Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Compass for Holidays

It is 18 years since I spent either Boxing Day or the day after at home. In all that time I have been traveling to a holiday destination with my family. Even last year, I spent the first week away with my daughters before doing a tag team with their mother. So as with Christmas, there is a great sense of change lingering upon me. That comes with a touch of trepidation and one can only hope some day that this holiday will once more become one of anticipation for me. Daughter number two and her mother are heading off tomorrow, once more to Narooma, where the summers are great. So I am glad that they are continuing this tradition even though I know I won't ever be part of it again.

Today I took daughter number two shopping for a birthday present for her Mum, because that will occur when they are away, and we decided also to go and see the movie "The Golden Compass" which only opened here yesterday. I have read with interest the pannings it has gotten from critics and noted also that it has been considered a box office failure in the States. There has been some talk about it being anti-religion but to be honest, who cares, in my opinion it's a good story well told, and we both enjoyed it. So don't be put off by what other people are saying, it's a book written as a child's fantasy, no Lord of the Rings, but stunning visually and as good as The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The episodes of Life

I must admit I had been dreading Christmas Day mainly because last year sucked so bad when I had Christmas lunch alone and for the first time I didn't awaken in the same house as my kids. The lesson I learnt yesterday is that Christmas does change through time and that the phases whilst frightening in anticipation are perhaps simply a way of marking the episodes of life.

My earliest memories of Christmas are of days spent at my Grandparents houses. Like most kids, my sisters and I would be up early creeping up to the loungeroom to see if Father Christmas had come. We would then run down to Mum and Dads bedroom to awaken them, not knowing that they were already awake and waiting for us. After exchanging presents there would be the visits to the neighbours to wish them Merry Christmas and to exchange even more gifts and then sometime in the late morning we'd jump in the car and head off to Merlynston for Christmas lunch with my Dad's family. I've written before about how many of Dad's Aunts, Uncles and cousins, as well as his brothers and sister all lived within about five blocks of each other in that mostly unknown suburb in Melbourne's north, so after lunch there would be a lot of quick visits to half a dozen other houses in the area.

My memories of those lunches are of the smell of roasts taken from the wood fired oven mingling with that of freshly baked scones which I enjoyed with lashings of butter and vegemite. I know for those of you who like your scones with jam and cream that makes me a bit of a philistine, but that's the way I like it.

From lunch with the Joyce's we'd go to tea with the Smith's and there was a fair contrast from the gentility of Nana Joyce to the loudness of Nana Smith and the teeming masses of Brunswick. The house was full of cousins and aunts and uncles

But those days changed when my cousins got older and got married then spending time with their in laws families. Mum decided that it was time that Christmases were held at our place and my grandparents then used to travel to our place each year until they passed away. The aunts and uncles then also chose to stay away so those large family Christmases with the extended family passed with my childhood into memory.

Things changed again when my sisters and I got married and had our own children. We still come together on Christmas night at one of my sisters houses and all of the kids still come but in the next few years will no doubt have their own family obligations that will intervene.

Yesterday I waited for my daughter's phone call telling me it was now time for me to go around to their house and exchange presents - this year was also the first year they had moved out of the family home. So it was 8 am when I got the call went around, had a cup of tea, sat for a while and then came home to my own house. This year rather than eating alone, the lady I live with and I had a roast lamb dinner, then took the dog for a walk in a local park, before going our separate ways to family dinners. One day when the pain of separation eases we may be able to spend time with each others family on Christmas Day but till then I guess what we had will do. This year was not as bad as last year and I'm sure will get better as we all move forward.

And thus another episode of life moves from anticipation, or apprehension into memory never to be experienced again.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

To all of my blogging buddies. Thank you all very much for your support and comments through what has been a very eventful year for me. I appreciate the time taken to read and comment and the advice given. May you all have a great Christmas with those who care for you and who you care about.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Cradle Mountain

Cradle Mountain is one of those iconic images of Australia along with Uluru, the Harbour Bridge and the 12 Apostles. It truly is breathtakingly beautiful and within reach of virtually anyone. There is accommodation to suit all budgets but a word for the wary - there are places with names like cradle view or similar that may be as far as 40 or 50 kilometers away from the Park boundary. We stayed at Cosy Cabins literally a five minute slow drive from the park gates. The cabins were comfortable and warm when they needed to be and the general store in the camping ground catered for most things. It was considerably cheaper to stay their than somewhere like cradle mountain lodge - not that I am criticising that place because it's fantastic.

