Saturday, 31 December 2016

2017 - Time to Reboot!

Why hello there 2017.  Good of you to finally make it!

I woke up this morning with a curiously promising feeling about the year to come.  I've been thinking about what I'm going to do to make it a good year, since feelings alone don't guarantee anything.

The first thing is to be a better father.  I'll make a point of writing to Grace and Rachel each week, the way I used to.  Somehow that slipped in the last year.  And I'll skype with them more too.  I love the girls - nobody could doubt that.  But love needs to take concrete form or it's nothing at all.  Facta non verba.

I'm going to write more this year, with an eye to publishing.  I don't care if it's an essay in the New York Times or a short letter to the Bullamakanka Gazette.  Writing is the only form of art I was drawn to, and it's also one of the few skills I have.  If I can develop myself as a writer, I will.

Image from here

The next thing is to be a better reader.  Last night I finished the last of nearly two years' backlog of shooting magazines, law journals, museum journals and more besides.  And now it's time to get into some proper reading - Hemingway, and Chekhov, and Marlowe.  Things to build up my brain and my vocabulary and style.  One can't get good things out of a brain if one isn't putting good things into it.

I was delighted to find last night that my weight has now dropped below the 80kgs mark - I'm on 79.5 kgs.  I didn't quite make the 75kgs that was my goal for 31 December 2016, but I got so close I'm calling it a win.  I'll be at 75 soon enough!


Also on the health note, I want to set a goal of a marquee race.  I've said a few times that I think my knees will cope with one more marathon.  Usually I think that if I'm going to destroy those joints once and for all, I want it to be doing something incredible, like the Pyongyang Marathon or the New Caledonia Marathon.  But then I think, maybe I should shoot the moon and try something that will offer me a sliver of immortality, like the Marathon des Sables.  Of course, the cost of doing something like this is a major factor, so my project is to settle on a goal and create a plan to make it happen.

A related subject is the health of the squidgy grey-pink thing inside my skull.  I have a bad habit of cursing myself out inside my head, telling myself that I'm useless and stupid and a vile non-human and everyone would be happy if I were dead and maybe I should go walk in front of a train and so on.  Mostly it's just words uttered on reflex; occasionally it isn't.  Either way, it's unhealthy.  So, I'm going to break that habit this year.  I thought of wearing a rubber band around my wrist as a reminder, like the gambling addicts do, but that seems a little ostentatious.  Instead I'll wear my saint's medal consistently and make a point of touching the chain or the medal from time to time to keep me mindful. The saint on the medal is St Stephen, and he's kind of fitting: he wasn't a man given to doubt! (Acts 6:8-7:60).  I should say that including this one on my list was inspired by my friend Stephanie whose New Year Facebook post was one of the first I saw this morning!



A further related subject is negativity and toxic people.  I think it's time I purged some of that from my life, or at least from my social media.  Where people bring me down but I can't decently disconnect from them on Facebook, I can at least mute them and downgrade them to acquaintances.  I've also had the bad habit of reading (or listening on the radio to) savagely anti-Catholic material with a kind of horrified fascination.  Why?  I mean, why am I voluntarily reading something that's meant to gall me?  So that's another habit I'm going to break.  Life is too short, and the world is too full of better things.

Finally, I want to spend more time absorbing beautiful things.  I'm very fond of statuary and etchings and the like that leave something to the imagination, like the rongorongo tablets or "The Starving of Saqqara".  Where it's clear a person meant to share something in their work, but it's not clear what, one's mind works even harder to connect with them.

A Rongorongo Tablet  
Images from here and here

For the same reason, I want to absorb more performing arts, like music and dance and theatre, where the impermanence of the art form makes the communication more vital and urgent.  These art forms, I think, bring us closer to being fully human.


I think that all of these things will make my life better.  Moreover, I think they'll clear some of the hobbles I put on my own ankles.  The more debris I clear from myself, the more I will achieve with my life.

Let the games begin!

2016: Year in Review

Hi everyone,

Time for a 'year in review' post, no?  2016 has been a year of constantly rising to the occasion.  Fairly predictably, a lot of that has involved being in orange.

January brought appointment as Controller of the Tatura SES Unit.  I remember thinking that I'd bitten off way more than I could chew with this one.  After all, I'd never run anything before except litigation (which doesn't really count).  I've surprised myself with this one.  I certainly can't say that I'm the best Controller in the service, or even in my region.  On the other hand, the unit has gained new members and only lost members in numbers which I think we would have lost through natural erosion.  I've been very lucky to be supported by talented Deputy Controllers and a skilled Section Leader, and despite a few missteps I think the unit is doing broadly OK.



I surprised myself the other night when I had to have a 'difficult' conversation with a certain unit member.  I can't give the details, but if you've had to do that sort of thing you'll know why it's not easy.  I wasn't panicky or alarmed: I got on with it and I'm confident I can manage the fallout I predict in the week or two ahead.

February brought another SES matter: the Coxswain's Course.  This one was personally important to me.  Boating and river life were very important to the ex, her being from south Louisiana.  Somehow it was important to me to show that I was capable of operating a rescue boat in floodwater and of keeping the boat and crew safe.  I'm proud of the fact that I completed the course and attained this competency.  This one really mattered to me.



