Friday, 27 May 2016

Sometimes a stranger is the best person to listen

I went into the GP's office this morning to get a referral for my psychiatrist, and also to get my right ear irrigated because it was clogged and my hearing was being affected on that side. While the doctor was syringing my ear to get the wax out of the canal we chatted about my mother and her situation in the nursing home. We talked about how mum has cellulitis and whether a nursing home was a poor environment for infections generally, but he said that cellulitis is brought on by physical inaction and low resistance to infection due to old age. I mentioned that I sometimes felt guilty about my mother's cellulitis because I thought that nursing homes might be bad environments for cleanliness. He said it wasn't necessarily true.

I also talked about how I had brought mum to Sydney from southeast Queensland in December 2014 following her diagnosis for dementia in March of that year. He said that looking after someone with a degenerative mental illness like Alzheimer's can be tough. "We all like to think that we will look after our parents," he said, "but sometimes it's not always possible." He sounded quite calm and neutral about it, so I had no reason to doubt him. I am sure that he talks with a lot of people about their elderly parents in the course of his daily work. So it made me feel better.

Then I told him about how, in the middle of 2012, I stopped freelancing because looking after mum was taking up too much time. I told him of one week around that time when I had to take mum to the GP every day for a week. I have always wondered if giving up journalism was a wise move, because now I feel the lack sometimes of a guiding principle in my life. I mean, I go and see mum every two or three days in the car but at other times I might sometimes feel like I am at a bit of a loose end.

It was relaxing to talk with the doctor while he was engaged in the essentially simple task of irrigating my ears. It was quite intimate and personal, and I felt as though I had his complete attention. I don't think he minded that I talked to him in this way during the procedure. He seemed quite relaxed about it. He said that it is a novelty for people to live as long as they do nowadays. Even 20 years ago people were dying ten years earlier than they do now. I had ventured that in the previous generation people were dying at age 65 or 70. So we were on the same page essentially. He also said that because humanity is quite a recent form of life, evolutionarily speaking, we have not really yet worked out how things like old age should be organised.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Book Chat, Episode 4

Books talked about in this episode of Book Chat:
  • Death by Water, Kenzaburo Oe (2015)
  • To Hell and Back, Ian Kershaw (2015)
  • Flight Behaviour, Barbara Kingsolver (2012)

Monday, 23 May 2016

Book review: Everywhere I Look, Helen Garner (2016)

I seem to remember this book being talked about on TV by Leigh Sales as a book replete with positive stories but I have to admit that, for me, this strange little miscellany resembled nothing more than a collection of bric-a-brac. All very entertaining, I'm quite sure, but it's not something that has a solid core that you can easily address in a critical appraisal like the one you are currently reading.

To be quite honest the pieces that appealed most to me were of an autobiographical nature. I've not seem diary entries being used in this way by a reputable non-fiction author before, so it was something that strikes me as being out-of-the-ordinary. But I loved reading about Garner's children and beloved grandchildren. She is, of course, the age of anyone's nanna, and is well qualified to be telling people what she thinks of little Tom or whomever she is charged with keeping an eye on at any one time. There is a deep humanity at work in these whisper-slight vignettes, small slivers of time and action that capture something of lived experience in a fresh and engaging way.

Elsewhere in the book we find some of the reportage for which Garner is probably now most famous. She has spent many, many hours seated in courtrooms taking notes and observing the proceedings in camera. Here you will find some new pieces - though short ones - to add to her well-known catalogue of writing on crime and the darker parts of the human soul.

I was sometimes terribly moved while reading this book. Often I would skip quickly, with a sigh, from the end of one piece to the beginning of the next, eager to discover what new gem Garner had chosen to display for my entertainment and instruction. The difficulties of other people's dogs, the problems with being of a certain age and female, or the wonder of small boys who say outrageous things without even meaning to. Life is a puzzle. But you'd have to say that despite the irregular construction of the whole the parts are very much worth the reading. And finishing up with a tour-de-force on the non-linguistic medium of ballet serves to highlight most forcibly the rare quality of Garner's art. 

Friday, 20 May 2016

Mum is back in the nursing home

Mum looks happy in this photo I took today at the nursing home but she told me almost as soon as I walked in the door that she "didn't want to go for a walk today" because of her leg. She said that yesterday had been busy, and she had walked a lot. Which was not true, although she had been brought back from the hospital yesterday. She had evidently got things a bit confused.

When I arrived in the room this morning the acute post-acute care (APAC) nurse from the hospital was there with all her gear but she said she couldn't administer the IV antibiotics because mum had taken the cannula out of her arm. Mum remonstrated that she must have taken it out overnight, when she was asleep, but the fact is that mum usually forgets that she has to keep her cannula in, and because it annoys her she just picks it out of her vein with her fingers.

Later, the nursing home nursing staff came down to mum's room to talk with me about this, and then later still an ambulatory doctor came by the nursing home to put a new cannula in mum's arm. She was efficient and only got a little blood on the arm of the chair where mum's arm was resting. I mopped the blood up with wet tissues. I left not long after this so I didn't witness the APAC staff coming by again to administer the IV antibiotics, but I did watch one of the nursing home nursing staff put a bandage around the cannula in her arm to prevent mum from picking it out again.

Mum and I chatted however and sang silly songs so that mum laughed a bit. We did get onto my brother in Texas on the iPad but he was asleep when we called so we rang off soon enough and let him get back to his rest. In general, mum was in good spirits today, and showed again that the hospital treatment had been efficacious. Of course, the effects of the IV antibiotics will wear off in time and then who knows? Mum turns 87 in October and as things stand she looks likely to reach that milestone, but further than that it's hard to say with any certainty what will happen with her health-wise.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Mum feeling better in the ward

Mum was joking and laughing when I went up to the hospital to see her today. Her condition since yesterday had improved considerably, and staff told me they would probably be discharging her tomorrow. The plan was to continue the IV drip in the nursing home using APAC staff (staff who are attached to the hospital but who do their work in other locations, like private homes and nursing homes).

While I was visiting, mum's lunch arrived and I watched as she ate the whole thing: the chicken with sauce, the green beans, the mashed potato and mashed pumpkin. The exception was the chocolate pudding - a kind of mousse in a sealed container - which she kept a spoon for in case she decided to eat it later on. (She cheekily stowed the spoon away to hide it under the bedcovers, but then showed it with a smile to the orderly when he came by to collect her tray.) I ate a pie and an egg-and-lettuce sandwich from the kiosk outside. There was also coffee, which is quite decent.

But she was being quite silly while I sat there sending messages to people and reading them out to her, when people replied on my phone. The cloud had blown over, and blue skies were visible again. Who knows when she will have to be back in the hospital for treatment of an infection, however. It's impossible to say.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Mum back in hospital for treatment of cellulitis

The deputy manager from the nursing home rang me at about 8am this morning to tell me that mum's leg wasn't responding to oral antibiotics and that they wanted my permission to move her by ambulance to the hospital. I agreed straight away, because I knew how bad the leg had become: red and hot and uncomfortable. "Poor mum!" I thought.

About an hour later the hospital rang me to clear up some things about the advance health directive (AHD); they had pointed out that mum had specified in it that she didn't want antibiotic treatment or intravenous saline. I told them to rather go ahead with these treatments so as to cure her infection.

