Living with Grandma

I get on well with my gran but it's hard work at times. She's been largely immobile for some years, but lately she's lost much of her mental sharpness too. She gets confused very easily and her short-term memory is almost non-existent. Sometimes I feel I'm living in some kind of Alice in Wonderland world. My gran has lost all sense of time, so effectively while I'm living here there's no clock and no calendar. She'll make herself breakfast at 3:30 am, then pour me a cup of apple-flavoured instant tea at 5:30 (which I tip down the sink when she's not looking), then she'll sleep most of the day.

Friday was her 88th birthday. I gave her regular reminders of this as the date approached. She would recite her date of birth - "twenty-eight five twenty-two" - but without knowing what it meant; it might as well have been a car number plate. And then the big day came. We - myself and the absent members of her family - made a fairly big deal of it. I'm glad we did. In all she got two birthday cakes, three bouquets of flowers, two punnets of strawberries and numerous cards. And the phone hardly stopped ringing. I even took her to the village pub for lunch (it was good to see her eating well). But later that afternoon she wanted to know what day her birthday was!

What makes it hard for me (and anyone else) is that she's unwilling to accept help from others. She still thinks she can be in control of everything. Every morning a carer briefly visits her for a quick check, but whoever this person is (unfortunately it changes) my gran doesn't trust them.

I should point out that her emotional responses to other people are just the same as they've always been. There's no point trying to pull the wool over her eyes; she can read you like a book. And occasionally all the circuitry in her brain magically aligns and everything, for a few minutes, returns to normal.

Conversation often makes little sense. For instance I'll hand her a bowl of strawberries. "I think I'd better leave these to stand for a while." Stand? So they can brew? Ferment? Dance?

On Saturday disaster struck as she developed a severe pain in her lower back and she could hardly move at all. Suddenly simple things like getting into bed or using the loo became a major operation. On Sunday I called the doctor who came round and prescribed some painkillers.

Not that he should have bothered. There are painkillers, and just about every other kind of prescription drug under the sun, all over the house. She has a cupboard jam-packed with diazepam, clonazepam and nitrazepam, although I couldn't find the one we get in New Zealand called sweetazepam.
Most of the dates on the boxes are from last century but if I dared throw any of them away I'd be in big trouble. My gran is a rampant hoarder (I'll get on to her ancient tins of food in another post).

If you're wondering what diazepam (a.k.a. Valium) is doing in her cupboard, she's suffered from anxiety, panic attacks and depression for sixty years. Her thirties sound like they were a living hell. Things haven't been anywhere near as bad recently but she still gets the odd "attack" such as today when the realisation that the cleaning lady will be arriving tomorrow sent her over the edge.

I love my gran a lot, she was very good to me as a boy, and I'm happy to help her (so long as she'll accept my help!). Funnily enough after cutting her toenails today (she's unable to do them herself) she thinks I should pursue a career as a podiatrist!

Last night I watched Andy Murray's disappointing loss to Tomas Berdych in the French Open (normally I'm watching on a TV with no clever red button, and it's at night anyway, so I don't get that luxury). Murray's body language wasn't good - it was as if he couldn't wait to get off the court (and I know what that feels like). This year's Roland-Garros was the seventh time I'd been to a Grand Slam (I went to Wimbledon in '98, '99, '01 and '02, and the Aussie Open in '05 and '08). It's been a real shame to see so many empty seats in Paris this year. Apparently the tickets have been sold but people don't turn up. Something similar happens at Wimbledon with all the corporate fat-cat tickets, but not to such a ridiculous extent.

Today was a bank holiday so St Ives had a special super-sized market. This time we even had people giving demonstrations of their products. I had a look around, but as always, restricted my purchases to food.


On Saturday I watched the Eurovision Song Contest for the first time in yonks. I didn't watch the singing bit, just the voting bit. The Scandinavian countries tend to vote for each other. So do the Eastern bloc countries, some of which didn't exist the last time I watched. Greece and Cyprus always give each other top marks. As for the UK, well nobody votes for them. This time the UK finished last with just ten points. Germany, the winners, got several hundred.

As a kid I used to love it. The UK entry was chosen by the public who had to ring some 0898 number. Every year I'd ring in but the song I voted for never won. But the contest itself was great, especially the voting. Back then you couldn't see each country's spokesman - or woman - on screen; you just got someone speaking dodgy English or French on an equally dodgy telephone line with an echo and a delay. I remember one year the scores ended in a tie and nobody had a clue what to do. The presenters hung around for ages waiting for an official ruling from some old bloke whose name sounded like Mr Neff. Now it's all so much slicker and, frankly, more boring.

We had Terry Wogan commentating then. On Saturday Graham Norton did it. He was really good at it too, but I guess witty one-liners every five seconds aren't my thing.

Since I got back from the continent, I've had an interesting time with my gran. More about that in my next post.

