Monthly Archives: May 2010

Mondays’ Column – Stiff Necked 31.05.10

I had a stiff neck.  Not the sort of stiff neck you’d associate with stubbornness, but a genuinely sore neck.  In fact, the only thing I’m really stiff necked about is seeing a chiropractor.  I’d been to one years ago, and came away a little traumatised from the experience.  Surely it can’t be natural to have your toes scraped down the back of your head?         

Instead, I waited for the pain to go away, but after a couple of days I was reduced to begging Long Suffering Wife for a backrub.  Upon discovering that pressing certain points on my shoulders made me yodel like an alpine shepherd who has stepped on an upturned rake, she really threw herself into the task. 

When I’d regained consciousness, she suggested that perhaps I should see a chiropractor.  I scoffed at the idea, trowelled on some more liniment, then lurched off to work.  Unfortunately the pain increased, so I did what all men do; turned to my mates for medical advice.         

After my many shortcomings were pointed out, and laughed at, I was subjected to a battery of questions, after which the general consensus was, I needed to see a chiropractor, and possibly a team of shrinks.  If I could have shaken my head, I would have done so.    

But on the fifth consecutive day of awakening with a screaming headache, crossed eyes and a twitching shoulder muscle, Long Suffering Wife tossed me a phone book in which she had circled the number of a nearby chiropractor.  I figured that I was already a broken man, so I called them. 

Twenty minutes after crawling through the chiropodists’ door, I exited the surgery with a wide smile on my dial, did a little tap-dance on the steps, sprinted through the carpark, somersaulted over my car, then drove home singing.  My headache had vanished, I could feel the fingertips on my right hand again, the sun shone a little brighter, the birds were chirping…. etc, etc.      

That evening I told Long Suffering Wife how happy I was with her ‘Bone Cracker’, when she cheerfully replied, “Oh, I’ve never been there, but I’ve often wondered if they’re any good.  Now I know.”  

For a moment I toyed with kicking her in the shins, but I didn’t, because these days I’m much more flexible in both mind and body; even if someone is being a real pain in the neck.

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Dunkirk Anniversary & The Snow Goose

I stumbled across this today over at the ABC News site, it’s worth a look:

The sight of the old bloke walking down the beach was very poignant, you could almost see the memories forming around him. 

The Dunkirk Evacuation was unique in history, and the sacrifice made by the coastal populations of England to rescue the stranded soldiers is the certainly the stuff of legend.

I had read a few ‘dry’ historical accounts of the evacuation, and knew about the lead up to, and the result of the evacuation.  But they left out the actual terror, the desperation and the sheer madness of sailing into a warzone in little boats to rescue a defeated army.  Men used row boats, dinghy’s, in fact anything they could float, to cross and recross the English channel carrying as many men as they could, while all about them artillery shells, bullets, and dive bombing aircraft rained down sheets of metal.  Many of them never made it home. 

The story that really bought the evacuation to life was ‘The Snow Goose’, written in 1940 by Paul Gallico, it tells the story of a lonely artist living in a lighthouse, and how he helps a young girl, Fritha, heal a wounded Snow Goose.  The three of them become firm friends, and he paints a portrait of her holding the wounded bird.  Then the news comes on the radio, Winston Churchill had put out a desperate call for any man with a boat to sail at once to Dunkirk.     

“I have to go Fritha, there are men who need help…”

“Cor, you should have seen ‘im come through the shrapnel!  And overhead flew the most beautiful bird!”   

It was my mothers’ book and I read it as a boy.  It made me cry then, and when I re-read it recently, it made me cry again. 

A good sorrow… borne of pride, mad courage, and loss. 

My Grand Uncle was one of the many soldiers who died at Dunkirk.  Nobody is sure if he even made it to the beach on the day, all we know is that he was killed before he could be rescued. 

Soon I will read the story to my little girl, and tell her about her long dead relative and keep his story alive for another generation to remember and respect. 

But I will have to practice not crying before I do 🙂


Filed under Life & Thoughts

Dementia & Getting all Zen

This week I received some bad news; not devastating news, just bad news about a mate’s father who has been put into a nursing home.  The old bloke’s mental facilities have been diminishing for some time, and when I saw him late last year I was shocked at how much he had deteriorated in such a relatively quick time. 

