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:

http://www.abc.net.au/news/video/2010/05/28/2911726.htm

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 🙂

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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.

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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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