Monday, 28 April 2014

Some marriage vows we could really use

Steve and I had the same abject fear around marriage.
I'm not too sure how I got here myself but let's just go with it and see if we get somewhere cogent in the end.
If you want to avoid the serious bit, you can head straight down to the (supposedly) funny bit below, headlined "The Lighter Side".
I was writing elsewhere recently about marriage and wondering why anyone does it anymore.
And that led me to cast my mind back to my only failed attempt at this manacling of two people together under the auspices of an outmoded christian rule system.
My ex-wife was Canadian and we got married over there.
It wasn't strictly a marriage of convenience, but my work visa for Canada was tied up in it.
At the end of my first year over there, I applied for an extension.
I had met Deb and we were very happy together as boyfriend and girlfriend.
I thought my extension for another year would be granted as I had what I thought was a specialist job with Greenpeace.
But, oh boy, I had not reckoned with the brick-hard face of the Canadian immigration department.
They turned my extension application down.
I couldn't believe it, but looking back, they had every right to do so.
My job was essentially just an office manager, and there were a million Canadians who could have done it.
So Deb and I were suddenly faced with the prospect of splitting up, me having to go home to Australia, and her then staying on and trying to get a work visa for my homeland, allowing her to come out and for us to be together.
However, that was obviously just a reverse of the problems we had had in Canada.
So we decided to get married.
Then I could stay for a while, and we could see how things worked out.
However this is where the views of two people began to diverge.
I asked Deb to keep our marriage a secret.

A girlfriend was one thing, but a wife was something else again.
However, of course, that is a rotten thing to ask of anyone, I conjecture that Deb must have been wondering if I was ashamed of her.
She was beautiful, nice and rich to boot.
What's more she drove a Black MG convertible, which I had the use of.
No it wasn't that at all.
It was that I knew my own shortcomings mentally, and knew if the word got out that we were now married, I would find it all too much.
Anyway, Deb was under tremendous pressure and in the end couldn't keep the secret anymore and let it slip to her mother.
And then, boy did the balloon go up.
I, somewhat like Steve Martin in Father of the Bride, had a very rudimentary idea of how our marriage would occur.
We would slip down to the registry office in our lunch hour, get married and be back at work by two pm, with no one the wiser.
However with the cat out of the bag, everything I feared came to fruition.
People do treat you differently when you're married.
One moment I had been one of the lads, working all week, then playing soccer or cricket on the weekend, then getting on the juice after the game.
Now I was a husband, and expected to behave differently.
And I don't want to to Deb a disservice here.
She wasn't standing at the front door with a rolling pin every time I went out with my friends, oh no, she quite enjoyed the same socialising.
But the upshot was, I felt under pressure and began to crumble mentally.
We stuck out the marriage for two years, in Canada and Australia, but eventually I had to say 'enough'.
I had to go to Deb and say we have to break up.
In hindsight, it was the first decision I had made in my life.
All decisions are hard (sorry, but they are), it's axiomatic that if the decision is easy, a no-brainer, then it's not really a decision.
Deb loved me, and it wasn't that I didn't love her, it was more that due to my horrendous upbringing, I simply didn't know what love was.
There was none in my cold, harsh home in Prospect street Bathurst.
So maybe I did love Deb, but I simply had nothing to compare with, and so didn't know.
And the decision I made was that it was all too hard, and I just wanted to go back to my one-of-the-lads existence in the bars of Sydney.
It was undoubtedly the worst thing I had done to a person up to that point in my life. 
There is a widely held view that if you are the one leaving a relationship, then you have the easy part.
Well I'd like to disabuse anyone who thinks this.
It's hard in both directions.
I had to hurt Deb terribly, and causing such pain, after all I'd been through myself, was terribly hard.
I never really forgave myself.
And indeed it is why I never have been remarried, or even had a long term relationship since (25 years it's been now).
I simply wasn't prepared to hurt, or be hurt, to those levels again.
The old aphorism, "love like you've never been hurt", is well said, but the number of people who have pulled that off is vanishingly small.
And now I remembered how all of the above started in my head.
During the break up, Deb introduced me to therapy.
We went and saw a counsellor, and he was very good.
He couldn't keep us together, but he did make me realize that my father's view that all counsellors are nuts, and they help nobody was simply untrue.
With his support we got through the initial mechanics of the breakup.
I picked up my tattered, meagre possessions and moved into a student share house near my Uni, and went back to school.
On my own again, I quickly fell into a relationship with a nineteen-year-old student on the women's soccer team I was coaching at Sydney U.
Talk about a cliche.
This point was made well in the Steve Martin movie LA Story.
Sarah Jessica Parker in LA Story: "She'll be 27 in four years."
Steve is caught out by the woman he wishes to go out with, as shown in this exchange:

Sara: Why didn't you tell me you had just broke up with someone?
Harris: How do you know I just broke up with someone?
Sara: Because when men just break up with someone, they always run around with someone much too young for them.
Harris: She's not so young. She'll be 27 in four years.