I recommend purchasing a Tasmanian National Parks car-pass which is good for two months, costs around $50 and gets you into all of the parks in the state as many times as you want to go. If you have one of those tickets you can catch a free bus all the way into Dove Lake car park although, when we were there it wasn't quite the peak season so it was just as easy for us to drive ourselves in each day. Buses leave every 20 minutes from the Cradle information centre and stop at several places along the road in to pick up and drop of passengers.

Here is the first lot of photos from the trip, subsequent posts will show the trip from Cradle Mountain to the Tasman Peninsula. Click on a photo to be taken to the Picassa web album where you can view the images in larger size.

Cradle Mountain - Tasmania

Cradle Mountain is one of those iconic images of Australia along with Uluru, the Harbour Bridge and the 12 Apostles. It truly is breathtakingly beautiful and within reach of virtually anyone. There is accommodation to suit all budgets but a word for the wary - there are places with names like cradle view or similar that may be as far as 40 or 50 kilometers away from the Park boundary. We stayed at Cosy Cabins literally a five minute slow drive from the park gates. The cabins were comfortable and warm when they needed to be and the general store in the camping ground catered for most things. It was considerably cheaper to stay their than somewhere like cradle mountain lodge - not that I am criticising that place because it's fantastic.

I recommend purchasing a Tasmanian National Parks car-pass which is good for two months, costs around $50 and gets you into all of the parks in the state as many times as you want to go. If you have one of those tickets you can catch a free bus all the way into Dove Lake car park although, when we were there it wasn't quite the peak season so it was just as easy for us to drive ourselves in each day. Buses leave every 20 minutes from the Cradle information centre and stop at several places along the road in to pick up and drop of passengers.

On a trip in November 2007 here are some images of Cradle Mountain.

I was the green...

Actually, I don't know what I was. When I was around 5 years old I don't think I had discovered either the Green Lantern or Green Arrow. Maybe I had started to take some notice of the Green Hornet on TV, but more likely my memory is playing tricks and it may have been a few years after that before I was thrilling to his exploits. Of course in those days TV for us in Australia was still in black and white so I had absolutely no idea why the Green Hornet was green, or even if some part of his costume was green.

So what the hell am I on about? Well like most kids in those days we actually played make believe games. Even pacman and space invaders were a future away so we spent a lot of time playing cowboys and indians, or, as in my case, pretending I was a superhero. My first superhero costume was a green square of cloth which I fastened around my neck with a large safety pin. This cloth actually doubled for a square of grass on which I could set up my farm or zoo animals with block fences, or which sometimes was used as a surface on which I could play marbles.

For me though it's most important purpose was that of a cape. With it pinned around my neck I could leap off tall buildings and break twigs in my bare hands. The tall building was an asbestos sheet outdoor dunny in our backyard, maybe eight foot high, spider infested and stinking of tubs full of wee and poo mixed with the tang of phenyl which was poured into the bowl in a fruitless attempt to disguise the smell.

There were blow flies the size of sparrows buzzing around that old shed constantly. Even winter failed to deter them and when you had to venture inside to actually sit on the pan it was inevitable that some of them got onto the floating muck then flew out occasionally landing on an arm or leg or maybe even your face as they fled out to spread typhoid and malaria to the other houses of Box Hill South. But I figured that was fair because the flies from their dunnies were probably regularly visiting us as well.

For me, the Green whatever I was, the roof of the shed was a skyscraper to be conquered, taller even than the ICI building which my Dad used to drive past on nearly every outing just so he could tell us proudly that it was the tallest building in Melbourne. I'm thinking now that I probably proudly wore the green cape because TV was black and white and I didn't know at the time that Superman's cape was actually red. If I had, I may have been a bit embarrassed to call myself the green whatever. Around the time I learnt to read and discovered comics I realised that Superman was in blue and red and so the green cape lost it's power and returned to the box of farm animals never to be brought out to fight for truth and justice ever again.

