I just don’t get it

6 08 2021

I just don’t get it. I don’t get why some people are SOOOO up in arms about vaccination status information being needed for work, travel, entry to venues etc. It’s not like this, or showing other types of statuses, is anything new. For example, in the Australian state where I live and in many other places, you are subject to these requirements, at least:

  • Drivers licence (state):
    • must have to drive a car
    • must sit a written test and a practical driving test to get it
    • must be at least 17 years old
    • must produce your licence on demand from a police officer
    • must have a photo taken for your licence, except under exceptional circumstances
    • can use as one form of verified (photographic) authentication of who you are
    • no licence = no driving
  • Gun licence (state)
    • must have to own and use a gun
    • must get from police department
    • minimum 28-day waiting period to get approved
    • must have a REALLY good reason to get one
    • checks are made in state, national, and possibly international databases before issuance
    • no licence = gun confiscated
  • Working with children licence (state)
    • must have if you want to work with children, whether paid or voluntary (e.g. teaching, child care, sporting teams, the local library, etc.)
    • must be able to produce on request of any prospective employer (including voluntary organisations)
    • must be authorised by the police department after checks are made in state, national, and possibly international databases
    • no licence = no work
  • Fishing licence (state)
    • must have if you want to catch certain types of fish
    • must produce on demand from a Fisheries Dept officer
    • no licence = not allowed to catch those types of fish
  • Boating licence (Recreational Skippers Ticket) (state)
    • must have to legally operate a boat >6hp on any body of water
    • must produce on demand from a Department of Transport official (and/or police or fisheries officer?)
    • must be at least 14 years old
  • Passport (federal)
    • must have a photo taken for it
    • must have a passport to leave your home country and to enter any other country
    • typically, also need a visa to enter that other country (e.g. ESTA to enter the US from Australia)
    • multiple checks are done when leaving or entering another country (e.g. by air: airline employees at check-in, then security staff at the entrance to the immigration area, then customs/immigration/border force officers, then airline staff again when boarding the aircraft)
    • no passport = can’t leave home country or enter another
    • no visa = deported from other country, at your expense
    • in addition, I have to be photographed and fingerprinted every time I enter the US—the US government has more details about me than the Australian government as NO Australian government agency has ever taken my fingerprints!
    • if I’m in the US and within 100 miles of a border, I need to keep my passport with me at all times (yes, I was subject to a border patrol check near Tucson, AZ one time and fortunately had my passport with me, not locked in my luggage in the hotel room)
  • Proof of age
    • required by licensed premises to sell you alcohol if they deem that you might be under a certain age
    • no ID = no entry or no sale of alcohol
  • Proof of vaccination
    • for ALL my school years, my parents had to show my (government) school my vaccination card to prove that I’d had my required shots (diphtheria, polio, mumps, measles, rubella etc.); school nurses would also come to all the schools to do vaccinations [hand out sugar lumps for the polio vaccine] and update our cards (I think I still have that card somewhere)
    • for as long as I can remember, I’ve had to have proof of vaccination to travel to certain countries (most recently, I needed to get various hepatitis and typhoid shots to travel to a particular country, and much earlier, proof of smallpox, yellow fever vaccinations; I still have that card in my travel documents for any overseas travel)
    • no vaccination that’s required by a country (or by your home country on your return) = no entry to that country
  • Workplace rules (public or private companies, government premises, retail premises, etc.)
    • many workplaces have employee/visitor ID badges (often with a photo) that must be scanned to gain entry to any building, elevator, or floor where they work (no badge = no access)
    • many workplaces have rules about fitness for duty (e.g. alcohol, drugs) and have random drug and alcohol tests that employees agree to as a condition of their employment (no compliance = anything from a warning to dismissal)
    • many companies have dress codes for employees, visitors, and/or customers, which might include safety rules for workwear (e.g. hi-vis clothing, all-cotton clothing, steel-capped boots, long sleeves/trousers, ear/eye protection, hard hats, PPE for certain activities [e.g. chemical gloves, breathing apparatus] etc.) (no compliance = anything from a warning to dismissal [employees] or refusal of entry [others], PLUS the potential to harm or cause the death of themselves or others)
    • public-facing workplaces (whether publicly or privately owned) have rules for visitor/customer entry (e.g. age restrictions, minimum clothing requirements, minimum behaviour standards) (no compliance = anything from a warning to ejection from the workplace)
    • some hotels (and all rental car companies) require proof of ID (e.g. drivers licence with a photo) as well as a credit card when you check in (the hotel requirement for proof of ID I’ve mostly encountered in the US); if you don’t provide it, you may be denied a room/car, even if you have a reservation.
    • these are their rules and if you don’t like it, you’re free to go elsewhere
  • Cruise ships
    • require you to HAND OVER your passport for the duration of the cruise (my only experience was on my one cruise, in the Caribbean, but my parents who’ve been on many cruises, say this is standard, and you’re not allowed to embark until you do so)
    • you don’t get your passport back when you disembark in another country for anything from a few hours to a day or so (yes, that’s scary because if you’re taken into custody for whatever reason, you not only don’t have your passport, but you may not make it back to the ship either, thus perhaps never seeing your passport again)
    • you only receive your passport back a few hours before you’re due back in the disembarkation port, typically after the home country’s immigration people board the ship and check everyone’s credentials before disembarkation.

