Spotlight on a Website (4): Spotify

OK, Spotify is not a website as such although it does have a site. According to Wikipedia "Spotify is a proprietary peer-to-peer music streaming service and application software from a Swedish based company. It allows instant listening to specific tracks or albums, with virtually no buffering delay".

At present it is only available in the Scandinavian countries and a few others including Great Britain. It is scheduled to become available in the US during 2011 but probably with no free version.

While writing this I am listening to Muddy Waters in the background. I also have Loudain Wainwright II lined up. I have the free version so get a few 30 second ad breaks every now and then.

You download an application (takes one minute) and it sits on your desktop and you get access to 10 million tracks which are being added to at the rate of 10,000 every day! The only exceptions I have found is no Beatles and no Dylan. In my 'library' I have everything by Elvis Presley, The Everly Brothers, Paul Simon, The Beach Boys, Tom Petty, The Grateful Dead and hundreds of other artists. I also have several thousand classical, folk, jazz and blues tracks but I can search and play any artist I can think of almost instantly.

You could try Spotify but don't know if the link works in all countries.

Cruising - Sydney Style

According to Gandhi...

1. First they ignore you,

2. then they laugh at you,

3. then they fight you,

4. then you win!


...yes! - we are so on the brink of number 4...

Go, Sydney!!!! - Go, us!!! xx

Nous allons bananes!



Earth Hour Australia

+

Grand Prix Australia

=

Great Big Australian Joke

Quiz Question (15): Quotations from two American novels.


Q 1: From which 20th century novel is this an extract? "Take most people, they're crazy about cars. They worry if they get a little scratch on them, and they're always talking about how many miles they get to a gallon, and if they get a brand-new car already they start thinking about trading it in for one that's even newer. I don't even like old cars. I mean they don't even interest me. I'd rather have a goddam horse. A horse is at least human, for God's sake."

Q 2: And from which other 20th century novel is this qoutation taken?

"Teachers of children in the United States of America wrote this date on blackboards again and again, and asked the children to memorize it with pride and joy: 1492. The teachers told the children that this was when their continent was discovered by human beings. Actually, millions of human beings were already living full and imaginative lives on the continent in 1492. That was simply the year in which sea pirates began to cheat and rob and kill them."

I will give the answers in the comments after a few attempts have been made. It's quite difficult, although both the novels are very famous, so please have a guess even if you don't know for sure!

The decision from hell

First things first, it would be really nice to put paragraphs in this post. I'll leave it up to you to put them in, like this: ***New paragraph*** When I decided eventually to accept the job, I was only one week older than I was when I got the offer. I felt like I'd aged ten years. If I knew the job application process would provoke so much anxiety in me, I never would have applied in the first place. I was offered the job six weeks after the interview for Pete's sake! During that time I was drip-fed information which I tried my hardest to ignore. It was just like a Lotto draw, except one ball is drawn per week, and if you win you get to swim with sharks. Handcuffed. The Asperger's group last Saturday was particularly tough for me. I've met some wonderful people at the group and have made stronger connections there than I ever did in 5½ years at my last "big" job. I arrived early to make the most of possibly my last session. The first person I met was Chris, someone I've talked to a fair bit over the last year. He never seems happy but he's got a good heart and is someone who (if I could spend some extended time with him) I think I could help. By Saturday I still hadn't signed anything and my decision lay in the balance. I talked to one of the facilitators at the group - a warm, kind, gentle person who recognised how hard my decision was. I've build up a framework of support in Auckland; by accepting the job in Wellington I was about to destroy it. On Saturday night, as I lay in bed at half-past two struggling to cope, I thought to myself, nobody is forcing me to take this job. At 9am on Monday I'll get straight on the phone, ring that bloody 04 number, turn the job down and I'll be a blissfully free man. And on that thought I drifted off to sleep. On Sunday I had a swim in the sea; a dog came up to me as was lying on the beach and I thought how great that was. This is what life should be about, surely, not board meetings or exams. I had the same feeling as I bagged some feijoas from the tree outside Autism House. Before I came to Auckland I didn't even know what a feijoa was but I've since come to like them. That evening I talked to some more people and if any one of them had told me definitively not to take the job, that would have made my mind up. But after talking to my cousin who lives in Wellington, I thought more about the current job market and having to move out of my flat come what may. I made the decision at 1pm on Monday after talking to my current boss. He couldn't guarantee a timeframe, and that was that. I popped outside for lunch, not happy with my decision. I bumped into Chris from the group - he was crossing the road dangerously and I had no choice but to do the same if I was to catch him. I got his cell phone number. I'd made my decision but wasn't at all happy with it. According to Monday morning's weather forecast, the issue wasn't whether it would rain later in the day, but how much. So at least I wouldn't have to worry about tennis at six o'clock. Except it didn't rain. Oh god. If I had to write down the top fifty things I wanted to do that evening, tennis wouldn't have made the list. Considering how terrible I felt, I played remarkably well in our doubles match. Of course at sevenish it absolutely tipped it down. We should have called an end to proceedings earlier; we ended up stranded at - from our point of view - 7-6 (7-1), 5-7. We're scheduled to complete the match (which is meant to be decided on a souped-up tie-break rather than a third set) as well as the singles (where that crazy tie-break rule doesn't apply) this Wednesday. Last Wednesday we had the men's depression group. Another big positive in my life, hence it was another flashpoint for me. I still wasn't happy with my decision, and the consensus among the group was "what are you doing man?!" Yesterday I went tenpin bowling in Newmarket with some people from the Asperger's group. Well about a dozen people actually. The place needed a bit of a makeover I thought. It was full of Engrish signs (am I being racist? - I hope not), such as "Please keep your figure out of the ball machine." At the weekends you can play two games for $13, but if you're under five (and therefore can't hold the ball) you get two games for the amazing low price of $11! The last time I went bowling was in Peterborough in 2003 (I went once a week then) and I swear the music playing yesterday came from exactly the same tape. When I played regularly I was consistent but unspectacular. Yesterday I was inconsistent and unspectacular. I found the afternoon quite stressful with all the noise and someone always wanting to talk to me about something when I was quite happy not to talk about anything. I successfully avoided any mention of the two W-words: work and Wellington. Adding to my stress levels, I had to pick up and drop off Graham who lives in Albany. We got lost twice; I felt knackered and like a right muppet. I'm now looking forward to exploring Wellington - of all my fears (and there were and still are plenty) the city itself isn't one of them.

