Mars calling
Google, Gays and Women
Anti-dementia
Deansgate
Goodbye Winter
Olympics
Youth is wasted
The Pensioner's Triumph
After the wedding
Espionage
Exploration and Conquest
Gay Marriage
The Stone of Scone
The Young
The Old
Colin
Spring and the 6th commandment
A mother and a son
The Problem of Evil
Flying carboard planes
Dark Times
54 and cranky
The Possums
End of the course
Fishing for cray
A holiday visit
June 1971 - Bandiana
Sicky
Change is in the air


Mars calling

I was sent to Mars a few weeks back and thought I'd try my internet connection as soon as I got there. There are of course a few problems, challenges as we call them at TATA (Tasmananian Aerospace Technology Agency) when we are sent on a TATA mission. Mars is a long way away and my radio messages take about 5 to to 25 minutes, give or take a minute or a hundred and twenty. That's just for talking of course and assumes that you are not using Telstra, in this case it might take days or even weeks. I don't want to be too hard on Telstra but I did arrange for another email address 3 days ago and I'm still waiting. I wasn't on Mars at the time, I was just at home calling the Telstra tech support people. Enough of that, back to my radio messages, for the first of which I am still waiting for a response. I left a message to say "Put the kettle on, I'll be home in about 6 to 12 months." I guess my dear wife is out shopping again and if that's the case then no amount of bashing my microphone on the time-warp console or thumping the side of the transmitter is going to help.

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Google, Gays and Women

Google face some interesting workplace issues: on the one hand women are demanding equal pay for equal work, on the other hand Google are pushing recognition of all the wierdly-wired people we hear about so much nowadays: what we call the "gender spectrum". They even sacked a fellow who was critical of Google's Gay policy.

I think I have a solution for the equal-pay-equal-work-women: Identify as a man. Yes I know it's a bit drastic and goes against all the principles of the Feminista but, crikey!, if it means you get an extra $1000 or $10K or $100K a year go for it! You can always change your persona when you get back home in the real world, to the husband/wife and the kids. I also have some advice for Google if paying women more is a problem. This advice is freely offered, take it or leave it: pay the men the same as the women: that's right cut male salaries. That solution of course will leave everybody unhappy but it's what mums and dads have done for aeons: if the youngsters are scrapping over who gets the front seat then nobody gets it: "You'll all sit in the boot (or trunk if you're from the USA)". Yup, all two of them.

How do we deal with the gender-spectrum madness? I first met the problem face-to-face many years ago when I was a teacher and interviewing a student for a place on one of the diploma courses. A young male with five-o-clock shadow, a deep voice, acne, and wearing a pretty floral dress. Neither of us was particularly comfortable, I felt some pity, and I sensed some discomfort on his part. Does it take courage to cross-dress? or is it simply madness? Whichever it might be it is a sign of disorder, perhaps the person is disordered or Nature has fouled up or we as a civilization which encourages curiosities have simply gone crackers. A liberal reader might object that my claim that queerness is a sign of disorder is cruel at worst or ill-advised at best but there is a kind of infallibility about Nature: She tends to be hard on things that don't fit her long and well-established patterns. We, of course, are a part of Nature, and we have this ambition to control Nature and bend her to our ways: We want to say "Nature are us".

It seems that we have settled on the term "Gay" to describe a person of somewhat fluid sexuality. It doesn't have the colouration of terms like "Queer" although many people think that the latter is a more accurate description of one who chooses not to identify as Man or Woman. So all you women of Google: short-circuit corporate misogyny and claim the freedoms of the gender spectrum. You can have the best of all worlds, the same pay as your male peers and still retain the right to maternity leave and access to sexual-discrimination laws. Do we still have them?

Before I go: when I was young and I misbehaved my mother would threaten me with "I'll tell your father!". Say two gay women 'marry', which one is the 'father'? Do they send an SMS to the actual father telling him to come and sort his 'boy' out? What if the actual father is only a father in spermatic terms? You know one of those fellows who gets paid for ... well you know what I mean. As an aside what does such a fellow call his career or job or his work. Even writing "sperm donor" for previous employment on a CV would be embarrassing. And really last for now: Do Anglicans who call male priests "Father" also call women priests "Mother"?

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Anti-dementia

I forget things quickly, sometimes within seconds of making a decision and heading off to do such as I had decided, I have forgotten. I go down to the workshop and I know I intended to do something and the thing intended is hiding in some fold of grey matter, I can see the lump but cannot uncover it. The shape gives me a tantalizing notion of what is hidden but it does not reveal itself until hours later and then I have a "Eureka" moment and move forward. I have found the soap.

I have become like the cat and can be found comatose in a chair or on my bed, or worse, whilst driving, my mind has wandered somewhere else drugged by comfort and warmth and road-hypnosis.

My mind moves along ancient paths remembered from my childhood and encounters wonder and regret, morning wakings are coloured by sadness at the recall of things that were done that were best not done, and things that were not done which should have been done:

GATHER ye rosebuds while ye may, 
 Old Time is still a-flying: 
And this same flower that smiles to-day 
 To-morrow will be dying.

(Robert Herrick)

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Deansgate early 1950's

Eltoft Street: The name is unusual and doesn't convey much meaning, a short, narrow street in Deansgate, now obliterated by progress. Deansgate was the site of an early Roman settlement, almost 2000 years ago, in the region of north-western of England that was to become Manchester. The street was just a short walk from the centre of Manchester in one direction and the Bridgewater canal in the opposite direction, I know the latter walk well since I wandered off that way and started a major search "Wanted: 3 year old - has toddled off". I think I was heading to my grandmother's house. The whole area was due for demolition, from a modern point of view it was a slum area but for me it was a sun-lit place full of familiar faces and nooks and crannies. It was the place of my first school, the place where my first brother was born and possibly my first sister: it was the place where my conscious modelling of the world began.

I have small and fragmented memories of dogs and cats and kittens and rats, of my neighbours, of the houses and street lamps, well at least one street lamp which hung from a house wall. This lamp was demolished one day by a truck trying to navigate the narrow street which would have been barely twenty feet wide. I have my earliest memories of my maternal grandmother, my cousin Alfie and my uncle Larry from this time and a large motor bike of my father's which was kept, for some reason, in the kitchen for a short while. Perhaps it wasn't his but he was looking after it. The house had just four rooms, two up and two down. One afternoon or early evening, in the summer, I heard a voice calling my name and I think that it was not long after hearing the story of Samuel and Eli in which God calls to Samuel. I jumped out of bed and ran to the open bedroom window, it was summer, and looked out. I might have called out but there was no one out the back.

Rats were a plague in this area surrounded as it was by polluted rivers and canals and ancient decrepit sewers. Everyone owned cats, our cat was a she-cat and must have had a litter of kittens, I found them drowned in a bucket of water, five or six exquisite little black and white kittens, floating, still and lifeless. It was my first acquaintance with the brutality of the world, leastways the first I remember. I don't recall any emotion of that time but the image is still vivid.

There was an exciting morning when a fox-terrier chased an enormous rat and the two fell, rolling and fighting, down through the narrow, gridded opening to a cellar. Every child ran to watch the fight: the foxie was fierce and barely bigger than the rat but he got a hold at neck, as dogs do, and bit the rat's head clean off. The body showed just a clean red stump where its head had been.

Not far up the street and on the opposite side was St Mary's, a primary school, my first school. I can recall walking in late, on one of my early days: I was wearing clogs of all things, my paternal grandmother had bought them. Years later at my secondary school, when I first started wearing long trousers, the same grandmother bought me a pair of Oxford bags. It was 1961 and I was compelled to wear them when every other young boy was wearing tight-fitting drainpipe trousers. Even the most ancient of my teachers would not be seen wearing Oxford bags. My mother says that I was two and a half years old when I first went to school so perhaps that was what we now call kindergarten. I do have odd memories of early school years, of asking for help to tie a shoelace, of a playground, of dancing with a small group of children whilst mothers watched.

