Saturday, July 28, 2012

two weeks a widow

Well the Olympics have not even started yet, but all the hype has. In between all the hype on TV, TO found a Tony Robinson special about the history of the 2012 Olympic site in the East End of London.

Naturally this reminded me I haven’t seen any episodes of his Worst Jobs in History series for years and now that I am a little internet savvy, I went straight to YouTube.

This stuff might help me cope for the next wee while. And if the house starts to shake I’ll know it’s not another earthquake, just the always gracious but never graceful Other doing her gold medal worthy gymnastic ball rolling and ribbon twirling routine.

The Other was hauled over the coals at work last year for doing a bit of IV Pole dancing while on duty. Fair enough – the thing does have wheels and it is a legitimate Health and Safety no-no.

Please let me know if you are booked for surgery during the Olympics. I’ll check The Other’s schedule for you. The last thing you would want to see as you come out of an anaesthetic is a reprise of her famous synchronised swimming routine.

Friday, July 27, 2012

‘that’ machine

The Other has suggested a topic for a new post. It relates to the decisions many of us must make, sooner or later, about the care of an older relative or friend. Or sometimes someone who is not so old. It’s sadly a real part of life.


Not so long ago, the years of a person’s life between 50 and 59 were referred to in some circles as ‘the decade’ of death. A stroke or a heart attack in one’s fifties was once a death sentence. Advances in medical technologies have changed that. Now one’s fifties could best be described as ‘time for a major service’.

Parts that might be used for a major service include stents, pacemakers, or joint replacements. Additives might include medications that control diabetes, blood pressure, bad cholesterol, thyroid function, or prevent blood clots. Emergency treatments can restart stopped hearts, re-join severed bits, or just keep topping up the engine oil we know as blood.
A range of tests can reveal misaligned tendons, tumours, misfiring heart chambers, leaky valves, torn muscles, or dodgy drainpipes.

And if more people than ever do need a major service it’s because advances in medical technologies make it more likely we will survive well into our 50s or longer.


Many years ago I was passenger in an EH Holden on a long trip. The engine temperature light kept coming on so eventually my friend pulled over on the side of the highway, lifted the bonnet, pulled out the thermostat, chucked it over a fence into a paddock full of sheep, put the bonnet down, got back behind the wheel and then kept driving.

In many ways, our bodies now work much like a car. Some bits like the appendix no longer serve any real purpose, some bits like the gall bladder do serve a purpose but if we rip it out and chuck it over the fence life will go on, some parts need a new battery or a tune up occasionally and - if only car parts were the same - some body parts repair themselves or regenerate.


By now you might be impressed with my wonderful car/body analogy, but wondering if I have a point. Just be ‘patient’, okay? [he he]

One of the most gob-smacking bits of news I’ve ever heard is that my grandmother had a radical hysterectomy in 1934. She must have been crook for anyone to consider doing it, but she lived for another 54 years so whoever it was did a good job.
This bit of news explained why she had scars 5 miles wide on her stomach that made her look a little like a hot cross bun. The wounds never healed properly and still tended to weep or get infected right up until the time she died.

Now we do astonishing stuff using keyhole surgery. One small hole for a camera and a light, one small hole for a thing to hold bits with, and one more for the cutter/stitcher. It might be the same day, or the next day, or the day after, but as a rule people are up and about and off back home in three or four days max.

Here is just a small sample of things The Other has noticed and dealt with for relos and friends in the past few years. [Then I’ll get to the point]
  • E needed a hip replacement but was told she was too old. The Other took her to an expert she knew and he said a hip replacement was unnecessary – problem solved with a series of 3 ultra-sound guided autologous injections. [E will be 100 this year and is still one of the most intelligent, positive, widely read, humorous and fascinating woman I’ve ever met].
  • H’s tummy didn’t sound like it was gurgling properly. Bowel cancer [big polyp] located and removed in day surgery.
  • M’s toe developed a 2mm diameter black spot. That was gangrene. Off to see a vascular surgeon who unclogged the artery and gave The Other a jar full of plaque to keep in her bag of teaching tricks.
  • As for moi, well, truth always sounds more improbable than fiction, so let’s just note I’m still here.

