Wednesday, 24 April 2013

In which Betty’s day swings like a pendulum

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A trip to Cann River turned into quite the adventure today. For those not in the know, Cann River is a tiny town (population 223) in north-eastern Victoria where there’s a big T-junction between two main roads – the one that comes south from Canberra and Bombala and the one that goes across Victoria from east to west.

I was going to meet the principal of the school to discuss relief teaching, and had some car issues about 20kms from Cann River when something under the bonnet seemed to come adrift and my steering suddenly became rather heavy. Great. So I limped it along to Cann River and the car repair workshop. But today the mechanic was elsewhere for the day. Great again. A quick look under the bonnet revealed this:

Broken power steering belt. Fantastic. Oh, and the repair shop didn’t have a spare one. The day just keeps getting better and better.

Not wanting to be late for my appointment at the school, I pressed on, beltless and a little disconcerted, (not to mention concerned about how much it was going to cost to fix it, and where the $$$ would come from!) but developing some Schwarzenegger biceps and deltoids every time I turned the car. I was not late, and oh, what a lovely little school it is, too. The entire student body from Prep to Year 12 is only about 50 kids.

Even better - in amongst those kids is an automotive class. Are you seeing lightbulbs yet? I bought some pantyhose from the General Store, which was an adventure in itself.…The shop lady showed me where their remaining stock of pantyhose was – half a dozen forlorn and dusty packs on a bottom shelf.

“What colour are you after?” she said.

“Doesn’t matter”, says I, “I won’t be wearing them! They’re to replace a belt in my car.”

She picked herself up off the floor, where she’d been rolling laughing, and handed me some nice black ones. “Best laugh I’ve had all day,” she said, chuckling away.

So the principal took me to the tiny (and I do mean TINY!) annexe school a couple of kilometres up the road, where – lo and behold – I will have two days’ work next week, in charge of SIX students from Year 1 to Year 5, and I can hardly wait! A whole new world, it’ll be.

Meanwhile, the pantyhose were handed over to the automotive class and they played bush mechanics for a while. I got my car back to beautiful Mallacoota without incident and found no proper power steering belt here either. I never EVER thought I'd say this (and nor did you, I'm sure), but Thank goodness for pantyhose, ha ha ha. From now on I shall carry them in the car with me, along with the kitty litter, spare oil, cleaning products, cat-cage - all those other essentials.

Oh what a fabulous day it’s been!

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Crunching the numbers

Ok, so I decided to look at the numbers yesterday, and they weren’t pretty. I discovered that my gross earnings over the last 8 weeks are approximately 60% of my fortnightly take-home (i.e., AFTER TAX) income in my last job. In fact, each week now I earn less than half of what I used to pay in tax each week.

Now – I know that money’s not everything, but I also know that’s a statement that’s usually made by people who have enough of it, ha ha. So I won’t be saying it any more. I’ll be too busy trying to stay one-step ahead of Centrelink, on whose tender mercies I do not want to fling myself. Here’s why.

Yesterday I thought to see if I would be eligible for a low-income health care card. Hell yes, I most certainly am, seeing as I earn very little income now. So – how do I get one? Well, I can go to the local tele-centre and use their special Centrelink phone, sit in a ghastly empty room that’s painted bright orange to make you feel better about the fact that you’re needy enough to be checking out Social Security options. I can talk to a bright recorded voice who tells me which buttons to press on the phone just so that I can be registered to talk to someone real. Yep, you don’t even get to talk to a real human being.

Or, if I get tired of that, or just too damned demoralised to continue going round and round in telephone circles, I can go home, get on my own computer and use up all my printer ink printing out an application form for a health care card. Get this: for a Low-Income Health Care Card, which is valid for EIGHT weeks, and based on your previous EIGHT weeks’ gross earnings, you have to sell your soul and fill out a TWENTY-EIGHT PAGE application (which would probably take another EIGHT weeks!) give Centrelink details of your drivers licence, medicare card, surrender your passport, give them your first-born child blah blah blah (ok, I exaggerate just a teensy bit.) No bloody thanks – and if you have to fill out a 28-page application form just to get 8 weeks of cheaper prescriptions and bulk-billing at the doctor, I shudder to think of the hoops you have to jump through to actually get the dole! Amazing! Negotiating the bureaucratic labyrinth and filling out all the ghastly paperwork would waste valuable dunny-cleaning time, and involve a whole lot more shit than dunny-cleaning does as well!