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Goodbye Winter

I am sitting in the workshop, as I do most mornings, and gazing through the window as I write. Well not quite as I write, I'd gaze, look down and write, then gaze again. Nature is a marvellous lady: the magnolia is blossoming, the chinese lantern is blossoming, jonquils are everywhere showing their orchid-like flowers. They do this in defiance of the cold and the damp and the grey sky, they lead the rebellion against winter which is now losing its grip. "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven". But to get to Spring first we must survive Winter.

I was 14 years old during the winter of 1963 in the north of England and still have vivid memories of the snow, the great snow drifts, the sheets of ice encasing houses which faced the fierce blizzard. I think it was one of the coldest winters in near 300 hundred years. It was not all bad for when the blizzards ended there would be great banks of snow drifts into which we could burrow and the ponds were frozen. A friend, Phillip, and me, stood, on the snow-covered ice, over the deepest part of a nearby reservoir in which we used to fish during summer, illegally that is. We broke into the ice with axes and managed to pry out a piece that was at least 18 inches thick.

After the blizzards the freeze persisted and the snow froze. How wild animals and birds survived I do not know. The thaw came with the start of Spring in March and the grass which had been covered for perhaps two months or so and smelled as if it had been rotting.

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Olympics

For a short while once in every four years the world goes mad for the Olympics. The biggest items on the Big O menu are athletics and swimming. In the long interval between O's sports like athletics and swimming and archery and ice-skating and shooting and fencing and nurdling and frog-swapping cheese-jumping etc, etc are ignored by sports-mad public. And what a mercy that is!

Take the Men's 100m sprint as an example. Long periods of leg-shaking, jogging on the spot, arm-waving, starting-block fiddling, excited commentary, shots of the crowd, more leg-shaking, more arm-waving then a fellow fires a pistol the runners charge off apparently startled by the shot and, don't avert your gaze because you'll miss the whole blessed thing, ten seconds later it's all over to be followed by guess what: leg-shaking, arm-waving, excited commentary, with some heavy breathing. Much more fun if the Olympics organisers chose 10 fat people from the crowd and had them run the 100m sprint. I'm putting my name down for geriatric bull-whip cracking.

It is not hard to see why interest wanes in-between times. Yes, of course, I know, there are other sports at the Olympics. Like marathon-running, horse-jumping, fencing, walking (walking? whaaaat!), archery, beach volleyball, dressage, gymnastics and so on.

Can't wait for the Winter Olympics where almost everything is done on skis. And you thought track and field was boring.

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Youth is wasted

There is great interest nowadays in discovering our families histories, me too, going there, doing that, in my inimitable way by spending as little as possible: yes - trawling the 'net. I'll tell you this for free: sometimes what you find out is best left where it was, in the centuries past. Remember the movie line "You don't want to know"? Well it applies to my research.

Among our family names, apart from Beech of course, are Proudlove and Bostock and fine-sounding names they are too, however the fates of some of our forebears are such that we would not want to emulate them. In 1809 on the 28th of May, William Proudlove and George Glover were hanged for "shooting at an excise officer", that is attempting to kill or wound a tax collector. They were both with Robert Beech and Proudlove and Glover claimed it was Beech that fired the weapon. He escaped and was not found again. I traced a Robert Beech to Tasmania, he arrived here on a transport ship from London as a convict some time in the middle to late 1820's. The gang had been attempting to steal salt and were sprung. There is no certainty that the shooter, Robert Beech, is the same as the convict but the odds are not excessive. Oddly, Robert is a family name, my father was Arnold Robert and I am David Robert.

Some years after the Proudlove-Glover hanging, another Proudlove is hanged, this time John Proudlove a brother of William. John was 25 when he died (May 9th 1829) and was said to have witnessed his brother's hanging. John's crime was highway robbery, a stick-up man. Amongst the gang was a John Bostock. John Proudlove died leaving two children and a pregnant wife.

In her 1952 booklet "A Village History", Mrs. Helen A. Dutton wrote about Rainow village and mentions another Beech: 1656. Three witches hanged at Michaelmas Assizes, buried in the corner by Castle Ditch in Churchyard, 8th of October. Mrs. Dutton adds "The three witches were Anne Thornton, of Eaton, near Chester; Ellen, the wife of John Beech, of Rainow, near Macclesfield, Anne, the wife of James Osbaston, of the same village."

And lastly, Bridget Bostock, White Witch of Coppenhall: Nearly every village can tell a tale of an elderly woman, living on their own, perhapes with a pet (like a cat). They were either liked or scared by the rest of the villagers. Bridget Bostock was well liked and it was alleged she was able to cure all kinds of illnesses and wounds by prayer and her saliva glands. She was a healer and she would lick the wounds of the people who came to her. Almost everything about her is shrouded in mystery. No one has ever established her official birth or death dates. But some do say she was born during the 17th century and died towards the middle of the 18th century. She became famous for her healing powers. So famous in fact, that in 1748, the national press carried articles about her exploits. She became a nationwide figure. At the height of her fame, she had a doorkeeper(like today's doorman) and she was seeing 5 or 6 clients at a time.

(from Myths and Legends of Cheshire)

The Bostock name was quite common in the 1500's, many Bostocks are listed as "Gentlemen" among the names of "Knights, Equires, Gentleman and Freeholders" in "Visitation of the County Palatine of Chester". A knight, Sir Osmer (Oliver) de Bostock is recorded as early as 1066. A chum of William of Normandy I guess.

I console myself with the thought that the names Beech, Proudlove and Bostock are common names throughout Cheshire, Shropshire and Lancashire but why couldn't we have a Nelson or Shakespeare in our past? At least it accounts, in some way, for my day-dreaming about bank robbery. Perhaps my dear wife's genetic influence will bring forth a bright, shining saint.

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After the Wedding

The wedding and the celebration afterwards were wonderful, certainly as I saw them and felt them. Christopher was very happy, Stella quiet and reserved and reflective in her unique way. There was much dancing and drinking, especially on my part. Our Madonna was beautiful and radiant as she always is, her children love her dearly and her grandchildren adore her. She is the point around which we all gravitate, spinning like planets and stars. We are scattered over thousands of miles but all of one heart.

And now they are all gone home, some happy and smiling, some reflective, some purposeful and practical, one tearful not wanting to go just yet. All things will be well and all manner of things will be well. I love them all and it is as if we have been visited by magical creatures: elves, fairies and angels. They come, they create an infinitude of other worlds then leave us: still with the magic haunting the rooms. It is a great blessing and we are filled with hope.

Sometimes I see myself as the rogue element, the interloper who, by some happy accident, finds himself invited to a great feast. They teach me their language and their customs and scatter gifts around me. They make me whole and assemble my perfection. They are my family.

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The Pensioner's Triumph

And here I am, near seventy years,
Too sad to laugh, too old for tears.
My muscles are weak, my joints are sore,
I sit me down upon the floor
And read: to she whom I adore,
A fragment from a poem.

We laugh: mine a coughing, choking chuckle,
She a ringing, singing peal:
You see, in life's long-loving game,
I and she still love the same.

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Gay Marriage

Some weeks ago I was asked about the matter of the Gay right to marry and I was rude and dismissed the questioner, I think I said something like “Go home”. Anyway I am sorry I said that and that I did not treat the enquiry charitably. In my defence it was getting late and as a man gets older he tires at the end of the day and has no reserves for complex arguments. Note well: when I use the word argument I do not mean “quarrel”, I use the word argument in its true sense: a reasoned treatment of a proposition.

My first point concerns the word Gay. Amongst the original meanings, as applied to people, was merry, happy, light-hearted and licentious, wanton. The homosexual community has hijacked the word, this is a common technique used by all kinds of communities. For example, North Korea is officially known as “The Democratic People's Republic of Korea” yet there is nothing democratic about North Korea. Hijacking words is a powerful means of hiding truth, of seducing the masses of people to accept a lie. Most people are trusting and, in some matters, open minded, and when the meaning of words is subtly subverted, often quite ignorant of any real meaning.

