Thursday, February 28, 2019

You're Old! You're Going to Die!!

Over the last few years as my age has advanced entropy has started giving me signs that I should prepare for my eventual demise.  Each time I look in the mirror there's a little more silver in my hair.  My eyesight has deteriorated by a slight, but noticeable, amount.  Lines are a little deeper and skin slightly less elastic.  All in all its been a gentle and not particularly intrusive method of pointing out to me that the second law of thermodynamics has started gearing up for the end run.

Then my federal government basically screamed "Hey!  You're old and you're going to die!" in my face.  To be fair the government was trying to help me whereas entropy is trying to kill me which only goes to highlight the importance of the way the message is delivered. 

Apparently aware that my fiftieth birthday is just around the corner my government has seen fit to send me a letter about bowel cancer.  The message went (and I may be paraphrasing a little here);

"Now that you can no longer avoid the bony hand of death the time has come for you to pay a little more attention to the way you would prefer to die.  When you reach your current age the number of ways you can die increases exponentially.  What you would have once considered an enjoyable night out is now a catastrophic death march.  There are so many cancers lining up to have a shot at your hapless body cells that we can't even list them all without cutting down more trees than remain in the Amazon.  That's before we get on to high blood pressure, osteoporosis, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease, pneumonia and heart disease.  Frankly it wouldn't surprise us if you dropped dead before you finished reading this letter.  But don't worry!  Your government is going to send you a bowel cancer testing kit.

Apparently I should look out for this in the mail.  Why they didn't send it along with the letter I don't know unless they figured there was a good chance that if they waited a few days they might not have to send it at all.  I also don't know why, out of all the myriad of things lining up to take a shot at my age compromised immune system the government has singled out bowel cancer.  Someone with a nasty suspicious mind might come to the conclusion that the government accidentally over purchased bowel cancer testing kits and is now looking for a plausible way to dispose of the surplus.

I'm not ungrateful for the government's proactive involvement in my death.  I'm pretty sure neither of my parents got a bowel cancer testing kit when they turned fifty (worst present ever).  My parents belong to that sad deprived generation who are going to have to die without government assistance.  I can only assume that bowel cancer is the hidden killer de jour.  You know hidden killers.  You can't turn on the television without learning about some new hidden killer which is going to lay waste to the human race.  It appears that anybody who dies of something blatant and obvious is a statistical blip that can be safely ignored.  It's hidden killers that are the real, well, killers.

The letter attempted to end on an upbeat note pointing out that with early detection this hidden killer could be turned into a hidden minor inconvenience which would have been encouraging if the entire tenor of the note up until that point hadn't focused on my physical deterioration and imminent demise, possibly by the end of the week.

Since the government has gone to all the effort of disclosing that it knows where I live and how old I am I shall show willing and dutifully take the bowel cancer test, hopefully I pass.  If my usual experience with doctors is anything to go by the reaction of my doctor to the test will be something along the lines of,
"No, your bowel is fine.  But there's something else that we just want to take a look at while you're here..."

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Irrelevant Moments in History

Throughout history stories of great courage, enterprise, sacrifice and dedication have inspired people to go further, reach higher and achieve more.  Looking back on the achievements of their ancestors has motivated people to even greater efforts.  Truly we stand on the shoulders of giants. Nobody seems to have asked the giants if they're ok with that.

Then there are the others, those whose great courage, enterprise etc etc was totally misplaced.  The hapless would be achievers who would have set a better example for the human race if they had simply stayed home in bed.  Some people split the difference by trawling wikipedia for tales of inadequate woe and then posting them on their blog as an alternative to coming up with a bright idea themselves.  Welcome gentle reader to Irrelevant Moments in History!

Today marks the 334th anniversary of the day Texas might have become French, but didn't.  I can almost hear my French and Texan readers both giving a sigh of relief and muttering about a bullet dodged.

The French claim to Texas was established on this date by accident.  Some French guy (according to wikipedia it was a failed Jesuit, Rene-Robert Cavelier) led a four ship convoy with the intention of establishing a colony at the mouth of the Mississippi River.  Since the mouth of the Mississippi was even more of a low rent destination then than it is now it would appear his principal motivation was to piss off the Spanish with whom the French were at war.  Unfortunately for him the war ended shortly after he set out on the expedition and the whole business went from a clandestine operation against Spanish colonies to a dreadful embarrassment that the king of France hoped nobody would ever find out about.  One suspects he wouldn't have been too upset to learn that the entire expedition sank en route.  It might as well have.

