Monthly Archives: December 2009

Wet outside, Dry Inside… for a change

For 3 years we had an NEC split a/c in our bedroom.  As a shiftworker living in this climate, I ‘NEED’ an air con that is: a) quite, b) effective, and c) dry.  The NEC unit was none of these.  In addition to the vibrating which could get so bad that it would wake me up, it had a smell… a burning smell which defeated, me, my sparkie mate, and others who had attempted to find the source.  I put up with it for ages, but when it started spitting cold drops of water on to me, which would startle me awake, I thought, “Enough!”  A new unit, a Samsung, was purchased and installed.  Guess what.  It vibrated, rattled, and squealed as well…  okaay.  My wife said, “Well, you’ll get used to it.”  I replied, “No way!” 

Samsung a/c... please ignore the 'feature wall experiment'

Another a/c dissection was conducted.  Now, I’m not a big fan of Samsung.  We had a video recorder once… actually that’s all I’m going to say on the topic because I can feel my blood pressure rising as I type.  Anyway, we tore the new Samsung apart and couldn’t find the cause of the rattling, or the excessive vibration.  I found that inserting a large piece of packing behind the unit dulled the noise a little, and life went on.  But I wasn’t exactly happy. 

In the build up to Xmas, the heat up here was insane, and not a drop of rain in sight.  Hot, humid northerly winds meant our a/c was cranked up for most of the day, and the rattling returned, with a vengeance. 

Xmas morning, we woke up shattered.  The unit had rattled, squeaked and shook all night, which meant both my wife and I suffered from several long hours of broken sleep.  So after the presents were all opened, and while Mrs. Gb whipped up some ham and eggs, I dismantled the unit once again, determined to either fix or destroy the thing.  Half an hour later I found two small pieces of plastic.  They were part of the fan bearing assembly.  I whipped them out, fired up the unit… whisper quiet.  I left it on all day, no smell, no vibration, no noise!  Yay.  I don’t know when or where the damage occurred, and frankly I don’t care.  The unit is operating fine, and that’s all that matters.  That night as we lay in bed, our stomachs swollen from excess Xmas fare, we listened to the whispering fan blow cool air over us and smiled contentedly. 

Oh, Thankyou Santa!

The second Xmas miracle was the arrival of some much needed rain!  Xmas night it bucketed down, heavy showers, thunderstorms, and cooling breezes.  I tell you, if ever the Lion is going to lay down with the Lamb, it will be after a month of hot northerlies, and a cooling shower of rain.  Beautiful. 

So this year for Xmas, I got (amongst other things!) peace and quiet, cooled down and refreshed, unbroken sleep, and a yard full of green grass. 

What more could you ask for?!

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Mondays Column – Crystal Ball 28.12.09

This is the 2nd part of the Joe Crystal yarns, based on a true person (with a slight name change!).  We were surprised to see the paper out today, proving it’s not only us shiftworkers who work public hols 🙂  The paper titled it – Finding Riches in Unexpected Places.

“Greg, you will never be rich,” said Joe Crystal, Brisbane’s shabbiest millionaire, as he lit one of his trademark, super thin cigarettes.  “I might!” I said indignantly.  He laughed, “Mate, I’ve gazed into my crystal ball, and I’ve seen your future, you’re not going to make it.”  He certainly knew how to ruin a good cup of coffee. 

We were sitting on the back deck of his mansion, gazing over the city, while Joe ate his tea, which basically consisted of seven cigarettes and a bowl of hot water into which a beef stock cube had been placed.  I declined his kind offer to join him. 

“You should be out working, using your spare time to make money!” he said, waving his spoon about, “Thanks to hard work, I own a house worth millions, more property than a Texas rancher, have a bank manager who calls me ‘Sir’, and you could too.”    

“How did you get your start?” I asked.

“My uncle,” replied Joe.

“Did he give you some money?”

Joe snorted so hard that he sprayed  soup and ash all over the deck, “Him?!” he bellowed, “He wouldn’t leave a crumb on his plate for fear that someone else might enjoy it!  No, he turned up at our farm when I was a kid, with his flash car, fancy clothes and trophy wife.  ‘Dirt poor’ he called us, and singled me out, ‘You’ll never amount to anything’ he had said.  Well, I showed him.  I worked day and night to make my first million, then I hunted him down and waved a fistful of notes under his nose!  He laughed, ‘I knew you’d make it,’ he told me, ‘you just needed my spur on your lazy flank,’ then he had the cheek to ask me for a loan because he was broke!” 

“Well, did you help him?”

“You’re about as hard as a marshmallow aren’t you?  No, I laughed in his face and walked off.  If you want to make big bucks Greg, you need to be a lot tougher, hungrier, and a hell of a lot more determined.  Instead of sitting at home and wasting time with your wife and kid, you should get a second job, or spend time learning how to invest.  The trouble with you is that you’re too content by far.”

