Monday, 30 January 2017

Sir John de Mandeville hits the Road: Prologue

A year or two ago I mapped my running, walking and cycling against a map of the eastern United States, figuring out that I'd covered a distance almost from Houston to northern Maine.  As the miles stacked up I wrote a series of posts about what I would be seeing as I went.  I thought about doing that again and decided against it.  Virtual adventures are mildly diverting, but wouldn't it be better to do such a trip in reality?

It would, of course.  But as things stand, my prospects of doing such a trip in reality are slim to none.  So why not prepare a travelogue based on a pastiche of other people's information?  Good enough for the New York Times; good enough for me.  So that's what I'm going to do, and slap a patina of light hearted fiction over the top of it.  Jerome K. Jerome meets Clive James meets Jayson Blair is what I'm going for here.

With that in mind, meet Sir John de Mandeville:

The safe money is that Sir John never existed.  If he did, he was the author of a fourteenth century book of travel writings largely cobbled together from other people's books and then passed off as his own.  Imagine, if you will, this gentleman making his way through Britain from John o'Groats to Lands End on foot or by bicycle with his trusty squire and giving a travel guide on the way.

The pace of his trip will be controlled by how much I run, walk or cycle in reality, and I anticipate updating this tale about once a month (unless people think it's awesome, in which case, more often).

I hope you're going to like it.

Friday, 27 January 2017

The sun inside

On Saturday afternoon every man is Cary Grant and every woman is Grace Kelly.  As you set out on your afternoon long run with late-90s rock playing you go back to a day in your early twenties when you were younger and the world was wide before you.

You feel the power in your legs and arms and the sun in your back.  Just before you make the first of four turns you find you're again looking forward to a Saturday evening.  The one you spent with friends and your young wife on the waterfront in Adelaide drinking West End beer and eating seafood.  You don't just remember it: you're there, feeling like a successful man in a happy time.

Glenelg Beach, South Australia (Image from here)
You have something to look forward to as well.  This Saturday evening isn't the end no sir.  Tomorrow you and the woman you love are going to have breakfast together at the North Point Cafe in Brighton in Melbourne.  There'll be coffee, of course, and avocado and bacon and soft-fried eggs and crusty bread, and a whole day to spend together.  Maybe you'll spend it buying books in Bright, then go for a walk through Daylesford and finish off with chilled cider from the microbrewery in Coldstream.

It's a fantasy, of course: a pastiche of memories.  Soon - perhaps when you turn in for the night - reality will settle back in.  You'll again be pushing 40, divorced, scraping for work and living in a spare room.  But as you reach the first turn it's completely believable and you love it for that.

Halfway to the second turn the boundary gets blurred and you think part of it can be made to happen.  A fare to Adelaide from Shepparton is $63.00.  Beer and seafood perhaps $50.00 for an evening.  And if you sleep on the beach, you can save on accomodation.  In your heart you know it won't be the same.  You'll just be some guy having a meal after travelling to South Australia for no very good reason.

You pass the third turn.  Why did you feel so good if it wasn't the sea air and the grog and the calamari?  It is good if it was the people you were with.  It is better if it was because you could feel you had achieved something in the world and could take stock of your good things.  It is best of all if it was because you were at peace with yourself and had faith in yourself doing things worth doing.

Sunset, New Caledonia (Image from here)
Round the fourth turn.  You've found the sunlight, the thing you need to be happy.  Everything else is just details.  This is the last leg of your run.  Lengthen your stride.  Whip off the singlet.  Feel the sun and the air.  Everything is waiting for you now.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Book Review: The Last Days of the Incas (2007)

Kim MacQuarrie, The Last Days of the Incas (London, Piatkus: 2007)

Kim MacQuarrie has achieved something pretty impressive with this history of the supplanting of the Inca empire by the Spanish empire.  He commences by noting the documentary difficulties: the records from the Spanish side are distorted by the needs of their authors and records from the Inca side are sparse.  Both sets of records were often compiled years or decades after the events described (pp. 2-4).  Despite this, the book rattles along at a gripping pace, taking us through the simultaneous rises of Pizarro and Atahualpa and the long subsequent struggle of Manco Inca to preserve some part of his empire.  It ends with chapters on the discovery and exploration of Macchu Picchu and Vilcabamba.