So – while I’ve paid my taxes all my working life, it looks like I won’t be getting any of them back from Centrelink anytime soon. I can access my superannuation when I’m 55, so I just need to hang in there for 15 months. Oh, I can get my super early – I checked – but I’d have to give back 21% of it to the government in tax. Um…. Didn’t I already pay tax on the salary from whence my super contributions came??? I don’t get it. The government bean-counters are working their white man magic and keeping this little bunny under-the-thumb-in-the-dark-at-their- mercy.

Don’t mind me letting off steam. I’m feeling like I’ve been the butt of a big governmental joke right now. “Work hard, pay your taxes and the country will look after you.” No it bloody won’t! (and this is a country with allegedly fabulous social security provisions…but I suppose that's all relative, isn't it, and a topic for another time. This post is All About Me Me Me ;-) )

I suppose I’m feeling a bit sorry for myself – that itchy monstrosity on my back turned out to be shingles, and I feel like crap. I have bugger-all energy, my arm hurts, my head hurts, and the last thing I want to think about is how to stay one step ahead of Centrelink and still pay my bills.

Ok, so Betty’s thinking-cap is firmly squashed onto her little round head. When Basil smacked me in the head at 4am, these were the thoughts I came up with:

  1. Bugger off Basil – we don’t get up until 6am.
  2. Hassle the school for work now that the Vic school hols are over – be the squeaky wheel.
  3. Put up signs around town advertising my services as a brilliant tutor.
  4. Contact Cann River School to follow up re casual work there (70kms away).
  5. Contact Marshmead (MLC’s outdoor ed campus on the other side of the inlet, accessible only by boat – wheeeeeee!) re creative writing workshops each term.
  6. Try to get more cleaning work (I think I’m about to add a fifth cleaning gig to my list, but now that tourist season is over, I suspect there won’t be much work to be had in the holiday accommodation area for a while now.)
  7. Buy a lottery ticket.
  8. Sell the Harley. WHAT? NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
  9. You’re clearly delirious/deranged. Go back to sleep. It’s only 4.30am
  10. Ok.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Birds in my garden - a list

Eastern whipbird enjoying a bath

Living on the outskirts of a tiny town nestled in a national park is an awesome experience.

I was explaining to an old high school friend, who lives in an inner suburb of Sydney, why I was having a cat-palace built, and my explanation about wanting to protect the birdlife may not have sounded particularly convincing to an urban-dweller in a place the size of Sydney. 

So, Fernando - this list is for you. These are the birds I'm relatively certain about. There are some others that I haven't managed to identify yet. By the time I get my binoculars out they've usually nicked off - but I've done the best I can to ID them using my handy Simpson & Day Field Guide to the Birds of Australia. I've made a point of only mentioning the birds I've seen in my garden or flying over it. Elsewhere in Mallacoota I've seen a wonderful variety of birds that don't get to my yard! (or at least, I haven't seen any so far!)

The birds here aren't terribly street-wise. I'm always surprised how close they let me get with my phone-camera - look at this little fellow:

I suspect they haven't yet learned to be afraid, because most Mallacoota folk love birds, build bird-feeders to attract them, spend a fortune on birdseed etc, ha ha! I would hate to ruin the trust that has flourished between the feathered folk and the rest of us here by letting Basil do what cats love to do best.

One thing I'm learning as I get older is that balance is so very important, so I'm balancing my need for a kitteh with the need to respect the natural world in this magnificent place.

Anyway - here's the list!