The old bloke has always been a can do, hands on, nothings’ too hard, give me a go, shed dwelling, car restoring, furniture building, big project, arty project, sort of person; or to sum up in two words, ‘Gladstone Man’. 

He was a multi-skilled tradesman, a marine engineer (the real deal) who could make, do, create, or build anything he turned his mind to.  I can recall the times I watched him building model boats out of large lumps of timber, with little more than a photograph and a pair of calipers for reference.  Or the time he took up blacksmithing, and how we young fellas lined up along the forge walls to watch him clanging away at a piece of extruded metal, shaping it over the anvil.  It was like witnessing a magic act.  He was the bloke I’d turn to when I had problems with my car, or needed some advice regarding a work problem.  He’d listen carefully, ask a few questions, smile a little, then after careful thought, would give me his answer.  In short, I stood in awe of his abilities. 

So, to see him reduced to sitting in a cane chair gazing at the ‘colourful pictures’ in womens’ mags was a bit distressing.  You knew that somewhere under his thinning hair beat a brain that knew to the thousandth of an inch the tolerances of big end bearings on a hundred different machines, or could calculate on the fly algebraic equations that would make a modern teacher shudder.  No more. 

A couple of years ago he had a knock down, drag out bout with Barma Forest Disease, which knocked him around for many months, and he never fully recovered.  The falls started, the forgetfulness, the gradual decline of his physical stature.  No longer the big man with the booming voice, and heavy handshake.  He did well to stay out of care so long, and this was in large part to his doting wife, but even she had reached her limits or her magnificent reserves, physically, and emotionally.  And yesterday, when I called to see how they were going, I was told that the old bloke was now spending his days propped up in a chair with a belt around his chest to stop him from falling.

Even now, it really hurts to see that picture in my mind.  But…

The old fella is not totally unhappy.  Everyday he gets to watch his ‘cowboy movies’, he’s surrounded by people who are looking after his every need, and there are others in the unit with him, so he has made some new friends.  In short, he is living from moment to moment.  There is no fear or anxiety about the future, and no regrets about the past, and it dawned on me that isn’t that part of enlightenment?  A large part?  To live in the moment.  To focus on the now.  Simply, Be. 

It could be worse.  Later on in the day I opened Terry Pratchetts’ Thief of Time, and started following the adventures of the warrior monk, Lu Tze.  I’d read it before, but this time the lessons were sinking in…  if you’re going to sweep, then SWEEP.  Do it well, do it to the best of your ability, do it in such a way, without complaint, that makes you proud you have done the job.  Do not worry that people will mess up your floor, simply get on with the task at hand. 

Live in the moment.  Just like the old fella.  It’s amazing how refreshing it feels to think, to be this way!  I think it’s time for me to log off and grab a broom 🙂

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Mondays’ Column – Going to the Dogs 24.05.10

Obviously, not me... or my dog 🙂

“Look,” I said to Long Suffering Wife, “why buy a walking machine, when you’ve got two walking machines right here!” I pointed to where Dumbdog and Littledog were sitting at the back door with their furry faces pressed hard against the fly screen; just in case one of us had food. 

The Master had spoken, so we didn’t buy the walking machine, we hired one instead.  And while certain members of my family are exercising in the comfort of the lounge room, I’m out in all weather walking the dogs.  Dogs I didn’t want in the first place! 

My role as Chief Dog Wrangler started several years ago, when a vigorous campaign was mounted to convince me to get a dog.  After a heavily rigged family vote, Dumbdog arrived and I got lumbered with walking him each afternoon.     

Then I was informed that our new pooch was lonely and needed company.  “NO!” I cried, “We are NOT getting another dog!  I am NOT walking two dogs!”  I would not be moved on the matter.         

On the way to pick up the new dog, I prayed that Dumbdog would hate her, and we could put this whole sorry episode behind us.  My prayers were answered when the little dog attacked Dumbdog on sight.  But she eventually grew weary of dragging him round by the throat, so we brought her home.      