There are a couple of criticisms to be made.  Often the narrative refers to the presence of thousands or possibly hundreds of thousands of Inca warriors (pp. 201, 247).  I find it improbable that so many labourers and peasants would have been available to wage war in an agrarian society with minimal mechanisation and animal power (compare the difficulties faced by King Harold II in fighting back to back battles at Stamford Bridge and Hastings with a part-time army).  This is especially troubling when one remembers historian Lyndall Ryan's cavalier (and utterly unethical*) statement that "Historians are always making up figures".

The other criticism is organizational.  The discussion of the exploration of Peru by Hiram Bingham and subsequently had the feeling of being tacked on because the author had done the research.  Don't misunderstand me: it's a good story and worth telling, but it might have been better included as an appendix.

None of this, however, shoud be viewed as more than a quibble.  This is a heroic recovery from long ago records of a tale that needed to be told for a new audience.  Any place where the book falls short from an academic perspective it makes up for by its bringing of history to life.

* "Historians should not misrepresent their sources.  They should report their findings as accurately as possible and not omit evidence that runs counter to their own interpretation. ... They should oppose false or erroneous use of evidence, along with any efforts to ignore or conceal such false or erroneous use": Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct (American Historical Association, Washington DC: 2012), p. 7.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Book Review: Green Hills of Africa

Ernest Hemingway, Green Hills of Africa: The Hemingway Library Edition (2015)

Green Hills of Africa is Hemingway's account of his safari in Africa in the 1930s.  The original book was published in 1935.  This version is very much a writer's edition.  That is, it includes the text itself, which is Hemingway's prose at its glassy best, hard and smooth as river gravel. 


It also includes the safari diary of his then wife, Pauline Pfeiffer Hemingway, his own notes while in Africa, some magazine articles from the time and also some rough drafts of the book itself.  One has a chance, then, to see the artist at work.  The editors deserve praise for creating a book of this type.

There is little sense here of the hunter as superhuman (which is why I find Elmer Keith unreadable) or of constant danger (they way you do with Peter Capstick).  What you do get is the sense of Hemingway's desire to feel alive - to leave no part of the human experience untapped.  So, in his view, reading mattered.  Tramping up hills mattered.  The tedium of fruitless stalks and failed hunts mattered.

Like two others of his era - Camus and Orwell - Hemingway wrote for a world where the depth and degree of human exerience was vitally important.  This is not to be wondered at: the vast tragedy of the Great War had told a generation of writers that God had gone AWOL and they drew the reasonable conclusion that the Renaissance humanists were right: Man (that is, humanity) was the measure of all things.  It would take the coming of the Lying State during the Spanish Civil War and the vast crime of the Second World War to prove to the same generation that the common welfare was even greater than the personal fulfilment (which is one of the points made by both 1984 and La Peste).

This reflection points up the difficulty our world may have appreciating Hemingway from other than a stylistic perspective.  In an age where public culture seems split between poe-faced solemity (which is not the same thing as seriousness) and bitter angry humour, the self-sufficient clarity of the inter-war years seems very foreign.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Book Review: America in Prophecy (1988)

This is not a book.  It's a fraud bordering on felony.

OK, I'm being harsh.  This book has two redeeming features.  The first is that it's perhaps the only book I've ever seen where the paratext (that is, the cover, blurb and publishing details) managed to say almost nothing useful about the content.

The offending starts on the front cover, where we're improbably assured this book is a '#1 Best Seller'.  This is followed with the statement in quotation marks that this is "Easily the most controversial and provocative book of the decade".  We're not told the source of this quotation.  Was it from William Safire?  From Norman Mailer?  From the parrot at the hardware store that will say anything it hears often enough?

The title of the is the biggest con of all, but we'll come to that in a minute.