We are suffering from 'Stockholm Syndrome' aka 'Mandatory Helmet Laws'

Unquestionably cycling safety in Australia has become a 'marketplace of products' which has led to us being held captive by helmet manufacturers...

...and inexplicably, we seem to be countenancing an almost 'Stockholm Syndrome' quality to any mention of Mandatory Helmet Laws (MHLs), whilst simultaneously disregarding evidence exposing their deletorious effects on communities.

This continuation of a 'blind Freddy' approach to any debate on the topic is at our peril.

For nigh on twenty years we have witnessed an unwelcome departure from commonsense to the extent that virtually a generation of Australians has grown up minus bicycles & their accompanying 'every-day-ness'. Our complete obsession with MHLs has allowed an exploitative superficialality to inform our approach to cycling safety. Rational, informed discussions on the critical issue of MHLs have been impossible, & ridiculously, the commercial paradigm of the legislation has mesemerised our entire nation, whilst single handedly terminating utility cycling.

The threatened heavy handed approach to the implementation of the 'bike-share' programme in Melbourne is outrageous and flies in the face of civil liberties.

Why do we willingly accept these draconian regulations?

Why are we not shouting from the roof tops?

Why should we be forced to purchase products we neither want nor need?

Why should we let our governments protect the success of the helmet manufacturers' products at the expense of our autonomy to choose for ourselves how we manage our lives?

I refuse to! I am yet to hear from the Roads & Traffic Authority, but I am fast realising my journey to the United Nations may well become a reality after all!

"On your bike" - antidote to traffic congestion

We are loving cycling in Egypt though we are the only two women we've seen so far enjoying the marvels of this wonderful mode of transport!!

Without doubt Cairo could do with considerably more cyclists, and interestingly, has given us a glimpse of Sydney's future! - if we don't get a wriggle on in investing in these liberating 'wheels', we have only pathological and terminal congestion to look forward to.

So at the risk of sounding repetitive, one of the first things we can do is:


Bruges, Belgium (Part Two)

View of a Bruges canal
For the last 20 years I have been going to Belgium for a four day break with a group of friends. This year we have just returned from Bruges, a fabulous place with a large medieval town at it's centre. It's famous for lace-making, chocolate-making and, like all of (making and drinking).

There are some bars that carry hundreds of beers and they always serve each one in it's own special glass.

The Markt, Bruges on Market day (top) and Bruges Zot

The local brew produced at the Halve Maan (Half Moon) brewery is a 6% fruity, spiced blonde beer of character called Bruges Zot. You can see it being made during hourly tours of the brewery although they only brew about two weeks of every month.
Trappist monks have been brewing for hundreds of years as a part of their need to be self-sufficient. In times of cholera they could survive on beer because of its nutritious qualities when water was too dangerous to drink.
Nowaday a genuine 'Trappist' beer is made in one of the seven trappist abbeys. 'Abbey' beer is made in the trappist style.
Two great beer-cafes in Bruges are De Garre and Herberg Vlissinghe, which claims to be the oldest continually run pub in the world. Cheers!

A beer bar since 1515!

The other mother in my house

I decided to make spaghetti for dinner last night, because I was tired and it's an easy meal. I heaved the big pot full of water onto the stove. I started browning the (organic) ground beef in the frying pan. I chopped the onion and garlic. Oh dear... no tomatoes -- I'd forgotten that I'd given them to my mom to serve to a friend during cocktail hour. Sigh. That's why I keep canned tomatoes on hand. What? No canned tomatoes either? A 6-ounce can of tomato paste wasn't going to cut it.

Water boiling, beef browning, onion sauteeing ... aha! a can of Pxxxxxxxo tomato soup. Hearty! Okay then. Desperate times call for desperate measures and Necessity IS the Mother of Invention. I emptied the contents of the can into the frying pan and braced myself for the inevitable complaints at the dinner table.

This is really good, Mom! and You changed the seasoning. I like it. and Best sauce ever, Mom. and Can I have some more, please? (Yes, my 12-year-old actually said "please.") I should have known: They like Necessity's sauce better than mine.

But that's not surprising, because Necessity is a much better mom than I am. She's a more creative cook; she makes awesome costumes; and she can fix anything.

Mom, remember that time I needed a sword for the class play and you ... I wasn't going to stop at Tarjay on the way to school and buy a sword. But Necessity found some foam poster board and cut and painted a very cool medieval sword -- in less than 45 minutes.

Mom, remember when I was the Headless Horseman for Halloween ... I refuse to buy Halloween costumes, but Necessity knew how to cut that old plastic pumpkin open to use as a mask.

Mom, remember when I broke [fill in the blank] ... I was really mad, but Necessity stepped in and managed to fix it. Well, maybe not FIX it, but she made it look okay and/or got it working again.