And I followed the pattern.
At the age of 27, I took up with this 19 year old.
I think the underlying reason men, particularly, do this is that someone too young for you is uncomplicated; they make few demands on you.
Whatever the reason, I quickly found that too much pressure due to my eternally fractured head, and then proceeded to dump her in a cowardly fashion.
However, the one thing to my credit was that I began to realize I was terribly dysfunctional and needed help for mental illness.
So I began to go to counselling and slowly began the path to today, where I'm off the booze and circling widely, as of a moon of Jupiter, the idea of having a functional relationship.
But the paradox that I've led you to over the long roundabout paragraphs above is that the way I look at it now is that it was only by breaking up with Deb did I develop the mental strength to stay together.
Try that for a paradox.
It, deb and I staying together, couldn't happen, she had gone back to Canada by then, but thanks brain for delivering hopeless paradoxes to us humans on a regular basis.
And I might add, to compound my difficulty during that time, was this.
Deb's best friend, Sally, came out to Australia while we were still living in Vancouver.
I gave her the contact details for my best friend Steve.
Sally and Steve eventually got married.
At the time I thought, "Brilliant! My wife's best friend, married to my best friend, we'll have a great time".
What I didn't realize was how much I relied on Steve as a listener.
Then, as now, I would moan eternally to him about my problems, and he would listen with enormous patience to my moaning.
Once he began going out with Sally though, I realized that I could no longer talk with him about my biggest problem, my relationship, as that would put him in the position of having to keep secrets from Sally.
So alone I wandered the dark caverns of my mind wondering what to do.
I have often written here that we would all do things differently if we had a time machine, but I'm not sure that would apply here.
I still feel breaking up was the right decision for Deb and me at the time, painful though it was to both parties.
Actually, now that I think about it, if I did have a time machine, I would go back to Prospect street Bathurst to when I was ten years old and get my parents to divorce, now that would have solved everything!
Anyway, the lesson I think I'm bringing is this, if you're having trouble with your relationship, try breaking up, it may be the only thing that keeps you together.

The Lighter side

So leaving those dark days let us turn to a lighter note.
All of the above caterwauling on my part reminded me of an episode of Roseanne.
For those who don't know, Roseanne and her husband Dan live a blue-collar working poor existence in Lanford, Illinois.
In one episode they are having relationship trouble, but by talking it through they come to resolution and decide to stay together.
So well does it go, that they decide to renew their marriage vows.
But they get to talking and decide that instead of the normal rubbish spouted by the priest, they would write vows that are useful in the real world.
So Dan agrees to put his dirty socks in the laundry basket and not leave them on the floor.
Roseanne agrees to only say something if Dan spends more than three hours in the Lobo Bar.
Dan agrees to at least pretend to listen to the principal when they are called to school for a conference over their children's behaviour.
Roseanne agrees to not let her mother in the house more than three times a year.
Dan agrees that if he does come home drunk, he is not to expect sex.
Roseanne agrees to feign interest when football is on TV.

Now they are vows we can work with.

And I would add a few of my own.
He: Will learn what colours she can't wear and buy clothing presents accordingly.
She: Will learn what offside is.
He: Will wash dishes and not "leave them to soak" in the sink, hoping She will wash them tomorrow morning.
She: Will solemnly swear to not point out what a load of f$%^ing jackasses his drinking buddies are.
He: Will not explain for the hundredth time why stick shift cars are better than automatics.
She: Will maintain the fiction that he has the biggest dick she has ever seen. (Yes, sorry followers of the human condition, but that is all men care about really.)

What do you think?

And finally to this week's joke/humour.
I did originally relay an esoteric joke about Noddy and Big Ears, but my humour testers, Daz and Scott, returned the findings as so:
Scott: "I don't get it".
Daz: "No, it was shit, the only thing funny was that Big Ears looks like Tony Abbott".

[For my American readers: Tony Abbott is the current Australian Prime Minister, a fuckwit of truly cosmic proportions. He seeks to dump toxic waste on the Great Barrier Reef among other eco-holocaust crimes.]

And I told Scott the joke after he had consumed his coffee, the only time of the day he even approaches mental acuity, so it looks like that joke will have to be consigned to the dustbin of history.

But first, since coming home drunk is a factor in the marriage vows of Roseanne and Dan above, here is Billy Connolly's take on it.
Said Billy: "I have here the solution for you if you come home drunk and don't want to get caught by your wife.
Most of us take our shoes off on the front step then open the door like a cat burglar, then step as quietly on padded feet up the stairs to the bed room.
This never works, as your wife will invariably hear the first floorboard creak and then be out of bed like The Flash and standing on the top step with a rolling pin in her hand."
"No," continued Billy, "If you don't want to get caught, what you do is, come down your road singing at the top of your voice. Open the door like your a member of the anti-terrorist squad on a raid, and with your willy in your hand yell, 'are ya' ready darlin', I fell like some legover tonight!!'"
Tony Abbott - a fuckwit of giant proportions.
"I promise you", concludes Billy, "all you'll hear from your wife is snoring as she frantically tries to pretend she's asleep".

So the joke (at long last).
A guy goes down the pub and gets a skinful.
It comes closing time and he buys a bottle of whiskey to take home with him, and sticks this in his back pocket.
He then weaves down the road to his house.
He fumbles several times in the dark for the key, eventually opens the front door, then steps inside.
He goes to mount the stairs, but trips on the second step and falls backwards, and lands flat on his bum, shattering the bottle in his back pocket.
He gets up, feeling the pain in his rear end, and realizes that he has cut his backside very badly.
So he staggers up to the bathroom and gets the Band-aids out of the medicine cabinet.
Then, awkwardly, he turns around and using the mirror, puts the Band-Aids on one by one, and once the job is done, more or less, staggers along to the spare room, flops on the fold out couch and goes to bed.
The next morning he staggers down to the kitchen.
His wife is already up, and as he stumbles in, his wife wastes no time, and says, "YOU were drunk last night."
The guy counterattacks and says, "no, I wasn't, I only had a few with the lads. Got home OK."
His wife sniffs disapprovingly, and says "no, you were drunk."
So the guy says, "Why do you say that?"
And his wife replies, "Because there's 20 sticking plasters on the bathroom mirror."

