Tuesday, December 16

If I'd been an Imperial Stormtrooper, and I'd been on duty the night Chewbacca was brought in on-board the Death Star, you know the first thing I would have done?

I would have sedated him with that black floating droid with all the syringes, and then I would have taken to him with the electric clippers. Let's see how feisty that big furball feels when he wakes up with a natty speed stripe shaved all up one side and down the other. Or a mohawk, though that would take some time.

I guess it's because it was a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, where they don't do buck's parties.

And how come Princess Leia was never tempted to braid all that wookie hair on the long interstellar journeys? How adorable would he have looked with some plats tied off with a ribbon or two?

Final thought: did Saddam look more like a wookie, or more like an evil santa, when they pulled him out of that little dusty hole? You be the judge.

Tuesday, October 14

Hey, here's a tip for new fathers: never buy a book called Massaging Your Baby as a gift for your wife, unless you have already purchased something like Massaging Your Wife: a Husband's Guide, too.

No sooner than six months after you've bought these two books, you may go out and buy a copy of Husband's Guide to Self-Massage After Everyone Else Is Relaxed And Asleep for yourself, but only the soft-cover, and don't let anyone else seeing you read it or they'll think you don't know how to masturbate.

Thursday, September 25

Dramatic re-enactment of an actual discussion I had today...

"Can you make these changes for me?"
"Sure, no problem."
"Great, thanks. So, what's the timeline on getting that done?
"Well, when do you need them by?"
"Well... I kinda need them now, if not yesterday?"
"I see. Well, strictly speaking, 'now' wouldn't be a timeline at all, would it? Graphically represented, the duration between 'now' and 'also now' is more of a dot than a line. Shall we call that a 'timedot' from here on out?"
"I don't think I follow you..."
"OK, let's start with 'I need that yesterday', that might be simpler. If we can grasp 'yesterday' then maybe we can come back (actually, that would be 'come forwards') to timedot in a minute."
"So... you're saying you don't know when it'll be done?"
"Not at all, I'm just saying that the timeline for 'can i have that yesterday' is very different to the timeline for 'can i have that now'. It starts at now and goes backwards to the point in yesterday you'd like to have this. You understand that, right?"
"Uhh... I guess so..."
"So, do I already have it done?"
"Huh? you're asking me if you already have it done?"
"Sure! Because if you need it yesterday, and that's something I can do for you, then I've already done it, and you've already got it. In fact, you've been sitting on it now for a few hours at least. What's the damn hurry if you're not going to do anything with it now I've given it to you? Really, you people amaze me sometimes."
"So, hey, I'm sorry, I must have forgotten about it. Maybe it's in my Inbox - I'll go look for it, and let you know if I need anything else."
"OK, great, thanks for stopping by."

Monday, September 15

Dear Lindsay,

One of the unexpected pleasures of having a name that starts with 'A' is that I get to listen-in on many people's lives via their mobile phones. It happens surprisingly often with many friends and workmates because I'm often the first person in the number list on your mobile phone, and people only rarely use the keylock feature on their phones, to prevent it dialing numbers when it's in, say, their handbag.

The only downside from my perspective is the momentary disappointment I feel when i realise it's not you ringing, just your handbag. The inconvenience of answering the phone for the occasional 2am handbag-in-a-nightclub call is outweighed by the odd juicy snippet I get.

Anyway, over the weekend your handbag has rung me twice, and once again this morning, so if I'm listening in on your life from your handbag's perspective, I think you should know.

Up to you, but I'd be happy to show you how to turn on the keypad lock, or to setup your own home phone number as "AAAA" as your first number in the phone, so you're at least only leaving handbag messages for yourself.

Have a great day, and best regards to your handbag,


Tuesday, September 9

Last weekend I climbed to the top of a mountain, and travelled back in time 23 years.

It happened like this...

Last Friday after work, my best mate, Tony, and I drove until 11pm to get to the Budawang ranges, a wild and isolated part of the Great Dividing Range south of Sydney, between Braidwood inland and Nowra on the coast.

Traditionally, we stop at a bad pub for dinner on the road, we play the kind of music we don't get to play much at home (Warren Zevon, Led Zeppelin, Slaid Cleaves, etc) and we sing at the top of our lungs (pause here to remember Warren Zevon, sadly let down by his lungs at last this week, may he rest in something approaching peace, with happy hour every friday night between 6-11pm.)

Tony and I had been bushwalking in this area for 15 years, and although we we'd crossed just about every inch, there was one goal we had yet to conquer together - the tallest mountain in the Budawangs - Mt Tarn.

"Mt Tarn is a harsh mistress," we'd say to each other, turned back on previous attempts by failing light, hostile weather, or lack or time, sometimes all three. She's not a mountain in the Tibetan sense, Patagonian sense, or even the Rocky Mountains sense - rather, she's a mountain in the Australian sense - fairly small and craggy and, well... obdurate. Two long rock chimneys and a tricky entrance combine to make an easy scramble for a talented rock-climber with all the equipment, but a dashed-tricky heart-in-the-mouth escapade for two old buggers pushing 40 and without even those clever sticky-soled climbing shoes or a bit of rope.