No doubt there are many others. I haven’t even listed any of the myriad health and safety rules and laws that manufacturers of goods/food must comply with, nor the rules about driving a car we must comply with (e.g. wear seatbelts, turn on headlights at night, obey traffic signals etc.), or anything else, nearly all of which are to PREVENT US HARMING OR KILLING OURSELVES AND OTHERS IN OUR VICINITY.

So why this frenzy about vaccination requirements? ACTIONS HAVE CONSEQUENCES. If you don’t have a drivers licence, you aren’t allowed to drive a car, and if you do, you’ll get fined or jailed—you might even kill yourself or one or two other people. If you don’t have proof of vaccination or refuse to reveal your vaccination status, you aren’t allowed to enter and/or work in certain places because you’ll endanger potentially MANY others in those places. And it’s always been so, at least for much of the last century and this one.

(Note: I will delete any comment that isn’t respectful or that spouts conspiracy theories garnered from the fringe corners of the internet—my blog, my rules. You’re free to voice your opinion somewhere else.)

Update: Since I wrote this an hour or so ago, I’ve found out that a best friend of mine in the US is now under self-imposed ‘house arrest’ all because so many won’t get vaccinated (COVIDIOTs, as she calls them). After decades of kidney disease, she was the recipient of a life-saving kidney transplant and is severely immunocompromised, and will be for the rest of her life. Their decisions are affecting her quality of life, and potentially her life.

Update 8 August 2021: Spotted on a retweet today; attributed to @KenTremendous: You are not allowed to claim something is a ‘personal choice’ if it affects literally everyone else you come into contact with. A ‘personal choice’ is what movie to watch, or what color pants to wear. Doing something that endangers the lives of others is an ‘everyone choice.’





Making the roof space safe for workers

8 07 2021

Every time I see a tradesperson hoist themselves from the top of their ladder through the access hole into our home’s roof space, I’ve cringed. It all looks so awkward—and dangerous! And it’s certainly something I’d never do (and doubt I could do these days as my upper body strength isn’t good).

Because I’ve worked in industries (e.g. mining; oil and gas; OHS software) where health and safety are HUGE issues, I’ve been concerned about this safety issue for some time. In Australia, very few houses have attics, so the roof space is a dusty open area of struts and rafters, with insulation between the rafters, plumbing pipework, electrical cables, air conditioning ductwork etc. When someone hoists themselves into the roof space, they don’t know what they’ll be faced with. They don’t know the layout and how they will support themselves and their tools. They typically wear a head lamp or carry a torch as there are no lights up there (and under a state law, the power to the house must be turned off if a anyone needs to access the roof space, so lights would be useless). Getting themselves and their tools up there usually entails a couple of trips up and down the ladder and through the small access hole.

Getting down is just as bad. They have to position and balance themselves on the access hole’s framework, dangle their legs until they reach the ladder, then climb down. Again, multiple trips if tools are involved.

I discussed this with my handyman (who is 194 cm [6′ 4″]), and he said all tradies are used to this and he didn’t really see the need. We talked about a commercial attic ladder from the garage into the roof space, but there were a few logistical issues with that. My next idea was some sort of platform, and preferably a railing, so that workers had somewhere to gather themselves and their belongings, without having to balance themselves on narrow rafters and framework. He was a bit skeptical about how useful it would be, but hey, I’m the client, and he’d figure out something.

And boy, did he figure something out! He created a platform, but first he had to add supporting framework above the nearby linen cupboard space as it didn’t have any, then build the platform, and then he chamfered the supporting vertical strut so that workers would have something to hold onto as they pulled themselves up into the roof space. His skepticism disappeared and this is what he wrote in an email with the pictures he sent: ‘I know it doesn’t look much but it actually has made a huge difference in getting in and out of the roof. I can stand 90% upright where the hammer is—originally that section was a void over the linen cupboard with no framing to stand on. I chamfered the Karri upright which gives a nice hand hold in addition to the other edge of the access hole.”

I think he’s a convert! And I’ll feel more comfortable any time someone has to go into our roof space.

 





Foxy loxy

28 04 2021

It all started when I noticed some scat around the house and on the lawns. It wasn’t cat scat, and it didn’t really look like dog scat, though it was more similar to dog than scat (I’m NOT a scat expert, but I had a cat for 17 years, so I’m very aware of what cat scat looks like). All the neighbourhood dogs stay on their properties and rarely, if ever, come onto our property. I Googled possum scat to see if it matched but it didn’t, so next I Googled fox scat. Hmmm, similar…. maybe we had a fox?