See you next week.


Monday, 21 April 2014

Thanks (I guess)

Martina said the best thing ever about "labelling" people.
Have you ever been the recipient of a left-handed compliment?
I've had a couple recently, and they invariably leave you in a slightly confused state of mind.
So to pick up the story, let's go back in time a bit.
When I was a boy growing up in Bathurst in the seventies, ethnic dining was still quite limited in largely white Australia.
Bathurst had, as I recall, a Greek restaurant, The Acropole, and a Chinese restaurant in Keppel street, the name of which escapes me from this remove.
But that was it.
The Stagecoach was also extant, and I think it may have been Italian, but I can't be sure.
Anyway, Thai, Vietnamese, Ehtiopian, none of those more exotic fooderies existed in all of Australia, let alone parochial stuck-in-the-fifties Bathurst.
We didn't even have an Indian till the Ben Ravi opened in the eighties.
Anyway we, my family and I, would attend the Chinese restaurant mentioned above once a week, usually Friday night.
Like most Australians, used to meat and two veg with tea so strong you could stand a spoon up in it, our choices were almost set in stone.
We rarely tried anything different.
My brother and I would have Boneless Lemon Chicken, with as few vegetables as possible, like most children.
My father would have Chop Suey, and my mother invariably stuck with Chicken Chow Mein.
Four pots of rice would make up the order.
I loved going there.
The food was good, certainly tastier than the usual pig slop splattered onto my plate most nights.
With the additional bonus of not having to wash up, a task delegated to my brother and I.
After the meal my brother and I with lugubrious hearts would drag into the kitchen to begin cleaning after my mother's cooking, while my parents would sit and watch TV and drink scotch.
So getting takeout at the Chinese was for me a real highlight.
Anyway, some time after our standard order was chiselled into the wall of the Chinese restaurant, my mother was given doctor's advice that she had to lose weight.
So she started going to Slimliners.
Slimliners was a knockoff of Weightwatchers.
It was typical of my tight-fisted mother that she couldn't even buy a name brand when it came to losing weight.
[I might add, I got a little of my own back on my loathed mother by referring to this organisation as Fatliners, to my glee and her chagrin.]
Also one another slight digression: One of the things Slimliners advised its adherents to do was, if you had been invited to a dinner party, to ring up the hostess and find out what she was serving that night.
Then if the foodstuffs didn't match your diet, ask if you could bring your own salad, or main meal, or whatever you needed when you showed up.
My mother's acerbic friend, Mary Scandol, when she heard this, said to my mother, "Well if someone rang me and said that, I would reply, 'well why don't I stop cooking and we'll come around to your house for dinner'".
Which I thought very apposite.
Further digression: Mary Scandol was the first adult I ever heard use the word 'fuck' as a conversational tool.
Her discourse was healthily leavened with 'fuck this', and 'fuck that', 'he's a fucken tool', and so on.
As child and adolescent, I loved her for it.
My mother, always with her sense of proprietary uttermost, tried to get her not to swear, she suggested to Mary Scandol that she said, "Stone the crows."
To which Mary S replied, "No, I'm not saying that, for one thing, I quite like crows."
And damn right too.
I like crows as well, and I loved hearing Mary Scandol talk.
Sorry, further, further, digression.
Mary Scandol sadly passed away of lung cancer in the early eighties.
In her will she left her house to the women's movement in the area, and they were able to open the first Women's Refuge on the central tablelands.
In a stroke doing more for the battered women of the area (and there were a lot), than all the governments of the previous fifty years.
OK, enough digression, back to the restaurant.
With my mother now attending Slimliners she decided to change her order at the restaurant.
We went in on Friday as usual, and Mrs Sang went to fill in her order book, when my mother intervened.
"Excuse me, Mrs Sang", she said, "Do you have  vegetarian dish?"
Mrs Sang looked up in mild surprise and said, "Oh, you no like Chow Mein anymore?"
My mother replied, "Oh no, it's not that, but I'm on a diet."
Mrs Sang then said, "Oh, you only just started?"
Oh dear.
Once outside and in the car my father said, "Well that was a left-handed compliment if ever I heard one."
But I don't think it was.
Mrs Sang was the height of politeness, and I think it was more the change in order that threw her.
We had been ordering the same four dishes with rice for years, and the change prompted the remark, not any perceived criticism of my mother's weight.
So what is a left-handed compliment?
Well, it was most accurately portrayed by Kathy Lette, most famous as the writer of Puberty Blues.
In one of her books a group of girls are sitting around figuring out what to wear for a night out.
One, a Greek-Australian woman named Anastasoula, (Soula), says to another, "You're lucky Marnie, you've got such small tits you can fit into any top".
Kathy goes on, "Soula was the Navratilova of the back-handed compliment."
So a left-handed, or backhanded compliment is one that sounds superficially good, but when you think about it, is really not.
And so it was that I went back to play soccer on Thursday night with the Spanish boys.
These guys really know how soccer should be played.
I am one of the oldest players, and keeping up with these skillful greyhounds as they skim about the field is not easy.
Please note. this is an old photo from years ago, that's why I'm drinking a beer.
I am going to try to get some video footage of me chasing these guys, as it must be hilarious.
A gazelle being chased by a hippopotamus about sums it up.
Anyway, I have not been going for a while for various reasons, but as I am playing again in the league for Byron Bay, I wanted to get some extra training, and there is none better than this.
So I went and enjoyed myself immensely.
I haven't had a cigarette for three years, and now haven't had a drink for 15 months, so my fitness was the best it's been for most of my life.
Obviously it showed, because after the game Xavier (Pronounced Harv-ee-ay) came up and said, "Hey Lock, it's good to see you again man. You play well, I was surprised!"
Thanks Xavi. (I guess)
However, I genuinely took this as a compliment, as doing anything well against these guys is real hard.
Download here!
So then we come to plugging my book, which I think I haven't been overly doing, so forgive me if I do a bit now, but it's relevant to the story, I can assure you of that.
One hundred and fifty six people have downloaded my book, which I am very gratified by.
Thank you all.
I have had no one say they didn't like it and many have been very complimentary.
However, most who have been complimentary have been rather left-handed about it.
Scott and Ivan are two that I can think of, who said this: "Hey Lock, I finally got a chance to read some of your book, it's really good, I was surprised!"
Left Handed compliment.
Anyway, thank you all for reading, and a bit less of the "I was surprised" bit if you don't mind.