I had a meeting scheduled at home for later in the morning and didn't get up to Ryde Hospital until almost lunchtime. Mum was awake after I parked my car and walked to the ward the staff pointed me to. She looked at me with her big, gentle, Yoda eyes - giant orbs in a pale face - and said she was feeling ok. I went out to get a pie and a cup of coffee. I bought a coffee for mum as well, and she had some when I got back to my place beside her bed. I spoke with two young doctors about mum's situation and they said the cellulitis is treatable; the confusion with the AHD had derived from the definitions it used about mum's physical state. Rather than terminal, she was suffering a condition that could be treated. At least I confirmed that it was the 2014 AHD that I had helped mum prepare that we were all talking about.

Later, I spoke with one of the ward's nurses, an older woman than the young doctors, who had years of experience evident in her lined face and accommodating smile. I fed mum some of the lamb-and-pasta with broccoli that appeared soon after. I filled out a communication form that would help ward staff in case of mental deficit such as delirium. I offered mum sips of her cooling coffee. When the visiting hours elapsed I left the ward. It was just before they were to move her bed from its location in the transient section to a more permanent place in the ward. 

Monday, 16 May 2016

Some leg dramas for mum at the park

When I got up to the nursing home this morning I could hear protesting coming from mum's room even as I was walking down the hallway. The nurses were looking after her right leg, which has bad cellulitis, and she was making loud remarks as they did so. They only stayed a little while after I arrived and then I got onto my brother in Houston using the iPad. We talked for about 20 minutes, just silly stuff about snakes and bears, before we had another visitor, our old accountant, who was there visiting another resident and had dropped by to see mum as the opportunity arose. He was in the room for only about 10 minutes before he had to leave too, then I got mum ready to go out to the park.

We made it to the park and I was heading to the second bench but when I turned around mum had already started off on the grass heading for the first bench, so I changed tack. We sat for a while but there were no dogs to watch. When it was midday, and time to leave, we got up and headed back across the grass but mum soon started to protest about her right leg. We got to the corner of the street, on the footpath, and she said her leg was very tired.

I sat her down on her walker, on the seat and, facing backwards, maneuvered the machine across the road and onto the opposite footpath. Then I turned downhill, still facing backwards, and guided the machine down toward the gate. Mum's feet were juddering along on the footpath on the heels of her shoes but she didn't seem to mind. I asked if they hurt but she said, "No." When we arrived at the gate I got the walker with mum on it inside the enclosure and put on the breaks. Then I told her to wait until I went inside and found someone with a wheelchair who could help us.

Hurrying inside, I asked the lady who was staffing the front desk if there was anyone with a wheelchair to help us, and pointed out that I had left mum outside. She went around the counter to locate a wheelchair in the cupboard but there was not one there. Then she happened on another staff member who she asked to help us; he quickly went upstairs and came back promptly with a wheelchair. I went outside to wait with mum. When the staffer arrived we got mum out of the walker and into the wheelchair, and brought her inside and up to the first floor, where they had set all the dining tables for lunch. We got mum into a spot at her normal table. I went back to take her going-out things to her room. I came back out in a few minutes and said goodbye to her.

She said to me when we were outside that she didn't mind not going out to the park. I had mentioned absent-mindedly that it might not be possible to take her out again while her leg was so sore. It would be a shame on her account if she were not able to go out any more, but it's tough if you have to go to all the trouble we went to, to get her back inside. In future, as it may be, I might have to borrow a wheelchair from the staff and take her out in it, rather than have her walk with her own walker and her sore right leg.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Who cares if books are coming back, I have an ereader

Well here we have another learned boffin being wise in hindsight - if this article on ereaders versus printed books had been published five years ago it might have had some merit - and pronouncing on the death of the ebook. For myself, I love my ereader. I used to go to the bookstore and buy half-a-dozen books at a time, and maybe get around to reading three of them, if I was lucky. Now, with social media, I buy books that have been recommended by people I know and I read almost all of them.

The other great thing about the ereader is that I don't have to store bloody great slabs of books on shelves - which have to be bought and delivered as well - because everything fits inside the ereader itself, and that takes up no space at all.

Ereaders are also easier to read in bed; they're lighter and more handy; and they don't have to have bookmarks added because the books are marked electronically when you stop reading with a simple tap of your finger. Turning pages is a snap - you just tap on the page at its margin - and then you can put down the thing when you're done and go to sleep.

What makes me so annoyed with the kind of superior reverse shamanism embodied in the article in question is that anyone could have written it. There's no great revelation about the fate of books. There's no forecasting and deadly accuracy to make it shine. It's just a bit of fluff beaten up with a few random facts to make the author sound interesting. It's the worst kind of opinion. I call it humbug!

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Mum is doing ok

When I arrived at the nursing home this morning mum was asleep on her bed. She sounded drowsy when I woke her up as I came into the room. She complained of her right leg, which has been giving her problems due to cellulitis. This was as she was putting her feet on the floor and walking to her orange lazy chair. That's where she sits when I call my brother. I called him today and we chatted, the three of us, for about 20 minutes. It was a bit silly.

The silliness continued when I took mum outside for a walk to the park. We sat on the first bench because the second one was already occupied; schoolboys were playing soccer on the playing field in the park. I started talking in a thick French accent. I said I was a tough dockworker from Marseilles. Mum punctuated the discussion by spitting occasionally on the ground; she does this sometimes, I'm not sure why. Anyway, we sat in the park for about 25 minutes then headed back inside. They had set the tables upstairs for lunch and I left mum there to wait while I put away her going-out things: sunglasses, her hat, and her woolly jacket.

When I got back to her table she was sitting with her head placed in front of her on the table. She does this sometimes. I'm not sure why. It's the same as when she gets into the lift, which has mirrors on three sides. Each time she gets into the lift she pokes her tongue out at herself. I tell her she should respect herself, but perhaps inside the nursing home she has lost some of that self-respect. Maybe she feels worthless. I don't know. I told mum as I walked away today that I would be back in a couple of days. "A couple of days?" she asked. "Yes," I said.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Book review: Farewell to the Father, Tim Elliott (2016)

This is a moving and powerful story of understanding and rebirth that comes in two parts. It is first of all the story of journalist Tim Elliott's father, who lived for years with depression and would probably have been diagnosed nowadays as bipolar. He was someone who in the end brings his own life to an end through an overdose of pills. This part is gruelling enough - though told with the compassion (for both the father and the young Tim, the youngest of four children) earned by living until middle age - but in the second part we must deal with the realities of Tim Elliott's own depressive episodes.

In this second phase of the book a lot of mistakes are made - often, as with the quantities of alcohol Elliott consumed, the same mistakes his father had made - but the process of growth and enlightenment brings him to a place where he is able to truly enjoy something that he has helped to build. He has three daughters and a loving wife - a woman he met when they were still at school, and who he split up with before going back and getting in touch with again in his late twenties - and a stable, supportive home life. He has a job he obviously loves doing (the journalist-turned-autobiographer seems to be something of a trope these days; I'm thinking of David Leser here, and his book, which I reviewed in 2014, To Begin to Know, which is also about the writer's father) and he obviously has attained a level of skill in writing that is uncommon and fulfilling.

(Though all-too-common in actual fact. They say that all journalists have at least one book in them. Considering the number of skilled journalists there are in the community, there must be a metric square ton of great stories just waiting to be written by these underappreciated members of our society.)