A couple of weeks after noticing the occasional scat, I walked out first thing in the morning to get the newspaper, as I do every day, and nearly trod on a big piece of flesh and fur—it was a hind leg of a rabbit, with the flesh cleaned off the lower leg and with meat and bunny fur still attached to the upper leg. I’d only walked there the previous morning, so this was new. My suspicions of a fox started to form (for those not living in Australia, we have very few native carnivores compared to other countries, so the choice of potential predator was limited). A few days later, I found another piece of dismembered rabbit (same one?) at the edge of the front lawn.

I called the Shire to see what to do if I thought there was a fox in our semi-suburban, semi-rural area, and was told they didn’t deal with foxes, but to contact the local biosecurity group (sort of part of the state government’s agriculture department). I did, and they offered to lend me a fox trap, but suggested I try a trail camera first to see what was coming into our yard. And yes, they would lend me a trailcam for 3 weeks. Off to the nearby town to pick it up and learn how to use it, and then I played the game of check the SD card each day to see what the camera captured.

Night one was promising—a rabbit went past the trailcam’s location! I moved the camera around various locations on our 0.4 ha (1-acre) property over the next week to find the optimal position. I captured LOTS of moving vegetation and clouds and not much else. But I did capture a fox! In fact, over the 3 weeks, the trailcam ‘caught’ the fox about 6 times, at various times of the night, and always crossing our large front driveway in much the same place each time.

OK, so I now know we have a fox, what to do about it? First, I let the neighbours who have chickens know that there was a fox travelling through our property to theirs. Then I contacted the biosecurity group who offered me a fox trap. But then the issue was what to do with the fox if one was caught in the trap (and no mention of what to do with rotting bait [chicken was recommended] while waiting for the fox to be caught). The standard thing is to shoot it, and if I didn’t know anyone with a gun who was prepared to shoot it in the cage, then they would give me the names of some sporting shooters who would do so for a small fee (most people in Australia don’t have guns, so it’s not like I knew anyone). But then the issue of a gunshot in semi-suburbia would arise, and I would expect the police to come and investigate, pronto. The other issue was disposal of the body—that would be our responsibility.

In addition to all those logistical issues were the emotional ones. My head absolutely knows that foxes are introduced vermin in Australia and they do untold damage to the local wildlife, as well as pets, chickens etc., and they must go. But my heart knows that foxes are beautiful creatures, with their pretty little faces and gorgeous colouring. And I know I would be REALLY upset if I had a fox in a trap and heard its mournful cries, and then heard the gunshot that killed it.

Fortunately, after I explained all this to the biosecurity people, they came up with a plan. Normally, they deal with farmers on large plots of land, where shooting and baiting foxes is a common occurrence, but this was semi-suburbia and I have a soft spot for foxes. A different strategy was needed. A few days later the person in charge called me and said she’d used Google Maps to see where we lived and suggested that the massive green belt on the other side of the highway from us would be an ideal place to bait for foxes, and, later in the year, rabbits. She would contact the government department and private owners of that land and the nearby farms, and once all was approved, the baiting would start (they can’t bait for foxes on properties less than 25 acres, so that ruled out that option for us).

A win-win for all, except the foxes, of course!





Moving teeth

28 04 2021

So, here’s a thing I didn’t know—it seems your teeth can move as you age! I’ve noticed a gap between two of my front left teeth getting wider and wider, and finally I asked my dentist to fix it. It ended up being just treated as a standard filling under a standard consultation time, so it cost no more than any other filling I might have. And it filled the gap!

Here’s how my teeth have moved over the past 13 years:

2008 no gaps in teeth

2010 – maybe a slight gap starting to form

2018 – gap is noticeable between the left central and lateral incisors (front left teeth, as shown on the right in this picture)

2021 – gap is quite big now

2021 – all filled!

 





More about septic tanks and leach drains than you ever wanted to know

23 02 2021

I live in a semi-rural area. Sewerage lines are not available here and likely never will be in my lifetime. This means that we have to have a septic tank and leach drains to dispose of solid and liquid waste water from the house. We are very careful not to put anything down the waste pipes that could clog them, or could cause ‘fatbergs’ in the septic tank. When such a system is working well, the septic needs pumping out about once every 5 years or so. We moved into this house in 2010, and, as far as I know, the previous owners (who built the house some 3 to 5 years before) had never had the septic pumped. We had it pumped for the first time in June 2017 and some 4500 litres of waste material was extracted and carted away. That’s at least 7 years’ worth of waste, and likely 10 or more years. The extraction people said that we should get it pumped every 3 to 5 years. Oh, one other thing… There’s a lever inside a pipe near the septic tank that I was told by the previous owners that I have to switch over every 6 months. I didn’t know why, but I’ve been really strict about doing that on the 1st of December and June each year. I’ve since found out that it’s the diverter for the leach drains (there are two leach drains).