I like to think of myself as a good mom: I keep the boys safe, I teach them the values I hold dear, I make sure they brush their teeth and clean their rooms. But when I'm frustrated, mad, in a pinch, or just plain tired, I sure am glad that Necessity is around to step in and be the Mother my boys need at the moment they need her.

Originally published on this date on the now-defunct 50-Something Moms blog

Euronating IV

I left Venice on Sunday evening and boarded the night train to Paris. This was quite an experience. First I got in the wrong cabin. The number 85 referred not to the cabin but to the carriage; this made no sense to me - how can there possibly be 85 carriages? These were six-man cabins (with bunks on three levels) and I soon found myself sharing a cabin with four Argentinians. Patagonians in fact, and you could say they were in fairly high spirits. ¡Arriba! ¡Arriba! They also had ridiculous amounts of luggage. I tried to communicate with them using what little Spanish I could remember, but I felt shy and boring in comparison to them. We talked briefly about the upcoming World Cup. They said they had a soft spot for England and that some sort of bond (!) between the two countries had been created following la Mano de Dios in 1986. I grabbed one of the top bunks (¡arriba!) and slept reasonably well, despite the appearance during the night of the sixth member of the cabin, whom there simply wasn't room for amongst all those suitcases.
In Paris I stayed at another overpriced hotel (I was getting fed up of this) and attempted to get myself a ticket to Roland-Garros. Unfortunately it was a public holiday (I didn't know this until I got there) and all the daytime tickets had gone. However as people leave the stadium their tickets can be resold to people who arrive later, so I tried to get one of those evening tickets. I queued for over three hours. It was chaos, and arguments broke out involving people accused of queue-jumping. I'd almost reached the front of the queue when an intimidating line of gendarmes suddenly appeared, blocking off the entrance. Bugger. But then I saw some people run round the police towards the other entrance which they had neglected to block. I did the same. At 7pm, and with a stroke of luck, I was in. I saw the tail end of Murray's five-set win over Gasquet. Murray was playing so well that it was hard to imagine he'd earlier been facing elimination, down two sets and a break. I caught the last few games of Alicia Molik's brave fight against Jankovic before moving to Court 14 to see another fifth set involving Mardy Fish and Michael Berrer. It got very dark out there, Wimbledon 2008 final kind of dark, and I was amazed the players completed the match (Fish the eventual winner at around 9:40). All in all I'd had a good day. I'd spoken to more people on that day than during the rest of my trip combined, and I surprised myself with the level of French I was still able to speak.

Yesterday morning I got the Eurostar to London. At King's Cross I waited for the platform number to show on the departure board, but it just showed a zero which I assumed meant they didn't yet know what platform my train would leave from. But then I twigged: in true Hogwarts Express style, King's Cross now has a Platform 0!

I had a good and varied trip, but not without a couple of misgivings. Firstly I couldn't believe how much I was spending on sleeping, eating and drinking, all basic human needs. Secondly I found the whole business of travelling rather stressful. Well, not the travelling so much as the arsing around with hotels. I stayed in seven different hotels. Maybe I could have relieved some of that stress by booking my accommodation in advance, but I've always tried to avoid planning if I can help it. Finally I needed more company. Hopefully next time I go anywhere I might have some.

Euronating III

When I arrived in Venice at 2pm on Thursday I asked at the tourist office for available hotels. The cheapest they had was a three-star €120-a-night affair a minute's walk from St Mark's Square. The hotel was slap-bang in the epicentre of the action, but I couldn't believe cheaper hotels didn't exist, so I quickly set about finding one. I still stayed at the expensive place for one night but my last two nights were spent at a cheaper and more relaxing hotel towards the east of the city. At first I found Venice rather intimidating. Even with a decent map I got lost all the time. Things improved towards the end, but I would still walk for miles without really going anywhere. The boat - or vaporetto - was a life-saver for me, and I had almost perfect weather all the time I was there.

I tried to speak as much Italian as I could in my time there, but when they insisted on replying in English I began to think my lessons had been purely an academic exercise. In Venice, where it's almost expected that Italian won't be your first language, I virtually gave up with the whole Italian lark. And I certainly would never dream of using a public toilet in Venice:

Just like every country, Italy is full of graffiti, but as graffiti is an Italian word, maybe it originated there. Whatever, the graffiti I saw was very different to the stuff I was used to. The main difference was that I could actually understand it. A lot of the messages were a simple "I love you". I saw this one in Pisa:

In Italy I saw an impressive collection of clocks. I like clocks, or indeed anything with a nice analogue display. Some of them had only one hand - presumably they pre-dated the invention of the minute hand - and the single hand would waft around, pointing at nothing in particular. Others would have a face with hours numbered all the way to 24. But there were two clocks that for me stood out:

The one at the top is from the campanile in St Mark's Square in Venice; the bottom one is from the Piazza di Garibaldi (of course!) in Parma.