Our New "Bradbury-esque" Premier



After witnessing a 'Steven Bradbury' campaign out-perform the Australian Labour Party, lucky old NSW has Mr O'Farrell as our eager new leader; & he's already announced his transport minister - I sincerely hope she's a better correspondent than some of the former ministers involved with NSW transport and roads - I'm still owed a letter, and clearly that's not going to happen now!

No matter, I'll get onto Gladys first thing Monday morning.

Also fingers crossed silly old Barry didn't mean any of that negative 'locking-horns-with-Clover' stuff, broadcast last weekend! - that could make things somewhat strained when I assume my customary advisory role to the Department of Premier & Cabinet!

...and there's something else that's just occurred to me - he'll be the one now that gets the chance to meet us all on the 20th May (PUNK COMMUTE DAY!!)

Congrats, Bazza! - really looking forward to meeting you then &, remember, we're counting on you not to take New South Wales backwards anymore than it already is!!!

Bonne chance!

Dem bones! Dem bones!

(Photos: Flickr, emmajnapier)


(with heaps of thanks & apologies to the Delta Rhythm Boys)

========================================

Labour-Party connected dem dry bones,
Labour-Party connected dem dry bones,
Labour-Party conencted dem dry bones
Now hear the workings of the State

The Ben bone is connected to the Kristina bone,
The Kristina bone is connected the Barangaroo bone,
The Barangaroo bone is connected to the Lend Lease bone,
The Lend Lease bone is connected to the Better Place Australia bone,
The Better Place Australia bone is connected to the Ben bone

Now here's the workings of our State!

Dem bones dem bones gonna walk around
Dem bones dem bones gonna walk around


(...sigh...)

Disconnect dem bones, dem dry bones!
Disconnect dem bones, dem dry bones!


No more about the workings of our State!!

========================================

Saturation point

I'm a news hound.

I generally watch MSNBC on a nightly basis. I have the New York Times and the Washington Post bookmarked on my browser toolbar. My Facebook wall gets news feeds from NPR, the Christian Science Monitor, the Daily Beast, Mother Jones, and a few other sources. I'll even watch FOX for nonpolitical news (just to see how they manage to blame President Obama for the earthquake and tsunami, dontcha know).

But I am overwhelmed.

Japan. Libya. Yemen. Bahrain. Brazil. Benghazi. Wisconsin. Michigan. Haiti. Georgia. Fukushima. Tsunami. Radiation. Richter. Civil War. Arab League. No-Fly Zone. Fuel Rods. Desperate Measures. UN Resolutions. Continuing Resolutions. Tell the IRS if you've had an abortion. Is your fish net-caught? Recall Notices. Recall Polticians. Save NPR. Save Planned Parenthood. Save childhood immunizations. Workers rights. Women's rights. Child labor laws. (Child labor laws?  Really? Is this 2011 or 1911?) Palin. Clinton. Pawlenty. Koch Brothers. Qaddaffi. Walker. Angle. Christie. Reid. Aristide. (Thank God Sheen is finally off the news radar.) Pay walls. Super moons. Tiger moms. March Madness. Spring break. Spring forward. Spring training.

I am saturated. I can't absorb any more information. But it is all so important.

Okay, I don't really follow March Madness or Spring Training. And I don't care about Tiger Moms.  But the rest of it? I care about. Intensely. I need to know what's going on. And there. is. too. much. going. on.

The final Sonny Report.




Mum, Dad and Sonny leaving Great Ormond Street Hospital this afternoon after fifteen weeks! They are all back home now and beginning to rebuild their family life. There's nothing more to say except to express sincere thanks for all the wonderful support from fellow-bloggers!


Troglodyte waiting in the wings



What's to look forward to when we get Bazza next weekend & why would he contemplate taking on Sydney's Lord Mayor?

Go, Clover, keeping on 'painting our town green' & illegitimi non carborundum!!!

...& also, just as a matter of interest, does anyone know whether the Boston Consulting Group connected to the Keneally Hubbie (‘Staring Down Defeat’ – 19/20 March 2011) is one & the same as the Boston Consulting Group connected to the Keneally Government (‘Secret Cuts to Schools’ – 19/20 March 2011)?

La-la la la la,
La-la la la la,
It’s a small world after all!

Trains, Pollies & Autobuses

(Photos: 'Trainless' Countrylink platform, Sydney Central)

(Photos: Cake & Circuses minus trains, Sydney Central)

(Photos: 'Countrylink Train' bus, Flickr, Kaine1991)


Lovely as 'Harmony Day' may be, when you're at a train station you want trains!

