Sunday, 27 November 2016

A bollock-kicking contest?

I remember that during my first bout of unemployment a few years ago, I commented bitterly on twitter that sometimes reality exhibits a remarkable lack of mercy.  Camus talked about the benign indifference of the universe, but I think the way I put it was a little closer to the mark:
Today, at any rate, I felt at the start like I was kicking goals for a change.  I have no less than three job interviews this week - two tomorrow (for a job as a labourer at a drycleaner and at a newspaper) and one the next day (a government job).  Getting news of those interviews on Friday was a tonic: I actually felt like life was going somewhere again

I had another reason to smile this morning.  As I said yesterday, my SES Unit had a team in the hospital fun run today.  It was a stunning morning - perfect for running - and it was great to be lining up at the start line with some of my best friends.  I even posted a good time: 10 kilometres in 53m15s.

Can I also brag that for once my arms seem to look good in a singlet?  I don't think I've had that much definition in my upper arms since I was in high school!

A photo posted by Stephen Tuck (@sdtuc2) on

Things began to go downhill this evening, though, as I was getting to grips with various work and financial things.  Let's just say that I've been looking at this sort of thing with a kind of horrified despair as I look at my obligations and my utterly f***ed chances of ever having sustained employment again.

This is perversely OK in its way: I don't much care what happens to me.  I don't really value my life (that is, I don't wish to die but also don't really care if it happens).  I certainly don't plan on living beyond about age 65.  With this in mind the idea of being homeless, bankrupt or in the gutter isn't really all that scary.  So far so good.  But, for reasons I can't explain I mentioned some of my concerns to mum.  I hate myself for that.  She's old and it's my job to look after her and dad rather than add to their burdens for Christ's sake.  It's bad enough that I was a crummy husband and a neglectful father, but why do I have to be a bad son as well?  What a great trifecta to have.

Look, in case you're wondering: no, I'm not about to do something stupid.  I have no right to abandon my post like that.  I'm also not soliciting sympathy.  But right now I'm disgusted in myself even by my own standards.  I expected greater strength from myself.

No more for now.  Sleep and see what tomorrow will bring.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Quick pre-run post

Hi everyone,

Only a short post tonight: for the first time in forever I have a race tomorrow!  A team of us from Tatura SES are entering the fun run to support the local hospital, and registration is at 0830.  I haven't been in a footrace in forever so you can imagine how much I'm looking forward to it!

Frankly, I could use a positive moment with SES at the moment.  In the last two days I've had to defuse or address three major issues within the unit, all basically concerning people management.  One of them involved a 'difficult' conversation and two of them required me to use the phrase "Let's all take a deep breath...".  Yeah: I don't do conflict.  Stupid isn't it?  I was a litigator but hate fighting.  I'm broadly a realist red-in-fang-and-claw conservative, but I want to fill the world with smiles and goodwill.  I guess I just don't understand why someone would quarrel when there's a way to make peace and co-operate.

Farmers inspecting vehicle used to spray peach trees at the Tatura
Horticultural Research Station, 1957. [NAA: A1501, A777/4]

Anyway, enough for now: I'm off to take a shower and set out my race gear. Looking forward to a race in my ersatz home town!

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Getting canned

Hi everyone,

I had the interview at the cannery today.

Probably unwisely, I wasn't feeling over-positive about it on the drive in: I had the distinct expectation that I'd get there and discover that I was too old, too inexperienced in factory work, and too overqualified to be considered.  Thanks for coming in, but please don't let the door hit you in the arse on the way out, because this is a food processing facility and we don't want your arse contaminating our door.  I had low expectations.

The location itself was the cannery's main facility in town.  They must have been in operation, because the air smelled like boiling fruit.  Imagine the smell of warm jam and you'll just about have it.  This was OK until I saw some of the competition arriving: bright energetic things twenty years younger than me.  I put my game face on - the expressionless one that says "I know you're about to hit me.  Get on with it: I have other things to do today".

The interviews were refreshingly free of cant.  The first person asked why I wanted to work for the company.  I said it was because I was unemployed and they were hiring, and I need to eat.  Could I do such-and-such physical work?  Yes, I could.  Could I understand work health and safety?  Well, in a past life I was a workers' compensation lawyer, so yes.  I noted that she wrote that last detail down.  I'm pretty sure that will snooker me: any employer will hear "workers' compensation lawyer" and think "troublemaker".

The interview with the people from the local technical college (who provide the employer's basic training) was surreal for both them and me.  They put an enrolment form in front of me and guided me through it on the apparent assumption I was more or less illiterate.
Them: Put your name here ... and your address here ... and can you read that paragraph?  Good.  How far did you get in school?
Me: Year Twelve
Them: And what year was that?
Me: 1995
Them: (Somewhat patronizingly) Wow - you didn't even have to think about it!
Me: No.
Them: And have you done any other training since then?
Me: Er yes, I have.
Them: What was that?
Me: Bachelor of Arts with Honours and Bachelor of Laws.

The rest of the interview included a number of slightly acidic references to "your legal brain".