Now for the point:

As people are living longer – and 70 has become the new 50 – the people we now call ‘aged’ are less able to make clear and informed decisions for themselves. Others – e.g. their aging children - are increasingly required to make medical decisions for them.

When talking about the prospect of getting old and sick, people often say “If anything happens, I don’t want to be kept alive artificially, tell them to turn off the machine”.

I felt guilty for 15 years because I did not know how to end what my step-father went through for the months before he died. There was no machine to turn off. It was hard to demand someone stop what was happening, because we were all struggling to identify what was happening or to foresee how long it could drag on. The very idea of a machine makes it all seem neat and easy.
It keeps happening, or it neatly and instantly stops.

Unless someone is in a coma that hasn’t been deliberately induced by doctors, or unless they are undergoing regular dialysis, we have to ask “what machine?” Why can’t they just stop taking their medications, or stop having surgery?

Many of us are – sooner or later – kept alive artificially by some sort of medical intervention. It might just be a blood pressure tablet, or it might be day surgery to whip out something, but we rarely have the option of simply flicking a switch – or the luxury of knowing when it would be the right time to switch the machine off if there was one.


When The Other’s Mother [T.O.M.] suddenly became quite crook less than two weeks ago, the choices her children had to face were these:
  • ignore it and let her die [with some medication to reduce the agony]; or
  • try and fix it, accepting there is a risk she will die during surgery, or that something else might go wrong.

Naturally T.O.M. was consulted before anything was done, but she was overwhelmed by the situation, felt like crap, and was a little intimidated by the need to bow to experts.

The Other, in her relaxed and jocular way, dramatically put her arms out, beseeching, and asked “Is Dad calling you to join him? Is he standing at the end of the bed calling June… Juuuuunnnne…?” T.O.M. laughed and told her not to be silly, so the surgeon then asked “Do you want to live?”. She said yes.

What a horrible thing to have to ask anyone. In the end, her children have medical power of attorney and could make the decision if they needed to, and had made a decision in case they needed to.

Some of the questions still haunting them include:

“Did we push her to give the answer we wanted?”

“Are we keeping her alive for us or for her?”

“How do we decide whether she does have any quality of life at the moment anyway? Is she happy? Do we have any right to evaluate her quality of life or try to guess how happy she is? Who are we to guess what her life might be worth?”

“Where is the line between providing the best care we can, and playing God?”


At 91 it’s reasonable that T.O.M. is sometimes struggling with her short term memory. It’s also to be expected that at 91 if someone is a bit Captain Cook and misses a meal or two she’ll quickly become undernourished or have trouble sleeping.

Undernourishment, dehydration or the oxygen deprivation that results from poor sleep patterns can all cause confusion in the most lucid oldie. Additionally, it only takes one week of inactivity to lose the muscle strength, both internal and external, needed for healing. As a result, there is often only a very small window of opportunity – if any – for taking action. Surgeons can always ‘fix’ a problem’ but at some point it might be the wrong thing to do.

Nursing home/palliative care beds are sometimes occupied by elderly people who have not managed to recover an acceptable level of mobility after being ‘cured’. Others might physically recover after being cured, but remain confused.

When The Other and her siblings were discussing their mother’s options last week, The Other had a pretty clear idea of what was happening, what the outcomes might be and how critical the timing is. But I doubt this extra information reduced the burden of having to make a decision few people ever want to make. There is no way of preparing for this chore before the need arises.


For millennia people have been born and then they have died. Historically, they were surrounded by extended family or clan members from start to finish.

For about the last fifty or sixty years people have been born, lived longer than they used to, then died at home, usually while their family continued getting on with life around them.

