Tuesday, October 24, 2017

life is not a blog post

I was in a café this morning when the waiter, a beardy bloke in his early 20’s called me “my love”.  I wondered if that was a term of endearment he reserved for old dears. Not as offensive as ma’am but still, I didn’t know how to take it.

Once I would have blogged about this along with another recent perplexing encounter with wait staff. At a casual local eatery that we go to about once a month, a waitress took it upon herself to admonish me for not joining my partner in a glass of wine. She marched up to me and said, "young lady, what’s this about you not drinking!?”. I’d just seen the Insight program about women and alcohol and was really taken a back. So, the “young lady” epithet from a woman half my age got relegated to the hind brain and instead I felt really angry that trying to coerce a diner into imbibing was not exactly “responsible serving of alcohol”.

As I mused on how the world, or at least the service industry, sees me - I reminded myself that life is not a blog post.

But there was something important that I wanted to share in this retired nook of the blogerverse. Four years today I was being wheeled into surgery for a potentially nasty cancer. Four years ago, I was numb with shock and hyper-rational but realised the odds probably weren’t in my favour to be alive and well in even two years later.

While there are small yet still painful things that I still grieve about from this experience, I am incredibly happy and lucky to be alive and well, when so many of my cohort are not.  Life isn’t a blog post, but it can be unexpectedly random. If you need an excuse to stop sweating the minutiae, getting caught in petty niggles, to say no to things you don’t want to do and yes to what you secretly desire – here’s your reminder.

Four years on, life feels pretty good. I’m learning to let go of things that don’t really matter. Though I do have the occasional slip ups triggered by patronising millennials!

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Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Quakemas

I haven’t always been bah humbug about Christmas.

As a child, I loved the ritual of the tree. Our neighbours had two large pines, that all the local kids climbed. I'd come home sticky with resin, having had wistful conversations about the Faraway Tree, sitting on a branch near the top with my best friend Peter. Mid-December (never too early, my mother forestalling the inevitable pine needle problem) my big brother would clamber up with a saw and lop off a branch. They were never straight but back in the 1970’s. The tree was dressed with tinsel, glass balls (that diminished by the year), frayed paper lanterns and a small abandoned doll that doubled as an angel.

The best thing about the tree was not the decorations, it was the presents that grew underneath them. Shaking and prodding the wrapped offerings was discouraged and most made it through unscathed to Christmas day.  For a while there was an American family living next door. Their tree, of course, was huge and perfect. We were shocked to hear a third of the presents hadn’t survived the rigorous prods and shakes from the boisterous children, before the 25th. They got to eat exotic and colourful, sugary cereals every day as well.

For a year or two I took piano lessons once a week, with an ancient but stylish purple haired woman. I was one of a stream of ungrateful children who came to thump out scales on her grand piano. If she was in a good mood, there may be a Mallowpuff offered at the end of the lesson. My pudgy little hands would never grow to reach an octave. With no sense of rhythm and terminal impatience, I’d never be a pianist. But for a couple of years I’d clumsily attempt to play one handed carols on the piano at home.

I only began to detest the sound of carols after leasing an office in the centre of Melbourne, close to a busy corner that was favoured by the Salvation Army. From the 1st of December I’d be blasted by a trio of amateur musicians, playing carols on brass instruments all day.

By the time I was twenty I’d already had two Christmases away from home. The first, in Melbourne with my sister, was spent schlepping across the city by tram to lunch with a nice family that I didn’t know. It was odd observing other people’s traditions. Though alien, it was more boring than uncomfortable.

The next was when I was nineteen, with a boyfriend and a few waifs in Sydney. We drank cheap sparkling wine and perhaps because of that, I have no memory of what we ate. It was my inaugural kidult Christmas, and I rather liked it.

Back at uni in New Zealand, I was living in a shared house and a new yuletide ritual was born. We were quite a social trio* and often shared breakfast on the veranda together on sunny weekends. On the 25th we ate croissants and drank Bucks Fizz, fortifying ourselves for a day spent with our respective families. Bubbles at breakfast carried on through the decades, only screeching to a halt the year I had chemotherapy on Christmas eve.

In the intervening years I’ve chosen to have many solo Christmas days. Having lived in another country to my family for over half my life, coupled with being both an atheist and a non-meat eater, the season has lost most of it’s meaning. Many of my non-Christians friends talk about Christmas being about family and ritual but in the absence of a mother, a sibling and the turkey, it’s become a very hollow tradition.

But please save your pity. I love (and currently sorely miss) my non-Christmases. While most of you spend the day rushing around and being polite to people who drive you mad, I’d be lazing away the morning in bed reading and listening to the radio. Then eat a Spanish omelette or something simple for lunch, and recline in the backyard in the sun with another good book during the afternoon. I love the silence, not having to travel anywhere or making small talk with other people’s relatives.