Fast forward to 1st December 2020… I open the cap over the pipe that houses the lever only to find that the pipe is almost full of waste water. I’d never seen that before. There’d been very little rain, so it must have come from the septic tank or the leach drains. The septic pumping people came out that day and pumped out 4000 litres of waste. The guy told me the leach drains may have collapsed, but if we got the system pumped every two years, the waste water wouldn’t get high enough in the tank to flow into the leach drains. All good. I watched him do his job, then clean out the enormous tank in the ground (he had the big opening open, so I could see there were no roots etc. in the tank and that the tank was in good condition). I like to know how things work, so I was quite fascinated by the whole process.

Fast forward to Saturday 20 February 2021, not quite three months since we had the tank pumped out. The en suite toilet started making gurgling sounds when it was flushed, and the water level would rise a little before falling below the normal level. The other toilet did the same but only for a few hours. On Monday morning I contacted the plumbers to see if it was something we needed to worry about. He said it was likely a small blockage and he’d send someone out tomorrow to run the drain snake through both toilets.

Tuesday morning (today) arrives and I get an early phone call from the plumber saying he’d be there in 15 minutes. Great! It’s going to be a hot day, so it will be good to get this all sorted nice an early and before my work starts for the day. Ha! Little was I to know… When the plumber arrives, he grabs a shovel from the back of his ute. I ask him what it’s for and he says something about waste pipes on the outside of the house (to be honest, I really didn’t take much notice because everything that happened next blew his answer out of my brain). I describe the situation to the plumber (we’re still outside at this point) and take him to where the septic tank is so that he knows where the inspection opening is to watch the toilet water flush through once he’s cleared the blockage. He opens the inspection opening lid…. and the waste level is at the top of the tank!!! It’s totally full, even though we only had it pumped less than 3 months ago and it should take 3 to 5 years to fill.

He spots the diverter pipe and opens it—gross!!!! Liquid waste comes gushing out. He’s able to screw the cap back on, then cleans himself up and calls his boss to see what the next steps are. I also talk to his boss, and a plan of action is formed. The boss will call the septic pump people to come and drain the tank and the leach drains, but while we’re waiting for that, we need to FIND the leach drains. Did I mention this is a VERY lush garden bed (probably because the plants have been sucking up nutrients and liquid from the leach drains for years…)? The plumber starts cutting back bushes and putting down a probe to see if he can find the drains. I know the position of the drains is marked on the house plans, so make a photocopy of that for him. But they are nowhere to be found. He continues digging around the diverter pipe opening area and eventually finds the two pipes that go to the drains—they are certainly not where the plans indicate! We continue cutting back vegetation—this is a big job so I decided to help him, especially as we need to find the drains and their inspection openings before the septic pump people arrive. Did I mention that even at 8am it’s bloody hot?

Within 30 minutes or so of the phone call back to the plumbing office, the septic tank guys turn up. They pump the septic tank (another 4500 litres!!) and give me more information about the purpose of the leach drains and how pumping just the tank and not the drains as well will give us about two weeks reprieve before the tank would need to be pumped again. Why two weeks? Because if the leach drains aren’t functioning correctly, the waste has nowhere to go and so remains in the tank, filling it very quickly. The tank acts as a filter, but the leach drains are the engine. If the engine fails, the filter can only work for a short period of time afterwards. The bottom line is that the leach drains still need to be pumped out, but also we need to find the cause of them not working. The high probability is that the drains have collapsed or that roots have totally taken over (did I mention this part of the garden is LUSH?), or a combination of both. So why didn’t the leach drains dry out as the previous septic people said they should? Well, perhaps they did, but we had some 50 mm of rain about two weeks ago, and that wouldn’t have helped. If they’d been close to capacity, that rain just would’ve added more moisture to the soil and they couldn’t drain the waste into waterlogged soil.

The septic guys and the plumber had left by about 9:15am. The intention was to get an excavator out to the property in a few hours to dig up the garden to find the leach drains. But then the plumbing company suggested that that may not be necessary. The plumber had sent them photos of the pipe arrangement and the garden bed area, and around noon, the plumbing boss came out to check it out and give me a verbal quote and discuss a plan of action. Because we have plenty of room in that garden bed, he suggested that instead of ripping out the whole garden, they rip enough to find the inspection openings for the drains, pump them out, then cap those drains, which have very likely collapsed and need replacing, then leave them in place. Instead of ripping out the drains (and having to cart away all that material, including possible jack hammering to break them apart if they are concrete) and filling the space with replacement drains, he suggested pumping them out and capping them, then using part of the garden bed that doesn’t have as much vegetation on it and is lower (therefore better gravity feed) for the new leach drains.

