Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Why dating sites are bollocks

In the past I've mentioned in these pages that forming a new relationship isn't really an option for me unless I've decided to damn myself for eternity.  Despite this, I'm human and as liable to develop a crush on somebody as the next man.  Precisely this happened to me not so long ago and (sadly) resulted in me having a bad case of the rebounds.

Predictably, while rebounding I set up a few profiles on various dating sites and paid two monthly subscriptions.  I also put a couple of apps on my phone.  By Sunday just-gone my natural temperament had reasserted itself and so I deleted the lot of them.  Nevertheless, I did glean a couple of useful insights that I'd like to share.


Don't be mislead by the TV ads for (say) eHarmony.  When people look like that, they don't need a singles' website.  On that subject, if you've set up a profile, maybe have someone review it for you.  More than a few times I looked at the profile picture and thought "if that's the image you went with, what were the ones you passed up?!"

If your profile pic makes you look like Donovan from the closing scenes of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, maybe reconsider
Fake Profiles

Even on semi-respectable sites like Coffee-meets-Bagel, a lot of the profiles seem to be computer generated by the site to boost traffic (you completed a degree in economics at the University of Florence and you're a physiotherapist in Melbourne?  Totally plausible).  Warnings about scammers should be redundant but, in case you're out of the loop, know that if someone says "I am want big love with good man", you should probably doubt their claim to be a graduate of Yale (although you can probably assume they have a Russian-English dictionary).

Fake Alerts

The sites themselves are almost comically dodgy, and no more so than when you're in a position to know.  When one site tells me "you have fifty potential matches in Fawkner", it may be correct.  When it says "you have fifty potential matches in Moorilim", I'm naturally suspicious: Moorilim is a rural district southwest of Shepparton with a population of under 30 people.

Danger (this one matters)

This one isn't a matter of personal experience, but it's perhaps the most important insight of all: online dating is fucking dangerous.  To condense Hollingworth J's sentencing remarks in R v Dinsley [2013] VSC 631 -
Sharon ... was a 29 year old mother of a four year old son .... After [her] relationship with [his] father ended, she started using internet dating sites, as a way of meeting other people.

You met [her] through a dating website called “ Plenty of Fish ”. After communicating through the website, the two of you exchanged frequent text messages, for a period of about one week, in mid-January 2013.

You also met once in person during that period. On that occasion, [she] met you at the Ballarat train station, and you went back together to the house she was renting in Doveton Street, Ballarat. Apparently not wishing the date to continue, [she] texted a friend of hers, and asked him to call her, to say there was an emergency with Aron and she had to go to the hospital. The friend did as she asked, which ended the date.

[She] later told friends and family about your date. She described you as filthy, with dirty clothes; she said she was embarrassed to be seen with you.

There was no further contact between the two of you from 19 January 2013, until the night of these offences....

On [6 April] [y]ou awoke around 2.00am, suffering from what you described as an anxiety attack. You decided to go for a walk towards the Ballarat city centre, to relieve your anxiety.

As you walked along Doveton Street, you recognised [her] house from your visit some 2½ months earlier. You told police that, when you were outside her house, you started thinking about all the times you had been rejected in the past, and “it all just bubbled up.” You said you were “fuming”, and decided you “had to do something”.

You turned around and walked home – a distance of about 2.7 kms – to find a weapon with which to “punish” [her]. You spent about 10 minutes looking for a suitable weapon, before picking up your cricket bat. You then walked back to her house with the bat.

At first, you tried to get into her house using a small pocket knife to open the rear metal security door. Unable to open the door that way, you removed three glass louvre panels from a window next to the security door, and placed them beside a bin. You climbed in through the window, into the back room, carrying the cricket bat, and intending to assault [her].

At this point, you were confronted by [her], and the two of you argued. Within a very short space of time, you “just flipped”. You threatened to “beat her head in”, and hit her head with the bat, causing her to fall to the ground. You continued to hit her with the bat, swinging it from above your head with both hands, as she was on the floor, screaming. You put your hand over her mouth, and told her to “shut up”....