“Right!” I said to my family, as our latest acquisition, Littledog, leaped from the car and fouled my clean concrete, “you wanted these mutts, you walk them!”  Around here my word is law.  Later that afternoon, muttering fiercely under my breath, I stormed off down the road behind two excited, and urine squirting hounds.    

But after many weeks of being tangled in leads, tripping over small dogs, and having my arms pulled from their sockets at irregular intervals, I slowly grew to enjoy our daily walks.  I had time to daydream, think, and de-stress.  Plus our fitness levels have improved remarkably; we can now outrun most of the loose dogs trying to kill us.       

So if you want to be happier and healthier, then I can heartily recommend a daily dose of dog walking.  And you might even bump into me someday out there in the bush, or on the footpaths of Gladstone, because my attempts to get the dogs to use the walking machine have not gone well at all.

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Robin Hood with Russell

Thanks to a rainy day bringing my running, and painting schedule to a halt, I decided on impulse to go to the movies and see the latest Robin Hood.

Not a bad yarn.  As one mate described it, it was like Braveheart meets Gladiator.  A rather apt despcription I thought. 

Younger viewers were disappointed by the lack of bloodshed and fighting, “There were only four fight scenes,” was one comment I overheard.  Perhaps this is more of a commentary on our youth, than the movie itself?! 

Kevin Durand, the 6 foot, 6 inch giant who played Little John was a favourite of mine from Wild Hogs.  He has a few genuinely funny lines which he pulled off well.  The rest of the Merry Men seemed to pale into the background by comparison, rarely seen or heard. 

I enjoyed a few laughs, whilst enduring another ‘Hollywood History Lesson’, relished the accuracy of the settings and costumes, and in general, enjoyed a rolicking couple of hours watching the goodies take a few hits before wiping out the baddies.  And best of all I didn’t have to listen to Bryan Adams singing ‘Everything I Do’ 🙂  

The ending left more than enough room for a sequel.

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Rockwiz Road Tour Comes to Gladstone!

Several months ago my wife announced, “I bought you some tickets to see your girlfriend.”  I was a little confused and replied, “Yeah?  Who’s that?” 

“Julia Zemiro is coming to town, so I got two tickets for the Rockwiz show.”

Yippee!  The countdown had begun.  I’m glad she got the tickets when she did, because the show sold out not long afterwards. 

I had two tickets.  The trouble was, my dear wife didn’t want to go, neither did the eldest girls, but the Littlest Princess was keen as mustard.  She and I have spent many a Saturday night lying on the bed reading books, laughing at Iron Chef, then watching Rockwiz.  This is how I spend my weekends now 🙂 

So, I rang the theatre, and they assured me that it would be ok to take a 9 (nearly 10!) year old to the show.  So I asked her, “YES!” was her immediate and super keen reply. 

So last night we rocked up, hoping like hell that Julia was indeed going to star on the night.  Well, I gotta admit, Brian Nankervis had us from the moment he walked on stage.  With the help of some local ‘volunteers’ he had the crowd laughing and hooting from the get go.  For many of us it was an insight into how much fun the taped show must be each week.  Then, the call for contestants was announced.  Under selected seats were taped yellow cards.  We checked, no card.  I was at once relieved and disappointed! 

Soon 20 odd folk were lined up on stage, introduced themselves, and then the fun started.  Brian conducted a quick quizz, from which the contestants were whittled down to the final four.  Among the winners was a deadset ‘freak’ of Rock knowledge.  We went for interval, during which The Littlest Princess said, “Dad, can we pick a team and bet a dollar on who wins?”  I said, “Yep, I’ll take the Right hand side, because the Rock Freak will be on that side.” 

Imagine how I felt when we returned to the show to discover the Rock Freak was seated on the left!  My sorrow was short lived as the band arrived, ripped out some killer intro’s, and had us all pumped up, then Julia hit the stage, and the place went wild.  A packed house of 800 odd people roared, stamped and clapped.  It’s obvious that I’ve got some competition for her favours…

The rest of the show was pretty much as you see it on tele, with a few additions.  The guest stars, Henry Wagon and Vikka Bull were brilliant.  One thing that made me feel particularly proud to be a local was when Vikka took her seat the two men on her team stood up and helped her into her chair, something not seen before in the shows’ history.  We might not be the prettiest or smartest blokes in the country, but geez we’ve got manners! 