My second point concerns the right to marriage and in Australia, as in many free countries, every man and woman of marriageable age, has the right to marry, providing of course that he or she is not already married. Thus homosexuals already have the right to marry, their problem is that when a man marries he must marry a woman. So the homosexual demand is not about a right but about the changing of the meaning of marriage. It should be obvious that making such a change – that is changing the meaning of marriage – has no stopping point. Why not allow a man to marry his pet pig? Or a woman her pet snake? It seems silly that people would demand the right to marry an animal but despite the silliness some people do make such demands.

My third point concerns the status quo, that is what currently prevails. Over the years our governments in Australia have enacted many laws or I should say, progressive laws. Again the word progressive is a frequently hijacked or subverted word, in its simplest sense it means moving forward. In one context progressive is a clear and positive thing: a child progresses through his education, he learns more and builds on what he learns. In another sense, the political sense, it means reform. Some of the progressive laws enacted have impacted on marriage and the family. In 1975 the federal Labor government enacted the Family Law Act and this act included redefinition of grounds for divorce. Naturally, since many married couples had children, special provisions had to be made for the custody of the children which itself led all kinds of problems. So a problem with progress, of any kind, is that we cannot predict its outcomes. Where will changing the definition of marriage take us? Can you answer that question?

I mentioned (point three), children as an outcome of marriage, after all without children there is no future so my fourth point is, since children are a key part of marriage, after all they are a result of what men and women do, it seems to me that homosexuals will demand the right to have, one way or another, children. Would we change the definition of marriage such that it embedded the right for homosexuals to have children? If so, how would homosexual couples beget children? Would their demand for so-called marriage equality lead to a demand for access to IVF? Would their demands lead to access to orphaned children? The answer to all these questions is “Yes” because that is what is already happening in those places that have changed the meaning of marriage and this leads to my fifth point.

Demands for rights will always clash with existing rights. Imagine we have granted the right to marry to homosexuals and a homosexual couple decide they want to marry in a local church. The people of the church, led by their priest or pastor, refuse to give their permission to the marriage ceremony, after all it is their church and such a ceremony would clash with their beliefs. Of course the homosexual couple will say “That's Ok, folks. We respect your rights and we'll marry somewhere else”, won't they? You know and I know that quite the opposite will happen and indeed has. The Gay community will do what it has always done: it will rage and rant until it gets its way. This has been the experience of the world in recent times.

My sixth point, and the last for now, for I have other things to do, concerns the matter of what homosexuals do. I write of course of sodomy. I have yet to hear or read of a good defence of such an act which is against the very order of nature. I remember reading a letter to the editor of the Examiner in which the writer defended “Gay sex” because it also occurred amongst animals other than Man. It seemed the writer was proclaiming a new law of living: “If it happens in the animal world it's OK for us since we are animals too”. Young male lions will challenge the old male head of the pride and if they defeat him will eat any lion cubs that were the old male's progeny. I guess we could do that when we divorce and remarry, kill all the children of the previous marriage. In some species of spider, the female kills and eats the male after sex. It conjures up weird images: spider sex must be hungry work. But we aren't animal or insects are we? Man has a another mysterious part to him: we are gifted with reason. If we change the meaning of marriage then we give our assent to all kinds of perversions, after all why stop with homosexuals? paedophiles and necrophiliacs and murderers have rights also.

So for now I am done but will cover off on one last point. What homosexuals do is their own business, they are free to do in private whatever the law permits and as long as it is a private matter it is no business of mine. I don't hate homosexuals, or anybody for that matter, but I do, and I am free to do so, hate what people do when they do evil things. If we can't judge the difference between an evil act and a good act we are indeed lost.

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Exploration and Conquest

I have been reading "The Jungle Book" again; in one of the stories Kipling mentions the Gond. The description reads very much like the Australian Aborigine.

Often when we read or hear about Aborigines it seems evident that there is some wrong that must be righted. There is not a nation on Earth that has not been wronged at some stage in its history but the Aborigines along with all the races that were discovered in the years of exploration - from Columbus to Cook - are in a special position because in a historical sense the conquests are still fresh in the communal memory. They demand attention because there is a widespread belief that, somehow, occupation can be compensated. They can do so of course because the children of the explorers and the conquerors have turned their forefathers into criminals and sinners whose crimes and sins must be punished and recompensed. The conquered and displaced and the supporters look at the world of recent centuries through the eyes of modernity. Some of the forefathers no doubt were criminals but not all. The conquered demand acts of contrition but such acts are not followed by absolution, just by demands for more contrition. The reason the conquered can do this is because they still have some link with the past. The America's, much of Africa, and most of Oceania have only, in terms of western history, been recently discovered. Just a little over 500 years ago the great Western age of exploration and conquest started. Such a time, 500 years, is only, in the measure of three score years and ten, seven lifetimes, barely three living memories. A living memory is a shared memory, a child can share in the memories of a grandparent, a span of some seventy years. The grandparent likewise would have shared the memories of his or her grandparent; thus the child can hear of memories that are some 150 years old. The connection between now and the time of Western exploration is still strong, especially among the conquered or displaced races who attempt to preserve a culture.

I was born in the north-west of England and spent the first 16 years of my life there, not very long in comparison to the next 50 and more years in Australia, but long enough and deep enough to identify me. My family barely moved from the region in which I grew up except for one exciting occasion when we made a journey to holiday on the English south coast with a relative. Apart from this the longest journeys were mainly day trips to resorts like Blackpool and Rhyl. I remember one journey tho', when my father was a carter for a vegetable wholesaler in the Manchester market at Smithfield. He and I drove east to Lincolnshire to pickup potatoes or some such thing. Plainly, until we migrated to Australia, we were not a family of explorers, we were settled, it seemed forever,in south east Lancashire. So far as I can tell all my forebears lived and died in the region of northern Cheshire and south east Lancashire. Would that make me an indigenous member of some tribe which inhabited that region from the time before the Romans? The further one goes back in the generations one finds that travel, significant travel that is, was rare. Distance was dictated by how far one could travel on foot or, at best, by horse or oxen-drawn wagon and one's work, mostly I expect being labouring in my family, made travel of any kind impossible; travel was a costly business. So the likelihood of being native to the region is high.

England was the home of the Britons, the British and was fundamentally a tribal society. The first signficant change (in modern terms) occurred some 2000 years ago with the arrival of that remarkable people, the Romans. For some 400 to 500 years, twice the time of white occupation of Australia, England was Roman. The Romans came and left to be replaced by the migration of Angles and Saxons and Jutes from Denmark and northern Germany. There were long struggles between the invaders and the British who, in the main, were eventually driven west into Wales and Cornwall. After another 300 to 400 years there was another invasion, this time the piratical Vikings, barbarous and bloody, but they too settled primarily in the northern regions of Britain. There was yet one more invasion in that age: the Norman conquest, and this was the final settlement of the first 1000 years of conquest, invasion and settlement. It was time to start the process of refining what it meant to be English. In my case it means that I could be part Briton, Saxon, Angle, Roman, even, God forbid, Viking and Norman. Given the social status of my family the likelihood of Norman blood is not high. But what is interesting is, that given these likely racial inheritances, I might be able to make, like the Aboriginal nations of Australia, certain claims to ancient national or tribal lands.

You see, William of Normandy rewarded his chums with grants of estates that previously belonged to Saxon earls. And, no doubt, the Saxon earls took estates from British chieftains and princes. Now I doubt that I am descended from a Saxon earl or British chieftain, the genetic donation of my forebears is far too vigorous too be traced down some narrow line of descendancy, but some of my forebears were almost certainly members of some British clan and Saxon village, and given the family nose, even a Roman contribution, perhaps a peasant soldier from northern Italy. Surely I could claim, along with millions of other English men and women, some rights to land in the sprawling metropolis of Greater Manchester or the populous towns and cities of northern Cheshire? I would prefer Shropshire, there are Beeches there and no doubt Proudloves, Sidebottoms, Bostocks, Hewitts, Roaches etc etc etc. And finally I must not forget the Irish connection.