Once in the bedroom, you demanded that she lean over the bed and remove her pyjamas. You were holding her hair with one hand, and a knife to her throat with the other. She sustained a knife wound to the throat, at some stage during this part of your attack.

You let go of her briefly, in order to put on a condom. However, you were unable to get an erection, and put the condom back in the packet. [She] was yelling and screaming throughout your attempted rape.

You told police that you were “pissed off” at not being able to get an erection. ...

You then picked up the bat, and swung it downwards from above your head, hitting her again. She tried to get out of the way, by climbing across the bed to the other side of the room, but you continued to pursue her with the bat.

By this stage, she was on the ground, completely defenceless, cornered in the room and unable to escape. You continued to strike her repeatedly with the bat. You could not say how many times you hit her at this point, just that you “didn’t stop”.

[She] died from the multiple blunt head injuries which you inflicted....

If you're looking for love online, do yourself a favour: turn off the laptop.  Put down the phone.  Go do something else until the feeling passes.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

What I learned on Bourke Street

It was another big weekend here.

Long-time readers (I must have some, right?) may remember that I have a firm view that the old civil defence skill-sets are more vital than ever in the age of terror. This weekend just gone I found myself forming part of just such a response, following the terror attack on Bourke Street last Friday.  An event like that tends to shock people far beyond the immediate zone of impact: Bourke Street is a major thoroughfare and a great many people will have a feeling of "I could have been there"

Because of the impact on the public at large, Red Cross Emergency Services was asked to attend the CBD with our friends from the Victorian Council of Churches and provide psychological first aid to anyone who might need it.  I volunteered for the Saturday morning shift and cancelled my barre class.  I was up at 7am and after a breakfast of pita bread and cream cheese headed over to the Red Cross premises in North Melbourne for a briefing.

That moment when you think "God, do I really look that awful?"

Our task was to patrol up and down Bourke Street, identify people who had witnessed the attack (shop workers and the homeless, for example) and anyone otherwise in distress and to provide sympathy and support.  Briefings were conducted by Victoria Police and the City of Melbourne.  I probably shouldn't share details of what was discussed with people, but I can tell you that there quite  a lot were rattled by what they had seen or been close to.  No wonder either: it's asking a bit much of a young woman in a boutique to take her own brush with the War on Terror in her stride.

At about 10:30 we were redeployed to Pellegrini's, a cafe on Bourke Street.  Pellegrini's is very popular.  Nearly everyone who has reason to be in Melbourne's CBD has had dinner there or at least coffee from there (including me).  It turned out its part owner had been killed in the attack.  That was what struck close to home for many people: it's different when a part of the landscape of one's life vanishes in a moment of violence.  People began to lay flowers at the door of the cafe and there were many truly distressed people waiting to sign a condolence book.

When we were sent for lunch at 12:30 I was surprised to find how emotional I'd become, even though I couldn't identify the emotion or the cause.  I don't believe that empathy is a virtue.  If it is, it's a valueless one: it helps nobody for me to "feel their pain"; all that matters is that I take action to alleviate it.  Regardless, we must have been doing something useful since the police and the City of Melbourne seem to have been grateful Red Cross and VCC were there.

Our shift was meant to end by 2pm but continued on till 3:30pm including debrief.  As a result, I was going to be too late to get to the starting line for the Portsea Half-Marathon and regretfully withdrew from the race.  I still wanted a run and stopped in Frankston to get one in and hopefully burn off the emotions of the day.  In the event I knocked out 15 kilometres including two trips up Oliver's Hill.  For the first time ever, I found I actually felt worse post run: as foetid and hollow as an old rotting mattress.