Euronating II

From Lucca I spent a very pleasant four hours or so on a train through Tuscany and up to Parma. It's an inexpensive and relatively stress-free way of getting around the country: a ticket to get from London to Huntingdon cost me £21; getting from Bologna to Parma - almost the same distance - set me back just a fiver.

In 2008 I visited Bologna and I liked the place a lot. I thought of going back there this time but went to Parma instead, another city whose name screams food. And I have to admit I pigged out a bit. Pizzas, pasta, gelati, plates of ham and cheese. I also bought ham, cheese, salami and balsamic vinegar for Gran who turns 88 on Friday, and (now this is a real rarity) a few items of clothing for myself. I even managed to find a cheap hotel, a place that did have two stars but one of them had been Tipp-exed out. It was only €35. I made a note of the hotel in case I ever visit Parma again.

My first taste of Parma wasn't so good. When my train pulled into the station I was dying to use the loo, but the station loos cost 70 cents. That's $1.30 where I'm from. A dollar thirty to have a pee! As they say, in France or Italy you don't spend a penny any more, you euronate. In fact in Europe it's very easy to piss money away full stop, especially if you're a one-man band like me. The cost of accommodation for a single person is a real killer.
A couple more hours on the train and I was in Venice, which was like nothing I'd ever seen before. A fantasy land. If it was simply a giant water maze covering a few square miles, with none of the history, Venice would still be incredible. But around every corner there was a photo opportunity. I found it hard to believe that people actually lived there.

Euronating I

In the last ten days I've been busy travelling, so I've had very little access to a computer. I'm back now, so in theory I have unlimited access, but in reality I only get a decent run when my gran decides to take a nap.

On the 15th I flew from Stansted to Pisa where I spent two nights. The city is world famous for its Leaning Tower, which I climbed at a cost of €15. In the past there were no railings at the top, so scaling the tower would have been something of an adrenaline rush, but when it reopened in 2001 safety was made much more of a priority. I'm glad I went up, just so I could say that I had, but my favourite attraction was the Camposanto, a large cemetery that was destroyed in World War II and later restored. I spent a good hour looking at the frescoes and inscriptions, trying to figure out what all of it meant. There was also a statue of Leonardo Fibonacci, the famous mathematician.

I didn't have great weather in Pisa, but there's not much you can do about that. Pisa has quite a large student population, and it made a welcome change on Sunday night to see crowds of students in the Piazza di Garibaldi (doesn't every Italian town have one of those?) eating their gelati. When I was at university various substances were consumed at weekends, but I don't remember gelati being on the menu.
From Pisa it was a short train ride to Lucca, an ancient city with a wall surrounding it. I spent several hours walking around the centre of town, ending up at the stunning amphitheatre. Lucca was a great town - if anything it had more to offer than Pisa - but like on many occasions I could have benefited from having someone with me.

Bruges, Belgium (Part One)

I'm off to Bruges in Belgium for few days with some friends. This trip is boys only and we will be sampling some of the above and some of what you see below!

Pedal Power Deliveries - Cairo style

We all know that we need to get rid of our pesky helmet laws ('pronto'!) for a multitude of reasons, not the least important being that:

- CBD car closures are going to mean many exciting changes in which the bicycle will be key! once again, GO, CLOVER!!! & don't be put off by the doom & gloom naysayers!!!

'Don’t Take A Fence' by Paul Curtis.

Don’t Take A Fence

My uncle John the fence died

When I heard I felt quite sorry

It was poetic justice though

As he fell off the back of a lorry

Copyright © Paul Curtis. All Rights Reserved

This lovely little poem needs some explaining for non-English readers. In Wales 'John the fence' would be a man who erected fences; in England and elsewhere it would be a man who received stolen goods.

And in British English (I'm not sure about elsewhere - please let me know), something that 'fell off the back of lorry' means it was stolen so I can sell it to you cheaply!

Quiz Question (6): First Sentence of Books

Can you identify these four famous first sentences? I will put the answers in the comments in a few days. The photo above is no help at all!

Q1 "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen."

Q2 James Bond, with two double bourbons inside him, sat in the final departure lounge of Miami Airport and thought about life and death.”

Q3 "Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much."

Q4 "Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun."

The answers are now given in the comments.

Check it out and see if you were right!

Sydney: Au Revoir des Voitures!!!!!

(Photos: lucassssss, Flickr)
She will go down in history is she pulls this off!!!!!!

Our supreme & estimable Lord Mayor is contemplating a CBD without cars!!!!!!!

Unimaginable and utterly wonderful - this brilliant initiative will get us out in droves - Sydney will not know itself!!!! Bicycle paradise!!

We've just got to get rid of those pesky helmet laws!

A Win for Helmet Manufacturers & their Promoters

(Article: Evening Standard, London, Friday 19 March 2010 - debate in UK informed & 'grown-up')

Not only do the Helmet Corporations continue to control the way information flows (see p.391) in New South Wales but they also continue to wield the power.