There is a suggestion through the Beech line via Roach to the gentry of Ireland and the Roche family. I hope it has no substance, I much prefer the Neill connection via my mother. The idea of a peasant O'Neill escaping the Potato Famine and the brutal and bitter persecutions of the Irish by their English brothers has much more romantic appeal to me. My O'Neill would have paid a few pence to stand on the deck of a Dublin-Liverpool ferry, clutching nothing more than a lump of bread and his ticket. Illiterate and barbaric but with the heart of a hero and the soul of a poet, he left his home to find sustenance and a future of sorts in the cotton mills of industrial Manchester. 120 years later my father, no Irishman, but nonetheless heroic in his taciturn and fearful way, took his family to Australia. God bless them all: the Gond, the Aboriginal Australian, the Briton, Roman, Angle, Saxon, Jute, Viking, Norman and Irish.

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Espionage

I had just woken up, it was 4 o'clock in the afternoon. The house was empty except for me and Ellie. I made a cup of tea for us both. I had to go to the 'loo, just as I got there the telephone rang. I suspended Operation MustP and staggered out to the phone.

"It's Paula Kennedy here" said a female voice, "Can I speak to Stella Beech please?".

"She's gone to the doctor"

"I am her doctor", said the voice.

Shades of Starwars, "Noooooo ..." in my sleepy brain. "Oh"

"I've forgotten to give her a prescription for Panadol Forte". Briefly I thought she expected me to write a prescription but realised my writing was too legible.

More questions "What chemist do you use?"

"Any that's handy", I think I was gaining the upper hand but was foxed by another question.

"Where are you?" said the voice.

I wanted to say in "In the lounge room" but the voice sounded too austere, like she didn't do a lot of laughing, instead I said "West Launceston".

There was a pause: there are no chemists in West Launceston. "Write this number down", another command from the voice.

I was without my glasses and peered around in the fading light for a pencil. I found one. What next? Paper, cardboard, a wall, something to write on. I found that too.

She gave me the number and said "Ask Stella to ring me and I'll fax the prescription to her chemist".

The voice hung up, the game was afoot, "let slip the dogs of war!"

There is a chemist somewhere in Launceston who can tell the rest of the tale, my part, small but essential, had been played, I was not found wanting and, somewhere in the vast labyrinthine network of international espionage, notes have been made, voices recorded and a practised agent in China or Russia or the USA has said to a more impressive master "This guy is good".

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The Stone of Scone

Another beautiful day. The blackbirds are out hunting for insect life. It must be hard for wild animals in the winter but enough survive it seems.

We watched a movie last night, it was about the heisting of the Stone of Scone, or as the Scots say "The Stone of Scoon". Since the days of Edward 1st the stone has been in Westminster Abbey which is not in Scotland. The story goes that the the Stone is placed under the Coronation chair to signify that the English monarch also rules over the Scots. I guess the throne itself signifies rule over England and Wales. The Scottish Nationalists don't like the idea of an English monarch ruling over them, though what significance monarchy has nowadays I fail to grasp. But if I were a Scot I would probably feel the same about a foreign monarch, the Scots are a proud and talented race. Anyway some nationalists manage to heist the stone and return it to Scotland. However, after some kerfuffle, the robbers are captured and the stone returned to Westminster Abbey. Rightly so as any real Englishman would say.

A few years after its return to the Abbey, the stone was "loaned", as some say, to Scotland and kept in some sacred place, no, not the home ground of Glasgow Rangers, but some really sacred place, somewhere important to Scots Nationalists and historians.

Anyway, only last year (or earlier this year) the Scots had the opportunity to vote on whether to disband the Union or not, they chose not to. What price independence and Scottish Nationalism now? (55% Yes, 45% No, 15% of eligible voters didn't bother)

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The Young

When you are near
It does appear
Those distant dimples
Sweet and charming
Are really pimples
Quite alarming!

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The Old

I am not particularly quick
And if you prick my skin
You will see red
Which shows
I am not particularly dead.

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Colin

I remember Mrs. Taylor quite vividly, she was a force majeure of the teaching profession: "Today you will learn X. You will not forget it". And then the class would repeat X after Mrs. Taylor until, in unison, the cohort was word perfect, all forty of us: except Colin, he was always a second or two behind. I know this because he sat next to me by command of Mrs. Taylor.

Colin was probably what we now call "dyslexic", word dysfunctional. We didn't discuss such things as dyslexia in those ancient times of the late 1950's. World awareness of such things was yet to be aroused. The race of Man was ignorant of drugs, sexual awareness, gender diversity, women's rights, animal rights, green consciousness. The many paths to indignation had not yet been discovered, were yet to drive and mould our moral consciousness, we were still ignorant of the art of protest. Colin was not yet a "special needs" student. I must say I am glad in retrospect for I would not have changed Colin for the world. He was a missing link.

At some stage in the school year we discovered that Colin could not read. The process of discovery was quite simple in Mrs. Taylor's class of 40 in 1958. The first lesson of every day was "Religious Instruction" and the modus of instruction was very simple: the class would recite a piece of scripture, a short psalm perhaps or a fragment from one of the Gospels. This was in a state school with Anglican connections. After we had learned our part, each child would have to read it and recite it alone and out loud and in accordance with Mrs. Taylor's strict determination of correctness and lucidity. Most of the children succeeded to one degree or another: except Colin for he was a spectacular failure. His memory, his ability to learn by rote, was faulty; after all if one cannot visualise the words how can one repeat them with any chance of accuracy? From Colin's mouth there would issue words quite unknown to any of us: when speaking of things unknown to him, as yet unlearned, he spoke a language of his own: the glossolalia of the dyslexic. It was beautiful and foreign but for Colin it was his doom: he was caned and made to sit with me so that I, as a better reader and clearer speaker, could help him carry his burden.

It was no burden for I had seen his tears after he was caned and my immature conscience was bruised by a sense of unfairness. So Colin sat next to me and, though we might be reading from a page, his eyes barely ever left my face and I would speak and he would follow, each word a split second behind sometimes hurriedly and comically altered. We giggled at the strange language that sometimes issued from his lips.

We became friends and, but for his brother, would have become firm friends. I did not understand at the time that his brother was jealous of the friendship and set out to destroy it. Colin's brother had no friends that I can recall, he too had some problems, but he was Colin's brother and, I guess, had some sense of ownership, some curiously distorted idea of responsibility.

Mrs. Taylor too had a curious but undistorted idea of responsibility for hers was rooted in the notion of being a teacher. I doubt that she was troubled by thoughts of teaching methodologies and harmonious teacher-pupil relationships. She was closer to the Dickensian notion of school than the insidious and dangerous modern notion constructed by educational pyschologists: the soft-spoken comintern of the modern teacher. She was old then and now long gone to her long home. May her soul and souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

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Spring and the 6th commandment

It's that time of the year: trees send out new buds, daffodils and jonquils are blooming all through the garden, the old cat gallops up and down the stairs, the birds are nesting. Do old men react to spring? Does the sap rise in our blood and bones. We are both like and not like the animals. A wild animal does not live much past its prime; he loses his teeth, his speed, his spring but has no young to nurse and nurture him. The race of Man is perhaps the only animal kind which cares for its aged, the rest of the animal world does not even care for its broken kind but we care for ours. It fills me with wonder when I read of archaeological discoveries of graves containing the remains of people who had some deformity or disability: “What is Man that thou art mindful of him, and the Son of Man that thou watchest over him?”. It fills me with dismay when I read of the barbarity of the ancient Greeks and Romans who left their new-born to die on cold hillsides: “Thou shalt not murder”.

It is interesting the damage done by the translation of “Thou shalt not murder” to “Thou shalt not kill” in the King James and Douay Rheims bibles. Why would the Hebrews record all kinds of killing, of enemies, of criminals, of animals? It is because they recognised that sometimes it was necessary to kill; but they also realised that killing unjustly was wrong. A better translation is “Thou shalt not kill unjustly”. Language is a dynamic thing and the meaning applied to words in former times is altered in latter times. In the past a reader would have understood that the 6th commandment referred to unjust killing, the modern mind has a disturbed understanding of what “kill” means. This has happened because we no longer believe in moral absolutes, we believe that we can define right and wrong to suit our own situations. So we have the contradictions of killing unborn children (abortion) is permitted whilst killing (executing) murderers is not.