The blurb declares that
Millions ... believe America is on the brink of economic collapse and moral ruin, and may lead the world into Nuclear Armageddon, attempting to hold her position of power and prestige.
Here are fascinating predictions about America, and some surprising conclusions about what the future may hold.
Despite this promise, readers will be disappointed to find in the book no discussion at all about the economic policies of the later years of the Reagan administration or indeed about nuclear warfare.  And this leads us to the publication details, where we're unobtrusively told that the book was originally published under the title The Great Controversy.  It takes a trip to Google to discover that The Great Controversy was first published in 1858, and that it's a significant text of the Seventh Day Adventist church.  Yes, readers, you've been sold a pup.

And what a pup it is: a 654-page history of Christianity (specifically, western Christianity: I don't think I saw any awareness that Orthodox or Coptic churches even exist).  Heroes and villains are simple and clear, with the Protestant reformers in the former category and the Catholic church perpetually in the role of Satan's eternal co-conspirator.  A warning to readers in 1858 (and presumably in 1988) declares that -
The Roman Catholic Church, with all its ramifications [sic] throughout the world, forms one vast organization, under the control, and designed to serve the interests, of the papal see.  Its millions of communicants, in every country on the globe, are instructed to hold themselves as bound in allegiance to the pope.  Whatever their nationality or their government, they are to regard the authority of the church as above all other.  Though they may take the oath pledging their loyalty to the state, yet back of this lies the vow of obedience to Rome, absolving them of every pledge inimical to her interests (p.555)
This sort of thing is the reason why Canadian police considered investigating whether distribution of this book is a hate crime.  Nevertheless it points up the book's second redeeming feature.  I'd always thought that Chick tracts were the crappiest form of religious publishing.  I was wrong.  Chick tracts are also bargain-basement anti-Catholic bigotry, but they're several several hundred pages shorter than America in Prophecy.

Chick tracts: surprisingly not the worst literature on Earth.
Not surprisingly, this book has no merit as a scholarly work.  An undergraduate who presented its style of historical analysis would probably be failed instantly.  For example, it asserts that in the centuries before the 1200s "Europe had made no progress in learning, arts, or civilization [and ...] a moral an intellectual paralysis had fallen upon Christendom" (p.52).  The author was plainly unaware of the Carolingian renaissance, the twelfth century renaissance, the writings of Peter Abelard, the philosophical work of Anselm of Canterbury, the theology of Bernard of Clairvaux, the writings of William of Malmsbury etc etc.

America in Prophecy really can only be read as a historical text in itself.  Its near-pathological hatred of the Catholic Church is an insight into the mentality of the mid-nineteenth century.  The book's inexplicable reprinting in the 1980s may serve as a kind of aetiological explanation for (for example) the assertion of by 'preacher' Chuck Missler in 2016 that
There is no organisation on the planet earth that has murdered more Christians than the Roman Catholic Church. One Pope, one afternoon, murdered more Christians than all the Roman Emperors put together, and you need to understand that.
Scholars from the middle ages to the present are often fond of saying "if I have seen far, it is because I stood on the shoulders of giants".  Anyone relying on this book as a source of knowledge can be assured it will have more-or-less the opposite effect.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

P2E Course Day Three: The Window Won't Stare Out Of Itself

The third and final day of the P2E course started with sunshine and with mixed feelings in the class.  One member had completed a job interview that morning and was elated.  Another arrived very upset; I don't know why.

The trainer spent a lot of time unpacking the interview.  He did briefly mention my need to dumb down my CV, but didn't really get to specifics.  This was not helpful: how do I cover up fifteen years of legal practice and six years at university?  Say I was serving time for murder?

Glass plate negative photograph of Norfolk Island - Ruins of prison (1914 - 1915)
Nat. Archives of Aust: A88, 9 
Hearing his continued insistence on attitudes and enthusiasm I found myself more and more blue and miserable.  At about midday I began getting even more self-doubting and wondered if I should even be running an SES Unit on my own.  This was getting beyond a joke and I decided I needed a pick-me-up.  I was saving on money and calories through the course by skipping lunch and drinking cups of tea; I decided to blow some of the saved money on a book I've wanted for a while and which was in the just-opened-and-now-closing Book Grocer in Shepparton.