Martina on Labelling

Next, I brought in the picture of Martinaup above to highlight the comment by Soula in Kathy Lette's book.
But since I have got her here, I would like to pay tribute to her for highlighting a problem that we humans still have: labelling.
I am often labelled an alcoholic, or these days a recovering alcoholic.
I'm not sure how I feel about it still.
On the one hand it is important to label yourself this way, because by not doing it, you go down the path of denial, "I'm not an alco, Johnny drinks far more than me", is a common get out.
However, there is no denying that it still diminishes the person in the eyes of many.
"Hmmm, I'm not sure if I can trust him, he used to be an alco", is the prevailing sentiment.
However, worse than that, is the label "mentally ill".
I was just this morning hearing on the radio that suicide is still a real problem for Australia's youth, amongst the highest in the world.
And one of the issues is that many are not willing to admit they are mentally ill due to the stigma.
It seems that killing yourself is a more respectable option for many, which is a very sad indictment on our society.
Also, an advocate for returned veterans was making the point on the same radio show that in the armed forces if you admit you are mentally ill, your career is over, the higher ups will never trust you to go into armed combat again.
All of which comes under the heading of negative labelling.
So what did Martina say?
During a speech to a lesbian alliance in the states (Martina is gay), she said, "The press always refer to me as Martina Navratilova the lesbian tennis player. They never say 'Joe Namath the heterosexual football player'".
She went on, "So this is labelling, and I don't like it, it's very unfair."
Damn right Martina.


Next, in a closer shave with the Easter story than I would have liked, I had a Near Death Experience (NDE) on Easter Saturday.
I pulse of big swell came through from the tail end of the cyclone.
I joined the throngs at the Pass and surfed for an hour or so.
Then, fed to the back teeth by the crowd, I paddled home on the sweep current.
I had got down to the middle of Main Beach, to a spot known accurately and ominously as the Crash Zone.
I went to paddle through a wave, pushing the lip it's called, when I realized I wasn't going to make it.
So I abandoned ship and dove sideways through the face of the wave.
As the wave passed through like an angry bull elephant I felt rather than heard a clipping sort of noise.
When I came up again, I realized my leg rope had broken and now my board was heading at speed to shore.
I was now in real danger, 100 metres offshore, with no floatation device.
Then I had no breath.
I said to myself, "why are you out of breath?, you haven't done anything much".
It was panic.
That's how quick it can get you.
Even I, experienced surfer, and vastly experienced in the Bay, had started to panic within seconds.
So (and this is gospel true), I then had to say to myself, 'Lachlan, if you calm this panic, you may die, if you don't calm this panic, you will definitely die'.
So a hundred metres offshore I indulged in a sort of waterborne yoga deep breathing to calm myself down.
It did work, and soon I could breath again.
Now I faced getting home.
First, I had to cross the powerful sweep current.
You can get a feel for what I was up against from the picture.
The current sweeps around the lighthouse headland, then powers its way north along the beach front all the way to Tweed Heads.
So I dog paddled across the sweep, but every cm closer to the beach I got, I went ten metres toward Tweed Heads.
However, I got across and then faced my next challenge: the crash zone itself.
I couldn't avoid it, I had to body surf one of these death-bringers.
I didn't look back, I knew if you saw what was coming, you would never go.
So I took a deep breath, was lifted like a leaf, then pile-driven onto the sand bar.
Not the most relaxing way to travel, but it got me twenty five metres closer to the beach.
Then, I was hoping that I could get my feet on the ground on the sand bar, but it was high tide, and so I had to keep treading water.
I was so thankful for my giving up smoking I can tell you.
But I was still nearly out of breath through adrenalin and exhaustion.
But thankfully my ordeal was coming to a close.
I paddled across the sand bar, jumped off the edge, and rode the white wash home to the beach.
I collected my board from a small group that had gathered around it, said "thanks" and headed home.
No shipwrecked survivor of a pirate brig on the Spanish main has ever touched the ground as thankfully as I did.
I examined the board, normally when this happens, the knot has given way, but my carefully tied knot had held, the power of the wave had simply snapped the leg rope like a piece of dried spaghetti.