I’ve decided to go with that as it seems a very sensible solution and preserves a lot of the garden. Not that I’m precious about my garden or particular plants, but it would be nice not to have to look out on a wasteland for a number of years! Even better, after the plumbing company sent the quote (I’d already said to start making arrangements), they said they’d had a cancellation so could do this work on Thursday!

I’ll update this blog post as required. Also, as a side note, the toilets now flush properly! No drain snake needed—just the septic pumped. The plumber didn’t even set foot inside the house, though his timetable for the day was likely very screwed up with all the time he spent cutting back the garden looking for pipes and leach drains.

Update Thursday 25 February 2021

The plumbers came this morning to clear the vegetation and install the new leach drains. I didn’t have to have the other drains found and pumped because they could be capped and left to dry out on their own over time. New pipework from the septic would be used for the two new drains. With a digger and 3 people, it was all done and cleaned up within 4 hours! In addition to the cost (several thousand dollars), I also had the cost of a 5 cubic metre general waste skip bin ($260 for 6 days), but no extra cost for pumping out the old leach drains. The plants can suck on those for a few more months.

Photos

Looking north-west from the house to the back driveway, across the top of the partially exposed septic tank and the garden area the plumber and I cleared on Tuesday

Looking back towards the house. Some vegetation already removed on Tuesday and piled up ready for disposal

Starting to dig the first trench; note the amount of vegetation already in the skip bin

Putting together the modules for the leach drain—all that playing with Lego ended up being useful!

Skip bin before being tamped down and only about 30 mins into the operation

Digging the first trench for the 7.5 m long leach drain

Despite what it looks like, the plumber is fiddling with pipe fittings some distance from the digger. Note the roots in the trench—the plumbers suspect root ingress was the reason for the failure of the old drains

The first leach drain, covered in geotextile fabric, is in place and the trench is ready to be filled

The first trench is now filled (note the white diverter pipework on the far right) and the second trench is being dug

The second drain comprises 12 modules side by side, so isn’t as long but is double the width of the other—interlocking modules allow a leach drain to be reshaped to fit the available space

Ready to start backfilling the second trench

All done and smoothed out. The white cap thing protects the diverter that sends flow to one drain or the other (previously I’d switched this over every 6 months to allow one leach drain to dry out while the other took over)

The plumbing company I use prides itself on cleaning up afterwards, and they certainly did that

Not much space left in the skip bin

 





Tree pruning and removal day

6 01 2021

We had a dead protea (not sure of the variety) and a Phoenix palm that needed to be removed, as well as peppermint tree that needed to be trimmed and balanced, and a massive protea in the garden that needed to have its lower branches removed. Today was the day—4 blokes, two trucks (one with a wood chipper trailer, the other with a cherry picker), a van, and several chainsaws. An hour or so later and they were all done.

Very sad and dead Phoenix palm. It was knocked over in a storm several years ago and valiantly tried to survive.

Bushiness of the massive protea that needed its lower limbs removed

Almost dead protea. Its root base had been attacked by termites several years ago, and it tried to hang on too, to no avail

Peppermint tree at the front of the house, before they started trimming it

Peppermint tree after its haircut

Removing the lower branches of the big protea and removing the dead protea behind it has opened up light into that part of the garden and you can see the street now. There’s also a palm that I’d never seen before growing under the branches of the big protea!

Carrying a branch of the dead protea to the wood chipper





Being thankful

24 12 2020

Every Christmas I take a moment to reflect on what I’m thankful for. This year, one thing stands out above ALL others because without it, there wouldn’t be a lot to be thankful for. What is it? Politicians! (Yes, really!)

Politicians who put the good of their country and its people above all else, and who take science seriously. Specifically, the decision by Australia’s politicians, especially Western Australia’s Premier, Mark McGowan, to go hard, go strong, and go early on dealing with COVID-19, and to be transparent about why, and with a united bipartisan approach, at least early on.

Locking down our borders (international, interstate, and intrastate) has saved countless lives, and continues to do so (Western Australia has gone more than 250 days with NO community transmission [yet] and Australia’s total death toll from COVID in the past 9 months is around 1000 [see below for comparisons], with 800+ of those from the Victorian outbreak alone). We’ve also been incredibly lucky, but early and tough decisions had a lot to do with that luck too, and that can’t be ignored, especially in light of how other countries are coping (or not) as a result of their decisions or lack of decision, or decisions that were countermanded or were ignored by too many of the population.

In addition, the federal govt’s stimulus package of $750 per week (for 6 months) for ALL employees of companies whose turnover dropped by 30% or more meant that the unemployment rate was nowhere near as high as it could have been. And the increase in payments to those who were unemployed helped them pay their bills. While some of these measures and eligibility may have changed, the fact that they were there for the first 6 months helped keep an awful lot of people from going under. Added to that our nationwide healthcare system, which prevents almost all Australians from going bankrupt just because they get sick.

