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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Move over, Lord Tennyson!


Here comes the lady with shallots. And it wasn't the mirror that crack'd from side to side but the camera's lens that almost did. And I almost cracked when I looked at some of the prices: six dollars for a kilogramme of turnips. Turnips!

That makes one small-sized turnip worth about $1.70, which after the war was enough money to have kept us in turnips - stewed, boilt, made into soup, or eaten raw - for a whole week. It was the poor man's food!

Shopping is such a drag; no wonder it turns your mind to the past and to poetry. We've since (re)turned to the peace of Riverbend after a day's shopping, swimming, lunching and feeding the seagulls at Ulladulla's picturesque harbourside, and I'm going through today's op-shop loot:

"Marilyn's Man", a DVD-documentary about Marilyn Monroe; "The State Within", a BBC spy thriller; Greg Craven's "Conversations with the Constitution - not just a piece of paper", a book about Australia's Constitution; and another book, "The Art of Making Money", a tale about a slum-kid-turned-counterfeiter who made millions cracking the US Treasury Department's toughest bill ever, the 1996 hundred-dollar note.

I think I grab a turnip - I did buy two for $3.49 - and "The Art of Making Money" and withdraw to the quietude of the 'Clubhouse' by the pond.



We live in an age of euphemisms


The "National Disability Insurance Scheme" is the latest one. "Insurance" is defined as a guarantee of compensation by a company or the state for specified loss, damage, illness, or death in return for payment of a specified premium.

Well, the NDIS is no insurance scheme because no one pays a 'specified premium' other than what's taken from the pockets of the Australian taxpayers, and it's sending Australia broke, or rather, further broke!

Welfare by any other name is still welfare, and while some is needed in any civilised society, it shouldn't be incentive-killing or abused. When it is administered by indifferent public servants, who are not going to break out into a sweat trying to weed out the disgusting from the disabled, it's going to be abused, hence the big blow-out in the NDIS.

It's well known that Centrelink staff push long-term unemployed (or rather, unemployables) onto the disability pension. Their disability is that they can't get out of bed in the morning. There are some even in my small number of nodding acquaintances. One I see every week on my pool day in the fast lane where he does a convincing Ian Thorpe (the swimming bit). Disability? Laziness is not a disability; get a job!

The irony is that many of the really disabled, the ones with white sticks, or on crutches, or in wheelchairs, line up at bus stops and on railway platforms every morning as they go off to work to earn an honest living just like you and me (well, perhaps not like me, as I'm retired now but I still pay a motza in taxes, hence my concern).

Remember Hillary's now famous climbing phrase "because it is there"? Well, far too many who claim welfare do so only "because it is there".


P.S. For the sake of accuracy, Hillary said, "we've knocked the bastard off". It was George Mallory who said, "because it is there", but he never reached the top nor did he ever get down again. His remains were found 300 metres below the summit of Mount Everest, and then given a proper burial. Let's hope the NDIS is given a proper burial at the next election.


Monday, November 20, 2017

Arch of Triumph


The original film made in 1948 of Erich Maria Remarque's famous book starred Ingrid Bergman as Joan Madou and Charles Boyer as Dr. Ravic, whereas this 1985 made-for-television film starred Anthony Hopkins. I liked Anthony Hopkins better, and not just because his is freely available on YouTube.

It was a pleasant 94 minutes spent in the Clubhouse by the pond, with the help of some wine and some early "Weihnachtsstollen" from ALDI. Hope you like it as well!



I finished three books this weekend, and believe it or not, that's a lot of colouring-in

Click here for a reading sample


Seriously though, the books were "Devil-Devil", "One Blood", and "Killman", set in the Solomon Islands, one of the most beautiful and dangerous parts of the South Pacific.

The author, Graeme Kent (read an interesting interview with him here), was for eight years a Schools Broadcasting Officer in the then still-colonial Solomon Islands of the 1960s. The mystery often takes a back seat to his knowledge of the islands' history, the beliefs and religions of the various tribes, colonial attitude, and the life of the missionaries. And through it all the two main characters, Sister Conchita and Sergeant Kella, perhaps the oddest couple since 'The African Queen', add to the story's charm.

Kent's first-hand knowledge and description of the country brought back a flood of memories of my own time in the then British Solomon Islands Protectorate, and everything that led up to my going there in February 1973 and my subsequent departure at the end of the same year:

Having assisted in the successful start-up of Camp Catering Services' operations on Bougainville, the company lured me to Sydney to become the group's Financial Controller. I hired a friend and fellow-accountant to take over from me and headed for Sydney - and disaster! Sydney was the pits! And it was agony to watch the financial and reputational benefits of the company's 'Jewel in the Crown', the Bougainville Copper Project, being frittered away in endless head office waste and infighting.

I quit after only five months. The managing director, Nelson Hardy, immediately offered me my old position back on Bougainville, but how could I do my friend out of a job? Instead, I found my own way back to the islands by successfully applying for the position of 'Secretary' (Commercial Manager) with the British Solomon Islands Electricity Authority (BSIEA) in Honiara, the capital of the then British Solomon Islands Protectorate.