That was all that was needed today.  In theory I go back next week for induction and basic training although I'm expecting an email or phone call before then suggesting I get lost.  Like the army, even desperate employers have no need to hire an odd lot

No more for now: more tomorrow.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

A callout and an interview

Hi everyone,
This week gets more and more interesting. 
Tuesday began breathtakingly early, at about 0200 when the pager went off to advise we'd been called out to assist the fire brigade in Mooroopna.  As usual, I can't give details.  It's enough to say that a fire took place in one of two adjoining premises.  The fire had gotten into the shared roof cavity.  We were asked to tarp the roof to ensure that it remained watertight.  I'm happy to report that no person was injured in the fire and it was good to be able to help our mates in the fire service out.

The only drawback of the job was that there was a smell in the air like a toasted ham, cheese and tomato sandwich.  Sadly, there's nowhere to buy a toasted ham, cheese and tomato sandwich in Shepparton in the small hours.  When I got home from the job about 0500 I made one (with salami rather than ham) before I crashed into back into bed.  I slept till about 1000.
I'm not at my best when I sleep late, even if it's for a good reason.  I felt a bit lost when I woke up and was killing time reading magazines until about 1400 when I went into Shepparton to go to the Blood Bank (which inspired yesterday's post).  The experience was as rewarding as ever.  I'm happy to report that we've got a blood drive organised at the Unit for just after Christmas!
I spent a large whack of today at Tatura.  The first part of the day was taken up at a photoshoot, where Tatura SES and a number of other community groups were presented with giant cheques representing donations to us from Tatura Milk.  I can't quite explain how much this donation means to our little unit: it'll go a colossal way towards keeping us on the road.
I went back to the shed after the photoshoot to deal with some administrative matters.  I had a member to recommend for a commendation, and the blood drive to nail down, and some paperwork to send to head office in Melbourne.  I finished about 1500 and came back to the farm.
I'm happy to report that I got a phone call to come to a job interview in town tomorrow at the cannery.  God knows I need the work.  I'm not optimistic though: I suspect they'll twig that I have a couple of university degrees and reject me as overqualified.  I never imagined by BA(Hons)/LLB would be such a ball and chain.  Can't go forward; can't go back.
No more for now.  I hope your weeks are going well. 

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Blood, and how to do it

So you've decided to give blood?  Congratulations: you're officially an awesome person!  I've been a blood donor for a while, so I'm hoping I can let you in on what you'll encounter when you go to donate.
Shepparton Blood Bank
Stating the obvious: when you go to the blood bank, go to the reception desk.  Ideally you'll have called ahead to make an appointment.  At your first appointment you'll probably be asked to fill in registration papers (I did this a long time ago, so my memory is a bit blurry).  The other forms are ones you'll be asked to complete every time you go to donate.  The questions relate to your ability to donate blood without endangering yourself or others (for example, whether you may have contracted a blood-borne disease but are not yet showing symptoms?).  Sometimes the questions relate to what use your blood can be put to.  If you've recently been vaccinated, your blood may contain antibodies which can be used to make more vaccine.
Once you've completed the form, hand it back in at reception.  After a while a nurse or a nursing assistant will collect it and ask for you to come into an interview room where he or she will go over your answers.  What you say to them is confidential, so if there's something you think may be a problem, just speak up.  If you're especially problematic, the nurse may call the blood bank's medical officer for advice (I have a pretty low heart rate, so this happens to me quite a bit).
Image from here
The nurse or assistant will take your blood pressure and check your pulse (i.e. heart rate).  They'll also check your haemoglobin by taking a blood sample by pinprick.  This last is a good enough reason to go to donate.  A few years ago I was managing a breakup with some fairly rigourous dieting and fierce exercise.  My haemoglobin test confirmed I wasn't getting enough iron so I was able to rectify this.
Assuming all is well, you'll be taken through to the donation area and shown to a reclining chair (much the same as a dentist's chair) beside which will be a machine which holds the bag that your blood goes into.  There's a much more complex machine if you're donating plasma or platelets, but we can talk about this another time.  The nurse who interviewed you may hand you over to another nurse or assistant, who will ask you which arm you'd prefer to donate from (I recommend your non-dominant arm).  They'll put a blood pressure cuff on your arm, and the nurse will smear an antiseptic paste in the crook of your elbow.
Now comes the hard bit.  I'm told the needle used to take blood is the largest gauge needle commonly used in medicine.  The nurse will probe your elbow a little looking for a suitable vein to draw blood from.  How much the needle stings going in is fairly dependant on the nurse's technique.  One or two are brutal (this is rare).  Most are competent and quick.  The best I ever had was a male nurse at the Southbank blood bank, who could get the needle in almost painlessly.  I can guarantee though that no matter how good your pain tolerance, you will flinch!  I can guarantee, however, that the pain only lasts a minute or so.