The day ended with practice interviews and more encouragement ("get out there and smash it!").  I slumped off to find a way home.

I have no idea when or if I'll find work, but I'm damn sure this course has gotten me no nearer.

Monday, 16 January 2017

P2E Course Day Two: Lowered Expectations

Day two of the Passport to Employment course arrived, and I made sure to learn my lesson from yesterday.  That is, I didn't have a cup of coffee on the way to the venue.  I had one yesterday and was so awake I couldn't filter the worst bits out at all.  Sometimes a groggy brain is useful.

The course itself finally got down to specifics today.  About half the day on canvassing (a fancy way of saying walk into businesses unannounced and ask for a job and follow up with a phone call).  The trainer said it makes you look keen.  I think doing it once you're over 25 makes you look desperate and naïve.

The other half of the day went to cover letters and résumés.  Content was largely what you'd have guessed: sell yourself in them; keep them short enough to be readable; CV no more than 3 pages.  Use all the keywords.  In short, precisely what I was taught 20+ years ago in high school.

I noticed that multiple themes keep being hammered:  First, we're constantly being reminded of there being "brokers" who after this course will try to connect us with employers. I suspect that like every other recruiter this means 'drop the candidate into any job regardless of suitability and pocket the commission as fast as possible).  Second, the aforesaid brokers' contacts principally seem to be at Aldi and Woolworths as a checkout operator or nightfill worker.

The trainer mentioned that his contact in the legal sector had advised him regarding me that Shepparton is a very small legal market (I knew this already).  Would I be interested in legal work for the Defence Forces?  I said yes, but I'd already been rejected by the army on medical grounds.  He looked crestfallen and I assume the job would have entailed me enlisting in the military rather than going into the Department of Defence.  He then cajoled me again with the idea of a complete career change to assembling aluminium windows.  I don't remember what I said, although as I was still in the course on Day 3 I'm sure it didn't reflect what I was thinking.

One more day to go.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

P2E Course Day One: Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here

One of the central assumptions about unemployment is that a person who is out of work is to some degree contemptible.  This assumption leads to a number of outcomes.  Some are less humiliating; some more.  Last week I met one of the midrange ones.
Because I've been out of work for x number of weeks, I'm required to attend a three day course called 'Passport to Employment' (P2E).  The goal of the course is to equip people with the skills to seek and obtain work.  Unfortunately, the skills in finding work today are roughly the same as they were when I left school two decades ago, so I'm being offered a lesson in things I already know (use your networks, take plenty of time preparing your application, and be enthusiastic in the interview).
What grinds, however, is the kind of blithe assumption that if one is unemployed, it's enough to help with platitudes.  I have significant problems finding work:  at the grand old age of 38 I'm considered too long in the tooth to be a good hire in the law.  One law firm asked me discreetly "how do you think you'd go reporting to someone less experienced than you?".  Another was blunter: at your age (when I was about 32!) you haven't risen as far as we'd expect; this is a major concern for us.  And after all: why hire me when you can hire a recent graduate who will work for less?  Beyond this, though, I hit three more issues: my degrees mean I'm overqualified for most jobs.  They also mean I can't undertake much retraining except at my own expense (this is not financially an option).  And when an employer sees I was a lawyer, they immediately think 'troublemaker'.

Life right now
I pointed this out on this first day of the course.  Unhelpfully, the trainer had nothing to offer in response except vague generalities, principally talking about how he'd helped a psychologist find work in a factory assembling aluminium windows (I'm not sure why he felt this would be encouraging).  Then he assured me "if I can get a murderer just out of Barwon Prison into a job, I don't accept that you're on the scrap heap".  The fact that we were having that conversation in the first place suggested, therefore, that I am in fact less employable than a convicted murderer.  What a proud moment for me.
I assume it was to motivate us that he repeatedly mentioned that in a few weeks if we weren't in work we'd be required to do "work for the dole".  He certainly seemed to be waving it as something to be humiliated by.  You know: just in case we didn't already feel like worthless pondscum.

As you can see, I wasn't feeling super positive  
The course goes for two more days.  Considering how demoralised I felt at the end of the first day I wasn't sure I'd make it. 