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A mother and a son

Thelma tells me that, when Errol was born, she looked down at him, he opened his eyes and she thought "Oh, Oh: here's trouble!"

Funny thing is, Errol tells me he thought the same thing at the time of first seeing his mum.

I do know that Thelma, in a sudden, quiet inspiration, also thought "he looks like the kind of son who would want to borrow my teeth".

Errol is now, many years on and into another set of teeth, his own but not those with which he was born. Thus the future may yet show that Thelma's fears might be well-founded.

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The Problem of Evil

Pondering the big questions and looking for rational answers to them. There are many big questions: the existence of God, the nature of God but the classic big question, the key question which always crops up is “Why Evil?”. It is a fair question since: If God is omnipotent (all powerful), omniscient (all knowing), beneficent (good), etc, etc then whence evil. You will often hear the question from the mouth of an unbeliever, they like to fire off difficult questions and it is very like most questions used as weapons: it is a loaded question: it assumes a definition of evil that the questioner is not entitled to assume. It's like asking a tax accountant to justify Enstein's theory of relativity: the questioner and the questioned, to use the modern jargon, are not likely to be on the same page.

My aim is to show that evil as understood by the secular world and evil as understood by a believer are different things. Rather than discussing “The Problem of Evil” we should be discussing the “Problem of Suffering”. I don't doubt that a non-believer will see suffering as evil but a believer is more likely to see suffering as something which belongs in both the good and evil spheres of human experience.

Epicurus (an ancient Greek) is said to be the author of this paradoxical form of the question of the relationship between God and evil:

  1. Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
  2. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
  3. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
  4. Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

There is very little that exists of the work of Epicurus, even the fact that there was a man called Epicurus is only attested in the writing of another man Apollodorus who lived over a hundred years after Epicurus. I think I am right in saying that even Apollodurus really only exists as a reference in the works of Diogenes Laertius who lived around the 3rd century AD. Now the works of Laertius we do have with some certainty. However for the sake of discussion I assume that Epicurus did exist and did write what is known as the Epicurean Paradox.

The Epicurean paradox seems compelling, and although said to be written around the time of Epicurus, sometime in the 3rd or 4th century BC, it would indeed compel man, even or especially in our day and age, to conclude that God is not the perfect creator that so many believe in. I am inclined to the view that the paradox, as it appears in general use, is a much later piece of mischief, perhaps the work of Sextus Empiricus who lived in the 3rd century AD, around early Christian times.

Epicurus was what I would call now an empiricist: one who believes that all knowledge comes from sense experience. A thing was observed and then reason (logic) applied to the understanding of the phenomenon observed. He is claimed to be the father of modern scientific method. Given this starting point it was logical for Epicurus to deduce that good and bad derive from the world of the senses. If something provoked pleasure then it was good, if it provoked pain then it was bad, that is, evil. The Epicurean view has persisted through all times and it always will. It is at the core of humanity and rightfully, for us, defines one way of distinguishing between good and evil. A man is defined by what he does: if he does good things then he is a good man, if he does bad things then he is an evil man. One problem is that we all, with one exception, have done and continue to do both good and evil things. Does that make us evil? And more fundamentally what is good and what is evil? Who decides?

If we think as epicureans or empiricists think then we decide what is good and what is evil thus good comes from pleasing the senses and evil comes from harming the senses. That is a very simplistic reduction but holds true for many people. I like to eat fatty fish and chips so that is good, but fatty food gives me indigestion so that is bad. Obviously there is a clash here. If doing one action provides both good and bad outcomes then I need to make a decision. Should I forego a good in order to avoid an evil? Or to put it another way should I not do evil by not doing good. When the question is put the latter way epicureanism seems well … silly. After all if good comes from pleasing the senses then surely it is evil not to do good? What should or ought I do? Whenever we form a question that uses words like should or ought then we are in the moral domain, a domain where there is more to making decisions based on epicurean notions of good and bad. It seems that Epicurus thought so too: he introduced into his philosophy the idea that we should not over-indulge to the point where a good could become an evil. He introduced a kind of judgement marker, an attempt to decide when the good of an action outweighed its evil. It is a very subjective thing since what is over-indulgence for you may not be over-indulgence for me. It exposes a fundamental contradiction of the epicurean understanding of good and evil: good and evil depends very much on the individual assessment of the outcomes of an action.

So back to the paradox:

  1. Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
  2. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
  3. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
  4. Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

As I wrote earlier the paradox has a specific notion of evil: if an action results in pleasure then it is good, if it results in pain then it is evil. And, in the pursuit of good, we should not seek so much good that the good becomes evil. This definition of good and evil is necessarily very narrow since it is based on the innately human desire to avoid pain and seek pleasure and this confines it to the transience of the flesh and the desires of the individual. It leads to some startling anomalies, for example a commonplace statement in this day and age is that truth is relative, people often say “what is true for you is not necessarily true for me”. The very statement is a contradiction since I can ask the question “is it true that what is true for you is not necessarily true for me?”. If the answer is yes then obviously there is at least one truth that is necessarily true for everybody. If the answer is no then that statement “what is true for you is not necessarily true for me” is false and consequently truth is not relative, a thing is either true or it is false.

If man can be both good and evil then obviously there exist the notions of good and evil. But some men think some things are good that other men think are evil. Do good and evil represent absolute things? If not then the very ideas of good and evil are nonsense in any universal sense. Using words like good and evil in everyday conversation would be meaningless since the conversation would be using terms which to each speaker could have quite different meanings.

There are things that are good but which produce painful outcomes for some. Just a little over 11 years ago terrorists murdered thousands of people in the USA. Of those that died in New York 343 were New York fire-fighters, they represent over 10% of the total deaths resulting from the 9/11 attacks. The fire-fighters, as they always do, set out to subdue the fires and rescue those trapped in the burning buildings. Although it was their duty to enter those buildings it is certain that each man knew that this might be his last day. What else, when entering a burning building, is a fire-fighter to think? The rescuers set out to do good work, to rescue people from burning buildings, the outcomes were evil if measured by empiricist notions of evil. Men died, their families and friends suffered the losses of loved ones.

When we ponder such acts a truth emerges: a good act can be determined by its motives not only by its outcomes. Indeed I would say that a truly good act is an act in which the motives are good and the outcomes are immaterial. This truth is borne out in other actions. A pregnant women knows that she will soon give birth and it will involve great pain and some risk to her and her unborn child. I am a man so I cannot speak with any authority on what motivates a woman to secure the birth of her child but I believe the motive to continue is founded in the natural order: short of interference the child will be born, and, in imperatives based in love. The love of the woman for her child or for her man or for her other children, if she has others. Or some or all of those motives.

Both of the examples emphasise that good acts don't always have pleasurable outcomes if we measure outcomes by human measures. These are examples of what we might call sacrificial decisions, paying for the life of another in the coin of pain and even death.

There are other actions that are good: helping friends and strangers when there is nothing to be gained. In this kind of good the least a giver can hope for is a sense of altruism and the best is that the giving will lead to a good outcome for the receiver. If I have a friend who is a drunkard and give him $50 to buy food then my motives are good. If he spends the $50 on alcohol then the outcomes are bad. I know I can't force him to buy food but that does not alter goodness of my act. This kind of good is known loosely as charity and sometimes it fails.

So we have good used to describe actions with good outcomes ie the empiricist notion of good and actions with good motives. But what makes the goodness in good?

I am quite certain that all of humanity shares in a common knowledge of goodness. For some it is a bit disordered but we all believe in certain innate goods. The fundamental good is the individuality of the human being. We develop by some seemingly miraculous means a sense of self, it seems we are born knowing almost nothing; yet in few short months we learn how to distinguish shapes and colour and sound and taste and texture; we build a mind and in it we build a model of the world we sense; then, again by some seemingly miraculous means, we associate parts of that model with other selfs: a mother, a father, a brother or sister. We don't yet know what those other selfs are but again in a short time we build further on that model as we learn to communicate in the most complex and compelling ways. This is the fundamental good: to be a free and sentient agent in the world and all other goods depend on this.