A photo posted by Stephen Tuck (@sdtuc2) on

How long it takes to donate depends in nothing so much as how much water you're had to drink beforehand.  The more water, the better your blood will flow and the quicker you'll be.
When the blood has been collected, one of the nurses or assistants will come back to you.  They'll hand you a small pad of gauze and ask you to press down on the puncture in your artery while they remove the needle.  As with every puncture, you'll need to exert firm direct pressure with the gauze until the bleeding stops or at least slows.  When this has happened the nurse will put a fresh pad over the puncture and then bind it in place with a bandage.  You should leave this in place for a few hours so the bleeding can stop once and for all.
Your next stop will be the refreshment area.  Don't skip this step for two reasons.  First: if you're in Australia, the Red Cross has started giving away the best chocolate chip cookies in the universe for blood donors.  Do not miss them.  Second: if you do have a reaction to giving blood, this gives the staff a chance to attend to you.  I had an object lesson in this earlier this year when I donated with a few good mates from the SES.  When we were in the reception area, one of them became as white as a ghost and had trouble sitting up.  The nurse came over immediately and checked that she wasn't in medical danger, and we arranged for her partner to come down and take her home.  I was struck by watching a nurse go into 'emergency' mode: focussed, direct, and doing what she needed to do.  She reminded me of exactly how a good crewmember looks during a road rescue.  There's a job to do; I'm going to do what I was trained to do.  That's something I respect.
Yes. Yes it is.
There you have it.  You've made your first blood donation.  You've just helped people who'll never know you but who needed you.  If there's a better, more worthwhile, thing to do I don't know what it is.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Daughters and hay, running and weeds

Hi everyone,

Life's been a bit quiet lately, so I simply have a short diary post for you tonight.

After the run in the home town on Friday I came back up to the Goulburn Valley with the old boy.  We got back about 2300 on Friday night.

A photo posted by Stephen Tuck (@sdtuc2) on

Saturday brought me a prolonged case of 'hurry up and wait'.  We unloaded new hay rake the old boy bought the other day and hitched it up to the Fordson in an agricultural old-meets-new.  He then set off to rake the mown grass on the lower paddock, and shortly afterwards Barry happened along to work the baler.  Regrettably, the old boy has never truly accepted that I might be able to use farm machinery without destroying it, so I was tasked with waiting at the house for instructions.  I did this until about 1300 when I was asked to drive over to Arcadia to pick up a mechanic (Richard) and bring him back in case the baler broke down.  It didn't, so Richard, former brother-in-law, and I waited under the trees in the hay paddock for most of the afternoon for something to happen, which it didn't.  Yes, this is how exciting farmlife can be when you're eternally 9 years old.

Sunday rolled around and I was back on 'wait' duty.  I took advantage of the time to Skype with Grace and Rachel, who are doing great and smarter than ever.  Rachel has started writing stories about the "Frost" family (kind of vaguely Frozen meets the Clownarounds).  I got the impression that she writes stories when she's sad or in trouble.  I love that: it was something like that that I did when I was much younger, creating whole little worlds inside my head when I felt lonely.  Mind you, there's a lot of hard thinking going on in that little head too: the Ex showed me a "contract" Rachel drew up.  That is, it had the word 'contract' at the top, then a big blank, then a space for the Ex to sign, and then a series of numbers which were the number for the Ex to call for advice on her contractual obligations.  Why the big blank?  Because Rachel would fill in the details of the contract after it was signed!  Apparently my daughters are now going to John D Rockefeller Elementary!!!  Grace, it turned out, followed suit by preparing a contract of her own, but with a more matter-of-fact approach (the Ex found herself contractually obligated to make gumbo).  Grace, for her part, is loving drawing at the moment.  I couldn't see what it was she was drawing, but I got the impression one of the things was a picture of me.  We rounded out the skype watching a Mickey Mouse Christmas thing together, where the cartoons all appeared to be the old style, two dimensional Disney (or at least, new cartoons done in the old style).  I may be a bazillion miles away from them, but daddy-daughters moments are no less special for that.

There was still nothing to be done as regards farm work on Sunday afternoon, so I prepared vegetables for a stew, dealt with a bundle of SES emails, and set up and 'event' on Facebook for a local fun run where the SES Unit will be entering a team.  Then, it was time for my Sunday long run, of which the details are in the preceding photo.  My pace in running is fairly crummy at the moment.  I seem to start out tired and slow and struggle to get any speed up.  Although that day it may have reflected me being in my older sneakers, which were long since retired but which I put on by accident.

A photo posted by Stephen Tuck (@sdtuc2) on

The clouds threatened rain all afternoon, but nothing fell on the run and only a few spots afterwards.  They were still there this morning, which was kind of a relief as I'd agreed to work with Darryl the Gardener weeding a large yard.

The yard in issue was rather bigger than Darryl had banked on.  It was also a lot worse than the 4 hours work the client had paid for.  The problem was essentially that the house was in one of the new estates, and the yard was simply sand (in a climate like Shepparton, that's either a very good or a vey bad idea).  Being sand, no grass had grown.  Absent maintenance over early Spring, a regular Amazon Basin of weeds had grown up - probably enough to be a solid 4 days work to weed by hand, and really more than could be done with the whipper-snipper and mower.

This is about 40% of the yard

In the end we laid down some spray in select areas and will leave it till the client confirms he's happy to have a rotary hoe hired to turn the weeds into the ground.

Work knocked over for the day I ran some errands in Shepparton, drove to Tatura and attended to yet more SES tasks, and then came back here in enough time for a storm warning to be issued for this area.  I was happy to roll out to callouts, but in the end there was simply two squalls of wind and no jobs to attend to.