Friday, 13 January 2017

How to polish metal

I've been dubious about metal polishing since I was a kid.  My mother was somehow induced to buy a pot of Amway metal polishing compound and Little Sister went through a phase of using it on everything she could find.  This would have been fine except that it's infinitely easier to apply than to remove and nearly every semi-intricate metal surface in the house went through a phase of having green-white paste embedded in its surface.  Anyway, I can confirm that there's something that works a lot better than Amway compound and is considerably cheaper.  It's everyone's favourite kitchen whatnot, baking soda.
I have a saint's medal that I wear.  It was a present from my former mother-in-law of whom I remain very fond.  The medal itself is silver, and it has become rather tarnished.  And when I say tarnished, I mean it's basically black.  Not awesome.  I put a couple of teaspoons of baking soda in a dish and wetted them into a paste with hot water.  Then, I got some of the paste onto a ball of cotton wool and scrubbed the medal hard.  I needed to get my fingernails in a bit to get into the more intricate spots, but even that wasn't too difficult.  I'm delighted to confirm that it returned the medal to shining silver, and the excess came off with a rinse in warm water.  How well?  This well:
Before and after
I was intrigued by this and decided to go one better.  I have an old medal that I bought for a few dollars about 25 years ago.  I recently identified it as a Pakistan Independence Medal - the sort issued to soldiers in the armies of British India on the independence of India and Pakistan.  It hasn't been polished while I've owned it and I doubt it had much TLC before that.  So, it got the same scrubbing with baking soda paste as well.  It will never be mint condition, of course, but I think that it's much improved for the polishing.
Before and after
Are there any cleaning or other life-hack tips you'd like to share?  I thought this was a good one!

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

The time I became a sprinter

The other day brought me something new in my running adventures.

It was late in the afternoon and I'd headed out in for a run to sweat off some of the day's food consumption. Sweat was the key word too: at a guess it was about 35C.  My legs were tired after a fair degree of running, cycling, swimming and yoga the last few days and by about the halfway mark I was suspecting I'd hit the wall before I finished.

I'd settled into that kind of running torpor where you're trying not to think about how hot the air is that you're inhaling or how tired your legs feel.  I was just trying to get lost in the music and chisel the distance away.  About a solid third of the route was on one of the two wheeltracks that make up the "road" out the back of the farm. I was only slightly taking what was in front of me and I saw that there was an ant trail and a stick and some gravel and an angry looking brown snake and a patch of leaves and an ... oh my Lord there's an angry looking brown snake right by my foot!

Image from here - photographing the snake was the last thing on my mind!
I let out the sort of whoop that would have been heard in the next shire and jumped about 5 feet in the air.  All the tiredness dropped from me as I sprinted the next hundred yards at a speed that would have qualified me for Rio.  Was I awake then?  Oh yes!  Did I start imagining being chased by a brown snake?  Maybe.  And was the run harder because I didn't dare let my brain tune out to ignore the pain?  Lots.

Image may contain: outdoor
Actually I was nowhere near the Hume Weir but it was the only good photo I could find
I used to run in the city and got used to being hyper-alert for cars and trams.  I can tell you I never had a shock quite like that one though!

Monday, 9 January 2017

Choosing to be Single: some pointers

Regular readers will know that I've settled on a state of perpetual (possibly eternal) singleness.  Maybe you're in the same boat and you're wondering where you go from there.  If you've reached this point the odds are that you've figured out that not being with someone won't kill you.  Despite what you may have seen on How I Met Your Mother (and pretty much any other form of drama since Menander), you're going to survive.  The interesting question is, what do you do to get maximum value from your life after that point?

Image from here
HIMYM: Not necessarily a guide to life

The first thing to understand is that remarkably few people actually care about your decision.  Since I found myself in this position, I've been asked precisely two questions on the point.  One was by a partner from a regional law firm at a lawyers' association dinner (he was a bit drunk), and one was a throwaway question from one of my brothers-in-law about whether I was on eHarmony.  In an age where we're presumably only a few years from someone asking for the right to marry blocks of steel-reinforced concrete, someone choosing to be alone is probably slightly less bonkers than the population at large.