Yet again interminable trackwork faced rail passengers today. Yet again it was revealed that this nation cannot run trains according to publicised timetables.

Australia just isn't to be trusted in the public transport arena - we just don't get it.

How is it that 'Countrylink' & 'City-Rail' train lines ('train' being the operative word) have fleets of buses displaying their insignia?

* Why are there are protocols in place for 'train-travel' by road?

* Why is so much passenger time spent on roads rather than on railway tracks?

* Why are Countrylink personnel so uber-jolly in the face of passenger misery & inconvenience? ...the following exchange was almost too much to handle - I did my best...

Officer Countrylink (looking at my ticket): Ohhh! 'Sco-one'! Aren't we a lucky girl?! Such a pretty little place, 'Sco-one'!

Me: It's a facade, I can assure you - just like your rail network!!!......(jeez, beam me up, Scottie, please...sigh)


* Why aren't we shouting from the rooftops?

* Why do we put up with this 'shit'?

* & why don't coal trains ever stop running?

...but I digress; back to the 'Trackwork Pantomime'...

From what I've observed over my considerable experience as an Australian Public Transport user, there is still no glaringly obvious evidence of benefits from the incessant 'trackwork':

- nothing works better,

- trains still don't run on time,

- trains actually don't run

- buses make you sick

=======================================

Aaaaahhhhh, somebody, anybody - what's the story?

...here's looking at you, kid! & we'll always have "Trackwork"!!!

(cut to fuzzy lens & piano: Da-da, Da-da, Da-daaaah)

Painting of the Month (15) March 2011: Bazza








View of Kitsilano, Vancouver, BC, at night 2010 in a sort od Cubist style.

I have imodestly included myself among the other greats of world painting history to show this picture, based on a photograph of a night-time view across English Bay with West Bay, North Vancouver in the distance.
You can see the incompetent photographer's shadow (mine) across the picture. It's a beautiful city in a lovely part of the world.
I had done a regular painting of the view which is not very good (see below) and decided to re-do it in a different style which I prefer. I have been dabbling with watercolours for some years and it's a hobby I greatly enjoy.
The medium of watercolour painting was established by three English artists; JMW Turner, Thomas Girtin and the lesser known Paul Sandby and it has remained a strong Britsih tradition. It is often regarded as the most difficult of mediums because of the problem of 'controlling' the wet paint. The colours are mostly translucent and, in the right hands, can reach a standard of brilliance that is
unique to this style.

Velo Cops, Patrol Car Police & City Rangers

(Photo: Newtown moment near 'Campos')


...everywhere!

* 'Velo cops', Missenden Road, cycling towards and then past me from opposite direction as I waited at traffic lights to turn right into Carillon Avenue - obviously not the 'chasing' ones!!

* 'Patrol-Car police' opposite me & waiting to turn left into Glebe Point Road as I was waiting to turn right - all somewhat confusing with 'who' ought to go first (them, obviously!), and before I knew it I'd ended up at 'driving cop's' window & was suggesting "you go first" - sounded like a plan, & off we all went with me following them up Glebe Point Road!

* 'City Rangers' (Aussie equivaltent to UK Traffic Wardens) issuing tickets in Mary Ann Street whilst I was simultaneously issuing post cards - startled them both by giving them one saying "this time, we have something for you!"

But, the best bit of the day was...

...bumping into Clover Moore, our estimable Lord Mayor of Sydney & Independent Member for Sydney, doing a spot of 'street-walking' just like me...

I went into 'fan' mode:

♥ gushed how much I admired her,

♥ shook her hand enthusiastically,

♥ blurted out how I'd met her before but didn't expect her to remember me,

♥ declared dramatically to her & the whole of Bulwarra Street that I was campaigning for law reform, & that bicycle helmets ought to be a matter for choice

♥ gratefully received her pamphlet,

♥ forgot to give her mine!!!!?

...& Clover Moore's response; utterly charming, and genuinely friendly, and graciously serene...

RESPECT!

I'm more smitten than ever - if I lived in her electorate (sigh!) I would VOTE 1 CLOVER MOORE FOR SYDNEY in 9 days time.

Go, Clover!!!!

Panic with a "capital" P

Yesterday morning, six weeks after my interview, I got a phone call from Wellington. They offered me the job! Don't panic. Don't panic. Don't...PANIC!!!

I had a swim after work tonight - that was relaxing. I'm looking forward to attending the Asperger's group on Saturday, perhaps for the last time.

Freedom of Choice - mainstream in Sydney

(Photo: just up the road from Newtown Police Station)


The 'non-existent whiff' of cycling danger that for so long was expressly cultivated to peddle the consumption of polystyrene hats has essentially dissipated in Sydney - most notably in the Inner West, my patch!!!

Ahhhhh! - so reaffirming to behold!!!

When Charlie Pickering of The 7PM Project fame declared to the Aussie public last August that he falls off his bicycle all the time, he let a little chink of light onto why Australian cycling was re badged into an extreme & dangerous sport all those years ago...

Basically, Aussie lads of the 90s were desperately-seeking-approval in a 'throwback-caveman-sort-of-a-way', and thus it was that it was necessary to dust off 'bravery', 'courage' & 'derring-do', and go wrestle a 'woolly mammoth' or something similar.

Only our Aussie lads of the 90s were a trifle too cosy for such 'extreme' pre-historic deeds, so they brainstormed and manufactured a 'modern-day woolly mammoth' - untamed & savage bicycles!

But there was a hitch:

♥ no-one had ever found this 'modern-day woolly mammoth' even vaguely alarming before

♥ it was universal

♥ it was cheap & easy

...and worse still...