As someone, myself, who has fought to understand and come to terms with mental illness - in my case an illness that I live with personally - this second part of Elliott's book is particularly fascinating. There are many moments of great drama in it, moments that mark points of crisis, times of understanding, and periods of difficulty lived in all its turbulent colour. But there is also a lot of wisdom here in these pages as well. Elliott has tried to learn from the mistakes of his father - though as often as not they are mistakes he makes himself at one point or another - and we are also confronted with the stark fact that medical science has made gains in recent decades that can only be understood if we look back at the ways people coped with mental illness in earlier times. The drugs, for a start, are a lot better now. There is also a lot more understanding of the reality of mental illness in the community, which includes of course being able to sensibly discuss it with people so as to enable people living with it to continue to live in the broader community, and to live rewarding and productive lives.

I found reading this book a great joy. There is a tremendous quantity of drama in it, for a start, and drama always makes for great reading. (Great storytelling thrives on drama, and all journalists are taught to find it in each story they write in order to give the reader a reason to keep on reading.) But there is a lot more besides, and so this book can profitably be read by anybody, whether they have experience with suicide and mental illness or not. 

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Smoke haze over Sydney

This is the view just now, in the mid afternoon today, but this morning you couldn't see any of the city's towers from the windows of the apartment. I got up and scented smoke in the air when I was still in the bedroom. Then I went out on the balcony off the living room and I could clearly smell the burn in the breeze. I thought this morning at first that they had had a fire in one of the foreshore parks down the street on the harbour, where they have trees and bushes, but as soon as I went online I could see from the news website that they had done hazard reduction burns the previous day in the Blue Mountains. The smoke in Sydney was the aftermath of that burning.

The view from the balcony at the moment reminds me of the Sailor Moon cartoon in the 90s, which often showed long-distance shots of city skylines, places of comfort and stability. The urban landscape in Japan as nirvana, a kind of promised land of peace and flourishing. (Which Japan is, to some extent. It still represents, to me, a magic country where strange and beautiful things can happen every day for no specific reason.) But seen in Sydney in autumn it had other connotations for residents of my suburb. At the corner, where the Terminus Hotel sits rotting peacefully, a woman was standing with her mother (I presumed; the elderly woman had a wheeled walker in front of her like my mum has when she goes out) who sat on the bench on John Street. The woman said as I walked past: "It's like a bad day in Beijing!" Her voice was loud and assured, and I wondered if she had said it for my benefit; I was on my way to the Japanese restaurant for noodles.

It has been a strange day though with the hazy air. There's even a hashtag on Twitter (#SydneySmoke) which is getting a bit of traffic. Everyone wants to join in. When the event is as widespread as this smoke haze - when it encompasses the city's entire population - you're sure to get participation. As well as giving us all something to talk about in tandem, the haze also serves to remind us that we live on a single, vulnerable planet and that environmental protection is a global responsibility. We all have a responsibility to work together for the benefit of the global community. Political boundaries mean little in the face of climate change.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Nothing much is happening ...

Normally I feel guilty if I don't post something on the blog each day but lately I seem either to be less motivated to open up about myself or else I'm just generally feeling lazy. There are these big gaps in postings here on the blog. But to be truthful nothing much is happening in my life.

Every two or three days I drive up to see mum in the nursing home. Each visit will normally include a conversation on the iPad in mum's room with my brother in Texas, a walk in the park, a period sitting on a bench watching dogs gambol in the park, and a return to the nursing home before lunch starts around 12pm. I am usually home again by about 1pm, so each visit takes me about 3 hours to complete from when I leave in the car to when I return to the apartment.

I will then see about having some lunch. Mornings when a visit to the nursing home is not on the cards I will usually just schlep about the apartment or else go to do an errand - like buying groceries, or topping up a prescription - before again thinking about lunch. Lunch will vary depending on mood. If I have something in the fridge I will make lunch at home but otherwise I will go out to eat. Then it might be ramen noodles, sushi, or a chicken-schnitzel roll and chips. It's all pretty simple fare for a simple guy.

Afternoons I will usually have a nap. Or not, if I have slept in late in the morning. Then around 3.30pm I will start to drink wine and engage on social media with the news turned on in the background. This continues until about 5.30pm at which time I will make dinner - these days I don't go out to dinner at all - and then settle in to watch TV for the evening.

Plain days. I read before going to sleep, in bed. But that's it really. There's nothing most days to justify writing a blogpost. Last night, for example, I wrote about killing a cockroach - the little beast was climbing the wall as I was reading in bed - but it didn't seem to be a weighty enough subject to justify a blogpost, so I just wrote about it on Facebook straight up, without blogging about it. I think a blogpost has to have an episodic materiality to sustain itself, although to be fair I have written some very short ones in the past. But when it comes down to it a blogpost must have a certain heft and moment in order to sustain itself. This subject I'm writing about right now, for example, is a tenuous gambit if you want to be completely frank about it. But there you go.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Saved by fresh Sunday programming

When programming on the ABC channel is less than optimal I choose to watch ABC News 24; these are the two channels I watch most of the time. On occasion, on weekday evenings and on weekends also, I might switch across to SBS to catch their news program at 6.30pm but most of the time I am a dedicated ABC user. Which is why weekends are so frustrating.

When the main programming on the ABC channel is not the kind of thing I like to watch - as it usually is on weekend evenings - I get my feed from ABC News 24. In fact, I start watching ABC News 24 from about 3.30pm when I start drinking wine. The problem with weekends is that the programming on ABC News 24 at thee times is alternately repeats of programs that have been shown at other times on the main ABC channel. This can be a bit frustrating, for obvious reasons. Nobody wants to be forced to watch something they've already thoroughly consumed. Luckily, I am on social media with the TV on in the background when a lot of these shows screen for the first time, so I am not completely familiar with them. In these situations I can watch the repeats with a fair quantity of sang froid, but it really depends. Offsiders, furthermore, is just a complete chore as I hate spectator sport.

Luckily, things get a bit better on Sunday nights because there is a bit of original programming, including Australia Wide, which comes on just after the news. Then they replay Insiders, which I normally haven't seen because in the mornings on Sunday I am busy doing something other than watching TV, or else I am on social media with the TV on just in the background.

But there is another problem with this kind of saturation exposure to ABC News 24, which is that the news segments they screen every 30 minutes are often largely identical. It gets a bit tiresome to see the same stories covered time and time again, which is why at 6.30pm I switch across to SBS. I can get a fresh perspective on the daily news, which means new stories.

I understand that ABC programmers are scheduling their best programs to air when the largest number of viewers will be in front of their TVs to receive them. This is why Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday viewing generally contain higher quality programs. But I don't go out on Friday and Saturday nights. So I am exposed to the weakest screening times for the ABC, and I find it tiring and dull. I frankly look forward to Mondays when the programming is fresh again. Mondays are fun.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Book review: Before I Forget, Christine Bryden (2015)

Prior to her diagnosis of early-onset dementia in 1995 at age 46 Christine Bryden lived with an abusive husband for almost 20 years. The dementia advocate has written two other books, which have been published. In this one she tells the story of her life from her childhood until recent times, although the part here that is most coherent is the part up to when she was first diagnosed.