View from Oliver's Hill, Frankston
This was a remarkably annoying state of affairs and so I drove on to Shoreham where I was meeting with the old boy to get some farm work done with him and Barry (a close friend): I reasoned that what running couldn't fix, alcohol and a good night's sleep probably would.  I'm not sure the old boy really "got" why Red Cross was doing what it was doing today.  Noting how welfare has usually been presented in the civil defence universe, this may not be incomprehensible:

Be all that as it may, there was work to do and I lent a hand.  That's the key thing.  At any rate, it felt good to crash out to sleep at 11pm

I woke again nine hours later(!) feeling warm, rested and safe.  I was a little struck by how much this last actually meant to me.  The day was that coastal combination of warm sun and cool breeze that is a reason to be alive.  The bay was as flat as glass and I recall thinking it might have been a good day for fishing.  The day itself passed well with farm work and ended with fish and chips which I hadn't had in quite a while.

Westernport Bay with Philip Island in background
On any measure it was a weekend to remember. Some people were helped, at least, and I learned something about people and about myself.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Cup Day Long Weekend

It’s been a funny sort of a long weekend.

First, on the subject of it being a long weekend at all: one of the quirks of Victorian life is the Cup Day public holiday.  This is held to mark the running of the Melbourne Cup horse race.  If you’re like me and don’t care two pins about horse racing, there’s a vast temptation to take the Monday off and make a four day weekend and get out of the city.  All bar three people in the office did the same! Anyway, this was why I found myself leaving the office for the train to Shepparton on Friday evening.  After finishing my last hearing for the year last week I kind of felt I was due a strategically placed day off! 

Even though I’d only been away a week, it felt oddly good to be back up there.  There was a faint sense in the air of holidays at Brocklesby when I was a kid.  There was a sense of possibility in the air that I don’t always feel these days and that I value more and more.

Polly the Calf
Dad and I had earmarked Saturday as the day to head down to the Lake GoldsmithSteam Rally, a festival of restored engines, tractors, trucks and motors if all sorts.  The day kicked off with feeding Polly the Calf and putting a roll of hay to the heifers before we got on the road at 9am.

The trip took a bit longer than planned (we got lost and somehow ended up at Clunes). It it was well worth the drive.  We both love old engines and there was no shortage of them to see.

Sunday brought more mundane activities: a good night’s sleep, feeding Polly and a good walk with the dog.  The high point of the day was of course FaceTime with Grace and Rachel.  This time, Rachel was especially chatty.  I love this because she’s usually the more quiet one.  Having the ability to spend time with my daughters this way isn’t what I’d expected being a dad to look like, but at least I get to BE a dad.  I just hope it’s enough for my darling daughters as well.
Grace and Rachel
Sunday wrapped up with a run (just like old times!).  I’m down for the Portsea Half Marathon next weekend and so I had a decent distance in mind.  I settled on a run back over the ridge towards Miepoll.  Conditions were perfect with enough sun and cloud to keep you warm but not burnt.  My new runners are cheap but held up well.  A couple of moderate runs this week and maybe a barre class and I’ll be gold for the race.

Monday brought its own challenges, and from an unexpected quarter.  Longtime readers will remember a few of the posts I shared about unemployment.  I’ve known a few hard times in my life, but nothing - nothing - was more soul-grinding, more sadistically humiliating than unemployment (and that included working for a certain psycho).  Those memories make this time of year painful for me, because it’s when fruit growers always call for greater access to foreign workers to carry out the harvest.  Why do they want foreign workers? Because they have an obstinate view - almost an article of faith - that Australians won’t do the work and that anyone on welfare is by definition lazy and useless.  This year the Prime Minister has decided to help the growers out by tweaking the visa rules to make it easier for them to hire foreign workers rather than Australians.
Naturally, Joe Public had plenty to say about it:

Hearing myself - and every other poor SOB who has ever had the misfortune to be out of work - spoken of in that manner fills me with an emotion I can’t identify but which is certainly not a positive one.