March and April saw my first fatal callouts: a road accident near Tatura and a land search near Murchison.  Surprisingly, neither was especially troubling, even in the road accident where at about 2am I found myself in a car trying to free the deceased's legs while my mate tried to create space with the spreaders.  The only odd experience afterwards was that for half of the next day I could still feel his legs in my hands.  There's no great honour in going to callout for a death: you don't become part of an elite within the service or anything.  But it's a personal Rubicon when you know you've been to something bad, but you've still done your job the way you were trained to do it.  That's something you can be proud of.



Mid year brought my departure from Goulburn-Murray Water.  I can't say I was sorry: I certainly miss having a regular income, but I don't at all miss the job.  GMW had actually modernised in the 1990s ... by dragging themselves into the 1950s.  Frankly, I have no idea why my job existed at all: I had done all the work on most days by about 11:00am and then sat around surfing the net for the rest of the day.  Asking my boss for more work only got me jobs which were so trivial or pointless as to be humiliating (please relabel the covers of these obsolete CD-ROMs!), and I was expressly forbidden from offering to help out any other section.  I can only wonder how many other utterly useless jobs there are in that corporation



In about August I had another milestone in orange.  We had flooding in this area, and I - yes, me: Captain Useless - was tasked with running the job of sandbagging a house to protect it, including managing SES members from all over creation, firefighters, and even a work team from the prison.  I shouldn't have managed.  I shouldn't have coped.  But it worked and broadly I think I did a good job.  I can tell you I was surprised that I did a decent job.

Even Facebook doesn't have much that's interesting to tell me about the last part of this year.  I'm still unemployed.  I'm still volunteering with the Legal Service and SES and Red Cross.  And I'm still running.  I finished out this year with a nice long 20kms.  It was good to go - I was able to be barechested most of the way, and the only nuisance was having to run through a couple of big pools of runoff water from recent rains, so for most of the way I had wet feet.

Image may contain: tree, outdoor, nature, text and water

What's coming up in 2017?  I have a few plans to talk about tomorrow.  But I can tell you it'll be a different year.  This year had a lot of new ground broken, but it had a lot of drifting.  In many ways I feel I've grown a year but achieved precious little.  In 2017 I'll break through to better days or crash and burn altogether

Image from here

Party hard tonight friends, and get a good night's sleep.  2017 is going to be big.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Rebooting for 2017

Hi everyone,

I mentioned the other day that this is the time of year when I usually review my life.  The time between Christmas and New Year is ideal for considering what needs to be rebooted, what kept, and what left behind.

Image from here
It's a work in progress; this is what I have so far.

Family


There's a few different aspects to this one.

Children


I don't know whether to change anything where Grace and Rachel are concerned.  I suspect not.  They're happy and thriving with their life as it is and I'm a realist.  If I become more involved in their lives there's a realistic chance I'll make them worse and not better.  This is unacceptable.

Divorce


One of my projects in 2017 will be maintaining a stasis in 'divorced' life.  The inverted commas are partly because as far as I know I'm still legally married even though the marriage is long-since kaput.  Mostly the words are in inverted commas because I can't disagree with the Church's teaching on marriage's indissolubility as a sacrament.  I can't see any grounds I would have for ignoring it.  This means that I also simply can't remarry or repartner without committing adultery.  I don't like this reality.  It's not how I wanted my life to look.  My job is simply to make peace with it.

I'll write more about this at some point, but one thing I am disappointed by is the Church's fairly crummy support for divorcees.  There's a lot of words about 'support' but the only particularly concrete suggestion I've seen is using us for volunteer work for the church community as a replacement for loving one's spouse.  Volunteering is laudable and desirable, of course, but it's hard not to feel that one is being directed to community service like some type of petty offender.

Parents


Regular readers will know that my own parents aren't young but remain fiercely independent.  There's little for me to do but support them as best I'm able.  In practical terms this means I'll be up here in the Goulburn Valley for the next year or so unless there's a remarkably strong reason for me to go elsewhere.

Work

Paid work


Australia is glutted with lawyers already and another couple of thousand will hit the market this year after completing their degrees in 2016.  Essentially all will be younger and cleverer than me.  I'll keep my practising certificate so I can continue volunteering at the legal service but there's no point planning a legal career.  I had my chance for that when I worked at Hall & Wilcox and at Thomsons Lawyers.  Most people only get one chance at a brilliant career.  I had two.  I choked each time and can't claim to have been hard done by.

What else do I do?  Retraining is not an option.  I can't afford to be retrained myself and no government support is available.  I can't keep scraping by with catchpenny labouring work: it helps me maintain my self respect but not much more.  As I see it the only resource I can call on is a knack for writing on pretty near any subject.  So, this year my effort will be to write and publish as much as I'm able to.  If any of it can be sold for actual money, so much the better.

Volunteering


I'm already doing three different lots of volunteering with SES, the Legal Service and the Red Cross (four if you count the blood bank).  I don't think I can really take more on, so my task is to do what I'm doing better.