For the last 20 or so years people have been born, repaired, repaired, overhauled, mended and given a major service then lived until they are too old to make the “big” decisions for themselves. Now they are almost invariably not living with extended family or clan members when they most need to be.
Death is something that now seems to happen ‘away’ from us, and is becoming increasingly ‘sanitised’. Well, what I’m trying to say is that in some ways death no longer seems a normal part of life.

Because the world has changed so much and so recently, history, tradition, standard practice – there are none of these things to draw on as a guide for making decisions on behalf of older people today. When it comes to our new role of deciding the fate of our olds, I guess we are still just making it up as we go along.


The good news is that the news about T.O.M. is good. Every day, her confused periods are getting shorter and her lucid periods are getting longer. She’s also getting out of bed and sitting up in a chair by herself before anyone comes to suggest she should, or might like some help with standing or moving around.

Thanks for all the good wishes.

gee, oh, gee gee oh…

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

The Goggomobil Dart is an automobile which was developed in Australia by Sydney company Buckle Motors Pty Ltd. and produced from 1959 to 1961.
The Dart was based on the chassis and mechanical components of the German Goggomobil microcar, which was a product of Hans Glas GmbH of Dingolfing, in Bavaria, Germany

The car featured an Australian designed fiberglass two seater open sports car body without doors, the whole package weighing in at only 345 kg (761 lb). It was powered by a rear mounted twin cylinder two stroke motor available in both 300 cc and 400 cc variants, and had a small luggage compartment built into the nose. The Dart was designed in 1958 and went on sale the following year with around 700 examples produced up to the time that production ceased in September 1961.

Seriously, I didn't know the goggomobil was a real car. 

If it's a two stroke does that mean an oil and petrol mixed fuel like an original Victa Motor Mower?

I think I want need one. The van looks pretty spiffy.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


This long winded tirade is in response to one of Dina’s posts, and the comments some of her readers made.

Most of our ‘non-legal’ detainees are visa over-stayers, whereas most of the people arriving on boats are legally entitled to seek asylum.

So WHY is the vilification of asylum seekers such a vote taker? Perhaps the answer lies in white Australia's history - we have a long tradition of fearing invasion. Our coastline is huge and impossible to protect.

Shou'd foreign foe e'er sight our coast,
Or dare a foot to land,
We'll rouse to arms like sires of yore
To guard our native strand;
Britannia then shall surely know,
Beyond wide ocean's roll,
Her sons in fair Australia's land
Still keep an English soul.
In joyful strains then let us sing
"Advance Australia fair!"

During the Crimean war [1850s] we pointed cannons from cliff tops just in case the Russians were coming. After the European upheavals in 1848 we were scared of reds. During WW I we were terrified the Germans would swim across from New Guinea. The Japanese nearly succeeded in reaching us during WWII.

We've been terrified from gold rush days of the 'yellow hordes' of Chinese who might flood the country.

I suspect Howard's statement in 2001 that We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come” tapped into something much more than a fear of extremist forms of Islam.


No matter how ashamed we might be or should be of the White Australia Policy it has been, for current generations of anglo/celtic/australians, a blessing. As the White Australia Policy was progressively dismantled, we were able to control the numbers – and the fundamental values – of people who have immigrated. 
This control, in turn, has given us the luxury of time to wait for each wave of non-Anglos to settle, to change a few things and, without changing us too much, become Australianised.

It is perfectly logical and natural for people of different cultural groups to congregate together when they first move to a new country. Everyone needs to converse in their first language occasionally, simply because they cannot discuss anything complex or important without the words to do so. 
Typically, waves of immigrants to Australia have moved into lower socio-economic areas, built their own communities, or helped each other save and establish themselves financially. They have done it because they had hope and opportunity which in turn fed their ambitions to eventually move to new neighbourhoods and make way for the next wave of immigrants.

This is no longer happening. We are no longer enjoying a long stretch of over-full employment. We are no longer living in an economy which can benefit from a glut of manual labour. We are no longer living in an economy that can realistically compete in manufacturing, in the long term. Unemployment is a reality for too many Australians and the concept of structural adjustment in industry no longer relevant. Too many workers have good reason to feel insecure about the future.

