Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Adding to the fabric of family life

We are a family that enjoys discussing the past events and incidents of our life together. Over the years, anyone who has spent time around our dinner table has been regaled with more than one story about a randomly selected family member or two. The stories become well-known, and though they do not change, they are told with humour, affection and much laughter.  These times and stories help introduce new friends into the wider family context. Such is the content of this blog post, although in this instance the story does not remain the same for a surprising addition must be included.

One of our daughters was the nurse in a very remote part of the Outback for a few years. The work was exciting, but the hours were gruelling. One of the side-benefits of this employment was an excellent wage, and as a result of this, when it came time to leave, our daughter had some extra savings.

She decided to purchase a Peugeot 306 soft-top sports car. It was second-hand and old and did not cost very much, but it was in good condition. It was bright yellow and cute and the family started calling it the Jelly Bean. The child bride loved this little car too, and the two of them were often ducking off somewhere with the top down.

Fast forward a few months and we were looking after it while our daughter was away at another remote outpost. One day the top would not go down. No matter how long or hard we pushed the button, the best we could get were a few shudders, and eventually, not even that. Feeling responsible, I took the car down to the local authorised dealer to see what was wrong.

Some days later, I received an unbelievable call from the service department manager. Apparently, the hood was opened and closed by a hydraulic ram. This unit was broken and needed replacing. There was none in stock in Australia, and he had scoured the country to see if there was a wrecking yard somewhere that might have one. No such luck. A new unit would have to be ordered from France with a waiting time of at least three months.

This was not good news, but it got worse. The price quoted for the replacement unit, NOT including freight or labour, was twenty-one thousand, and sixteen dollars! Yes, you read correctly. $21,016.00 As you can see, that number is forever burnt into my memory.

Not only was this unit broken, but while dismantling portions of the car to access the faulty unit, a mechanic had broken one of the actuator arms too. No apology; just a grunting comment that it was no real loss because the thing did't work anyway.

I'm not sure what upset me the most. The fact the car had become broken while in my care? While I knew my daughter would be upset, I knew it would not have a detrimental effect on our relationship. Perhaps the fact the cost of repair was so extortionate that approval would never be given to proceed? Not that either. Such things happen in life and any mature adult soon learns to get over them. No, the thing that got under my skin was the attitude of the service department manager. Having been involved in business consultancy for many years, I knew there were oh, so many ways that the guy could have improved his service in this particular instance.

The whole affair eventually became another story in the fabric of our family. After all, how many people get a quote to repair a car that is more than four times the value of the car? The car has remained reliable and as our daughter is currently working closer to civilisation she is able to use her little Jelly Bean for commuting to work. 

I got a call from her last night. It seems that she has had some problems with the air conditioning; it would not turn off. A friend had explained to her the steps to troubleshoot a problem in order to ascertain whether the fault lay in the electrics, the plumbing, the pneumatics, etc. She was able to successfully diagnose the cause of the problem and rectify things so her air-con now behaves itself.

She decided to apply the same troubleshooting process to the soft-top. Would you believe she came up with a completely different diagnosis than the service agent did? As repeating the process brought the same result, she decided to spend the few dollars and replace the signal cable that her diagnosis indicated was faulty. Lo, and behold! the soft-top now closes as expected. I  was flabbergasted when she called me. We laughed for some minutes; I not sure whether from sheer surprise at the unexpected result, or in derision at the "professional" service team who clearly need further training in trouble shooting techniques. Perhaps a little of both.

Either way, we now have an even better story that will now be re-told around the dinner table for many years to come.

Saturday, 9 August 2014


Until azure no longer names the sky
Until there is no crescent of parchment moon
Until the zephyr looses its sigh
Your laugh will be my favourite tune.

Until cold water does not refresh
Until the noon sun does not burn
Until wrinkles adorn your maturing flesh
For your voice I will keen and yearn.

Until the Arctic is warm and flowing
Until Everest no longer commands by size
Until love and peace is common knowing
I’ll enjoy the sparkle in your eyes

Until calm is riven from Violence’ hand
Until nations injustice and fear address
Until from fear and greed there is no demand
To your loyalty I will confess

Until going fishing means there is no waiting
Until purple flares come back in style
Until I can tell jokes with no exaggerating
I will hope to see your smile

Until I am no longer history’s shibboleth
Until my soul has no travail, no groan
Until my lungs gasp their dying breath
I will love you and you alone.