My two year term as SES Unit Controller will expire in late 2017.  At some point I'll need to decide whether to seek reappointment.  It's a terrific role, but it's also demanding and it's not fair on other people to 'hog' it either.

Health and Fitness


Notwithstanding the Christmas binge, I'm more or less on track to get my weight down to 75kgs.  I still want to get my resting heart rate down a bit further however, which means I have every reason to kep running in 2017!  I'd like to enter a few races this year, in addition to the Emergency Services Games half-marathon; I guess that'll depend on having spare money for race fees.  At any rate, this part of my life is broadly on track.

What are your plans for the new year?

Monday, 26 December 2016

Christmas Recap / Boxing Day evening

Hi everyone,

Boxing Day evening and calm has settled over the farm.  The family has been coming and the going all day.  That is, Oldest Sister Economist and Nik came down from Canberra last night, and Little Sister up from Melbourne.  Today Second Oldest Sister and JP arrived about 1030.

As I think I've explained long ago on this blog, my family gets together on Boxing Day rather than Christmas Day, what with us being spread out and having family all over the place.  Christmas day, then, was a quiet one for me: some farm work in the morning and a certain amount of killing time - It was a hot day.  I skyped with Grace and Rachel on their Christmas Eve after they got back from Mass which was a delight/  Some of the presents I'd sent them via Amazon hadn't arrived yet, but they did open this year's Swarovski Christmas ornaments I ordered them to add to their collection.  I'm proud that I've ordered them each year's ornament ever since they went back, even when I had to beg, borrow or steal the money.  I want them to have beautiful things to look at and think of me.

Swarovski Crystal Christmas Large Ornament Annual Edition 2016
Image from here
The real hit, though, were the mechanical money boxes my parents gave them, where a little cat grabs the coin.  They were entranced beyond words, and I don't think the ex has any spare change left in the house!  Incidentally, I was given an incredible insight by my friend Melissa the other night.  She pointed out that the girls are clearly well, happy and thriving.  And isn't that what everyone wants for the children, and would give to them at any price?  Therefore, there's nothing to be sad about with them so far away.  If distance from me was the price for them to have an awesome start in life, it's not too expensive at all.

When the day had cooled down as much as it was going to, I did some weights and core fitness and went for a short (well, 20km) bike ride.  Heat is nothing.  I was dead pleased when I got back and found I was almost at 80kgs.  Only about 5 kgs to go to get to my target of 75kgs.  The work is paying off!

A photo posted by Stephen Tuck (@sdtuc2) on

Boxing Day itself brought cooking to me.  I cut up the watermelon and canteloupe so people would have an alternative to cakes and so on for desserts and then gave the dog a walk so he could swim and cool down.  Then, back up to the house to prepare for my contribution to Christmas dinner, which is heavily geared around frying.  The turkey I was doing this year was a monster - 7kgs (about 15lbs) of solid protein.  He took nearly all of a bottle of butter marinade and I made sure he was well seasoned when he went in.

A photo posted by Stephen Tuck (@sdtuc2) on

Also today, I decided to make hush puppies and to bread and fry some okra.  I love okra, but it's difficult to get here.  Sometimes the stores carry it in tins, but it's not cheap.  Occasionally it's inthe greengrocers, but not reliably.  Anyway, I'd bought a tin months ago and decided to cook it up in the hot oil after the turkey was done.

I can tell you that the frying process went smoothly and the food was as good as I'd hoped.  The turkey came out divine and was well eaten by everyone, and the okra was just how I remembered it tasting.  The hush puppies were a little dense but made a good change.  All in all I think it was a success.

A photo posted by Stephen Tuck (@sdtuc2) on

While I was frying everything Uncle G and his wife and kids happened along.  His younger two are twins and about the same age as Grace and Rachel; for obvious reasons I'm particularly fond of them.  They were extra sweet today and it was a pleasure to see them playing and happy.  I was impressed by his older one trying the okra and hushpuppies, even if he did find them a bit too spicy.  Heat is a bit of an acquired taste I find.

The next few days are ones I always find valuable: the days between Boxing Day and New Years Day are when I find it's valuable to take stock of things, think about what to do with the year ahead and maybe even make some plans.  I don't know what 2017 will be like.  I know I don't like the idea of drifting for another year.  And I don't think it'd be healthy to spend another year as angry with myself as I usually am.  I think I should spend some time evaluating things and making concrete plans that might lead to concrete outcomes.

I hope it's been a blessed Christmas and Boxing Day for all of you.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

And it's Christmas Eve.

Hi everyone,

Here we are on Christmas Eve.  It's 23C / 74F and I'm typing this in shorts and a t-shirt at 2220hrs with a glass of wine at my elbow..

It's been a surprisingly full day.  The weather came in stormy this morning with lots of lightning and a couple of strong showers, but that cleared through the day, taking us first to humid and then to dry.  I spent the morning clearing cobwebs fromthe outside of the house and sweeping away dry leaves and detritus.  After that, I went up to the Calder Woodburn Rest Area to lend a hand at the Driver Reviver stop that Murchison SES Unit was running: they'd generously asked if the Tatura Unit would like to lend a hand.



