Friday, 31 July 2015

Why I love the South

Hi everyone,

A few weeks ago, my phone beeped at me to say that I'd followed on Twitter by this fellow -

I'm guessing I crossed the radar of WQNZ because I follow a couple of country music tweeters.  Anyway, this got me to thinking about how I do absorb quite a lot of the cultural output of the American South. Given some recent media coverage, I thought it might be good to rattle off a post about why I like it so much.

By way of defining terms, I have in mind the South, as opposed to the West (sorry Texas), and in particular the bits I've actually been to: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

So why do I love it?  Most obviously, my darling daughters live there.  Any soil those angelic little feet of theirs touch is obviously dear to me.  And, my ex-wife lives there too.  We get along as well as ex-spouses realistically can.  She has plenty of flaws, of course, but she also has plenty of good qualities too.  And her family are some of the most loving and accepting people I've ever had the good fortune to know.

Concerning the people generally: southerners are genuinely as welcoming and hospitable as the clichés insist.  The much-repeated slight, that they're insular, is unjust.  Yes, often they seem to see the wider world in stereotypes of varying degrees of accuracy.  But on they other hand, they have the great quality of curiosity. When I've been there and people find I'm from Australia, they ask a lot of questions.  And not just 'kangaroos and koalas' questions: they want hard details. How many people live in Melbourne? How far is it from Sydney?   Do you grow rice there?  Does it get very hot there in summer? Does everyone speak English?

As an outsider I don't think I ought to offer an opinion about race.  The only observation I would make is that recent disputes over symbols of the past (like the Confederate battle flag) are, in one sense, a healthy sign: it means people at least care about the past and about what the past can say to the present.  If you want to experience the opposite, try starting a discussion of labour standards or criminal justice in Sydney by waving the flag of the Australasian Anti-Transportation League.  Prepare for howls of incomprehension.
As to lifestyle?  New Orleans cuisine needs no introduction, and the best barbequed ribs I've ever had were at Billy Bobs BBQ in Port Gibson, MississippiCajun music is the sound of life.  University of Alabama's sports program is a demonstration of all that's best in athletic life.  And Florida's weather is a byword for sunshine.

What about you?  Is there somewhere in the world you especially love?  And why?

Thursday, 30 July 2015

How to save the world

I traded a few Facebook messages with a dear friend yesterday morning and said something that was actually quite good.  This post is based upon that idea.

As some of you will remember, I have a bit of a fraught relationship with the ABC's current affairs programs, AM and PM.  I usually listen to at least a part of them, out of a sense of duty and sometimes from morbid curiosity.  Yesterday morning, though, was especially disheartening: an interview with the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, a man whose financial probity has been questioned.  He, for his part, was giving an interview that ran heavily to key messages and ideas clearly thoroughly vetted by focus groups.  The news then moved on to the government MP and Speaker of the House, Bronwyn Bishop, who has her own financial irregularity issues.  It nauseated me to think that we are lead, now, by men and women whose words and deeds are never more than petty and venal, and who think we're stupid enough to believe them when they speak in soundbites.

It nauseated me most because the world in general and humanity in particular is such a beautiful thing.  Every day we see and hear of physicians who use their considerable brainpower to alleviate the sicknesses of ordinary schmoes like me.  Scientists show us new things about how the universe works and engineers find a way to put that knowledge to practical use.  Men and women from the Dalai Lama and Pope Francis down find a way to lead devoted and holy lives.  Artists create things of beauty and athletes bring out in actions all that is best in the human spirit.

