Monday, 28 July 2014

'Provoked' shark attacks?! Man, someone's sick of living

Does this shark look like it's grinning to you?
I am doing some work for my friend Andi at the moment, you may remember her from this post some weeks ago, "'I've decided to become a woman' - interview with my transgender friend."
It is to do with the hazards involved with life on the coast, mostly to do with swimming and rip currents.

In my research I did some comparison work and the most iconic danger to do with the ocean is of course shark attack.
So I went to have a look at the numbers and when I did I came across this eyebrow raising little piece of information.
On the Taronga park zoo website we learn that:
"Analysis of all unprovoked case histories from the Australian Shark Attack File indicates that 29 percent are fatal."
Now you may think that I was referring to the 29% fatal bit, but no.
What really made me sit up was the "unprovoked" bit.
AKA: does this mean there are some people out there who provoke sharks?
Turns out there are.
When I first read it I had an immediate mental picture of someone sticking up two fingers and saying, "you're just a fucking shark, yeah c'mon, do you want a piece of me, yeah come and have a go if you think you're hard enough."
But of course, it's not like that, though I have no doubt there are people out there stupid enough to do just this.
But for the record, a 'provoked shark attack' is defined as:
"Provoked attacks are caused by humans touching sharks. Often this involves unhooking sharks or removing them from fishing nets.
However, recently there have been a number of incidents involving divers who were attacked after grabbing or feeding a shark while underwater."
So as this indicates these 'provoked' attacks are generally to do with legitimate water activities.
However, even here I stared bug-eyed at the 'grabbing' a shark underwater.
This definitely invokes the Darwin Awards for those dying in ways that are so stupid that they deserve to be removed from the gene pool.
When I showed this to Scott, my work colleague, he then told me that there is YouTube footage of people 'riding' sharks.
“WHAT?!”, I exclaimed, then halted to pull my uvula back into my throat.
So I went and looked and sure enough, there are some ten-tonne idiots in the world.
I don't want to particularly promote this activity, but if you search for 'riding sharks' then you will find some people who are either desperate for money, or have found a new way to commit suicide.
But before we continue with this little discourse on sharks, I want to bring in a bit by Billy Connolly here.
Billy as many would know is a great Scottish comedian.
He is one of those people that only has to say, "I think it's going to rain", and you start laughing.
I also think he's great because he gave up the drink, I as you know if you've read much here, have also done this, and it's really hard.
So well done Billy. (and me, I guess)
Billy was in Australia for a tour, and had rented a house at Palm Beach Sydney for the duration of his tour.

Billy rented a house like this at Palm Beach.
I'll put down here what he said as best my memory can serve and hope it comes across okay.
Billy was in the local chemist shop one day, and on the counter was a honey jar, within which was a truly frightening looking spider.
Black, horrible, and made you jump just looking at it.
Billy said to the girl behind the counter, "What's that?"
She replied: "It's a funnel web spider, we keep one here so people know how to recognise them."
To which Billy said: "Are they dangerous?"
The girl replied blithely: "Oh yeah, most venomous spider in the world."
Then Billy said: "Do they live here? [in Palm Beach].
And the girl said: "Yes."

Funnel Web Spider, ughhhhh!
So Billy replied: "BUT I LIVE HERE!!"
Then, and I'm paraphrasing Billy here, "She then went on to say that thing that never fails to annoy me, 'you won't have any trouble with them if you don't annoy them'."
To which he then amplified: "I stared at the girl in wonder, who, I wondered, could be so pissed off with life, that they would go out and annoy a funnel web?"
"Are there," continued Billy, "people who go out in the back yard, turn over a log, find a funnel web, and then roundly abuse it?"
If so, I can honestly join with Billy and hope such people get bitten by the damn things.
I can assure you that in my work with gardener Johnno in the gardens of Sydney’s Northern beaches, which included Palm Beach, we spent a lot of time worrying about, and doing everything we could to avoid these black death bringing spiders.
The idea of deliberately finding one and annoying it doesn't bear thinking about.
For the record, the biggest animal problems Johnno and I had in the area were ticks and ants, annoying and painful, respectively, but not life threatening.
Anyway, I bring that in because the idea of provoking a shark seems to me to be in the same category of "I'm sick of living."
So to move more generally onto sharks and their danger or otherwise.
The first recorded death by shark attack in Australia came in 1791.
It was an indigenous female on the north coast of NSW.
It is not recorded if this attack was provoked or not, but I suspect (strongly) not, as the indigenous peoples of the area have survived here for forty thousand years, and you don't get that sort of longevity by provoking sharks.
Since 1791 there have been 973 attacks, leading to 229 deaths with 575 injuries.
In the last 50 years, there have been 57 recorded unprovoked fatalities due to shark attack, which averages just over one (1.14) per year. 
The last fatal attack in Sydney Harbour was in 1963.
To compare: there are an average of 121 deaths per year from people drowning at Australian beaches.
The most hazardous activity leading to drowning deaths is rock fishing.
But when was the last time you heard people shivering in fear with the idea of going rock fishing?
So sharks are dangerous animals but of course the numbers of deaths due to them is vanishingly low.
Another comparison of course is with road fatalities, in 2013 there were 1,193 deaths on Australian roads.
I mention that because my elder brother is phobically scared of sharks.
He even has some concerns that I live in Byron Bay, he seems to have some idea that the sharks are massing in the shallows just waiting to have a bite at any unattended human leg that strays across the high tide mark.
But as I have repeatedly tried to tell him, you are (sadly) a thousand times more likely to die in a car accident on the way to the beach, than you are actually in the water.
And since I live on beachside now, and walk to the surf, my odds of having an vehicular accident are thus insignificant.
And to add a bit of humour here, I was quite taken by this wit who wrote into Viz magazine, saying:
“I read that most car accidents occur within a mile of home. So now I park my car a mile and a half away from my house and walk the rest.”
And bringing this to national relevance there is of course the current government policy in Western Australia of killing sharks.
To say this policy is lunatic is barely hinting at the idiocy of it.
Much has been said on the topic, but I'll just add my two cents worth.
Following the death of seven people within a three year period, the West Australian government introduced shark kill zones off parts of the West Australian coast.
The main problem as I see it is that you cannot know if you have removed the danger.
Shark spotting patrols are notoriously ineffective, there was even a test search using a shark outline made of wood and it was only spotted one out of every five plane passes.
So if you kill ten sharks in the summer, does that mean you've got them all?
If you kill a hundred sharks every summer, does that mean you've got them all?
I don't think so.
So what are the shark numbers in Australia?
The answer is nobody knows
We do know reasonably well about neritic [Live in one place] sharks.
The Grey Nurse is a good example of this, due to it's placid nature and localised living, we know their numbers are down.
However the numbers of the ominously titled 'large pelagics' are much harder to read.
Pelagic means that they move around on the currents.
Great Whites breed in the colder waters of South Australia and Western Australia, but move north in the winter.
Some even get as far as Byron Bay if the currents are cold.
But because of this mobility, trying to count the beasts is impossibly hard.
This is evidenced by the website of the federal department of environment which tells us:
"Study into Great White Shark populations is very difficult (Cailliet 1996) given the uncertainty about their movements, the uncertainty about rates of emigration and immigration from certain areas and the difficulty in estimating the rates of natural or fishing mortality.
Accurate population assessments are not yet possible for any region (Bruce 2008). At the time of its nomination for listing as a protected species in 1996, it was proposed that the Australian population numbered less than 10 000 mature individuals (EA 1996).
The population status in Australia, and globally, is, however, poorly known owing to a lack of robust abundance indicators. Quantitative stock assessments are not possible (Bruce 2008)."
Which is my point really, if we don't even know how many there are to start with, how do we know how many there are after we have killed a random number of them?
In Western Australia this year there were 172 sharks caught, of which 163 were Tiger Sharks.
Fifty of these were greater than three metres in length, and so were killed.
Thus the Tiger Shark numbers in Western Australia are now ?-50 giving us a new number of ?
Whatever their numbers, reducing it by fifty is hardly likely to mean that a western Australian beach goer can now say, "Oh, good, there are fifty less Tiger Sharks than before, I'm certain not to be attacked now."
Added to which of course is the other issue that the seven fatalities were thought to be caused by Great Whites, none of which were caught.
So now we’re killing sharks that are completely other to the deaths.
So I hope Greg ‘F^&%-ing’ Hunt, the federal environment minister, takes heed of this and other writings on the topic, and gives a thumbs down to any more culling of sharks in the waters off Cottesloe Beach, WA.
For myself, in all the years (22) I have been surfing, in Sydney and Byron Bay, I have only ever seen one shark.
So here is the story of that day.
I was surfing at the far end of the continent at a rocky cove called Little Wategoes Beach.
The surf was quite small and the water clear.
I was lying on my surfboard, just kind of lazing about between sets when the water beneath me changed colour.
Just for you non-surfers, and other inland dwellers, one thing you really don't want to happen when you're out there is for the water to change colour.
It usually signifies that the depth has changed drastically, and the floor of the ocean is rising up to meet you.
Bringing with it rocks, reef and gods knows what.
I refer to a change in water colour as an "eye-widener", or an "eye-widening-moment" or EWM.
However with this incident I was quite a ways offshore, and know this bay well, and so knew the sudden change to darker shades beneath me wasn't a depth change.
I focussed in and to my utter horror, divined that it was a three-metre long Tiger Shark.