It is good to live therefore bad to be killed unjustly, it is good to be free but bad to be imprisoned unjustly, it is good to have food and shelter but bad to be deprived of those things unjustly. There are many other goods but I think it is quite safe to say that to be deprived of any good is not good. Sometimes we are deprived of a good by what we can call accidental means. A life is lost due to a car accident, a man starves because of a natural famine. These kinds of deprivations are due to the natural order of things: put simply the world is not a safe place and what arises from this is the reality of suffering and its weapons: pain, grief, unhappiness, sorrow and so on. The same things also arise from the unjust denial of a good but unjustly denying a man or woman or child the benefits of a good is very much the action of men and women and children: it is not God who deprives. If the deprivation of a good occurs from natural or accidental means then it is suffering, if it occurs through the deliberate actions of man then it is evil. Now I am not dismissing some evil as not being evil but categorising evils which are in the natural order of things as suffering.

So there are many innate goods and to be deprived of them unjustly is evil and that has an interesting mirror. A man can be cruel, full of hate, avaricious, lustful and so on: there are many innate evils so is it true to say that to be deprived of them unjustly is good? Would it be true to say that to be deprived of them justly is good? What would we be prepared to do in order to unjustly or justly deprive another man of evil? How do we even define evil? We need to do so in order to understand what we are depriving a man of if we deprive him of evil.

Amongst our freedoms we have, in most situations, the freedom to choose and some choices involve choosing to do good or choosing to do evil; these are moral choices and for this argument the only choices that matter. We can restate the moral choice as a choice to do good or a choice not to do good. I say this because I am asserting that a morally evil act is an act in which a moral good is absent. For example murder is a morally evil act since it negates the good which is the right a person has to live. That right is absent in the act of murder. Some say that in essence anything which opposes the desires and needs of the individual is evil. I'm not convinced of the strength of that because it leaves room to hide evil under the guise of good. For example: a paedophile might insist that if his desires are opposed then those who oppose him are committing an evil act. My opposition might include the demand to protect the rights of a child but someone else might then respond that a child under 12 years (for example) has no rights.

If we deprive a man of his liberty to choose good or evil we deprive him of his essential freedom. Obviously we can't do that, it's not physically possible. For example, I could be locked in a cell and spend the rest of my life in solitary confinement, but nothing on Earth could stop me from thinking my own thoughts and in my limited circumstances making my own decisions. Some people though do desire the power to stop us from thinking our own thoughts, from making our own decisions, from constructing our own reality, but they can only attempt to achieve this through laws or through fear. Imagine a world where each and every decision you make is a purely pragmatic decision, there are no questions based on “what ought I do”, the question is based in the will “what will I do”: what you eat for breakfast is determined by the need to fill the hole in your belly and since you have no moral guide the choice you make is simply practical. You might decide this morning to cut the cat's head off and eat the cat. You could keep the left-overs for tomorrow. Thus we become like animals, like automata, responding only to instincts, to the body's demands for satisfaction. But we are not animals, though far too many people think so, and we are not automata, though far too many people would like some of us to be so, we are free, and for that freedom I say “thank God”.

God does permit evil and it detracts nothing from his omnipotence, from his utter goodness, from his omniscience or from his love for Creation. If he were to prevent evil by denying us the right to choose good or evil then he would not be God since he would be denying us a good which he enjoys. The first time I realised this was many years ago before I became a Christian. At that time I was more like an ancient Greek or Roman, a card-carrying pagan but I firmly believed in the virtues, especially fortitude, courage, prudence and justice. The interesting part of my paganism was that I believed that all of humanity believed in those things also. It was this realisation that led me to think about the existence of God. The common belief of all mankind in the rightness of the virtues (and the wrongness of the vices) must have had its roots in something and the only explanation available, apart from the notion of a Creator, was that we had just evolved this way. Evolution was God and our being here, falling in love, marrying, reading, writing, creating, begetting was the outcome of a long series of happy accidents and coincidences over many millenia. The trouble was that Evolution was just a fairy story and like all fairy stories it contained some elements of truth but was not the truth.

In order to believe in Evolution I had to make an act of faith but as I examined its commandments and read the works of its prophets and messiahs I saw that for every commandment there was a dozen counter-commandments, for every prophet a score of new prophets arose, each declaiming the works of the other prophets. The messiahs of Evolution were fewer but messiahs are always rare so there had to be just one Truth or truth has no meaning.

So God is willing and has the power to prevent evil but chooses not to, if He chose to prevent evil then He would be committing evil by denying us the foundation of all freedom, human and divine, the freedom of our wills and intellects. The question of the “Problem of Evil” is not a question to ask of God but a question to ask of Man.

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Flying carboard planes

Hi Gang! We got really enthusiastic about the plane models from Fiddlers Green so we decided on something a bit more ambitious.

Ellie and I built a full-scale version of the F4D Douglas Skyray. A “Ten Minute Killer” they say!

Who are they kidding? It took us twenty minutes to find enough cardboard, including raiding the mulch pile, and even then we had to ask Mrs Lamington next door for her Cornflakes boxes and her Rice-a-Riso boxes. Anyway we built it, that was another hour and about 17 litres of Clag. It looked great! All kinds colours and words like LLOG and ISO and RIC and KELL here and there.

It was very soggy too and flopped a bit in the middle round the “glue wing here” bit. I decided against painting it straight away and we got Mum’s hair dryer and carefully dragged the F4D into the garage, leastways most of it. The nose and front-landing gear got a bit crumpled. It took another two hours to dry it but Ellie had lost interest by then and went off to have a bath and get the Clag and teenie bits of cardboard out of her hair. Ellies hair was sticking out at right-angles, a bit like Peppermint Patty’s hair.

Clara got interested when Ellie left. She’s smart, and very artistic so it was painted with some of the lilac paint you left us when you left Ross avenue. Then it was time to fly.

We got several boxes of big elastic bands from Office Works, they’re open on Sunday afternoon here. We made a huge bungee, about 6 ‘laccies thick and 30 metres long. It gave me some ideas for Adult Ed:. Macrame with Elastic Bands. We tied the ends of the bands to the Lyon’s downspout and one of the posts on our carport. That gave us the best launching spot and Ron (Mr Lyon) and his wife Kate (she’s a solid girl) pulled the launcher ‘lac back and back with the F4D and me and Clara in it. The Lyon’s let go of the launcher and we soared off over Wood’s Reserve. I glanced back and saw the downspout had come off the Lyon’s house and given Kate a heck of a whack on the head. The last thing I noticed after take off was Kate giving Ron a piece of her mind with a short length of plastic downspout.

We got to about 2000 feet when we were buzzed by an F111 of the Tasmanian Air Force. Clara taunted the pilot and the navigator, she really is insensitive and then lobbed a brick onto the F111. Would you believe they get their planes from Fiddlers Green too and the brick went straight through it. Anyway it started raining and we had to do a soggy crash land in Royal Park and walk home.

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Dark Times - March 2002

I live in a city with a population of some 60,000, located in a state which is far off the beaten track and which enjoys a mild and pleasant climate. The population of the state is small, less than 500,000, and the state possesses places of great scenic beauty and environmental importance.

My home state has an enviable reputation as a producer of fine foods which it zealously guards. It once had a reputation as a leader in hydro-electric engineering and is a leader in forestry resource management. In many respects my home state is a haven, a place far removed from the anguish and strife of the world's war-torn and terrorist-ridden countries and regions.

Yet my home city suffers from many of the illnesses of the modern world, high unemployment, drug abuse, high rates of family breakdown, and spiritual malaise and confusion. It seems that we are rapidly slipping into a new dark-age as we follow the rest of the first-world along the path of what it calls progress. And now, as we approach the end of Advent and all the promise of what that heralds, even to the most secular of people, we have taken another step further into darkness and our political leaders have passed laws which will effectively permit abortion on demand.