There were all sorts of magical things for sale in the comics but alas, you could only get them from America and most of them said that they would only accept mail orders from the US or Canada. So I missed out on the x-ray specs that would have allowed me to see through walls. I did wonder how you could turn back the power because when you looked at a person you didn't necessarily want to look at their skeletons or bodily organs, you just wanted to stop maybe at the underwear. I also missed out on that useful tool of learning how to throw my voice. I always thought that skill would be grat if Mum had told me to turn out the light in bed at night when I actually wanted to keep reading. I could have hidden under the bed with a torch and thrown my voice to the pillow stuffed under the eiderdown and made it sound like I was actually snoring when she poked her head into my bedroom to check on me.

But the retirement of the green cape wasn't the end of my disguise days though, because around the time I started to see things in colour my Mum made me another cape. This one was black with a big red "Z" on the back of it and a press stud to clasp it around my neck. You have to admit that was far less dangerous than the big safety pin that had a habit of springing open at inappropriate times like when I was flying off the roof of the dunny or was about to bash the heads of Martians together just before they used their ray guns on the toilet seat, which as you can imagine would have caused all sorts of problems to any person who happened to be sitting on it at the time.

There was no such thing as political correctness in those days, in fact boys were encouraged to play with swords and guns, and if they weren't bought for us, we made them out of whatever we found lying around. Many was the time when the sheets hanging on the clothesline were battered with whatever bit of wood became my sword on that particular day. I could spend hours practising the Zorro "Z" on the washing pretending every striped towel was actually the fat gut of Sergeant Garcia.

The best weapon though was a bow and arrow. The arrows had suction cups on them that never actually suctioned onto anything, so if you actually got hit by one, you'd place it under your arm and hold it there whilst you did a graceful slow motion swan dive onto the ground feigning death. I have no idea how we never actually took out someones eye because there were times when we did remove the suction cups. I think the only thing that saved us from major injury was that the arrows were rarely straight and generally didn't hit what we were aiming at.

Sometime when I was maybe around 9 or 10 I became the proud owner of a handmedown Davy Crockett suit that an older cousin had grown out of. This came complete with a coonskin hat which I could wear jauntily just like Fess Parker did. I must admit to being a bit confused about how Fess Parker could be both Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone with his mate Mengo, the Oxford educated Cherokee. Now never for one minute did I think that my coonskin hat was actually made from coon skin. It may have been cat, or possum, more likely the hat part was some synthetic fur stuff. But the tail that hung off it was a real tail from some dead animal which reminded me of the dead things my elderly aunts used to wear around their shoulders to family events like weddings.

I'm pretty sure it wasn't considered etiquette to wear dead animals to things like funerals, and there always seemed to be lots of them in those days, possibly because of those sparrow sized blowflies that hung around the outdoor dunnies spreading disease. My aunts used to think they looked pretty good but let me tell you that some of those old fox stoles were looking a little the worst for wear by the 1960's.

My superhero days did continue for a while after the Zorro suit to. My cousin Gavin and I spent a lot of school holidays staying at my Nana's place in Brunswick. It was a working class suburb a world away from what it is today. The terrace houses were close together, the street gutters paved with huge blue stone flags and scattered amongst the houses were various small factories and warehouses many of which belonged to various aspects of the rag trade.

Gavin and I spent some days exploring the back lanes of the suburb and on one occasion came across what may have been a furniture factory. I rubbish bins out the front were offcuts of vinyl which we helped ourselves to. These became vinyl armour which we sewed together and wore on arms and legs, as breatplates and with various types of facial disguises that ranged from a Zorro type mask through to a Ned Kelly full face mask with a slot cut out so we could see. I tried making a Batman type cowl but the nose piece made me look like Jimmy Durante of Pinocchio on a bad day, so whilst I had one mask with bat ears sticking up from it I gave up on trying to design the nose. Wearing that vinyl armour no sword or suction cupped arrow could hurt.

Was there a time when a boy wakes up and realises that the games of youth are forever lost in the past. I'm sure that for me there was never any conscious decision to stop playing these things, it was just that other things took over as past times. I graduated to toy soldiers from farm animals and from bows and arrows to basketball. Somewhere, somewhen the little boy became an older boy, the black cape and coon skin cap got relegated to the cupboard with the green cloth.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Swallowing an oyster

I was listening to radio 3aw last week and one of their breakfast team, John Burns, said that there is an old saying which says -

"It was a brave man who first tasted an oyster."