Being unemployed is hard. Pope Leo XIII’s observation over a century ago still rings true:
Work is a gift. The human person has a right to productive work, a fair wage, private property and economic initiatives. Work enables a person to use gifts, be affirmed and contribute to the common good. Unemployment is the diminishment of a person’s skills, potential, personal confidence and a sense of purpose in life
There’s a special place in Hell for anyone who goes out of their way to grind the face of the unemployed in the dirt. And if you hear someone threaten someone with unemployment, by saying “if you don’t like how we work here, you know where the door is” when all concerned know that jobs are scarce, then you should know you’re in the presence of a sadist.  If a person forces their worker to knuckle under by threatening them with economics, ask yourself what they will do if given a whip.

Cup Day itself brought a change to the weather and rain in the morning.  There’s no better sound to wake up to than rain running into a water tank.  This made for a slowish start to the day since there was little incentive to be outside save to feed Polly and walk the dog.  I felt a bit guilty, however, as my phone kept beeping with alerts to tell me that Northcote SES’s area was getting smashed by the weather.

The rain more-or-less cleared through by midday, letting us get some farm work in before it was time for me to get the train for Melbourne.  The weather must have close in again because I’d not long been on the train when my phone beeped a storm warning.

I passed this back to Mum, who explained that at least one of the denizens of the farm was making the best of it: “thunder heavy rain for about 5mins hail. Dog out eating hail stones!”

And now what?  Typing this blogposts took me all of the train ride back to Melbourne.  I’m now on a tram for my digs and should be there by 7:30pm.  Tonight’s plan will be to unpack, go for a gentle 10km run, have a shave and a shower and then watch some TV with dinner.  Bed, hopefully, on the stroke of midnight.

Wherever you’re reading from, I hope you got as much out of your weekend as I have!

Friday, 2 November 2018

Office Healthy - Part 2

Yesterday I put up my current go-to lunch in these days of "no really, I want to be healthier over the warmer months".  Today the subject is: how do I not go mental?

I've had a matter in the County Court this week.  As you can imagine, this usually involves a great deal of pulling threads together and making sure everything is done.  This naturally, requires a fair bit of activity and a measure of stress from both solicitor and assistant, especially if, like me, your week is already somewhat over-structured:

The diary sheet I use to organise my time

You can manage some of this by humming the Largo al Factotum a bit, but this only goes so far.  Anyway, yesterday I found myself in desperate need of a bit of calm.  Plugging in the earphones and running the "Calm" app seemed inappropriate during working hours, so a good alternative turned out to be grabbing my pocket notebook and writing down the first half-dozen or so impressions I had of my physical state -

Yes, I dated the entry: a lawyer cannot stop being a lawyer.
I can tell you this was a remarkably calming thing to do.  My body stopped (as it were) generating its own stress and the weight lifted off my shoulders.  If you're feeling the load at work, I can really recommend this as a chillout technique.

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Office Healthy - Part 1

Quick show of hands: how many of you (in the southern hemisphere at least) are trying to get healthier as the weather warms up?  Everyone?  It certain seems to be the thing to do at my work, where the choice of fish for lunch appears to be keeping the nation's purse seiners in business.

On that note, this seems like a good moment to share two small things I'm finding are paying dividends at present.  The first is pre-packaging lunch.  I'm not a fan of eating tinned fish straight from the can, and even less so if it's salmon.  Yes, I know salmon is the best all-round healthy fish -  a regular piscatorial heptathlete - but I don't care for the flavour of canned salmon on its own.  THis is where pepper and the sharpness of raw broccoli come in.

Preparing lunch on Sunday night, I cut the broccoli into clusters and also cut the thick skin away from the core.  I layered this in a plastic tub and then gave it a good dusting with cayenne pepper:

On top of that went half of a 415gm can of salmon, which then got a decent drenching with Louisiana hot sauce (I suspect that horseradish cream would work well too but need more stirring).  It then went into the fridge for at least a night or longer to let the flavour of the pepper soak into the salmon.

Once at work, the whole lot will mix together once you scoop it out into a bowl.  About 90 seconds in the microwave will be enough to soften the broccoli for eating.

Total energy value about 315 calories.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Beer and Family

It was another very full weekend here.