The Driver Reviver program is an initiative whereby SES Units set up a stand of some type at highway rest areas and provide free tea and coffee to motorists on days when there'll be high traffic (usually the holidays).  It's felt that it's better to give people a chance to stretch their legs and generally have a pick-me-up than it is to have to cut them out of a car following a fatigue-induced accident.

We had a fairly steady stream of people come through over the day, headed to places as far afield as Griffith and Berrigan.  Mostly they were great and it was a pleasure to chat with them.  One or two, though, were astonishingly rude, walking up to the counter and barking out "coffee with milk and sugar" with no salutation, as if we were lazy kitchen staff.  I was sorely tempted to put on my schoolmarm voice and ask "what's the magic word?".  Anyway, since there was no road crash callout in our area or Murchison's through the day, I think we can assume we did some good.

Not much more to say about the day: I gave the dog a long walk and jotted some notes for a book themed blogpost and did some cleaning in the house for Mum, but that was about it.  In a little bit I'll turn in and read the Journey of the Magi and the first part of the Gospel of Luke as per Yuletide usual.  I might or might not bother with Christmas music.  Really, my current mood is very much "All I want for Christmas is the charges dropped" or "How to make gravy". 



Somehow prison songs are on my mind a bit at the moment.  Don't misunderstand me: I'm not expecting to take a holiday at the Queen's expense any time soon (or ever).  I just find myself drawn to the harder edges of human experience at the moment.  I don't know quite why.  For the most part I don't think I can help (as the umpteen cases out of Dandenong I handled in my legal career will attest).  It just seems important for me to be there.

Christmas in a Workhouse (1876)
[Image from here]

Whether you're marking Christmas in a gaol cell or a treehouse, I hope you're at peace.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Running, a sunset and memories

Hi everyone,

The original draft of this post started with a rather grumpy review of some recent news.  After I'd written the post, though, I was struggling to remember why it seemed so important.  Anyway, I cut it from the post and went straight ito the better bits of today, which were a run and a photograph.

It was a warm day here - 35C/100F - but I wanted a run nevertheless after some bad dietary overindulgence yesterday.  I was only going on a gentle 10kms but frankly  I struggled.  Part of this was the route, which was a large road over mildly hilly terrain.  I chose this in preference to the track out the back of the farm, which I'd have preferred but which is likely to have snakes about at this time of year.

Brown snake killed on the road last summer

I pursued my usual strategy of forcing myself to the halfway point and then finishing however I could.  Getting to the halfway mark at least forces me to get the target distance even if the pace is lousy.  In the event I managed to go about 6 kms before I had to slow to a walk.  I think I walked about half a kilometre or so before I stopped, stretched and then got into a slogging, slow run the rest of the way back.  As I said, this was a run that was a bit of a struggle.


I should say that one of the advantages of living where I do on the backroads is that I can run shirtless if I so desire.  I was certainly doing that today.  It's a great feeling - the cool air on your skin and the sun on your shoulders (I was actually probably lucky I didn't get burnt).  I can also say that you feel 100% more badass that way, even if your pale skin makes you look like Frosty the Snowman!  I don't think I'll try running naked though: that has 'unfortunate photo in the newspaper written all over it).

The day closed with a great little moment inspired by my friend Melissa, with whom I worked four jobs ago.  She shared to instagram a picture of the sunset over Port Philip Bay in Melbourne that is just stunning.  I don't miss Melbourne very often.  I don't think I could ever move back there: too many memories, especially in the south-east where the ex and I lived.  But I do miss the sunsets over the Bay in summer.

Image courtesy of my friend Melissa L.


Isn't it incredible what memories an image can bring back?   love the memory I have of eating fish and chips and drinking a beer on the Middle Brighton Pier and watching sunsets like these on a Friday evening.

Sometimes heaven seems very close indeed.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

The Jesuit oath

Hi everyone,

Something I've learned over the years is that confidence often manifiests as being unwilling to put up with things, and also knowing when to pick your battles.  Without the second, the first is merely headstrongness.  I've been manifesting confidence surprisingly often lately (at least, I've surprised myself).  Today I did so again.

I came across a particularly nasty bit of anti-Catholic bigotry on the Facebook page of a fairly unpleasant Protestant pastor.  One Jane Paoli of Atlanta, Georgia, had posted the following -



In case the post is removed subsequent to this blogpost, its text read -
I just read the full version of "The Jesuit Oath " that all leading... RCC priests sign and adhere to in depth.. The Jesuit Oath says you must agree to spy, yes, ' spy even among your own brethren. ' The 'Jesuit Oath ' says to use 'poisonous cup', 'the stranulation cord', ' the steel of the poniard' , 'or the leaden bullet' ' to hang', 'to burn','waste', 'boil,','flay', 'strangle', and bury alive' 'rip up stomach and wombs of their women' and crush their infant heads against the walls.' etc,etc.. This is the RCC's Jesuit Oath that Pope Francis belongs to.. He is a Jesuit.. I pray that all RCs turn away, repent and believe in Christ Jesus.. His word , in His Bible diametrically oppose the RCC..and it's Jesuit Oath.. "For the word of God is living and POWERFUL and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner, DISCERNER, of the thoughts and intents of the heart." Hebrews 4:12... What do you think that God has to say about this diabolical Jesuit Oath! Please read the word of God..He will tell you..