In this type of life your dreams take on a remarkable importance.  Yes, you can do pretty well whatever you please with your life.  And if you're like me, there'll be a disastrous tendency to reduce all that potential to drunking cheap wine and watching clips from Futurama on YouTube.  Do not do this.  Your dreams - pursuing them, achieving them, reimagining them - will keep your life afloat.  Letting them stray into commute-work-eat-cheap laughs-sleep reduces your life to something as narrow as a prison cell.  Good if you're Pope Saint Celestine V; less good for we ordinary mortals.  To borrow from Big Bang Theory
Wolowitz: Just imagine ... if he says yes, we'll have an entire summer without Sheldon.
Raj: We could play outside.
Wolowitz: We could sit on the left side of the couch.
Leonard: I could use the bathroom at 8:20!
Raj: Our dreams are very small, aren't they? 
Another thing to make peace with is that unless you join the Shakers, you're going to age and die alone.  There's really no avoiding it.  How will you live your life in light of this?  Me, I have a horror of becoming like a fellow I lived in the same building as many years ago.  I suppose he was in his late 50s, and he was a bachelor.  I never got further than the front door of his flat, but that was enough.  His flat had the look of constant darkness and smelt like a collection of old socks.  Not bad, exactly; just mean, dingy and low.  I never want that for myself.  So, consider nurturing a habit of healthiness and cleanliness and fresh air and having a clean mind, that will ensure that your grey years will be dignified even if they are down at heel.  You can only nurture that life by living that way now.

Image from here
Hoarding: it's a remarkably poor lifestyle choice

On a related note, your future is supremely in your hands.  A person who is 50% of a couple always has an excuse for their disappointments ("I put my career/motherhood/passions on hold so my significant other could pursue their career", for example).  You don't have that: this is the flipside of your freedom.

If you think about not being single, or wonder if this is really for you, go along and spend a few days with an old married couple.  Watch them bicker and snipe and hurt each other.  Or go to the local Magistrates Court when family violence orders are being dealt with and contemptible men (let's not kid ourselves here) wander in with bottomless excuses and the women wander in with black eyes and broken fingers.  These are the people you're not going to become.  You're welcome.

Image from here
As an added bonus, you won't wind up with someone like this

Before you wonder if I'm writing this because of deep-rooted cynicism, the answer is plainly no.  I can't exactly recommend this sort of life to someone: being married was great!  My point here is that if you've found yourself in a position where repartnering isn't an option (or is an undesirable one), there's no need to lose hope.  An entire new life is waiting for you!

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Something you don't expect

I didn't expect that being a road rescue operator would alter how I read the news.  Somewhere it turned out that I'd go through my incoming news emails and digest most of the stories that relate to road accidents around the world.

A fairly bald report out of Dallas tells me that -
Firefighters rescued a driver that went off Loop 820 into the Trinity River in Fort Worth Saturday morning.
Fort Worth firefighters responded to a call about the crash on East Loop 820 near Randol Mill Road at about 5 a.m.
A technical rescue spent more than an hour extracting the driver from the vehicle, according to authorities.
Knowing how these things go, even this summary leaves me with a rough picture of the extrication: the work of getting a hydraulic pump and hoses and cutting and spreading gear from the truck to the crash site and the difficulty of finding something solid enough in the wreck of the car to press on to operator the spreaders and trying to find a way to take the casualty from the vehicle without compromising their spine.  And the time it took is revealing - an hour rather than the ideal of twenty minutes or less.  The crew that went out would have been drained at the end of the job.  If it went badly, they would have gone through the miserable feeling of why nothing was working.

I've been to fatal accidents, but I've been lucky that they haven't affected me much because the job itself went well and we did what we were trained to do.  What I've found toughest has been after a rescue or a search when things don't work properly.  When the truck rolled with the wrong crew on board, or a search team crashed a vehicle or crew leaders get into a heated bicker over radio frequencies.  Those are the moments you are bent out of shape and can't be unbent and when you hate the job and yourself and wonder where it began to unravel.