Despite the countless people in the wider community who are actively broadcasting the true cost and meaning of helmet promotion, our governments resolutely refuse to countenance any of the evidence to the contrary - 'spin' is much more palatable, plus by increasing law enforcement powers there might be the odd cent or two to put towards the odd cycle-way or two!

What a shame, and what a missed opportunity!

The next chapter in the 'anti-helmet law quest' beckons! - I must away & commence my preparations for the UN? (gulp! am I ready?)

On tilt

I'm in Pisa on a wet, stormy evening. I'll write more when I get the chance. It isn't easy trying to upload images from my camera in an internet café, so I'll just post this one:

Us 'Aussie fatties,' we sure need this!

Facebook announcement by Kristina Keneally:

"Just released NSW Bike Plan, $158m over 10 years. Largest bike-related capital works program in NSW. Priority projects include Parramatta to Syd Oly Park, Penrith CBD to Nepean River, Blacktown to Prospect, North Ryde to Macquarie Uni, and fast tracking bike networks in Parramatta, Liverpool & Penrith."

Encouraging! and we've all been invited to comment on a few options deemed relevant by the NSW government:

* Your favourite routes
* Your observations of your current cycling routes
* Your family cycling patterns
* Your recreational cycling patterns

I decided to comment on the "your family cycling patterns" option - and my post on KK's website is currently awaiting moderation (fingers crossed!!)- see below for the 'copy':

"My family cycling patterns demonstrate us cycling for transport and utility. There are six of us in our family, and as far as we can we cycle everywhere. Not one of our 4 adult children owns a car, and two of them live in Sydney, and therefore do not contribute in anyway to the appalling traffic congestion problems so clearly evident throughout the city.

I would like to add that to further enhance this wonderful initiative please repeal mandatory helmet laws. Australia continues to be hindered by them.

The rest of the world (apart from New Zealand, and they don’t count because they always do what we do) is mystified by our stubborn adherence to them. Israel has repealed them to aid their newly implemented bike share programme, as have Mexico. We need to do the same before we consider bike share for Sydney. As you would be well aware, Brisbane and Melbourne are on the brink of installing these programmes in the next couple of months, and as we are all aware, both ‘city-bike’ and ‘bixi’ are doomed to fail.

Given that we are the fattest nation in the world and that we are now killing ourselves with the effects of obesity more than we are with the effects of smoking, we must consider every avenue possible to get us moving. There is scant evidence that helmets actually offer the protection they advertise.

In previous communication with you I have recounted my court experiences pertaining to this matter to defend my unhelmeted cycling behaviour. I am currently researching my next ‘legal avenue’ from a civil liberties angle. If we had a ‘human rights bill’, mandatory helmet laws would already have been contested and cast out.

Please consider my request – Sydney is on the brink of something very special in terms of cycling – we have the most beautiful city in the world to work with, a cycling premier and a population enthusiastically embracing the joys of ‘freedom cycling’ – you will have already noted that over 50% of your cyclists have dispensed with helmets – the law is fragmented, contradictory and largely unenforceable.

I am still keen to meet the premier when she has a moment to discuss my position.

Kind regards,
Sue Abbott
The Freedom Cyclist"

Kristina Keneally's invitation is open to all of us so don't forget to leave your comments too!!

(i) NSW Mining Policy - ALTERED; (ii) NSW Bicycle Helmet Policy - FINGERS CROSSED!

If NSW mining policy can be rewritten so can NSW cycling policy! There's a space now in the 'lobby' queue for us to persuade our politicians to SAY NO TO MANDATORY HELMET LAWS!

If the Premier is not prepared to "jeopardise the growth" of the racehorse industry, then perhaps she ought to apply that same reasoning to cycling. Otherwise by refusing to consider an altered government position on mandatory helmet laws, she is complicity jeopardising the growth of cycling. When you consider Australia's dire levels of obesity coupled with our disinclination to accept our global responsibilities, it is clear that the government's current position on mandatory helmet laws is cavalier.

...but back to Scone & the Upper Hunter, during the exquisitely timed media announcement, our media savvy premier elaborated that "this mine is simply not compatible with the unique rural characteristics of this locality, including the horse-breeding industry," exactly mirroring the incompatible characteristics of mandatory helmet laws, 'porky' Australians, traffic congestion, Australia & the cycling industry 'full stop'.

By claiming that "it's the first time NSW had rejected a coal mining project", Kristina Keneally (KK) scaled the 'uber-scary-political' hurdle of a first pioneering brave move!

This is great news!

Now she can move on to assessing mandatory helmets laws - & it won't take her long, using her Bickham Coal parameters, to see that the merits of mandatory helmet laws "just do not stack up!"

Go, KK, we haven't a moment to lose!! TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE!

Dancing girls: update

I don't usually make follow-up posts to my social commentary, but I thought I would on this story.