The part of this book that is most compelling is the part that deals with her bad first marriage. You read the book chapter by chapter hoping that the person whose life is being chronicled will stand up to the bully she lives with, say "enough", and get out. And you have this feeling many times as the story proceeds, while the relationship continues its inexorable and brutal course. It is terrible to behold. I don't think I have read another account of an abusive relationship like this anywhere else. Finally, the character called Christine gets the help she needs to get out, but it seems to take forever for this to happen.

Bryden is unusual as a person living with dementia because she has had the diagnosis for so long. In fact, early-onset dementia generally - I am assured by my psychiatrist - is more severe than the more normal type of dementia that comes with old age. Having had the diagnosis for over 20 years, she has to some degree bucked the trend. Continuing to interact meaningfully in society as an active participant sets her apart; most people with dementia end up in nursing homes as they cannot perform the normal tasks required to live in the broader community. Of course Bryden is fortunate in having a husband - Paul, who she meets after leaving her first husband - who helps her in many ways to navigate the world's obstacles. But looking at the subject from a broad perspective you'd have to say that Bryden is not typical in her class.

Regardless, she has a lot of interesting things to teach us. Because my mother has dementia, I bought this book - having heard about it on the radio (I listen to the radio in the car when I drive up to visit mum in the nursing home) - hoping it would give me insights into the disease. As my mother's carer, I have a duty of care to be informed. I also bought the book for mum but it's impossible to know if she has read any of it because of course she forgets what she has done.

Reading the book has been useful because it allows me to understand some of the feelings a person living with dementia feels in their lives. So I can better understand my mother and hopefully care for her with more aplomb. The fact that Bryden does not fit the mold is in the end irrelevant. The universe had to create someone like her in order that a person living with dementia could express themselves in the way she has done, with passion and accuracy. I regard her insights as informative and relevant.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Can't we fast-forward to the election?

I don't know about you, but election night is one of the best nights of the year for TV. It's got all the right ingredients: characters you know; a suspenseful, unknown ending; and plenty of action. And numbers. (Lots of numbers.) At the end you get a victory speech that will be sampled and replayed on the news for days and days. The whole country is watching. It's well and truly on.

Then there are the democracy sangas, the sausage sizzles. Right there where you are bound by law to be on this day of all days in the year, the folks behind the barbies are doling out yummy hot sausages wrapped in fresh, white bread. With tomato sauce on top for spice.

What's not to like? Well, there's the campaign season, for a start. In fact, they haven't even declared that there will be an election, let alone whether it will take place on 2 July. Here we are, red-hot raring to go and ready to mosey on down to get our democracy sausages and to do our democratic duty and the politicians are still faffing about with the grizzly details. It's so annoying. Why can't they take into account the needs of the entertainment-hungry populace for once?

The next just-on-two months are going to be crushingly slow for many people in the community, people who have already made up their minds - like probably the majority of people in the electorate - about who they will vote for. In the interim they have to listen to the politicians banging on, making promises that turn out to be disappointments about dental health, tax reform, education funding, disability funding and the rest. The long hello, they should call it. This endless wait for a day we can already sense in our nervous system like a bottle of top-order chardonnay sitting on the shelf in the cupboard. A day full of promises of high-calorie foods and hours of top-rating TV. A day to remember.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Book review: The Road to Ruin, Niki Savva (2016)

It takes some suspension of disbelief, for a political progressive like me, to read a highly detailed account of a conservative leader's downfall, but I did it. Savva talked at great length, and no doubt on multiple occasions, to a large number of people in the process of writing this book. It has authority and gravitas. Never mind the fact that a lot of the people interviewed for the book are lying jackasses in real life, people I wouldn't give the time of day to. I think in the end that the problem for me was the gaping void between the assumed point of departure of the writer and the point of view of the reader consuming the book.

But regardless you still get a good look at the problems that beset the Abbott government apparently from its very beginnings. One of the main ones was that all decisions seemed to emanate from a small group of select people in the leader's office, including his chief-of-staff. The type of collegial consultation that members of Parliament are apparently used to in a Westminster democracy were thrown out the door. A tiny clique was doing everything to control the message, but when the leader's popularity failed to turn around people outside that group turned on the leader and replaced him just like that.

I should be grateful that the most disgusting, abhorrent and downright putrefacent of the Liberals were those on the ideological right who stuck by Abbott through thick and thin. So Savva didn't talk to many of the really sick-making people such as Eric Abetz and Peter Dutton. For small mercies we should all be thankful. I hardly need the time before I go to bed to find itself populated by the spectres of such ghouls as these.

It's clear that Savva - who as a conservative commentator had made remarks about the Abbott government in public on numerous occasions before this book appeared - didn't like Abbott. I suppose I should like Savva. But when she says that a particular MP "shines" in their role (when I think they're just a lying turd) it's a bit hard to take the author seriously. The bigger problem, furthermore, of governments that lose office after just one term is a thing that Savva does not tackle at all. She's a conservative, after all, and can hardly be expected to use her imagination. But this phenomenon of one-term governments is something that the commentariat will have to one day really take a close, hard look at. So far noone has really made the attempt. I think it has something to do with the new public sphere in the age of social media. But a lot of people would despise me for even suggesting something like this.

Having said these things, it's quite fun to see a lying, specious, callow fellow like Abbott get his comeuppance. He fell far and he fell heavily. He regrets the move made to get rid of him. What we do find however in the book is that he had a lot of opportunities to make the changes that might have saved him and he missed all of them. He had noone to blame for his removal but himself, as Savva points out on more than one occasion.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

All alone in the deserted park today

When mum and I went up to the park outside the nursing home there was noone there. There was noone walking. There were no people with their dogs. There were no other old people out to sit in the sun. It was just mum and I, alone. I made up a song to commemorate the occasion but I promptly forgot the song when I got home, had lunch and had a nap.

But what the deserted landscape reminded me of is that mum and I are in this alone together. In the end it comes down to the two of us, even though we might on most of my visits to the nursing home get in touch with my brother in Texas on the iPad. All of the important decisions in mum's life from now until she passes from this life will be decided by the two of us. We are tied to one another with indissoluble bonds of trust. We are closer than most people will ever be with anyone else in their lives, with the exception of their spouses and their children.

I was reminded of such things again this afternoon when I was bringing mum back inside after our walk to the park. In the elevator again was the wife of the first of the incapacitated men mum had started showing affection for. He was the one mum was kissing on the head. Today his wife was wearing a red dress. I think his daughter was there to visit him as well, today. There were two cups on a table in the TV room where his wife was doing something, and one was labelled "daughter" and the other one "wife". This poor woman has no idea that mum had been kissing her husband on the head each day as she (mum) walked through the TV room on the way to lunch or to go for a walk. Poor woman! I can only be glad that she never became aware of it. Or maybe she did. It's entirely possible that the gentleman in question told her the whole story - including my involvement - on one occasion or another when mum and I were walking down the hallway. You never know.

But I will never find out because the last thing I would want to do is risk disturbing the peace of this woman, whose only fault has been to visit her husband in his nursing home.

Generally, mum is in good health these days. Her haematologist is happy with her progress. The last time we visited him he did not change her medication. So with everything stable on that front, we can be a little bit secure that things will proceed in fair balance for the immediate future. Of course winter is coming and with it infections and flus. I have put mum's name down for the annual flu shot, so we'll see how things pan out on that front.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Mum expressing intimacy with a male resident again

On previous occasions I've written about mum's awkward interactions with one of the other residents of the nursing home, but it seems she hasn't learned. When I suggested we go for a walk outside today she came after me down the passage. As I was waiting in the passage I realised she must've stopped to interact with one of the other residents, because she was taking so much time. So I went back down the passage to the TV room and there she was holding hands with an elderly man in a reclining chair.