Anyway, as an added bonus, Dugald whipped a mic out and Julia announced Paul Kilby from the Church, who came out and sang “Under the Milky Way”.  Brilliant! 

The show went on, and was everything I’d hoped for.  And the Littlest Princess had an absolute blast.  The band were pumping, the singing fantastic, and the humour kept smiles on our faces long after the last note had sounded.

Afterwards we lined up for the autograph session, and I’m looking nervously at my watch;  it’s 11pm, and The Littlest Princess has school tomorrow, and I have to be at work in 5 hours for my first day shift.  Then Julia and Brian spot bub waiting in line and Brian says, “Hey don’t you have school tomorrow?”  TLP nods, and Julia says, “Just come round here, push your way to the front.”  My smile threatened to lift my head off my shoulders!  

Well, TLP got all the autographs from the band, including one from the very talented James Black (my personal guitar hero), and I even got a shot of her and Julia…  fabbo!

My parting question to Julia was, “So, if she ever makes it onto Rockwiz when she’s older, can she make this her first concert?”  Julia laughed and turning to her, said, “9 years from now, you come to Melbourne, get on the show and tell me that your first concert was Rockwiz.”  

The thing is the Littlest Princess doesn’t want to wait 9 years… and neither do I 🙂

Seriously, go see it!  I’m still buzzing…  and so is TLP.


Filed under Here In Gladstone

Mondays’ Column – Snagged 17.05.10

Imagine for a moment that you’ve been elected Prime Minister.  During your tour of Parliament House you notice that the Paul Keating Memorial BBQ is looking a little rundown, the two bricks propping up the rusted hot plate are cracked, and most of the plastic chairs are missing.  So, your first Prime Ministerial deed is to order a new BBQ.  Your photo is taken. 

One week later you are handed a bill totalling seventeen million dollars for a BBQ that hasn’t been built yet!  Your entire cabinet is rushed at gunpoint into your office where you demand an explanation.  Instead, you receive an education.      

The Resources Minister informs you that to satisfy the many interest groups camped on his doorstep, the new BBQ must have wood, gas, coal, electric and oil burners.  The nuclear powered wok was vetoed by the Greens.

The Environment Minister has included a solar oven, plus a wind generator for the lights.  To offset carbon emissions, three thousand and fifty eight trees will be planted nearby, and fertilised with chicken poo, ferried by bicycles, from an organic farm in Victoria.  They’ll be watered with treated effluent from a new sewerage pumping station named after you.

The Minister for Works hands you the quotes he obtained to build the BBQ.  The first figure has more zeroes in it than a Japanese aircraft carrier, while the second quote, from a company which made billions erecting school bike sheds, isn’t much better.  The third quote, scrawled on the back of a beer coaster, is from a mate of the Minister, who will slap up the barbie for a mere two million; he can start as soon as his extension lead is returned.

The Foreign Minister is missing.  He has taken a large committee, and his family, on a taxpayer funded world tour to see what other nations think of your new BBQ.  His jolly postcards hint that they’ll be gone for some time.  

And the Arts Minister has organised a ‘BBQ Launch Extravaganza’ that will cost more than the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympic Games.

Afterwards, you reel outside to the Aboriginal Tent Embassy and they cook you a snag on the old Paul Keating Memorial BBQ.  For fuel, they’re using paper from broken treaties.  The sausage tastes good, but the certain knowledge that you’re the unwitting chief engineer of the latest Government Gravy Train fills your mouth with a very bitter aftertaste indeed.

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Les Norton is back, High Noon in Nimbim

Just finished reading the latest Les Norton yarn, High Noon in Nimbin.  Not a bad read, everything you’d want from Robert G. Barretts hero.  Fun, travel, adventure, sex, violence, and restaraunt reviews.  Les finds himself up to his ears in trouble again, and as usual, finds a unique way to save the day, make a few bucks, belt the daylights out of some idiots, and takes some time out to ‘throw a few ladies up in the air’. 