This is about what I saw.

It passed directly beneath my board, and thus I had a good, hard look at it.
I pulled my hands and feet out of the water - a feat of balancing that would have got me a job in any circus, I might add - and watched it go by.
Far away in the furtherest reaches of my nearly frozen brain my zoologist training kicked in and I was able to tell that it was calm of demeanour and therefore not interested in making a meal of me.
I was pretty certain it was heading around the cape to the richer fishing areas on the Southern side of the lighthouse.
However, whatever its travel plans, I wanted to be wherever it wasn't in the shortest space of time imaginable.
So keeping as calm as I could, I stealthily, and with great trepidation, put my hands and legs back in the water, and began the smoothest paddle I could come up with.
One cause of shark attacks is people swimming and splashing in the water by the beach, which it's thought mimics the sound of an injured fish thrashing around.
So with silky smoothness, I got the flock out of there.
I wanted to head straight for Little Wategoes beach, but the sweep current (which the shark was nosing into) pushed me further out and around the point.
So I had to now paddle across Wategoes proper.
I wasn't too happy about that (to put it mildly), but there was no way other to get to shore.

In the picture I have written "five seconds later I was here", indicating the shore.

This is untrue of course, a writer's hyperbole, but I did want to be out of the water as fast as possible.
However, one community service I was able to do by taking the long way home was warn everyone else.
As I came around the corner of the bay there were other surfers out in the water, and as I steam hammered through, I yelled, "Shark! There's a three metre Tiger Shark out there."
I don't know what I expected, mass panic maybe, the surfers as one cohort to head for shore as I was, but the reaction was completely other.
There were dolphins in the bay that day.
I mention that because one guy looked at me and said, "Nah mate, it's probably just a dolphin you saw."
I stared at him, no one likes to be told they don't know what they're talking about, and it was on the tip of my tongue to say, "It's a shark mate, I don't make mistakes like that, also I'm a marine biologist, so there."
But paddling around in the bay when there was a shark loose in the water is no time to start an academic debate.
So I said "Whatever", and continued my lawn-mower like paddle to shore.
I hit the shallows and didn't stop paddling till I was twenty metres on the sand.
Once safe, I stopped.
I then turned and scanned the bay again, hoping that the guy who told me "it was a dolphin" was now in three pieces having been attacked by the same shark that I had warned him about.
However there was no blood in the water.
Oh well, I can always hope.
So I was scared, I'll admit that, but here's the thing, once safely on shore I didn't immediately call my local member and demand that all sharks be killed.
But the story that I think sums up pure, unadulterated fear, comes from South Africa.
I visited there in 1994 and did  bit of surfing in Cape Town and Jeffreys Bay.
I include this pic of Jeffrey's, J-Bay as it's known, just to show you a good wave.
J-bay curling up clean. (No that's not me surfing,
you can tell because the rider is good at it.)
Anyway my South African friend Bash's father told me this story.
He and some of his mates were surfing one day and were sitting in a loose group out the back between sets.
Next thing without a ripple, the head of a Great White Shark came out of the water, looked around, and then went back down below without a whisper.
This behaviour is known as "spy hopping" and it's thought the shark is looking about at what's on the surface to see if it can provide a meal.
My friend's father, Graeme and his mates knew this, and so he takes up the story:
"Without a word or a conscious thought we headed en masse, as one man to the shore.
A Great White spy hopping.

We hit the beach, dropped our boards on the sand, 'cos we were never gonna use them again, then ran up the beach into the nearest pub and began drinking rum.
We continued that practise for the next several hours, and at the end of it, weren't that drunk.
The constantly pounding adrenalin in our systems took hours to stop flooding through."
Now "weren't that drunk" is of course very subjective, but knowing the fear I evinced at "only" a Tiger Shark, I can only imagine what it's like to get that close to a Great White.
But even then, Graeme, a keen fisherman, never once thought that they should head out and kill every  Great White they could get their hooks into.
And despite all of the above, I can honestly say that the most frightened I have ever been in the water, was not caused by sharks, but by dolphins.
This was also the day I became convinced that dolphins have a sense of humour.
I was sitting on my board at the western end of Wategoes Beach.
It was a small day, with clear water and small clean waves.
I was just contemplating whether to paddle back for another set, or head home.
Next thing, without a whisper of warning, three dolphins emerged from the upcoming wave, and launched themselves over seemingly the end of my board.
It is hard to objectively measure of course, but I would say the nearest dolphin was three metres from where I sat.
It was the closest I have come to involuntary, rapid evacuation of the bowel.
It was that sudden.
I could almost hear the dolphins laughing to themselves in the squeaking language as they hit the water again.
Did they do it on purpose, knowing it would freak me the hell out?
Did they communicate with each other on the way in, saying, "let's scare the crap out of this human, huh?"
Who can say, but I am convinced they knew what they were doing.

I might add, dolphins are a common sight here in Byron, and we regularly surf with them, but no matter who you are, if you see a fin in the water, your first thought is "SHARK".
It's only once you see the animal make the up-and-down travelling motion that you know it's a dolphin.
The dolphin is charterised by the fin going up and down, while the shark has a distinct straight line cruise motion.
My three dolphins were a lot closer than this.

However, if an animal is coming straight at you, as these ones did, you can't get the lateral view, and can't immediately know if it is a dolphin or a shark.
All I saw was a huge black barrel with a dorsal fin erect, and for a millisecond, knew my last days had come, death by shark attack.
So in the end I'll just say that sharks are to be respected for sure, if you are swimming and hear that a shark is on patrol get out of the water.
But don't get out of the water, and then demand that all sharks at your favourite beach are immediately killed.
It's their element, and they have as much, or more, right to it as us.