I don't think I'm unique in this.  If you're in the emergency services or know someone who is, maybe bear this in mind if they've been to a 'difficult' job.  Sometimes it's not the worst accident but the worst response that knocks people around.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Things nobody tells you about unemployment

When I was in high school in the 1990s unemployment in Victoria was grindingly high.  My High School annual from 1990 recorded sadly that many pupils had left the school in Years 11 or 12, but mostly not in order to take up jobs.  The younger version of me felt that unemployment was the worst thing that could happen to a person, and that it was somehow the parent of every other bad thing that could befall a person (drug addiction, petty crime as a victim or petetrator, not owning books, never watching the ABC).

This had a certain amount of truth to it.  However, there were a couple of things about unemployment that nobody tells you.  For example, nobody tells you you'll develop a complicated relationship with humiliation.  There's nothing to be proud of in being out of work.  The unemployed are regularly exhorted to do volunteer work; in the "Work for the Dole" pase they're compelled to.  This corrodes the pride you might have had in being a volunteer.  You say you want to serve your community?  Yeah, well, so you should be since it's supporting your lazy arse.  It doesn't stop there.  You come to apply some of that venom to yourself.  You say that you're a dole bludger, a parasite, a leech.  Drink in every last contempt-powered syllable.  That hate says you won't be like this forever.

Something else nobody tells you is that unemployment obliterates your past.  When you tell somebody "I'm out of work" or "I'm unemployed", surprisingly few questions follow about your life before your current state.  It doesn't matter at all what you did or what you studied, how many languages you understand or how many times you've been published.  You're unemployed and that's as much as anyone needs to know.  Please report to this three day course to be taught how to write a cover letter.  Remember not to wear football shorts to a job interview.

It's a shock to discover that you become deconditioned for work remarkably quickly.  Physically you're fit and hard and strong.  In the past you worked 10-15 hour days for a week or more at a stretch.  And one day after a couple of months of compulsory idleness you contemplate an 8 hour shift and wonder how on earth anyone manages it.

You also don't expect to become self-buttressing.  The world that affects you shrinks to the outer layer of your skin, or perhaps the foot or two surrounding it.  If you can keep that more-or-less inviolate then you have a bunker from which to emerge if things get better.  At an intellectual level you're aware of events beyond that little bubble.  When you can't affect something the only question is whether you can endure it.  Keep building the walls and the buttresses.

Unemployment, it turns out, isn't the worst thing that can happen.  It's unlikely you'll die.  It's not more likely to ruin your life than any number of other experiences.  But it's corrosive and suspends your future and erases your past.  And this is something you should know when it happens to you.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Happy to start with a wrecked car

Yesterday was a good day, for me at least.

In the early afternoon I was on the phone to a friend in Beechworth about a small legal matter when my pager began to squeal for a road crash rescue.  My friend is an SES volunteer as well and so she understood why I had to end the call very quickly.

The accident was in Tatura.  I had to go the long way because the Toolamba bridge is still closed, and so I was driving like a bat out of Hell at a perfectly safe and legal speed.  I got as far as Kialla when a crew from our Unit got to the scene and confirmed that there was no person trapped.  We stood down.  Happily it seems the driver's injuries weren't too serious.

Usually a standdown like this would be a dreadful anticlimax: what does one do with a whole heap of unused adrenaline?  This one wasn't.  I was too proud of how well the Unit had handled the turnout.  It was clear we would be light on numbers because of the holidays, so our duty officer activated a backup unit without any fuss.  The members who turned out are road crash-rescue trained but don't have colossal experience, but they didn't stand around wringing their hands or hoping a veteran member would arrive: they just got on the road to do the job they'd been called to do.  There was no kibbitzing or free advice over the messaging system: only the communications that needed to be sent to have the members respond as efficiently as possible.

If we're honest, I kind of needed this.  I've felt a little SES-ed out lately: tired and fed up with it all.  Seeing the team respond in such a skilful manner was just what the doctor ordered. That the driver wasn't badly hurt is even better.  I have to tell you there are a lot worse ways we could have started 2017!