Thursday, July 22, 2010

the Ulster man

Today I found my Great Grandfather's signature on the Ulster Covenant. It was a strange sensation, falling down an internet wormhole and emerging in 1912 in a troubled land.

Politically I've always felt my grandmother's lineage was on the "wrong" side of The Troubles. But it was an odd delight to read The Covenant's emotive language, though it could done with a darn good edit.

I hadn't intended to search family history but in a day I've found my grandmother's home town was spelt wrong on her reissued birth certificate and once that was unlocked a whole heap of information came tumbling down including The Covenant, 1901 census and 1909 census*. Along with it came three great uncles I never knew existed, her mother's date of death (at a mere 33 years old) and sundry information about the number of cow sheds on their farm.

Now if only I can find out more about my great grandmother Martha Jane McCullough?

* is the plural censi, censuses?

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Sunday, July 18, 2010

before and after diet video with a difference

Thought you needed a little levity after the NZ post.

Pinched from Serious Eats

ps: Australia is now in election mode, wonder if that will reignite the political science blogger in me?

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Monday, July 12, 2010

silver lining

Is it wrong for my to sneakingly think that the best part of my visits "home" is leaving?

Actually this thought is about addiction, not people or place. More correctly the best thing about leaving Wellington is the free wifi at the airport. It's just a pity other transport hubs are not as generous. I've been without any access to the internet for a few days and have gone into slight withdrawals.

It has been another emotive and a tad isolating trip. Today before lunch and being dropped at the airport my father and I went for a tour of a brand new dementia unit a couple of suburbs away from where they live. The place was light and warm, with a lot of forethought put into layout. The unit is purpose built, though the main doors are locked to deter wandering, there is a lovely courtyard complete with garden the residents can help with and a glass atrium. The staff were lovely. The rooms are fine. The place didn't smell. It's just the people. It is hard not to feel confronted by the residents. Dementia is a very challenging condition, especially when you are looking at the demise of your own parent.

Though my mother's name is now at the top of their waiting list, none of us are ready for this transition just yet. Least of all her. But there's some comforting in knowing that when the right time comes, there will be no significant time lag between making the decision to put her into care and finding a room in the best facility the city has on offer.

The days seem to pass achinginly slowly while I'm visiting home. It feels a bit like being a grounded teenager, these trips where my purpose is to provide a bit of respite for my father and sister, the expectation is that I spend most my time taking care of my mother. Often that means just sitting with her, attempting conversation or gently rubbing her back. On the weekend when there is no carer to get her up in the morning, washing and dressing can take up to 45 minutes. At night it is about cajoling her to get changed for bed, taking each item of day clothes off and put away before she spirits it to some hiding place. Once her pyjamas are on, there's a game to get her into bed, luring her with the warmth of a hot water bottle, before she starts pulling clothes on haphazardly over her nightwear.

I did manage to get a few hours off to trot around the city on an icy cold morning. After a couple of days of sitting down (hail hadn't helped) I just wanted to walk and walk and walk. I didn't want to talk. Just enjoy the luxury of my own company.

A good friend picked me up one night after I got mum into bed and transported me off for a yummy Cambodian dinner. It was delightful to do something new and have a quick catch up.

I had a lovely, though slightly surreal, chat with someone I had gone to primary school with. She was going to pop in but was sick. The call has broken the ice for when we do finally eyeball each other after a few decades with no contact.

But it'd have been nice if a few others who I couldn't get the time or transport to visit, had phoned. Though I probably just would have blabbed that I'd seen more of my mother's sad naked body in the last few days than I had in a lifetime. That washing her and taking care of her poo stained underwear was a bit more than I could deal with. That my father's frustration and surliness gets no easier to endure. So I know it's a rare friend, or sibling, that can cope with such conversations.

Sometimes the best part of a journey is leaving. Though I will be back again soon for another Groundhog Day kind of visit.

In the meantime, my withdrawal symptoms have dissappeared and I am almost ready to face the civilized world again.

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Monday, July 05, 2010

an adverse reaction to spin

A controversial footballer has been admitted to hospital suffering from an “adverse reaction”* to a sleeping tablet.

Isadora Duncan had an adverse reaction to a scarf.
Kurt Cobain had an adverse reaction to a bullet.
Karen Carpenter had an adverse reaction to food.
Steve Irwin had an adverse reaction to a stingray.
Michael Hutchence had an adverse reaction to a belt.

* if the scant details concerning his ingestion are correct what they actually mean is a drug interaction. ("Caffeine pills" plus sedatives plus alcohol).

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Saturday, July 03, 2010

reading entrails: or how how reading used toilet paper helped win the cold war

Just caught the end of the Radio Netherlands World, story Spy vs Spy* on The State We're In.

At the end of an insightful interview with Leslie Woodhead, about his time working in British Intelligence during the Cold War, he disclosed a little known story about the time.

"(I felt) more like a trainspotter than any kind of sexy spy"

While he admitted his job was rather boring, listening to the conversations of Russian pilots as they few in and out of East Germany, he'd recently learnt what some of his more glamorous colleagues back at Whitehall were doing. One of the most useful covert operations turned out to be the collection and decoding of used toilet paper, discarded by Russian soldiers. It transpired that loo paper was not standard issue, so the troops tore up whatever was at hand from classified documents to instruction manuals. Little did they know that spies on the ground were scooping up the used, highly sensitive documents and spiriting them back to linguists in London who'd translate the source material.

Operation Tamarisk was one of the most succesfull espionage operations of the entire Cold War.

So you think you have a shit job?

* The whole interview is fascinating but for those who want to hear Woodhead talk about Operation Tamarisk forward to 29 minutes into the show.

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Thursday, July 01, 2010

another good reason to live in New Zealand

Obviously not for the abysmal weather.

But other than having their first female Prime Minister last century and being one of the first countries in the world to allow women to vote...the locals don't kick up a stink when people publicize their different philosophical viewpoints.

Looking forward to seeing this billboard on the streets the next time I'm in Wellington.

(from the NZ atheist bus campaign website)

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