Monday, 21 July 2014

I really wish I was making this up

Homer: "I'm gonna need a bigger hammer."
Marge said: "Lisa, stop blowing your sax, I
had to sacrifice a perfectly good camera to get some peace."
Some weeks ago I wrote a post called "Oh, now f%^-king what, a week of two halves."
In that I was talking of one of those weeks where anything that could go wrong, did go wrong.
Well, it's all happened again, and as stated above in the title, "I honestly wish I was making this stuff up".
I guess it began with my new bike.
I wrote last week of the perils involved with buying a thirty dollar bike off the side of the road, a real lesson in you get what you pay for.
With the chain jumping cogs as soon as you put it under load, I knew I couldn't continue, unless I wanted an early trip to knee surgery.
I've already worn thin as orphanage gruel the patience of those who I usually borrow money from, so I had to solve this problem myself.
So I went on Gumtree and found the cheapest bikes for sale in my area.
The cheapest was $30 (!), but we all know what that would have meant, so I unbent and went up the money scale to the dizzying heights of $70.
This was still $40 more than I could afford in this Winter of My Discontent, I don't have much gardening to do, and so money is, as usual, very tight.
However, I found a bike that was at least intact.
I paid for it, then put it in the back of my car and drove home.
While it was a good bike, it was a little short for my frame, and so I put the raised handle bars from my old bike on the new one, and then went for a little shakedown cruise.
Everything worked well, and so I came home chained the thing up, and then went back to my desk.
Then Saturday came and I went for a major bike ride.
I have two courses, the flat time trial section, and the King-of-the-Mountain section up to Bangalow.
I climbed the hill, Hayter's it's called, so-named because by the time your halfway up, you hate it.
I got to the mountain top, and thankfully turned off to come down Old Bangalow road back down to town.
I was just getting my breath back when something gave way under my hands.
Nothing drastic, just an unnerving feeling of looseness.
I had just transferred my gaze to the handle bar grips, when the whole bloody thing gave way, and suddenly I had the handlebars in my hands, and only tangentially connected to the bike.
"SHIIITTT!!!", I exclaimed.
Thankfully, I was going slowly, and had time to jab the brakes that were still in my hands, and was able to come to a halt somewhat reminiscent of a marionette master bringing a string controlled puppet to a standstill.
I got off and examined the problem and it turned out that I had not done the nut on the handlebar stem up tightly enough, more evidence of my mechanical hamfistedness.
I mulled it over, it clearly had to be fixed, I was now up the top of Hayter's Hill, and the downhill run home usually clocked 50 kph, so I didn't want to be doing that with barely engaged handlebars.
I hadn't brought my tools, which was typical of me, so I turned my mind to the problem, and as ever, Homer Simpson provided me with the answer.
My only hope of getting home was to hammer the bars back in, then trust to luck and grip to get down the hill intact.
I bashed on the handle bars with the heel of my hand, but then realised, like Homer, "I was going to need a bigger hammer".
I cast about and found a piece of timber, and smacked the things back into place.
Once more or less useable, I got back on board and gripping the brakes like death, slid and ground my way down the hill into town.
Once home I fixed the handlebars properly, then spent the rest of the evening slowly unclenching my buttocks, still mashed together in fear from that ride down the hill.
Next day I had to go to Ballina to mow Terry's lawn in Tamar st.
With my friend Susana's help I checked my oven and jug were off, then headed down the coast.
On the way I stopped off at Lennox Head to check the surf.
I enjoyed a few moments peace, then turned back to my car.
As I did I noticed a small pool of green fluid leaking out from the front end.
Oh great, radiator problems.
This is of particular concern as my car has a blown head gasket, but is running on a treatment that you put in the radiator and it runs around the cooling system and gums up the leaks in the system.
My mechanic had serviced the car recently, and when he gave it back, he said "keep an eye on the radiator fluid levels."
This I had done assiduously, so a leak here was panic stations for me.
However, I couldn't go back, as I had to get this lawn mowed, as I desperately needed the money.
The leak seemed slow enough, so I decided to go on.
I got to Tamar st, mowed the lawn, and then watching the temperature gauge like a hawk, headed back to Byron.
Lennox Point, where I checked the surf. 
This is an incredibly stressful way to drive, and is symptomatic of having no money.
However, I made it home, and rarely have I parked the car and switched off with more relief.
So then Sunday came and it was time to go up to Clunes and do some gardening for Eric.
I filled the radiator, and headed off, I was halfway to Bangalow when the next jump in my blood pressure occurred, the temperature gauge went down.
This may seem like an odd thing to be concerned about, as the gauge going up is the normal sign of trouble, but since the continued running of the car was dependent on a stable temperature, I was concerned, to put it mildly.
However as soon as I came off the Hayter's Hill downslope, the gauge went back to normal.
So on I drove, then, between Bangalow and Clunes is Springvale hill, and the same thing occurred, once I breasted the hill, and began going downhill, the gauge went down.
I clenched everything I had and pressed on.
By the time I pulled into Eric's place, I was already a nervous wreck.
So I did my gardening, had a nice coffee with Eric and his family, and then went home, once more watching the dashboard, and the temperature gauge thereon, more than the road.
Once again I parked the car with the same sort of relief that normally comes when the doctor says "the tests were negative."
Sunday night came and I was really looking forward to the sort of relax that you normally only get if you have a million dollars in the bank, or you've been mainlining valium.
I decided to watch "The Vicar of Dibley" a gentle comedy with Dawn French.
I'd seen it many times before, but I find comfort in shows that I've seen before, so turned on the set and flicked to channel 62.
To my unmitigated horror and pronounced fucking annoyance, that channel was off the air. (see picture)
NUTS! I said, and more.
I did a retune, but that didn't fix it.
The problem was that it was too windy.
Up here, we are in the headwaters of the internet river, and it doesn't take much to knock out the signal from Mt Nandi, where our transmitters are.
Thankfully channel Ten was still functional, and so I watched The Simpsons and Futurama.
A perfectly acceptable back up I'm sure you'll agree, but sometimes you know you just in the mood for a particular thing?
Then Monday came, and I went to my desk to do some writing.
And what do you think happened?
That's right, my computer had chosen this weekend to finally give up the ghost.
As you can see in the picture, instead of my desktop, all I got was multiple lines of DOS code.
"Oh for fuck's sake" I said.
I monkeyed around with it for  some time, but couldn't fix it.
So with that activity out, I pulled stumps on the computer, and went out to ride my bike.
I cycled down to Suffolk Park, and pulled up to the petrol station.
I got the air pump ready and placed the nozzle onto the valve of the front wheel.
In the process I leaned over and my phone fell out of my pocket and broke.
"OH FOR FUCK"S SAKE," I said with considerable vehemence.
Turning an anguished face in the vague direction of the centre of the universe, where I have always pictured some malign jester watching my trevails with glee.
I was already broker than a leg in two pieces, and already examining the prices of bean cans at Woolies, so this was something I could have done quite nicely without.
So, I pumped up the tyres and headed back into town.
I went round to the phone shop and was assisted by a sixteen-year-old (or so it seemed) girl behind the counter.
"Can I help you?" she said.
My immediately stifled response was to say, "Yes, can you get the universe to stop destroying everything I own at the same time?."
But I forswore on that, and instead asked the question that most commonly comes out of my mouth these days, "I broke my phone, what's the cheapest one you have, please?"
She looked me up and down, and realised there was no point trying to sell me a super smart phone with a four year plan.
She gestured toward the cheap end of the phone section and sold me the cheapest one at $30.
And so wended my way home clutching my new phone tightly to make sure I didn't break this one as well.
When I got home I went to phone Paula the Wonder Horse to have a moan, and then I realised that all of my phone numbers had gone with the old phone.
I'd saved them to the phone, not the SIM card.
Now I couldn't even have a moan about everything.
What's more, channels seven and nine were still out due to the windy nature of the weather, and so I couldn't watch The Big Bang Theory this Monday evening.
However, I had got my old standard Fawlty towers out of Lel's DVD store, and so I had that to watch.
I tend to watch Fawlty Towers whenever I have a week like this, and I particularly like the line during The Builders episode where Basil says to Polly, "No, you go outside and see if the roof's still on".
Man, do I know how that feels.

