Thursday 31 December 2015

Loyal and other types of followers

I am a loyal Twitter follower. Once I start following you chances are I will continue to do so for years and years uninterrupted. If you are part of my universe you stay that way. You don't have to do a lot of talking. I don't mind. It's really all the same to me. I will continue to sit and watch the feed turn over on my computer screen for days and days, and weeks and weeks, and months and months. And longer. You might only appear from time to time in text but I will stick with you, that's almost certain.

But not everyone is so. I find I might quickly garner a bunch of new followers after a particularly busy session on Twitter, especially if it is accompanied by the use of a hashtag. Hashtags are great places to find new online friends. But then on the days that follow that session the number of followers will mysteriously start to go down again. Drop by drop. It's painful to see. I hate it, actually. It hurts and I want it to stop but that's the way things are. You just have to wait until everyone sorts out who they want to keep following. They might have gotten you to follow them, and then they drop you. Or they might have gotten you to follow them, and they stick with you. It all depends. People are all different and they all act differently on Twitter, especially when it comes to followers.

I won't stop being loyal just because others aren't however. That's not my way. You have to stand for something, and for me that means standing for a particular kind of online loyalty. Even if you have an argument with someone, for example, that doesn't mean you stop following them. You stand by your decisions through thick and thin. That's just my way.

It's a funny place to be, Twitter. It can move so fast, as we saw this year with the #libspill and #freekaren hashtags. These hashtags arose at different times in response to different events in the public sphere and ran quickly for a few days, then dried up and fell into disuse. But while they lasted the pace was furious, much faster than a mortal eye could scan them. Same with the #paris hashtag at the time of the November attacks in that city, attacks which drew the attention of the whole world. The feed for that hashtag accelerated to a point where new tweets were appearing every hundredths of a second. It was stupefying and humbling. There are so many people out there using this platform for so many reasons. Occasionally, just occasionally, they come together to participate as a group in a single thing, like this hashtag.

I started using Twitter in 2009 and it has been a companion for me over the years as I have lived my life in otherwise relative solitude, first up on the Coast and then now down here in Sydney. Sometimes I think I spend too much time in front of the computer screen - my back has certainly started telling me to get out and do more exercise. But the thing is that things are getting more active online, they are busier than they were before.

Nowadays I interact with more people on a daily basis, than I did in the beginning. There is a specific gravity to the enterprise, now that I have been involved for a few years, that there was not in the beginning. So I keep up with my contacts and see how they are faring. Their names change as they marry, they move cities for work or family, they get new jobs in different places. Occasionally one might pass away forever into the great unknown. But they are all part of my universe. In my universe it is important to be loyal. I am like that. I will not change just for some superficial reason. I have made my choice. How about you?

Tuesday 29 December 2015

Coloured smoke from an invisible fire

Like coloured smoke from an invisible fire, the rhymes beckon us to use them in our poetry. In the same way, the end of the year asks us to retell tales of the past and to come to some sort of reckoning with ourselves. A feeling of sadness overcomes me and I listen to sad songs like Nina Simone's Wild Is the Wind, humming phrases hypnotically to myself - missing bars here and there and fumbling with the words - throughout the day as I sit in the otherwise quiet afternoon drinking glass after glass of wine.

I have always been prone to gravitate to the sad songs anyway, like Rodrigo's Concerto de Aranjuez and the Portuguese fado that I discovered in my 20s along with Jacques Brel. I don't know if this brooding quality in me is associated with the aggression I also used to find in myself. I don't know if it was something to do with these things that made her go away. I shall probably never know, and that is part of the punishment for being alive. We are all sad. We all crave a personal God to alleviate our sorrow, and to walk with us through the valleys of the shadow of death. We are all mortal beings.

Part of the sadness at this time of year is due to the fact that this was the time, last year, when I was alone in southeast Queensland having put mum into a nursing home in Sydney. I planned to move to Sydney as well but contractual arrangements made that impossible until February, so I had to wait alone in Queensland while the year petered out and disappeared like a thundercloud. There were none of the usually terrific storms up there at that time, at the beginning of this year, when I was sitting alone in my living room with social media scrolling past my eyes like a soft fall of rain. Or not that I can remember. Who knows if there was? It is like I was the last man alive in the world.

Sadness also comes from the fact that presently I am in a somewhat uninvidious position as my mother's carer, as she moves closer to the point of ultimate dissolution. I feel in a way that I am accompanying her across a dark threshold into another place, from this world to something else. But as the fact attests that I rely more readily on wine than prayer, you can tell I am not religious. I leave to those with better imaginations than mine to think on what a personal God looks like, and feels like. What can that be like? Is it everywhere, like the wind? Is it wild? Does it twist and turn like coloured smoke from an invisible fire?

Monday 28 December 2015

Washing machine is fixed

I got out of bed this morning hoping to call the washing machine repair shop so they could come out and fix the machine before the end of the year. The problem was that every shop whose number off Google I phoned had a voice message. Some voice messages told me that the shop would be open next Monday but many of them didn't even say that much. I should just call back later. That was until I found a fridge repair shop in Chippendale which I called.

The first thing I asked was "Do you also do washing machines as well as fridges?" The guy said 'yes' so I told him what the problem was. I went through the symptoms again: the machine would initially work and the drum would turn but then it would stop and give an 'LE' message. I also told him about the high-pitched scraping sound the machine made when it appeared to be trying to turn the drum but without success. He told me he would call me later in the day and to wait for his call.

Around 11.30 he called and said he was in Gladesville so I told him I would be at home if he came over. He promised to call me from the street so I could let him into the garage to use one of my car parking spots. About 30 minutes later he called so I went down and let him into the garage. Up in the apartment he maneuvered the machine out of its resting place and turned it on. But then he asked me for some clothes to wash, in order to replicate the actual operation of the machine. I went to the bedroom and got the laundry basket and he put the dirty clothes in the machine, then turned it on.

The machine weighed the clothes by turning as it usually does and then started to fill with water. It then made that scraping sound and the drum stopped turning. I told the repair guy that this was what had happened before, before the machine gave the 'LE' error. But then the drum began to turn as it normally does when it's operating well. The 'LE' error message did not appear. I felt slightly disappointed that the machine failed to replicate the same symptoms as it had before, at this time, while the repair guy was in the apartment. The machine then proceeded to operate as normal. However it had demonstrated some poor operation because it had at least made the same odd scraping noise and the drum had not started rotating normally immediately.