I took over from another expat who called himself "Lamb by name, lamb by nature", although he was quite ferocious when it came to claiming employee entitlements: for years he had collected sizeable allowances for a non-existent wife and several children in Australia. When it seemed he was going to be found out, they all suddenly died in a car crash! Not that he shed a tear as such was the shortage of expat manpower that he was immediately re-employed by another business in town.

My new boss, the meek-and-mild General Manager of the Authority, a British civil servant 'Yes, Minister' type, wanted to get through his contract with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of benefits for himself and his cohorts of expat time-servers whereas I was young and ambitious and wanted change. I hadn't read about Kipling's six honest serving-men yet but already couldn't help myself questioning the what and where and when and how and why and by whom when looking at some of the hide-bound Authority's procedures.

The warehouse at the old Honiara powerhouse (next to Blums' Hotel) documented the issue of every single bolt and nut and washer, worth no more than a few cents each, on triplicate requisitions. These were then priced, multiplied, totalled and entered on ledger cards TWICE, first on the respective stock card and then on the job card. As this work was deemed to be beyond the mental capacity of a 'Native', a highly-paid expat woman had made a career out of it. When I suggested that such minor material issues should be left unrecorded and instead a small lumpsum added to every capital job to account for such incidental issues, I was in her opinion hastening the decline of the British Empire! That she was the wife of a British police officer who had faithfully served the dying Empire, from one independence-gaining African colony to another, and now hung on to his last posting for dear life, was of course sheer coincidence. It was all jobs for the boys - and their wives!

The Authority employed a dozen Gilbert Islander meter-readers who lolled about the office for most of the time waiting for the end of the month when they were let loose like a swarm of angry bees to race through the streets and up and down the hills of Honiara to read the whole town's electricity meters all at once. They would then return to head office with their readings and, with the help of a calculator, deduct last month's reading from this month's, multiply the result by the kilowatt unit rate, and transcribe it all onto invoices which were then folded, put into envelopes, and mailed out.

After having watched this in utter amazement for the first month, I suggested that the town area should be broken up in sectors and that meters should be read throughout the month, each sector at the same time each month. I also suggested that, with each kilowatt hour costing just a few cents, consumption should be charged in multiples of TEN kilowatts so that meter-readers could drop the last digit on their readings to make the recording of this month's and the deducting of the previous month's reading easier. Finally, I drew up a simple ready reckoner of charges in multiples of ten kilowatts for the meter-readers' use. They would take it with them on their rounds together with each householder's invoice on which the previous month's reading (without the last digit) had already been carried forward. As they read the meter, they would enter the new reading (without the last digit), deduct the previous month's reading, look up the charge on the ready reckoner, and enter the dollar amount on the invoice. The original invoice would then be left in the householder's mailbox and the carbon copy (yes, they had already progressed to NCR-type precarbonised invoice paper) returned to the office.

All hell broke loose! This would never do! Surely, those 'black savages' couldn't do a white man's job? I had rocked the British expats' lifeboat, HMS Sinecure, and it was all hands on deck to repel the usurper from the Colonies!

Well, it took me longer to convince the Protectorate's Auditor-General, who had been roped in to stop me from committing these follies, than to train the meter-readers who welcomed the changes with full throttles as they zoomed all over town, proud of their new importance. To paraphrase Lawrence of Arabia, "It is better that they do a thing imperfectly than for you to do it perfectly: for it is their country, their work, and your time is limited".

Mendana Hotel

Guadalcanal Club

My house on Lengakiki Ridge overlooking Honiara and the sea

I lived a gracious life in a big house on Lengakiki Ridge overlooking Honiara and the ocean beyond, all the way to Savo Island and Tulagi. I was member of the Point Cruz Yacht Club and every day by 4.30 sharp the offshore breeze would fill the sails of my CORSAIR dinghy. Wednesday nights was Chess Night on the terrace of the Mendana Hotel and there was always a big do on of a Saturday night at the Guadalcanal Club (commonly referred to as the G-Club).

Entrance to Governor's Residence

New arrivals in the Protectorate were supposed to leave their card with the aide-de-camp to His Excellency the British Governor. In due course, a gold-embossed invitation would be hand-delivered to summon them to morning tea on the lawns of the Governor's Residence.

Some of those 'Empire-builders' actually did walk with their noses in the air. They may have suffered from a rare medical condition that necessitated keeping their nostrils uplifted - if so I'm sorry for them - but the impression they gave me was that of the snooty Englishman abroad.

I was bored by the ease and comfort and meaninglessness of it all. Those were my restless years and I still had places to go - more than thirty, as it turned out - so, unable to tuck another cucumber sandwich under the cummerbund, this subject left Her Brittanic Majesty's Protectorate to return to reality (spelled PNG).



Sunday, November 19, 2017

You could call it a Pole House


An electric pole house, to be precise, and the possum seems to like it. He did ask for some handrails around the porch of his new home and I'm thinking about it. I mean, what next? A lift to go up and down in?

Or maybe breakfast in bed because, having checked out the roof to make sure it's weather-proof, there's always the 'possumbility' that he may decide to move in tonight.

I'll do an early-morning check and look out for the 'Do not disturb' sign.