The best thing through through all of this was that the ABC was coming through loud and clear, and so even better than Fawlty Towers, or certainly just as good, was Peppa Pig.
So this morning before I did anything, I watched three episodes of Peppa.
And on one of the episodes it dealt with an issue that I had always wondered about, namely what happens if Miss Rabbit needs a day off.
For those of you who haven't been watching this wonderful show about anthropomorphic barnyard animals, Miss Rabbit is the cornerstone of the little community's economy.
Miss Rabbit runs the china shop, the shoe shop, drives the school bus, flys the rescue helicopter, serves tea and scones to hikers in the forest, works assisting the dentist as dental nurse, and as I learned this morning, is a checkout chick as well.
Where does she get the energy?
Anyway, Miss rabbit tripped on a toy and hurt her ankle, and can be seen here in the pic being nursed by Suzie Sheep.
With her out of action, three separate people had to be brought in to keep all her various jobs mostly rolling.
The best part of this episode was the growing appreciation in the community of just how much Miss Rabbit does.
So with Peppa watched, I came into work to discover that it wasn't just me that was feeling the effects of the universe's vengeance, but those around as well.
A work colleague, Meggsie, had had the wholly unnerving experience of her boat catching fire on the weekend.
The best that could be said of this is that if anything you own is to catch flame, a boat is the best thing, as at least it's on water.
Being in Byron, the first thing they did once the flames had been extinguished was have a joint.
That smoked, they then started the auxiliary, electric motor to get home, when something went wrong with the running switch and the electric motor's fuse burned out.
So then she and her partner had to jury rig the electric motor with a fuse bypass to get home.
So finally time for some blogging.
However, just as I got moving with the writing, my friend Clinton texted through.
I had arranged with him to go and look at computers at the second hand shop.
I was sorely tempted to blow this off, mainly because I didn't have any money to buy a new computer anyway, but Clinton is my friend, and it couldn't hurt to look.
So we went, and I'm so glad I did.
When Clinton came by my office here, we were discussing the idea of a new computer purchase, and this led to another friend who overheard offering to loan me the putative $135 I would need to buy the cheapest computer in the shop.
So off we went, when we got there we found that there was computer that would fit the bill, so I bought it and brought it back to the office.
And here, my previous expenditure of energy in not blowing Clinton off bore fruit.
Clinton is a computer expert, and we set the computer up and he saw immediately that it needed a bit of work before I could use it.
A BIT OF WORK?! Oh yeah.
We bought it at 12:15pm, and it's now 3:30 and he's still going.
In my idiot way I thought I could buy a second hand computer and just let 'er rip.
Oh no, in fact, now that I think about it, you can't even do that with brand new computer.
You always need to do some fine tuning, updating this and reinstalling that.
Anyway, I'm so happy that I invested a bit of time to have coffee with Clinton, as it's led to a return on time now.
The expression says "Cast thy bread on the waters and it will come back thricefold."
Mind you, I always, remember what my friend Sean said, "Cast thy bread on the waters, and all you'll get back is soggy dough."
However this time I did indeed get back a thricefold return on investment, and have been able to write this while Clinton sits and stares at the screen of my computer saying "Installing 4 of 8 updates", for minutes on end.
NB: he asked it to shut down an hour ago, and it's only just done it.
And so we come to this week's philosophy, you may have heard the expression "If you want to have lots of friends, be one."
Which is very apposite.
I thought that I could do it all myself, that by solving all my own problems, I could be independent and capable.
But the best gift I received this week was from all the people who offered me help in this stressful time, and that was more valuable than just solving things myself.
McKayhi, a recent visitor, offered me money if I was starving.
Crazy Russell made the same offer of help.
My long suffering friend Antony has already loaned me in the thousands.
My friend Evo has given me invaluable financial advice over the recent years, mainly along the lines of "Why don't you get a bloody job?"
One of the cleaners here at work, Elaine, has been helping me with my oven and jug checks in the morning if Scott and Susanna are not available.
Turns out she (Elaine) has some anxiety issues as well, and we seem to be helping each other.
Eric my Clunes' client, always finds me some work to do on Sundays to keep the money trickle going through the winter.
Eric's son Michael has likewise been a great listening ear, and of course Paula the Wonder Horse is always in the background.
My mechanic, Paul, whom I told about the radiator leak and the oddly behaving temperature gauge, has now offered to retreat my car with the head gasket gunk, and if it doesn't work, won't charge me (or more accurately, Fleur).
This of course follows on from pharmacist Fleur loaning my the $400 to get it serviced in the first place.
So I think what I've learned (for another week) is to ask for help, and it doesn't make me less of a man to do so.
No one is an island it seems.
So to close with a couple of youtube clips that I hope will make you laugh.
The first is from QI, and shows a bird who really knows how to dance, and the second is from the Net and shows a spider that could likewise give Fred Astaire a run for his money.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Of Shaun the Sheep, the sad death of a Ramone and how can a parent win?

Kevin Kline (front, in suit), is pronoid, believing everyone likes him.
A bit of housekeeping first up, some weeks ago I wrote a post about self-esteem asking for
opinions on where it comes from, and where it goes.
Since then I've had a few conversations about that topic and everyone agrees that self-esteem comes originally from your parents when young.
And that certainly fits with my understanding of it.
Thus we can see why a child who was put for adoption, for whatever reason, starts out in life a million miles behind in the self esteem stakes, feeling that they are so unworthy, that even their own parents don't want them.
So if it's up to the parents to create self-esteem, how does the caring parent do it?
Well again we're in the realm of handing out parenting advice here, and that is something I shy away from like a startled horse.
However, the parents I did speak to all agreed in the end that the only thing you can do is be consistent.
Seems kind of oversimplistic, yet the alternative, do this, do that, so the other, is a rapidly descending spiral of chaos.
It seems that kids really benefit from stability, not just their physical surroundings, but in their parents behaviour.
Having said that, there was no one more consistent than my parents, consistently, predictably awful.
That seems like the worst kind of paradox, but I think you get the point.
Be consistent, as far as possible, in a gentle, stable way.
On the other side of the debate, Joanne, my much-valued, hula-dancing client from Possum Creek, made a very good point on this argument.
She emailed me about the topic and said:

"how different things are these days, with parents so paranoid about their kids not having good self-esteem, that they praise them excessively for everything  (i.e. putting one foot in front of another). 
One wonders whether this will produce a generation of narcissists. 
Somewhere between your disgraceful parents and today's over indulgent ones lies the balance I guess."