“I can’t help it Joe,” I said, “I like spending my spare time with my family.”   

He shook his head, sighed and lit another cigarette, “Well, that’s not a bad thing I suppose,” he said eventually.  “I’ve got four ex-wives and nine kids, who are all waiting for me to drop dead, no real friends, and see this,” he said, pointing at the bowl, “I’m worth a fortune, but can’t eat real food because my guts is shot to bits.   Whereas, you, ‘Mr. One Step Ahead of the Debt Collectors’, have bugger all, and seem about as happy as anyone I’ve ever met.”  He laughed bitterly, “You’ll never be rich Greg, but you’re a lot wealthier than you realise.” 

An hour later I walked through my front door and was greeted with squeals of delight from my baby daughter.  We hugged, and I discovered that she had filled her nappy.  Handing her back to Long Suffering Wife, I retreated to a safe vantage point and recalled Joe Crystals’ last words, “You’ll leave Brisbane soon, probably end up back in Gladstone.  Mind you,” he had said, staring sadly at me, “you could do a lot worse.” 

It turned out that Joe’s crystal ball was spot on.  And watching my wife grappling with a messy nappy that fateful day, I recalled another piece of advice he had given me, “Always try to get someone else to do your dirty work.”  He was a clever man that Joe.

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The Perfect Writing Environment?

The dream is to write from home, at a desk overlooking a river, harbour, or the sea.  A big desk in a quiet room, with lots of well organised drawers, space for an A5 ‘ideas book’ which I can scribble on, or plot outlines in different colours.  A nice pen, stored nearby in its’ case, and a reading light.  A small stereo/radio sits on a far corner, the speakers mounted just above my head, for those times I’m in the writing zone and need some music, or want to sit back, have a cup of tea and listen to the Book Show on Radio National.  Nearby are my guitars, set up and ready to go whenever I want to play them.  

The chair is leather, comfortable and the perfect height to slip under the desk.  The floor is timber, so the chair glides easily over to a well stocked bookcase, which stores all my research notes.  It is a place of peace, order, and harmony.  It is my ‘zone’.  Aaah bliss!   

It is currently a far cry from the reality.  But here’s the thing, while I wait (eagerly) for the perfect writing environment, I’m still able to pound out my columns, novels etc. in a less than perfect situation.  For instance, I was hammering away on my keyboard the other night, following a particularly interesting train of thought, which I had to get down before I forgot it, as so often happens.  Around me there were three conversations going on, two of them were fairly loud, one was being directed at me (I think), in the background the tv was blaring at an uncaring audience, and the phone was ringing merrily away, demanding someone’s attention.  In spite of all the noise and distractions, I still managed to churn out a reasonable first draft for one of my columns, which I later hammered into shape after several edits. 

Nice View! Terrible distraction...

I’m starting to wonder if I actually need that sort of pressure cooker environment.  A couple of months ago, while we were on holidays in Caloundra, I took all my writing equipment, and some books which I wanted to give a lot of close attention to.  Total sum of work completed:  Three parts of bugger all.  The view from the balcony was magnificent.  Too good actually.  Whales were jumping, the jet ski’s were leaping over the waves in front of our unit, and the scenery was just too interesting for me to tear my eyes away from it.  There were far too many ‘good distractions’ for me to knuckle down and write.  It was too peaceful, too pretty, and too hard to ignore! 

So, I returned to my desk, which I share with the rest of the family (Hey!  Where’s the stapler?  Who put it here?  Who emptied the stapler?  Where’s the spare pack of staples?  Oh forget it, I’ll use a paper clip.  Alright, where have all the damned paperclips disappeared to?!), and straight away I was back in full production mode.  In spite of being hampered, harried, interrupted and harassed at every turn. 

I’ve become used to squeezing out a few hundred words here and there, in between rushing children about, renovating or repairing things around our house, and when not out and about in the car, motorbike, pushbike, or boat, then I’m generally up to my ears servicing them.  Then there is the major distraction that is shiftwork.  Large chunks of time are taken up with my regular job.  I dream of a time when my job is sitting down at my desk everyday and scribbling to my hearts content, but I’ve got a feeling that this ‘perfect scenario’ may not be what works for me.  I’ve got this niggling feeling that I NEED that pressure to produce.  It’s what drives me.  Pushing myself to stay awake when dog tired, writing, editing, re-editing, and jotting down ideas.       