I had visions of skin clad blokes standing around a barbecue on a beach quaffing mead from buffalo horns and saying to one of their mates who was slightly under the weather "You're not really gonna eat that are you." Bit like the goldfish swallowing contests I've heard about at American colleges, or the famous "Farm Week" at my old alma mater, Monash University, when the trick was to scoff as many meat pies and beer that you could in order to make yourself spew.

Then I started to think about what it really meant and on researching it found that it is attributed to 17th Century Irish satirist Jonathon Swift. I could be wrong but I beleive that what he is talking about is that often things that appear to be unpalatable are sometimes pleasurable and sometimes even more necessary. That often the good things that come of things we fear are immeasurably better than not doing those things.

As I was writing this I heard on the radio of the death of Dan Fogelberg from prostate cancer. On his website their is a poignant and timely message for all of us -

To each and every man....

I cannot encourage you strongly enough to get a DRE (Digital Rectal Exam) and a PSA(Prostate Specific Antigen) test EVERY YEAR.

The medical community suggests this for men over 50, but men with a family history of prostate cancer should start getting tested at age 40.

The PSA test is a simple blood only takes a minute or two. The DRE, okay, every man squirms at the thought of this exam, but hey, it too takes only a minute or two, and IT COULD SAVE YOUR LIFE.

Prostate cancer can be very slow growing or very aggressive, but detected early while it is still confined to the prostate gland, it can usually be treated and cured successfully.

Once it spreads beyond the prostate it is called Advanced Prostate Cancer (PCa). At this point it becomes imminently more life threatening and harder to treat. Do yourself and your loved ones a huge favor and GET CHECKED REGULARLY. I promise you, you DON’T want to go through what I’m going through if you can avoid it.

Education and awareness are key, I urge you to follow the link below to the Prostate Cancer Foundation web site and read up on how best to protect yourself and reduce your likelihood of contracting this terrible disease.

May I firstly say how much pleasure I have received from Dan's music over the years. The band of angels has received another sweet voice.

Messages of support can be left on The Living Legacy website.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Ghosts of Soldiers Past

I have been absent again for a few days this week only this time in Canberra where son number 1 graduated as an officer in the Australian Army from the Royal Military College, Duntroon.

I am one very proud father again at the moment but also a little fearful of what the future holds. Having said that I know that he is absolutely committed to this career as were the other 140 young men and women who graduated with him as the Class of 2007.

I was also very grateful for the five mates of his that took time off work to attend the graduation ceremony.

My son follows in the footsteps of one great-Grandfather who was a Rat of Tobruk, another who was at Gallipoli and yet another who fought for three years on the Western Front in World War 1. He has great-great-uncles who were in the Pacific and Malaya in World War 2, who fought with both the American and Australian armies in Papua New Guinea. The uncle after whom I was named was killed by the Japanese on the first day of the invasion of Rabaul and others were prisoners at Changi and on the Burma Railway. So there is a long and proud military history in my family and i am sure those ghosts of soldiers past were standing there proudly watching another of our number join their ranks.

So forgive my absence in particular from your blogs, I will get back to commenting on them over the next few days I hope.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Amazing Basketball Trick Shots

This video is of a young bloke I've known for a lot of years now - Dave Black a gymrat and hoops junkie. I enjoyed it and hope you do too.

Friday, December 7, 2007

You have to wonder about some people

There are times when I really wonder about human nature. In September 2001 I was in charge of the Victorian Basketball League when National finals scheduled for Bendigo had to be canceled because of the collapse of Ansett Airlines. I had a huge number of complaints from people saying what a tragedy it was and how we should have done more to ensure the games could go ahead. There was also another incident that coincided with that time for those who do remember [and I can't imagine anyone who lived through those times not remembering] and that was the day of infamy when politically motivated criminals were flying airplanes into buildings.

I wrote and published a piece that night that asked people to put things into perspective. I said in part that there were mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, friends and relations who would not get home at all ever again. That rather than worrying about losing a few games of basketball we should instead use our energy in ensuring that the same thing never happened again.