After a tedious journey across the Atlantic which Cavelier enlivened by arguing with the naval officer who was commanding the ships the would be colonists pitched up in the Caribbean.  Here the aforementioned naval officer got his revenge by inciting pirates to attack and plunder one of the ships.  Now desperately short of supplies and funds the remaining wallowed haplessly into the Gulf of Mexico despite the fact that nobody on board had ever been there before and no one had any maps.  A combination of currents, winds and the fact that Cavelier made a minor navigation error resulted in the colonists being dumped on a piece of unwelcoming shore some four hundred miles away from their intended destination.  The French had arrived in Texas.  One of the first things they did on arrival was accidentally run one of their remaining ships aground on a sandbar.

The naval commander having decided that he had fulfilled his contractual obligations by beaching the colonists on a random piece of North America took one of the ships and went home.  This left the colonists with one ship, no real idea of where they were and a bunch of distinctly hostile Native Americans staring at them with a combination of disbelief and disapproval.  It soon became obvious that their locality was a lousy place for a colony but that was ok because they were lousy colonists. In between bouts of illness, fights with the natives, and desperate attempts to find the Mississippi (towards the end they were just desperate attempts to find anyone who wouldn't kill them on sight) the colonists relocated to a slightly more acceptable place some fifty odd miles away. 

In their new location the colonists built a settlement with wood dragged in from elsewhere.  There were actually trees in the new location but apparently they managed to find an area where the trees were not suitable for lumber.  It's also possible they forgot to bring an axe.  With the new settlement up and stumbling the colonists celebrated by running their last ship aground as well.  Expeditions were sent out to find the Spanish, the French or indeed even a vague conception of where they actually were but none were successful.  Strangely morale seemed to take a bit of a dive.

With people dying from native attacks, illness, incompetent exploring, internal bickering and eating prickly pears Cavelier decided that the remaining able bodied people should strike out for the already French part of North America to get help.  The women, the children and those he just didn't like were left behind.  With the exception of a couple of the kids they were all killed by the natives.  The natives would probably have killed the people with Cavelier as well if they hadn't preempted the matter by doing it themselves.  There was a mutiny and Cavelier was killed, for good measure the survivors then managed to kill each other until there were only a handful left (I use the term "survivor" in a relative sense). 

At some point the king of France had been informed of the dire state of his newest colony, his response was to do precisely nothing.  In fact the only people to do anything were the Spanish.  Having been informed by a deserter that the French were up to naughty things in a part of the world given to them by the pope the Spanish sent out several expeditions to find this colony and remove it.  By the time they stumbled on to the ruins of the colony the Native Americans had already effectively removed it leaving the Spanish with nothing to do but bury the dead and chuckle under their breath.

Possibly the only lasting effect of Cavelier's misbegotten attempt at colonisation occurred during the Louisiana Purchase when the Americans tried to persuade the Spanish that the former colony meant that Texas was included in the French territory they had just acquired.  The Spanish suggested they take Florida instead.  For some reason the Americans agreed.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Waratah Mills

There is a place,  a place of wonder where bandicoots frolic (allegedly) in the shadow of derelict flour mills.  Where native trees and bushes spread their branches and birds send greeting calls to the early morning commuters or whoever the hell it is that actually uses the light rail.  This place is called Waratah Mills.  A place of tranquility, a place of refuge, a place to raise a family if you fancy raising them in a former warehouse surrounded by screeching birds and overrun with native rodents. 

Waratah Mills is an adaptive reuse project.  This is the fancy name one gives when one couldn't be bothered tearing down old buildings and instead shoehorns new residents into whatever constructions happen to be lying around.  In the case of Waratah Mills what was lying around were the silos and a warehouse from an old flour mill.  Apparently the conversion was done in a manner sympathetic to the heritage of the buildings which I think means they still look like a flour mill.  They are now a desirable residential address with nice grounds and (presumably) updated fixtures within.  Just in case the above doesn't immediately make you want to relocate your family to a piece of derelict industrial estate there is a nice patch of bush to help you forget that you're living in a city.  There's also a light rail station.