The 'oath' to which Ms Paoli refers is of course a Seventeenth Century fake.  What troubles me is that it's repetition as a present reality is essentially an incitement to people of a certain mindset to conduct a violent pre-emptive strike on Catholics in general and Catholic clergy in particular.  I didn't find this acceptable at all.  I sent a message mentioning this to the Atlanta police in the event that they consider this a criminal matter.  They may or may not (I can imagine a number of First Amendment issues here).  I'm not sure it matters, however.  Having the spine to say politely but firmly 'this is not acceptable' is often all that it takes.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Things I never thought I'd do

Hi everyone,
 
A couple of the bloggers I read, like Allie's Life and Mckenzie Allyshia, have recently been taking as their subject "Things I never thought I'd do".  I found myself drafting precisely such a blogpost inside my head earlier today as I was cleaning out my underwear drawer.
 

 
There seems to be some law of human behaviour that guarantees that a person's underwear-and-sock drawer will also become a repository for all sorts of small things which can't be thrown away, but which also can't be readily put anywhere else.  I've been slowly accreting bits of junk in this way for a couple of years.
 
 
Clearing this out has given me a few things to think of on the theme of "things I never thought I'd do".
 
 
The first thing I found were my race medals, from various marathons and half-marathons.  I never thought health and fitness would become quite so important to me.  I'm a long way from perfect, but I try to keep myself fit and make sure my body is something I'm content to see in the mirror.  It started as 'revenge fitness' (meaning I wanted my ex to see me and think "I could have gone to bed with that every night forever oh God what have I done?") but it long ago became far more about a way of life.  If I can control how my body looks through the simple medium of food intake and exercise, then I remain in control of something.
 
 
The next thing that I packed away were various bits of electronic gear.  I never thought I'd be comfortable enough with the roads up here to be comfortable navigating without a GPS, but I reached that point a long time ago.  Sure, its still useful when I'm on my way to a backroad somewhere, but if you want me to go to Cobram or Deniliquin or Echuca?  No problem.
 
 
My eleven pairs of cufflinks were also in my underwear drawer.  I never thought I'd pack them away with other things that I don't expect to use again.  I can tell you the story behind every pair.  The Indian-head penny and stars-and-stripes cufflinks were bought in the Van Heusen outlet mall store in Baton Rouge.  I think yhe ex bought me the alligator ones in New Orleans.  The red-and-blue colour-changing ones and the silvery Boston collection ones were gift from two of my assistants in years gone by, and the golden coloured ones were a gift from my former mother-in-law.  For better or worse, though, I can't imagine I'll be regularly wearing French cuffs again.  Without French cuffs, there's not much need for cufflinks.
 
 
I never thought I'd look at these packs of handkerchieves and decide that they'd be ideal for re-gifting to my hard-to-buy-for brother-in-law.  Once again, these items are something you only really need if you're regularly wearing a suit, and this isn't something that's likely to be a problem for me.  I'm pretty sure I received these as a gift countless moons ago; this Christmas, they'll be a gift again.
 
 
I never thought I'd get sentimental over a measuring spoon.  I'm sentimental about this one.  When I was still married, this was the spoon that sat in the jar of coffee from which I set the machine to brew every morning.  One of the moments in my life that brought me the most constant feeling of contentment was coming downstairs on a Saturday morning, putting the coffee on, and getting breakfast started while the ex get herself underway.  I miss that feeling still.  I probably should have known the marriage was in trouble when I still loved to have a big old-fashioned pot of Community Coffee and she started loving Nespresso (which I think is bland and overpriced rubbish).  Two people who just wanted different things I guess.
 
 
I never thought I'd have so many keys I can't identify.  Some of these are obvious - the car keys are from cars I owned in the past.  The keycard was from my last job in Melbourne, when I worked in the Rialto.  And some of the other keys were from places I used to live or work.  But the small black ones?  The roundheaded silver one?  What the Hell were they for?
 
 
I never thought I'd be unsentimental about my wedding band.  I put it away in the box of other things I don't expect to use any time soon.  On one hand, I feel like I should keep wearing it, since Catholic divorce is a contradiction in terms and for me to repartner is a mortal sin.  This, though, seems a little like playing dress-ups.  On the other hand, I could sell the wretched thing and at least have the benefit of whatever x grams of gold are worth these days.  In the end I decided to keep it in case Grace or Rachel ever want it one day.  I can't say I'm too fussed if I lose it between now and then.
 
What odds and ends do you have lurking in your clothing drawers?
What did you never think you'd do?

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Up on the roof! [learnings]

Hi everyone,

Sorry I've been away a few days.  I've been persistently tired in the evenings and that makes it hard to write.