Regular visitors
Rainbow lorikeet
Crimson rosella
Australian king Parrot
Red browed finch 
Superb fairy wren
New Holland honeyeater
Eastern spinebill
Satin bowerbird
Eastern yellow robin
Little wattlebird
Red wattlebird
Common bronzewing pigeon
Wonga pigeon
White-headed pigeon
Crested pigeon
Grey fantail
Australian wood duck
Eastern whipbird
Australian Magpie
Pied currawong
Welcome swallow
Common blackbird
Willie wagtail
Lewin's honeyeater
White-naped honeyeater (not a regular)
Scarlet honeyeater (not a regular)
Grey shrike-thrush
White-browed Scrubwren
White-winged Chough
Australian White Ibis (not a regular)
White-faced Heron
Australian owlet nightjar (wow! gorgeous)
Buff-banded Rail (that was a surprise!)
Little Corella (grrrr!)
Fan-tailed cuckoo
Pallid cuckoo
Eastern Koel
Silver Gull
Peregrine Falcon (magic! Not a regular, though)
Olive-backed Oriole
Australasian Figbird (not a regular)
Collared sparrowhawk
Bassian thrush
Tawny Frogmouth

Whistling kite
Square-tailed kite
Wedge-tailed eagle
(possibly) Little Eagle
Yellow-tailed black cockatoo
Australian raven
Grey goshawk

List updated November 2017
Updated again July 2018

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Basil's dream palace becomes a reality

Tonight, Basil is the happiest kitten in the world. He is also the tiredest kitten. Basil’s world expanded considerably today when father & son team Henry & Phil from Secure a Kat finished the truly palatial cat palace.

This is a shameless plug for Secure a Kat. I found them on the internet when I was researching cat-enclosures, but was dismayed to learn that they're based in Adelaide (half a country away!) Distance is no obstacle for Secure A Kat, though - they were only too happy to trek over to this remote corner of Victoria (Henry admitted he’d never heard of Mallacoota until now) to build the palace of Basil’s dreams.

And doesn’t Basil love it!

After - look closely and you can see Basil enjoying his freedom
 He played site inspector at various stages during the two-day construction process, but it wasn’t until it reached ‘lock-up’ stage that I took him outside to the garden sans lead and harness for the first time in his life. Oh, the freedom!

Basil - free at last, and lord of all he surveys....
He pottered by the pond, poked about in the bushes, did a spot of bird-watching, lazed in the sun, lazed in the shade, climbed all the way up the netting to the ceiling, ran around in gleeful circles and finally brought himself indoors, exhausted, at about 4.30pm. He’s fast asleep on the lounge right now.

The palace is humungous – bigger than I’d expected – and it presented a few challenges for Phil and Henry, which they solved, of course, because they’re professionals. The palace is braced at several anchor points on my shed roof and the weathervane, and the wire provides perching spots for the birds while they wait for me to bring out their seed.

My view is not obstructed by the netting; in fact, the whole enormous structure is remarkably unobtrusive. 
Basil is inside and Phil/Henry are outside - but it's hard to tell! Very unobtrusive structure!
There are big doors at each end so I can get in and out to the washing line, woodshed and driveway.

So, Secure A Kat – I thank you, Basil thanks you and the local bird population thanks you for a job brilliantly done! 

Monday, 8 April 2013

Partnership..... ?????

OK, a meditation on the concept of partnership. Coz hey, why do we do it? What is it about humans that makes us form partnerships? I'm sure there's a wealth of literature on the subject, but for me, at my time of life, here's the only thing I can come up with:

It's good to have someone who can see those parts of yourself that you can't, and who likes you enough not to be put off by them. Of course, it has to work both ways (unless you have a fabulous GP who bulk-bills!)

Tragic, isn't it? I have this incredibly itchy spot, dead-centre between my shoulderblades. My fingers can find it, and it feels nasty - raised, big, blah blah. But, not having a 360 degree swivel neck, I can't bloody see it! It could be the size of New York and I wouldn't know. If it's still there the day after tomorrow and I haven't died of it, I will have to go to the doctor and spend a fortune to have a professional look expensively at what a partner could look at for free - and it might be bloody nothing!! Pleasegodmakeitgoawaybeforethen.

Thinking about the mutual usefulness of partners in middle/old age has been a bit of a revelation about why we partner up in the first place.

Well, obviously - in the early days it's all about chemistry - sex and all that stuff.

Then I think, if you stick around with that particular partner, it might turn into companionship, with the occasional flurry of romance and sex to keep it all real...