Just your typical Aussie holiday  🙂

I was first introduced to Les in the early 90’s, it was a defining moment, an old workmate surprised me by announcing, “I’ve just read a book!”  This from a bloke who didn’t even read papers!  He’s one of many people I know who haven’t read a book since highschool, but have since become life long readers thanks to Robert G. Barrett.  Bob gets told this quite a lot.  And good on him.  If more people are reading because of his writing, then that’s a remarkable legacy to leave the world.     

Anyway, I was intrigued, so I slipped down to the local library and borrowed ‘The Day of The Gecko’.  It was a roaring yarn, and I instantly fell under the spell of the big redheaded Queenslanders’ charm.  Les, is a bit of an outsider.  A country boy earning a living in Sydney as a bouncer at an illegal casino.  He’s witty, got more than a touch of luck, likes a laugh, is popular with the ladies, and always finding trouble and dealing with it in his own ‘special way’. 

I’ve been hooked ever since.  And when I put my father onto Bobs’ books he rang me up and said, “Hey, you met some of these blokes in these yarns!” 

“Yeah?  Who?”

“Well, the casino owner,” explained Dad, “Price Galese, is Perce Galea.  He lived down the road from your Aunt in Sydney.  He used to wash his big yank tank in front of her house.  He once said to me, ‘Hey mate, I reckon I could fit your VW into my boot,’ and I told him he’d have to take all the bodies out first!” 

Dad continued rattling off a few more yarns, and I marvelled at how bloody small this country is.  Then, back in the mid-90’s we all flew to Cairns for my sisters’ wedding.  Guess who else was in town, yep Bob.  He was doing book signings, and some research for his next novel.  Try as we might, do you think we could find the bastard?!  Our fate, it seemed, was to arrive at destinations he’d visited the day before.  We did it without even trying.  It seemed that everywhere we went in Far North Qld, people were raving about the ‘Orfer feller, who rites them funny, dirty, fighting stories, who wuz here yestiday.’ 

So, when I read Goodoo Goodoo, it was like reading a travel brochure on the trip we had taken up North… minus the fighting, sex, and scary monster.

Then a little while back, we drove down the coast of NSW, and guess who had just finished a tour around the joint?  Yep.  Bob.  I’m thinking of writing to him and asking him where he’s headed next year, just to give me an idea of where we’ll be going down the track 🙂

Anyway, High Noon isn’t a bad yarn, and while it didn’t knock my favourite Les Norton story from 1st place, it didn’t disappoint either.  My opinion of Nimbin matched Bobs, I was singularly unimpressed with the joint.  Pretty, but seedy.  Some genuinely nice folk, but a lot of bad buggers about too.  I may take the family there one day… but then again.

Anyway, I’ve included a link here, about Bob  he’s like a lot of blokes I’ve met in heavy industry, funny, wry, and incisive.  He’s full of bull, but at the same time a straight up and down sort of person.  And one day I’ll meet him, shake his hand, buy him a beer… or let him buy me one, and have a few laughs.  If I can find him in time that is 🙂

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Agnes Waters / 1770 Dreaming

You know, I’ve been thinking lately…

On Saturday, the Littlest Princess and I drove down to Agnes / 1770.  Great day; beach, sun, fun, dolphins playing, laughing and yakking with the Littlest Princess, and me sneezing my head off… ok, the sneezing bit wasn’t too great, but the rest of the day was pretty good 🙂

I saw a wide range of folk on the sand. Backpackers, tourists, rich, poor, surfers, caravanners, day trippers, etc. All of them stripped to the bare minimum of clothing, and all having fun… even the bloke sneezing his brains out 😕

As humans, we need so little to have fun. To be able to share, talk, touch, walk, think, sing, and sit. I saw old beach shacks which you couldn’t give away when I was a kid, now you couldn’t afford them, (or the yearly rates $5000 plus!!!), and I remembered visiting folk who lived in them. 

