Oh god it’s time to go back to work

I’ve decided that holidays in July are the way to go; to stand any chance of getting reasonable doses of vitamin D and keeping a smile on my face, I should do gardening and dog-walking in the sun. Plus some reading, and a few more books were read on my hols; not perhaps the Moby Dick or War and Peace I originally had in mind, but some smaller works that were more achievable without me becoming a social pariah in the Lakeside Caravan Park.




The Great Invasion by Leonard Cottrell (1958) was good because it focused purely on the fighting and establishment of a Roman presence in Britain from 47AD up until Agricola’s time in 87AD. Some great pictures and analysis of the battles themselves and speculation on the likely leaders of each legion. It was quite a pleasure to poke through with a cup of tea. 4 stars.




I had booked in to see Rupert Thomson at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival and so I figured beforehand that I should read his latest (Secrecy), which was not subject-wise something I’d normally pick up, but it was interesting enough (and it should be – the guy admitted to writing 10 drafts of it) and in particular the scenes where wax-sculptor Zumbo is being stalked in a remote and deserted village in Italy got my heart pounding. 3.5 stars.

I was waiting at the festival bookshop, trying to work out what I would say to Gerald Murnane if I bought his latest book “A Million Windows” and lined up to have him sign it, when I noticed that Bob Carr and Malcolm Fraser were sitting right next to him. I am poor at most things visually, and have never really spotted (on my own) any public figures previously, so I had a small moment of celebrity worship and gushiness and couldn’t help but tell a festival volunteer nearby what a thrill it was to see them in person. She of course was mildly nonplussed. Stupid, blase generation Y.

Been awhile I know…

So, the pancreatic episodes continue, and Kim needed to rush me in to Emerg in January and March (on my birthday) – both times I stayed less than a day (3 hours for the first, and 12 for the second). Both times I needed no painkillers as the intense pain simply subsided after an hour of agony. On both occasions I had a glass or two of red wine the night before, so my latest theory is that mild alcohol levels are triggering things and I’m now 6 weeks into a lull in that regard, and things seem fine. Still too scared to go far from home for the moment though.

In more positive news, I started running again – beginning at a low base and working my way back. Doing 20+ minutes around the Tan was humbling, and after 8 runs I’m not sure I’ll ever get back to 15’s, but it’s slowly coming back to me. I’ve been offered membership in the Dad’s Army Running Team at work, which is humiliating since I’m not yet even 50, and I’m not ever going to be a father of a human, but I accepted since the pain is lessened listening to the stories of other runners. I even had a great conversation about the Roman Empire and the conquest of Britain whilst tottering around the MCG last week in my lunchbreak.

Our neighbours are selling up their Pascoe Vale cafe and house and heading over to Greece for a year, so have been tidying up their highly abandoned front yard, and generally are home a lot more. I’ll miss Yoda and her mother and their gregarious warmth, and think about their open future. I still think of former neighbours and wonder about their health – Betty (who is surely dead by now), Bill the TAB-loving Taxi driver with angina, and his strident, forthright Yugoslav wife Zora, who seemed to do everything around their place, and who wanted me to acquiesce to her views on plants to put in my garden and colours to paint the house. I bet they are still bickering in Coburg somewhere.

Well, Chloe’s costing us $2800 this week

She was pfaffing about, darting in and out, and pecking Fergus when we heard a small yelp and then the back left leg limp began. But it didn’t abate overnight and she was unable to bear weight, which pretty much reduced her to a 2 legged dog over the weekend since her front right is completely stuffed also.

The cat flap for toilet breaks was out of the question, so before we went back to work, I got her looked at to find my 13 year old has a footballing injury, and has torn her cruciate ligament and needs immediate reconstruction surgery. Then they said it would be like an 85 year old having a new hip and she’d be in for 3 days “just in case”. So, I’m working from home on Friday in a nursing role and hoping it doesn’t go downhill as quickly as it can when your dog loses its independence. I’m hopeful though.


On rainy days like these, I am still reminded of when..

As a boy of maybe 10 or 11, on a miserable day like today, in the middle of a crime fighting mania that would last 3 months tops, I confounded my parents by sitting under a rug beneath the Melaleuca on our nature strip, sheltered from the gentle rain. I had cut out a small snippet of The Sun which from memory was called Stolen Cars and listed maybe 50 car registration plate numbers in a small table.

My main aim was to do my bit as a citizen and call the Police when one of these cars drove past, which was once every couple of minutes; I was sure that being so close to the crime centre of Reservoir meant my strike rate would be decent, but I never did make that phone call.

