30 August, 2008

Rolf Harris has a lot to answer for

I was wasting time on one of the forums I frequent today - yes, I'm an Internet geek - when I stumbled across a thread extolling the virtues of the Stylophone.

The Stylophone was a miniature synthesiser which was operated by a stylus. Small, battery operated and annoyingly loud, it became a 'must have' Christmas gift for the children of Britain. Rolf Harris was the face of Stylophone. Each new item came with a floppy disc with Rolf taking the owner through the instructions in his excited Australian accent. I can't remember what year it exploded on the UK market, suffice it to say that I'm pretty sure it was somewhere between 1973 and 1976. Every kid wanted one and my brother Mark and I were no different.

Presents were not put under the tree and opened as a family in the SSS household. An ordinary pillowcase was stuffed with presents and every now and then a handful of Quality Street sweets were thrown in. There was also a Selection Box and an annual of some description. Father Christmas (aka Dad) used to leave our presents in our bedrooms. When questioned on this he says it's what his parents did when he was a boy but I strongly suspect it was a ploy on the part of our parents to be able to sleep in past 6am on Christmas morning. Generally it worked. Not, however, in the Year of the Stylophone.

I have no idea what time it was when I woke that Christmas morning but I think it was probably around 4am. I switched on the light, saw the presents and got stuck in. About a third of the way into the pile I found it. My Stylophone. I immediately rushed into my brothers bedroom clutching my electronic musicmaker. Mark was hard at work, ripping into paper and eating sweets.

"Quick," I shouted. "Look for this. You must have one!" He rummaged about for a bit then found his Stylophone. Foolishly, my parents had given us both batteries. Initially we just ran the stylet up and down the keyboard but after only a short period we were able to play something which bore more than a passing resemblence to The Death March. We played and played and played.

Suddenly, the bedroom door burst open and a wild looking man wearing pyjamas started shouting at us. It seemed that our parents had taken exception to being woken in the early hours of the morning to the garbled funeral dirge. I was lifted by the scruff of my dressing gown and deposited back in my own room. The Stylophones were confiscated and we were warned not to move from our rooms until daylight.
I don't remember much else about that Christmas or many others from my childhood but I'll never forget that moment.

28 August, 2008

Happy Birthday to me

It's my birthday. I am now officially *cough cough* years of age.

Looking back at last year I think my report card should say 'must try harder'.

And now, I'm off to spend some money!

25 August, 2008

An excellent day

I had a nice day today. Quite unusual for a Monday but hey, I'll take my good days where I can get them.

I spent the afternoon as part of the studio audience for Enough Rope. I pricked up my ears last week when I heard an announcement at the end of a TV programme asking for audience members for a show starring Bill Bailey. Did I want to see Bill Bailey? Does the Queen have corgis? I rang the very next morning and scored two tickets.

Has anyone been in a studio audience before? Blimey, isn't it knackering? My friend and I arrived at 2pm, 15 minutes earlier than than the required time to find a massive queue waiting for us. Well, that isn't actually true. I arrived at 1.45pm because I am anally retentive and have an overwhelming fear of being late for events. My friend (Yummy Mummy, a fellow nurse) arrived at 2.10pm because a) she does not share my anxiety disorder and b) she has a small child to look after. Anyway, after queueing, being checked off on a list and being corralled into a small area we were finally allowed into the studio at 3pm. It was very exciting. The warm up chappie was highly entertaining. He asked the audience a few standard questions, where were people from, who'd come the furthest etc. as well as asking if any groups were in. Yes, there was a group from somewhere (I have to say I can't remember where) but the second group to identify themselves were from the New South Wales Nurses Association. They got a big cheer and round of applause. Clearly, nurses are popular. Yummy and I felt a little embarrassed as we didn't join in the big clap and cheer. We both felt as though we would have been patting ourselves on the back but then we realised that we just looked like a couple of nurse haters. I had no idea whether to bask in the mass glory or applaud my colleagues two rows above. Ho hum.

We had a great afternoon. We finally got out at 6pm and our moment of fame will be broadcast next week. I'll leave you with a couple of my favourite Bill Bailey moments. The first one will make no sense if you don't know who Billy Bragg is but I hope you like it. The second one will make no sense if you're a) not British or b) haven't lived in the UK for a reasonable period of time. Watch them anyway. I'm sure you'll like them.

