Humbled And Chastened Are Interesting Bedfellows

The train is pulling into the next station, Nick Drake is playing through my little earbud headphones and the air conditioning is cocooning me from the heat that is, once again, building outside. As I look out the window I see a crystal blue sky, peppered with clouds on the eastern horizon, searingly blue and uninterrupted to the west. The landscape is showing all the signs of having suffered under the unrelenting sun; grass browned and no longer growing, trees unadapted to the Australian climate wilting, eucalypts dropping leaves, spreading leaf litter and bark on the ground, all perfect conditions for fire to take hold.

Some paddocks have no fodder at all, flocks of sheep huddle in one corner, looking to graze, looking for relief and shade. Others have tall, brown stems of grass waving in the gentle wind. The gentle wind will be our friend today, although it is hot and the landscape is ready to burn the lack of wind to carry it will mean any fires that start today should be relatively easy to contain.

I’m going to my acupuncturist again, maybe for the last time in relation to this dodgy back of mine. As the weeks have progressed, especially since my angst-ridden, catastrophy-focused post of 2nd January, there has been both slow and sudden improvement. I can walk up the mildly steep hill from my work to the station without resorting to a stiff robot walk to compensate for the pains shooting down my legs. I can sleep on both sides of my body and on my back and the pain is no worse in any position. I can sit for periods long enough to complete some work before the pain niggles me to move, stretch, find relief. I’m noticing ebbs and flows in the intensity of the pain. Sometimes it’s not even there at all.

I hope these are all signs that my compressed disc is retreating back to its allocated position in my spine. I long for the days I remember of carefree body use; of reaching, of bending, of squatting, of standing, without thought of how I could do it without pain or without tiring like a baby just learning to walk. I want to leap out of bed and take my long-suffering dogs for a walk filled with smells and excitement. I need to restore my body’s confidence and strength, regain my sense of self through being able to exercise (a little), realign my view of me with the actual me.

This little bout of illness, disability, call it what you will, has served to make me more tolerant of my own foibles and more empathic with people who continue to live with chronic illness, constant pain and disability. Before, in my robust health and with only my youth to guide me, I was sympathetic and considerate to strangers and acquaintances but less tolerant of my own illnesses (usually brief) or my then partner’s illness (definitely chronic). I knew, intellectually, that her needs were real and valid but I railed against her illness, tried to cajole it away, refused to see that some good days couldn’t stop the bad days, expected a stoicism of her that I thought I possessed.

Hah! How little I knew of me. With age does wisdom come? No. It’s experience where we find wisdom. Age only gives us a chance to have the experience, whatever that may be, that can lead to self-knowing, forgiveness, wisdom; we might have a chance to compare our older self with our younger self and quail at the insouciance we exhibited.

I hope this is just an episode in my life, a chapter that I can read again and again and continue to grow from. I don’t want it to be the whole novel from now until the end. Others live with that knowledge about their own lives, that the novel is about them and their illness or disability, and their courage and stoicism is extraordinary and ordinary at the same time. I hope that I can have their strength and on the other hand I hope I never need it.


No Break From The Heat For Us, We Went To Girgarre

Be prepared for the next few days to be peppered with complaints of how damn hot we all are. A heatwave is again upon us and there will be no relief until next week. Today, in the town I live and also the town I work, there was a slightly cooler day, a breather before the next five days of close to or above 40 degrees Celsius. Thankfully I’m home tonight to air the house and allow the heat to dissipate but today I was baking in 38•C temperatures in a small country town called Girgarre.

Girgarre is a tiny town in the north of the state, a population of about 190 people, a once vibrant dairy and fruit producing area that has suffered from the changes to farming and manufacturing in this country. They haven’t laid down to die though, with the community banding together to face its adversity, developing a thriving farmers’ market and a music muster that is fast becoming renowned much further afield than just the local area. It’s a study in resilience and fortitude. It’s also bloody hot and will not cool down until goodness knows when, longer than our five day heatwave anyway.

I was up there helping the local Neighbourhood House to find its next Coordinator to help continue that tradition of resilience and being a helping hand. All over the state of Victoria, slowly spreading through other states too and being reproduced in localities across the world, are little oases of kindness, compassion, opportunity, practicality and community development. Neighbourhood Houses build community with community members, develop people and assist them to change the places they live in, change the lives they are living, make connections and advocate to government when needed, offer places to learn and places to teach, they are for the community and by the community – a real grassroots response to community need.

I work in one of these places too. It’s a fulfilling, busy, frustrating, slow, hectic, triumphant, lovely place to work. It’s more than four seasons in one day, it’s the loaves and fishes with no fish, it’s making something out of nothing with the help of friends who you’ve only just met. Working with community members (not on or at or to) is a hard gig to do every day. I used to say to my friends that did it that they were crazy, and then I must have become crazy too because here I am.