Which I think is a very good point - if you "over-esteem" your kids, then you produce a spoilt brat, and that's not good either
So how do you know if you've got the right amount of self-esteem?
God only knows.
This "over-esteem" issue was probably best put by the team who brought us A Fish Called Wanda, and it's sort of sequel, Fierce Creatures.
In Fierce Creatures Kevin Kline plays an obnoxious executive who is tasked with making a zoo profitable, at any cost.
Thus he begins making the keepers dress as they animals they tend, as well as putting sponsorship banners in the animals cages, and even on the animals themselves.  
At one point, an exasperated Jamie Lee Curtis, who plays the female lead, says to him, "You're pronoid, you believe that despite all the evidence to the contrary, people like you."
Pronoid, of course, being the opposite to paranoid.
Now this is a fictional movie of course, but what is interesting about that (to me) is that Kevin Kline's father in the movie, is based on Rupert Murdoch - surely a contender for one the worst men in history.
Kevin's father, "Rod Almighty", as he is nicknamed, owns a giant global media company (sound familiar?) and is as bad as a parent can get, ignoring his son, never showing up for Kevin's birthdays, yelling at him for being a weakling, the lot.
So why does Kevin have pronoia? when clearly his parent did nothing to help him have any self-esteem.
It is a mystery really, seems he gained his father's arrogance, but got no good qualities from his father, or indeed anyone.
Now I hesitate to bring in my own example here, but it's pertinent.
My life feel into two halves, the arrogant bit, and the opposite, the hopelessly depressed, alcoholic bit.
Until my marriage broke up, at age 26, I was obnoxiously arrogant.
I was as pronoid as Kevin in the movie.
It seems that like Kevin, all I got from my parents was the idea that we Barkers were better than everyone else, and therefore I used to lord it over my peer group, like I was the Prince of Bathurst, just waiting for my father and two older brothers to pass on, and I would be King of all I surveyed.
The paradox seems to me to be that one can only be arrogant if you have so much self-esteem that it boils over into pronoid arrogance.
Yet as you know, my parents spent their whole lives beating and screaming any semblance of worthiness out of my brothers and I.
Why then did I go out into the world of my childhood thinking everyone liked me?
I honestly do not know, and it highlights the almost impossible nature of figuring out the human brain.
So I think that this seems to me to show why the only thing a parent can do is be gently consistent.
I know this must be hard in a way that I, as a non-parent can never understand, but it seems the only way to proceed.
When one of your children puts a sandwich in the VCR, when you find a melted plastic doll in the microwave, when you notice a scratch on the car duco put there by an errant child on their bike, even after you have told them a hundred times not to ride their bikes near the car, all of these things try a parent's patience beyond belief.
Yet if in these teeth-gritting times consistently can be maintained, then the child will benefit in the long run.
So if this is preaching, I'm sorry for that, what I'd like to think is that all the suffering of children like me with bad childhoods can be useful, when now described, for the human race to learn from its mistakes, and give modern children a better start.

Death of the last original Ramone

Elsewhere in the news, I noticed that the last of the original Ramones died last week.
A sad time for those who came through the punk wave.
I myself missed this new era of raw in your face music, I was still in the "my parents do the thinking for me" stage of my life.


(So much so that when I was 18 I even voted for the Country, now National Party, possibly a surprise for those who know me now. All I can say is I am truly, truly sorry, and as soon as I got to Uni and learned that it was Ok to think for myself, I began voting Green.)
My only real interaction with The Ramones was, as you may have guessed, through The Simpsons.
When rolling, The Ramones were known for being as offensive as possible, and on The Simpsons they were brought out, by accident, Mr Burns wanted The Rolling Stones, to sing 'happy birthday'.
I was tickled by the exchange between the Ramones and Mr Burns, and it just goes to show that even these grunge, black-hearted guys can laugh at themselves.
Here is the exchange in full: (Smithers is Mr Burns's PA).
Smithers: Here are several fine young men who I'm sure are going to go far. Ladies and gentlemen, the Ramones.
Mr. Burns: Ah, these minstrels will soothe my jangled nerves.
Joey Ramone: I'd just like to say this gig sucks!
Johnny Ramone: Hey, up yours, Springfield!
Joey Ramone: One, two, three, four!
[the Ramones start playing a tune and singing "Happy Birthday"]
Joey Ramone: Happy birthday to you!
Johnny RamoneChristopher Ward: Happy birthday!
Joey Ramone: Happy birthday to you!
Johnny RamoneChristopher Ward: Happy birthday!
Joey Ramone: Happy birthday, Burnsey! Happy birthday...
Joey RamoneJohnny RamoneChristopher Ward: you!
Christopher Ward: Go to hell, you old bastard!
Marky Ramone: Hey, I think they liked us.
Mr. Burns: Have the Rolling Stones killed.
Smithers: But sir, those aren't the...
Mr. Burns: Do as I say! 

Bill(L), Tim and Graeme made up The Goodies team.
In the background is a giant Dougall from The Magic Roundabout,
one of their written while on drugs episodes.
It's sad that the original Ramones have all gone, and so young.
(By the way, they are not related, but chose pseudonyms with the surname of Ramone.)
Of the originals, Joey Ramone died aged 49 of lymphoma, a type of Leukaemia, Johnny Ramone died aged 55 of prostate cancer, Dee Dee Ramone died of a heroin overdose aged 51 and last week Tommy Ramone passed away aged 65, of bile duct cancer.
However their laughing at themselves reminded me of another great take on punk, done by The Goodies.
The Goodies were an outrageous (for the time) comedy trio who did a weekly show on the BBC.
The weekly dynamic was that Graeme was the brain box, Bill was the radical and Tim the arch conservative.
In the punk episode they form a punk band and have to come up with names for themselves.
They decide to call the band Willie Snot and the Bogies, and then says Bill: "That'll get right up their noses!"), Bill asks Graeme what his own nasty new punk stage name will be. 
Graeme initially suggests "Sweaty Socks", but a less-than-impressed Bill exhorts "C'mon, think of something universally objectionable!" to which Graeme replies, "Vanessa Redgrave?!" 
Bill (suitably impressed), says"Perfect! Perfect! I'll be Willie Snot, you be Vanessa Redgrave …"

As to why The Goodies considered Vanessa Redgrave universally objectionable, that seems to stem from the controversy of 1977.
In 1977, Redgrave funded and narrated a documentary film The Palestinian about Palestinians and the activities of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation
That same year she starred in the film Julia, about a woman murdered by the Nazi German regime in the years prior to World War II for her anti-Fascist activism. 
"This is the fuckin' news", said the
normally conservative BBC news reader
on the Goodies punk episode.
Thus Redgrave was on both sides of the Middle East argument, seemingly supporting the Palestinians, and simultaneously supporting the Jewish peoples who endured the Holocaust.
It seems in this argument you can't be on both sides at the same time, and this led to The Goodies tapping into her being objected to by all sides of an argument.
Whatever, it was a killer funny episode.
The Goodies were spot on in another way that brings us to a less than savoury topic.
Bill and Graeme absolutely hated Rolf Harris, couldn't stand him.
Tim didn't think much of him, but did at least try to be civil to him.
Bill and Graeme's antipathy to Harris stemmed mainly from his music, but they may have been closer to the truth with their dislike than anyone realised with the recent charges of sexual assault of children against Harris.
Bill and Graeme thought he shouldn't be allowed on the BBC, and looks like the BBC should have listened to them.





Shaun the Sheep 

And segueing neatly from television of the seventies to that of today, and moving to a much more pleasant topic, we come to Shaun the Sheep. 
Recently as many of you know I started watching Peppa Pig, I'm still watchign, and still loving it.
I enjoy the gentle whimsy and life lessons that the animals of Peppa's world give and learn.
It's everything that I never had as a child, and am glad that her show gets a quarter of a million viewers each episode.
Then one afternoon in therapy Paula the Wonder Horse recommended that Shaun the Sheep was very good as well, and had more in it for adults, so I may enjoy that too.
So now I watch Peppa and Shaun every day am am tapping into that childhood I never had.
I know it can come across as kinda creepy that a fifty year old man with no kids watches children's shows, but I can assure you my motives are completely ulterior.
Shaun is done (originally) by Nick Park, who brought us Wallace and Grommit, and the same gently amusing tone pervades live at Mossy Bottom Farm.
I was particularly taken with the episode where Shaun and the other sheep play cricket.
A rare bird was seen at mossy Bottom farm, and a camera crew came down to film it.
With the dog and farmer concentrating on the bird, Shaun and his friends decide to have a game of cricket while not observed.
This they do, but the camera operator sees what they're up to, and realises that is far more lively footage.
The camera guy then spends the rest of the episode attempting to film the sheep's cricket match, but Shaun and his crew manage to keep their activities on the QV, and the episode ends with the camera man having a nervous breakdown, having missed the footage of a lifetime.
It's marvellous stuff, and I like Shaun and his woolly friends as much as I like The Simpsons, and those who have been watching this space will know that that is an accolade I don't hand out lightly.