♥ grannies and grandpas could still be found routinely pedalling everywhere, often with shopping and/or grand kids in tow!

...what to do?

$$$ How to delete this 'woolly mammoth' from the realms of the mundane and ordinary

$$$ How to re badge to dangerous and extreme?

$$$ How to manufacture a national & political consensus?...

...yawn! ho! hum! well we all know what happened next...

...but suffice to say, those of us who do continue to 'conscientiously object', are a constant reminder to our modern-day gladiators (such as The 7PM Project's anchorman) that their 'modern-day woolly mammoth' has Emperor's New Clothes status...

...and they're none-too-happy when they get that reminder - especially from a middle-aged mum!!!

The current state of the job market


I snapped this job ad (at least I think that's what it is) outside a shop selling Kiwiana in Queen Street. If this ad is anything to go by, I might struggle to find work when my temp job finishes. New Zealand has two official written languages, and this sure as hell ain't one of them. To add insult to injury, they put a bloody kiwi on it!

I played tennis tonight (it was club night). I found the whole experience painful and couldn't get home fast enough.

My depression has come back in the last few days. Any meaning, any certainty that we all need in our lives to stop us from going mad, has been missing from my life. At work on Friday they gave everyone who'd worked on the earthquake (including me) a free massage. Not a full body one by the way! I took up the offer but could have done with something longer and more vigorous. I should say that work has been the one thing keeping my head above water. Just.

I still go to the men's depression group once a fortnight. It's good for me (and everyone else there I'm sure). My only criticism is that Brendan tends to dominate proceedings; I emailed Andy today with a suggestion on how to stop him from taking over. In the second half of last week's session we watched a dreadful movie - that was fine by me because I was about to nod off.

I watched with disbelief on Friday night as a giant wall of water swept everything in its path, wiping whole towns off the map. Many thousands have lost their lives. It was some relief to see a scientist on TV tonight play down the risks of nuclear Armageddon. The earthquake registered a colossal nine but after the Christchurch event we can all get our heads around big earthquakes. The tsunami was mind-blowing stuff but we get warnings of tsunamis in New Zealand and know what they're about. Mention nukes though and you're entering a whole new sphere: Seriously Scary Shit.

I don't normally listen to National Radio but have done since the Christchurch quake. On the way back from tennis I heard this song (called Son Mystère and sung in French) by a band from Berlin called 17 Hippies. I presumed they were new but have actually been around since '95. Here you go: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k5wMh2pVYHc

Windscreeen Wipers & Bicycle Baskets for Freedom of Choice




During our little spot of 'Postcard Bombing' on the Sydney Uni Campus last week, I was appalled to see how few cycle racks there actually are in situ. Unfathomably, the University prides itself about its cycle parking - I am at a complete loss to see why.

From what I observed, the racks were minimal, old fashioned and clearly picked up in a 'Jumble Sale'. Notwithstanding those negatives, my overarching criticism is the Campus Security's trigger-happy approach towards cyclists who park their bicycles outside of the designated areas. Padlocks are mutilated and bicycles impounded at ridiculous & liberty-abusing expense to their hapless owners.

No way can such an approach encourage bicycle usage - sigh

What a sorry state of affairs for such a large, 'self-important' academic institution that revels in giving itself a big 'Matters Tertiary' rap.

When you consider how many students attend the university (48,000), Sydney's current congestion levels and institutional contribution to 'aforementioned' congestion, it's clear that possibilities abound for university policy to be creative and useful; to be a civic trend-setter as it were.

==================================

Shame on you, Sydney Uni, for your lack of imagination and your restrictive campus codes...

...your grade for cycling infrastructure and support - FAIL!!


==================================

Universities & bicycles have gone 'hand & hand' (figuratively speaking) for decades, and still ought to be naturally aligned.

Look at the maps above - they blatantly support my charge...only that many bicycle racks for 48,000 students!!!!! - 100s & 100s are needed!!!

==================================

Sydney University, show us your mettle...and put it to their pedals!!!!!

Climate Change Mitigation

(Photos: NRMA)


...how scared is our car industry!

What funtimes! I feel positively emboldened as I wait to see exactly when I am scheduled to appear in court to defend the crime of riding a bicycle without an approved bicycle helmet...

OK, so my argument is pretty much going to have to be the 'same old, same old' again as I prepare myself for my imminent curial appearance and that's basically because the defence of necessity is really my only legal avenue in any Australian Court of Law.

Anyhoo, no worries, I'll just dust off those necessary elements for 'necessity'...now let me see, do I have the 'necessary' ingredients??:

1. Necessary belief
2. Proportionate response
3. Imminency underpinned by the notion of this particular act as an 'alternative course of action'

...I think so - CHECK to all 3!

...but really, really, really excitingly & also, interestingly, the defence of necessity is being raised around the globe for various crimes committed primarily to protect the environment, and some are finding the courts sympathetic to the climate change cause.

I have cause to be very hopeful, methinks...yes indeedy!!!

Tennis tales II

On Monday night we played Milford who always seem to have a strong team. As soon as I clapped eyes on our opponents I knew we'd be in for a tough time; I recognised some faces from previous losing encounters. In the doubles I played with a young guy - twentyish - who blasts seven bells out of the ball. He's got all the shots, including deft touches at the net and a safe but effective second serve, but he can't bring himself to use anything sub-Scud. His service games were a nerve-wracking experience as fuzzy yellow bullets whistled past my ear at something approaching Mach 2, often landing beyond the baseline. I haven't won a night-time doubles match for ages and have been on the wrong end of some real hidings. Nothing changed on Monday as we went down two and two.