The repair guy, whose name turned out to be Peter, told me he thought he knew what the problem was and he also told me he had the spare part in his car. He had already brought up one spare part. This part, the rotor magnet, turned out to be worn in the original so he ended up replacing that as well as the rotor positioning sensor. We had to go back down to his car in the garage to get this spare part.

Back in the apartment he switched the original parts with the new parts and carefully put the machine back together. Then he taped up the spigot on the u-bend under the sink and attached the curved plastic part that makes the drainage pipe spray the water from the machine into the sink. He plugged the machine back in and slowly shifted it back into position in the laundry area in the kitchen. I had asked him for a business card and he put a magnet on my fridge. Then we went back downstairs and got his EFTPOS device, which we took out to the building lobby as the signal wouldn't come through in the garage. I paid him $330 using my credit card and he left. I went straight upstairs, put on a load of laundry and went out to get some lunch. I felt as though something important had been completed.

Contact: Parrahills Appliance Repairs, 0418 407 470

Saturday 26 December 2015

If the washing machine conks out at Christmas?

You know in the bigger scheme of things it's not a big deal, frankly. Especially at Christmas when a lot of people are doing it tough because of isolation and loneliness. So when the washing machine conked out on Christmas Day I decided to act.

There were no outward signs the machine was going to stop working. I had put on a load of laundry and set it to go as usual but then almost immediately it gave me an error code I didn't understand. I took out the dirty clothes and set the control to 'drain' and got the dirty water out of the machine. Then I put the clothes back in and reset it to run, then watched it go. The same thing happened as the previous time, but this time because I was standing close to the machine I could see that the drum would not turn. I could also hear a rasping sound as though something that was designed to engage was not doing so.

I got my mobile phone and called the repair company number on the sticker on the front of the machine. After listening to their message saying they were out of the office, I punched my call through to the message line to tell their repair department about my broken machine. I left my name, locality, type of machine and phone number, then rang off.

Then I thought about options, because here I was with a load of dirty laundry that had to be attended to regardless of the state of the washing machine. I had a morning tea date the next morning (this morning in fact) and then I had a lunch date on the Sunday. I thought about calling one of these people and asking if I would be able to bring a load of dirty laundry to their place, and wash it in their machine. I wondered how each of them would react to such a suggestion. One of the people is a close relative and the other party is an old friend. But I still thought despite the proximity that it might be something that to them would cause feelings of a certain degree of revulsion. Something else had to be done about this pile of dirty laundry.

To cut things short I went out to the Christmas lunch date I had already organised some weeks beforehand. But when I got home I was drunk and went straight to bed. I woke up around 9pm, ate some of the supermarket roast chicken I had bought the day before, and sat down at the computer. The laundry was still in the basket, waiting to be looked after like a grumbling child. Eventually I bit the bullet and took it to the bathroom. I filled the bathtub with hot water, added to the wet clothes the normal amount of washing liquid, and stirred the dirty clothes around.

To hurry up the cleaning process I did something else as well. I took hold of the items of clothing one by one and lifted them into the air, then rammed them back down into the (by-now) dirty water. I did this kind of "rock-bashing" that I had seen women in third-world countries do, several times for each large item of clothing. There were shirts, a pair of trousers, underwear, and socks. And a towel. Then I removed the items of clothing from the water, wrung each one dry with my hands, and put it in the laundry basket.

I then drained the bath of dirty warm water and filled it with clean cold water and put the clothes back in. I repeated the improvised "rock-bashing" manouevre this time with the cold water. I noticed that the water did not markedly change colour this time, so I assumed that meant the dirt had all (or mostly) been removed from the clothes. Then I repeated the removing-from-the-water and hand-wringing, and drained away the cold water from the tub. I took the clothes into the kitchen and started the first load of drying. When I got up this morning the clothes were still wet, so I assumed that the normal spin cycle in the machine - which is designed to get most of the moisture out of the clothes inside it - had not effectively been replicated by my hand-wringing.

Hopefully the broken machine will either be fixed by the time the next load of laundry comes due to be looked after, or else I will have bought a new machine. Doing the clothes in this way was not terribly onerous but it's not the sort of thing you would actively go out and ask to do, unless you were a bit daft in the head.

Thursday 24 December 2015

When it's dementia don't wait too late

It has been just about one year since mum first went into the nursing home. Recent events have told me that it was the right thing to put her in there when I did. I started to think in these terms the last time mum went into hospital with an infection - she was in the hospital with an infection four times this year - and it was talking at a party to a friend's friend that I put it all together.

The guy plonked himself down next to me during the party and told me his father had developed dementia, and he wanted my advice. I asked him when the geriatrician had given the diagnosis of dementia and he told me. His father lives on the Sunshine Coast in assisted living and had said he didn't want to go into a nursing home. This guy's brother lives up on the Sunshine Coast and was helping with the father. They had sorted out powers of attorney and the advance health directive.

I told him about dad, who had gone into a nursing home up on the Sunshine Coast in March 2009 when his dementia was more advanced than mum's had been at her admission. The problem was that every time mum went up to the nursing home to visit him he would ask her when he was going home. He used to wait for her by the entrance, and try to get out with her when her visiting time was over. He never acclimatised to the nursing home environment.

How different, I said, it was with mum. During her most recent hospital admission she recovered from the infection well enough but then the ward staff were giving her sedatives to make her calm down because she was so fretful about being in the strange hospital environment. She knew it wasn't her normal place, even though she wouldn't have been able to tell you where her normal place was. However, once she was back in the nursing home she completely calmed down and readjusted immediately to the environment. She knew where she was at last, and revelled in the feeling of comfort it afforded her.

I told the guy these things as well as I could, making it clear that you have to get the geriatrician and the lawyer working for you in these situations if you want peace. My advice to him was to try to get his father to agree to moving into a nursing home as soon as possible. I told him how I had waited from March 2014 - when the geriatrician gave us the diagnosis of dementia - until December 2014, when we got her into the nursing home. It was a tough time for me. Blog posts pretty much dried up for months and months because of the stress I was under. I don't relish memories of that time at all. Once the decision had been made to move to Sydney though things really started coming together. My advice to anyone with a parent with dementia is to think seriously about the legal and medical demands that will come. Find a solution that will last, and stick to it. Don't be afraid, be strong.