They had kero fridges, an old radio propped up in the corner near an open window to get scratchy reception, wood stoves, a bed each, and a comfy chair to read in, or, have a long nanna or poppy sleep in each afternoon.

Mornings were spent doing chores, afternoons were for resting, then evenings were for long strolls along the beach, catching up with the neighbours, then playing some board or card games before bed. Papers were delivered weekly, if you were lucky, and time was measured by seasons, not 15 minute increments.

Food was grown, caught, or bartered. Water was delivered from your own water tank, and the lawn was mowed by a goat. Chooks provided eggs, and the odd roast. You fished, crabbed, prawned, swam, read, cycled, hiked, or explored in your spare time.

Money was something you had a little of just for emergencies, but didn’t rely on. Instead, you had neighbours, friends and family who helped you, and you happily helped them.

Many of them didn’t own a car, they relied on sharing a ride into Bundy or Gladstone. But most of them owned boats. Row boats. Didn’t need to go too far, so you rowed, and thought, or hummed a tune to help keep time.

Kids were involved with everything you did, working, playing, talking. Life was pretty simple. A lot of those old places are for sale, or boarded up now, awaiting demolition for the newer, improved, concrete, steel and glass dwellings that are being built. Few water tanks, no kero fridges.

How far have we come?

I think I’m starting to go all Zen here, but when I got home I walked inside, and thought, ‘Geez we’ve got too much stuff here!’ Which immediately put me in a bad mood 😯  I immediately calmed down, then thought, ‘Ok, you have to start somewhere, start with yourself.’

A garden starts with 1 plant. Diets start with 1 food choice. Fitness starts with 1 walk. Friendships start with 1 conversation. All these things start with 1 decision, the next one you make, then the one after that…. yeah, I’m definitely going all Zen now!

Man, I loooove visiting 1770 😆  It’s good for the soul.  And the best part of my day?  As we drove off the headland aiming for the road back to the highway, the Littlest Princess said, “I like it here Daddy, can we come back and stay a bit longer?”  

Another convert. 

If I hadn’t already had tears in my eyes from the non-stop sneezing…

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Observer Column – Mothers Day Aftermath 10.5.10

Today, the day after Mothers Day, thousands of wretched looking men will line up at returns desks around the country, clutching unwanted and slightly battered gifts.  Males prefer ‘practical’ over ‘pretty’, which is why we are stunned to discover that no matter how useful it will be to Mum, a new deep fryer, ironing board cover, or quality chainsaw is not what she wanted.

So, in light of recent Mothers Day disasters, I’ve come up with the following tips to help the men of Gladstone avoid the same mistakes next year:      

Young Mums adore hand crafted gifts, cards or drawings from their little ones.  These will be lovingly placed next to the tele, or pasted onto the fridge, where they will stay for years, fading and gathering dust. 

Middle-aged Mums like flowers, or jewellery, but what they really crave is a day off.  Hubby can take the kids to Timbuktu for all she cares while she flops onto the couch for some much needed sleep, without waking up to a house that looks like a war zone.  Dinner cooked by ‘someone else’ and not having to wash up afterwards is also highly regarded.

Elderly Mums fall into two categories:  Group One baby-sit grandkids all week and live in houses that look like war zones, for their gift, see above. 

Group Two Mums live alone, and merely hope that one of their little ingrates will phone them; even if it is to ask for more money.  If you happen to be a ‘Group Two’ Mum and are desperate for some company next Mothers Day, then I happen to know a bloke with a small tribe of kids who needs a place to hang out for several hours while his wife has a rest.  

And fellas, never, ever, give Mum exercise equipment, because after you’ve had your present rectally inserted, she’ll caustically remind you that it’s your fault she got fat in the first place. 

Also, do not ask your wife for gift advice as she may think you’re fishing for clues for her present, and will be disappointed to see your Mum wearing the sapphire necklace she wanted, while she gets slung a cheap box of chocolates.  Trust me; you don’t need ‘that’ much trouble in your life.   

Anyway, I hope this has been helpful, and if you want to thank me in person, just look for a bloke with a bandaged head standing in line at the returns desk clutching a heavily dented fat-free griller.

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