I only lasted two weekends in those pre-Walkman days before a new mania took hold of me. I don’t remember if it was Astronomy, Bird Watching or Biggles books, but they were all around that time and were equally exciting and life changing.


I’m better now, but boy was I sick

Really can’t be bothered writing a proper synopsis of some recent pancreatitis problems, and since I’ve told my sorry story 20 times, I’m just going to say I’m back to 66 kilos from 61 and I’m feeling fine and am already bored of being back at work after an 8 week absence. Have even snuck in a couple of pots of stout this past week with no adverse effects, though I don’t feel I’ve quite got my past liking for it back yet – tasted slightly odd to me.

What happened after 1603? I’ll tell ya!

Driven by an unexpected urge to read about English history, I found myself at the end of Tudor Queen Elizabeth 1st’s reign in 1603 wondering about the possible future of a Catholic or Calvinist England and the origins of Great Britain, and genuinely not knowing the answers. It felt like the ultimate whodunit really. When  the “virgin queen” Elizabeth allowed Mary, Queen of Scots’ execution, she pretty much signed over the English crown to the young James (Stuart) VI, King of Scotland, as she was the last Tudor.


I was dying to know what happened next, and it can be crudely summarised like this:

James VI (Scotland) became King James I of England (you know – the King James bible? Yeah that guy!). He was a great talker, but not much of a doer, and was much unprepared on entry into England for the complexity of the English Parliament and governmental Administration.

Succeeded by son Charles I, who was quiet and economical with his words, and who ruled for 24 years before a Civil War between an increasingly hostile Parliament (steered by Pym) and Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army and the King’s Loyalists began. He was eventually captured by the Scottish army and was handed over for trial and execution.

Oliver Cromwell took over as Lord Protector (wisely refusing to be named King) for 11 years before the “Restoration” began, and Charles’ son in exile Charles II was restored to the position on Cromwells death.

Charles II was a popular and at times ruthless King who restored the Anglican Church to it’s former glory (from Cromwell’s Puritans) and ruled for nearly 25 years before suffering a stroke, and was on his death bed received by a Catholic priest.

His son James II didn’t last long – was Catholic and sought to place fellow Catholics in high positions in Parliament and in the Church.  Was attacked on English soil by William of Orange (the Dutch husband of his sister!) and  forced out of England into exile in Catholic France.

William and sister Mary Stuart ruled as King and Queen for 13 years before he died in a horse accident and the Stuart lineage ended in James II’s daughter Queen Anne.

And that takes me up to 1714. Time for the Hannovers.




Oh and there’s the genetic condition

I’ve been having blood test after blood test for significantly odd liver readings and they have finally found it. I have Alpha-1! Sounds like I won a prize or something, but it’s really not quite the boon, or shrug-off moment I figured it might be.

There’s not a lot more to say just yet – I am bracing myself for the Spirometry test results on my lungs for genetically derived Emphysema and for a liver biopsy procedure. I have been wheezing a lot lately and using my asthma pump a bit. Apparently sufferers can have either just liver damage or lung damage or both.

The Wikipedia bit that still rings in my head is “but it usually produces some degree of disability and reduced life expectancy”

Let’s just see what happens I suppose. I have been feeling a bit down and out about it tbh but what do you do? Retire early? Woohoo!!


Essendon Stamp Fair

I walked into the Ukrainian Hall in Aberfeldie recently, expecting a Computer Swap Meet-sized crowd, only to find more store holders than customers. There was literally 20 people in the place at 11am on a Sunday morning. I baulked. I’d never been to a Stamp Fair before. I had no understanding of what to bring, how to discuss my revived hobby, or what was allowed between buyer and dealer.

I stumbled forward nervously – there was barely anyone in the large room, and no cars out front. The local teens were smoking on the footpath outside – only a small sandwich board down the street gave any indication that anything was going on. At other fairs, I’d become used to standing and browsing from a distance before being forced to interact when about to buy. BUT THERE WAS NO GETTING PAST THE UTTER INTIMACY OF A SUBURBAN STAMP FAIR – to even look at the books you needed to be introduced or accepted somehow. An overweight and lonely trestle-table owner was eating a sandwich at the rear – it seemed the natural place to go to when each other stall already had a seated pensioner in front leafing through books. I was familiar with some stamp acronyms, but even then I faltered when I mumbled about an interest in KGVs (see pic below) and he didn’t understand me properly.


Both dealer and customer appeared to know each other intimately – for the last 20 years or more. It felt like a hobby that was dying really – and it probably is.