This is the third light rail station I've visited and technically I'm still in Dulwich Hill.  At least that's what the real estate agents spruiking the Waratah Mills development (or renovation really) inform me.  As with Arlington the station is at the back end of a few streets that don't really go anywhere and has a slightly woodland feel to it.  The reason for this is the presence of a greenway running alongside the line.

A greenway is basically a fancy name given to a long, narrow remnant of native bushland that for some reason you haven't got around to bulldozing yet.  A very small canal, or decently sized stormwater drain, also runs parallel to the light rail and the greenway is largely in between the two.  Essentially there wasn't room to actually build anything useful so the bushland was permitted to stay.  It basically looks like an overgrown backyard but it has trees and bushes and is generally picturesque once you notice it.  At first I thought it was somebodies overgrown backyard.

According to a far more enthusiastic and, no doubt, worthy blog than this the greenway is a thing of beauty, a piece of cultural and environmental heritage where the last shreds of pre colonial Sydney disport themselves and bandicoots scamper happily in the sunshine.  Perhaps more significant to its continued existence is the fact that it probably adds a few thousand dollars to the value of the residences that overlook it. 

I didn't see any bandicoots in the thirty seconds or so that I spent in intensive study of the greenway but perhaps they were on a coffee break.  To aid those busy people who don't have the leisure to lie in wait for the bandicoots to clock back on there are a couple of sculptures of bandicoots at the entrance to the light rail station.  At the time I thought they were malformed puppies.  Discovering they were bandicoots has, if nothing else, made me revise my opinion of the mental health of the sculptor. 

A local volunteer group has taken the greenway (or at least this bit of it) under its wing and, or so signs proudly announce, is doing its best to return this little shred of land to a pristine state fit for bandicoots.  I look forward to the day when the presence of bandicoot roadkill by the side of the local streets announces their success.  In the meantime I sloped off to find coffee.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Where the Wild Protein Herds Roam

It is getting increasingly difficult to tell the difference between pretentiousness, ignorance and laziness.  I stepped out at some time after midday today to acquire food that would provide the fuel necessary so that my working afternoon wasn't interrupted by my collapse onto the floor weeping with hunger.  This mission was accomplished so when I collapse weeping onto the floor it will be for completely different reasons.

It's entirely possible that one of the reasons will be attempting to differentiate which of the three undesirable characteristics mentioned above the vendors of my takeaway lunch were displaying with their menu board.  I call it a menu board out of courtesy as it didn't perform the fundamental task of a menu board which is to tell you what food is available for you to purchase.  I should also point out that the lunch place was (or fondly imagined itself to be) a cut above your average sandwich bar.  There was even a separate area where people who had apparently booked could be escorted to a table to enjoy the mysteries of the menu board.

The menu board was laid out thus; salad was announced.  After the salad in a spirit of wild generosity we were invited to add a protein to it.  At this point I wasn't sure whether I had wandered into a food shop or a biology lab.  You had to pay extra for the protein.  Presumably sourcing protein is a little harder than acquiring salad.

It probably is harder to source protein.  After all the definition of salad can, with a certain amount of generosity, be extended to pretty much any accumulation of vegetable matter.  Every pot plant is a potential salad (add some vinaigrette and it becomes an actual salad).  Formally identifying the specific vegetables involved is just so passé.  As for identifying the protein, well let's just be glad that there is some shall we.  Deep, far reaching investigations as to how the protein might have been sourced or what original organic material provided said protein is probably far too much effort for a takeaway lunch in any event.

At least this is the message being sent by the menu board.  Basically what they are offering is random plant material with the addition of a lump of meat (or lentils, or soybeans or quinoa - all good sources of protein if you absolutely insist on contributing to the spread of animals around the world).  Actually identifying the protein source is apparently beneath them.  Or possibly they simply don't know.  Perhaps a refrigerated truck turns up each day with 44 gallon drums simply labelled "protein" and they just scoop lumps of it out whenever somebody decides to garnish their random plant material.

I like to think of protein as a magnificent beast; shaggy of fur and wide swept of horn roaming proudly across the less built up areas of our great nation.  Think of a cross between a yak and a water buffalo.  In days gone by Aborigines used to hunt them, not for food but just for the sheer hell of it, and when white settlers came to (or rather were dumped on) these shores the presence of the protein herds was often the difference between starvation and being forced to eat salad.  Ah yes, the noble protein, who hasn't thrilled at the sight of a herd of ten thousand or more on the move trampling plants, small buildings and slow moving people as they pass.  David Attenborough must be wetting himself with anticipation at the thought of getting their migratory patterns on film.