The parents of one of the girls from the dance team went on Good Morning America and used the "pop culture" defense. They honestly saw nothing wrong with the dancing, the song, or the costumes. After all, their daughter will be exposed to pop culture sooner or later.  It's astounding to hear parental abdication of responsibility using the kids' favorite protest of "Everyone else is doing it."   You can watch their interview here

Second, the story made the front page of the Washington Post website.  The readers' comments raise the obvious point: We use sex to sell everything from trucks to shampoo. It makes perfect sense that we are training our children with the skill set they see as an integral part of their future.

I repeat the gist of my post yesterday: If the parents can't say No to pop culture, to using sex to win a dance competition, how can they teach their daughters to say No to using sex to sell themselves?

The Darwin Awards

You may have never heard about the Darwin Awards. They are not about Charles Darwin but there is a genetics connection.

They are given posthumously to people who have removed themselves from the gene-pool of humanity by stupidly killing themselves before they have had a chance to reproduce, thus improving the total quality of human genes.

Morbid, you may feel, but try not laughing at this story of the man who wanted to fish in a frozen lake.

He went to the lake with his his fishing tackle, his dog and a stick of dynamite. He lit the fuse and tossed the dynamite out onto the ice.

The dog was a retriever.

He faithfully brought the dynamite back and lay it at his master's feet. Goodbye suspect genes!

How about the guy who tied several bungee cords together and, after making sure their length was shorter by several feet than the drop from an overhead gantry tied one end around his ankle and jumped.

We will never know if he realised, before he smashed into the pavement below a few seconds later, that he had measured the unstreched length.

There were two Frenchmen having a spitting contest from a second floor balcony. One of them decided to take a run at the balcony to get some projectile power into his phlegm. The problem was that he couldn't stop himself when he reached the balcony and shot over the top. Really most of these stories hardly need to be finished do they?

For more about the annual Darwin Awards click here .

No requirement for helmets in "Unicycle Hockey"

The unicycle is defined in the Road Rules Dictionary as a:

'wheeled recreational device, built to transport a person, propelled by human power or gravity, and ordinarily used for recreation or play'.

The definition continues that a:

'wheeled recreational device
(a) includes rollerblades, rollerskates, a skateboard, scooter, unicycle or similar wheeled device, but
(b) does not include a golf buggy, pram, stroller or trolley, a motor-assisted device (whether or not the motor is operating), or a bicycle, wheelchair or wheeled toy.'

The definition is completely silent on the issue of helmets, as are the various regulations pertaining to 'wheeled recreational devices' within the NSW Road Rules 2008.

Notwithstanding my abhorrence for helmet laws, heaven forbid that the bicycle is ever included in that 'wheeled recreational device' definition - the provisions of regulations 240 - 244 (Road Rules 2008) would catergorically prohibit us from using certain roads!

Whilst Mr Scully would be happy our civil liberties would retreat even further out of our cycling reach!

We need a complete repeal of regulation 256; not an amended variation riddled with even more fragmentation and complexities.

The power of "No"

Annie posted a link on Facebook to a very disturbing video of 7-year-old girls shaking their shimmy to a popular hip-hop song.  (She's also written about it on her blog.) I won't refuse to embed the video on my blog, but you can see it here.  There are so many layers of wrong going on that I almost don't know where to start. And, in fact, I don't think I even need to.  Watch the video.  And consider the song itself, the costumes, and the choreography.

What adult in her right mind (I'm assuming that the dance teacher of these little girls is female) would think it's an appropriate song for little girls to dance to, to immerse themselves in? When you dance, you take the music into yourself, you embody the song.  Who could think this song -- with choreography that would not be out of place in a strip joint -- is acceptable for 7-year-old girls? And the costumes?  I don't think any of these girls' mothers would let their 16-year-old daughters out of the house looking like that. Why is it okay for their 7-year-olds?

Shift gears with me for a minute ...

Orthodox Christians have very specific guidelines for fasting. The details are complex, so for the sake of brevity, I will simply say that we are encouraged to abstain from meat and dairy on Wednesdays and Fridays, as well as throughout the Great Fast of Lent and the Lesser Fasts of the Apostles, the Dormition, and the Nativity. (I'm laughing at my so-called brevity.) Every parish approaches these fasts differently, according to the inclination of the priest, and every individual follows (or doesn't follow) the fast according to personal desire and circumstance.

Our priest back in Maryland is very serious about fasting, and the fasts are always observed at all parish functions. He encourages each parishioner and every family to observe the fasts to the best of their ability.  He gives basically the same sermon every year before Great Lent. "But, Father," he says in a falsetto voice, "It's so hard for the children."  "To go without meat for 40 days?" his bass voice booms. "If you can't teach your children to say No to meat, how can you teach them to say No to anything else? If you can't teach them to resist the small temptation of pizza, how will you teach them to resist the greater temptations the world has to offer?"

Which brings me back to the video in question.