Some industries, businesses, and individuals and families have been hit very hard, and may never recover. Other industries are booming—I heard some $40 billion each year was spent on travel by Australians, much of it overseas travel. For those who still have jobs, that money is now being saved or paid off the mortgage, or being spent on other big ticket items, such as upgrading cars, houses, etc. Sales of new and used cars have gone through the roof, and the building industry (new builds, renos) is inundated with work. Other industries have benefited too, such as IT companies helping businesses and individuals set up for working from home, anyone who makes perspex screens, courier and delivery companies. After an initial rocky start, local tourism has benefited too, with people holidaying at home and discovering the wonders of their own state.

But in the grand scheme of things, the measures taken back in March/April have kept us safe and in a bubble of ‘normality’ (for example, I haven’t worn a face mask since March/April and nor has anyone else in my state—yet).

Those measures taken 9 months ago bought us time—time to assess, time to recover, time to implement measures that needed time to prove successful in other jurisdictions, and time for a vaccine to be developed.


Comparisons, using death rate per 1 million people as at 23 December 2020 (figures from: https://ourworldindata.org/covid-deaths):

  • UK: 1018 deaths per million
  • US: 985 per million
  • Sweden: 819 per million (by comparison, Norway is at 77 per million)
  • Canada: 387 per million
  • Australia: 35 per million
  • New Zealand: 5 per million

And with that, I wish you all as festive a season as possible, under what for many—especially my family and friends in the US—will be a really difficult time.

(And right when I was finishing this, Santa just came up the street on the back of the local fire truck, siren blaring, giving out lollies to the kids! It’s 35C in the shade right now and even hotter in the sun where he is—he must be boiling in that suit!)





A musical childhood, with dog and a kind nun

14 12 2020

I was chatting via email with a good friend in the US earlier today and something came up about music (he’s a professional muso as well as a retired programmer). I mentioned something about having forgotten the music theory I learned way back when, which prompted him to ask me how I knew about music. Which then got me delving into the memory banks of my childhood growing up in a small country town in Western Australia (about 800 people), where the only people who taught music were the nuns from the local Catholic school. I didn’t go to that school, but I did music lessons (classical piano) after school at the manse.

I did piano lessons with the nuns from about age 7 until I was about 13 or so, and with that I had to sit the AMEB (Australian Music Examination Board) exams in practical and theory. From memory, we had to go to Bunbury (big town!) once a year to perform our practical examination on a grand piano on stage at the Railways Institute, with the examiners, parents, and other students sitting in the audience (it was TERRIFYING, even though the audience was very small). I can’t remember how the theory exams were administered. I think I got to about Grade 6 in practical and about Grade 5 in theory. You had to have at least Grade 7 at both to get your AMusA (pron. ay-muss-ay) to enter into the music program at high school and/or university.

I remember almost NONE of the music theory now, though I can still draw a treble clef without hesitation 😊 (and yes, I just drew one just now to test that I still could!). And I haven’t played piano for the past 30 years, though if you put me in front of a piano now, I MIGHT be able to knock out the first few bars of Beethoven’s ‘Fur Elise’! I had my piano from childhood until about 1990, when I moved and there was no space for it. I lent it to my sister for my niece to use (my niece was quite musically talented—she went on to play cello and sing). Unfortunately, my sister and her husband were doing renovations and put the piano out in a covered area near their pool. A big storm came and the piano got badly water damaged and destroyed. Such a shame—it was an old German piano, with a wrought-iron frame. In the right light, you could see patches in the beautifully polished walnut panels that showed where candlestick holders had been, so it was likely from the 1890s or thereabouts, perhaps even earlier.

Back to the nuns…

The music room at the manse was at the end of a corridor. A door opened to an outside staircase to allow the music students to come and go without going through the manse. If someone hadn’t finished their lesson, you waited at the top of the stairs until they came out—you never went into the manse except to the music room. Most of nuns who taught music were absolute harridans. One was particularly vengeful and nasty—if you played a bum note, she hit you with a steel ruler, edge side down and then you were expected to play it note perfect even though your hands were screaming in agony. Classical piano wasn’t easy to play at the best of times and kids don’t have a very large hand span to stretch to make all the notes in the chords.

I clearly remember one lovely nun—Sister Bride—who was young and kind. My boxer dog, Cassie, used to try to follow me to my music lessons after school, and mostly I could tell her to go home and she would. But one day she just wouldn’t. Having a dog at the manse was a huge no-no, so Sister Bride made sure she shut the door to the outside stairs so that Cassie could stay on the landing until I’d finished. Sister Bride must’ve heard the rattle of the Mother Superior’s rosary one day and realised that I’d be in trouble for having Cassie there, so she called Cassie inside into the music room and hid her under her habit!!!! A minute or so later, Mother Superior poked her nose into the music room to see if all was OK. Sister Bride and I giggled a lot after she left. Cassie was a good girl and didn’t make a sound under the full habit of Sister Bride (the nuns were ‘brown joeys’—sisters of St Joseph, who wore dark brown, full-length habits, and a full pristine white wimple). Sister Bride left not long after that —I really don’t think she was cut out to be a nun—and I have no idea what happened to her. The rest of the nuns were either unmemorable or were nasty bitches who didn’t like kids much.