24 August, 2008

Cordial relations and sour grapes

Well, the Olympics are drawing to an end. David Beckham is preparing for his role in the closing ceremony and the factories of Beijing are getting ready to recommence churning all that crap out into the atmosphere. Pity the Paralympians who are going to have to breathe in shitty air.

The Olympics has brought out the best and the worst in people. I was particularly entertained by this little piece in todays Sun Herald newspaper. Paul Connolly wrote an article called 'Moments to Remember'. This is what he had to say about Britain.

6. The Empire Strikes Back. We may well remember Beijing for all the childish bickering it prompted between Britain (well, the English part of the union) and Australia. "Ner ner, we won more gold than you!" Only cause you roped in the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish. "Whinge, whinge, we even snatched some gold in the pool off you!" Not bad for a country that has very few swimming pools - and not much soap. Actually, that last, less than original comment was made by AOC chief John "Shit Happens" Coates.

Schoolyard stuff.

Gee, Paul, do you think so? Quite frankly, I think you're talking out of your arse. I haven't heard too much gloating from the British at all. We're too busy being surprised and pleased. If there is any gloating (and I'd be surprised if there wasn't any), well, Australians like you (not all Aussies, obviously) only have yourselves to blame. The jingoist Aussie as just as real as his Union Jack waving counterpart. It's little wonder that Australians are seen as bad winners and bad losers by other countries.

Schoolyard stuff, whines Paul. I remember when England - and yes, that's England and not Britain this time - were playing Australia in the Rugby World Cup in 2003. One of the newspapers here published the name of hotel where the England team was staying and encouraged their readers to beep their car horns outside and keep the team awake. Apparently several knuckledraggers did just that. Classic bad sportsmanship as well as a surefire way to annoy the local residents. We're not the only ones in the playground.

What's the problem, Paul? Australia didn't get as many medals as you thought? You didn't get to wiggle your arse in the face of the Motherland and have a 'ner ner' moment of your own? There's finally a bit of competition? If people like you hadn't spent so much time delighting in the sporting losses of Britain (and yes, that's England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) you might not be feeling like a kid with a puncture in his favourite football right now. If any Brits are having a gloat then you only have yourselves to blame for continually calling us crap. Gracelessness in defeat is something that so called sporting Australians excel at. "Oh, the Poms (again, people, it's Great Britain, not just England) only won at the sitting down sports. They only won with Aussie coaches. " So, it's not Australia who have a Kiwi as a coach for their rugby team? My mistake.

I mentioned a while ago that I've now lived in Australia for ten years. For the most part I love it. But it seems to me that it's okay to be abusive to the English in a way that no other nationality cops it and at times it goes past being a friendly joke.

A few years ago the Sunday Telegraph newspaper had a memorable headline. 'Filthy Poms' screamed out from the front page. English backpackers were being held entirely responsible for the amount of litter being left on Bondi Beach. Imagine the outcry if the headline had said 'Filthy Lebs' or 'Filthy Japs' or some other nationality. But no, because we're English (not Scottish or Welsh or from Northern Ireland) it's okay to insult us because it's just a joke and Pom is an affectionate term and hey, if you can't take a joke why don't you just fuck off back to England where it's cold and wet, you Pommy bastard?

You know what, Paul Connolly? I wasn't gloating. I was happy to see the country of my birth do well for once on the international sporting stage. But people like you make me want to take my Union Jack flag and shove it right up your arse. Anything to stop a repeat of the drivel that comes out of it would be a start.

Look, I know it goes both ways. I know Aussie friends of mine in London get called 'convicts'. Friends, with my hand on my European passport I apologise for their stupidity. For every person who has asked you if Skippy really delivers the post I've had ten people express surprise at my ability to get a suntan because, as we all know, the English don't get suntans. Apparently. For every person who has asked you if Australia is really like Neighbours (well, clearly not because everyone in Neighbours is white) I've had to bite my tongue when Australians express surprise that I feel the cold, because I'm English and I should be used to it. Perhaps Aussies think we all have cold blood to match our stiff upper lips and 'reserved' behaviour.

Now, what was that medal count again?............