Dry July.

And on a final note, I am doing Dry July.
This wonderful charity was set up to support adults with cancer.
So far the group has raised a staggering $1,945,491.28.
If you would like to help you can log into my page and donate.

I of course receive no money for this, it all goes to various cancer charities.
I'm doing it as I've spent 25 odd years drunkenly destroying the lives of those around me, and so now can give something back.
Well done Dry July.
Link to Dry July

Monday, 7 July 2014

We've got holes in our hearts, we've got holes in our lives.

Listen to the song.
And I'll tell you what else has got holes, is every piece of damn clothing I own.
Another blog moaning about how poor I am, but with I hope a soupcon of wry humour to offset the whingeing.
The title of this post is the first lines of the chorus of the song by Passenger.

Like most of my interaction with new music that is known by the younger set, I heard this song in the gym.
Many of the other, older gym patrons, dislike the modern fangled music, and I'm generally the same, but every so often a piece of music comes on that I appreciate, and so it was with this song, Holes it's called.
I like the whole song, but was particularly taken with the line, "when you've nothing, you've got nothing to lose".
While I agree with the philosophy, I can assure you that it's a lot more comfortable to philosophise from much higher up the money tree.
It's winter on the coast, and that means much less gardening to do, so I go into my yearly downturn and once again have to check the prices at Woolies to see which cans of beans cost three cents less.
What's more I nearly gave birth on Thursday last week when I checked the fluid levels in my car, and the radiator needed more liquid than normal.
God knows what that is, hopefully just a leaking hose, but anyway I've had to put my car in for a service, and had to borrow the money to pay for it from pharmacist Fleur.
Which in its way is a valuable thing to do, because it teaches me the value (and all men could really learn this lesson) of asking for help.
The romanticised view of men, particularly in the movies, is only one man can save the Earth, and he does it alone, without help, by cutting all the corners, and bucking authority.
Well here in the real world, it can't be done.
We need to ask for help throughout our lives.
Things began going, sorry, continued to go downhill for me financially about two posts ago, when I reported that I lost my glasses to stomping on the side of the soccer field in Bangalow, and then had to but a new battery for my car in the days soon after.
That then led me to take stock of my meagre possessions.
So here is the poverty list.
As you can see in the picture, my wetsuit is held together with cable ties - and it was the cheapest one I could find at the hock shop in the first place.
Guess you get what you pay for, although I didn't help myself by cutting the legs off at the knees to make knee guards for soccer.

Here are my bike pants - this crazy view shows that indeed not only do we have holes in our hearts, and holes in our lives, but in my case, holes in my pants.
Then already struggling to make ends meet, I was making dinner the other night when the damn saucepan feel apart in my hands.
I leapt backward like a reverse Ninja, and managed to escape third degree burns, but was then left without a useable spinach cooking device.
So, I had to then set to and repair my saucepan before I could eat.
Who else do you know that can't even prepare a meal without having to resort to running repairs?
Elsewhere, we had a period of rain up here and I went out to do my nighttime check on the car.
I wore my Ugg boots, and they got wet, or rather my right Ugg boot got particularly wet.
When I got back inside I decided I was damned if I was going to sit there all evening with wet socks, having no heater I then struck upon the brilliant idea of putting my Ugg boot in the oven.
This I duly did, turned the dial to 200 degrees and let 'er rip.
It did work, the boot was certainly dry, but what it also now was, was two sizes smaller.
It had shrunk.
After some time wrestling with the thing at the end of my leg, I realised that my only solution was to cut it open to allow my foot ingress, this I duly did and got the thing back on my foot.
It does still work, for warmth, but the now open lower shin bit lets the draft in, so now I have to wear socks with my Uggers to ensure that I am remotely warm at the southern end of my body.
Also in this photo, you can see another symptom of my poverty, those plastic pots around the end of my chair legs.
What happened was that my friend Crazy Russell, I can call him that, as we refer to me as Loony Lachlan, gave me this chair as a house warming present when I moved into the flat from the tent.
Trouble was that the rubber feet on the chair quickly gave out, as I scraped the chair back and forth to get it into comfortable position.
The black line in the foreground of the photo shows the gaps between the tiles on my floor.
In these cracks the now unshod feet of my chair would catch, and it led me to go over backwards one evening.
Sadly, I was too embarassed to take a pic of myself, stretched out on the floor, but take it from me, the floor was just as hard as the concrete I landed on at force ten when I came off my bike.
So I picked myself up and realised that I had to reshoe the feet of my chair to not catch in the cracks.
I tried a few things, but none of them stuck, till I hit on the idea of these pots.
It doesn't look great, but it does work.
Since I have no social life, and therefore few house guests, presentation is not an overarching worry, so I can now scoot around the house while seated without going over.
Then with the Tour de France on, I once again got excited about cycling, so I went out for a ride.
This was also good therapy for my injured knee.
I got my $30 bike, bought from the side of the road, out, and went off pedals flying.
As I took the first hill the chain jumped and got caught between the cogs and locked the whole thing up, nearly wrenching my damn leg off at the knee.
Thankfully, as I was just starting on a hill, I was going slowly, and I didn't fall off, but I took a look at the rear gear assembly and found why the thing was on sale on the side of the road for thirty dollars.
Some previous owner had crashed the thing, and the rear gear derailleur was bent.
"Oh for fuck's sake", I said to myself and a passing Ibis, the only other life nearby, "can't I buy anything that can be used, without having to stop and repair it in situ?"
Apparently not.
Anyway I jury-rigged it and then went back home.
About a hundred metres from the chain-lock incident site, I went to have drink of water, and realised that the shock of the catching chain had broken my drink bottle holder loose.
I turned around and went back and picked it up.
I carried it home under my arm.
When I got back, I got out my tools and went to reattach the drink holder, when I realised that the two screws that hold it to the bike frame had come out and were now lying on the ground somewhere near the crash site halfway to Ewingsdale.
Me (l), McKayhi and Dingo making
use of all the room my living room had.
"Fuck", I said with some feeling, well I wasn't going back to get them, and so now my bike joins the almost innumerable list of things that I own that are held together with tape.
So in general things are pretty much as normal in my life, riding around on two or four wheel vehicles that involve considerable mental strength to not panic over every clunk and rattle, wondering if I have to stop and fix it, or worse, pay for repairs.
On the up side, with the advent of the soccer world cup, a couple of my old friends from uni, Mckayhi and Dingo, came up to visit.
Both these guys are on the almost limitless list of people who have loaned me money, and so I was happy to see them.

I played soccer with McKayhi, and cricket with Dingo.
So we got into the flat and watched some soccer.
A good time was had by all, and a good test of how many people the flat could hold.
As you can see in the pic, it was cold.
Of course nothing like as cold as the old home town, Bathurst, where men's scrotums don't descend until they're 60, but cold enough for the sub-tropics.
Dingo knows how to surf, well, he can ride a long board, but McKayhi didn't and one of the things we were going to do was teach him how to surf.
However, the problem was we only had two wetsuits, and so either Mckayhi, or me, could surf, but not as the same time.
So I got on with my writing and sent the two of them off to the ocean.
Once they were accoutred for the task, they came around to my desk to give me the keys to the flat.
And I took this photo of them clowning on the footpath.
They nearly went like that, but it was just lucky that when I looked at the photo that I noticed that Mckayhi had my wetsuit on inside out.
I was sorely, sorely tempted to let him go like that and then wait for the report when they got back on how he went on trying to zip it up with the zip on the inside.
However, as I owe Mckayhi money, or more actually, he's a good friend, I thought I better not let him catch hypothermia with an unzipped wetsuit, and so told him of the error.
The wetsuit duly righted they went on their way, and I went back to work.
Some time later they returned in the hands of the emergency services with severely frost-bitten limbs.
Not really, but it was cold, one of the reasons I chose to work at my remotely warm desk, rather than brave the ocean.
Dingo and Mckayhi went surfing...
Mckayhi bought me a really useful gift.
When it came time for them to go home, Mckayhi offered me a gift in thanks, and while I was sorely tempted to ask for a) a new bike, b) a new car, and c) a new computer, I kept my avarice in check and instead asked for a pair of fingerless gloves to allow me to blog through the winter, without losing a finger to the cold.
So having the lads here had filled a small hole in my life.
What's more, Mckayhi still enjoys a beer in moderation, but didn't drink anything while he was staying with me.
It's great when friends have that understanding and don't put pressure on a recovering alcoholic.