There were also the Christmases spent deliciously coupled with a partner. No festive food, just a simple picnic, eaten on a blanket in a nearby park. The Not Boyfriend had his one and only Christmas alone with me a few years back, though his mother struggled to understand why I couldn’t possibly fly interstate for the day. Having just been pumped full of poison, I reclined on cushions in the park, only able to eat a solitary dolmade. The NB declared it his best Christmas ever! Two atheists enjoying the peace and quiet under a tree. Perfect. Except the bit about being nauseous and exhausted, in the shadow of cancer.

In recent years I’ve reluctantly made the pilgrimage ‘home’. As my mother descended into dementia, it became clear that I was the only family member capable of putting a meal on the table. Working in my business up to the 23rd, hopping on a late flight across the Tasman then getting my poor sleep deprived body up early to do the food shopping, is a modern ritual that I’ve come to dread. But as each year ‘might be the last’ (and certainly was for my mother five years ago), duty calls.

It’s odd having Christmas with two of our small family missing. There are also no grandchildren, nor a tree or turkey (sorry dad).  I’ve taken on my mother’s job of providing three cooked meals across the day. It starts and ends with the only surviving family rituals – fresh cherries before breakfast and chocolate mousse for dessert. But all the others have gone, especially with only one omnivore left standing.

Perhaps the most endearing tradition of my childhood was our trip to town on Christmas eve each year, with my father. We’d go to James Smith’s on Lambton Quay and choose our own ‘pick ‘n mix’. Afterwards we’d catch the cable car up and down the hill, sitting on the outside seats so we could try to touch the insides of the tunnels with our feet. Whether it was the sweets, the ride or just spending time with our workaholic father (or more likely the trifecta it created) this was one of my happiest memories of the season. Mum, of course, was at home wrapping presents, preparing the next day’s meal and hopefully having a gin or two in preparation for being awoken before dawn by three very excited children.

I look forward to the day when I can have non-Christmases again with the NB, but know they will come at a cost.

For now, I’m streaming RRR on full blast and having cooked and cleaned up after the first meal of the day am about to embark on the next.

I hope the 25th goes smoothly wherever you are, and however you spend it. It’s just one day and tomorrow the sun will shine!

*Vale Bruce my wonderful housemate who spearheaded this tradition. He died unexpectedly this year. I suspect each Christmas will bring a fresh sorrow from now on.

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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Senate Voting for Dummies: Australia 2016

Despite a degree in political science, I must admit I initially found the recent changes to senate voting a little perplexing. Previously you had a choice of handing over your democratic right to a single party by placing a mark in their box above the line. This is how Labor’s preferences elected a right wing nutbag from Family First in Victoria remember.

The other option was to vote below the line. Ranking every single candidate from 1 – gazillion. Wasn’t that fun!

Now there’s the seemingly complicated system where you choose to either rank preferred parties from 1 – 6 (or more) above the line, or rank individual candidates from 1 – 12 (or more) below the line.

Voting above the line still means your voting for the party, who rank their candidates in the party's preferred order. For example the some parties have 12 candidates under their party banner. Above the line means that you accept the order of the individual candidates in the order that the party puts them in. If you only vote for 1 rather than 6, a newly minted returns officer tells me your vote will still be counted, in the old way. You still open yourself up to all the party’s wheeling and dealing over preferences, like in the bad old days.

Voting below the line is about voting for candidates. Don’t like the order your preferred party has listed their candidates, detest an individual but like their running mates or support a variety of individuals running under different party banners – this is a fantastic option. Now you no longer have to decide who is the worst party in the endless numbering to the bottom and can decide who the most sane or like minded senators might be.

Who do I hate the most? Fun times voting below the line in 2013

Just select your preferred 12 or more candidates in the order you choose. It’s an excellent way to promote some positive affirmation if you would like to preference women or other ‘minorities’ in the Senate.

3 tools to make voting for the senate easier

No idea who on you want to vote for?

For finding 6 parties you don’t entirely hate if you vote above the line:

1.    Sort the wheat from the chaff with Clueyvoter's thumbs up (or double thumbs down sorting system. 
2.    Can't tell the nutbags from the fruitloops? Donkeyvoties offbeat look at each party can be a useful tool to refine your choices. 

A further step for refining your 12 or more candidates below the line

3.  Override party preferences and rank candidates below the line, this DIY senate voting card helps you rank individuals and create your own cheat sheet to take with you to the booth. 

You don’t have to hold a degree in political science to enjoy voting but let’s not do a Brexit by donkey or protest voting.

If you want more women in parliament I encourage you to consider the 3 step approach for below the line voting.

Don’t let any party tell you ‘how to vote’ again!

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