Tuesday 22 December 2015

Getting closer to Christmas

I drove up in the rain today to see mum and called my brother on the iPad. He didn't answer at first, but then after I had tried once and left the room to wait for mum to use the toilet, he called and I heard the machine pinging. So we got on the screen and I lay down on the bed because I was feeling tired. I have been having pains in the left kidney in the early mornings, and the pain is inhibiting my sleep to a certain degree.

Mum has been well recently, at least since her last hospital admission last month. She was quite attentive while on the iPad today, for a change, and was able to keep the device upright for quite some time - at least ten or fifteen minutes - before the weight of it and the length of the conversation became too much, and she eventually dropped her head onto her chest and closed her eyes.

I talked about the scientific revolution with my brother. He's a techie and has been into electronics from a very young age, so he's always interested in science and the history of science. I told him about Lucretius' famous epicurian poem On the Nature of Things and how the poem was unearthed during the Renaissance by a book hunter named Bracciolini. We also talked about the novel and early science fiction, and I introduced him to Cyrano de Bergerac's little-known science fiction novel Voyage dans la lune, which came out in the mid 17th century. It was a fun conversation but unfortunately it outdid mum's patience in the end. The photo shows her while she is still coping with the length of the conversation. The photo was taken using the iPhone from her bed, where I was lying down.

I only stayed in the nursing home for about an hour today but I didn't take mum outside to the park because it was raining. I came home in the rain. I had lunch of a pork roll bought in Epping before I got to the nursing home. They make good pork rolls up at the bakery above the train station.

Sunday 20 December 2015

Drunken conversations

I feel often at gatherings like some kind of fish out of water. There's really no other way to explain it, this feeling of estrangement. It's got something to do with the kinds of thing that I find interesting, things that are of absolutely no interest to the majority of people. To illustrate, I'll refer to a social occasion at work that happened probably around 2008, at a time when I have been moved to a teaching role. My new boss was a woman, a tall, dark woman with a Dutch name who didn't like me. At one end-of-year do I was standing with her boss outside our building among all the other people and I said something like, "Do you know anything about utraquism?" It's not that I thought he did, but it was a way for me to tentatively introduce the conversation to things that mean something to me, in this case the Reformation. My boss, the dark woman who looked like a crow, hopped up quickly and in a loud voice, clearly aiming to belittle me, said, "Well he's going to tell you ALL about it!" I was stunned for a moment. I had never seen anyone behave as rudely as this at a convivial gathering, especially as I was being quite harmless. It wasn't as though I was about to bad-mouth somebody. But this is the way people are who are unashamed boors: they don't care about your feelings and they are committed to keeping the conversation at the same, low level they and their dreary mates are comfortable with.

Yesterday during a party at a friend's house I managed for a moment to get the conversation around the the Renaissance for approximately a millisecond by framing it as a rhetorical analogue to current times, times which are being changed to radically due to the introduction of a new technology: the internet. But it was basically hopeless. By the time we had finished with beers and had moved onto wine the conversation had reverted to cars, local club football, and bands. There was no hope for a dreamer such as I. I hoped that someone would want to talk about the new Joaqn Didion biography I was reading - with its lively impressions of the 60s in California - or else Jane Austen - a big interest of mine which can sometimes be a hit with women, as she is such a favourite among the fairer sex - but noone indulged me and I sat a bit glum for the last few hours nursing a glass of warm viognier.

It's sometimes like this. At gatherings you have to fit in with the predominating tenor of conversation. You might occasionally strike it lucky and find someone who wants to talk about utraquism - the early Renaissance Bohemian belief that you should share the wine with the congregation and not just with the clergy - but for the most part you get to groan about taxes or the government, or whinge about driving on Saturdays, or something equally dull and wasteful of time.

Scintillating conversations are rare but even so you should make yourself as good a conversationalist as you can possible manage. You never know when you'll come across that true gem of a party-goer: the one for whom deep and meaningfuls about the analogues between ISIS and northern-European protestants are something to savour forever. Or at least until next Christmas. Seasons greetings all.

Saturday 19 December 2015

It's the festive season again

Now that we've arrived again at the festive time of the year I wanted to say something about being included, because some people for some reasons might be feeling a bit left out as we all get together with family and friends at this time of year. This is the time for sharing, and especially for sharing time together. Not everyone has people to share time with however.

I remember some particularly dire Christmas times, like when I was hospitalised with a mental health problem in 2000. I was in the ward of the Jikei Idai Hospital for six weeks, including Christmas, and I remember it was a time for reflection. What else could I do? I had time to sit and think about life, finally. For so many years I had been frantic with family and work. About 9 months earlier I had left my family home and gone out to live by myself in the community. I had found a small apartment in a remote location far from the train station and I had settled down, but things didn't turn out so well and I had a complete mental collapse between going to a job I didn't like anymore and missing my family, especially my children. The hospital took me in. I remember it was snowing outside when they let me out for walks around the block; the hospital was in central Tokyo and the streets were full of busy salary-men and office ladies. I trudged along for half an hour then headed back inside the ward and noone knew I was sick.

Another lonely time was last Christmas. I had put mum into the nursing home in Sydney in mid-December and I had to wait until February before I could move down from Queensland myself. I remember going down to the food market on Christmas morning and picking up my Christmas roast chicken, and taking it back home with me to eat alone in my apartment.

There have been times when I have been lonely and there have been times when I have been surrounded by family. I think the end-of-year celebrations they have in Japan are the most delightful things you can imagine. On new year's eve everyone sits up late watching "enka" (traditional Japanese style songs) on the TV. The evening's entertainment finishes after midnight so everyone has a chance to say "Happy New Year!" to one another while the TV is still blaring away. The traditional "osechi ryori" has already been prepared by the women of the household. On New Year's Day everyone gets together and eats the "osechi" with chopsticks and then eats hot "mochi" in a thin salty soup called "ozoni", then they go out to the local Buddhist temple to burn the festive objects from the previous year, and buy new ones for the current year. Children run around and eat snacks you buy in small stalls along the paths of the temple compound.