I have seen this man on many occasions and he does elicit a measure of pity in the viewer. He is completely incapacitated in the region of his legs and spends all of his time during the day in his chair, often watching TV but equally as often located in the corner of the dining room, where his wife comes to look after him at mealtimes. "Come on, mum," I said and beckoned with my hand. Mum extricated her hands from the man's - he was bringing them to his mouth to kiss them - and started walking down through the TV room again. I got her to the elevator but once outside where we were alone I remonstrated with her, reminding her of what had happened before when she had started kissing the other resident on the head, the previous time. Mum looked at me with a look of shock on her face, as if to say, "You've got it all wrong." "But mum," I said to her, "people get confused when you display affection to them in the way you do. They think you mean something else. They can't distinguish your meaning from the other common meaning." "Alright," mum said when I had finished talking.

We went down to the park and I turned around once more as we were proceeding to remind her of what I was saying; she does take things in if they are presented with enough force, as the other resident's petticoats comment had been, when I had relayed it to her in February. Again this time, she had that blank, shocked look on her face, as if she were hearing bad news.

Then when we were coming back into the nursing home a strange thing happened. From outside I could see the elderly woman approaching the nursing home from the taxi she had got out of. She came up the path, walking with some difficulty, and entered the nursing home precincts through the same gate we had taken. She came through the front doors immediately after us and preceded us to the elevator. While she was waiting for the lift to come, mum and I arrived and waited also. Upstairs, I signed mum back in into the excursion book and turned to take mum back down to her room. In the TV room I saw the woman who had preceded us into the lift fussing around the man who had made the petticoats comment, all those months ago. It was his wife. No wonder he didn't want mum kissing him on the head any more!

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Clive Palmer looking like used goods

Last night's 4 Corners program on the ABC on Clive Palmer was pretty exhaustive and seemed to fill in some of the colour we all need from our own watching of the news in the public sphere. We don't always get such a comprehensive view of any given subject in such a small space, as we do in an hour-long current affairs program on the public broadcaster. What it meant for Palmer himself it's hard to know. I haven't heard anything today from his direction giving any indication of his feelings about it.

What the general media consumer might have taken away from the program is a feeling that Palmer has very quickly - since the 2013 election - exhausted a lot of political capital. He has made enemies with pretty much everyone he's had to deal with, from his Chinese business partners to the MPs he accompanied into Parliament in 2013, from his Queensland Nickel employees to the Queensland Liberal National Party. Everyone who has had extensive dealings with Clive Palmer seems to have a bad opinion about him.

You can see where all this is going. If he runs for Fairfax - his Queensland federal seat, which he won in 2013 with the slimest of margins - he'll likely lose. Yep, he's annoyed his constituents just like he's annoyed everyone else he's had dealings with. He might be able to field another cohort of MPs to run in the Senate and in individual seats around the country - as he so successfully did in 2013 - but you find it hard to believe that he could run the same game twice, having lost so signally the first time; most of his senators jumped ship and have sat as independents since doing so.

And then you have the ABC with its meddling journalists asking difficult questions. Hard to see how Palmer can recover intact from this type of shellacking. I predict he'll lose Fairfax if he stands again, and he'll only get one or two MPs into Parliament this year when the election comes around, which should be within the next three months.

Monday, 11 April 2016

The government is looking vulnerable all of a sudden

It's been about a week since things started looking very shaky for the government. In my eyes it started last Monday night when Q and A host Tony Jones interrupted the program to announce that the ALP had overtaken the Coalition in a Newspoll opnion poll by a 2PP margin of 51 to 49. There was a brief silence in the Adelaide auditorium as the numbers sank in with the audience.

Since then things have gone slightly awry. Indicative of the new purchase the ALP has with the electorate is the way their suggestion for a royal commission on banks has hung around. The idea won't die, even though Turnbull and his Liberal frontbenchers keep saying that ASIC can do the same job as a royal commission and anyway has the same powers as a royal commission. The Panama Papers story - which came out last week, again on Monday, on 4 Corners - has made such a big impression on the imaginations of voters. People just cannot seem to forget those notions of billions of dollars of taxable income being sequestered in financial havens, all the while they themselves are paying PAYG each week or each quarter as they are meant to do.

Turnbull has looked a bit shaky also on the issue of tax reform, which most recently came down to a decision by the states as to whether they would be allowed to raise part of income tax themselves. Turnbull floated the idea, it was rejected resoundingly by the states, and the idea disappeared. That was the week before last. Christopher Pyne, the industry minister, summed up the way the issue had been handled when he said from that Q and A panel - which he participated in on Monday night - that it had been a bit of a mess. Not that I personally fault Turnbull on this account. I felt it was handled in a reasonable way. But that wasn't the look for the majority of the public. For them, it looked bad.

Then we had the case of the helicopter crisis that had engulfed Abbott's government reemerging when it came out that Barnaby Joyce - the deputy leader of the Coalition - had used a helicopter for a short flight that could have been covered in a 45-minute drive.

Each of these things in themselves is hardly terminal but in aggregate they add up to a weakened government that cannot seem to get its issues through to the electorate, hence the stubborn way the ALP's royal commission idea has hung around like a bad smell. Liberal MPs must be hoping that the media will forget about Bill Shorten's idea as soon as possible. As long as the idea remains talked about, the government won't have and clear air for exposing its own ideas. And that will be very bad for them. It's less than three months until the election.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Mum got a black eye

It was tomorrow a week ago or thereabouts that mum got a black eye. She has no recollection as to how it occurred. I had seen mum in the morning and then later in the afternoon the nursing staff at the first floor of the nursing home called me to tell me about it. It is a complete mystery, but then with mum's blood disease - a low platelet count due to myelodysplastic syndrome - it doesn't take much to cause this kind of bruising.

I had to take mum to the haematologist as it happened, on Tuesday last week, and at the time he said it was quite possible that the bruising could happen spontaneously. Other than the black eye, mum has been in good spirits these days. She is generally well-disposed toward the universe and has a positive attitude. "I don't mind living out the rest of my days here until I cark it," she will say to me with some light-heartedness. It might sound macarbre but older people tend to talk in these terms. When you get to a certain stage in your life and things start not working properly for no forseeable reason, every day can appear to be some kind of a miracle.

I haven't been writing on the blog this week mainly because of an irrational anxiety that people in the nursing home might have blamed me for causing the black eye. It makes no sense, I know, but with the disease I have I tend to get a bit paranoid about various things - and there's no accounting for it most of the time - for no apparent reason. It hasn't been a great week for me, what with the tooth extraction on the Wednesday of the week before. The tooth cavity has stopped complaining by the way, so that particular problem seems to have sorted itself out nicely. I am now able to clean my teeth almost normally. I still have to be a bit ginger about the back-left bottom quarter, but it's improving day-by-day.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Dreaming about kite kayaks

This - if you can believe it - is a kite kayak. I had a dream last night about a kite kayak, a thing I had never heard of before looking it up online today. In the dream two of these contraptions approached where I was standing on a grassy shore. The first one was crewed by an elderly lady and the second one, which came a short distance after the first, was crewed by her daughter. The elderly lady wanted me to help her. I got her kayak to the shore and then things got a bit complex for I don't remember what happened next.