16 August, 2008

SSS and the Transport Minister

Over three months ago I sent an email off to Morris Iemma, the useless Premier of New South Wales. I'd spent almost an hour trying to get home from work after a ten hour shift and was ready to explode with anger over the transport system. Here's the letter, which was sent on the 7th of May. Buses and locations have been disguised.

Dear Mr Iemma,

I am writing to you about the abysmal service provided by Sydney Buses for commuters to Chigley.

I am sick and tired of standing at a bus stop in the evening waiting to get home. I get on my bus just before Albert Square. If I leave work at 17.30 it is not unusual for me to wait in excess of thirty minutes. 123 buses are almost always full at this point in the route and will not stop. The last thing I want to do at the end of the working day is to stand on Oxford St breathing in traffic fumes and watching packed buses drive past. Regardless of what the bus timetable says there are not enough buses. There is no room on any 123 or 124 between 17.45 and approximately 18.30. This evening I waited for over 30 minutes before admitting defeat and getting a taxi. I work as a nurse, most of the day is spent on my feet and I'm tired of it. The colder weather is approaching and I have better things to do with my time than stand around getting cold and annoyed.

Whatever you are doing is not enough. There are simply not enough buses to cope with the volume of passengers to Chigley and Trumpton. I see that the 333 Bondi buses are a great success. These buses have double the passenger capacity. What plans are there to extend this to the express buses which serve Chigley and Trumpton?
The public are encouraged to use public transport to help the environment and the breathtaking arrogance with which we are treated by Sydney buses never ceases to amaze me.

You are in your second term as Premier and I am yet to see any tangible improvement in services. I don't want excuses or platitudes. I don't want spending figures. I want a bus. I want to be able to get on a bus within 30 minutes of arriving at the stop. I don't even expect a seat. I just want to get on it and get home.



Approximately six weeks later I received a reply from the Premiers office telling me that they had forwarded my letter to the Minister for Transport. Yesterday I received a response. Here it is.

Dear SSS

I refer to your correspondence received by the Minister for Transport concerning the 123 and 124 routes. The Minister has asked me to reply on his behalf. I apologise for the delay in responding.

Passenger loading and timing checks are conducted on outbound services on 123 and 124 services operating through Albert Square between 5.30pm and 6.30pm on weekdays generally indicate sufficient accommodation is available for passenger demand.

There are, however, instances where services may be disrupted due to traffic congestion encountered en route. This scenario usually affects normal loading patterns and it may be difficult for passengers to gain accommodation. However, the high frequency of services during the PM peak period ensures minimum waiting times.

Additionally, the service checks identified certain services on other bus routes which appear to be under utilised during this time. Investigations are now being undertaken to examine the possibility of relocating these resources as a means to supplement Chigley services.

In the meantime, services will continue to be monitored......oh, blah blah blah. that's me, readers, not the Goverment lackey.

Phew. Well that was useful and informative. It's all in my fucking imagination. There are buses, lots of them. The peak time service ensures minimum waiting times. Silly me. I suppose it depends on whether or not you consider a waiting time of half an hour before being able to board a bus is acceptable or not. The response tells me that the service is adequate yet in the next breath I'm being told they are looking at ways to supplement the current service. Well bugger me. Good old Sydney buses. That should be their new slogan - Improving on the already adequate. This will probably involve taking away some other poor sods bus off them and making them wait for 45 minutes.

And they want people to stop using their cars? Fat chance.

The true Olympic spirit

Ehem. I'm not quite sure what happened to the LOLcats on the last post. It looks fine when I see it in preview. Anyhoo, the second cat is sitting on the step with spooky eyes and says 'disrupt'. It's really funny. Hilarious.

So, today I'd like to talk to you about the other Olympics. The Paralympics will kick off in just 21 days. Less able bodied athletes get to push themselves to the limits and show the world there's more to disabled sport than just wheelchair basketball.