This week I was reminded of that to an admittedly far lesser degree when I received the following email -

I have been playing basketball in the KABA for about 12 years now, and I am pretty annoyed at the way this association is being run. I understand that there is something wrong with the stadium for it to be closed. We had No notification, and this is just inexcusable and because of this, I lost money in overtime that I could have made. Some how I don't think you will be forking that out of your pocket or out of the associations pocket. This has really put me over the edge, the main reason I play there is cause it's local for everyone and you have a convenient day for us to play on.

The fact that this competition is more expensive for team sheets and entry fee than any other competition around is just ridiculous. With this money we are seeing none of it being put back in to the competition. The floors could be polished more than once a year, or even fix the roof that has leaked from the rain, or even purchase some new basketballs cause most of them are flat and worn.

I replied -

We also had no notification of the flood. We rang all teams on Monday afternoon and either spoke to people or left messages telling them that the games were canceled for that night. I was not in a position then to decide how many days competition we would lose so we have been contacting people each day as we make an assessment.

I also got a notice up on our website about 8pm that night after I got home. I wasn't able to do it earlier because we had no power at the stadium and in fact our computers have only now been switched back on after drying out for two days. ..

The floors are sealed once a year at Christmas because we need a week to do them and at least two weeks after they are done for them to dry and cure properly. We do not have any other period during the year when we have that amount of time off. They are cleaned every night after competition and washed and buffed at least weekly.

The roof does leak occasionally in heavy rain. Most places with an expanse the size of this do leak. On Monday, whilst we had some water through the roof, most of it came in through the doors. I've attached a couple of photos to show you what I mean. Note the people who are sweeping the water off the court – some of whom are paid staff but most of whom are volunteers who came down to help out. Note also the picture outside of people unblocking drains, again most of them are volunteers who gave up their time so that we can clean up and get your team back on court as quickly as possible. I've been overwhelmed by the amount of offers we got for help. I think your email is an insult to all of those people who have been understanding and who regularly and willingly give up their time to keep this Association running.

As for forking money out of my pocket, you maybe should be aware that I and my staff put in many hours of overtime each week which we are not paid for simply because we care about this place.

Now I don't mean to trivialise 911 in making this flood seem it's equivalent. I simply want to point out that there are many times when people lose perspective and concentrate way too much on their own personal situation rather than showing some understanding about what other people are going through.

In this case I will finish with two further comments. Firstly, to the credit of the complainer, he did respond to my email and apologise for flying off the handle. Secondly, I've had a lot of people say what a disaster this has been. It's not. It's certainly been inconvenient but let's reserve the term disaster for events like the recent floods in Bangladesh where more than 3000 people died.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The last Christmas Tree

I didn't know when I trimmed the tree with my kids last year that it would be the last time. If I had I would have taken more time about it and spent every second absorbing each bauble and ball as they were hung and each piece of tinsel wound around the branches. Enjoyed the laughs and the fights to keep the cat from climbing the tree and playing with the balls as they were hung. I would have cherished that last act of placing the star at the very top as I have done for around 23 years as a father. Sure the boys have generally not been around for the past few years to help or join in the family thing and the truth is that the girls are getting older now two with the youngest now fourteen.

Still, this year, for the first time since I have been a father I wasn't around to do that thing that maybe fathers should do and it has induced a sense of melancholy. Not overwhelming, just the type that hides in the shadows and refuses to show itself fully. A slight sense of forboding like an ill wind, or the shiver that runs up and down the spine occasionally. An uneasiness that when you turn to face it full on, ducks away like a shadow in sunshine, still there, just less evident.

The best way to look at this is that it is simply another phase of life, not one for regret but one for pleasant memories and the forging perhaps of new traditions. The only thing I'm sure of is that I will be writing more about this Christmas as an absent father.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

It never rains...

And it didn't in Tasmania for an entire week whilst I was there. Perfect weather, magnificent scenery and plenty of photographs that I will begin to post with the tale of the places I visited as I do so.

But it does pour. Returning to work on Monday we were the victims of an enormous downpour of rain and flash flooding that poured in through the doors and windows of the stadium. I've only just gotten the computers back on line and haven't had time yet to catch up with anyone's blogs to find out what's been happening since I've been away. Hopefully I will get the chance to do that over the next few days.

Here are a couple of photos of our mini disaster as well as the final episode in Movember for this year.

Thanks to everyone who commented on the last post.

My office
From the inside looking out.
The pathway to the front door

Finally Movember and I should report that we are now all clean shaven once again.