I'd climbed Mt Tarn a few times in my youth, so long ago I'd forgotten how many times and how long ago. And I remembered there was a 'visitors book' left up there in a metal canister, and that I'd been so full of myself on my first successful ascent that I'd eschewed a mere description of the weather and the route to the top for a full two or three verses of doggerel verse, the sort practised by senior high school students majoring in English and History but not getting very high marks.

Anyway, this time Tony and I were not to be denied, and whereas previous expeditions had included an ascent of Mt Tarn as an optional extra should the Gods permit, this time Mt Tarn was the sole focus of the weekend, and we planned the whole weekend around making it up and down in one piece before Sunday night and the end of our food supplies.

We used rented mountain bikes to speed our way across the long, boring fire trail entrance to the park. We invested in a GPS to minimise time wasted getting lost, then getting unlost. We walked as hard as we could all Saturday, barely stopping for a cup of tea, and singing tasteless songs to each other to keep our marching pace up, eventually covering nearly 38km in two days. We even camped as close as we could to the ascent route, meaning hiking right past a couple of very servicable camping spots and spending the night in a rather windswept valley by a little waterfall. It was all we could do to slip a decent bottle of Shiraz into our backpack to help us... umm.. get a good night's sleep before our big adventure the following day.

The following morning dawned bright, sunny and still, and after ascending the ridge and saying a brief prayer to the Goddess of the Mountain, we began our attempt on the west face.

Don't know if you've ever wedged yourself into a crack in the side of a mountain so tight that you are no longer likely to fall to your death, but if you have, you'll know that, in order to move up the mountain, it becomes necessary to drag those same flesh and bone surfaces up the rocky crack, inch-by-excruciating-inch, leaving behind quite a bit of skin and hair on the sandstone/granite composite surface of the rock chimney for your climbing partner to collect and store in a ziplock bag, for later use in a voodoo doll.

If you've never done that, you can simulate the experience yourself at home. Dressed in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, drive your car out to a hill on an unsealed road, tie yourself by the neck to the handbrake lever, and start the car rolling forward. The more friction you apply to the road surface with your body, the more the handbrake will slow your progress. You get the idea.

By the time we'd scraped ourselves up 20-odd metres of conglomerate rock chimney, we were ready for a muesli bar-fuelled dance of joy, having made it to the top on such a beautiful day. Walking to the other end of the mountain we found the cairn bearing the container bearing... yes, the visitors book, in which we hoped to record our posteriors for posterity.

I flipped open the mouldy little exercise book to the first page to find out how long the book had been up here on this windy escarpment, only to find to my complete surprise that it had been here since 1980 - 23 years ago! Somehow the little exercise book had suffered through 23 years of wind, rain, snow, and untold onslaughts of other summitteers, though obviously not too many of the latter, since the book was still one-third empty.

What absolutely flabbergasted me was the first entry in the book ("When this book is full, someone please take it to the Mitchell Library where it can be stored") which was written by me!

I'd forgotten all this until I began to leaf through the pages, but at the age of 15 my brother Andrew (only 14) and I had been part of a group of six who'd made it up the mountain and replaced an earlier, full book, with a new one. We'd been attending Camp Conqueror then, a boy's camp-slash-christianity-indoctrination program run by an organisation called Scripture Union.

Camp Conqueror took boys from all walks of life, including many referred by welfare authorities, and pretty much threw them in the deep end, bush-survival-wise, with only the Bible and some untrained volunteer 'leaders' barely younger than the boys to protect them.

My parents hadn't cared much for organised religion, but they knew an opportunity to unload two of their three sons for two weeks over the summer holidays was too good to go quibbling about higher moralities, so as soon as we were old enough, off we were sent.

Actually, we wanted to go even more than our parents wanted to send us. The Camp Conqueror mob were great people, motivated by the love of helping others, and with a respect and love for the environment which was way ahead of its time. Eventually I became too old to remain a camper and became the group's first non-christian leader. Incredibly, the book indicated that Camp Conqueror was still going strong - the last entry in the book was from a Camp Conqueror group (now co-ed) that had summitted a month or so earlier.

From 1980 onwards, as the visitor's book recorded, I'd made six subsequent ascents of Mt Tarn, some with my brother Andrew, and many with a group of people I've long-since lost contact with, including Murray 'Sledge' Hammer, Michael Mowbray, Geoff Broughton, and Greg Martin. One of them I have since met up with again - Andrew 'Chicken Legs' Hughes, who grew up to become a Neurologist, and married one of my wife's best friends, but who has now moved to Tasmania (I hear tell they get a lot of brain injuries down there, largely from lack of use.)

So many things have changed in 23 years! I was just a boy then, and I don't know if I've matured much at all, but I have certainly changed. As I read through the pages of the book and found so much of who I used to be - who I was becoming - between those pages, I was overcome with emotion. I basically had a bit of a sob. Tony patted my shoulder, as mates do.