Due to the way we split up the team, my singles opponent was someone I didn't play in the doubles. His doubles match was a real marathon though, so after our bash-and-crash I had an hour to wait while I watched him play. He was from Eastern Europe and took tennis seriously. What else could you expect from someone whose first name was Boris and whose surname began with B? He went through an elaborate service routine, seemingly measuring the exact angle of trajectory while at the same time trying to get into the zone. This was a bit scary because I don't even have a zone. If that wasn't enough he had four rackets (clearly worth more than a grand between them) and explained that they all had different levels of string tension, acceleration and whatever the hell else. Maybe he did this just to intimidate his opponents I thought. But when I lost the first set 6-1 without playing at all badly, maybe not. If anything I was relieved to get one game. Early in the second set we had a lot of long games and long rallies. I dug deep in those points, still expecting him to thrash me but at least I'd make him thrash me. I won those tight games and when I'd opened up a lead in that set he deviated from his game plan, rushing his play and making uncharacteristic errors. I won that set 6-1 although it was closer than that really. Looking back I think he was saving himself for the third. He reverted to Plan A in the decider. I made too many mistakes (for me) and I lost it 6-1. What a crazy match!

Natural disasters - will they ever end?

I'm just watching pictures of the tsunami resulting from the monster 8.9 earthquake that struck just off the north-east coast of Japan. Oh my. Japan's preparation for earthquakes is shit-hot, as are their building regulations, but when faced with a five-metre wall of water travelling at forty miles an hour, what can you do? Houses, cars, boats, a whole airport, all washed away.

I imagine the loss of life from the tsunami will have been far greater than from the earthquake itself, massive though it was. They've already had eight aftershocks at least as big as Christchurch's 6.3.

mortality, n.

  1. the state or condition of being subject to death; mortal character, nature, or existence.
  2. the relative frequency of deaths in a specific population; death rate.
  3. mortal beings collectively; humanity.
  4. death or destruction on a large scale, as from war, plague, or famine. 
  5. Obsolete: death.  

The BBC reported today that survival rates for ovarian cancer have doubled in the last 30 years, from 21% in the early 1970s to 41% today -- if the cancer is detected early, that is. The 5-year mortality rate for stage 4 ovarian cancer is 96%.  Mortality.

My mom had two really bad nights in a row and asked my sister to take her to the doctor on Tuesday morning. The oncologist found a grapefruit-size tumor pressing against her lower intestine; the CT scans showed spots on her liver and cancer just about everywhere in her abdomen.  Surgery is not an option, and my mom has said no more chemo, so this afternoon we met with the intake workers to register her for hospice care.

Mother's good days are still really good: She drives herself around town, has friends over for wine and conversation, works in the yard, sews quilts. At this point, she certainly doesn't need round-the-clock care, or even daily attention. But those days are coming, and we need to be prepared for them. We need to be prepared.

Mortality. Death.

We are mortal. We die. That is an essential part of what it means to be human. We all "know" it. But somehow, it's very hard to be prepared for it. Some people are able to prepare for their own deaths, with greater or lesser degrees of grace, acceptance, openness. But preparing for the death of someone else? Someone you love profoundly? Someone you have loved your whole life and will love your whole life? That's not so easy.

My friend Barbara at Surfside Serenity wrote an essay for my Forever Changed writing challenge. Fortunately, she wrote it after the contest was over. I say "fortunately," because I would have been hard-pressed to choose between what she wrote and Phoenix's winning entry. Also fortunately, she published it on her blog just a few days ago.

I encourage you to go read it. Now.
Time is too precious to live mindlessly. The moment when I realized my own mortality was the moment I was born again. Born into the life of my own making.
Ever since Nick died, I have been aware of how precious time is, of how thoughtlessly we drift through the moments, days, weeks, years of our lives. Ever since I moved out here to Tucson, I have been aware of how precious time with my Mother is, how we could not take a single day for granted. I have been aware that none of us is guaranteed a single tomorrow. Mortality. Death

I have treasured every day with my mom these last three and a half years. In spite of being frustrated, tired, annoyed, anxious, depressed, angry (any other adjectives I've left off?), I have also been profoundly grateful for the time. I am hoping to carry that gratefulness with me through the next phase of Mother's illness; I am hoping that if I can walk toward her death with gratitude for the life that came before it, peace will follow.

And that is the only true preparation I can make.

Facilis descensus Averno...



...sed revocare...hoc opus, hic labor est.

Good old Virgil - absolutely spot on:

"To descend into hell is easy,
But to return...what work, what a labour it is!"


...and haven't we found that out the hard way here in Australia.

It was madness to permit the side-lining of 'scientific method & evidence-based' policy that had always been a pre-requisite in 'liberty-reducing' laws. It was sheer folly to actively nuture a culture of 'helmet-belief', a belief that was false and unfounded; a belief that has since been discovered to be so...& on numerous occasions too.

Our politicians allowed their common sense to be hi-jacked by a commercial reality, and very quickly lost the courage of their convictions (and probalby their ability to ride bicycles in a transport sort of a way too). Basically politicians have been rendered incapable of thinking rationally ever since mandatory bicycle helmet laws were rolled out across Australia.

"I-believe-in-helmets-so-you-must-wear-one-too" beliefs are intellectually defunct and devoid of a rational approach to the extent of not even countenancing the possibility of a correction. In view of the academic evidence that has been provided over the past 2 decades, they ought to be politically ruinous, after all as the American Sam Harris so eloquently states, 'to assume knowledge where one has only pious hope is a species of evil'.