Saturday, 2 August 2014

Driving in Massachusetts

During a business trip to the USA in the early 90's, I spent a few days in Boston. I did the usual touristy things and walked the freedom trail, saw Johnny Tremain's grave, toured the harbour  where the Boston tea party took place, drank a beer in the Cheers Bar and rode the lift in the John Hancock Tower. Nothing unusual or worthy of particular note.

However, one day I hired a car and drove the the Faneuil Hall markets. Parking spaces were at a premium, so when I saw a spot behind a row of cars I grabbed it eagerly. I spent quite some hours wandering around the markets and soaking in the history of the place. On my way back to the car I saw a vehicle like mine that had a bright, iridescent sticker on the windscreen. Once close enough, I realised the sticker covered the whole of the windscreen, and screamed the word, "VIOLATION!". Drawing even closer I realised the car was mine. Apparently I had parked in some space I was not supposed to.

I was immediately in a quandary. How was I going to remove the sticker? It was large enough and presumably sticky enough that removing it was meant to impose some sort of punitive time impost upon the offender. I was also uncertain whether the windscreen would be clear of adhesive or not. I had found driving in America to require much more of my attention than usual, being unfamiliar with driving on the right so I was unhappy about driving without completely clear vision.

So I walked away.

Yes, I did an about-face and walked all the way back to my hotel. It took me so long that by the time I got to the car rental office, which was near my hotel, that it was closed for the day. I slipped the keys through the slot provided for that purpose and returned, exhausted and foot-sore to my hotel.  I flew out the next morning so did not think any more about the matter.

More than a month later I received a letter in the mail from the State of Massachusetts along with a fine advising that if I did not pay the fine within 7 days the matter would be referred to the local courts. Seeing as the letter arrived some weeks after the deadline, I did noting about it.

A couple of months passed by and another letter arrived from the State of Massachusetts advising that a court date had been set and that I needed to appear to defend my actions. As this letter had arrived well after the court date I again did nothing.

Another month later and I received what turned out to be the final correspondence from the State of Massachusetts advising that as I had not made the court appearance, the matter had been awarded against me and in view of my recalcitrant and obstinate silence, driving privileges were hereby revoked in the State of Massachusetts.

I suppose I deserved this outcome. I accept my guilt. After all, I did apparently park in a no-parking space. I willingly submitted to the loss of a driving license in Massachusetts. 

I thought that this would be the end of it but, oh no, my family have not let me forget my moment of socially irresponsible behaviour. 

 I travelled to the USA again in the late 90's.  I was not arrested upon arrival. I had no trouble entering or leaving.  But my wife did not accompany me. To this day, not one member of my family has travelled to the USA, ostensibly due to fear of being harassed by the authorities for being related to a person convicted of a mis-demeanour. Hokum, I say, but my family reckon that's proof that I still harbour anti-social attitudes.

I hope you can all forgive me.

Saturday, 26 July 2014


A word is more than air with meanings;
having power and possessing such strength that it can camouflage its prowess
as the meekest of suggestions,
and an assurance so confident it willingly waits aeons for the truth of its assertions
to be proven.

Weightless as air oozing through conversation,
untouchable syllables lodging without contest in our pores,
mining deep into our souls,
changing our perceptions and defences,
without effort,  without resistance,
without cognition.

MDC 23/03/2012

Thursday, 24 July 2014


Travel is so easy to us these days that we reach destinations too quickly and so we under-appreciate them as rewards for our efforts, and as places in their own right. They’re merely “on the way” somewhere. We have lost the ability to arrive. When we deliberately spend time in these unexpected or unplanned destinations we often are surprised at what we find, see or experience.

My father has never done this. Some how, some time, he learnt to give equal weight to every place he found himself in. On holidays as kids, we knew that we would stop at every city, town, village, watering hole and tourist stop along the way. Initially the excuse was that someone in the car would need a toilet stop (and he was always right), but that does not explain the need to read every sign, memorial, plague and tribute in all parks, gardens and civic buildings within line of sight of where the car was parked.