No Spare!! FUCK!

Finally,and I know this is a long post, but then I didn't ask for today, I can assure you, back on dry land things were conspiring against me.
Easter her in Byron means the Blues and roots festival.
Traffic is locked up solid for four days.
I didn't go out in my car once.
But this morning (Tuesday) I went back to work.
So I loaded my car and headed to mow some lawns.
Got to the top of the ramp out of the garage and realized I had a flat tyre.
I pulled over and got out the spare.
I found the jack, but not the tyre iron.
I tossed the car over, but there wasn't one to be found.
This is a new car by the way, so this was my first flat in the beast.
So I ran back to work and Scott asked all the staff if someone had a tyre iron.
Meggsy did and brought it out to me.
Wrong size.
Scott calls again.
Another tyre iron is found, it's brought out, I get the wheel off.
Spare on.
It's the wrong size, doesn't fit.
"Fucking bollocks", I said.
So once again I had to control my mind.
Then I remembered that Scott's mother's car was a Subaru like mine.
I raced back and got her spare out.
"Fucking bollocks", I repeated.
You can see it there in the picture.
It looked like a motor cycle tyre.
Would this do?
It bloody had to, the alternative was an expensive tow.
I raced back to the car.
Put it on, tightened the nuts, then in another reflection of the religious overtone of Easter, I drove round to Singh's tyres with the hazard lights blinking and praying all the way.
I got there.
The guy came out to look.
"Sorry mate", he said, "You need two new tyres."
Both front tyres were worn.
So I said "put 'em on".
Then I asked if I could get a spare as well, he said, "Sorry Mate, you need to go to the wreckers for that".
So with newly shod front end, I drove back to the office called the wreckers, told them my requirements, and am now waiting for them to call me back if they can find a tyre for me.
Of course with my anxiety issues I can't go anywhere in the car till he does, as I find it too stressful to drive without a spare.
So when people say to me now "how was your Easter?", I reply, "Well I nearly died and my car is falling apart underneath me, but apart from that, not bad."
Jesus only got crucified, in the real world we've got real problems.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Stuttering badly, but thinking of Hank

Hank Aaron, a man who could focus.
I have developed the mental equivalent of a stutter, a seriously debilitating one.
This post starts out with a man called Rob, and brings in Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth.
What have they got to do with it?

Well I'll get to that below.
But first Rob.
I met Rob at college in my home town.
He was a real nice guy, but was cursed with a terrible stutter.
He would start a sentence and most times he would finish it.
But regularly he would come upon a word that would set it off.
Then his face would contort, and he would utter a series of "unhhhh!", noises.
Sometimes it wouldn't be too bad, and he would get through to the end of the sentence without too much trouble.
However, on occasion it would hit bad, and he would sometimes have to leave the conversation, and go off by himself until the stutter burned itself out, and he could return and recommence talking with us.
Thankfully, we were living in reasonably enlightened times and Rob had many friends, and no one made light of his affliction.
However, it must have looked somewhat comical to an observer, seeing us rock forward in unison with each "unhhh!" that Rob emitted, hoping, willing him to get the word out.

What causes a stutter?
Well, like hiccups, no one really knows.
I seems to be stress related.
I asked Paula the wonder therapist this, and even she didn't know, but said she would look into it.
Until she reports though, I will at least tell you what I learned about it.
On one occasion the unholy mystery of stuttering was fully revealed by Rob.
He began a sentence then the stutter kicked in, his face contorted more than usual and we realized that it was a bad one.
Rob uttered ten or so "unhhh!" noises, then out of the side of his mouth he said, "Wait for it".
We broke up with laughter, not at him definitely.
It was genuinely funny, and that seemed to help him in this current instance, and with only a few more "unhhh!"s, he got the rest of the sentence out.
Also Rob seemed to do much better with people he knew, meeting people was an unholy trial for him.
He would be introduced, then had to hope that he could reply to the new person without the "unnhhh!" noises appearing, making his new acquaintance wonder if he was some sort of mad man.
As the study year went by and Rob became friends with many, his stutter did seem to reduce.
Again, indicating that stuttering is stress related, and with people he was comfortable with he could converse more or less normally.
The most interesting part of Rob's story occurred a year or so after I left that college.
I returned home from my new Uni in Sydney and went and caught up with friends from my home town college.
One of them told me a fascinating story.
Not long after I left, Rob's father died.
Rob went home for the funeral, and spent some time in his home town.
Then, my confidant told me, when he came back to college, his stutter had reduced massively, and eventually had disappeared altogether.
Turned out Rob's father was quite a brutal, domineering man, and had had a massive impact on Rob's equanimity.
Such an impact, that Rob had developed this stutter.