It was a busy couple of days in emergency-service-land this week.  A narrow but fairly powerful squall lashed across the Goulburn Valley on Tuesday, roughly from Lancaster to Tamleugh.  I spoke to one of the Powercor crews and I know it cut power lines at Toolamba and Karramomus.  For my SES unit it generated a run of tree-down-traffic-hazard and roof jobs that lasted until a bit after 0100 the next day.  It also did some roof damage that wasn't detected by the home owner until Wednesday afternoon.  What made this job striking was that the damage occurred on a second story roof.



Two story houses aren't unheard of in this area, but they're also not common.  Certainly this was the first that I'd been called to work on.  I learned a couple of things on this job that might be of value to other emergency responders, so I'm sharing them here.

The first is to think about any extra safety you might need in your setup.  Because the safety rope for the roof crew was going over such a high roof, the line was particularly long.  This meant there was extra opportunity for the rope to flex and stretch in a way that might endanger the roof crew.  To counter this a second bracing line was put on the side of the roof that the crew was working on at about a 45-degree angle.  The bracing line was anchored at ground level; on the roof it was joined to an alpine-butterfly knot in the safety line with a carabiner connecting to a figure-of-eight-on-the-bight knot.  I think the choice of this latter knot was just a matter of personal preference by the other crewmember: for myself I'd have used a bowline which I find quicker to tie and less prone to jam.

The second is to think about how you'll get up there.  We used one ladder to climb up onto a balcony, and then lifted up a second balcony to climb onto the roof.  The owner warned us, however, that the balcony floor was in less than A1 condition: it would take the weight of a person spread over the area of their foot, but the footings of a latter might punch through it.  We took up an inch-thick square of moulded plastic (part of our rescue gear) to put the ladder's feet on.

I was footing (steadying) the ladder from the balcony to the roof.  The other roof crew member felt there was too much risk of the ladder overbalancing when he was at the top.  We counteracted this by bringing up a third crewmember to steady the ladder along with me.  So lesson three: if you need more hands to make it safe, ask for them!

Once on the roof, I ran into trouble transferring from one side of the ridgeline to another.  Part of the difficulty was that the alpine butterfly knot on the ridgeline was close to the knot for the bracing line.  This isn't really a problem worth unpacking: SES is doing away with this particular aspect of the rooftop system.  However, I did notice one thing: the safety rope was particularly hard to handle.  That is, its own weight dangling over a long distance was pulling it taut.  This is another matter for a roof crew to keep in mind.

The repair on the roof was actually fairly straightforward.  All we needed to do was replace some tiles and lower a rope so that a spare tile and some silicon could be sent up to replace a breakage.  I'm afraid I don't have any particular learnings from this one!

What learnings do you have from recent incidents?

Monday, 12 December 2016

Poor man's lemonade

Here at the farm we waste surprisingly little.  In the warmer months, collecting the water from the shower, kitchen sink and washing machine.  Anything edible goes (in the final instance) to the dog.  And anything organic goes into compost.
 
Recently I've been making a lot of fruit salads, while the fruit is cheap.  It struck me that there might be something more we can do with fruit waste before it's composted.  This married up with my other passion, which is healthy living.  From this came fruit infusions.
 
By way of example, the other day I was making up a salad out of bananas, kiwifruit and canteloupe (rockmelon).  As you can imagine, this generates a fair bit of peel.
 

While I was preparing the melon to be cut up, I cut it in half and scraped the pulp from this middle into a plastic bowl.  I also put in the bowl the touch outer rinds and the peeled skins of the kiwifruit. 


The bananas needed different treatment.  The skins taste revolting, but I couldn't see anything much wrong with the whites inside them.  So, I laid the peels out flat and scraped the edged of the knife along them to remove the white.  This went into the bowl too.


Next, I boiled the kettle and poured the hot water over the mass of pulp, pips and skins and left it to sit while I cut up the salad proper.


Once I'd finished the salad and put it away, I sieved the solids out of the brewed mix of skins and so on.  The skins and detritus could then go into the compost bin.


 
The end result was a pitcher of fruit drink that could be used either as a flavouring for water or as a drink in itself.
 
 
For the avoidance of doubt, wash the fruit before making an infusion with it: this ill remove contaminants from the outside.
 
Clearly, the results you get doing this will be a little haphazard.  In this case, I'd probably have excluded the melon rinds (they gave it an unpleasantly woody taste).  More often than not, though, you get to extract even more value from fresh fruit, and give youself something more flavoured than water and healthier than soft drinks.
 
What have you been doing lately to make food go further?

Friday, 9 December 2016

Lights and late nights

Hi everyone,

Another busy couple of days here.  Today has been about the quietest in a while, and even so I'm not sure it counts.  My last update brought the story up to last Sunday.  Since then I've had a day's work with Darryl, finishing off the Amazon-Basin-of-weeds I talked about previously.  This last part of the job wasn't that bad, as most of the mowing, weeding and tidying could be done with a whippersnipper and mower and a some moving around of potplants and the like.  It gave me one of the best before-and-after photos I've had in a while.  I was truly astonished how well the yard came up once we'd finished.