The rest of the week should be reasonably active - blood bank and legal volunteering tomorrow, and SES event on Wednesday, and my first stint as a Red Cross Telecross volunteer on Friday.  Thank heaven a busy life is a happy life!

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Running - On Road and Off

Hi everyone,
Yesterday I found myself down at Flinders, which is the district my family hails from.  I had a few hours spare and naturally I went for a run on some of the tracks I used to use regularly.
I started out from the car park near the war memorial, which is itself one of the best bits of town: it looks down over Kennon Cove, Flinders Pier and over towards the naval facility at West Head.  It's also one of the highest bits of town, so I was going to have an invigorating climb back up to the car at the finish (you know you're a runner when you say something like that).

Down off the hill I went, heading west.  This took me past the gate to the naval base.  From memory, the base is part of HMAS Cerberus, the Navy's boot camp, and is a gunnery range used to train sailors in ship-borne weapons systems.  For this reason, the gate is graced by a deactivated bofors gun.  Well, I assume it's deactivated.  If it isn't one day somebody in Crib Point will be in for quite a shock when a crater appears in their street.
After the gate I was onto the mile or so of the road that runs through the golf course right by the sea.  It's spectacular at any time and yesterday was no exception: the waves coming up out of Bass Strait kicked up a spray that the light caught (the photos don't really convey it).  It's a beautiful stretch of coast and I love running it.  I was feeling so good I didn't even flip the finger to any golfers (I don't like golf: I formed irrevocable opinions on the game after encounters with people from two different courses who made clear they viewed non-golfers as simply grubby, nasty little people who had no business speaking to their betters).
The road through the golf course leads to another climb up to King Street.  I was planning to turn to the north but I saw a newish sign pointing to a 'trail' down towards Ocean Beach.  I'm not a natural trail runner, but I thought 'what the Hell?'.  As it turned out, 'trail' was a bit of a misnomer: it was more of a goat track down hill over tree roots and through the bushes, and eventually leading to a foot track where the steeper bits had earthen stairs.
This made things challenging for me: my knees aren't the best and downhill even on good terrain is a bit testing because of the extra impact.  Doing it on rough ground was a definite challenge.  Eventually the track took me to a small bank just above a cobble beach in between two small headlands.  It looked like the sort of place you'd definitely go if you wanted some alone time.
I decided against going onto the beach when I saw that someone previously had tied a rope down the back to help people ascend and descend.  I had the climb back up hill waiting and in any case, I was there to run rather than explore.
The run back up hill was actually more comfortable than going down; the extra effort gave my lungs plenty of work which felt good.  I kept going north up King Street, and by the time I got near Cook Street (about 4 kms in) my left knee began to smart a bit.  I decided to just keep going and pounded up past the Anglican church and then over a rough, unofficial track that joined King to the east-west road beyond it.  It was good, open country and a pleasure to run through.
Once I'd gone as far as I needed to do a total of about 10 kms by the end I reversed the process and headed back down and around the golf course.  I found myself thinking just how much running is "me-time".  All the other things that fill my life and threaten to turn my hair grey drop away, and it's just me and the road and the music and the weather.  When I run, it doesn't matter that I'm an A1 failure in most parts of my life: for an hour or two the world gives me everything I need.
I decided to lengthen the run a bit and make the final climb that much better so I detoured downhill near the end to take a run along to the end of the pier.  There were lots of fellows there getting an early start on the weekend's fishing; I wonder what they made of my running playlist if they could hear it - it includes a reasonable amount of Taylor Swift!
The final climb up to the carpark was as good as I'd hoped.  There was a real sense of accomplishment as I leaned back against the car and looked over Westernport Bay and felt the sun on my shoulders.  All exercise is good, but I never want to give up running.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Review: David Michaelis, Schulz and Peanuts (2007)

I recently finished reading David Michaelis' biography of Charles M Schulz, creator of the "Peanuts" comic strip.  It's a one-off book.  It's difficult to imagine anyone rivalling it as a biography, or attempting to.

Image from here

Michaelis traces Schulz's life from his childhood in Minnesota, through to his death in California (which coincided with publication of the last Peanuts strip).  The key events of Schulz's life are matched with events in the strip at the same time, as are the aspects of Schulz's personality with different characters in the strip (a particularly insightful moment compares the Schroeder-Lucy dynamic with that of Schulz and his first wife).  Michaelis has clearly done a phenomenal amount of work interviewing people who knew Schulz.  He's also put a great deal of effort into going through the records relating to the strip and its marketing.  One couldn't really call his writing style light, but he keeps the narrative moving.  Considering the amount of research he has done, the book is commendably readable.

Image result for peanuts gang
Image from here

One might have expected a hagiography.  Charles Schulz, after all, created the most popular comic of all time with perhaps the most recognizable groups of characters since Dickens.  It was kind of pleasing not to be served a large lump of saccharine.  Certainly through the second half of the book I wasn't at all sure whether to like Schulz or not.  The impression one is left with is of a man who had a great deal of difficulty articulating what would make him happy.  He comes across as annoyingly needy, and this neediness pressed him into undermining his own marriage and then someone else's.  By the end I needed to remind myself that this was probably the least destructive manifestation of an "artistic temperament" (by comparison, François Villon, Ben Jonson and Caravaggio were murderers, Christopher Marlowe got himself killed in a tavern brawl, and Roman Polanski fled the United States to avoid imprisonment for raping a child).  The author deserves a fair degree of praise for keeping a dispassionate eye for his subject.