I walked out with about $250 worth of stamps I had been wanting to fill out most of  the remaining chunks of my collection of 1930 to 1965 pre-decimal Australian stamps. By then I’d earned the trust of a few sellers; they let you remove the stamps on your own, and write down the prices on a sheet (at least for the sub $30 stamps) – that felt nice. And boy can they gossip and gasbag – I guess they get bored sitting there for 4-5 hours each time. Now I’m hanging out to get back there next month where I have some of the tougher KGV and Kangaroos to source. The game gets a lot more serious at 50-100 a pop, but I feel a lot safer at the Fair than bidding on an unknown watermark or hinge mark on Ebay.


Who would have guessed that English History would become the object of my interest in 2012? Like most hobbies, passions morph from a subject to an adjoining, related one and before you know it, you’re into new territory. Birds to plants to weather to home vegetable gardens to renewables. See what I just did?  This year it went from a Booker prize winner writing about the Thomas Cromwell, to Downton Abbey to Game of Thrones to The Tudors to the History of England parts 1 and 2. And now it’s The Borgias and a huge volume on the virgin queen Elizabeth I. Kim, sensing the need for new ground, recently bought me a book on the history of Venice, though I confess it may be too much of a jump.

I was a lot happier about my reading in 2012 – probably only a dozen books, but many of them BIG, a far cry from the shameful four of 2011. Fiction has soured for me; I find myself getting bored, or putting it down and then not having the urge to pick it up again. I regained interest in my long neglected (since 1982) collection of King George V stamps, then decided that my old crappy used copies could be upgraded to mint (unused) and so pretty much started it all again from scratch. Then added the Australian pre-decimals, and then the kangaroos. Oh dear. That gets expensive fast – the kangaroos are about $2.5k for a used set, so I’ve come to a bit of a halt on the rarer ones. It’s been quite a blast on Ebay though, but bedtime phone use has skyrocketed.

I nearly forgot, 2012 was the year of the “renovation” – we got a new kitchen and bathroom in November, which are great improvements even if visitors are generally tactful “oh you went for a modern green?” and underwhelmed. We both really love it, so we wonder if our tastes are out of step. The architect Marcus was jubilant at not having to do *another white kitchen* but he’s the only one (of a very small group) who seem keen. I guess people aren’t very demonstrative about things like benchtops and sinks.

Finally Chloe’s panting and thirst got more notable, and after a series of very expensive tests was diagnosed with Canine Cushings disease, which means her liver is in bad shape, and her cortisone levels are sky high. We brought the levels down with daily tablets, but now she’s almost crippled by leg pain / arthritis, and often stands in one spot till she is forced to move with considerable limping. The doggy pram may soon need to be purchased for walks. It’s very sad to see it all gradually deteriorating. Been a good year all round though.




There has to be a better way

Like most people, I have bills that are regularly automatically charged to my credit card, so when Westpac chose to send me a new Platinum Card recently when I still had 2 years remaining on my expiry, I had no choice but to accept it and deal with the fallout. Westpac extended the expiry date by exactly 1 year, and changed the security code on the back.


Updating Paypal and a couple of other billing services was a breeze. My Blizzard account which stopped working, was updated online within 3 minutes. Today I came across what has surely got to be the worst administered system in the world and it’s called Myki.


Overnight I got this email:

 “Your myki money balance has reached the minimum threshold you set previously. However, auto top up was unable to be processed due to your bank account or credit card details not being verified by your bank. As a result, your myki has been temporarily suspended and is not valid for travel.

 Please call us on call 13 6954 (13 myki) between 6am and 12 midnight, 7 days a week, to confirm your bank account or credit card details and complete the transaction.


 The myki Customer Care Team”



So, I use my wife’s Myki to get to work today. I call the number in the email. It says this number no longer exists, and has been moved to a 1-800 number, which thankfully it transfers me to.


I speak to a nice guy who explains that my card hasn’t actually failed yet, and that he’s unable to update my account details until it does. I need to:


  1. Wait 24 hours till it fails, and call back.
  2. They will update my credit card details.
  3. After this, I need to mail my Myki card to a P/O box in the city to have the card physically un-suspended. There is a 2 day turnaround for this.
  4. When I get my Myki Card back, I need to call them back again to manually top up the card / activate it (unsure exactly).


I am a patient person generally, and a long term Myki advocate. It is beyond belief that everyone needing to change over a credit card number associated with a Myki card will have to go through this process – being without a card for a minimum of 3 days. I am lucky I can use another card, and am still able to use some old Metcards I have lying around.