Follow-up to cataract and laser surgery

12 12 2020

For background as to how I got to here, see my previous posts on:

I went to the new optometrist (recommended by my ophthalmologist) yesterday. He spent a good hour or so with me and I had tests and images taken of my eyes that I’d never had before. One used a concave instrument with a heap of concentric circles, and was used to assess the curvature of my cornea. I felt very comfortable with him and he ‘got’ the issues I had with living with a strabismus my whole life. Other optometrists have sort of ignored my voice on that.

Bottom line: With prism lenses (one vertical, one horizontal), he reckons that he should be able to correct my wonky vision to about 75 to 80%—he said nothing external will get me to 100%. That’s much better than I currently have, and if the new glasses are as good as the tests yesterday would indicate, they should help with my medium- to long-distance vision (TV watching, driving). He also did some testing for glasses for computer work, but we won’t go there just yet—the magnifiers seem to work OK, and I can zoom in for most programs. However, because I’ll have two different prisms, I still need to be careful driving and watching TV—scrunching up in the recliner will be out as I need to sit straight to get the full effect. And for driving, I’ll need to be careful at T-junctions and do a full turn of the head for the ‘look left, look right, look left again’ procedure.

Oh, and to add to the mix, the curvature on my corneas is different, and likely has been all my life, contributing to my wonky vision. The left one is relatively normal and smooth, but the right one showed a ‘butterfly’ shape on the retinal image, indicating that it’s a bit wavy on the external edge, resulting in the image splitting as it goes to my retina. Lenses are one culprit for this splitting too, but as I have new lenses now (as a result of the cataract surgery), that’s ruled out. So with the wavy edge on the cornea, it’s possible I may need to have further surgery to correct that, as indicated by my ophthalmologist earlier this month. But we’ll see how the glasses go and see what he says at my next appointment in 6 months’ time. (BTW, ophthalmologist is a bloody hard word to type!)

Update 4 January 2021: I popped into the optometrist today for him to formally put the script through so that I can take advantage of this year’s medical rebates. I asked him to test my eyes again, as I believed they had gotten worse in the 3 weeks since I saw him. They had. He had to increase the prism effect in the right eye from 1 to 2 (whatever that means).

Update 29 January 2021: I picked up my new glasses yesterday. They made a little bit of difference, but not a lot. The optometrist told me not to wear them that day, but to start afresh tomorrow. I only need them for medium to long distance activities/views, so I won’t wear them for computer work. In fact, wearing them at the computer was worse than using my magnifiers. I did try them while watching TV last night and the vision with and without was very similar—not a lot of difference, and certainly not a 75% improvement… maybe 10%? I just put them on now (afternoon) to look at the view in the distance, and they do make a bit a difference, perhaps a 25% improvement on looking at that same view without classes. Again, certainly not a 75% difference. The optometrist asked me to wear them for 10 days and if I didn’t notice much improvement to come back. I told him that I certainly didn’t want to be coming back every month or so for new glasses! Meantime, I had to pop into the ophthalmologist’s rooms to correct some info from the optometrist, and I was able to bring forward my June appointment to mid-February, just a few days after I go back to the optometrist. By then, I’ll know if the glasses have helped, and/or if my vision is worse than it was in December and January, and the optometrist will have sent his results through. The optometrist said the corneal work that might have to be done would likely be something called a corneal ablation, something that takes about 30 mins in the specialist’s rooms (in Perth), with most of that being prep time. I’m not sure I’m happy with the idea of more eye surgery, but I’m certainly not liking the deterioration in my vision.

Update 16 February 2021: I went back to the optician late last week and to the ophthalmologist yesterday. The prism lenses in the glasses have certainly helped with driving by reducing the ghost images and making things clearer (a BIG bonus!). However, there’s still minimal difference between wearing the glasses and not wearing them when I watch TV. The ophthalmologist said that the corneal images didn’t indicate that any corneal surgery would help as he believes this is all still related to the strabismus. Essentially and in lay terms, he said my eyes have never played well together, with each competing against the other for dominance. The dominance is an order of magnitude measured in millimetres or less, but it means that my eyes are in constant conflict, resulting in images that go in and out of focus in mere seconds and parts of seconds. He didn’t think that further strabismus surgery would help either. He did offer to refer me to someone for a second opinion, but I trust his judgement on this. The bottom line is that it may take some months for my brain to adjust to the new ‘abnormal’ of the glasses and the lenses from the cataract surgery, and that he doesn’t predict further deterioration. He recommended that I see the optician again in 12 months’ time and if my eyesight has deteriorated further to get a new referral back to him. The real bottom line that I took away (my words, not his) is that this is it and not much else can be done for me. (One other thing he mentioned when I said how bad my grandmother must have had it—her eyes were quite divergent by the time she was 90, with one looking at the ceiling while the other looked at you—was that in some ways she may have been better off because her brain would’ve ignored the messages coming from the wonky eye and only processed those from the ‘normal’ eye. In my case, both eyes want control of my brain.)