Maryanne Jacobsen, 'It's the little things that count'
available for purchase at Paint Dance

The world today, in short, looks like a bank of swans being ruled by a murder of crows

I'm not about to suggest that we need a new political movement.  From at least as soon as the Fifth Monarchists cut a deal with Oliver Cromwell, power has tainted purity.  It strikes me that there's no point asking (as they did) "who shall rouse him up?" if, before rousing him up, we need to do a whole lot of unseemly bickering first.  And escaping the world with a personal version of Noah's Ark (or, more accurately, Jamshed's Var) is as economically precarious now as it was in Winstanley's day.
Banner of the Fifth Monarchists

But in all that we do these days, wouldn't it be better if more of us ignored the jackanapes and scoundrels who populate politics, and do things that express the best angels of our nature?  Paint a picture.  Learn first aid.  Write a poem.  Join the Country Fire Authority.  Dance.  Volunteer at an Opp Shop.  Offer to mow the lawn of the old lady down the road.  Plant a tree.  Make something.  Most of us aren't going to save the Amazon rainforest, but pretty well all of us can have a front yard that's pleasant for other people to look at.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Frost and books

Hi everyone,

An even chillier morning to kick off the day today.  Lord but it felt cold!  The drive to work took me through a lot of frost and fog: I can tell you that speed wasn't a priority.

In most respects it was a quiet day: a couple of knotty disputes to come up with a way forward in.  I'm using more of my brain though, which is rewarding.  The last job of the day involved reading the fairly technical judgment of Dixon J in Parisienne Basket Shoes Pty Ltd v Whyte (1938) 59 CLR 369, a case from the 1930s, which will either support or snooker a particular argument I want to make.

The evening has been quiet: dinner and TV, I'm afraid, and then reading.  I'm finding that The Purpose Driven Life is lovingly written, if a little shallow so far.  Worth going on with though. Quod bonum tenete.  And naturally I'm enjoying the challenge of digesting quantities of rescue training material.

Not much more to add just now.  Hope all is well at your end!

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

News of today

Hi everyone,

Short update on today: there's not a lot of actual news to share!

Underway and at work at the usual time. I had a number of somewhat fiddly jobs to work through in the morning.  The morning did speed by though, accompanied by a couple of cups of tea (for some reason I'm drinking tea by the bucketful at the moment).

Lunch hour I stretched my legs and walked a couple of blocks, with my furthest point from the office being the Commercial Hotel.

The afternoon found itself filled by a couple of file-tidying jobs.  Again, work more detailed than difficult.

I scurried out of work promptly at the end of the day.  The plan was to go to the gym and be home for dinner, noting that the old boy was to be home from the south today.  So, I crammed a short workout in at the gym after work and headed for the farm.  As it turned out I needn't have worried: the old boy had opted to stay down there another day.  Little sister's ex, however, came over for dinner.  Still feels weird.

No more for now - tired and looking for sleep. Have a great day everyone!

Monday, 27 July 2015

Catching you up

Hi everyone,
Quick catchup post before I leave the office.  Sorry I've been e-communicado for a few days.  Truthfully, it's simply because I've been dead tired in the evenings when I usually post: I fall asleep before I can write.
Anyway, by way of an update (and because I'd already uploaded a bunch of photos to a draft post):  The most exciting bit of Friday was a walk around town during lunch hour, to try and walk off a farewell morning tea for a member of the legal unit who has gone to greener pastures.  These were the sorts of things I saw -
Street out the back of work 
The service station I usually go to
City Limits
Anglican Church near work
The day finished, predictably you might say, with a trip to the gym to try and sweat off the aforesaid morning tea!

On Saturday, Second Oldest Sister came up with her husband for her birthday lunch and dinner.  She's doing well and it was great to see her.  The only odd thing was that somehow little sister's now-ex-partner came over for dinner - I think Dad invited him.  He was in a pretty sulky mood and was still bossing little sister about in the way he did when they were together (I don't think he quite understands why she left him!).  Frankly, it was awkward with a tincture of weird, and honestly I thought it was inappropriate for him to be there.  Certainly if he keeps trying to bully little sister it might be necessary for someone to speak with him about what is and isn't appropriate.  I express myself tentatively because the family politics are a little fraught.
Sunday the weather turned cold, but nevertheless in the afternoon the parental units, little sister and I went over to her ex's farm to load some of the parents cattle to send to market.
It was blowing a stiff and cold wind the whole while.  I can tell you that a hot cup of tea was the most comforting thing in the world afterwards.

Today has been a straightforward day at work: bills being paid, files reviewed, and generally living that paralegal life.  I'm about to head back to the farm now and hopefully for a solid night's sleep tonight.  God willing I'll get to the gym tomorrow.
Will probably post again later this evening.  Hope all's well for yourselves.