Sunlight through the hose spray.
And so now to return to the start and the song by Passenger, the full chorus goes, "we've got holes in our hearts, we've got holes in our lives, but we carry on".
And in the end that is all we can do.
I can report to you from the bottom of the money tree that things are cyclical.
Although poor (at the moment) I have been able to learn that things always turn around.
So with the lads back in their home towns, it was time for me to get back to work.
So I went and did the watering at one of my gardens.
And in so doing I was reminded of why I became a gardener.
As I watered I became aware of the beauty around me in the garden, and that helped take my mind of the perpetual state of poverty that I inhabit.
This garden is a mix of sub-tropical and temperate plants, all beautiful.
The Camelias were flowering, and that made me happy.
And I was in luck this day, for the Cameilas were flowering.
I don't know why this happens, but somehow up here many annual bloomers choose Winter to flower, in a total reversal of the normal order of things.
But whatever, it made me happy to see those oh-so-beautiful crimson blooms.
Also please note, I am wearing my bike helmet in the photo simply because I had forgotten to take it off, I wasn't wearing it for safety reasons.
Mind you, the way things have been going lately, that's probably not a bad idea.

Car update - and a lesson in the torturous nature of OCD

While I was writing this I got a call from my new mechanic Paul.
He had done the pressure test on my car, and the problem was that the top radiator hose was perished.
That is great news, as it meant a relatively simple repair.
I mention that because it showed that I did the right thing by putting the car in for a service the moment I noticed something iffy.
The down side is that because my obsessive checking of the car had found something, it has set up a new spiral of checking in my mind.
Now I fear that I will have to check every damn system the car has before I drive kilometre one, and who's got time for that!
But there was a secondary up side to this putting the car in for a service.
Paul couldn't get it back to me on the same day, and so rang me to ask if it was okay to keep it in for the night.
I said "fine", and then went back to my desk.
Last night as 7pm rolled around, I jumped up to go and do my evening car check.
Then I remembered that the car was out at Paul's, and so for one evening I was spared the brain-locking minutes staring through the driver's side window of my car frantically trying to convince myself that the car was in park, and the hand brake was on.
So the lesson from this post seems to be that everything in our lives is cyclical, and there is an upside to everything.
So if there is a hole in your life, and a hole in your heart, it will turn around, the hard part for all of us is believing that, but we move along.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Time to relax Lachlan, the floor of the parking garage is flat!

What the bleep is going on here?
You may well ask.
Well it's all to do with my anxiety disorder.
My disorder exhibits in checking things obsessively.
And these checks have two main forms.
In the morning when I have to leave home and drive away a distance, I have to check that my oven is not on, and that my jug is unplugged.
Thus neither can burn out and set fire to my lovely new flat.
At the other end of the day, I have to check that my car is okay before I can relax and watch TV, and then go to bed.
My nightly car check involves making sure that the car is in "Park", that the handbrake is on, and that the ignition is off.
I have been doing better with these checks lately, a bad night can take me ten minutes to check the same three things over and over.
An average night is four minutes, and a good night is two.
I time these by hitting pause on my TV, and then checking how long I took when I get back to the car.
One of the reasons that I have been doing better is that where I park my car now, the underground car park here at Byron Central is flat, and so that allowed me to relax a bit, and say "Well even if your left the hand brake off and the car in neutral, then it wouldn't roll anywhere because the floor is flat".
However, the the other night I had a sudden panic attack, that maybe the floor of the parking garage isn't flat, with consequent deleterious pressure on my equanimity, and further fears that the car could roll away in the night.
So I got out my spirit level and went down and checked, as you can see in the pics.
However, all is well, the floor of my parking garage is indeed flat, and so I can do my nightly checks quickly and get back to The Simpsons straight away.
But this then led me to wonder, how bad is the anxiety problem, society-wide?
Apart from gaining help from you all by writing it down, and you reading it, I would also like to think that I am helping you by allowing you to say, "Man, I thought I was nutty, but I'm nowhere near as loony as Lachlan".
I might add, as a little aside, that I likewise hope is humorous, a few weeks ago, I didn't take my car out for three days.
With Autumn in full bloom, I had no gardening work to do that week, on the third night I went down to check the car, in the same place it had been for the greater part of seventy-two hours now, and I went through my checking and then realized how silly I was being.
So I sent this text to a few of my friends: "Okay, the car hasn't moved for three days now. I think we have satisfactorily established that the damn thing is in park and the hand brake is on!"
As my friend McKayhi responded, "Well at least your sense of humour is still in place."
Which it generally is.
However it is not much fun being a loony, and I am so thankful that I have the support of Paula the Wonder Horse (my therapist), my friends (like McKayhi, and all of you reading), and my work colleagues, Scott and Suzanna.
Scott and Susanna have now agreed to help me by coming over and checking my oven and jug for me when I have to leave home for a distant lawn.
Thanks everybody.
So how big is the problem for the general community?
These figures are taken from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
"Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older (18% of U.S. population)."

Also: "Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only about one-third of those suffering receive treatment."

And: "Anxiety disorders cost the U.S. more than $42 billion a year, almost one-third of the country's $148 billion total mental health bill."


A third of all mental health money in the US goes toward anxiety.
And what of Australia? tells us that: "Anxiety disorders affect 1 in 7 people in Australia each year. Stress, worry, fear and panic are words that describe anxiety."
One in seven, means 3.1 million Australians suffer from this.
Man, I had no idea it was such a large number!

So here is some general information about types of anxiety.
The Beyond Blue website is very good on this:

Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

People with GAD feel anxious and worried most of the time, not just in times of exceptional stress, and these worries interfere with their normal lives.

Social Phobia. 

"For people with social phobia (sometimes known as social anxiety disorder), being the focus of other people’s attention can lead to intense anxiety.
They may fear being criticised, embarrassed or humiliated, even in the most ordinary, everyday situations.
For example, the prospect of eating in front of other people at a restaurant can be daunting for people with social phobia."

I have social phobia, which means I feel uncomfortable when meeting new people, at a party for instance.
This website tells us that social phobia is often caused by:
"Learned behaviour/environment – Some people with social phobia attribute the development of the condition to being poorly treated, publicly embarrassed or humiliated (e.g. being bullied at school)."
In my case apart from being bullied at school, I was of course unmercifully bullied at home.
I have absolutely no doubt that this phobia was part of my excessive drinking.
I would go to a party, feel scared and anxious, and so drink to help ease the nerves.
Then of course, four hours later I would be dragged into the cop shop fighting drunk and with my pants around my ankles, after having displayed my overly large backside to some passing motorist who annoyed me for some reason known only to my drunken idiot self.
Ten per cent of us, says the website, suffer social phobia at least once in their life.
But I feel that it's probably more common than that, social phobia, is, I feel, largely unrecognised, and undiagnosed in a large proportion of the population.