It’s either that or I’ve got heat stroke.

No, You’re Dog Is Not Cute When It Runs At Me Barking And Baring Its Teeth

Country life is complicated when it comes to animals. Issues of animal welfare abound and not just the obvious ones around livestock for meat or other animal products (milk, eggs etc). Domestic animal welfare is also really important, as is native animal welfare.

I’ve just watched the neighbour’s dog chase a cow that was in the back paddock of their place; a place I’ve seen cows in before. The cow panicked and ran through a fence, I don’t know what the cow’s injuries might be but the fence had barbed wire, though they don’t say ‘as tough as cow hide’ for nothing. The dog that chased it is aggressive and territorial. It’s a real worry for us regarding our chickens, dogs, cats and us, as the aggression doesn’t abate and when we try to walk out of our front gate (pop to the shop, go for a bike ride, walk our dogs on leads) we are often confronted by it barking and snarling and baring its teeth.

So the welfare issue for this dog is that it is poorly trained, aggressive and territorial, no impulse control at all and liable to end up at the end of some farmers’ gun (not mine, I don’t own any firearms, nor am I a farmer). A well trained dog, with clear boundaries (metaphysical and physical), responsiveness to command and owners that behave responsibly are required no matter where you live. This dog is a danger to all the other animals and humans around it because the people it lives with have not bothered to train and condition it.

If it wasn’t so aggressive I’d love to pat it, become a friend It looks like it’s part ridgeback, a breed of which I’m familiar. Usually they’re big softies but this one is scary. I know everyone loves their dogs and thinks they are great, it’s the blindness delivered by engaging with dogs as family. I’m sure its family think it’s charming but I can tell you now, I worry about my safety when it is near me, which is too often for comfort these days.

I spoke about native animals too. Cats are some of the biggest predators around. Our cats are inside at night and now (given their age) inside mostly during the day. The tortoiseshell has never caught anything in her life and the tuxedo cat, while once a good hunter for rabbits and mice, has stopped all that malarkey now.

This doesn’t mean we don’t have cats around though. At least two big cats think that our land is their personal hunting area and we often hear them at night. We also hear possums, koalas, boobooks and barking owls. Heavens knows what else is out there (probably not much now) but this area was renowned for antechinus and quoll, to name a couple of less common native animals in this area. I’m not sure what the figures are for hunting perimeters for cats, I know it’s bloody huge sometimes though as is the number of small animals a cat can kill in one night.

Not all damage is done by feral cats. Domestic cats that aren’t kept in at night can and do have similar hunting instincts. It’s true that hunting does occur during the day but night time hunting is much more damaging to the Australian small marsupial populations which are mostly nocturnal.

Health issues for cats out at night are also a concern. Even in the country there are untreatable cat illnesses that are passed on by fighting, and fighting for hunting territory abounds. I think I’ve been a little ranty tonight. Look after your animals people. One more ranty thing. Get your domestic animals de-sexed – it’s better for them, it’s better for all the animals currently in shelters (waiting for new homes or dying from lack of them) and it’s better for the planet.

I’m As Un-Australian As They Come

Today is my country’s national day of celebration. This date is when the first fleet arrived at Botany Bay in 1788, complete with settlers, soldiers and convicts, ready to populate this vast land (though I’m not sure they really knew how vast it was). They came here because 18 years before Captain Cook had sailed into the same area and decided that he would inform the Crown of England of this great and bountiful land.

On both landings the fleets were greeted by the Indigenous peoples of the land. In fact, as Cook sailed up the east coast of Australia, he encountered a number of tribes of people, similar but not exactly the same, at various points of landing. On the occasion of the landing of the first fleet, many tribes flocked to the shore to tell the ‘white devils’ to go away. It was to no avail.

Back in England a declaration had been made that this land had no inhabitants and was, therefore, the property of the country that decided to civilise it, namely England. The term terra nullius was used to describe this, in keeping with international laws of the time. The many tribes, mobs and Countries of Aboriginal Australia did not stand a change against this imperialist logic.

I find it hard to celebrate this day when I know that many people are still dispossessed of their land, their rights and their dignity because they happen to be Aboriginal Australians. I find it difficult to reconcile the celebration of this country as a land of open, generous, laid-back people while its Indigenous people, on average, live 17 years less than most other Australians. I also find our current government’s obsession with stopping asylum seekers horrific and hypocritical, a shameful part of our history to add to other shameful deeds.

I know this day has various names: Australia Day, Invasion Day, Survival Day, and they all have meaning to someone. I often wonder whether we could find a different day to bring out the flags, the patriotism, the jingoistic hoohah.

I haven’t got a name for this day. I don’t feel able to claim any of the ones on offer but as an ally to Indigenous Australians I know what they would prefer me to chose. I’ll continue to leave it unnamed and have my un-Australian thoughts of acceptance, reconciliation, taking responsibility and making change happen that will positively affect all Australians.