A photo posted by Stephen Tuck (@sdtuc2) on


Wednesday brought another couple of trips into town.  In the morning I took the maternal unit to the dentist and shopping and then dropped her off at a lunch she was going to.  Then I went back into Shepparton to go to the doctor and to the Blood Bank.  Annoyingly, I'd messed up the appointments and was late to the Blood Bank.  They saw me anyway; at least it prompted a rather nice interaction in the twittersphere.



Hungry for fame!  Anyway, I had something a bit novel after that.  I'd been invited to the Shire Council's end-of-year drinks for stakeholders, in my capacity as Tatura Unit Controller.  This was a good opportunity to go and press the flesh and make myself known to some of the bigger businesses and government entities in the area.  I'll leave you to decide where promoting the Service ended and self-promotion began.  Anyway, I was pleased that I was actually looking good that day.  On one hand, it's easy when you've got a good uniform to wear: put a snappy uniform on a pile of horsemanure and it'll still at least look better!  But, I was looking a bit leaner and a bit tanned and I'd had a haircut the day before, so I was feeling good.  I hope that confidence came through.

A photo posted by Stephen Tuck (@sdtuc2) on

Thursday saw me back working for the doctor in Shepparton for about 6 hours, preparing his entertainment area and grounds for a party he seemed to be giving that evening.  So, I cleaned his barbeque from top to bottom, raked, weeded, pruned, swept, mopped etc etc.  All I can really say is that it pays and I'm not in a position to knock the work back.  I was done by 1630 and decided to go to Tatura and do some SES paperwork before training.

Training that night was festively themed: we were given the job of finding some of the best Christmas lights in the area using six-figure grid references.  The lights themselves were clearly a lot of people's pride and joy (and, I suppose, the electric company's).


Training was over by about 2230 and I was at the shed finishing off some paperwork when the pager went off for a farm animal stuck in the River.  I was unit duty officer and decided to activate the unit to see if we could get it out.  There's room to doubt if it was properly a job for us (on one hand, it seems wrong to leave an animal to die in a public waterway if you can do something about it; on the other hand, ultimately it's an item of property rather than a person or a pet), but there were a lot of members who were keen to turn out and so it seemed warranted.  Ultimately we were able to move it to a sandbar where it was safe (or at least safer), and hopefully it found its way out today.  It was a long night though.  We were able to release some members early, but five of us were out there till after 0330.  It was getting to be daylight when I got home a bit after 0530.


As you can imagine, I started today tired and I've had to work hard not to go to tired and grumpy.  Certainly tonight I'm looking forward to a shower and a proper night's sleep tonight.  Facebook tells me most other members of the crew are in the same boat.  I wish there was a way of telling them that I'm sorry they feel weary today, or if they feel their day has been less than great because of my decision to activate the unit last night.  I don't suppose one can say it without losing standing as a leader, but I worry - a lot - that anyone in the unit might not find their time in the service rewarding.

See you tomorrow.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

What are you willing to kill for? [Part 2]

Hi everyone,

I've been trying to avoid doing another "big ideas" post.  I think I've said before that I think they're the laziest form of writing: take any controversial issue of the day and toss about a few very general principles and reach some conclusion or other.  It's little more than your own opinion writ large with an air of superiority (The Age and Meanjin have been filling their pages this way for years).  Despite this, I've had an idea banging around in my head that includes a conclusion I really don't want to reach.  This makes it interesting to me and maybe it will be to you.

Regular readers may remember that a while back I asked "what are you willing to kill for?" and decided my own answer was 'probably nothing'.  However, I saw on Instagram the other day an image that has obliged me to revisit that question.  The post was from a member of the French parliament, the Front National deputy Marion Le Pen.  Mme Le Pen noted that she was attending a memorial service for French people killed in the Algerian War, and her shock that most other groups had avoided such a rememberance.


The Algerian War, as I remember my history, was fundamentally about preserving French control over that province and (by extension) the French society that existed there.  Inevitably it was also about preserving a fairly unique culture that grew up there, when French civilization found itself on the southern shore of the Mediterranean.  This was the culture which created Albert Camus, whose ideas created a uniquely intense way of experiencing life based on knowledge of its limitedness.  Camus himself did not think the same set of ideas could have come out of northern Europe*.  It may not even have been possible for it to have emerged from another Mediterranean country**.  It was a culture that did not long survive Algerian independence.  This leads me to ask: can killing be justified to preserve a culture?

Uncomfortably, I have a hard time escaping the answer "yes" here.  It seems to me that any culture exists only as a mass of practices pursued by a given society in a given place at a given time.  If we take seriously the claims of cultures generally to matter (which I appreciate is begging a colossal question), then deracinating a society or place is a matter of the gravest importance: inevitably it also destroys the way of life that exists there and probably does so irredeemably.

I've thought about the counter arguments.  Only a monster could be comfortable rationalising the atrocities committed during the Algerian War.  Also, the conclusion I'm reaching doesn't need to go too far to morph into the "Fourteen Words" so beloved of white supremacists: "we must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children".  This is clearly not a place I want my train of thought to reach.

What do you make of this, readers?  Sound line of thinking?  Evil line of thinking?  Discomfiting line of thinking?  Or am I making some error of logic here?