The book's main weakness is focusing very heavily on Schulz's private life and the ups and downs of his marriages (I neither needed nor wanted to know about his sex life).  There's some discussion of how Peanuts fitted into the events of its time (especially the 1960s and 1970s), and how it related to other cartoon strips, as well as how its creator viewed the strip's ever-expanding merchandising.  It would have been interesting to know more about how Peanuts developed as an artform and what Schulz himself through of this (the strip in the 1990s was almost unrecognizably different from the strip in the 1950s).  This, though, may be more the work of an art historian than a biographer.  Peanuts deserves this sort of analysis as much as did its creator: it's as quintessentially American an artform as American Gothic or Huckleberry Finn.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

An accidental half marathon!

Hi everyone,

It's been a quiet day here in my world (applied for jobs, read a bit, wrote a book review).  I did however catch up on the long run I missed on Sunday.

I headed out about 1600 in cool sunlight and had in mind to go maybe as far as Wallis Road.  I was going well and keeping a good pace when at about the 4km mark a cramp came out of nowhere and belted through my left calf,  Not a small cramp either - an exclaim-in-pain, grab-at-the-damn-thing-and-stop-and-try-to-stretch cramp.  I thought about quitting and going home, but a degree of pigheadedness crept in.  This was partly motivated by having read a fairly self-pitying blogpost from a "fathlete" who was complaining about having to actually train to take part in an Ironman event
When I set this goal for myself  I knew that the training would be difficult, but I believed that I would put in the training hours and the improvement would happen and I would finish the event.  Except that’s not what happened, I put in the training hours but my speed just has not increased enough.  It’s super frustrating.  I had some improvements in speed but I also had long plateaus, and even backslides, in between those improvements.
It’s possible that part, if not all, of that is that I’m not working hard enough – basically that because I don’t enjoy these workouts and I’m struggling just to make myself do the workouts in the first place (and not quit once I’ve started) that I’m mistaking misery for difficulty and thus not working as hard as I think I am – we’re working on some techniques to fix this.
With that fairly risible example before me, I decided I'd finish this run if I had to limp the rest of the way.  So, off I hobbled and my calf did in fact loosen up a bit as I went, and I just kept adding a little bit and a little bit to the run until I noticed I was at the 10.5 kilometre mark and I basically completed a half-marathon distance by default.

It was worth it for the sense of achievement when Runkeeper clicked over the 21 kilometre mark, although I noticed that as soon as I stopped and began to cool down my left calf began to lock up, causing me to hobble quite a lot.  Hopefully this will resolve by morning.

The other plus was that I weighed in this evening and found I'd shed a bit more weight.  Roll on 75 kilos!

Not much more to add.  Hope all your days are starting out well!

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Garden and Grease Gun

Hi everyone,

Another diary post tonight.  It's been a strong couple of days.

Yesterday saw me pick up some work for the doctor in Shepparton.  It was a solid day of mowing, edging, cleaning gutters, pruning, spraying weeds, raking and, well, all the other things that go into garden maintenance.  I'm happy to say I kept my shoulder to the wheel for the full 9 hours of work.  I don't want to be a labourer (or even a gardener) for the term of my natural life, but it's still good to know that you've gotten work done that needed to be done.

I capitalised on the day in one regard, which was to lay on the low-strength sunblock.  I'f I'm working in the hot hot sun, I at least want to have a tan to show for it.  I'm not yet at the point where working with my shirt off would be anything but ridiculous, but at some point it'd be good to convert the farmer's tan into something a bit more extensive!

A photo posted by Stephen Tuck (@sdtuc2) on

The only part of the day which I couldn't really process was when I came home and reported to Centrelink about the hours I'd been working and the pay I'd received: my payment this fortnight went down by about a hundred dollars.  I guess that means I'm kind of a success, right?  People probably think I'm an idiot for declaring every bean of my income when I'm principally paid in cash.  The simple truth is that I can still respect myself that way.  Things are tight right now, but I can tell my girls honestly that I'm not a crook.  I might be lacking in all other things, but I'm an honest man.  That's a boast worth having.

After yesterday, I slept well last night.  This was just as well, because it was a farm-heavy day.  I searched out stray wire in the hay paddock the old boy is presently mowing, then back up to the house to make up the melon salad for the maternal unit (I hate the thought of them living out of tins).  Then after lunch, into town with the old boy to help him with the shopping and one or two other things.  Then, back to here to refuel vehicles, unload trailer, top up hydraulic oil and a few other tasks.

A photo posted by Stephen Tuck (@sdtuc2) on

I have the feeling the old boy had saved a number of these jobs up for me while I was tied up with SES on Thursday and working yesterday.  I think he's feeling his age pretty strongly now, which is one of the reasons it's not so easy working with him: his work view partly needs me to be simply the gopher and spare set of hands, which real work goes to his friends Barry and Michael.  This isn't exactly fun but ... fuck it.  If it helps him, then just take the hit and move on.