Probably the two most notable movie portrayals of the trials of a stutterer were A Fish Called Wanda, and The King's Speech.
In Wanda, Michael Palin plays Ken, an animal lover who is cursed with a stutter.
At one point John Cleese's character desperately needs Ken to tell him where the baddie has taken Cleese's lover, Jamie Curtis.
And sure enough, at this most stressful juncture of the film, Ken's stutter kicks in, and we all moved forward in our movie theatre seats hoping Ken could get the words out before the baddie, Kevin Kline, makes it out of the country with the girl and the loot.
John Cleese, driven to distraction, and yells, "OH, COME ON!!!!", then stops and says "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I know you're trying".
Eventually Ken gets there and they race off to the Cathcart Towers hotel at the airport in time to catch the baddie.
But it was an unholy struggle for Cleese to be patient, to not make Ken stutter worse.
And that's what is required of you if you are conversing with a stutterer.
The other film, The King's Speech, showed another side of the suffering of a stutterer.
Which is, avoiding certain words.
If, for example, the word "day", sets off the stutter, the sufferer will obviously avoid the word.
So instead of saying, "it's a nice day", they will say, "Isn't the weather nice?"
That's fine for ordinary folk, but the king in the King's speech, was required to deliver scripted radio addresses to the populace, and within the speech would be scattered danger words, that couldn't be avoided.
So a whole elaborate training schedule, including practising with weights on his chest was devised to help the King get through his vocal work.
Talk about pressure! Colin Firth as King George VI addresses the masses.
I should say, it was a time of war, and England needed it's king to lead, and so there was no hiding for him.
He had to get these speeches done.
Additionally, when doing a speech in a radio studio, it could be recorded, but he also had to speak in public, which must have been a horrendously stressful process for him.
So if you know someone with a stutter being patient with them is all you can do.

So what's happened to me?
Well I haven't got a speech stutter, but instead my mental illness, high anxiety, has developed to full blown OCD, and exhibits in my checking things.
It's really bad now, and takes me up to thirty minutes to leave home in the morning.
That is, I'm ready to leave, dressed, shaved and breakfasted.
The car is packed with my gardening tools for the day, but then I have to add thirty minutes or so, to endlessly circulate through my flat, checking and rechecking that the oven is off, the electric jug is off, the shower and bathroom taps are off, etc, etc.
And I'd like to bring in another very good movie here: As Good As It Gets with Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt.
Jack plays a man with out of control obsessive compulsive order.
He can't get out of bed till he taps his feet in an intricate pattern on the floor.
He can't walk on certain parts of the sidewalk.
He can only eat breakfast at a certain restaurant, and only when Helen serves it the right way.
When I saw this film, I thought it was good, but remember thinking at the time, that "This is a bit over the top, no one could be that OCD".
Well, now that I am the same, I have recalibrated that statement, I can tell you.
So why am I writing about this?
I am certainly not making myself look cool, that's for sure.
Well it helps me gain some perspective on the whole thing, but as usual when discoursing on mental illness, I'm hoping that it may help someone else recognize it in themselves.
Here I am counting that all the switches on my oven are off.
This picture was about the twentieth check of the morning,
I did about twenty more before I was able to leave the house.
And go get some help.
I have examined this truly tedious and exhausting process, trying to discover why I do it, and that has helped.
It is undoubtedly worse when I have to leave the house and go somewhere a long way away to do my gardening.
For instance this morning I went to Ballina.
The logic there is of course that when I am around town (Byron), if I have a sudden panic attack and want to check that everything is (still) off, I can just go home and look.
But obviously, if I am in Ballina (30k away), I can't just drop everything and go home.
So away days are exceptionally stressful.
What's at the bottom of it?
It seems to be to do with the years I spent homeless.
Being homeless is so awful that it has created an overwhelming-to-the-point-of-catatonic fear that I may be homeless again.
So why does that fear lead to this over compulsive checking?
Well the "logic" my over active cortex follows is that if I leave the oven on, or a top plate burner, a fire may start and then I will have nowhere to live.
I will be homeless again.
It's a logic of a kind.
People who have no understanding of the completely irrational nature of this checking try to help me.
"Why don't you just say in a big loud voice, 'THE OVEN IS OFF!', and then go?"
No help.
"Why don't you allot five checks per morning, and then go?"
No help.
All the oven switches are off.
The jug is unplugged.
The only person who did have a genuinely helpful suggestion was my friend Michael, who suggested I photograph my appliances each morning so if I do panic, I have a visual record that the power is off.

In the end though, the only thing that could really help me is having a million dollars in the bank, then if I do burn the place down, I can buy a new place.
But that ain't gonna happen, so for the moment I have to live with this checking stutter inside my head.
And a long morning round of checking and rechecking my appliances.
So if you're one of my clients reading this, and I am late to mow your lawn, you can now know that I am still at home checking that the oven and the electric jug are off.
So what of Hank Aaron?
For those Australian readers, Hank was one of the greatest baseballers ever.
I tend to think of him when I'm under pressure with my checking, for Hank went through a true hideously flaming hell-on-Earth, and held it together under the most extraordinary pressure that anyone, sportsperson or otherwise could imagine.
Hank played in the Major Leagues from 1954 to 1976.
He was what's known as  "slugger" and was famous for his mightily-hit home runs.
As his career moved on he began to home in on Babe Ruth's all-time record for home runs.
Babe watches a dinger sail away.
Now Babe was a truly popular iconic, larger-than-life figure on the baseball stage.
He was popular with the fans, he was popular with the ladies.