Later, I was standing on a Laser - which was the type of boat I sailed in real life for many years as a teenager - and it was propped up on a concrete foreshore. I had the idea that the craft would fare better if it was tethered to the foreshore, rather than propped up on it. I walked up the Laser's deck as it got steeper and steeper until I couldn't walk any more. Then I was standing on the foreshore looking down on the craft as it sat bobbing gently in the water. The boat was now tethered to the foreshore by a rope.

At times like these in dreams you might wake up to the call of nature, or because your mobile phone is ringing. I didn't wake up but these dreams in my memory just seemed to fade out into ragged ends that find no easy conclusion, so that's all I'll be able to convey for the moment.

I don't know why I dreamt about kite kayaks. When I lived on the Coast I often saw kite surfers in the ocean along the long beaches they have up there. The beaches face east. The kite surfer shop was down in Cotton Tree near the fish-and-chip shop and the laundry. I would walk down to get lunch there on occasion. In fact I loved to eat their flathead; crispy, thin strips of fish deep fried in bread crumbs. Their chips were also good. A fish-and-chip lunch for me was something of a treat. On other days I would eat a prepared roll or sandwich from the deli cafe, or a tub of salad. I never saw any kite kayaks on the Coast.

When I was a teenager I found a kayak in a council-cleanup bin and brought it home. It was made of wood with canvas stretched over the frame. Initially I took the kayak out with the paddle from my father's Hobie Cat. It was a one-ended paddle. Eventually I made myself a proper kayak paddle out of wood, and varnished it. I took that kayak all around the harbour, into lonely coves and around deserted foreshores. It's a wonder I survived with the thing. I kept it standing upright when not in use propped against a pine tree in the bottom garden, which gave onto the beach.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Visiting mum the day after a tooth extraction

This is mum in the park yesterday. I was going to go up to visit her at the nursing home on Wednesday but on that day I had to go to the dentist, and they took out a tooth. It was a molar that was a wisdom tooth that had no upper partner, so it wasn't doing much and was hard to clean. The dentist had advised me on an earlier occasion that it was her opinion that the tooth should be removed. So when it became infected a few days ago I had to make an appointment.

The removal was extremely painful and the pain that arose once the anaesthetic had worn off on Wednesday afternoon and evening was tremendous. The dentist had asked me not to drink on the first day after the extraction, so I had no recourse to alcohol to dull the pain. I was so exhausted on Wednesday night that I went to bed at 7.30pm and slept fitfully through the night until I finally got out of bed on Thursday morning at 9.30am. By this time the pain had significantly subsided. I decided to go up to see mum and I put on the new leather shoes that I had bought on Tuesday.

Mum was asleep on her bed with no socks on when I arrived and I got her to put some on because I was planning to take advantage of the fine weather and take her out to the park. I went over to the table by the window and dialled up my brother but he was unable to speak for very long due to the emergence of a conflicting priority at his end. He had been called to eat dinner. Mum and I rang off just before the tea cart appeared, so we had a cup of coffee before heading out into the sunshine.

Outside we went up to the corner and crossed the street, walked past the putrefying rabbit (I don't know why the council haven't picked up this scrap of mortality yet, it has been there for weeks and weeks), and headed to the second bench. A number of other elderly people from the nursing home were out walking with two of the staff; they made their base a bit further down, toward the sports pavilion.

As we were sitting there on the bench a woman and a younger man came up with a male dog that looked like a greyhound, although it was slightly smaller. The woman said it was a greyhound-whippet cross. The woman and the man had been training the dog to obey orders until they decided to take a circuit of the park. They started talking to us as they came by where we were sitting. The woman had a parka held over her head "because of the sun", she said. We discussed nursing homes, and the woman said that her father had been in a nursing home before he had passed away. Her mother, who was some years younger than her father had been, was soon to be considering whether to go into care. I recommended she try the nursing home mum lives in, because of the excellent service they provide.

The woman left after a while and mum and I continued to sit in the sun until it became time to think about lunch. We got up from the bench and joined the others from the nursing home, who were also making their way back inside, as they walked down the footpath. Back inside, I placed mum at a table in the dining room then took her outside gear back to her room and put it away. Then I said goodbye to her and left. On the way down toward the motorway I stopped off and bought some petrol and a sandwich and drink. I ate my lunch in the car while driving.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Buying some trousers and shoes

This morning I had an idea to go out into town to buy some trousers because the ones I bought recently had been already used to replace pairs that had needed to be thrown away. Because of my weight I find that trousers rub at the crotch so they don't last very long under normal conditions of use. Normally I will go to buy an inhouse-brand trousers at Myer and, when I got into the city, after attending to some business at Medibank, I headed to the third floor of the department store using the elevator. I am not a big fan of escalators in the shopping centre in town because I am scared of heights and when you look down from the first floor you can see all the way down into the basement where there is a food hall.

The inhouse-brand trousers I normally buy are situated along the back wall facing Pitt Street Mall on the third floor of Myer, and I had a quick look before finding - to my relief - that there was a pair in my size, in navy. Mostly there aren't any in my size, since most makers of trousers only go up to a 42, which isn't big enough for me now. As I was standing there a staff member wearing an apron approached me and made a comment about other clothes available on the floor. Perhaps he was trying to be helpful, I thought. So I mentioned to him my usual problem buying trousers and saw that he turned to face the south wall of the department store. Then he recommended a different brand that I would find in that direction. I went with him as he started to walk south and immediately felt relief because there were lots of pairs of trousers in larger sizes that would fit people like me.

I quickly grabbed a pair of tan-coloured trousers and headed with the two pairs I now carried to the fitting rooms on the north side of the building. There, I was very happy to find that the new large-size brand - which I had never suspected existed in that location on the third floor - fit perfectly, so I took the two pairs of trousers to the check-out counter to pay for them.

I mentioned to the staffer who was at the till that I had never known this new brand of large-size clothes existed on the third floor, even though I had often bought pairs of the inhouse-brand trousers at Myer before. On some of those occasions I had spoken to staff members about my troubles finding trousers in my size, but none of them had even mentioned this new brand to me. The staffer I was talking to was surprised. "Everyone knows about this brand," she said. "We do have concession staff though and they might not know." I assured her I had in the past only spoken with badged Myer staff, and none of them had pointed me to the racks where the large-size brand trousers were situated.

After buying the trousers I went across to the shoe department and had a look at the display for a brand I have bought on several occasions before. My current slip-ons are of this brand. But I didn't find anything that looked like them on the table. I asked a staff member if he could get me the different shoe I held in a size 11 and he went off to find a pair. When he brought the box out however I found that this size was too small for me. Obviously my memory had played tricks with me. I asked him for a 12 in the brown colour - although in the same style - and he went off again, returning with the correct box soon.

Another staffer saw me standing there with a new shoe on my right foot and I asked him if there was anything in the more sporty style that I had worn when coming to the store. I like those shoes. They have worn well for a year and the soles are still largely intact, which I find is unusual for slip-ons. He asked me what my size was and then headed out the back. When he returned with a box I saw that the shoes in it were the same style as the shoes I had worn to the store! So I bought those as well as the dressier ones in brown I had tried on.