The history of the games dates back to just after World War Two. Ludwig Guttman was a Jewish German and a leading neurosurgeon. He fled Germany in 1939 and settled in the UK. In 1944 the British Government asked him to lead a new hospital unit to cope with the young soldiers who were returning from the war with spinal injuries. The unit was - and still is - at the now world famous Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire. The first Stoke Mandeville Games were organised in 1948 by Dr Guttman as part of ongoing therapy for his patients, raising both their stamina and self respect. In 1952 Britain was joined in the games by the Netherlands, taking it to an international level. 1960 saw the competition move to Rome, where the games were held after the Olympics had finished. The Paralympics were born. Dr Guttman founded the British Sports Association for the Disabled in the same year. In 1966 Dr Guttman was recognised for his massive contribution to British medicine and sport and was knighted, becoming Sir Ludwig Guttman. He died in 1980, aged 80.

The British Paralympics team are sending athletes out to compete after the able bodied men and women have finished splashing, running and rowing. Here's a look at the Aussies and the US to show just three countries teams.

A variety of events will be contested. Wheelchair rugby, otherwise known as Murderball, is one of the roughest and most exciting games played with the funny shaped ball. Typically played by young men who have sustained spinal injuries in accidents, they're mad as hell, go in hard and change wheels up to 6 times in a game because they've smashed them to buggery. Medals will be awarded in archery, athletics, boccia (a game designed for people with altered motor skills) cycling, equestrian events, football (that's soccer to some of you but you know what, you kick the ball with your foot, so, you know, let's all call it football) , judo, powerlifting, sailing, swimming, and table tennis to name but a few. Oh yes, and wheelchair basketball.

I went to the Paralympics when they were in Sydney in 2000. I wanted to go to the wheelchair rugby but it had sold out within about an hour of the tickets being released so I ended up watching the swimming. It was one of the most fantastic sporting events I've ever been to. The atmosphere was electric. The volunteers were brilliant. The swimming was great fun to watch and I was literally jumping out of my seat throughout most of the races. I got to stand for my national anthem way more times than I expected and waved my British flag so many times I thought the man next to me was going to take it off me and threaten to lodge it somewhere rather uncomfortable.

Over 4,000 athletes from 136 countries competed at the 2004 Athens Paralympics. No doubt there will be more at Beijing. All this from a German Jew who escaped Hitler in 1939. Now that's what I can a legacy.

14 August, 2008

Urge to kill rising

I have had two shitty days at work in a row. Both were made worse by the fact that I work with some completely selfish, self centred, seemingly stupid cretins with poor time management skills coupled with a complete failure to prioritise and/or see what's going on just slightly out of their line of vision.

I won't go on about it (it'll give me a stroke) but all I will say is that when I say, "I need you now." it doesn't mean "o hai, I can has talk to you laters, k?" It means "Get your effing arse here right now!"

And now, some kitties.

more cat pictures

12 August, 2008

A perfect moment

I'm feeling quite flat this week. Nothing terrible has happened to me personally but there have been a couple of sad stories in the news and they made me think about the random nature of life. The first story makes me particularly sad as it happened a stones throw from my home. I walked past as the fireman were hosing the poor mans blood off the street. Misery is everywhere.

And yet. Misery might be there but there is happy stuff as well. After a particularly shitty day at work yesterday I was trying to think one perfect moment in time. And I found one.

Many years ago I was a staff nurse at a busy district general hospital in East London. When I say busy I mean busy. It had few redeeming features; it was set close to a remnant of Epping Forest and had a rather good chip shop close by. Entertainment was found at 999 parties and by watching the cows who found their way over the cattle grids and wandered aimlessly through the grounds. Anyway, it was extremely busy and we worked like carthorses. It was common for patients to leave us chocolates as thank you gifts but one week in the summer of 1989 we cared for a woman whose husband was a greengrocer. When she was discharged her husband gave us the most amazing amount of juicy strawberries. It wasn't just a couple of punnets, it was more like twenty. It was a beautiful summers day and for once it was quiet. My friend and I made a pot of tea and took some strawberries outside with a couple of rickety old chairs. We drank tea and ate strawberries. We laughed about nothing in particular. We sat back and felt the sun on our faces. It was a perfect moment.

How's that? It was probably 20 minutes in total and I can still remember it now. Tea, strawberries, sunshine and a good friend. Life has shitty moments and it has perfect ones. The key is not to let the former overrun the latter.