 

 





Reminiscing

3 11 2020

It’s 4:45pm Tuesday 3 November 2020 in Western Australia right now, and the first votes on the day of the election in the US will start in 3 to 4 hours’ time. Let’s step back 4 years’ ago…

In late October/early November 2016, I was part of a quilting tour group to the US. We spent 21 days there, finishing up with nearly a week at the International Quilt Festival in Houston. Our trip took in the major cities of Boston and New York, and the magnificent fall colours of some New England states before we headed to Houston. We did a lot of travelling by bus through small towns in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York state, and Pennsylvania. Political yard signs were everywhere we went (they are rare in Australia).

We flew out of Houston to Dallas and back to Australia on the eve of the election (Monday 7 November 2016). It was a troubling time politically, and we all felt the occasional ominous (and incredulous) undertones of ‘what if?’ while we were in the US, especially in Texas.

All the pundits said it would be a landslide for Hillary Clinton, so there was hope too—hope that the US would set aside the other aspect to the ‘only white men’ precedent set for presidents prior to President Obama and elect an incredibly qualified woman.

I landed in Sydney around 7:30am on Wednesday 9 Nov 2016 and had a few hours to wait before my flight to Perth. The TV news channels in the Qantas lounge were doing wall-to-wall US election coverage, but as it was early in the counting, with the west coast etc. still to come in, no clear winner had emerged. Almost everyone was watching the screens, which was unusual.

I boarded my 4-hour flight to Perth. On arrival, I exited to the baggage claim area. Like every other flight, baggage takes a while to come through, so people mill around talking, waiting, checking their emails/messages, etc. watching the TV screens, and generally making the ambient noise of a crowd. But not this time. It was dead silent. You could hear a pin drop and the collective intake of breath and see the shaking heads and hands over mouths as it was clear that in those hours that we were in the air, the unthinkable had happened.

Remember, this was in Australia, a completely independent country from the US and on the other side of the world from it and not at all directly touched by the actuality of the election, just the economic and geopolitical aftermath that all countries experience when they are tied militarily, economically, and socially to another country. The shock was palpable.

In those four years since, so much has changed in the US, which I consider my second home. I’ve visited the US at least 40 times since my first trip in 1985 and my second in 1993, with annual visits (sometimes twice a year) since 2000. I was last there in 2019, and much of the hope and positivity I was so familiar with had dissipated. In its place was fear and despair, especially about the injustices wrought on those who look different to the ruling class, and concerns about the entire system of government and its three branches. There was also a lot of anger and rage, not overtly, but just below the surface. And poverty. Every small town I’ve travelled through over the past several years has had many stores boarded up, empty streets, rundown dwellings, but right next to those signs of abject poverty have been huge pristine white-painted churches with neat-as-a-pin carparks and not an inch of flaking paint to be seen (again, especially noticeable when you wander the backroads of Texas). And all this was before the coronavirus wreaked havoc on jobs, livelihoods, and a quarter of a million lives, plus untold millions more who continue to suffer from the ravages of this virus. The only stimulus check for Americans came in May, for $1200. For those who would find it hard to pay a $400 bill (some 40% of Americans in 2019, long before coronavirus), I can’t imagine how they have been surviving and coping for the past 6 months. My guess is they aren’t.

COVID-19 prevented me from going to the US this year, but I have no doubt the underlying simmering and festering of a country that has been so turned on its head by one man and his henchmen is far more pronounced and obvious than 4 years ago.

Update: 8 Nov 2020: I woke this morning to find that sometime in the six hours I’d been asleep, the election result had been announced and Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be the next US President and Vice President. All day today, I’ve seen videos of jubilation in the streets of America, Tweets and messages of support from leaders of all countries of the world, positive headlines, and in many cases tears of relief from those marginalised by the current president who feel that a massive weight has been lifted from their shoulders. I just hope that the next 70 or so days between now and the inauguration are incident-free and that the current incumbent leaves without issue. Yes, that’s probably a vain hope. Massive rebuilding must be done to reassert America’s place on the world stage, and to combat the many decades-, and sometimes centuries-old problems it has regarding race, disenfranchisement, health care, and the current issues related to coronavirus and massive unemployment. This will not be an overnight fix, especially as the vote was very close, so half of those who voted will not be happy, but for today, the rest of the world celebrates the imminent return of democracy in the US.