He played in the twenties and many of his records weren't broken till the sixties, he was that good.
The point being, Babe was white, and Hank is black.
So when Hank began to close on the record, it set off an unholy torrent of racial abuse and death threats, toward him, his family and his team.
Even his local paper in Atlanta was not immune and many calls were received declaring the paper was written by "nigger lovers".
Such was the torrent of this filth that the editor quietly prepared an obituary for Hank, in case one of the threateners achieved their stated aim.
Hank himself tried to play it down, but like Mississippi Burning, another great film, America was at war with itself.
Ignorant whites wanted to see Hank fail, the entire population of black Americans wanted Hank to succeed.
In the end all Hank could do was to just keep batting.
He couldn't stop, as that would give in to the racists.
And that is why I admire Hank Aaron.
Anyone who has played sport at any level, will know that achieving on any given game day is hard enough.
If your at the top level, in this case the Major Leagues, that is many factors of ten harder.
Just hitting 'A' baseball for us mortals is hard enough.
So for Hank to achieve the home run record, which he did in 1974, all the while wondering if his family and friends were safe, is another universe of pressure again.
So whenever I am under pressure I don't say, "What would Jesus do?", I tend to say, "Hank had to handle a lot more than this."
I was going to nip home and make sure I haven't left the oven on, but then I thought of Hank and decided to go surfing instead.

Monday, 7 April 2014

A buttered gun scenario and the monkey bonking phenomenon

The title of this post is the intro to this week's joke.
It's down below, at the end.
I'm even going to put a headline on it so those who only tune in for the joke can find it easily.
However, I'd like to start with a curious thing I learned recently: human beings are fascinated by monkey sex.
Two weeks ago I did a post entitled, "Do you know your monkey keeps dipping his balls in my beer?"
This post was very popular, and some of the comments I got were along the lines of the title was funny, so I thought I would tune in and have a read.
Considering that was the most popular post of recent times, it seemed to warrant further investigation by me.
So I went over to my fave search engine and typed in "monkey sex".
Well, I don't know what you do in your spare time, but I can tell you now that a lot of you seem to like watching monkey bonking.
As you can see in the grab (above right), within 0.18 seconds 77,400,000 links related to monkey sex came back.
We do like watching our simian cousins doing the nasty, that's for sure.
To compare though, I then typed in "human sex" and the response was: About 1,070,000,000 results (0.27 seconds).
So I guess that's a good thing (psychologically, if not morally) that we do like watching our own species going at it.
NB: No I didn't take the investigative opportunity to peruse websites for porn, though the op was clearly handed to me on a platter.
Anyway, the two searches did seem to fall into two distinct reasons for looking.
The monkey sex is mainly along the lines of being wacky, the first line is entitled "Crazy Monkey Sex", while the human one is, I guess, more to do with porn.
Which reminds me that when I was working in computers in the city, I learned a few stats about the internet that don't say much for us as a species.
Back then, the middle nineties, a 56k modem was considered cutting edge, compared with today where a 3 gigbit modem is already falling behind.
The stats I was told at my computer company were, 90% of the internet is used for email, and 90% of that is spam.
Of the remainder of the internet, websites, 90% of those are porn.
I compared this with today, for email, there are 144 billion emails sent each day, and 70% of that is spam.
How much of the internet is porn?
No one knows.
You simply can't manage the stats, if you go on web searches like mine above then 4% of searchers are after porn.
If you go on websites, then 14% is porn.
If you go on pages on a website, some have more than 70 million porn related pages(!), then the figure goes up again.
The one thing the experts agree on is that there is a lot of it.
So what's my point?
Well it's this.
We have set up a multi-trillion dollar fibre optic network to service the desire of people to look at monkeys bonking and to disburse emails no one wants.
If Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz of the Galactic Hyperspace Council comes down to do his appraisal of us as a species to decide if they are going to admit us to the Enlightened Order of Planets, then I think we've got trouble.