Notwithstanding all the doom & gloom that has been meted out to us in the framework of mandatory bicycle helmet laws, 'hauling ourselves up' we are, and particularly so in Sydney!

What with our incredible visionary Lord Mayor and an eager grassroots movement lapping up everything she gives us, 'citizen cycling' is taking off in this most beautiful harbour city. Helmet compliance has all but gone out the window, and cycling numbers grow daily.

After a weekend in Melbourne I couln't help but notice my fellow Sydney citizen cyclists with me in Redfern's Wilson Street yesterday afternoon: the 'wise', the 'excited', the 'fresh', the 'romantic', the 'professional', the 'sporty' - we were all there; it was almost like Amsterdam!!!...& at one noticeable 'abundantly-helmetless' moment we all seemed to be smiling at our immense luck at living and travelling in a city with "our Clover" at the helm!!!

I also couldn't help but notice the much wider space that Sydney vehicles provide their 'citizen cyclists' as opposed to that proffered by Melbourne vehicles to theirs - 'lay-down misère' - Sydney wins again!!!!!!!

"Behold the turtle! - she makes progress only when she sticks out her neck" - well done, Clover, you're the best & a million thanks for fast-tracking us out of our 'Averno'!!

The Greenwich Meridian

At the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, south London, there is a metal line set into the floor which marks the 'Prime Meridian', zero degrees longitude. Of course, this imaginary line extends beyond Greenwich and right around the planet but it seems more significant here at the 'Home of Time'.






Photocredit: http://edtech.kennesaw.edu/
 It is possible to stand here with one foot in the eastern hemisphere and one in the western, as I have done.

The significance of this site dates from 1884, when the Prime Meridian was defined by Sir George Biddell Airy, the seventh Astronomer Royal, as a reference point for astronomical observations and time itself.

This is a fascinating place and the whole of Greenwich is a very poplular tourist destination not only for the old observatory, beautiful Old Royal Navy College and Hospital (laid out by Wren and Hawksmoor in the 17th centuty) but also an interesting Arts and Crafts weekend market. The sad news is that formerly one could straddle the line free of charge but from today (Tuesday March 9th 2011) a charge of £10 is introduced! Perhaps I should have posted this earlier. Sorry.




The Old Royal Observatory (Photo credit: naveenin.wordpress.com)
For the information in this post I am indebted to the interesting website Tired of London, Tired of Life.

I don't get it

I just don't understand how someone who looks this good can be so sick ...

My mom with Grandson #5 and his girlfriend

My mom, wife of Grandson #3, girlfriend of Grandson #5

She was having a good day. I hope she has many, many more.

Tennis tales I

I found out this morning that I’ve got seven weeks to vacate my flat. Where I’ll go, and with whom (if anybody) I really don’t know.

Yesterday I went to the French club in Browns Bay, which was convenient because I then had to play interclub tennis at Torbay, a prospect I wasn’t too thrilled about. Before I took to the court I couldn’t have cared less about winning or losing – I just wanted to get home. It was all doubles, partnering players who were at a decent level and clearly would have some emotional attachment to the final outcome. That wouldn’t make it any easier for me. It was very windy out there and at the start of the men’s match I could hardly get a ball in play. When we hung on to my serve in the fifth game to trail by just one, we could easily have been 5-0 down. But then I somehow, from somewhere, found my range and was helped by my very steady, skilful and experienced partner. We had two set points at 6-5, but a barrage of big serves got our opponents out of trouble. Tie-break. Spare me. At that stage I couldn’t have imagined we’d get the result we did – a 7-6 (7-1), 6-1 win.

The highlight – if you can call it that – of the mixed match came on my own serve, when we were leading 4-0 and 40-30. I served what I thought was an obvious double fault, my second ball landing a few inches wide. They didn’t call it, but sometimes opponents don’t call balls that are obviously out. I thought nothing of it, called “deuce”, and stepped up to serve the next point. My partner didn’t like this, saying I should have waited for them to call it, and taken the point and the game if they didn’t. I simply said, “I’m not a win-at-all-costs person,” which she clearly was. Anyway we were well on top and I felt we could win fair and square without needing points like that. We lost that game but wound up 6-1 6-3 winners. Looking back on the afternoon’s play, the conditions benefited me. I didn’t have the technical ability that others out there possessed but if I’m in the right frame of mind I can scrap and get balls back, keeping my unforced error rate down. When it’s blowing a gale most points will end on an error so if you can just keep the ball in play you’re half-way there.

I guess I should tell, briefly, my horror interclub story from a fortnight ago. I won just two games in just four sets, making it my worst overall result ever. Whether it was my worst performance I’m not so sure – there’s no shortage of contenders to choose from. My depression was a definite factor – that evening I didn’t want to be anywhere near a tennis court. Both games I won (both!) were in the singles, against someone I’d played once before in 2005, back when I enjoyed the game. That time I won in a tough three-setter. As for the doubles, the less said about that the better. The big positive was that the evening’s exercise (what little I got) seemed to give me the initial boost I needed to drag myself out of depressive hell.

Tonight I have to play again – I expect my love-hate relationship with the game will continue.

Melbourne Meetings: Jour 2 avec un autre bicyclist sans casque





HEAVENLY:

* Weather - sun, sun, sun!!!