Thursday, 23 July 2015


Hi everyone,

Jotting this at work prior to S.E.S. training.

I have to say, I've felt a bit flat today.  In part I put that down to a late night involving a solid workout.  I think part of it, though, came from seeing something reposted in my Facebook feed involving the ex first thing this morning.  I wouldn't have thought it would rattle me: I don't think about her much now, and I can't say I really even think about the Before-Time too much either.  But, there you have it.  I don't recommend it as a way to start the day.

This will be the first weekend in a couple of weeks that I won't have been away somewhere.  Jennie and JP are coming up on the Saturday to mark her birthday, so that'll be good.  I don't know if Fran or Michael are coming up as well, although one would expect so.  An extended period with the old boy will be a little difficult though.  The older he gets, the more argumentative he becomes, and he seems to get quite agitated if someone expresses a different view to him on almost anything.  Honestly, at the first hint of an argument I'm finding it's easiest if I let whatever-it-is just drop.  I know the clash-of-generations was already a cliche when Menander wrote The Dyskolos, but this isn't really even comical.

On the plus side, this weekend will bring a chance to skype with Grace and Rachel which is something worth its weight in gold.

Not much more to write just now.  I imagine I'll put up a further post this evening when I'm back at the farm.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

A book and a dinner

Hi everyone,

It's been a remarkably successful day here in my world.

There was some rain last night and the warm air hung about into the morning, which meant getting underway this morning didn't take an effort of will.  Hurrah!

On arriving at work I found I had an email from FEMA confirming that I'd passed the online subject I tackled yesterday.  They offer a stellar range of emergency services courses so I can see myself doing a lot more - this afternoon I managed to find time to tackle the HazMat course as well.

The morning was taken up mostly with a somewhat knotty irrigation dispute and sorting out a billing issue.  At lunch I went for a walk to the opp shop, which lead to my second win of the day: picking up a pocket New Testament for the princely sum of $2.00.  What made this special is that it (a) is in very good condition and (b) was printed in 1855.  It's a beautiful little thing and I think I'll put it by as a future Confirmation gift for the girls, perhaps. 

The evening was spent in the Legal Unit's mid year dinner.  As always, I had mixed feelings: my workmates are good and friendly people, but regular readers will know how I tend to feel about social things and how I don't care for talking about myself much.  I deployed my justly obscure skill of dodging conversation (the knack is in always looking like you're just about to say something in response to what someone else is saying: this means that people will tend to either leave you alone and go back to their own conversation, or interrupt you - if your goal is not to talk much at all then either will do).

Dinner itself was very good and had plenty of flavour, and the Boss certainly knows how to select a good wine.  By the end I was rather craving something simple and swapped out desert for a cup of English Breakfast tea.  It was a surprisingly good way to end the meal - I must do it more often!

There was just enough time for a quick workout at the gym after dinner.  Really good session: I especially enjoyed the turbo cycling workout from Wellbeats.

And now, bed.  Hope all is well at your ends too!

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Park at lunch

Hi everyone,

Not such a cold morning today - hooray! Although there's a severe weather warning for the North-East, so it might not last.  I'll happily take what's good while its in the offing.

Not a great deal to report about the day I'm afraid.  I gut a decent walk in at lunch - up to (and through) Cussen Park.  The day felt almost Spring-like!

I smashed through the rest of my to-do list in the afternoon, and then tackled an emergency training course.

Not much else to record.  Hope you're all doing great!

Monday, 20 July 2015

Cold air and an idea

Hi everyone,

Another chilly start to the day here.  They're worrying me less and less; that said, when you can't feel your fingers it's a problem!

The day itself went smoothly if slowly.  A couple of hefty pieces of work got out the door; that's as much as I have to brags about.  I finished the day off with the Blood Bank in Shepparton (which reminds me: I need to book a new appointment tomorrow).

Today at work I found myself appointed the fire and emergency warden for our section.  I duly rattled through the online training course the company supplies.  This got me to considering trying a spell with the Country Fire Authority (CFA), in addition to what I do with the SES.