One year I remember a neighbour - whose husband liked to drink - invited my wife and I to their apartment on Christmas Day and we got drunk on liquor, probably sake (I don't remember, unsurprisingly). When it was late, the husband took me for a walk around the block and when we were coming back to the place where our houses were located he diverted our trajectory so that we ended up in front of the local Shinto shrine, as if he wanted to say, "It's all very well getting drunk at Christmas but Japan is a traditionally Shinto country." I took his message in good spirit and went back home, and to bed. Life is sometimes full of strange surprises. Perhaps something strange and unusual will happen to me during the festive season this year. You never know.

Thursday 17 December 2015

Mum on the iPad

When I went up to the nursing home today I tried as usual to contact my brother in Texas on the iPad using FaceTime. Normally he doesn't answer for one reason or another but today he picked up and seemed willing to talk for a while. I asked mum after we had completed the conversation who she had been talking to and she remembered who it had been. She said, "It was my eldest son."

As usual I gave mum the iPad to hold but normally when I do this she gradually gets tired and lets it drop into her lap slowly. In any case she never remembers that you have to keep your face in the small window on the screen, so my brother usually gets to watch the ceiling all the time while we talk. At least he got a clean feed today; sometimes he cannot see anything at all, and can only hear the voice coming through the device.

I did most of the talking at first. We talked about drones and hoverboards, and how the FAA in the US had just pronounced a regulation that means owners of drones must get them licensed in order to continue using them. The penalty for not registering a drone turns out to be an amount in excess of $27,000. I told him that wheeled hoverboards cannot be used on roads and footpaths in Australia without incurring a fine. My brother has a drone and also gave me one on one occasion, although I have not used it very much (I think it needs tuning). I told my brother I didn't see the point in drones, and in fact I positively disliked them due to the privacy issues. Living in a highrise building you risk being spied on by drones, I said. He said that because of sidewinds and gusts it was difficult to use drones near high buildings, and that you were more likely to be spied on by someone flying a kite.

After a while I took the iPad from mum because she started dropping off to sleep. My brother asked her about the books she read and he got me to run the iPad along taking video of the bookshelf where the books are kept. I noted that mum's favourite series of thrillers was largely missing, so I can only suppose that she has given these books away to other nursing home residents. My brother then produced a cat on his lap, and mum was a bit more attentive once the cat appeared - she likes animals. I didn't take mum out to the park today to see the dogs because we talked for so long on the iPad to my brother.

Wednesday 16 December 2015

Is Blab Periscope on steroids?

Blab is a new application that allows you to make live and recorded conversations. It is closely tied in with Twitter, so you can sign in using your Twitter account, for example, but it's not owned by Twitter, as Periscope is. Blab takes Periscope for a walk around the block and arrives at a different place.

It's sort of Periscope on steroids. With Blab you can have up to 4 people in the one conversation. A newcomer can ask to be included in a conversation by clicking on a button. There is also a text chat feature that enables people outside the conversation to engage with those who are already in it.

The problem for me is that Blab on iPhone needs iOS 8.0 and the model of phone I own only goes up to 7.1.4 or something, so the only way I can use Blab right now - until I upgrade my phone - is on the desktop. This is not so bad, for obvious reasons (I spend a lot of time at the desktop).

The one problem I have with Blab is the manners people seem to display once they are in this kind of environment, which is basically talking in a group. You get the people who just carry on regardless of the feelings of other people, for one. Then there are the people who are just really boring and who don't know how to explain what they want to say (you get lots of people using their hands to compensate for poor vocabulary and expression). And you also get dominant personalities who believe they are the main player - although with Blab this is how conversations start: you get one person inviting others to join.

So the quality of what's on off is very uneven. I didn't really find anything I would write home about during the hour I spent on Blab watching different conversations. There's a lot of mediocre stuff. Some stuff is also recorded, but the live conversations have a little 'live" icon on them. Those are the ones you might be able to join (obviously you cannot join a conversation that has already finished!).

We'll have to see how Blab goes. I expect a lot of poor productions will be enlivened occasionally by something worthwhile and valuable, but it's not a bad idea to take a look and see how it is progressing from time to time. I think this app could surprise people.

Tuesday 15 December 2015

LNP wakes up to idea there are jobs in renewables

It's only taken about half a decade, in my experience, for the government to wake up to the idea that there are  more jobs in renewables than there are in fossil fuels. It hit me twice yesterday. First off was the First Dog On The Moon cartoon with Brenda the Civil Disobedience Penguin.

Then Julie Bishop appeared on-camera from Paris in the wake of the COP21 talks aimed at gaining global agreement on what to do about climate change. It was all "technology" and "innovation" parroting what the new PM has been rabbiting on about for months (well, since the coup in September).

That link takes me back to a blogpost I made in March 2013 about the possibilities for greentech investment in Australia alone, and how the carbon economy could fuel the broader economy by creating jobs and new business ventures.

But I've been rabbiting on about this stuff since my early journalism in 2010. Back in those days there was hope that something might get done as we'd just elected a government that had climate change as a major propeller of policy. Of course, the realities of government got in the way a bit and then there was the massive crash when The Rabbit got into the Lodge and smashed all the greenhouses, destroying a whole crop of cucumbers. I wonder if the dickwits in Parliament are going to get it right this time. It's not as if they haven't been warned. There are plenty of jobs in cleantech, you just have to ask the experts. (Or me. My phone number's on the website.)

Monday 14 December 2015

Who is Marcus Westbury?

A couple of months ago some people might have seen on the ABC a series of shows about artisan makers of goods called Bespoke. It was narrated by Marcus Westbury and it was about the new league of small-holding manufacturers who sell things globally online. I thought to myself "Who's Marcus Westbury and why should we be listening to him?" but it wasn't until today that I really learned the identity of this unusual man.

A story from New Republic appeared in my Facebook feed titled 'Hacking the City' and it was about urban renewal, a topic I am interested in. The story had been put there by someone who I know as something of a futurist, or at least someone who is plugged into new and novel events. And then there was this name again: Marcus Westbury. So I read the story.