Increasing the rate of immigration once made sense but that rate is no longer sustainable. Immigrants were once 'useful' not just because they generated growth and provided a bigger and more concentrated internal market, but they made a huge contribution to infrastructure. Because technology and world politics are changing rapidly, immigrants are no longer able to contribute to infrastructure in the same way as they once did but are, instead, adding to the strain on what infrastructure we do have.

As our rate of growth and our prospects for future growth diminish, social support payments are being reeled in to the point where once productive people are suffering. These two forces combined will push us towards negative growth, putting us at risk of depression rather than recession. 
Not only can we afford less social supports as the baby boomer generation reaches retirement and contributes less taxes, we have also learned from the experiences of other countries that welfare dependence can be transgenerational and, in the long run, creates a lumpenproletariat and great social instability.

What we are currently seeing is a wave of immigrants who have few prospects of improving their financial position in the future, and little incentive to work at integration. 
Their own cultural values combined with their life experiences are such that there is a bigger step required for integration. Integration can no longer be expected within one or two generations. Where once a wave of immigrants settled only temporarily in neighbourhoods for community, we are now seeing waves of immigrants create cultural ghettos for themselves. Where once immigrants required minimal or short term financial support, they are now a long term drain on social support payments, and at risk of creating even more transgenerational welfare dependence.


Increasing or even attempting to maintain the rate of immigration given our current economic circumstances is crazy. We need to balance this craziness against a moral obligation to accept our share of the world’s displaced persons.

Let me go out on a limb here and make some sweeping assumptions on behalf of “my fellow Australians”:
  • most Australians are decent and compassionate people who don’t give a rats about somebody’s colour or even religion so long as they are not extremists.
  • some people smugglers are simply arranging boats so they can climb on one themselves;
  • people don’t risk their lives on leaky boats without a bloody good reason;
  • nobody wants to see kids or anyone else drown in incidents like the Christmas Island disaster.

Having made those outrages assumptions, I must also insist:
  • some people smugglers ARE exploiting human misery for their own gain;
  • sometimes the bloody good reason people get on leaky boats does not warrant a reward;
  • there may not be queues on every corner of every foreign country, but some people ARE queue jumpers;

And here’s the rub: Our governments are spending ridiculous and disproportionate amounts tapping into our history of xenophobia and promoting asylum seeker hysteria.

We are no longer living in those early formative years of the UN when we first agreed we needed to prevent future wars and make provisions for refugees. We are now often hypocritical when choosing which of our UN obligations will have priority.

Our obligations to refugees are becoming increasingly onerous and complex mainly because our own legislation is becoming increasingly ludicrous. Taking our share of refugees is no longer about providing reasonable levels of food, shelter, security and hope, it is a game in which our governments are happy to set asylum seekers up as a class receiving better support than that available to the average Australian citizen.

The living conditions we provide DO exceed a level of charity nobody should take for granted. The legal rights to appeal go on and on and on and cost an unjustifiable bucket. Every time a policy changes we blow another couple of billion dollars building new facilities in a new location.

In those early years following WWII when we took in displaced persons, or when we promoted sponsored immigration in exchange for labour, people did not have to apply for and wait for refugee status… they already had visas and simply went to temporary centres until they could be usefully placed in the community.

We are now dealing with detention centres, not placement centres. 
Let’s be honest and call them prisons. 
The lengthy legal and investigative and appeal processes involved in applications for refugee status – designed to improve our treatment of people and show them more respect –are compounding the problem of hopelessness which is eating at these people. It is much the same sense of hopelessness that is eating at indigenous Australia
The living conditions are not the problem, but the no-point-in-hoping-to-start-living conditions.

We do not need to stop the boats because we hate people, and certainly not because we have an ounce of respect for the BS artists who live and work in Canberra. We need to stop them because we cannot afford to be swamped by asylum seekers. I do not want the standard of living in this country to go down the gurgler, partly because in the end not even asylum seekers will benefit, but mostly because I’m plain bloody selfish and honest enough to say so.