A photo posted by Stephen Tuck (@sdtuc2) on

I still haven't been able to get back and look at that training I mentioned the other day.  I'll try and look at it tonight before I pass out.

No more for now.  I was hoping to head out on the bike this afternoon but ran out of time.  Long run tomorrow for sure!

Hope your weekends are starting out well.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Contempt for the Clintonites

One shouldn't take people too seriously when they complain after an election.  Inevitably there's a harvest of sour grapes and apocalyptic wailing for a few days.  Then, people realise that the economy hasn't tanked, that people aren't being rousted from their homes at bayonet point, and nobody has been made to surrender the head of their firstborn child.  And then there's a report like this, which makes you think that the losing side actually deserved to lose:

The following story recounted that
A number of U.S. universities are giving students ample room to grieve in the wake of Donald Trump's election victory Wednesday.
Barnard, a women's liberal arts college based in New York City, has given professors the opportunity to cancel classes and is offering students counseling after the "heightened emotions" caused by the election. ...
American University is also holding a vigil for students "who needed a quiet place to reflect and talk" about the election Wednesday, the Vice President of Campus Life told TWS....
At Columbia, which is closely affiliated with Barnard, professors reportedly postponed over a dozen midterm exams out of concern for students' mental health.
A Yale economics professor also made his exam optional after students wrote to him expressing "shock" and sadness over the election results.
Meanwhile, a New York University student said that her biology professor made a Friday exam optional because students' "distress from the election" could "make it difficult for them to study."
There's no excuse for this spinelessness.  There's no excuse for this inability to deal with life.  There's something grotesquely wrong with a section of the population who cannot see the absurdity in this response.  And perhaps this is the lesson in why Clinton not only lost, but needed to lose: at least a proportion of her supporters are utterly unsuited to a harsh world.

Consider this: I have the privilege to lead a unit of emergency responders.  Many of them are the same age, or younger, than the students and Barnard and American and the rest.  I imagine these students would regard many of them as unutterably coarse and ill-educated.  But each one of them will show up to respond to death and maiming.  To do grimy, back-breaking work laying sandbags to reinforce a levee.  To climb up on a roof in a storm to repair damage.  They're part of the same order of people as Constable Victor Nelson:

Nelson's story is this:
In June 1925 an old aged pensioner named Frank Mahoney was badly burned in a fire at his hut on the riverbank at Shepparton. He adamantly refused police requests to go to Hospital. When they later learned that the old man was living in a state of indescribable filth, totally unable to care for himself, it was resolved to take him to the hospital forcibly. Constable Nelson was one of the men detailed for this task, and he became infected through contact with Mahoney’s septic burns. He developed virulent cellulitis of the nose, face and head, and died at the Mooroopna Hospital at 10.30am Sunday 12 July 1925 as the result of an attack of erysipelas combined with blood poisoning.
Men and women cut from the same cloth fill America's police and fire departments, man its warships, and enlist in its regiments.  On any measure, the relative spinelessness of young men and women unable even to deal with an adverse election result is worthy only of disgust and contempt.  Nobody so lacking in character has any business wanting their view of the world to govern others.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Election 2016 ... my two cents.

Hi everyone,
By oceans of ink (well, pixels) have been spilt on the fallout of Donald Trump's win in the presidential election.  I'm not going to be a smarta**e and claim I foresaw it.  In hindsight, though, it should have been foreseen.  Why?  This -
However I slice it, Trump's presidential win has been cut from the same cloth as Brexit.  Looking at my Facebook feed, I see acres of contempt from educated and intelligent people for the punters who voted another way:

After Brexit, there was no excuse for ignoring the views of the punters because they're "uneducated" or "hateful".  Why?  Because they don't feel any sense of obligation to the educated or the goodthinkful.  At the risk of generalising, the punters already live financially precarious lives.  They already know that their accents, their workclothes, their lack of connections will tend to exclude them from the world's high tables and from the counsels of the People Who Matter.  And they're patronised by the great and the good?  Maybe there really is some justification for schadenfreude at the long faces at Clinton HQ last night.

It's too late in the night, and I'm too tired, for me to think through whether Marx was perversely right or not.  I suspect yes, but not in the way that he thought: the classes in western societies seem indeed to have declared war on each other, but the key factor is access to knowledge rather than to capital.
There's no excuse for the goodthinkful in Clinton's loss.  Ignoring the concerns of the punters because they were uneducated, crude, or even unreasonable was unforgivable: their fears and insecurity were no less real for being poorly articulated or tainted by prejudice.  The patronisation in the facebook posts above was a dare to the punters to take a swing at them.  In the election the punters accepted the invitation.


Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Jobs, blood and news

Hi everyone,
Happy Tuesday!  It's been a rewarding day here in my world.  The day started a bit late, after what felt like my first good night's sleep in ages.  As usual, this was followed by walking the dog, and a few other chores through the morning.  I applied for a job with the Department of Housing, and also re-read yesterday's letter from the place at Murchison that didn't give me a job.