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

* Albert Camus, Lyrical and Critical Essays (Vintage Books: New York, 1970), p.191
** cf Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon (Arrow Books: London, 1994)p.233

Monday, 5 December 2016

In which I was interviewed

Hi everyone,

Things have been interesting on the work-life front this past week.  As I said a few posts ago, in the week just gone I had a number of interviews and also training.  I've also had actual work.

Monday I had interviews for two factory jobs.  One was at a commerical laundry and the other at a newspaper (in the print-machines section).  I realised a second welcome thing at these interviews: you don't have to pussyfoot around the question of pay.   They're expecting you to ask "how many shifts a week might I get?" and also "and what is the hourly rate?".  After the amount of delicate hogwash that gets talked in legal profession interviews this is something of a relief.  It was also a relief to know I could show up at the interview in jeans and boots!


Tuesday's job interview was curious too.  This job is within the criminal justice system.  I'd read the position description and decided I had Buckley's of getting the job, so I just did my basic research and went in relaxed and with an approach to criminal offenders based on dealing with quite a few of them in my past life.  That is, assume that they're lying at all times, that they see themselves as victims, and that they're incapable of linking their run-ins with the law to their own behaviour.  This last is especially true: most of the criminals I dealt with seemed to find imprisonment and other sanctions as inexplicable as the weather.  One of my spies tells me that apparently I rather impressed the interview panel!

Wednesday brought induction training at SPC.  Training covered a short lecture from the union shop stewards to try to persuade us to join up (I declined), followed by work health and safety and food safety materials.  There was also a tour of the factory, which smells like the biggest vat of stewed fruit you can imagine.  I was pleased to find the factory is within walking distance of a church.


I was feeling a bit conflicted when I left training that day, but I honestly can't recall why.  I guess I just felt life had drifted into a bit of a swamp and I couldn't find a way out.  Anyway, I went and worked off my feelings with a long run in the afternoon heat and felt better for it.  Hard work though - my legs were tired.


Thursday saw me back in town at the employment agency I'm registered with.  The 'meeting' consisted of handing over my job-search paperwork and confirming I'm not currently sick.  I suspect they're not too interested: now that I'm apparently on SPC's books I suspect they pocket their subsidy from the government and move on to someone else.

Friday I worked with Darryl for much of the day, weeding a garden that looked like the Amazon basin of weeds.  I'm not kidding:


We were done by about 1400 and from there I went to the workwear shop in town to buy boots for work at SPC (they give us a voucher for $70 worth of boots).

Saturday brought four hours of gardening and cleaning for the doctor in Shepparton I work for sometimes.  It also brought four hours of biting my tongue, smiling and working through an ever scrolling and changing list of jobs and priorities as he decided he wanted this or that tree pruned and lawns (he has 5!) mowed in a particular order of priority.  I was cursing inwardly and asking myself why I was doing this for $15 an hour.  Truth is, I do it because if I don't then I really will be the parasite I keep telling myself I am.  Anyway, it was good when I could knock off and go for a late picnic-lunch with something from the fruit and vegetable grocer.


So there you have it: the highlights from my recent working (or not) life.  I really need to write more and better.  Writing is really what I've always done, and I'm comforted by knowing that Orwell was a kitchen hand, and that Camus was (among other things) a spare parts interpreter.  Maybe I can find something worthwhile to say too.

More tomorrow.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Snake fishing!

Hi everyone,

Yesterday saw an unusual exercise on the farm: snake fishing!

No, this isn't a fancy name for catching eels.  Nor a strange local custom.  On the farm our main source of water is what falls from the sky.  However, when the warmer months come we supplement this with water pumped from two shallow and old brick-lined wells.


The inherent problem with wells is that animals go into them for shade and water, but usually can't get out (even when they're covered with a concrete slab, it has a gap to allow the suction pipe to go in).  The old boy had been down at one of the wells when he noticed something animal-like bobbing on the surface (his guess was a drowned rabbit).  As this water potentially goes into the water we drink (i.e. if we get really desperate) and is part of the water the cattle get, the object had to come out.  So he, I and former-brother-in-law went to remove it with a length of rope tied on to a bucket with holes drilled in it and a half-brick for weight.

The first thing former-bro-in-law and I twigged was that it wasn't a drowned rabbit but a snake.  Secondly, it still seemed to be alive: it was moving quite a bit as we tried to coax it into the bucket on the right angle to lift it out  We could get the head into the bucket - that was fine - but it then moved out again as we moved the bucket up.  Dammit!

I should say that we hadn't counted on the extra weight of water in the bucket. When we went to pull it up the first time, the first thing that happened was that the handle snapped.  There was a delay of about an hour while we tried to lasso the (miraculously) still-floating bucket and then fashioned for it a hook out of fence wire.

We kept working at it until just the right angle presented itself and we pulled up the bucket with the snake on board.  He was motionless, and apparently dead.  I was pleased about that: we had no plan for dealing with an angry snake once he was on terra firma!


It turned out he was a small tiger snake, just under two feet long.  I have no idea how long he'd been down there.  Long enough to start decaying judging by the smell, but not long enough that he began falling to bits.  I'm certainly happier knowing he's not rotting away in the water either man or beast will be drinking!