I walked out of the office just on 5pm on Friday evening and made a beeline for my digs.  My SES Unit was holding a social night at the Charles Weston Hotel in Brunswick, after which I was going to need to drive up to Shepparton.  I'd decided it's be easiest to pack my bag, drive to the pub and then go direct up to Solar City.

The social night was good to go to.  The Unit is, as I think I've said, genuinely very welcoming.  It seems to have very little infighting among the rank-and-file, so getting together for a few drinks and some pub bingo was a welcome evening.  The Charles Weston is very much an inner-northern Melbourne pub, which is to say it tends towards craft beers and vegetarian food.  I was good with that: I do love an India Pale Ale!  The haloumi burger was a little underwhelming, although anything that comes in a bright purple bun is worth eating for curiority's sake alone!

India Pale Ale, Charles Weston Hotel, Brunswick
The drive up to Shepparton was kept entertaining through the magic of podcasts; I was there about midnight.

The weekend itself saw me getting in plenty of walks with the dog.  This might seem trifling, but the labrador that the parental units have acquired has enough energy for three dogs, so he snaps us any walk you can offer.  Exploring the farm this way was sobering.  This is usually the wettest time of the year.  This year it isn't, and the paddocks and dams look ... well ... like this:

The wildlife is still sticking around: any number of kangaroos and God-knows how many cockatoos.  Two kookaburras waited long enough for me to photograph them from a distance.


I've often wondered what the early explorers must have made of the call of kookaburras and wondered if they were hearing some madman laughing in the bush (the seriously-demented Jan Pelgrom, for instance, was marooned in Western Australia in 1629).  If you don't know what I'm talking about, have a listen -

Saturday ended with some work on the old boy's car but (sadly) without being able to go run.  I started off Sunday with a trip into town to pick up a couple of hundred litres of diesel for the farm.  Shepparton looks very much as it does this time of year, and I felt much the same way about it as I usually do.  Flat, dry and hot.

Shepparton from the RRD Diesel yard.
After returning to the farm it was time to FaceTime with Grace and Rachel.  They are doing as well as ever.  Grace seems to be remarkably sensitive, and she gets scared around Halloween.  She wakes up a lot at night this time of year, it seems.  I'm not over worried: I was the same at her age and I expect she'll grow out of it.  Ghost worries aside they're doing well and were very chatty!  In light of this, though, I don't think I'll send them the mildly macabre photo from that day's walk with the dog...

Sheep skull, Shepparton, Australia

I drove back down early on Sunday evening and got the day wrapped up.  Monday itself was unremarkable, although it finished with SES training.  I have to say that training nights are much more agreeable in daylight hours in during daylight savings time!

The balance of the week has been illuminating; I'll make that the subject of a later post.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Using fitness?

Hi everyone,

The other day, Anita at Running against the Odds put up a very thought-provoking post about using running as a way to channel anger.  This post resonated with me.  I’ve often used exercise to burn off unwelcome (or at any rate, unhealthy) emotions over the years  The punching bag in the shearing shed will bear me out.  

I can’t say I’ve often used running to burn off rage, exactly.  Guilt and fatigue and weakness, certainly, but not rage.  I've also found it's a good way of getting rid of the oddly discomfiting feeling of not knowing if you’re happy or not about the passage of the years (regular readers will know this is a sore point for me).  In my mind, at least, being young and fit are more-or-less interchangeable concepts.

Anyway, this got me thinking: what else do we use healthy living for?  My friend Madi, for instance, values a healthy life for its own sake -
I like being connected to the land, I love camping, specifically the smell of campfires and the sound of cockatoos and other native birds in the morning when you wake up and I love LOVE the smell of fresh air.
As well as emotional control, I tend to use fitness to break up my day.  Among other things, I walk home most evenings from the office.  The hour or so of movement with a podcast playing clears my head and splits off "home" and "work" in a way that sitting on a tram staring at my phone just doesn't.  It also means I get to see some rather cool bits of Melbourne

So my question to you is: what do you use fitness for besides the obvious benefits of cardiovascular wellbeing and strength?