It turns out that Westbury has been busy in the past ten years or so changing the face of run-down parts of Australian cities. If you want the whole story you can use the link above, but to be brief, Westbury parlayed experience in organising festivals into a new type of business involving urban renewal. He targeted his native city of Newcastle, which is located a couple of hours by car north of Sydney. How to turn unleased urban property into useful accommodation for people who otherwise would not be able to rent it because the market prices are too high?

Westbury did a simply thing: he omitted a lease. By doing this he was able to get property owners to agree to allowing someone to use their empty buildings without impacting on the buildings' market value.

The journalist from the New Republic - the magazine is based in Washington, D.C. - went to Newcastle with Westbury to see how the city centre had been transformed from a wasteland of empty shops into a thriving community. There is even tourism happening now. People are making things and selling them online and posting them all over the world from this regional city in New South Wales and they are paying no rent. And the property owners are happy because the increased activity helped to sustain property prices. “Activity creates activity, and decay creates decay,” is Westbury's mantra. I urge you to read the story in the link. It's a great success story and it can serve as a model for other communities around the world - and there are plenty of them - that are also faced with urban blight.

Sunday 13 December 2015

Mum's problem at the nursing home

Today I went up to the nursing home and got a call from my cousin while I was in the car, and so after arriving at the residence I called her at her home number. She wanted to tell me about H, mum's erstwhile friend. My cousin had visited the nursing home yesterday and during the visit she asked mum how H was. "Oh I don't talk to her she's a bitch," mum reportedly told my cousin.

But soon enough H was calling for mum. You can clearly hear H's voice calling when you are in mum's room because their rooms are fairly close together. "Jude, Jude, Jude. Come and help me please," H called out from her doorway. Mum apparently immediately sprang to her feet so that she could give assistance to her erstwhile friend. My cousin followed mum out to the hallway and ascertained that H needed help to go to the toilet. Mum is too weak to do this kind of thing for other people. My cousin's husband went off in search of a staff member while my cousin turned on and off the nurse call button in H's room a few times.

It ended up with my cousin helping H onto the toilet. The staff appeared eventually, but it's clear that what's being provided is not enough for this resident. "She's a pest," I told my cousin while I paced up and down the footpath outside the nursing home as I completed the call before going inside. "The nursing staff have to spend more time with H otherwise she'll just continue to bother mum." "I know," said my cousin with a note of regret in her voice. "Sometimes H will say 'Help me please, I don't know what to do, I don't know what I should be doing,'" I told my cousin. "She really just needs someone to be with her and to allay her fears. A lot of the time she doesn't need anything practical at all." "Yes," said my cousin. "She's 94, she's not going to change," I said. I suggested that my cousin should call the nursing home and explain the situation to staff.

I went up to the front door and punched the access code into the keypad. The door opened and I went inside. The staff member on the front desk recognised me and said hello. I greeted her and told her the story my cousin had told me. "Yes, it's our job. We should be doing that, not visitors," she said. I went upstairs and signed into the visitor's book, then went down the hallway and through the TV room to mum's room. She was asleep in her easy chair. I asked her if she wanted to go to the park. "Yes, alright," she said. "A bit of a walk is a good idea."

I told her to use the toilet before we left. I waited outside in the hallway while mum got ready. I went back in and she was standing with her yellow cap on wearing blue jeans. "You don't own a pair of jeans," I told her. "Don't I?" she answered. We left the room and headed toward the TV room. Then it was that the call came. "Jude! Judy! Help me please dear one!" It was H once again. I immediately turned back and asked her from a distance what she needed. I told her I would get some help for her and turned back around, heading toward the nurse's station near the elevator. "Please hurry," H cried as I disappeared in the direction of the TV room. When I got to the nurse's station there were three staffers sitting in the chairs located there. I told them that H needed help and she was calling mum again. One of the nurses turned around and called into the back room that H needed help.

As I was walking back to collect mum the staff emissary overtook me on swift feet. Mum and I went out to the park and when we returned to the residence 30 minutes later the staff were still in H's room talking with her. All she needs is a bit of attention. The staff have to realise this and give it to her, otherwise she'll source it from a different place (namely, from mum).

(BTW the photo accompanying this post is not one I took myself. It's a generic nursing home photo I found on Google.)

On writing

Yesterday the Guardian republished on its website a story by author Harper Lee that had first appeared in 1961, the year before I was born. In the story, Lee is staying with a New York family over Christmas and she receives a special gift - of a year off work, to pursue her writing - from the young couple, who also earn their living by writing. Lee calls it a "gift of love". In the year thus endowed - away from the stresses and demands of full-time work - Lee wrote the two novels that have made her famous.

But I wonder how a year can be enough for anyone to find a voice and produce something of value, especially if the writer in question has not been applying herself to the task on an ongoing basis for some time already.

For myself, the writing project has been going for over 20 years. It started in 1992 when I moved with my family to Tokyo to start work in an English-language PR unit in a high-tech manufacturing company. (I still dream about those days, in fact I had a dream about them last night amid the pains of what has turned out to be a UTI. The infection in the kidneys makes it painful to lie down after about 5am, then it goes away.)

I worked in Tokyo doing desktop publishing and my manager also got me to write stories for internal communications publications the company produced for global distribution. We also made sales and marketing brochures. The most fun of the stories we wrote, from my point of view, were the application stories: stories about successful applications of the technologies the company made. Each story would start with some backgrounding of the type of facility within its specific market. I remember especially a long special feature I wrote about automation and controls applied in the automobile manufacturing industry. The feature appeared across three pages in one month's issue of the corporate magazine, Savemation.

After I returned to Australia I worked as a technical writer and web developer - a strange combination it might seem, but I not only wrote scripts for software usage but also designed and built the HTML platform the documents are delivered to users on. Technical writing is a fairly demanding profession, and involves imagining the use of software from the point of view of the person who is to use it in the run of their daily business. I worked at this job for a number of years before going back to university part-time to study media.

Following completion of a year of journalism study, my managers allowed me to write application reports for the new organisation, but after an organisational reshuffle in 2008 I was taken off that beat and shifted into the training department.

Meanwhile, I had started this blog at the same time I started study, in early 2006. It began hesitantly and the first few years of writing were very limited in scope and aspiration. In fact I began to understand that I had a lot to learn about the profession of writing. Even after completing the media degree I went back to a private school and did a course in feature writing, so uncomfortable I was with the form. But eventually I moved, following another reshuffle, during which my position at the organisation was made redundant, to freelancing as a journalist.