This was probably worthwhile, because it finally sank in I need to retrain as something other than a lawyer.  I can't afford to do properly accredited reskilling here, except through SES.  If somehow I do, it'll probably be my one shot at making a new start.  So, I've signed up for an apparently reputable intro-to-nursing course to see if my fondness for helping people can be turned into something that might turn a dollar.  One can only try.
In the afternoon I headed in to Shepparton to go to the Blood Bank.  This was as good as ever: my brain might not be A1, but my body can sure do some good stuff for other people!  While I was there I asked about getting another group donation for the SES Unit.  They have a few blocks of appointments between here and Christmas so I'm hopeful that it can be made to happen.
A photo posted by Stephen Tuck (@sdtuc2) on

The other thing I got in Shepparton was today's Tatura Guardian, which included a longish story about our unit -
It was great to see us written up in such an effective way.  Hopefully we get some new members!
The day finished fairly quietly, with TV, dinner and blogging.
Hope your days are going well out there.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

The post where I quote Al Bundy

Hi everyone,
Change of pace from last night's "big ideas" post.  This one is a simple diary post.
It's been a full three days in my world.  Friday and Saturday I picked up a couple of days work for the doctor in Shepparton I worked for once before.  Once again, it's gardening and garden maintenance work.  He wanted a very very extensive creeper trimmed and pruned, various garden beds weeded and raked, the pond cleared of leaves, the lawns mowed and the paths weeded.
It was a big job - really more than two days worth, because Lord knows I wasn't idle and barely finished what he wanted (and even that with a few cut corners). The work itself wasn't bad, although he had a tendency to ask me to go back and do this or that a little bit more.  This was frustrating.  The only repellent bit of the job was trying to clear the pond of leaves.  It's fairly poorly designed and even with the pump going the water is largely stagnant.
As you can see, it was basically black and anytime I went near the bottom with the net it swept up a fountain of rotting leaves.  In the end I got everything off the surface I could and agreed to come back later in the month and empty it of water and clean it properly.
I'm still a little puzzled why I'm being given the work at all.  Shepparton is not short of gardening contractors, so I'm not sure why the doctor has chosen to employ me, who is basically a labourer and little more.  One side of me says that he's trying to give me a break.  The cynic in me suggests that it's because I work for quite a bit less than the contractors.
Be that as it may, when I walked into the shopping centre partway through this exercise buy sunscreen, it felt strangely good see myself in the restroom mirror and think: your hands are dirty.  There's half a back yard under your fingernails.  Your jeans are grubby and you can't plan anything more than a few days in advance.  You, sir, are a regular working schlub.  There's no need for artifice in saying along with Al Bundy -
So you think I'm a loser? Just because I have a stinking job that I hate, a family that doesn't respect me, a whole city that curses the day I was born? Well, that may mean loser to you, but let me tell you something. Every morning when I wake up, I know it's not going to get any better until I go back to sleep again. So I get up, have my watered-down Tang and still-frozen Pop Tart, get in my car with no upholstery, no gas, and six more payments to fight traffic just for the privilege of putting cheap shoes on the cloven hooves of people like you. I'll never play football like I thought I would. I'll never know the touch of a beautiful woman. And I'll never again know the joy of driving without a bag on my head. But I'm not a loser. 'Cause, despite it all, me and every other guy who'll never be what he wanted to be are still out there being what we don't want to be forty hours a week for life. And the fact that I haven't put a gun in my mouth, you pudding of a woman, makes me a winner.

In other developments, on Friday night the unit took part in the Tatura Primary School fete.  I'm really happy to report that we were a hit!  We gave away tons of showbags with SES stuff in them and set up (a great idea by one of our DCs) the spreading tool on the table so that the kids could operate the jaws without having to take their considerable weight.  They had to close the jaws to pick up an egg without breaking it.  The kids absolutely loved it!  It felt good to share what we do with them and their parents.  Tatura's not my home town, and never will be - I'm too rootless for that - but it's what a home town should be.

One of the advantages of all this outdoors work has been that I'm losing weight.  As of yesterday I'm down to 85kgs, and closer to my goal of 75kgs.  I'm not sure gardening burns as much energy as myfitnesspal says, but it certainly burns a lot and gives me an excuse to give lunch a miss.
Today the food situation was a little different: we're cutting hay in the paddock behind the shed and Barry the mechanic came over to keep the hay roller working (in return he gets a share of the hay rolls).  I volunteered to make biscuits and corn muffins for lunch using some of my long-hoarded American packet mixes.  The biscuits went well, but the corn muffins were showing their age and tasted pretty tired.  You can probably tell from the phot overlays that I was talking on Messenger as I made them!
I knew it'd be a high calorie dinner tonight and so I made certain to get in my Sunday long run.  This time, just on 16kms / 10 miles.  It felt good to be out there, even though my legs were tired and took a while to loosen.  Lately quite a few things are bugging me, and the hour plus I spend running is a complete break.  I can't be called on the phone, and the world shrinks to the sun, the ground, the music and the air.  When I run I feel very human.
No more for now.  Tomorrow I'm working with Darryl the gardener for probably most of the morning.  In the evening I need to go to Benalla for a peer support education session.  Tuesday is the blood bank.
I hope all of your days are going well!

Saturday, 5 November 2016

What are you willing to kill for?