When I was done with the department store I headed back home. Outside it was raining a bit so I put up my umbrella - which I had had the foresight to bring along with me - and headed down Market Street. I put away a bowl of ramen when I got to Harris Street then went home as fast as possible. I was carrying three substantial bags full of clothes. I was relieved to get home and lay down to have a nap but found I wasn't tired so I got up again and went to the computer.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Book review: Death by Water, Kenazburo Oe (2015)

In a really simple sense this is a novel about the writing of the novel. It's another one of Oe's autobiographical novels, so we again meet Kogito Choko, his alter ego. This time, Kogito becomes enmeshed in the lives of a group of avantgarde actors in Shikoku, after he revisits the place of his birth (he grew up in Shikoku) when planning to write a novel based on the story of his father. His father had died by drowning during a fierce storm when he set out on the wild river in a small wooden boat.

When he first gets to Shikoku he finds that the papers his mother had decided to leave him after her death as raw material for such a novel are greatly lacking as his mother - who had died ten years before the novel starts - had burned most of them. His father's relations with noted far-right personages, and his father's plot to stage a protest suicide strike against the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, had gone up in smoke. All that was left, in the end, were three volumes of a multi-volume English translation of The Golden Bough, an early 20th century work of popular non-fiction that deals with myths and deities.

During that fist visit to Shikoku Kogito also meets with the members of an acting troupe who had planned to stage a performance based on their favourite writer's works. When the plan falls through they are chagrined but what happens to Kogito himself - upon his return to his home in Tokyo - is much worse. The poor man verbally lashes out at his disabled son on two occasions and also suffers a kind of severe vertigo that makes sleeping impossible when it strikes. The disappointment of failing to write his "last novel" cuts deeply into the writer's psyche.

One of the members of the acting troupe is a young woman named Unaiko. Unaiko manages to befriend Kogito's sister, Asa, a person who had also been against the drowning novel, but who now enters the story in a more serious role. What happens is that Kogito's wife, Chikashi, develops uterine cancer that requires surgery. Asa makes the suggestion that she - Asa - shoud go to Tokyo to look after her sister-in-law and that Kogito and his son Akari should go to Shikoku to try to repair their broken relations. Following Kogito's lashing out at the poor man - Akari is now a middle-aged man although he still lives at home - he becomes morose and withdrawn, and goes out of his way to avoid his father.

Once he is back in Shikoku Kogito gets to meet more often with Unaiko and other members of the acting troupe - named the Caveman Group - and eventually she draws him into working together on a new project. This new project is to do with a famed account in the region of a woman who lived during the Meiji period (late 19th century) who led a successful insurrection against the authorities. But Unaiko has other plans as well, and she eventually ignites some relatively violent passions within the right-wing community in Shikoku. Happy that his son is starting to come back to reestablishing relations with him, Kogito goes along with Unaiko and her ambitious theatrical plans, and is deeply involved in work on the script when things take on a truly disturbing tone. We are suddenly back in the heart of rural Japan and the shade of Kogito's father reemerges in dramatic form.

The novel is quite long and takes an accustomed form for those who enjoy Oe's later works. I very much enjoyed reading this novel, although some might find it prosaic and long-drawn-out. For me, it is always a great pleasure to accompany Oe in his careful and meandering voyages into the lives of his familiars, so I can recommend this novel highly.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Mistreatment by Yamatake almost destroyed my career

It has been a long time since I talked about these things publicly, and even longer since the events they deal with transpired. Sixteen years in fact. But the fact is that I still dream about Yamatake. Sometimes they are good dreams, dreams when I was making application stories for products the company made. But sometimes they are bad dreams, like last night when I dreamt about the internal politics at the company, which is now named Azbil. They had the renaming after I left the company, in 2001.

I had started working with Yamatake in 1992 when I was just 30 years old and I had a young family. I can't believe, now, that I would uproot my entire family and move them overseas to work in a new company, but that's what I did then. I spoke almost no Japanese, but when I arrived in Tokyo, I found a vibrant work unit with its own culture. It was led by an American woman who I will name Dierdre, who was a journalist by training. Originally I was employed for my desktop publishing skills but Dierdre soon had me writing application stories as well as laying out the various publications in English the company made.

We were an exceedingly happy group but a few years after I started at Yamatake Dierdre decided to leave. I remember receiving the news and being devastated. When I look back I realise I should have been even more badly affected. As it was, I jumped out of the car in the middle of the street and walked back to the office. I needed some air.

After Dierdre left the company things went on as normal except that I had to take on more work. I adjusted my way of doing things but there were no more staff. There was no more money. There were no new hires. We had a lame-duck manager brought in from an overseas posting whose only qualification for the job was that he spoke English. I was carrying the can. Then one say Musha-san arrived, asking to see the publications the group made. I should have realised this was the first stage in the company's take-over of the overseas communications function, and that my job was on the line, but at the time I didn't understand these things.

A bit of background is useful at this stage. When I had joined the company, Yamatake Corporation, it was still a joint-venture partner with Honeywell of the US but that relationship changed over time and eventually, while I was still working there, the company went public and started to accrue its own shareholders. Annual reports which my group had traditionally produced would now have to be distributed to institutional investors globally. And the overseas sales task for the company in general had changed, because whereas in the past Yamatake had cooperated with Honeywell in markets such as Southeast Asia, North America, and Europe, now it would be running its own global network of offices and sales staff.

Obviously, the nature of the overseas English-language communications task had changed. But instead of helping me to adjust to the changing environment, the company took the function away from me completely. I should expand here on some of those dreams I still have. The first thing to say is that I loved my job. I was learning how to tell stories - the reason I went back to university in 2006 to study journalism was because of these formative experiences, which had all been uniformly positive - and it was always interesting and exciting. I had dreamt about doing application stories constantly since leaving the company. That's sixteen years of dreams. They are mostly good dreams, too, dreams in which I know in my heart that I am doing something I love, and that fulfills me.

The stress I was experiencing at work affected my home life as well, and eventually in 1999 I was asked by my then-wife to leave home. I found a small, unattractive apartment on the back of a letter of recommendation from the man who had originally invited me to come to live in Japan in the first place. But I was lonely and pined for my children. Eventually, under severe stress, in 2000 I had a mental breakdown. Things at work had not been doing well. The company had moved me to one business unit after another and now I was supporting the overseas offices using my English-language skills and publishing skills. I still worked with sales people but the wonderful work of writing application stories was now being done by others led by Musha-san.

The mental problems manifested themselves at work and eventually one of my colleagues - the man at Yamatake I worked most closely with - took me to hospital. I was given a CAT scan and then taken to Jikei Idai Hospital in central Tokyo. Six weeks later I was released from the institution and I went back to live with my family. What I didn't know at the time was that my then-wife was talking also to my father back in Australia. I pleaded with my doctors at the hospital to let me go back to work, but they refused. In the end what I feared would happen - the company would let me go - did happen. I had lost my job. The company ferried me back to my family's apartment in the corporate limo, but it was all ashes to me. I would never again get to write any application stories.