I continued to learn and I continued to write on the blog. It took time to develop a style that was flexible enough to enable me to say just about anything I wanted to say. I have to say, now that I have been blogging for a decade, I am starting to feel more comfortable with my technique. It feels, now, that there is little that I cannot attempt on the blog, although sometimes I do wonder what it would be like to write something longer and more sustained - a novel or long essay, for example. Time will tell. We'll see what happens when the paywall goes up, which will probably happen in the new year.

Saturday 12 December 2015

Dad's ensign

This is a photo of dad's ensign. An ensign is a flag used in maritime activities, and each country has its own special design. This is the Australian maritime ensign.

I found this ensign in a bag of old sailing stuff of dad's that was left over after mum moved out of their apartment  - which was located on the fourth floor of a standalone building - to another one on the ground floor of a different building. I took the bag full of sailing stuff back to my place and kept it in a cupboard. I took the ensign out finally after dad died and had it specially treated by an art conservator. He carefully dry-cleaned the flag and then mounted it on blue fabric before framing the ensemble and placing it under a sheet of glass.

Dad talks in his memoir about his sailing. He built his first boat when he was 16 years old with a friend of his, who was also named Peter. It was a Vaucluse Junior. Later, when dad moved to Sydney and decided to buy a house for his family, he would buy a piece of land in Vaucluse and build a house there. Then, in 1971, the family moved to another house in Vaucluse and dad started sailing Hobie Cats, which was one class of boat that raced out of the Vaucluse Sailing Club, which was where the Vaucluse Junior was originally designed all those decades earlier. So in a real way he returned to his roots in slow stages.

He sailed the Hobie Cat for many years, always on Saturday mornings, regardless of the wind and the weather. His main rival was a guy who ran his own printing business, which fortuitously was located in a building in Glebe just across the road from where I would live when I got to university. Sydney is sometimes a small town.

I was reminded of dad last night when I was talking about his story to someone introduced to me by an old friend. While I was telling the story I started to cry. Dad died in March 2011 in a nursing home on the Sunshine Coast, in Queensland. I don't miss him very often but I think that by returning to tears while just having a talk with a friend and his new acquaintence suggests that the ties that bind are fixed deep. Of course, I was drunk at the time. That might explain part of the emotional outburst, but not everything. Sometimes I see dad in myself. Sometimes I see dad in other people. Sometimes I remember something that dad said from time to time; we all have memories of reliable sayings that we attach through custom to people close to us. Sometimes I dream of dad; they are usually bad dreams, dreams of fear and retribution. In all I think I have gotten over dad. But I still keep his ensign on the wall. Perhaps it is to help me remember. Or maybe it's to keep away ghosts.

TV review: A Taste of Landline, episode 2, ABC (2015)

Another episode packed with useful and appealing information starts with a segment on the specialty fruit and vegetable market in South Australia. Talking to a chef as well as growers and distributors allows the programmers to examine in detail the supply chain of produce in the state. One of the items the distributor sources especially for one of their client chefs is pomelos, an Asian fruit with a lot of pith that is not usually associated with an Australian diet. As chefs look outward to international cuisines for ideas the use of such items in local restaurants has to expand.

The second segment in the program takes us to the Darling Down in Queensland for a debutante ball where a local tradition risks being dropped because of a lack of interest among young people. Most young couples might balk at the idea of square dancing and a supper of cold sandwiches and a cup of hot tea but the people in the community of Gowrie Little Plain enjoy the event and come out in numbers paying a $10 entrance fee. The young couples who turned up for the event were enthusiastic. This segment shows metro viewers something of the traditions of rural Australia in a sympathetic and informative way without making any judgements.

The third segment of the program focuses on seaweed, which is potentially a lucrative crop for acquaculturists in Australia. The producers introduce us to a marine ecologist, a medical researcher and a chef, each of whom is working to find new ways to use seaweed in their industry.

The final segment looks at the deregulation of the unpasteurised cheese industry in the country, and so in addition to talking with cheese makers and dairy farmers - including one dairy farmer who used to work as a chef - we get to listen to a representative of the local food standards body.

Once again, the producers of the show have approached the job of storytelling by asking "what kind of angle will appeal to metro viewers". But rural and regional viewers, especially farmers and fishers, can also get something useful out of the program because it helps them to see the links that might exist in the value chain from paddock to plate.

Thursday 10 December 2015

Abbott weirds everyone out over Islam

Tony Abbott's call for Islam to reform in the same way some parts of Christianity have done over the past 500 years would weird anyone out who spent just a few moments thinking about the man. Here is a follower of an unreformed church telling the followers of a different unreformed faith to get their act together and modernise. The Enlightenment? Tony, old boy, the Catholic Church spent hundreds of years fighting tooth and nail against the gains in civilisation brought about by the Enlightnment, and followers like yourself are still trying to hold back the tide. Shall we talk about equal rights for homosexuals? Shall we talk about feminism?

The Enlightnment arose out of Humanism, which was the originary reforming force in Europe, one which has its roots oddly enough in the Spain of Ferdinand and Isabella. These farsighted monarchs were the first to sponsor the production of a polyglot Bible. This book was important because it went back to the original languages of the Bible - Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew - and started from scratch, bypassing the need for the official Vulgate version still epitomised by the Catholic Church today. Northern European scholars saw the beauty of the conception of the polyglot Bible and took the lesson to heart, working on new translations of hundreds of books in a project that was energised by the new technology of movable type.

Humanism spawned more searching for truth in otherwise obscure corners of human life. Montaigne started writing his essays about his own feelings in the late 16th century and Francis Bacon published the founding text of the scientific revolution in 1620. Things were happening fast. There was a new atmosphere of license in Europe as the old certainties came crumbling down and the stale power structures began to dissolve in the new era of publishing, reading, thinking and writing.

The Catholic Church fought against this tide of liberalism at every step, and it continues to fight for its old prerogatives even today. Tony Abbott is a representative of the old church in our century. The irony attached to his call for Islam to modernise is so thick that you would break a heavy stick trying to stir it. The best thing for Abbott the unreconstructed Catholic to do is to be quiet, but of course his aim is to foment trouble in his political party. This is because he has not lost hope of one day regaining the party leadership. Trouble is his middle name. No sniping, Tony? Pshaw!