I’ve bored people enough in the past talking about the solutions, but for the purposes of this post I would like to say the following:

We could afford to help a heck of a lot more people, ourselves included, if we stopped the politics and got on with a bit of sensible, efficient planning. 

intuitive my aunt fanny

Oliver the 3 year old jigsaw genius

When I was quite young [many years ago] but older than Oliver by about 5 years, my mother brought home a second hand jigsaw puzzle. Had I managed to put it together it would have been my first ever grown-up jigsaw puzzle attempted let alone completed. Perhaps she didn’t know any better, or perhaps she thought even more effort was required to leave me scarred for life, but as soon as I tipped the pieces onto the dining table, she took the box with the picture away. Suddenly I had lots of little bits and pieces of something and no idea what I was supposed to do with them.

Young Oliver is a bit of a whiz kid as well as the wearer of a great range of designer pyjamas. The most important thing to note though, for the few seconds the above clip remains bearable, is the box is on display the whole time he puts the jigsaw together.

Dealing with modern software is a little like trying to do a megajigsaw without the big picture. It’s counter-intuitive. Unfortunately, Senna-link have only employed programmers of the ‘it’s intuitive’ school.

I tried very hard to report my income on line, but kept coming up against ambiguous questions which were like little jigsaw pieces. Where does one put what snippet of info? What if I put an amount in one spot and it’s double counted somewhere else?
I gave up. The Other and I went to the Frankston Office together, and were there from 1.09 to 5.09 PM.


While we were in Albury, Aunty looked after D’Arcy and Maude Schnauzer back in Melbourne and kept an eye on incoming mail. Sho’nuff, on the third day Aunty read me a letter from Senna-link which said more or less the following:

“As you have failed to provide your partner’s Tax File Number we are cancelling your health care card with effect 16 June 32 BCE. Do not use your card. Destroy your card. Do not pass go. If you use your card, threat,  threat threat,   threat threat threat threat threat    and if that does not scare the crap out of you consider     THREAT!!!”

I haven’t received a cent from this organisation for years but, as some will appreciate, a health care card is worth its weight in gold. The Tax File Number stuff was ridiculous – The Other and I have linked files with Senna-Link. Seems some intuitive programmer has organised the automatic issue of Threat Letter HCC 11616.5 v 6 until some Senna-Link employee physically completes screen TFN 11616.5 v 7 of their massive “system” and inserts the Tax File Number in yet another field of the record.

The Albury office of Senna-Link had lots of staff and lots of empty waiting chairs. All of the chairs were green but none were reserved for Medicare clients. We were the only people in the ‘standing queue’, and within three minutes were working with an enthusiastic staff member to solve the problem of the Tax File Number. She rang the intuitive help desk staff three times before they found a way to bypass the program glitch.


ali al jenabi

I’ve just recently finished reading The People Smuggler – the true story of Ali Al Jenabi, the ‘Oskar Schindler of Asia, by Robin de Cespigny.

The Penguin blurb says

When Ali Al Jenabi flees Saddam Hussein's torture chambers, he is forced to leave his family behind in Iraq. What follows is an incredible international odyssey through the shadow world of fake passports, crowded camps and illegal border crossings, living every day with excruciating uncertainty about what the next will bring.
Through betrayal, triumph, misfortune – even romance and heartbreak – Ali is sustained by his fierce love of freedom and family. Continually pushed to the limits of his endurance, eventually he must confront what he has been forced to become.
With enormous power and insight, The People Smuggler tells a story of daily heroism, bringing to life the forces that drive so many people to put their lives in unscrupulous hands. It is an utterly gripping portrait of a man cut loose from the protections of civilisation, attempting to retain his dignity and humanity while taking whatever path he can out of an impossible position.

At the time the book was released earlier this year, the remaining members of Ali’s family have all been granted Australian citizenship while Ali himself remains in limbo, told repeatedly that he cannot have a permanent protection visa. Despite the best efforts of every well meaning man and his dog, at some point in the future he will be returned to Iraq.