* Richmond - great coffee; great chats

* "Etienne de Briquenell" with whom I had great coffee & great chats (vous le voyez avec moi au-dessus)

* Melbourne's comprehensive network of bicycle paths making our journey so easy to East Oakleigh from Richmond for lunch-date (vous me voyez en chemin de bicyclette au-dessus)

* Sunset bicycle journey to Surrey Hills from Richmond for dinner-date (oui...il y a des collines au Melbourne!!!)

* Surrey Hills train to Richmond (avec nos bicyclettes - bonjour paresse!!)

Tout bien considéré, c'est un jour magnifique!!

Beyond why

It's eleven days since the devastating Christchurch earthquake but computer issues have prevented me from writing properly about it until now. It reminded me a lot of September 11th: just like ten years ago I was at home on a Tuesday afternoon in late summer, recovering from a depressive spell and generally minding my own business. Then I switched on the TV and everything changed. Rightly or wrongly I couldn't keep my eyes off the screen.

This time it took me a while to fully comprehend what had happened. Logically I thought, this is New Zealand, a first-world country. We have strict building codes. Yes I know the focus of the quake was only 5km from the surface but any modern building will surely withstand a 6.3, right? Wrong. What I saw on TV didn't look like New Zealand at all.

Just before 4pm my old boss called me. When he offered me a job I just about bit his hand off - that three-month spell after the September earthquake was hugely positive for me. The next morning I found out that the company had been affected in the worst possible way by the quake. They lost three people on the top floor of the PGC building, one of whom had come over from Sydney to work on the September event. Other staff members were extremely lucky to escape after being trapped for hours. The atmosphere at work on 23rd February was understandably eerie. For the first two days work was fairly slow and I followed all the latest news on the internet, hoping that my workmates would find their Christchurch colleagues had miraculously been rescued. The initial low volume of work contrasted with the immediate aftermath of the September quake which caused no loss of life, meaning property was people's number one concern, so clients were claiming within hours of the event. Priorities were very different after the latest quake - if you don't know whether your wife is alive, cracks in your heated swimming pool are some way down the list. On the third day following the quake, however, business picked up rapidly, and last week was pretty busy. It's good being busy and it's good doing real work that matters to real people without it being too stressful. As one of the few people who have benefited from the disaster, I absolutely had to donate something. I've so far given $43 or about two hours' wages.

In the wake of the earthquake I've learnt two important things about the human race. One, we're extremely fragile. One minute you can be talking on the phone to a work colleague and the next you can be under ten feet of rubble. Two, the vast majority of the human race are good people. The amount of goodwill we've all seen in the last eleven days bodes well for the future of Christchurch. It will take the city an awfully long time to recover from this, but I'm confident it will bounce back.

I saw an interesting piece from Jim Hopkins in the Herald last weekend. After a catastrophe such as this, the question on everyone's lips is Why?
Why did Christchurch get hit by two massive earthquakes in under six months? That's almost unprecented.
Why was this insurance worker killed by the quake while his best mate, who sat twenty feet away on the other side of the office, got out without a scratch?
Jim Hopkins isn't religious and neither am I, but he said that sometimes you have to accept that things just happen. In other words, they're beyond why. I'm inclined to agree with him.

The Sonny Report (6)

Lovely news for our family: Sonny had his second MRI scan today and has been told he is now free of any cancer cells!

He has to have one more course of chemotherapy and in two weeks or so he will be able to come home.

This will probably be the penultimate Sonny Report and I would like to thank everyone in the blogosphere for all of your continuous good wishes, kind words and prayers. Believe me - every one of them was very much appreciated.

Details ...

I've gotten enough emails since last night's posting that I suppose I should give a real update on my mom. I was going to wait until next week, after her next appointment with the oncologist, but I won't.

She has gone from what I called a "downward trend" to a "downward slope." The disease isn't at the final stages yet, but we can see the final stage on the horizon.
  • She's gone from having "bad days" once in a while to having them once a week to having them every few days.
  • The "bad days" last longer than a day.
  • She's not eating much at all, because digestion is so painful. Abdominal cancers wind up making it impossible for solids to pass through. She drinks; she sips broth; she tries mashed potatoes and other soft food. 
  • She has a hard time sleeping, a hard time finding a comfortable position.
But on her good days, she's cheerful and out and about. She plays Scrabble with us; drives herself around town; goes to the movies with friends; invites friends over wine and conversation.

We simply don't know how long she has, how long this phase of the disease will last before dragging her into the relentlessness of the last stage. So we take one day at a time, each day with gratitude.

And one thing for which I am grateful is the presence in my life of friends who care. Thank you. Just thank you.

Melbourne Meetings: Day 1



Funtimes today with Alan Todd (above):

* Played best-ever 'treasure hunt' to collect favourite bike from The Humble Vintage

* Lunch & yarns in Lygon Street (& just listen to this!!!! - Alan's partner, Kathy, once received a custodial sentence for the crime of 'not wearing a helmet' when she was 6 months pregnant - if ever we needed evidence that Australia is utterly daft Kathy's tale must be it!!!!!!)

* Window-shopping at slow bicycle pace along Little Collins

* Finally 'moseyed-on' home to Richmond from CBD

...and...

* Saw zero'velocops'...most disappointing - had the camera & all!

A little big thing

I sent an email today. Just a 3-line email. Not a big thing.

I notified the property management company in Maryland that I would not be renewing the tenant's lease when it expires this summer.  Just a little piece of business.

When they asked why I would not be renewing the lease, my reply was even shorter, one line saying that I intend to move back to Maryland, back into my house.  A simple answer; a little thing.

Except moving back to Maryland means that Mother "won't need me anymore." And that's a big thing.