I remember only a few years ago on a road trip back from Melbourne, my father waxed lyrical about a particular small town on the way. While cruising along a multi-lane freeway, all other occupants of the car fast asleep, I flashed past a sign and realised I had missed the turn to this town. Screeching to a stop and reversing brought everyone out of their dreams and the car was filled with questions about what was happening. Once I was headed down the turn-off I explained that I had missed the sign but there was nothing to worry about as we would be arriving at our next stop in a few minutes. "Oh, we don't need to go through there", my father explained, "That's quite a bit out of our way."  My mistake. I had forgotten that places that do not lie on our chosen path of travel did not reduce their importance or meaningfulness to my father.

While I do not give attention to places outside my current itinerary, I do think we miss a richness in our lives that comes from paying attention to the small things, the seemingly insignificant things that fill our day. I'm not expecting to ever re-gain the wonderment of childhood experience, but I am hopeful that occasional attention to the small and the tiny may bring a greater insight into those things that loom large in my life.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Walk a mile in my shoes

I'm showing my age, but "Walk a kilometre in my shoes" does not have the right ring to it. It also runs the risk of making the exercise pointless as a kilometre is much shorter than a mile, and maybe that is not enough time or distance for you to see and learn what it is I am making my point about.

But I digress. What am I talking about?

I have a close friend who used to be a bank manager. He was good at his job; he had been regularly promoted because of his dedication and excellent customer service. He left the banking industry and became a used-car salesman. "Oh, good", his wife said, "You have stepped up a rung on the social ladder!" Having spent many years as a car salesman we were discussing whether or not he would make a move to the real estate industry. I warned him that it would only be a single step up on the social ladder again.

All jokes aside, I have been pondering over what it is that makes one job more acceptable, or more honoured, in our society than another. I understand that jobs that require long and dedicated study, like medicine, take a place of pride and honour, as I think they should. Perhaps also that is why, when someone who is a doctor or surgeon stumbles in their professional capacity, we are all the more shocked and concerned, fearful even; and when we respond in fear we are all the more likely to over react. I sometimes find myself wondering that if we allow ourselves to over react, do we diminish our capacity to fully understand the motivations and causes that led to a particular outcome or circumstance; and do we weaken our ability to properly manage the rehabilitative process that is required to bring things back into order?

The only reason I can think of for why used car salesmen and real estate agents may be held in less esteem than clerks, teachers and check-out chicks is because we have had a bad experience buying or selling a car, purchasing a house, or even missing out on buying the house we wanted.

I too, had a fairly low opinion of real estate agents before becoming one myself. Now that I understand the constraints imposed by legislation, and now that I have experienced the long hours, the mountains of paperwork, the flurries of phone calls, the dubious intentions of some buyers, the vague instructions of some sellers, the general attitude by both those parties that the real estate agent is at their beck and call at all hours of the day and night, I now have a much higher opinion of my trade.

Don't get me wrong, some real estate agents are rogues; but so are some doctors, lawyers, teachers, bank managers and check-out chicks. Roguery is not confined to just the lower orders of social employment. Rascals and rapscallions have existed in every endeavour mankind has ever put his hand to. Being a scoundrel speaks to a person's upbringing, education and moral sensibilities, not their chosen employment. 

So next time you're at a social gathering and you are introduced to a car salesman, a bank manager or a real estate agent, observe their behaviour and listen to their words before you cast judgement on the social acceptance of their profession.

Saturday, 5 July 2014


The wind’s blowin’ leaves across the street
It’s sure getting cold down ‘round here.
Westerlies start blowin’; rain turns to sleet
I could easily hate this place this time of year.

Water from the fountains fall across the paths,
Everywhere the grass is turning yellow.
Wood fires, and pine-cones crackling in hearths
Fashion styles for women are more mellow.

Tree-tops toss and writhe in the windy gusts,
All of Nature’s starting to look bleak.
Hot-food shops cater for people’s hunger-lusts,
And the colour of the gardens become weak.

The sky is grey-blue ashen, rather overcast
Sparrows cry and wheel upon the wing
Sunshine wanes; its time of reign is past
And people’s hearts are yearning for the spring.

MDC 14/05/81