Wednesday 9 December 2015

Up at the nursing home as usual

Today I saw mum as usual in the nursing home and we went out to the park as we mostly do. There were two dogs in the park. The dogs ran around off-leash and sniffed everything while remaining vaguely within the orbits of their owners. The dogs looked like they were having a good time.

Today mum seemed well. When I arrived in the nursing home she was sitting slumped on a bench up near the nurse's station on the first floor, where her room is located. She had just had her hair cut and looked stylish. I did not recognise the top she was wearing but I have stopped worrying about her clothes as it's clear that the residents of the nursing home swap things among themselves in a fairly random fashion.

There was none of the confusion today that I had observed last time I went up to the nursing home, which was on Sunday. This time when I left mum she was slumped forward in her dining chair as usual, with her head on the table in front of her place at the table. I had taken her coat, hat and sunglasses back to her room and I found her like this when I came back out. She often desports herself in this fashion but I assume it's just because she often gets tired, and needs to rest for a while before getting on with whatever it was she had been waiting for. In this case that would have been lunch.

There's not a lot to add today. This is just to say that things have returned to normal. Mum is being a bit dotty as she normally is. She said today that she was happy with the nursing home and even offered some relative praise for the food. She said she is not in a hurry to move on from the current situation. I said nothing. I have sometimes told her that she's not going anywhere as it was quite difficult enough to get her into this nursing home, but I stopped doing that. There's no point. If she wants to pretend that she has a choice about where she lives who am I to argue with her?

Sunday 6 December 2015

Mum's dementia worsens all of a sudden

I was up early and on the road before 9.30am this morning to go up to the nursing home to see mum, because my cousin and his family were coming for a visit there. When I arrived at the first floor I saw mum with her walker looking a bit lost. She recognised me but the first thing she said was, "I don't know where I am or what's been going on."

I told her that she was in the nursing home and that she had been living there for just on a year. This was the first time mum had voiced a similar feeling while inside the nursing home, so I can assume that the recent hospitalisation for treatment of an infection has had a lasting impact on her. We sat down near the elevator. "I still don't know where I am," said mum. I repeated what I had said about our whereabouts. "Am I alright?" she asked. I said that the reason she forgot things is that she had dementia and that it seemed to have gotten worse because she had been in the hospital recently.

"Doesn't mean I'm gaga," she said. I said that that was right, it was just that she had dementia, a brain disease. "I've lived for a year but I don't know who I am," she said to me then. We got up then and headed back to mum's room. Her room is a fair distance from the elevators and the nurse station on the first floor. When we got to her room I told her she should go to the toilet. "Where's the toilet?" she asked. I showed her where it was - another first - and left the room, hoping to talk with someone from the nursing staff. I went back up to the nurse's station and told a nurse I saw there about mum's deteriorating memory.

I had worried about this kind of thing happening to mum once we left the hospital, even when she was still there on this most recent occasion. But even though she seemed at a loss as to her exact whereabouts it seems that she is not fretting in the same way she had recently fretted while she was in the hospital. On her final day before discharge she had been kept in bed by raising the side rails because there was a danger she might hurt herself. The staff had also medicated her with a sedative in order to keep her calm. But once she had returned to the nursing home that kind of behaviour had entirely disappeared and the sedative was not necessary any more. I took these things to mean that she was comfortable in her normal surroundings, inside the nursing home.

When my cousin and his family arrived mum was happy and talkative, as she always is when she has visitors. She seemed quite normal, but I knew that once we had left she would once again slide back into the dim region she often inhabits, where things are not always immediately recognisable. In that place you can even lose your own name. Thankfully, mum still recognises me and her other son. But I think that it's a matter of time before we, too, will dip below the surface of that calm waterway she seems to live in, the river of blindness and forgetting, and she will lose sight of us as well. And down there we will become just dark shadows slipping by in the blue, illuminated perhaps from above.

Saturday 5 December 2015

TV review: A Taste of Landline, episode 1, ABC (2015)

ABC TV shows it is capable of innovation again in this first show of a series designed to bridge the media divide between city and country. I don't often quote subtitles in the titles of things I review, but I will in this case. The hashtag the ABC decided to use to promote the program on Twitter, #frompaddocktoplate, sums up the impetus behind the effort and I have to say that I think the producers have got the mix pretty right.

I think I have a track record when it comes to bridging the media divide that separates metro and rural communities. When I started writing stories for agricultural magazines in 2010 the first topic I chose was the peach, and that included looking at the history of the fruit in the west. Landline has done exactly the same thing in the piece in this program dedicated to the Angas breed of cattle, going back to the start of cattle propagation in the colonies and trying to document in some abbreviated form how the breed overtook the more traditional beef cattle breed - the Hereford - in Australian domestic meat markets.

It's a gallant first episode from an imaginative Landline team at the ABC. I could see how they made their choices of interview subject, for example, based on the appeal of those subjects in metropolitan markets. The use of Costa Georgiadis in the segment on the town of Felton demonstrated how eager the producers are to make this program fly in metro areas. I also chose Costa once - on the suggestion of an editor - for a story about community gardens, and I even travelled from southeast Queensland to New England to do the interview. The ABC has thrown their significant resources at this new series in order to achieve something full of appeal to metro viewers; Costa has a large following already in metro markets.

Watching this episode made me hope that it will flourish and succeed. It made me think back to all the good times I personally had writing those stories for magazines that were designed to bridge the metro-rural divide - a distinction in the media space that noone really attempts to bridge even today - and so I remembered some of the stories I wrote during those years, with fondness. You can see the stories on my website if you're interested.

I remembered the struggles among other things. There was the story about a new hybrid breed of tomato being developed by the Queensland government and a private company. For the story I wanted to get the view from the other side as well as telling the story from the point of view of the scientists, so I got in touch with someone from an heirloom seed company and captured his views on the trusty voice recorder. I remembered telling the government department of this new direction the story was taking - because when I had originally spoken to the primary scientist I had told him that it would just be the story of the new seed breed - and how they had asked me to kill the story. I didn't do that, of course, but it was quite amusing for me to come up in this way against the hard edges of a debate that has gone on for decades, and looks set to continue raging in some parts of the community for as long as we sell tomatoes in supermarkets.