In The Morning I Am Trapped By A Cat

My cat is laying on me. It is her favourite thing to do at this moment. She bleats plaintively at the closed door of the bedroom, like her life depends on coming through that door, until someone lets her in. Then she leaps up onto the bed and proceeds to stalk onto the nearest human, which is me. Well, really, she is only laying on me because ‘cushion human’ is not in the bed next to me, my wife is making coffee.

Once she is on you then there is a number of stages of laying. First is the settling in stomp, where she searches for the most comfortable part of you (usually the lower stomach) to lay on and then circles this part of your anatomy until the optimum position is found. Then she proceeds to pumping. For those of you who have never had a cat this peculiar action is when the cat kneads you with its front paws complete with claws, pushing its claws into your soft belly (thankfully covered by a thick doona), pulling them back with claws attached and repeating ad nauseum continually dribbling with the delight of it. I try very hard to discourage this stage, it is quite uncomfortable and it puts tiny holes in my doona covers. It can also be very disconcerting to have a wet patch on the doona from the dribble. The last stage is sleeping on you. She relaxes completely, stops pumping and usually curls into a ball on her side and flips her head into the upside down position. Purring then ensues.

At all stages of the laying, patting the cat can be fraught with danger. This cat only likes to be touched on the head and under the chin. The problem with this is that she has sleek, soft, black fur all over her and it is very tempting to pat all the way down her back. This can result in a sharp ‘mah’ and the sinking of teeth into your hand. Other patting dangers occur when you tap her paws to stop the pumping. You have to be quick or you could end up with her claws in your hand. This will certainly happen if you touch her on her stomach. Beware the flash of cat belly, it is not an invitation to feel the soft, fluffy fur, rather a trap for the foolish and unwary.

Ah, the coffee has arrived and my wife is slipping back into the bed. My cat abandons me and stalks onto her favourite cushion human. The process starts again and I am glad. It means I can reach my coffee without the possibility of disturbing the cat.

What really happens at a fire (one woman’s experience so far)

My wife on her blog talking about fire fighting from her perspective.

Snoringcat's Blog

This is by no means a definitive description of what happens at a fire, it is just a reflection on my experiences so far. Since becoming a volunteer firefighter, I’ve found it interesting to compare how the public perceives fire to my experiences on the fire ground. These are entirely my own recollections and they do not constitute advice, nor do they represent the organisation I volunteer for. My only intent is to give you some insight into our experiences. I should also add that my experiences of firefighting so far have been at relatively small fires.

It seems to be afternoons. That’s when you hear that vaguely familiar wail. It takes a second or two to register, providing a nice shot of adrenaline to mingle with the thought of ‘where the bloody hell is that thing?’ You find your pager, press the button to silence it, giving a cursory…

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Personal Development As Performance Art

I’m listening to a friend’s online tele-summit at The Happy Healthy Lesbian. It’s my way of supporting her endeavours to leave the rat race behind and forge her own business path. I thought it might be a little naff but I shouldn’t have worried as this friend has a really solid personal integrity that means that all she does is honest and grounded and useful.

Today’s talk that I’m listening to is all about financing your dreams on what you have available to you. Oh boy, do I need to work on that. There’s some lessons in here about budgeting, outgoings extrapolated over the year for some aha moments, and advice about recording of how you feel when you’re spending specific money. You can really pinpoint some interesting habits through examining the feelings attached to the spending of money. It makes sense to me anyway.

Her guest also talked about ‘our script’ that we all carry with us. You know, the one that you trot out when someone says “so, what do you do?” And you have this pap reply. It’s a protection that we often have and it doesn’t always correlate to what we really want from our lives.

I think I’ve moved beyond having a script, thankfully, and into a reality about who I am and what I do that is pretty darn close to what people see of me. It took a while. It took a lot of bad stuff to happen to jolt me out of the spin cycle. I’m glad that it happened. It’s meant, though, that I’ve had to face the reality that my work will never make me rich, or even comfortably well off, I fear.

This makes learning to love your numbers (money not body measurement, that’s another post for another day) more difficult and the task of being gentle with myself more twisted. I seriously don’t see how I can possibly achieve my dreams on my numbers. At the end of three days after my pay has been deposited into my account we are left with the sobering thought of how we are going to get through the next ten days on virtually nothing. That is because, like the good payers that we are, we have paid all of the bills that we have before we then consider food, petrol and fun (what fun?).

I’m having a hard time coming to terms with being working poor. It’s a real blow for an educated woman who has worked hard at working hard and well all her life to realise that her passion is not going to ensure her financial stability. At least there’s one consolation, this masters degree I’m doing will never have to be paid off (Australia has a deferred loan system) as, at this rate I’ll never earn enough to reach the payback threshold.