Back at my desk with some pasta and protein (sans leaf material) I discovered that apparently mushrooms are a protein too.  At least if they are it would go some way to explaining the peculiar absence of beef from my beef ragu.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Apparently Tasmania is on Fire

"Are you there?" I shouted at my Tasmanian correspondent.  There seemed to be a fair amount of interference and her room was filled with smoke.  Somewhat belatedly I added, "Are you all right?"
Something garbled came out of the speakers and I shook my head and contacted my tech support.

"I'm having difficulty getting in touch with Tasmania."

"Nothing to do with us," they said piously, "there's no problem with the connection it's just that most of Tasmania is on fire at the moment."

"What still?"  I was a little surprised, there had been mention of the bushfires in Tasmania on the news but it had hardly been twenty four hour coverage.

"Still," they confirmed.  "There were about a hundred lightning strikes that caused massive fires.  Of course if you'd simply cut down all the trees and covered the place in concrete you wouldn't have these kind of problems."

I felt like pointing out that since I don't live in Tasmania I didn't have these kind of problems but that seemed a little unpatriotic when dealing with a bunch of smug Belarusians.  I settled for asking if they could clean up the signal at all.

"No problem, we just need to boost the power a bit.  Fortunately for you there's a killer satellite just overhead for other reasons that you really don't want to know about.  We can use that to help."

The picture cleared and I saw my correspondent, flushed and miserable but definitely unburnt sitting in a smoky home office.  I was about to thank my tech support when something occurred to me.

"Guys, have you been messing with weather control again?  A hundred lightning strikes does seem a little excessive."

"Can you prove we had something to do with it?"

"No," I replied.

"How fortunate for you.  Say hello to your correspondent for us," they signed off and not for the first time I wondered if a call centre in India was such a bad option.

My intention was to ask how my correspondent's holidays were and whether she had enjoyed herself but since most of the places she was intending to visit were now a roaring sea of flame I decided not to bother.

She is relatively safe, living as she does in Hobart, the closest equivalent Tasmania has to a large city.  Nevertheless she is not untouched as smoke and haze cover the entire island and the sound of fire fighting helicopters passing back and forth each day makes her life seem like a rather smoky version of Apocalypse Now.  Houses, but fortunately no lives (so far), have been lost but at the moment the fires seem to be concentrating on wiping out pretty much every world heritage site on the island.  Ancient stands of trees, breathtaking national parks, significant peat bogs (surely an oxymoron) are burning and since fire crews are stretched to the limit trying to stop 1500km of fire front from burning down people's houses those areas away from habitation are being left to look after themselves.  Sadly forests have a poor record of community involvement in volunteer fire fighting services.  In their defence when you're made of wood and full of sap going towards a fire front probably isn't your wisest option.

"Time," I announced to my correspondent, "to do your job.  I want front line reports, I want human interest stories, I want tales of loss, tragedy and human courage against impossible odds.  I want an interview with the fire if you can manage it.  Oh and toss in a loveable animal story and something with a light hearted take on the situation as well."

My correspondent suggested I watch a rerun of Lassie.  She pointed out that even in Hobart vision was so bad she couldn't see a mountain which is so close to her that she walks up it on weekends and that the air quality was reaching standards normally only encountered in New Delhi.  She did in fact tour some of the affected areas but that was before the fire started so pretty much any observations she had to make were now out of date.  Apparently the smoke rolling across the Tasman sea was so bad that people living in New Zealand had been calling their local fire brigade.  Now they know what Singapore feels like whenever Indonesia needs some new palm oil plantations.

Seeing that I was a little disappointed at the thought of great coverage slipping between my fingers my correspondent suggested a compromise.

"How about I sit in my lounge room and make shit up?  Then I'll send it to you and you can post it on your blog and pretend to believe it."

I had to admit that's pretty much how our working relationship had functioned up until now.  Reluctantly I agreed and she promised to send me a fifteen thousand word piece on the fires just as soon as her keyboard had cooled down enough for her to use.  Stay tuned.