Specific Phobias

Under the heading of Specific Phobias we see:
  • Animal type: fear that relates to animals or insects (e.g. fear of dogs or spiders).
  • Natural environment type: fear associated with the natural environment (e.g. fear of thunder or heights).
  • Blood/injection/injury type: fear associated with invasive medical procedures (e.g. injections), or with seeing blood or injury
  • Situational type: fear of specific situations (e.g. elevators, bridges or driving).
  • Other: any other specific phobias (e.g. fear of choking, fear of vomiting).
That lot are enough to make none of us want to leave the house.
Spiders is a common one, and I might add, here in Australia fear of spiders is not just a phobia, but a good way to stay alive.
However phobic responses to spiders can mean sufferers may not want to go to bed, for fear a spider may be somewhere in their house, and thus can't sleep due to the worry.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Then we come to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and this is the example the site lists, first up:

"Anxious thoughts can influence our behaviour and this is helpful at times.
For example, the thought 'I may have left the oven on' leads to the behaviour of checking the oven and keeping things safe.
However, if that thought becomes obsessive (recurring), it can influence unhealthy patterns of behaviour that can cause difficulties in daily functioning. Obsessively thinking 'I have left the oven on' can lead to repeated checking."

But that is of some comfort, the problem is widespread, and thus I don't feel like such a loony after all.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Next is Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), needless to say I suffer from that as well. 
Some of you reading this who had likewise difficult childhoods, will almost certainly have it too.
Of course, I never shut up about it, but many of you may feel that you are not allowed to complain, and so your PTSD may be still undiagnosed.
On the site it tells us:

People with PTSD often experience feelings of panic or extreme fear, similar to the fear they felt during the traumatic event. A person with PTSD experiences four main types of difficulties.
  • Re-living the traumatic event – The person relives the event through unwanted and recurring memories, often in the form of vivid images and nightmares. There may be intense emotional or physical reactions, such as sweating, heart palpitations or panic when reminded of the event.
  • Being overly alert or wound up – The person experiences sleeping difficulties, irritability and lack of concentration, becoming easily startled and constantly on the lookout for signs of danger.
  • Avoiding reminders of the event – The person deliberately avoids activities, places, people, thoughts or feelings associated with the event because they bring back painful memories.
  • Feeling emotionally numb – The person loses interest in day-to-day activities, feels cut off and detached from friends and family, or feels emotionally flat and numb.
And of course, many, many people with PTSD have an alcohol and/or drug problem, as they seek to numb the pain.
These days our blog gets about four hundred readers a week, thus 60 odd of you reading this may have troubles of your own.
So how can I help?
Well, the best way I can is to strongly, in the most vehement terms, to not just say "Oh, that's just me, I always worry too much", but instead to seek out some treatment.
If you contact your GP you can access ten mental health treatments a year through Medicare.
Your GP will refer you to a counsellor, most likely a clinical psychologist, and they will be able to help you.
I've found that simply talking about it, reduces the pressure.
It was no coincidence that in the days after seeing Paula, I would be able to get through my morning and nightly checks with relative ease.
There are various methods they may use, and each counsellor has a different approach.
But probably the most important thing for you to understand if you, or someone close, suffers from anxiety, is that it is not logical, so glib, logical solutions suggested by well-wishers, rarely work.

A good example of this was when pharmacist Fleur came over to my flat for coffee.
I was (as usual) telling her about my nutty checking, and she pointed out that in the case of the jug, it had an automatic cut out, so even if I left it on, it wouldn't boil dry.
However, supremely logical though it is, I still have to unplug the jug to make super sure.
And because these things aren't logical, logical solutions are often no help.
Paula sent me this Youtube clip of US psych, Dr Geoffrey Schwartz, I found it very useful.
It's thirty minutes long, but if you have the time, it may be very useful in helping you with anxiety.

Schwartz, points out that the problem is one over overreacting neurones in the Amygdulla, constantly firing.
So you check that the door is locked, but then the neurones fire and send out a false signal and you go back and check again.
He does offer a solution, or a partial one at least, which is mini-meditation.
If you find yourself in brain lock, where anxiety has locked you to the ground and you can't move another step, then stopping and feeling your breath for a few moments coming in and out, is one way you may be able to relax slightly.
When I heard him say that I thought it too unsubstantial for words, "how can that help?", I said to myself, "meditating won't make sure the jug is switched off".
"What a load of Oprah-esque rubbish", I concluded in my hard-nosed style.
But with nothing to lose, I tried it, and it does seem to help.
As stated above, the problem is not logical, and so this seemingly tangental approach, has as much success as anything can.
Of course, if you're late for work, and can't shift that niggly feeling that you've left the house unlocked, finding time to stop and meditate is hard, boy do I understand that.
However, if the alternative is to spend all day at work worrying about it, then a few moments in the company bathrooms meditating, may help.
Final note on the topic, I don't have kids.
I really feel for anyone reading this who has anxiety disorder, and kids to look after.
I just manage to get through with the help of my friends and Paula, I couldn't imagine how hard it is for you parents, with all your own anxiety obscuring your life, while having to make sure your kids are safe.
That must be really hard.
So once again, I abjure you to seek out some help if you suffer from anxiety.
I can assure you that getting help is the only thing that helps, if that makes sense.
If you, and this paradox is completely understandable, are too anxious to get help for anxiety with a GP, then the mindspot website has helpful tools, an anxiety quiz for instance, to allow you to get a glimmering of whether you have anxiety disorder.So hope that's helped, knowing the scale of the problem may help you, check the websites, seek out some help.
Of course, one of the problems I've noticed on reading over this, is that just listing all the types of anxiety may be causing some in you.
I hope not.


DJ Spammy on DJ Sammy

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog about covers, and how if you know that it is a cover, it is a sign of ageing (sorry).
In that post I was talking about the latest cover of Boys of Summer, by Don Henley, which I saw in the gym, but didn't know who sang.
Well DJ Spammy left a comment on that blog, informing us all that the cover was by DJ Sammy, and a great version it is as well, so here it is, for those interested:

And thanks to DJ Spammy for taking an interest.

But sadly I must finish on a very sad note.
One of the reasons I am living my dream, living in Byron Bay and working as a gardener, is due to the teaching of the first commercial gardener I worked for, Johnno in Sydney.
Johnno's business was centred on the north shore and northern beaches, and he gave me a start and taught me lots.
Johnno holds a rather unique position in the Australian workplace, in that he is one of the few bosses I didn't hate, and never had  a cross word or disagreement with. (I've had over three hundred jobs.)
So herewith the story of one of the hardest day's work I ever did.
One of Johnno's clients had a house on the steeply sided cliffs of Clontarf on the north side of
Sydney harbour.
They wanted to build some sort of deck down on the waterline, and so needed two tonnes of gravel taken there.
The truck that brought it from the landscape supply house dumped it on the driveway at the top side of the house, then Johnno, another worker, Jeff, and I, had to carry it down to the waterline bit-by-bit.
We would shovel some gravel into a plastic bin, probably 20kg (50lbs) in each load, then we walked down with the bins on our shoulders, through the snaking internecine pathways of the cliffs, including four flights of narrow stairs, to the beach area.
Then we would dump our load of gravel, and carry the empty bin back up the same journey.
It took somewhere around three hours, and at the end of it, I was a staggering wreck.
Clearly, I didn't need to go to the gym that day.
And despite that bastard of a job, I still didn't have a cross word with Johnno, a testament to his patience I can tell you.
The sad part is that recently Johnno's partner Annie was diagnosed with life-threatening cancer, and Annie is currently going through the harrowing process of chemo and radiation treatments.
While Johnno is going through the harrowing process of caring for her in this time.
So I'm sure I can speak for all of you reading this in saying "Johnno and Annie, our best and most healing thoughts are with you at this time".
All of us here hope for the best of possible outcomes for you and Annie.
From Lock and, I'm sure, all the readers of the blog.
Johnno, great boss and good friend,
he is one the innumerable people who offered
to loan me money. (Hand to Earth is the
name of his gardening business).