On to Olympicwatch. Team GB has two golds, one silver and one bronze. And this weeks Twat of the Week? This cretin. UK readers might be surprised to hear that Australians don't think the British wash. Clearly they never met my dear old grandfather, who would have said that cleanliness was next to Godliness. Well, he would have if he hadn't been the worlds biggest atheist. Sod off, Coates. I bet I smell better than you.

11 August, 2008

On a happier note......

I'm not too interested in the Olympics. The only thing I want to watch is the gymnastics, to be honest. But I live in sport obsessed Australia. I work with Australians, and there's not much more the Aussies love than winding up the English with sport related jibes. (the fact that we beat them in the Rugby World Cup in 2003 and the fact that we got to the finals again last year and they didn't is a thorn in their side but that's besides the point)

Anyhoo, I was in the tearoom today, having a well deserved cup of tea (two teabags because quite frankly the tea is like piss) and to my surprise the swimming was on the tv. I sat next to one of my favourite anaesthetists and began to ridicule the British swimming team. "We learn breaststroke at school, you know," I informed him. "We're not that good in the water. In fact, we haven't won anything since that bald bloke. What was his name?" "Not that fellow from Little Britain?" queried the doc. "I thought it was his mate who was the swimmer."

It sort of went a bit like that for a while and then the race began. And bugger me, we won! The British team won gold and bronze! I actually jumped out of my chair and did a little dance on the spot.

Congratulations, Rebecca Adlington! Our first female Olympic swimming champion in 48 years. And congratulations to her team mate Jo Jackson for getting bronze in the same race. You made your nation proud. And you made me eat my words.

Would you?

Now, look. I know it's a story from the Daily Mail. But really, what's the point of this one?

Melissa Bowmer was diagnosed with cancer and needed chemotherapy. By a cruel twist of fate, her four year old son was diagnosed with a different type of cancer only weeks later. Mrs Bowmer delayed commencing her own treatment to be able to sit at her sons bedside and help him through. The story reports that both mother and son are now free of the disease, although interestingly it states that Mrs Bowmer is still receiving chemo.

Is it just me? I mean, I know I'm not a mother or anything and I don't understand that maternal need to protect your child over everything else. But isn't it, oooh, I don't know, a teensy bit selfish of her to risk her own life? That's what she did. She delayed her own treatment to sit at her sons bedside. What the bloody hell was wrong with her husband? Are fathers so useless? Could her husband not have sat with their son?

There are two ways of looking at this story. The Mail version. Selfless mother. Risks own life to save son. Goes bald in solidarity with child. They all live happily ever after.

The other way to look at it? Woman not thinking straight, risks own life unnecessarily to provide care for son which could have come from the other parent. The story says that doctors warned Mrs Dowmer that a delay in treatment could be fatal. Who knows if her treatment will be successful? I know this sounds harsh but I bloody well hope she doesn't end up dead in a few years time because she delayed her treatment out of some misguided belief that she needed to be able to hold her sons hand.

No, I'm not speaking from my own personal experience. But I've seen it. I've seen young women die after putting things off.

Life is precious. We are here for all too short a time. Don't take risks with your health. If the doctor says you need treatment, guess what? You need treatment. NOW. Not when you think you need it.

08 August, 2008

Other peoples lives

The nurse looks at the mans arm. "That's a big tattoo. What does it mean?"

"It's my sons name. He was killed last year. His mother ran him over with the car."

Silence from the nurse and the anaesthetist as they exchange glances. "I'm so sorry to hear that, "says the anaesthetist. "There's not much you can say to that."

"We're divorced now. I still have a daughter, I see her every other weekend."

Later in the operating theatre the tattoo was discussed. Apparently the man, *Bill, had had a similar conversation with his surgeon a few weeks ago. Last year Bills wife had been reversing the car in the driveway and hadn't realised that their son was playing behind the car. The tattoo starts at Bills elbow and takes up two thirds of his inner arm. It's startling obvious. Some felt it was a touching tribute to his three year old son. Some felt it was too big. Another felt it was morbid.

What do I think? I think it's sad that his marriage hadn't survived what had been a tragic accident. I think it's heartbreaking that neither of these parents are going to be able to get past this. I wonder if the mother will ever be able to forgive herself. I wonder if the father will ever forgive the mother. It's a tragedy that their surviving child has lost not only her brother but her family unit as well. I understand Bills need to remember his son and mark his passing but I also wonder if getting such a large and conspicuous tattoo in such a prominent place was the best way to do it. Every time someone says, "that's an unusual name, who is it?" he tells that story. He has to go through that pain every day of his life. I think he's punishing himself with that tattoo.