Hi everyone,

A former co-worker considered me to be a "prepper".  He didn't mean it as a compliment.  It wasn't really accurate anyway, at least the way he meant it.  My 'prepping' for disaster is much the same as that recommended by such panicky doomsday cults as the Victorian government or the Red Cross: that is, what major calamities are likely to hit my area (chiefly fire and storms); what are my triggers to evacuate; how would I ensure the parental units would be fed and safe until things returned to normal.

Intriguingly enough, the people who tend to appear on Doomsday Preppers seem to go through much the same thought process, but with a much looser filter.  Their list of potential calamities is much larger and their response much more extensive.  I find it a bit alarming that a person would shape their life so completely around a speculative threat, but I can't deny that sometimes these people pose questions I don't find easy to answer. 

One such question was posed implictly recently on the Facebook feed of The Survival Mom when she reviewed the Walther P22.  Both the review and the comments focussed on the gun's use for self-defence.  This got me thinking.  Most people can name a few things for which they're willing to die (family, children, country, God and so on).  A much more difficult question is: for what are you willing to kill?

I pondered that question for a bit and was mildly surprised to find the answer was "probably nothing".  I can't think of any political or religious cause for which I'd be willing to take a life.  I'm with Albert Dietrich on that one: There are causes worth dying for, but not worth killing for.  There's no absolute need to either.  "We can only spread our knowledge outwards from individual to individual, generation after generation.  In the face of the Thought Police, there is no other way"*.

My instincts told me that I also wouldn't be willing to take another person's life to preserve my own, but I was hard pressed to explain why.  To the extent that I can parse my reaction, I think this is less because of a desire to die, than a lack of desire for the life that would follow.  It seems to me that life will be better lived, and humanity (or God) better served, if one gives up the reassurance of having extraordinary means to prolong it.  I think Hemingway put it at attractively:
Death, to people who fish in the cold parts of the Atlantic ocean is something that may come at any time, that comes often and is to be avoided as an industrial accident; so that they are not preoccupied with it and it has no fascination for them**
I think that we will live more intensely and sincerely with our mortality taken for granted.  To kill to preserve one's own life seems (for want of a better phrase) like cheating.  I don't think that taint could be removed from the whole of the life that followed.

The one that still has me stumped is whether I would be willing to kill to preserve the life of another person.  On the one hand, it seems to me that if I have the power to save another person's life, I ought to do so.  If that means voluntarily taking upon myself the mark of Cain, then perhaps it's even laudable because you're tarnishing yourself for the good of another person.  On the other ... well, if you wring your hands about it for long enough the question will become academic.  You can see why I find this side of the matter fairly unsatisfactory.

What do you think, readers?  I try and avoid 'big ideas' posts in this blog, but this one was a real puzzler.  For what purpose (if any) should a person be willing to kill?


* George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) ch.8.
** Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon (1939), ch.19.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Farms, gardens, books and broccoli

Hi everyone,

Beginning this post before SES training.  Sorry it's been a while since I last wrote.  Usually I post in the evenings, but of late I've been tired late in the evening and just wanting to turn in.

In any case, there hasn't been a colossal amount to write about.  There's been farmwork to do, and I've been running and cycling in the evenings.  The weather is warming and drying and the lush grasses are starting to lighten in shade on their way to brown.  On our place we're almost at the point of cutting hay.

I've picked up a few days work gardening, which is good inasmuch as I need the money.  I'm dreading tomorrow though.  The work is for a fellow in Shepparton who is incredibly picky and fussy and stands over your shoulder asking you to pluck this weed and then that weed.  Last time I worked for him I just had to keep biting my tongue and reminding myself that this is just something one has to plug through.

This was on my mind especially today because I had to meet with the jobsearch agency.  They're nice people, but utterly unable to help me.  Sadly, my reputation is too poor in the area of law I used to work in for me to get work, and I'm too old for a firm to take me on in a new area.  Because I already have a degree, I don't qualify for government funding to retrain in anything else.  I can't afford to retrain at my own expense.  Hence, when my consultant asked me today "what industry would you like to work in", I'm afraid I looked at him like he'd grown two heads.  The answer to that question is simply: anything that earns me a living and doesn't make me what to shove a gun in my mouth.

The rest of the day has had an upside.  For one thing, it included some Red Cross training, meeting with a business operator in Tatura who is able to offer an A1 training resource to our unit, and having a chat with a journalist from the local paper who wanted to know more about us.  For another thing,  I did the rest of my errands in Shepparton on foot, which took me past the closing down sale of a bookshop which had reduced all its stock to $6.00.  This meant I was able to buy a hardback of Green Hills of Africa dirt cheap with the money I'd set aside for lunch.  As a result, I had precisely 80c available to buy lunch, and this meant I could justify simply buying some broccoli and steaming it at the SES shed.  Health and learning: that's what I call a win-win!

All of which was good, until I noticed a story reshared by someone in my Facebook feed.  It's been about half a century since Vatican II, and nearly five centuries since the Reformation.  One would have thought it absurd to find people who still view Catholics with such hatred and contempt.

Not much else to report.  It was a good SES training night tonight (watch the Facebook feed in a few hours!).  Tomorrow will be busy enough, with that work in Shepparton and then a Primary School fete in the evening.  Unemployment is a remarkably busy thing.

Hope all your days are going well.