I’m reminded of several stories where authors have written entire novels either in cafés, small tables propped up in laundries, or hidden away in some small space, then when they have cracked the big time, move into a proper office, with a view, nice furniture, peace and quiet, AND, a comfy leather chair, then suddenly find themselves unable to produce.  It’s only when they return to their original miserable surroundings that inspiration and motivation returns.  

Which makes me think, that perhaps I’ve already found my best writing environment.  I wish I could find the staples…

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Mondays’ Column – The Xmas Break 21.12.09

The events described here actually did happen… which just goes to show that we take our backyard cricket very seriously indeed in my neighbourhood!  Cheers, Greg

It’s that time of year when children go into a holiday frenzy, retailers rub their hands together in anticipation, teachers crack open the bubbly, and parents shudder in horror at how quickly the year has flown by.  Meanwhile at work, those of us who aren’t on holidays, celebrate the fact that many of our bosses are, as we enjoy a few weeks free of corporate speak, which is a ‘synergistic’, ‘saw sharpening’, ‘win/win situation’ for we ‘pro-active’ toilers at the ‘cutting edge’ of ‘the coal face’.      

During a particularly hot workday last week, to take my mind off the rampant chafing which was spreading like molten lava across my legs, I pondered Christmases past.  Happily, the majority of them have been pretty good, particularly the Christmas day I spent lying in a wading pool, reading my new book, eating boiled peanuts and drinking beer, because it’s not every year a kid enjoys Christmas in this manner.   

But it was Christmas 1996 which stood out in my memory; our first Christmas in our first home, with our new neighbours.  During the Christmas Eve Backyard Test, I took an absolute screamer of a catch, and leaping to my feet, I cried out, “Howzat!”, then noting the shocked faces staring back at me, gazed down at my left arm which was sticking out at a sickening angle.  A drinks break was immediately called, while my bent wing was hastily braced with a torn up beer carton, and wrapped with cold towels that had been dipped in the esky.  A lengthy delay followed while the neighbourhood was scoured for a sober driver to run me up to the hospital. 

After waddling through the doors of the Emergency Room, I was helped onto a bed by a nurse who informed me that I was the first of many alcohol fuelled injuries expected that night.  I informed her that I hadn’t actually had a drink yet as she removed the wet towel exposing the beer carton bracing.  “That’s not mine!” I cried, but my pleas of innocence fell on deaf ears.      

The doctor arrived eventually, having been paged halfway through a church service, hooked me up to the machine that goes ‘Bing!’, then shot me full of painkillers.  As the dope kicked in I asked, “Hey Doc, why did you wear a Star Trek tie to church?” 

“It was a gift from my son,” he said with a smile, then gripping my arm he announced, “This may hurt a little.”  He was wrong, it actually hurt quite a lot.  While he wrestled my arm back into place and yelled at me to relax, the little machine that goes ‘Bing!’, stopped going ‘Bing!’.  “Doctor!  His heart has stopped!” shouted the nurse.

We stared in alarm at the monitor as a long, flat line spread across the screen.  “Um, how do you feel?” asked the bewildered Doc.    

Pretty good considering I had no heartbeat.  A quick check revealed that we had somehow knocked the power lead out of the socket during our struggle, and it was decided to leave it out in order to reduce the stress in all our lives.    

Nursing my freshly plastered arm, I felt very un-Christmassy as I staggered through our front door later that night, where I was greeted by a small throng of well wishers, who, like the Wise Men, had come bearing gifts.  In place of gold, frankincense and myrrh, there was instead, beer, prawns, and mudcrab, and soon, a very merry time was being had by all.  As the night wore on, I discovered that my new cast was perfect for cracking open crab claws; a party trick which I paid dearly for the next day.  But, long term friendships were forged that night, which made that Christmas ‘break’ one of the luckiest of all.

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No Kids, No Xmas Leave!

It’s Christmas time, and employees around the country are jockeying for position to get some time off to spend in Yuletide cheer with their families.  Lots of places close down for the break (especially those places which have the emergency hardware supplies I might need!), others scale down operations.  Not where I work.  For most of us on shiftwork, it’s business as usual.  Nothing wrong with that.  Just less folk around during the day. 

This year I’ve managed to crack a shift roster which gives me Xmas day off.  Ok, I’m back at work on Boxing day, but this is alright, it’ll give me a chance to sweat out some of that festive cheer 🙂

But this time of year is a bit hard for singles, or folks who, for one reason or another, are childless, because they find themselves shunted to the bottom of the Christmas leave roster.  Why?  Because they don’t have children, and as such, aren’t expected to enjoy Christmas.  They are deemed a ‘low priority’ on the Christmas vacation pecking order.    

What most people tend to forget is, that they are also Uncles and Aunties, or may just want to spend the day with friends who have families.  I think it’s a little unfair that they should be targeted because they haven’t bred…

Am I missing something here?