So what did I learn/conclude from this book?

Yep. The coalition of cowards have, yet again, intervened in the internal affairs of another country [which happens to have oil] and then abandoned the locals to their fate when it all got too hard. No surprise there.

If, as the book claims, this is all true, then Ali and a lot of Iraqis have been treated abominably not just by Saddam Hussein but by a lot of western countries as well. Of course he needed to leave and of course he is a refugee. He and his family went to hell and back several times to arrive here by boat.

In order to pull off the last miracle leg of the journey, Ali organised a number of boats before he could afford to get onto one himself with the last of his family. Being a people smuggler was the business that funded the journey from Indonesia to Oz.

Ali points the finger at another smuggler – a greedy and morally bankrupt man – responsible for the Dec 2010 disaster at Christmas Island. Ali says this man was granted a visa.

Here are two quotes I’ve lifted from the book [and its context]:

From p 312
“This is the first time I have heard of queue-jumping. I try to imagine this queue. What do they think? That when the secret police are shooting at you, you run down the street yelling, ‘Where’s the queue? Where’s the queue?’

Even if there was a queue to join, there is no UN office in Iraq. The nearest is in Pakistan, two countries away.

Anyway the belief that there are orderly queues where asylum seekers line up and wait their turn is extraordinary. Millions of people drift into shambolic UN camps all over the world, and only about two percent are ever settled. For some it takes a few years, for others decades, with many eventually giving up on the UN and finding a smuggler to take them on a boat.”

The second quote is from page 297:

“When I call my mother I try not to tell her how serious my situation is. She and my sisters and brothers have now all been found to be legitimate refugees and are living in Sydney with permanent residency. If the UN had granted us this recognition when we applied in Iran, we would all be happily together and rebuilding our lives by now.”

There is a quote on the front cover from Thomas Keneally – quite necessary, one would think, given the association in the subtitle with Oskar Schindler.

I find the neutrality of Thomas’ quote interesting:

“An engrossing account of a figure seen by some as saviour and others as criminal. A significant book.”

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Let’s see… one relo died a while back of prostate cancer which had metastasised [i.e. the dread spread of cancer]. His son quite sensibly had regular PSA tests. Guess what? False negative. Yup.

Went north last week where I met 2 of The Others relos who have both had radical prostatectomies [at different times]. The older chap never had regular tests but the younger one did – PSAs. Guess what? False negatives. Yup. Ouch.

Came home via a convoluted route to visit mother then drop in on one of my cousins and there in his kitchen sat a neighbour of his who had a radical prostatectomy last year.


The way The Other explains it, a TRUS biopsy [appropriately pronounced “truss”] is what always finds the prostate cancer in the end. Well, not in the end, but very close by.
It involves needles and some local sedation, so on a scale of one to ten after sedation – and invasion of personal space – that makes it the boy equivalent of a girl’s PAP smear.

So, gentlemens, get with the program. If the water pressure starts to fall, don’t piddle around relying on PSAs. TRUS your instincts or at least talk to someone qualified to give you six good reasons why you should trust PSAs and not bother with the occasional TRUS.

Well, okay, let me spell it out for you – this is not just about mains pressure. I found this on a website so it must be true:

There are four main disorders of the prostate. All can have similar symptoms, which may include one or more of the following:
·         Waking frequently at night to urinate
·         Sudden or urgent need to urinate
·         Difficulty in starting to urinate
·         Slow flow of urine and difficulty in stopping
·         Discomfort when urinating
·         Painful ejaculation
·         Blood in the urine or semen
·         Decrease in libido (sex urge)
·         Reduced ability to get an erection

No, The Other is not a urologist and even if she has this all right I might have misunderstood. This is just an unpaid community service announcement. 


While we were in Albury last week, we finally got around to visiting the Bonegilla Migrant Camp a few k's out of town.