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

A paddlesteamer and a look at life

This post has been written across a couple of days at work.

Spring is treating me well.  Now that the grey vampire of winter has retreated to her coffin for 9 months (and now that I'm reasonably well settled at work), life feels as bright as it's done in ages.  Every so often I think that I ought to compare each day's entries in last year's diary to this year.  I don't doubt I'm happier.  For one thing, I think that this time last year I was regularly working in the shipping container at the Signmakers as a way of avoiding the boss.  Here I haven't needed to play "boss can't find me".  And in any case, the folks I work with are great.

In short, I haven't felt this good about turning up to work since I was with the now-defunct Riordan Legal.  I couldn't be much happier about that. I had the chance to ponder this sort of thing at the weekend.  I was in town on Friday night, which meant a walk home on a warm evening.

Old Melbourne Magistrates Court

It was the sort of warm evening that usually means it'll build up to a downpour of rain overnight, as indeed it did.  This was a bit of a nuisance as I was catching up with the Old Boy in town to take care of a few things and I got caught in the rain en route.  Anyway, business taken care of, he and I headed up to Shepparton.  Second Oldest Sister, Little Sister and JP were there when we arrived and it was good to catch up over dinner.

Sunday started early for me.  I'd signed up to run in "Sweat vs Steam", a race against a paddlesteamer on the Murray River that's held in Echuca each year.  I always find races against machines (the Great Train Race is another) philosophically fascinating: it intrigues me to pit human willpower against an engine that doesn't get tired and human muscle against steel that can soak up endless punishment.

Conditions were stunning for the race: an almost-cool morning and no clouds at all in the sky.  The course is 12.5 kilometres with only very small undulations.  It was well marshalled and there was no risk of getting lost.  I set out fairly briskly, with the idea being that if I could keep pace with the boat while it had the river current, I'd have the edge on it once it turned around and had to work against the current.  In the event, it still won, coming in at 51m46s (as against my 1h5m42s).  Nevertheless, it was one of my fastest times for the distance and so I was pleased about that!

P.S. Canberra, Echuca, Australia
The only shock of the event was finding I'd been put in the "Masters" age category, which to me translates as "old guy".  Maybe it's because I work with people a lot younger than me, but I don't feel old.  I'm certainly healthier than I was at 25, and I may even be a bit wiser than I was then (debatable), but I feel a lot younger than my birth certificate says I should.

Once the race was done I headed over the river to Moama to find a place to park and have a quick FaceTime with Grace and Rachel (I was fighting for their attention with Bill Nye the Science Guy: they love to learn!).  Then, I went to see one of the firm's clients in that town since she can't easily come to Melbourne.

I drove back to the farm by way of Mooroopna and Toolamba.  I have surprisingly mixed feelings about that part of the world now.  The job I held in Mooroopna, as those of you who know me offline will recall, was utterly miserable, even though I was glad of the money.  I'm certainly glad it's behind me.

It also feels odd not to feel anything much when driving through the operational area of the SES Unit I lead.  I understand there's been another change of controller there.  Once again, I'm glad I had the opportunity to lead the Unit for my full term of two years, and to take it through some challenging times.  One can be glad of an experience without feeling the need to repeat it.  I wish the Unit well, but I can't see myself returning to it.  This set of thoughts dovetailed with finding I was looking forward to SES training with my current unit on Monday night.  This was a multi-unit navigation and communications exercise and I found myself in the team assigned to running a staging area

Once again, it felt good to work in a team with no backbiting or I'm top-dog I'm-going-to-wave-the-rule-book behaviour.  The State Emergency Service is a great organisation, and when it's members are on form, they couldn't be better people.

My life since November 2011 has been characterised by impermanence: changing jobs, changing addresses, changing units and changing people.  I'm not sure I'll ever expect the world to be static again.  This is a little sad.  Regardless, right now I'm pretty certain life looks how it ought to look.