Amongst all of our rich resources, forests, farms, mines, and abundant seas our politicians have singled out the richest and most defenceless resource and declared war against it. It is particularly sad, even shameful, that they chose the eve of Christmas to do so. What more callous decision could be made than to enact legislation that sanctions the killing of children as we approach the great Christian festival that celebrates the birth of a Child? This decision was approached with a single-mindedness that would fill any reasonable person with trepidation. The conclusion was obvious before case was heard, and when darkness triumphed and the law was passed, there was jubilation.

All our judgements are confused by the growing darkness and I tried hard once more to understand why reasonable men and women would sanction the killing of unborn children. I came up against a number of arguments and all were familiar and it was a testimony to how complete is the failure to stem the new holocaust. The arguments were "the prisoner argument", "the clump of cells argument", "the sentient being argument" and "the woman's right to choose argument". None of these arguments is itself a conclusive and coherent defense of the right to kill an unborn child and even the arguments in total lack coherence. Nonetheless these arguments have become so ingrained in modern thinking that it seems, for a supporter of abortion, inconceivable that there could be any counter to them. In all ages there are unthinkable thoughts.

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54 and cranky

I am 54 years old, a father of 6 children and still married, after 34 years, to a girl I met when I was 18 and she was 16. I have worked for 4 years in the banking industry, 6 years as a soldier, 12 years in the computer industry as both a hardware engineer and a software engineer and 14 years as a teacher of programming, database systems and computer communications. I have been an editor of two newsletters, written several articles for publication, coached soccer teams, junior and senior, played soccer and cricket as a district representative. I've been a union secretary, a head of department, a business manager, a project manager, a member of a varous community organisations, academic boards and industry organisations. I am a highly-skilled communicator in all areas of communications, written, verbal and listening. I am highly skilled in many computing disciplines including programming, analysis, database design and operating systems. I maintain and write two websites, one of which is almost totally my own work. I can program in Python, C++, PHP, C and have written many commercial and engineering applications in other languages including Fortran, Assembly, Pascal and Dataflex. I have written web-applications in Python, PHP, C and C++. I have written desk-top applications in C++, Delphi, Dataflex, even Assembly language. I have designed and built computer systems - hardware and software. I currently use MySQL and PostgreSQL in website development along with PHP and Python. I have a recognised qualification at every level from trade qualifications in radio to a degree in computing. I have a reputation for being a problem-solver and a motivator, a good sounding-board and a good team-player.

Why should I bombard you with a bag-full of acronyms and the world's shortest resume? Despite all of this I have no career, I have a job. I have a future but no prospects. Welcome to late middle age in Australia.

I guess I'm just lucky, after all many 54 year olds haven't been in full-time work for years but that's no compensation for a man who has spent his working life "pushing the envelope" in more ways than one. So where now? How do I tackle the barrier of age? and this barrier is not so much built by nature but by a society which sees little value in the gains made in a life of working experience. You cannot buy experience, it has to be well ... experienced, but it is an indicator of the world today, there is a disordered principle at work: that on which you cannot place a price has no value. The result of this principle is that we throw literally thousands of years of working experience on the scrap heap. How else can we account for the thousands of chronically unemployed middle-aged men?

The principle of priceless = worthless translates, in the business world, in different ways. Younger is cheaper, that has a price. Women are cheaper, that has a price, and they can get childcare: if the child makes it out of the womb, surely the most hostile environment in the world today. That has a price also.

But my attention is wandering, my point is that if it can be measured in dollars it has value. You might think that the priceless = worthless principle has a corollary: The employment of middle-aged men does have a price and it is too high, the shareholders have said so. But you are distracted by economic rationalism and you are wrong. When the shareholders and CEOs decide you have to go they are making that decision very much in the framework of the principle. After all the measuring stick is a stack of dollars or a share quote or a profit. Justice, equity and the good, old Aussie sense of fair-play just don't cut it any more.

Why should justice, equity and fair-play be considered? I can give you many practical reasons and I'll start with a reason that even economic rationalists, CEO's of banks and shareholders can understand. We work in a double-entry system, that's how we balance the books, leastways how we are supposed to. When the ANZ bank, or Nissan, or any of the big employers sack people, or should I say make them redundant, the taxpayer shifts millions of dollars into that business. Isn't it odd how these poor billion dollar business wring their hands, figuratively speaking, at the terrible moral decision they are forced to make when they sack 100's or 1000's of workers, yet their profits remain unharmed? The unemployed and under-employed are funded by the tax-payer. It's really neat, yesterday big business X paid them, today the taxpayer pays them.

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The Possums: A poem for a grand-daughter

Have you ever in your life seen a possum and his wife
    going out to do the shopping in the morning?
With the children spick and span,
And the baby in his pram,
Drinking milk and occasionally yawning.

Mrs Possum is well-dressed, robed only in the best,
    from her ears to her tail she looks quite winning,
And the children, Sam and Jane,
She is pretty, he is plain,
And Mr Possum, well his hair has started thinning.

Now the baby is quite little, full of wind and lots of spittle,
    as he sucks and gurgles through his milky bottle.
He is wrapped up very tight,
So he doesn’t get a fright,
Should the pram begin to sway or bump or rattle.

Here they pass the Parson’s house, Mrs Parsons is a mouse,
    Mr Possum says "Hello" and doffs his hat.
Mrs Parsons is a widow,
She lost her husband in a meadow,
When he stopped to share a breakfast with a cat.


Mr Parsons went to Heaven, Mr Cat, he went to prison,
    where he ponders the errors of his ways.
Playing cards and taking showers,
He whiles away the hours
And contemplates the passing of his days.

Now the Possum’s do their shopping, there’s lots of looking,
    lots of stopping and a large amount of busy to-and-froing.
For Sam and Jane it is a game,
For Mr Possum it is a pain,
as he wonders: “Where is the money going?”

But now, their money spent, ‘tis homeward they are bent,
    They have gathered all their treasures in the pram.
There is honey, tea and gravy,
And, barely leaving room for baby,
Two enormous jars of elderberry jam.

Copyright David Beech 1998

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End of the course

Yesterday a Labor government was voted into office for the first time in 23 or 24 years. Their occupation would not last long but, like the Nazi occupation of Europe, enormous damage will be done in their short reign.

The course, strictly speaking courses, are finished and we are waiting to see what happens next, soon we will all split up for our different postings. We all finished the Radio Trades course then some of us went on with Radar and some to more advanced Radio (I think). Or we all went on with Radar, forgive me I can't remember exactly. I know Kevin and Andy are heading to Melbourne, Cecil I think is for Brisbane, I don't know where John C., Bill, Ray, Marty, Paul are going perhaps to Sydney, Ken is off to Sydney also, to North Head, miles from his home and his wife in Shepparton. The separation was, for him, a great trial and I could do little to help. Graham from Darwin, I can't remember where he is going. Gary is also going to Brisbane. I am sure there are others whose names I can't recall.

Bill and I were at loggerheads one day in the classroom and he invited me down to the boxing ring to discuss the problem. I offered him the classroom floor knowing full well he'd flatten me if we put gloves on. My style was more the knee-to-the-nuts way of settling differences, it worked well before. Anyway we both calmed down and became good friends after that, especially when Bill won a large lump of money on a quadrella. Bill invited me and Cecil to his wedding, I can't recall but a few others may have been there. It was a grand occasion, I can't remember how I got home, probably Karen drove - she has much more self control than I. It was there that I confessed a minor sin to Cecil - Paul was the tempter in my transgression concerning a large Murray cod.

At the moment I am sitting on the front step listening to the radio, something from Mozart is playing, and Rachel and Boydie are carrying the chairs backwards and forwards. The sun is very warm, the breeze is cooling. Celia is sitting in the pram in the shade making odd comments in a strange language. Soon we will be gone and starting anew in Sydney.

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Fishing for cray

The fishing has been poor lately, the water levels I high, I guess the Hume Weir people are running water out. I decided to try something else.