If these parents can't say No to the dance teacher, how can they teach their children to say No to their peers? If these parents can't say No to inappropriately sexual dancing when their daughters are 7, how can they teach those daughters to say No to inappropriate sexual behavior when they are 14? If these parents can't say No to demeaning behavior in a dance recital, how can they teach their children to say No to demeaning behavior in life?

"No" is a powerful word, perhaps one of the most powerful words in any language.  If these parents can't say No, how can they teach their children to?

Made it

Well I made it. From beginning to end the journey took forty hours including a ferry, a bus, a train, a taxi and that six-hour wait at Hong Kong. I can have no complaints about the Air New Zealand flight out of Auckland. I was lucky enough to have an empty seat next to me, so I managed to doze a bit and see two very good films (Precious and A Single Man); the 11½ hours went by quickly. Coming into Hong Kong I didn't realise how mountainous it was, even though I'd landed there before. The airport is vast but it seemed the various shops selling designer goods were repeated throughout. You can only stare at banks of Cartier, Gucci and Omega watches for so long, although this time I was able to say, wow, with my poker winnings I can almost afford half this watch! Unlike the Air New Zealand 777, the Lufthansa Jumbo hadn't been brought into the 21st century with seat-back screens, and the flight to Frankfurt did seem to drag. The final flight to Heathrow took barely an hour, then I hopped on the underground. Having been out of the country a while, I always find the tube a bit of an eye-opener. I was greeted by a mob of vocal, alcohol-fuelled Chelsea fans whose team had obviously won the Premier League a few hours earlier. Campione, campione, olé, olé, olé! At the time I had no idea that they'd just thrashed Wigan 8-0. More striking were the women, the likes of which don't exist in New Zealand. How long did it take you to get your hair like that? And how much do those earrings weigh? It was hard not to stare. I wonder what they thought of me, looking washed-out and dishevilled. They must have thought I'd come from the other side of the world or something.

I arrived on my gran's doorstep, in Houghton, at 11:30 on Sunday night. It was great to see her. So far she's managed better than I might have expected. Things aren't easy - she gets confused a lot - but as long as my aunt stays out of the picture I think she'll be OK. On Monday morning I took the bike into St Ives. It was great to see the town again, especially on a Monday which is market day.

I'd planned to leave the country this morning, but realising I might upset my gran if I left so soon, I changed my flight (at a cost of course) and will now be flying to Pisa on Saturday. This lunchtime I got a surprise phone call from my brother. It was a pleasure to talk to him. We even talked politics for the first time I can remember.

We now have a government. Having voted in two MMP elections in New Zealand, I found it mildly amusing that the process of forming a coalition government caused such consternation here. I think a cobbled-together alliance of Labour, the Lib Dems and a bunch of nationalist parties would have been a disaster and I'm glad the Lib Dems went with the Tories in the end. There are clearly some major differences in policy between the two parties, but who knows, it just might work. I hope so.

Queensland Specialist Anaesthetist booked - NO bicycle helmet!

(Photos: Dr Paul Martin)

Here we go again!! - it had to happen!

Dr Paul Martin, a specialist anaesthetist in Brisbane, has just been booked by the Queensland police for riding a bicycle without wearing a helmet, whilst on a quiet bike path doing 10km/h:

"The officer was reasonably polite but he did bang on a bit (as did his plain-clothes colleague on a bike) with a few anecdotes on the effectiveness of helmets. I did not lie, and said that I wasn't wearing a helmet because I didn't have it on me and that I don't wear it, and gave my reasons."

Predictably, the plain-clothes bike-officer then proceeded to regale Paul with endless anecdotes of bicycle calamaties suffered by him personally, and how he was mightily glad in retrospect that he'd been wearing a helmet on all those occasions! The 'sporty cop' also divulged to Paul that he had been careering down mountains when these 'incidences' occurred - what a surprise!!

Notwithstanding his own statement, the 'bike copper' then mentioned, somewhat helpfully, that if Paul did possess any evidence to support his 'anti-mandatory helmet law' stance perhaps he should consider contesting the infringement.

Without wasting a moment, Paul has instructed a law firm in Brisbane to represent him in the looming court matter. He clinically accepts that this traffic infringement might be "the most expensive $100 fine I'm ever to get", yet he hopes his case will further expand the legal argument in Australia against mandatory helmet laws.

Whatever the decision of the Local Court, Paul also intends to seek an exemption to wearing a helmet" based on my understanding of the ineffectiveness of bicycle helmets and my disagreement with the mandatory legislation."

Prima facie he concedes that "the odds are against me - but it is worth a go!"

Go, Paul! We know you'll 'step up to the plate', & 'play your own game' & 'give it your best shot!!!'

...meanwhile we also know that Australian governments will continue 'scoring own-goals' indefinitely until Mandatory Helmet Laws are repealed.