Next topic, do you practise conversations in your head?
Do you, time after time, go over and over things you want to say?
And at the same time, things you dearly, cherishingly wish you had said?
I know I do.
I remember at school being told that talking to yourself was the first sign of madness.
This is probably right, since I used to talk to myself a lot, and as anyone who has been watching this space will know, I'm mad.
My father, I might add, also did this, and was minorly famous for being seen at the wheel of his car driving around with his jaws working overtime in some internal dialogue with himself.
He was very stressed.
Back then, the seventies, stress was not a widely known thing.
And even if it was, my father considered anything to do with psychology only for sissies, and so felt, I conjecture, that admitting to being stressed, was a sign of weakness.
This had massively deleterious effects in his health.
He developed heart trouble, and eventually had to be hospitalised for this.
Once he came out he began a pretty pathetic exercise regime, clearly indicating that the doctors told him he had to lose weight.
Now this was true, he did need to lose weight, but what he really needed to do was seek out some therapy for his stress.
So, returning to the beginning of this skein of discourse, is if you are a "repeated-conversation-in-your-head" person, then there is stress going on in your life.
What to do?
Well a good thing to do is to identify the (most commonly) human source of this stress, and talk to them about it.
But over my time I have found that there is an inherent paradox associated with this, which is:
If you can talk to someone, you invariably don't have a problem with them.
If you can't communicate with someone, then they're the people you usually have a problem with.
So you go to talk to them they don't listen, then they turn it back on you and say, "no, you're the one with the problem."
Sound familiar?
Then you come away from the talk more stressed than ever, and with the internal conversation now going ahead at a million miles an hour.
Then you start getting down on yourself, you start saying, 'god, I'm so weak and ineffectual, I can't even get my point across'.
And all the things that you practised so often in the run up to this conversation, suddenly disappear like leaves on the wind when you so frantically need them.
Well, if this is so, try not to be too hard on yourself, many of these conversations are critical to your life, and as such, they are very stressful, and none of us are the characters that Bruce Willis plays in his movies.
Bruce never worries he's left the oven on.
Bruce never attends a meeting with human resources to discuss a bullying problem.
Bruce just pulls out the Kalashnikov and negotiates from behind the sights of that.
We can't do that, sadly, so what's to do?
What do you do if someone at work is stressing you out big time, and you feel unsupported by the boss?
Well if you have a supportive boss, then things are a solar-system-length easier
If not, and this is most common in the private sector, things can be very difficult.
But one thing that I have found that did help, when I have been in a similar situation was Lifeline.
My friend Sandy, who works there was telling me that only ten per cent, or thereabouts, of calls to Lifeline are suicide related.
The bulk, are calls about less fraught matters.
Even then I don't like to describe these calls as "minor" matters, or "less important" matters.
I can't think of a good word, really.
Let's just say calls about matters that aren't suicide related.
Small matters from the outside, but important, world-alteringly important to the caller.
In Britain the equivalent organisation is the Samaritans, in the States there are a host of different services, most issue based, ie sexual assault hotline, child trauma hot line, and they can be found at, in Canada you can see the MoodMemos site for services available,
So why are these services so important?
I found that by speaking with someone I didn't know, I could admit things that I would never say to someone I knew.
Often as the conversation went on, I was able to gain a measure of perspective.
I could find out if what I was stressed about was as big an issue as I thought.
Sometimes the issue shrank down in the talking, but other times the phone counsellor and I would come to understand that I did have a large problem and it had to be tackled head on.
How do you know when a problem has to be tackled head on? Not something that can be left?
If you have to see this person regularly,eg at work each day, then you unfortunately have to deal with it and not hope it will go away.
Finally, and you can ask the phone counsellor for this, I was often able to role play my upcoming stressful conversation with the phone counsellor.
I was able to ask them to be the HR manager, or indeed, even the bully, and I was able to practise what I wanted to say.
This process really helped me when the adrenalin was flowing.
So if you are caught talking to yourself, if, like me, you yell at yourself for being such a loser, then call Lifeline and say it to them.
They won't laugh at you, and you may gain some perspective on your problem that you thought could never happen.
And penultimately, another Australia-US confusion story.
In the States they say "I'm going to the bathroom", when we say, "I'm going to the toilet".
I can't remember who told me this, but if you recognise yourself and this story, feel free to contact me and I'll attest it to you.
Anyway, this Australian was in the States and she went into the (genuine bathroom) in the lobby of the hotel she was staying at.
She went to the toilet, then was washing her hands when she noticed a bracelet left on the counter near the sink.
Obviously the owner had taken it off to wash their hands and forgotten it.
So she dried her hands, picked up the bracelet and went back to the reception desk, she handed it to the receptionist and said, "I found this in the toilet".
The receptionist, who had just taken delivery, threw it up in the air like she had been handed a bag of rattlesnakes and jumped back with an expression on her face as if she'd been knifed in the ribs.
Once she returned from the ceiling where she was clinging in disgust, explanations followed and the story teller explained the difference in trans-Pacific usage of the word toilet.
I might add, I prefer the American usage, and often say, "I'm going to the bathroom", it sounds a bit more refined.
Anyway, I was down at Australian Seabird Rescue conducting a tour, and one of the visitors to our centre asked about a turtle we had who had plastic inside her.
I replied, "Yes, we have some hopes, we are really waiting for this turtle to go to the bathroom."
The visitor looked at me in some confusion, and then explained that she thought I meant that the turtles would get out of the tank, flipper their way into the main building and go to the toilet on the bowl.
So enough.
Hope you enjoy the joke.
I've got to go and watch some Monkey sex and then call Lifeline to find out why I like it.

The Joke

A guy goes into a bar in Tombstone, Arizona.
He walks up to the bar and says " whiskey".
The barman pours it and he takes a half slug and then turns around surveys the bar.
He sees a guy playing the piano, and after listening for a moment or two, he decides he doesn't like what he's hearing.
So in a loud voice, he yells across the bar, "Hey you, stop playing that damn piano."
The pianist doesn't hesitate at all, and keeps playing.
So the guy, infuriated, pulls out his six-shooter, fires a round over the head of the piano player, and yells, "I SAID, STOP PLAYING THAT DAMN PIANO, ARE YOU DEAF?"
Again, the piano player, unruffled, goes on playing with every symptom of enjoyment.
So the guy repeats the dose, another shot fired, another assertion that he wishes the piano player to cease and desist.
Again, the piano player goes on.
At this point, the barman sidles gingerly up to the trigger-happy customer and says, "Hey pardner, can I give you some advice?"
The customer turns to the barman and says, "What?"
So the barman says, "If I was you, I'd go into the kitchen, find some butter, and put as much of it on your gun as I could."
The customer says, "Why in tarnation would I do that?"
And the barman says, "'cos when Wyatt Earp finishes playing the piano, he's gonna come over here and shove it up your arse."