I'll need to think it through.  It would mean some unhappiness here at the farm (the old boy has a genuine but weird antipathy to the CFA), and from all I hear  it's quite a different body to the SES.  I might be better to double my general emergency skills.

There's a few thoughts in my head about why I'm so obsessed with volunteering at the moment.  Still percolating; I might share them in a later post.

No more for now.  Happy Monday!

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Learning to support

Hi everyone,

Typing this on the morning of Day Two of the Peer Support training weekend.  When I woke up I thought about going for a run. Let's just say ... Nah ...

Anyway, yesterday the morning greeted us with the beautiful terrain of area.  It's sort of obvious why this was chosen in about 1911 as the home of the School of Forestry. 

Even though the venue is now run by the University of Melbourne as the 'School of Forest Science' or something, they've kept a lot of the elements of its original incarnation.  The schools badge in the refectory, for example -

And the name on the gates -

The day itself got underway with a typically good SES spread - the sort you'd expect more if you'd been up sandbagging or chopping up trees all night.

It's a little incongruous given that this is essentially a theory-based course, but I guess you'd say good hospitality is never to be declined!

The more I look around the campus the more I love it.  The more 'classic' buildings are of a sort of modest, solid simplicity.

Internally the architecture is pretty nice.  The dorms, as I said yesterday, have the simple functionality of university accommodation everywhere.

On the other hand, it also includes a lot of exposed timber which I'm really loving at the moment.

This has its strongest form in the hexagonal Seminar Centre where most of the course is happening: the 'spines' of the hexagon are full-thickness logs!

I'm not sure why I have such a fondness for this particular style: maybe because it has a home'y feel about it.

On that note, while I've been down here I've been enjoying the simple, accessible style of the New King James Bible that the Gideons leave.  Getting to be a full-on God-botherer. 

As one would expect from a forestry college, the gardens are gorgeous.

The course is going well.  I think if I can digest it I can really help my fellow volunteers.  It's a dumb thing but I love volunteering. I certainly don't think SES gets back as much from me as I get from it.

Probably the most "I didn't expect that" bit of the course was a test of group dynamics by setting groups of four of us to make K'nex Ferris wheels!

Naturally there was no shortage of tea through the day too of various blends. This contributed to the general feeling of being at home.

Dinner was naturally welcome (beef and chicken), followed by some wine and a game of 'Celebrity Head'.

As already noted, today dawned icy.  How icy?  This icy -

As for the grounds around the seminar centre?

In between starting this post and finishing it we've now been through the rest of the day, and I'm in the bus back to Tatura.  I snapped this photo of Creswick as we left.

If there's time tonight I'll go to the gym on the way home.  I've really enjoyed this weekend.  Lord give me more chances to volunteer!

Friday, 17 July 2015

Richardson Hall redux

Hi everyone,

Here I am in the student dorms at the University of Melburne Forestry School at Creswick.  I'm down here for the weekend  as part of the SES's Peer Support training (essentially, training to support fellow members who've had traumatic experiences).

The day started out pretty well I must say: not as savagely cold and a gorgeous sunrise.  Just the slightest hint of approaching spring in the morning sunlight.

The day at work was unremarkable, save that I now have a couple of detailed responses ready to go.

At about 4pm I drove to where Madison was to await the bus: because a large number of folks from the North East region were going, a minibus was borrowed from one of the bigger units to get us there.

In the event, as well as Madison and me, I recognised a couple of others in the bus.  A former Tatura employee who used to volunteer at Tatura is one of them.  Another is Ian, with whom I shared a motel on the Lismore deployment. Always good to see friends.  

We stopped partway down at Bendigo so one member could use the bathroom at McDonald's.  I picked up a much needed chai latte and others too bought coffee.

We arrived in time to meet the other attendees, have dinner (the best lamb shank I've ever had) and have a glass of wine.

University dorms are as functional as I remember from my days in Richardson Hall at Monash University: thin walls and tough white paint.

Desperately tired now and fighting to keep eyes open.  Hopefully I can wake dearly enough for a run or workout tomorrow morning.

Have a great day everyone!