Q&As for the RTA

Considering that the Roads & Traffic Authority are quick to give effect to 'demerit point' totals, 'overdue' licences, inaccurate log books etc etc, why is it that their promised 'one month' turn-around to reach a decision concerning my application for exemption to wear a bicycle helmet when riding a bicycle, appears to be transmogrifying into a 'three month' one?

I have a 'shopping list' of questions for the RTA:

1. why do I have to wait so long on the end of the phone-line every time I call 'you'?
2. why do 'you' never seem to know what's going on nor seem to possess any strategies to combat this administrative failing of 'yours'?
3. why is there no 'tracking system' for correspondence given that there clearly is a 'tracking system' for demerit points?
4. why has my application taken so long to consider given that 'your' policy states otherwise?
5. how can 'you' sanctimoniously claim that 'you' have a one-month turn around when 'you' continuously move goal-posts?
6. why is communication between 'your' various RTA departments (units or centres) so negligible, notwithstanding that 'you' work in the same Miller Street building?
8. how is 'your' current modus operandi 'procedurally fair'?
9. will 'you' uphold my civil liberties in light of your "acknowledgement of dis-benefits for certain headforms"?

I can barely contain myself!!! Given that my application finally 'landed' in the correct departmental inbox on Wednesday 5th May 2010, I have been informed that I can confidently expect a decision to be reached by Saturday 5th June 2010 (MAY DAY, MAY DAY; WEEKEND ALERT!!!)

Sigh! ok!- Monday 7th June 2010, and no later, RTA, are you listening?

Corsair Video

OK, here's the video I took of Humis flying his Corsair way back on 27th April... it took so long to get this up cos I have to get into town to use broadband to upload... so if you want to watch this you will need broadband. Also spent a lot of time messing round trying to find some decent music for the clip. Hope you like it.

Went out again yesterday (Tuesday 10th May) with the Vampire to the top of the Mount and was supposed to be 15 kts NE - only got about 7kts but I managed a fly anyway. With the reconfigured horizontal stabiliser now lowered at the leading edge, it flies so much better. I've also tidied it up a bit more so she now gets thru the air pretty nicely. The Vampire is definitely going as good as it has ever gone.

Today, wind should be a bit better - maybe JW country!! Here's the vid...

My Heroes (26): Richard Buckminster Fuller

Richard Buckminster Fuller, 1895 -1983
Leonardo da Vinci is rightly considered to have posessed one of the finest polymath minds ever known. Still today his shadow is cast over later men and women of genius who may not get the recognition they deserve..

Most people have heard of Buckminster Fuller bur the majority are not quite sure why his name is known. I hope to redress that situation here, if only to a dozen or so readers!

He was not only renowned architect, inventor, engineer, mathematician, poet and cosmologist but had other idealistic qualities.

At the age of 32 he was bankrupt, depressed and contemplating suicide after the tragic death of his four year-old daughter Alexandria. Thankfully he had a vision of some kind and decided to dedicate the rest of his life to helping humanity. He was one of the first people to postulate the notion that, with political will, world poverty could be eliminated within one generation.

Later generations of scientists have confirmed that his theories stands up. Sadly, the 'political will' has been absent. He was never a mainstream figure and is seen by some as a visionary and by others as a dreamer. His inventions were meant to help achieve his goals of improving human housing and everyday objects.

His is mostly remembered for his invention of the Geodesic Dome which is built out of a series of triangles and requires no internal support. The domes could be packed flat and easily transported and assembled.

Knowing that you all have short attention-spans, I don't like to post articles that are too long so here are some brief facts about 'Bucky':

  He held more than 2,000 patents.

  He wrote 28 books.

  He recieved 47 honourary degrees.

  He coined the term 'Spaceship Earth'.

  He was a teacher, poet, philosopher, archtect, mathematician, engineer, inventor and product  designer.

  He dedicated his life to the betterment of mankind.

  The molecule Buckminsterfullerene, not surprisingly, was named after him.

C60 or Buckminsterfullerene is a molecule of 60 carbons atoms.
If you compare the structure of the molecule with the photo of a Geodesic dome you can see why it was so named.

Helmet Laws v Equality

I never cease to be surprised by the vehemence and issues attached to mandatory helmet laws!

Just recently in our "High Street", an angry man yelled at my partner, "What's the matter with you? Can't you control your wife?"


Newtown to Bondi; naturally on a bicycle

Perfect Sydney Autumn day; only one thing to do - grab our bikes & head to Bondi! through Newtown, Darlington, Redfern, Surrey Hills, Centennial Park, Waverley Park

...then the ultimate in magic!!!...

'Bondi-breeze' in hair as we coasted down 'Bondi Road' to 'Bondi Beach'!!!! (no doubt about it; Sydney wins hands down - best city ever!!!)

Lunch at 'La Piadina' (bliss!),
Ice creams at 'Speedos' (naughty!)
Music at 'Flying Squirrel' (wicked!)

...totally wrecked & happy - home to Newtown!!