And then (I have no experiential knowledge, honest, i'm speaking purely from a hypothetical basis) I think maybe you become mutually useful. The sex may mostly die, but there's someone to cut the toenails you can't bend to cut anymore... someone to look at bits of you that you can't reach/see anymore... Tell me that's not  more useful than being a good root, ha ha ha ha! It may even be the Greatest Love of All...(cue Whitney Houston)

So what should the middle-aged Singleton do??? Because Singles need to be able to see those awkward spots - of their backs, or legs, or arses... and seriously, you can't ask a stranger! Or can you? Should we cultivate 'special friends' who are tasked with such unsavoury things as checking unseeable sore spots, cutting intractable toenails (ugh) and disposing of any sex-toys in the event of your unexpected demise (before the descent of the relatives!) Or perhaps a drawer full of wacky sex toys would be a bit of a status symbol. Hmm, Auntie Daisy knew how to have fun, tee hee!  OMG, it's too scary!

Sunday, 7 April 2013

It's all about Balance! (and a bit of Magda!)

Ah, an autumnal Sunday arv in Mallacoota…. I truly am in paradise. Basil and I watched rainbow lorikeets, galahs and crimson rosellas jockeying for position on the bird feeder this arv. We sat in beautiful afternoon warmth and sunshine; me with my glass of red, Basil with his dreams of birds, and all was well with the world.

Pardon me while I trip off into whacko territory for a moment.

I’ve been saying for ages that there’s something magical about Mallacoota – and now that I live here, I know what some of it is. You can’t turn around without bumping into a muso/artist/writer! This place is dripping with creative energy, and perhaps that’s what attracted me (apart from the tree-huggin’ hippie greenie lifestyle to which I aspire!)

It’s a balancing act, though. Before I did my tree-huggin’, bird-watchin’ thing this arv, I spent a couple of hours cleaning a particularly grotty oven in a holiday house, and trying to determine which of the bits of bed-linen in the linen box were actually clean, and which had been conveniently stashed in there after the last tenants’ stripping of the beds. Erk!!!
Gosh! The things people leave behind!
I’ve decided this balance is extremely good for me. Balance, I think, is everything. It’s what I could never achieve while I was teaching at my last school.

Since I’ve actually found a balance of sorts relatively achievable, guess what? I’ve started writing again! A writing exercise at a meeting of the reformed Mallacoota Writers’ Group got me all inspired (thanks Rachel!)

Last week, when Kate the Tetris Queen was down for Easter, we went to the open mic at Lucy’s Noodles, and bugger me if the wonderful Magda Szubanski wasn’t there!!! She got up for a bit of a sing, and I can report she has a fab voice. She also graciously had a photo taken with my Kate, which confirmed Magda's goddess status for me :-)
'Wow, she looks just like Magda Szubanski', we said - and then she got up to sing and we all went 'Oops!'
Magda & Kate - look, they're the same height!!!!! Tee hee!!!! We love you Magda :-)
Another performer at the open mic was Justin Brady (Things of Stone and Wood) who has a place here (of course, why wouldn’t he?) – and he was one of the headliners at the following night’s gig in support of Bastion Point that Kate and I went to (you may or may not see us on the video that may or may not be put onto YouTube soon!!!) In the meantime, have a look at this :-) (Thanks Julie Parker)

Last night I went to a performance of ‘Father Knows Best’ by a local drama group, and had a hoot of a time! The local police sergeant's performance as Mr Sheen, Louie the Fly and a peculiar minister reading the lesson of Little Bo Peep were absolutely splendid!  He had great comic timing. (note to self - remember that in case you're ever pulled over! ha ha)

As I looked around the Muddie (the Mudbrick Pavilion, a sort of all-purpose community hall) at the assembled audience, I was staggered to realise that I am on ‘hello *first name*’ terms with about 8 percent of them and on ‘hello *hug*’ terms with perhaps 1 percent! Far out!!!

Life is just so amazingly fabularse! So…. What’s coming up soon?
(1)   Panic over end of tourist season and drying up of income source
(2)   Frantic noisemaking at school to tell them how wonderful I am and to encourage them to hire me as a relief teacher NOW!
(3)   A ride to Bairnsdale to sort out my driver’s licence - PIglet will be so happy to be dragged out of the shed!
(4)   The building of Basil’s Cat Palace!!!! This is the most looked-forward-to event of the season, peeps! Tomorrow, Henry and Phillip from Secure-A-Cat will be here to make my Basil a fabulously palatial playground. I’m so excited! Watch this space for pics…