy. Playing for one or two hours a week means you don’t get a handle on the finer points of the game easily.

The third lesson they showed us the Standard Grip and the Follow Through, with special emphasis on using the shoulder muscles. Yikes!

After that lesson, they gave us a cup of tea in the clubhouse. I could see my coach at the other end of the table, talking to the Club Secretary. I could hear my name being mentioned but I couldn’t make out anything else. “Mumble-mumble-mumble Michael. Mutter Michael mutter.”

I wasn’t really that concerned. Playing croquet for a couple of hours in the sun can be surprisingly tiring. For the moment all that really interested me was getting off my feet and having a hot drink.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

my day in court

Not many people are happy to get a letter telling them they have to be at the Supreme Court at a particular time and date.

However since I had signed up for a special tour of the building with the Adult Education Department, I wasn’t intimidated.

They let the group in - there were about ten of us - then locked the doors. If anybody was passing in Salamanca Place, they must have wondered why we were going into the courthouse after hours.

We were greeted by a pleasant young woman. It took me a moment to realise that she was actually a Justice of the Supreme Court. She led us into Court #8, where she is sitting this month, and gave us a full description of what happened where.

I was surprised to hear that all proceedings are now digitally recorded; the last time I was in court the only electronics visible was a big square reel-to-reel tape recorder. For routine appearances that only take a few minutes the prisoners will often be there only on the audio-video link from prison.

There’s even a special court intranet that links courthouses around the country. Who knew?

The judge then led us down into the tunnel that links Court #8 with its mirror image Court #7 in the building across the way. Surprisingly, the tunnel zig-zagged and curved to an alarming extent. It seems that instead of going in a straight line it follows the edge of the property line around the court complex. It is not a place you’d want to find yourself during a power cut.

The courthouse was only built during the 1970s but is looking a bit tired and in need of updating. The oldest and least modern part of the whole place are the holding cells below the building. They are the classic jail-house cells -- thick metal bars, furniture fixed in place and big padlocks that would have been at home in the convict era.

Much of the court’s work is done on computer these days, but they still have a large library. We asked the judge if she ever needed to consult the old law books and she said she had been down there just recently to look up a 19th century case.

Our final stop was the judge’s own chambers. There were some personal touches (like the framed drawing of Rumpole of the Bailey) and her robes and wig ready for the next trial. The current Chief Justice is doing his best to simplify the robes, and possibly do away with wigs altogether. It would take away a lot of the atmosphere of the court, I thought. After all, every trade has its uniform.

90 minutes later we were back out in Salamanca Place, with the seagulls wheeling overhead in the floodlights that illuminate the historic buildings. It was hard not to feel a passing twinge of relief. It was a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t like to stay there....

Thursday, October 02, 2008

enter the Five

We call them the Famous Five.

Nothing to do with Enid Blyton.

These are five chickens that suddenly decided to take up residence each night on the old refrigerator outside the kitchen window. I don't know why they chose this spot. You might have thought they'd be bothered by the noise of me rattling round in the kitchen preparing the evening meal.

Sometimes they turn and glance at me over their shoulders. Maybe they're wondering when I'm going to go away and stop bothering them.

Or maybe they're checking to make sure I'm not having a chicken dinner.