The original huts at Bonegilla were built as an Australian Army Camp, with some prisoners of war were held there for a time during WWII.
After the war, the 320 acre site was converted for use as a migrant camp for displaced persons [1947-52], then for refugees, followed by migrants travelling on assisted passage. At it’s peak it housed 8,500 people, and was not closed down until 1971.

There were 22 camps altogether, and parts of camp 19 have been preserved as part of Australia’s heritage. Some of the land has been used for what is now the Latchford Barracks, but a great deal of it has reverted to bushland and is heavily populated by roos. It’s not the most riveting or busy museum you’ll ever see, but it’s quite an interesting place to walk through, just the same.

The conditions might look quite primitive to some, but the four of us who made the trip all agreed it just looked like any decrepit old guide or scout camp we’ve used at some stage or another. For displaced persons escaping the bombed out ruins of WWII it might have seemed quite promising – even into the 1950s many of London’s East Ender’s were still living in relative squalor, and having to fetch water from communal taps outside.

As time progressed it would be logical that migrants’ expectations would have grown. I have met some Italians who passed through the camp in the 50s, their first comment invariably that when served their first meal they wondered what on earth this shit was they were supposed to eat, what crazy kind of people would think this shit was okay to eat anyway, and how they could go back to where they came from.
The second complaint was that although the camp was meant to be a temporary processing centre where they could learn English and be found work, the work wasn’t always found quickly, and everyone was bored out of their brains.

Amongst the usual collection of enamelled chamber pots or camp beds a few bits and pieces are personal enough to be conspicuous. One chap carried a piece of roman-style terra cotta roof tile with him all the way from Greece – well, he was born under it, after all.  

Monday, July 23, 2012

oh dear

The last week saw a flying dash to Albury when The Other got a call saying her mother was not well.

How wrong [but fortuitous] that yet another family member had connections and clout at yet another hospital, which meant getting done what was the best instead of second best. The Other’s Mother is not out of the woods yet, but so far so good.

Found a nice motel on wotif, and as a bunch of rugby players were in town for an interstate match I ignored the complimentary light breakfast and stole bacon and eggs all week. Seriously, one guy put 5 eggs, half a dozen sausages and a pile of bacon on his plate then went back for more – so if there was food left over how could I waste it?

On the whole, an extremely draining and emotional week. I never realised before quite how big a responsibility it can be making decisions on behalf of an elderly parent.

Hope to catch up on some reading and chatting over the next little while.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

time and time again

 Melbourne’s Lord Mayor would be jealous of Frankston’s derelict buildings. There are so many of them, spoiling the shopping strip near the waterfront. The only ‘tower’ has been empty for years, the building’s name ‘Peninsula Centre’ spelled out on each side of the building’s top floor.
Oops, some of the letters ‘fell off’. Imagine those poor millionaires who live on Oliver’s Hill sitting on their balconies, watching a beautiful sunset over the bay… looking in the wrong direction and spotting a building called the “Peni s    Centre’.

Would you be surprised to learn that visiting the Frankston Centrelink office is a lot like… well… visiting downtown Frankston?

The Centrelink office is, like many government offices, rather swish inside. Although nearly all things Centrelink are now phone/internet based, the visiting in human form queue is invariably long.

The last of Aunty’s super investments has been in ‘administration’ for over four years now. She has a four year old letter saying she will probably be lucky to get 1 or 2 cents in the dollar – no projected time frame – but, at regular intervals, a Centrelink computer program ‘deems’ it to be worth so many dollars a week of income that her aged pension is cut back to 3/5ths of sod all. Off to Centrelink we go.
She has a unit on the Gold Coast she can’t afford to live in any more. It has been her primary place of residence for yonks, but as she took out a reverse mortgage she is not allowed to rent it out even though she is now living in Franger. At regular intervals some computer program deems that she is earning a phenomenal amount of rental income, and her aged pension is cut back to 1/5th of half of sod all.
Sometimes a computer program adds two and two together and deems that she has two?? investment properties plus a stream of income from a super investment.