05 August, 2008

Interesting Fact Number One

Guess what? I learned something today. Kafka was German.

This stunning revelation came about when I was having a very pleasant conversation with one of my patients. I noticed he had Dr as his title and asked if he was a GP. Well, he looked like one. No, he replied, he had a PhD. " Ah, a real doctor" I said and we both had a good laugh. Few things needle a medical doctor more than pointing out that they aren't real doctors. It turned out that he was a doctor of German Literature. Well, as you know, I do like a good read and I pressed him for more information. We had a chat about why German literature has such a low profile as opposed to English or Russian. He felt that a lot of it was due to the whole guilt/World War 2/mass horror/warmongering image that Germany had. I told him that I didn't know any German authors. "Have you heard of Kafka?" he asked. Well yes, but I thought he was Russian. He told me that Kafka was a German Jew who lived in Prague but wrote all of his books in German. We went on to have a nice conversation about Metamorphosis and I asked if he could recommend a good German novel. Without hesitation he told me to look for Tin Drum by Gunter Grass. I popped into a bookshop on the way home. "Ah, Gunter Grass." confirmed the man in the bookshop. "Possibly my favourite book ever. The film is really good but it's not a patch on the book. No. Out of stock. Has been for ages." Super. He's ordering a copy for me and it should arrive from the US in 3 weeks.

Strangely enough, I was having another pleasant conversation with another patient later in the day. She was a German teacher and told me that Kafka was Czech but did indeed write all of his books in German. I came home and checked my own battered copy of Metamorphosis and Other Stories. Turns out he was Czech after all.

So, the Germans have claimed Kafka, son of a Czech Jew as their own. That's just the sort of thing that Australia does all the time. Aussie Joe Bugner, anyone? And Britain has done it too. Zola Budd, the barefoot South African runner whose great granny spent a weekend in Worthing during the summer of 1862. Okay, it wasn't that but it was some sort of tenuous link. She got a British passport in record time to enable her to run for Great Britain in the Olympics and what did she do? Tripped over a Yank, jogged in last to the boos of the crowd, got disqualified and never ran again. Actually, did you know that she didn't trip Mary Decker? The footage proved it and she was reinstated but the legend stands.

Where was I? I really do have the attention span of a three year old at times. Oh yes, Kafka. Read Metamorphosis. It's really quite good.

I did a bit of Googling and it turns out that Prague belonged to Austria when Kafka was born. You just have to love those mobile European borders.

03 August, 2008

Daffodil Day

Just a little public service announcement today. I want to remind you all that 22nd of August is Daffodil Day.

Apparently 1 in 3 of us with either be diagnosed with cancer, or have a close family member diagnosed. I don't know anyone who hasn't been touched by cancer in one way or another. I have lost both of my grandfathers to this terrible disease, one to stomach cancer and one to prostate and bowel cancer. Two years ago my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Fortunately he has been cleared by his oncologist after months of treatment. I have known too many women who have succumbed to breast cancer. I have looked after countless patients of all ages who have had their bodies and lives invaded by cancer. I am tired of young lives being snuffed out in their prime.

It's a shitty, hateful, painful, merciless disease. I want it gone. I don't want to lose anymore friends or family members. Please, buy a pen or badge or something. Drop a gold coin in a collection box. Every little helps.

What else can you do? Limit your exposure to the sun. A tan might look healthy but you'll end up with skin like a handbag and/or skin cancer. Stop smoking. Exercise. Eat fruit and vegetables. Ladies, have a smear test. No, it's not nice but neither is cervical cancer. Get your GP to investigate any unusual breast lumps. Boys, have a regular feel of your testicles. Not like you need to be told to do that since most men can't keep their hands off them at the best of times, but if you find a lump, go to your doctor. Dying from embarrassment isn't just a figure of speech.
Blood in your poo? Unusual bowel movements? See your doctor.

Look after yourselves. And spare a few bob for those whose lives have been turned upside down.