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KLE 500 – Rider Profile?

The KLE 500 is the sort of bike that sort of appeals to a particular sort of person… 

Ok, it’s not fast, this is a fact.  It’s not particularly good on the dirt, and it has arguably the worlds’ hardest seat.  But having said that, it is pretty versatile.  I’ve surprised much better riders on much faster bikes, when we’ve hit twisting corners up long, winding roads.  Plus it’s fairly easy to ride, is fairly forgiving on most surfaces, and can take a few knocks if and when you hit the deck.  

I’ve only met a couple of other riders in my travels, and they all seem a bit, well, like me.  Which is pretty scary actually.  They’re not into speed, or motorcross dirt riding, prefer to ride alone, or in a very small group, and have a bit of a limited budget.  The KLE is designed with us in mind!

It’s easy to work on, needs little in the way of TLC, and simple mods’ make a world of difference.  For example here is a photo of a nice couple I met a few years ago at a rally.  They travel two up fairly regularly, something which I thought would not be too comfortable, but the addition of a woolly cover helps a fair bit… apparently.  The other mod that the rider had made was a piece of gal pipe with bicycle hand grips on each end, attached just in front of the radiator.  Very simple highway footrests. 

Homemade Highway Pegs!

He swore by them, and I’ve been tempted to make one of my own, and attach them onto the top bolt of the bash plate, but this looks much easier, and may in fact be a better stretch for my legs… will have to have a play this year when I repaint the old girl.

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Mondays’ Column – Crystal Clear 14.12.09

He was the richest bloke I’d ever met, but if you were to meet him you wouldn’t know it, as he was a walking advertisement for the phrase, ‘Never judge a book by its’ cover.’  And even though the cover of this particular book was pretty tatty, he was far richer than I’ll ever be, and quite possibly much better off than our current State Government is at the moment. 

We met in the mid-90’s in Brisbane, when a labour hire firm contracted me to build a picket fence for ‘some old bloke’.  Now, when I think of picket fences, I’m put in mind of small, white, timber fences which border neat lawns, under shady trees where cups of tea and cucumber sandwiches are served by well dressed servants.  Which was why I was a little surprised an hour later to find myself standing outside a rubble filled, light industrial construction site wondering if I had been given the right address.   

The only sign of life was a convulsing bobcat being driven by someone who had clearly overdosed on cough medicine, so I attracted the drivers’ attention, and after it came to a sudden and jarring stop, a very old labourer climbed out.  His filthy overalls were made up mostly of patches, and his boots were held together with a variety of brightly coloured electrical tape.  “Excuse me mate,” I asked, “could you tell me where to find the boss?” 

He wiped his palm against his overalls, which actually made his hand slightly filthier, and said brightly, “Yep, that’s me, you here to build my fence?”  I shook his hand, aware that I had probably just been given a potent case of galloping diphtheria, and said, “Mate, stop mucking about, where’s the boss?”

“Well, he’s a bit indisposed at the moment,” he replied and he started to roll what would turn out to be the world’s thinnest cigarette, “’cause it’s his break and he can get a bit tetchy when interrupted.”  He lit his emaciated cigarette which literally vanished in a puff of smoke.

“I’ll come back later then,” I said. 

“Nah, you’ll be right,” he answered, “I’m the only one round here he treats like a mongrel dog.  C’mon, I’ll take you to him.”  I followed him through the messy yard, to a suite of expensively furnished offices, filled with numerous, well dressed people toiling away on computers.  

Leading me to a plush corner office, which would not have looked out of place in the world of corporate banking, he plunked himself down in a sumptuous leather chair, put one filthy boot on the desk, and said, “G’day, I’m the boss, are you here to build my fence?” 

“Struth mate!” I cried, “You’re going to get us both fired!  Shouldn’t you get back to work?” 

He looked at his watch, “Nah, not for another five minutes,” he said, then yelled out, “Hey Jerry!”  A young bloke in an expensive suit appeared magically by my side.  “Tell this joker who I am.”

Jerry had obviously done this before, because he rolled his eyes and sighed, “This,” he said in a bored voice pointing at the old man, “is Mr. Joe Crystal, the owner, manager of this site.  Would either of you like a coffee?” 

Old Joe laughed, “No, my newest employee here is keen to get going, so show him what I want done, make sure it’s done properly, then bring him back here.  Is that clear?” 

“Clear as crystal,” replied Jerry automatically.  I interrupted, “Um, Mr. Crystal, I was told you wanted a small picket fence built, where the hell would you like it?” 

He snorted, “I said I wanted a star picket fence built right around the site, you know it’s amazing mate, but for some reason, no one believes a flamin’ thing I say!”

And that was the start of a twenty four carat education.

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