One day we did try the phone thing. The Centrelink phone person told me Aunty should use the online reporting system. I suggested that she’s of a generation that finds it all a bit confusing. The Centrelink phone person seized on the word ‘generation’ and returning to the issue of the [dud] investment told me that people of ‘that generation’ expect they are automatically entitled to a pension. I did my best to be polite when I put her back in her box. She climbed back out of her box and told me if Aunty won’t use the online reporting system she will have to go to the Centrelink Office.

A ‘bouncer’ wearing a headpiece with microphone travels down the standing queue at regular intervals, screening the waiters in case there is some way they can bypass the standing queue and go straight to a sitting queue. She nods sagely and soothingly while people explain while they are there. Some of them nod, soothed, as they learn they have to stay in the standing queue. Everyone has to stay in the standing queue.

Everytime she goes to the Centrelink office she takes another little knick knack with her to try and make it look more like the home it has become. [Last time it was a sideboard to put her favourite vase on]. She has given up spending an hour and a half on the phone only to be told she has to provide documentary evidence of her claims and now just goes straight to the office. She provides certified copies of documents, they are scanned into the system but somehow disappear from the system a short time later. The hard copies disappear between Franger and head office.

She’s 83, has a gammy leg, an irreparably torn rotator cuff and, thanks to a crappy gene pool, has pulmonary fibrosis even though she has never had one cigarette in her life. Then there’s the bit of lung missing from the battle with TB. And other stuff.

The Other took her back and forth to the office three times, one day. She grabbed a chair from the pre-arranged appointment section for Aunty to sit on while she waited to slowly shuffle forward. The ‘bouncer’ suggested The Other put the chair back. The Other returned the chair and told Aunty to sit on it in the pre-arranged appointment section while The Other waited in the standing queue on her behalf. Aunty sat on a green chair. The green chairs are for Medibank clients. Aunty moved to the orange chair section.

At regular intervals one of the bona fide orange chair people will do something to break the monotony. One lady, say in her forties, stood up one day and screamed a complaint about being kept waiting sitting on a chair even though she has an appointment. the only intelligible word was that four letter one which starts with f, ends with k, and has a uc in the middle of it. A security guard asked her to tone it down. The lady screams she has a mental illness and can’t wait ‘cos it makes her angry and she can’t help it.

She was supposed to stand in the standing queue so the bouncer would discover that she had an appointment and tell someone through the microphone that a customer with an appointment had turned up. No one knew she had been sitting in the orange chair queue section.

One young girl in the standing queue sends and receives texts while waiting with her three friends who are also texting. She multi skills, of course, texting while discussing piercings, tattoos and having to leave the club early because they got her a job and she has to get up early to go to work it’s making her tired and she doesn’t like it and anyway she’s done her bit, she’s stuck at it for 3 weeks now. She’s going to tell Centrelink she has to go to Perth, and they should pay her fare there so she can get a decent job she likes. She reasons that they’ll pay it because they’ll be impressed she wants to work.

The man behind me in the standing queue tells no one in particular it’s an effin disgrace. He’s nearly 60 and he shouldn’t have to stand. He has been waiting for 28 minutes. He shouldn’t have to wait. Nobody in front of him says “oh, I haven’t been waiting as long as you, here, you go first.” Each time he announces how long he has been waiting now he is ignored by the people in front of him, but he keeps making the announcements just in case.

The security guard goes to one young bloke who has just walked in, and tells him to go to the end of the queue. The young bloke explains where his spot was [just in front of the woman with the tight jeans and thongs]; he had been waiting 20 minutes so he had to go outside for a smoke. The security guard tells him to go to the back of the queue. The young bloke turns around and effs it out of there.

Aunty sits on an orange chair and waits. She is the only waiter in the building who is reading a book. Frankston has a great library, and a great arts centre, and a great independent bookshop and a launching ramp and an impressive foreshore and great views of the bay and every service anyone could possibly need – and even a resident who knows how to spell Peni s.