So I did a little thing today, one that acknowledges the inevitability of a big thing.

Colonisation of Politics

(Photos: just round the corner from 'Barangaroo')




Understanding the full extent of Big Businesses' Corporate Take-over of Politics is a deflating process, and can lead to rapid demoralisation.

So before that happens, I want answers to a couple of key questions...and I want them, immediately...

* 'Why do we have to put up with this morally bankrupt bevaviour?'

* 'What hope have we got revoking mandatory helmet laws when sophisticated marketing techniques are routinely permitted to win over reason & evidence?'

* How can ministers get away with retrospective & expeditious amendments of law, yet take 20 years dodging correction of failed public policy?

My government is bereft of intergrity and backbone - yet everything they do is in my name - I am disgusted with myself!

Forever Changed writing challenge: The winner

When I decided to run this contest, I neglected to consider how difficult it would be to choose a winner!  The entries were thought-provoking, touching, interesting -- and yet each one was totally different from the others. How could I choose between apples and oranges? or apples and dolphins?  Several excellent entries described moments or decisions that changed the course of the writer's life, but the winning piece describes a change of mindset, and that appealed to me. Yes, the judge's personal bias affected the outcome of the contest. Astonishing.

With no further ado then, for your reading and rumination, the winning entry by the redoubtable Phoenix, who blogs regularly at After the fire, the fire still burns:
――――
It's been my experience that Truth is found everywhere, if you are in the habit of looking. You are as likely to be struck with an important truth watching a sit-com or reading a cereal box as you are while meditating or attending church. While we may have many strictures regarding our sources of soul information, the universe admits to no such limits. I tend to believe that we do not learn or discover Truth, but rather, we recognize it. In that moment, there is no discussion, no questioning, no debate. Truth is powerful and self-evident in that way. It is not so much a bolt of lightning between the eyes; it's both more sudden and more subtle, when clarity comes with a random inhalation, and “Well, of course,” is exhaled. The epiphany, in my experience, is always gentle; it's the aftershocks from it that will shake you.

And so it was that Truth found me sitting in my cubicle one day at work a few years ago. I had been engaged in an e-mail conversation with a co-worker and dear friend. I couldn't even hazard a guess as to what the original topic was; it hardly matters now. But I'm sure it was about my insecurity on some subject, and that I had expressed some concern about how it would be seen by someone. My friend sent me a note back that said, “What is it about another person's opinion that is so valuable when they are privy to so little of our real selves?”

It was not the first time I'd heard something like that. Like most people, I had caught glimpses since childhood that a happy life was probably going to found nearer the vicinity of not caring what others thought than it was to being the pleaser and peacemaker I'd been bred to be by nature and nurture. But it takes awhile to shake that off and do your own thing when it seems easier and more acceptable to do whatever other people want. I did my fair share of yielding; fortunately (and sometimes not) though, I've always tended to place more value on my own opinion than anyone else's. While I'd feel the pressure of outside opinion threatening to make me swerve off the course I really wanted to take, as often as not, I'd resist. In action. In my head, however, the doubts and recrimination remained. It's one thing to act impervious to public opinion; it's entirely another to BE impervious.

But on that day, evidently I'd been working on this long enough when she asked me, “What is it about another person's opinion that is so valuable when they are privy to so little of our real selves?”  Well, of course.

I printed out her words, and they hang on my bulletin board still. I told my friend she changed my life that day, because she did. I was set free. Did I stop thinking about what other people were thinking about me? Would that I could say I did, because that would be mighty impressive. I'm just not that cool, I'm afraid. However, understanding that, finally, truly, I became able to dismiss those thoughts and worries as not pertinent. They were demons to be banished, bad guests to be evicted, not VIPs I should court and defer to. The opinions I had feared most were from people who didn't know me; in which case, while I'd be happy to have their good opinion of me, it was absolutely optional and no longer a necessity.

It's such a small, simple thing. But that's the way Truth is. It's something you may have heard of or known for years, and yet finally understand in an instant, and it changes everything: every interaction you have, every relationship, every experience you have, every dream you consider living out.

I thought about writing about my widowhood, because it was the obvious thing, but honestly, the effect of that on my life is still something I'm trying to grasp. It changed my life; it changed my expectations of life and the world around me; but I'm not entirely sure it changed me, as much as it magnified me. The changes I struggle with now are not so much changes in who I am, as the flowering of seeds that were always there.

But my friend, with a single sentence, changed who I allowed myself to believe I was, in relation to other folks and how I approached absolutely every aspect of my life thereafter. She left me forever changed, for the better, the stronger, and the freer.

Phoenix has been blogging for 8 years (Geez!  How the time passes!), 4½ of those as a widow blogger.  Inspired by the late, great Molly Ivins, her writing shows a love of 50-cent words, folksy contractions, and unabashed liberalism.  She also has an incorrigible penchant for parentheticals (but then you probably noticed that).  She loves words, music, dogs, chocolate cake, and correct spelling and punctuation in public signage.
――――
For her efforts, Phoenix will receive a copy of Changing Woman and Her Sisters. Changing Woman is one of the creation deities of the Navajo religion. I haven't read the book, but I love the idea that creation is about changing, and the title of this particular volume seemed appropriate.

Finally, I must send out a special thank you to the other writers who submitted entries:

Elizabeth C
Kevin K.: After the Fire
Maisy: On Education
Ray Colon: A Good Talking To
Robin M.
Stella: Then and Now
Tristan Westover: Blowing Winds of Change

You made my task challenging and interesting!