There's no doubt that the Landline producers will come up against issues of a similar nature to this as they go on to make succeeding episodes of the series for their traditional rural viewers, and for their proposed viewership in metro markets. I personally wish them well. I tried to bridge that deep divide between metro and rural for years. If my experience can function as any kind of assistance to the good people over at Landline then I'm happy.

Friday 4 December 2015

Mum gets over a friendship gone sour

Up at the nursing home today we went out to the park but we sat instead of usual on the first bench because mum wasn't up to a lot of exercise, she said. She started singing a road safety song from her childhood and we had a laugh, mainly because I said she's entered "the age of dementia".

Back in her room we had been talking about H, who she had previously regarded as a friend. "I'm avoiding that woman, you know," she said to me. "Which woman?" I asked, knowing full well which woman she was talking about, and not even having to ask. "You know," she said. "You mean H?" I asked. "Yes," mum said, "she's a bully and I'm fed up with her."

When we were in the park watching the dogs run around with their owners, I asked mum if she was going to go and see H. "Who's H?" she said to me, completely oblivious, just proving how strong the dementia has gotten. I had not started the conversation about her once-friend. It was she who had kicked it off back in her room.

"Yes, she's a complete bully," I had said to mum when we were in her room talking about H. "The staff try to protect me from her," she said. "Oh, it has got that bad, has it?" I asked.

I left mum in her room this time after our little excursion to the bench during which time she had sung her old song, which went: "Look to the left and look to the right and you'll never, never get run over." "We didn't have television but we had radio, and we used to listen to these programs," said mum. She continued with the song: "If you go out by day or by night beware of the dangers that lurk out of sight. Look to the left and look to the right and you'll never, never get run over." Today's public safety announcements are surely not retained with quite as much fidelity as this 70-year-old song has been by my mother.

Wednesday 2 December 2015

Mum back to her usual self

Today I went up to the nursing home to see mum, who had been taken back there from the hospital on Monday evening. The residents were singing Christmas carols as I made my way into the building and I could hear them from where I waited for the elevator to take me upstairs to the first floor. I found mum in the dining room in a large wheeled chair and I took her back to her room.

I tried to contact my brother on the iPad but when he answered he said he was having computer problems so I signed off and got mum ready to go outside to the park. We went out of the building and across the road. Up on the grass mum as usual pushed her walker through the rough patches and along toward the benches set up around the oval.

We sat on the second bench. I had asked mum if she wanted to go to the closest bench or to the second bench because she was vocalising as she walked, indicating that she was having some difficulty. "I'll go to the second one," she said. So we did. Once we had sat down on the bench we talked about her recent sojourn in the hospital, which she did remember although a bit hazily. I told her what she had said about the nursing home while she was in the hospital. She seemed surprised that she had been so definite and negative about the place. "But you did say it," I impressed upon her. "Well it's not the sort of place you'd want to go for a holiday," she countered promptly. "But they do look after you and wash you and feed you," I offered. "Oh yes, that's true," she said.

We sat in the park for about 20 minutes and then found that the flies became a bit boisterous for our taste, so we made our way back inside. Mum picked up some small fallen branches as she walked, as she is wont to do in order to introduce some of nature into her residential environment.

Once back in mum's room I dialed my brother up because he had sent me a message telling me that his computer had stopped playing up. Mum and I sat in the corner of the room and talked with my brother for about 20 minutes until it became time to have lunch, at which time I escorted mum out to the dining room and made my way to the nurse's station to sign out. Mum's GP happened to be sitting in one of the chairs so we talked for 10 minutes or so about mum's progress.

During one of my telephone conversations on Tuesday I had been asked about mum's advance health directive, and the assistant manager, whom I was talking with, said that she wanted to go through it with me at some point in the future. I had seen this person when I arrived today but she didn't pursue the issue with me at that time. I will have to follow up on the matter with her next time I see her in the residence. I said goodbye to the doctor and got in my car for the drive back home.

Tuesday 1 December 2015

A brief break from caring duties today

I had a break from caring duties today after mum had been in the hospital from Thursday to Monday inclusive. I did phone the nursing home twice today just to make sure things were ok. It seems that mum has settled back into the routine in the nursing home without too many dramas.

They told me last night when they called me that they might have to readmit mum to the hospital because her heart rate was high and she was drowsy. Apparently the ward nurses had administered mum with an antipsychotic at 2pm that had caused her to be very drowsy throughout the evening. I had left mum in the ward at 1.30pm at which time she was asleep so I'm not sure why the doctor thought she needed sedating.

This morning I phoned the nursing home to find out how mum had adjusted to the old environment. She had had her shower with staff help, as she usually does, then she had eaten breakfast in the dining room. The first floor nursing staff told me that mum had been placed in a wheelchair and situated in the common area so that the staff could keep an eye on her during the day. In the late afternoon I called back to find out that mum had eaten all her meals in the dining room and that she was doing well.

In the meantime I went to the CBD this morning for a dermatologist's appointment. After I got home I did a bit of paperwork then headed off to a lunch appointment about 45 minutes' walk away, on Broadway. It was nice and relaxing for me after all the medical dramas to just sit down over a simple takeaway meal and have a chat about nothing in particular in the company of a friend. Then after lunch I walked home and paid some bills, and then helped another friend move out of their office space nearby. Later I settled down to eat some reheated fried rice and have a glass of wine and watch a bit of slow TV.

In all it has been a busy day but I will go up to the nursing home again tomorrow just to check on mum and see that she's fitting back into things the way they were before her recent illness. She had such a strong reaction this time to the infection, which caused a fairly severe deterioration in her mental faculties. I hope that being back in familiar surroundings will enable mum to go on to lead a normal life in the medium term.

I was reminded during the period of hospitalisation however of how bad dad's dementia became toward the end of his life. There was something in the way mum was balling her fists and hitting her bedclothes that made me think of how frustrated dad became with his disability at that time. It was mum who witnessed those changes, of course, and I did remind her of that during this hospital stay, although she did not remember anything about dad's sojourn in the nursing home, and how she had driven up to be with him every day.