Andy Panayi and I tried a new fishing spot off Wodonga Creek. Andy had killed a black snake in his backyard. We took the carcase and I wrapped it up in an old nylon stocking, tied a heavy line around and let it down into deep fast-running water. After a short while I felt something other than the current and slowly raised the line: blow me down! we could see an enormous crayfish holding on and so I very carefully kept raising. The cray wouldn't leave go and the poor creature was doomed. We got him (or her) on the bank and I drove a knife through its brain, the only merciful way I could devise to kill it. The cray was around 2 feet long from the tip of the tail to the tip of the claws, I have a photo to prove it.

I lowered the bait again and after a few minutes there was another one. This creature proved to be more cautious and let go within a few feet of the surface. I was glad really because I couldn't stand the thought of killing this one also.

Karen cooked the one we kept and it was very tasty. One of our chums, Grant Evans, a Kiwi, enjoyed it immensely, even sucking the the bits out of legs.

I am studying at the moment and Celia, just a few months old, is awake in her bedroom. She is making the oddest noises, a high-pitched squeal. I go in to see what's happening but she's all smiles, not cranky, I guess is she playing games with me: Celia 1 Dad 0.

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A holiday visit

It is 10.30pm and soon 1971 will be over. An eventful year but it's not with a sense of nostalgia that I write this entry to recall the passing of an eventful year but to record the passing of an enjoyable week. My family spent the week here over Christmas, Philip was here also and we went fishing almost the whole of our spare time. Although I am a keen angler, it was not the fishing that I enjoyed so much but the beauty of the country-side here and the wildlife. Not a day passed in which we didn't see something of interest.

The fishing started on Christmas Night at Noreuil Park on the Murray River at Albury. Raymond was with us, as he was until Tuesday. We didn't catch anything but were able to observe the possums scavenging around the caravan park. There was dozens of them, easy to approach and apparently quite tame. Throughout the week we sighted many different species of wild life: Herons, Hawks, Pelicans, Ducks and ducklings (on a couple of occasions actually coming within catching distance of the ducklings), Turtles, a Platypus, Cranes, Ibis, Rabbits - of course - and many other kinds of birds I couldn't identify.

Across Lake Hume from Tallangatta (in the quieter areas) there is plenty of wildlife to be observed. Phillip caught a large turtle, certainly the largest I have ever seen in the wild. We were fishing for Redfin (a European perch) and the turtle took Phillip's bait but did not get badly hooked so it was easy to release the creature. Later we saw a great flock of White Ibis, perched like great other-worldly blossoms in the trees: a beautiful and graceful bird.

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Bandiana

Kapooka is over and the days of 6am starts, rushing around, hours on the drill parade, rifle ranges, PT, ironing, washing, room inspections, spit-polishing boots, polishing brass 'til it shone like gold, calling everybody sir and being corrected, classes on map-reading, 10 mile route marches, wandering around the countryside with maps, getting on with the other lads in the platoon have not quite gone but will be minimised and the gaps filled with other, for me, more meaningful things.

I will never forget my recruit training and can still recall some names, the platoon Sgt Cullen, the platoon commander Lt Edwards, the recruits Wingrove, Whitman, Hogan, Brokenborough, Capuzzi. Other names will come to me as I sift the memories. Floyd Wingrove was my roommate, he was from Townsville or somewhere up there and he was set fair for infantry. I was surly with him one morning, I owned an electric razor, "Give us a loan of your razer" ... Floyd was not posh, in my surly mood I refused. As much as you wish you cannot take some things back. I will write more about Kapooka later but first must dredge the silt to find gems. For I am now at Bandiana.

It is June 25th and I arrived at Bandy 17 days ago after a very brief leave with Karen and our new baby Rachel Marie Johanna. The course doesn't start for another 32 days so I will have spent 7 weeks working in some other capacity. I was placed in the orderly room since I was good with reading, writing and 'rithmetic. As an aside: while at Kapooka I wrote letters for a platoon mate whose literary skills were not well advanced. I would write little love poems that he would send to his girl (for a small fee). The WO (warrant officer) in charge of the orderly room was a gem, he looked after me and I am struggling to remember his name. It will come back and I can see him clearly in my mind's eye. The RAP Sgt said I was colour-blind and could not start the radio trades course, my WO spelled out the realities for Sgt RAP "He's signed up for this, he has a wife and child and one on the way ... so give him a break". Now I have to wait some weeks so that the vast machine of Army can synchonise its gears with mine and I can get started.

Once the course started the routine was soothing and the learning started. It was the first time in my life that I came to learning with a keen interest, it was the time I learned how to learn and it is a most intoxicating thing. You discover that all the difficuties, the obscure principles of maths and electronics give up their secrets and you are the master, they are the minions ready to do your bidding. I also gained some support and reassurance from a Captain in the Education Corp, I forget his first name, his surname was Sinclair and sometimes taught maths. I played baseball for the Bandiana team and Capt. Sinclair was either first base or catcher. I think he must have been impressed by my diligence as a student and my skills as a baseball player. There was a moment of mild embarrassment one Saturday evening after a game and we were late getting back and the OR's mess (Other Ranks) was closed. I was happy to just buy a mars bar or something from the canteen but Mr. Sinclair invited me to his home for dinner. It seems I enjoyed Mrs. Sinclair's evening meal, she seemed a bit put out. Mr. Sinclair simply said to me "Sit down David and eat". I am sure he made things up to his good lady and took her out for dinner, he seemed that kind of fellow.

One large thing was lacking in my life - Karen and baby Rachel were still in Sydney and each weekend, for some weeks, I would cadge a ride to Sydney so that I could spend some time at home. That business of weekend travel was a major bane of Army life, too often the man was hundreds of miles away from his loved ones. Had it been otherwise I think I would stayed in the Army for the full twenty years, I enjoyed it, but after the first six years it was time to re-enlist and we decided to move back to civilian life.

When I first joined the Army I asked my family to look after Karen and Rachel and to their eternal credit they took them in to live with them in Liverpool. This was a great blessing because we were expecting another child and I could not have left Karen to care for herself alone. I have never thanked my family sufficiently for blessed help they gave.

Our new baby, Celia, was born in September and I started planning to move my family to Wodonga. I found a nice small flat and again I received help in the move. Two of my course-mates Gary Velthius and Cecil Algate offered to help and came to Liverpool in Gary's EH station wagon to move us all down to Wodonga.

Without the aid of the people like my family in Liverpool, Gary and Cecil, my Warrant Officer, I think his surname was Bennett, Mr. Sinclair and others about whom I haven't written yet I doubt that I could have achieved my modest ambitions and kept my young family together. It is a lesson for all of you younger folk that might read this: never overlook the generosity of the people around you, even those who seem like strangers. Generosity, a willingness to help out, is a grace we all share, beneficial for both the reciever and the soul that dispenses it.

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Sicky

Did not go to work today. Informed them I was sick went to the test match. The day's cricket was interesting and exciting and the match is in the balance. Weather fine. At the ground I met a gentleman from England, retired and from London. He was hoping to stay in New Zealand for a while, working part time to supplement his income. He was enjoying the cricket and for good reason: England went on to win by 62 runs.

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Change is in the air

On reading this old journal entry today (10th August 2016) I couldn't get over what a whinger I was at that age. Yes, I know I still whinge but only about things that matter, like where's my shoes, who let the cat in, what's for dinner. I don't bother with insignificant issues like how we will pay the bills, how I hate the ABC and SBS. Thus I will just record, from the journal, some significant things.

From the journal 10pm February 14th 1971

I have resigned from the bank and start in the army next month. Rachel will be 1 year old and I will be away. The little girl is a magician and the very thought of her warms my heart. This morning was an unimpeachable morning thanks to Nature's everlasting efforts but by 9 am She had spoiled it as the temperature started to soar. The pale ink-washed sky, fairy-tale clouds and widespread greenery were flattened by the unrelenting hammer of the Sun. My friends and colleagues at the bank (Rural Bank of NSW) gave me some parting gifts - it is a nice custom and it's a kind of insurance for the people who remain, it makes it harder for the former employee to come back. One of the gifts was a Matchbox car, hinting, I think, that I should get a real one.

Progress is at work doing its share of hammering: the old Edgecliffe prep school is going to be flattened to make way for the Eastern Suburbs Railway. Like the Sydney Opera House, the ESR is another white elephant.

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