The severance package, it should be said, was decent but it only lasted for a year. Eventually, after nine months of living in my family's apartment, my then-wife sent me back to Australia. I arrived just before the jets hit the twin towers, and stayed in my uncle's house in Sydney. The company had done its worst but I was still alive. In time I would heal enough to get another job and go back to work - this time doing technical writing and HTML coding - but I would still dream of writing application stories for Yamatake. The dream never leaves me. Just this morning I dreamt again that I would one day go back and do the same work again. Those were the days. We thought they'd never end.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

A quiet afternoon after seeing mum

It was cold when I took mum out to the park today so she got her woolly gloves out and put them in her walker when she was still in her room. We had talked with my brother on the iPad earlier but because the sun was out I thought it would be good for mum to get outside.

When we arrived in the street we could hear the boys playing soccer in the park. The boys were aged about 16 years. They were large but not adult yet. We went up to the corner of the street and crossed over to the other side of the street, then I turned to mum and told her to go up to the first bench because I had to go back inside to use the toilet.

Mum was still on the bench when I came out of the nursing home after using the conveniences there. I sat down on the bench with her and made a quick video of her talking. The sun was out but the sky was partially cloudy. It was cool in the breeze. Mum said she could feel the cold around her ears. After about 30 minutes' sitting on the bench I took mum back inside. When she got to her room she decided she needed to use the toilet. She later came out of the bathroom with no pants on and I told her through the door to put on a nappy. The nappies are in a blue hold-all on the door of the clothes cupboard. When she was dressed I went in her room and said goodbye. I went down to the nurse's station on the first floor and signed out. Then I left the building.

Driving back home I felt as if I had had a full day. When I got home I made a sandwich and ate it. Then I got a message from a friend and I went out to meet them. Later, when I got home, it was raining and I took off my clothes and had a nap. When I woke up I made my way to the computer and had a glass of wine. I drank wine all through the late afternoon, with the TV on in the background. Later, I had dinner.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Mainstream media takes another drubbing

A couple of days ago they announced in the news that Fairfax Media - which publishes the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and the Financial Review - would lay off 120 people from its news rooms. At lunchtime yesterday as I was passing my local pub I saw Fairfax strikers having lunch inside. A lot of them wore identical red-and-black T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan "Fair go, Fairfax". A man wearing this T-shirt arrived on a bike at first as I was leaving home to go to the supermarket. On the way home with the shopping I could see a whole pub full of people wearing the same shirt.

Then yesterday it was announced that the Guardian would lay off even more staff than this. They have had a website in Australia, and staffed in Sydney, for a couple of years now.

Two senior Fairfax journalists sent out an email today using an MEAA email account. The MEAA is the Australian journalist's union. They were asking for support with a petition to Fairfax management.

When I see stories like those we saw over the past two days I feel slightly sick with apprehension. There is also a certain frisson of excitement there, as the media world shifts slightly on its axis once more. We should be used to these stories by now but each time they appear the same sense of foreboding arises. We wonder how things can work if there is no independent media. How will the public sphere operate in such a world? Who will publish the stories that keep people in positions of power honest? What other entity has the strength to hold powerful people to account?

Most people will not do anything however. Some people already subscribe to one or more newspapers, as I do. But unless there is a pressing need for people to subscribe, they won't. Nobody believes that their individual actions can make the difference between the mainstream media surviving or going broke, and shutting down. It's sort of like the way things operate in countries where voting is optional. Noone thinks that their vote can make a difference. So they stay at home on polling day. With the media, it's again all about individuals. But who in their right mind would make the decision to pay for something they can just as easily get for free?

The media is in a difficult position. But it's all of us who will lose if the mainstream media goes broke, and shuts down its websites. Our democracies cannot function without an independent media. An independent media is the thing that tyrants fear most of all, because it will continue to ask the tough questions that the corrupt would prefer not to be asked. We owe it to ourselves to pay for journalism. 

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Back to see mum after more than a week away

When I went up to the nursing home today to see mum she was very happy to see me. It had been over a week since my last visit. She struggled to get out of her orange recliner, despite the protests of her lower back, and we hugged. I immediately checked her fridge to see if there were any biscuits left there from earlier, but there were not. I will have to buy her some more.

I sat down near the window and picked up the iPad to dial up my brother, who didn't answer. Soon afterward a staff member came in to check the lanyards for the electronic call buttons residents wear around their necks, because she wanted to replace them. She said that the lanyards get dirty over time. We changed mum's lanyard but later on I found another call button in a drawer next to her bed. I took it to the same staffer, who I found wheeling the tea trolley in the dining room, and she came back to the room to ascertain which button was working for mum's receiver.

My brother called us back on the iPad and spoke with mum and I for about 15 minutes then I asked mum if she wanted to go for a walk, and she agreed to do so. I had earlier noticed that the wheeled walker in mum's room was not the normal one mum uses, and that has her name on. So I took the walker down to the nurse's station and told them about it. We found a glasses case in the walker she had with a man's name written in biro in it, so based on that information we were escorted down to the ground floor by a staffer who then talked with another staffer. They worked out that mum's walker was currently being used by another woman, who happened to be in the downstairs dining room. We recovered the correct walker in quick time.

We then went outside to the park. It had been raining earlier but now the sun was shining. We went up the footpath and as we were walking along mum said that if the young man selling flowers was still there today she'd like to buy some more. I was surprised she remembered this detail, but it was true. Once before we had bought a bunch of long-stemmed red roses from a youth selling flowers out of buckets of water at a table set beside the footpath on the main road near the nursing home. I had thrown away the dead flowers before the recent road trip to New England.

Initially we went to the first bench but it was a bit damp so we went our way to the second bench, which is always in full sun, and sat down there instead. I made a short video of mum talking. She was in high spirits. She always likes to get out of the building into the weather. We saw some dogs in the park on the far side, and there was a big, adult magpie on the fence near us that was looking around at things. Mum said that they are lovely animals.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Getting the car fixed

This is Peel Street, Tamworth. It was on a regular suburban street like this that my steering wheel began shaking on Saturday on the way back from Bingara, in New England. I had come down the two-lane blacktop to Tamworth and it was mid-afternoon when the steering wheel started to shake. I drove all the way back to Sydney hoping nothing worse would happen.

This morning I took the car into the Toyota dealership in Glebe and left it there to be serviced. I told the staffer who was in the reception bay what had happened and he got me to go out with another Toyota employee on a test drive. They guy ascertained that the wheel was, indeed, shaking at low speed. I came back home after leaving the car and in the middle of the afternoon I called Toyota to see how the job was proceeding. They had done a wheel alignment and had taken it out for a test drive. If it still wasn't performing to spec they would do a wheel balancing. I told the staffer I would be at their showroom by 4.30pm as I had to walk there from home. About 20 minutes later I set out on foot.

When I got to the dealership I found that they had done the wheel balancing they had earlier suggested because when they took the car for a test drive after the wheel alignment they found that the steering wheel was pulling to the left and it also was not sitting straight on the column. I paid using the credit card and drove back home via Wigram Road and Pyrmont Bridge Road.

While talking with the staffer I did ask him if driving with a wheel out of alignment was dangerous, and he said it was not. He also told me that he understood that I had explained that the steering wheel had just started vibrating without any warning signs. He said that this can happen "if the weights fall off" (I started to imagine what this could entail, but failed). Anyway I was glad I had not chosen to drive north from Bingara to meet an old school friend at Byron Bay, which I had earlier planned to do. The bad steering was a real shock to me, and made the trip back to Sydney distinctly unpleasant. Now that everything is in order I feel much better. And I can go up to the nursing home tomorrow to see mum. I haven't seen her in a week.