After all, in that time I'd finished school, dropped out and then restarted and finished a degree, married my teenage sweetheart then separated and divorced, found, romanced and then married my true love, been blessed with a beautiful son more wonderful than birdsong, been hurt-by and hurt, been loved and given-love, smiled, laughed, and cried and cried and cried. And here I was again. It was worth a sob, a laugh and a shout of joy, all at once and over again.

I came so far, climbed to such a rarely-visited place, and then rediscovered myself, almost perfectly preserved, there in the pages of a little exercise book, in a tin, on a cairn, on the top of a lonely, wind-swept mountain.

We added another two entries in the book, put it back in the tin, wedged it in the cairn, and made our way back down the mountain. If it had survived the last 23 years, it could possibly go another 23, and there were still more pages to fill. Maybe someone would eventually take it to the Mitchell Library, where I hear they preserve these things and store them away.

Maybe that someone would be me, perhaps accompanied by my brothers Andrew or Owen, perhaps one day with my son, Alec, and definitely with my best and truest mate, Tony.

We'll definitely make that climb again one day. I wonder who we'll be by then?

(Here's the photos and streaming videos)

Tuesday, September 2

...and a little cross-promotion - my son Alec's great website (considerably cooler than my blog)

http://simoncrean.blogspot.com - at last! an insight into the mind of the great man, and his nemesis, little johnny!

Saturday, July 19

What makes a successful marriage?

Funny little story: when my parents were on honeymoon, my mum burned the toast at breakfast one morning. "Don't worry darling," my love struck dad said, "i like it that way." He promptly forgot all about it. Years later, I think it was 1998 or so, the whole family is around the breakfast table, and my mum brings us toast. Everybody's is done perfectly, except for my dad's. He and mum were having a rough patch at the time, and this morning he was pissed off. So he says, "how come every time you make toast, i always get the burned pieces? What about giving some of it to the bloody kids?" And my mum says, "but dear, you told me you liked it like that!" She'd been deliberately burning it for 28 years or so. Not sure which is more amazing - my dad’s failure to communicate for three decades or my mum’s dedication to burning his toast and nobody else’s for three decades.

Friday, July 18

Idea for another internet business: no URL yet, but here's the concept. It came to me while hiring a costume at a fancy dress shop and a girl came in to try on a french maid's outfit. I got to thinking about how that particular costume has some pretty zesty overtones - you don't dress as a french maid if you don't want to attract the attention of the men at the party, right?

Then I figured: there's probably a lot of single guys who'd pay money to know:
- the girl's name
- the time, day and address of the party she's going to
- what costume she's wearing

And then the sales assistant gave me the rental paperwork to fill in, and I realised, all the data has just bee captured, the fancy dress business only needs the customer's permission to publish it online.

If a girl's going to dress up as a french maid, there's probably at least one person she wants to see her in that outfit, and if she hasnt got a specific person in mind, she definitely hopes to meet someone new that night. She might be happy to know which guys coming to the party think she looks pretty good as a the french maid.

So, this website is definitely for the extroverts among us, but it's a community/dating site that:
- encourages people to plan and host fancy dress parties
- lets them invite their friends and book costumes online
- ships them their costume and picks it up after the party if they wish (or come in and try it on, pick it up as usual)
- lets people disclose a little of the information above, maybe even with a photo of themselves in/out of costume
- makes them pay a little for the service

As for me, I love dressing up as a french maid, and I'm going to this party next Friday night, and it's at.... ;-)

Idea for an internet business: www.myPDAthinksitsyourbirthday.com - a website where you can send a range of ironic greeting cards based on the annoying tendency for the recurring dates in your PDA and PC/Mac to gradually degrade over time. After several years of trying to maintain synchronisation across PDAs, phones, PCs, Macs and web-based calendars, I can no longer pinpoint key dates like friend's birthdays - the best I can do is guesstimate with an accuracy of 2-3 days when it might be. Across those 3 days I usually have 3-4 occurrences of the event to try and straighten out, on different days, even in different timezones, so long ago I stopped bothering to find the right one - the fact that I remembered your birthday - or rather, that my PDA remembered your birthday - should be enough in this emotionally-distant age.

Some draft greeting card copy:
"My PDA thinks it's your birthday, so happy birthday (Friend)" (leaving the variable "friend" unfilled to impart that special generic feeling to the message)
"My PDA keeps reminding me of your birthday - it clearly cares more about you than I do" - straight to the point!
"My PDA says it's your birthday, but I can't even remember who you are"
"My PDA says it's your birthday, but we broke up months ago, so how about I give you back your sofa?"

Whaddaya think? Would you pay for a service like this?

Friday, June 13

I'm still laughing about the ad I saw on a Yahoo! Mail logout page today, which read Space Shuttle Columbia: A Special Tribute - the tribute in question being a legal tender US dollar coin, designed with a tacky colour image of the ill-fated shuttle during launch on the one face, and regular US dollar-design swooping bald eagle on the other face.

Nobody would be surprised that an enterprising company like The American Historical Society would be hoping to cash-in on the national trauma and wounded pride of the Great Consumer Nation, and nobody would be surprised if hundreds of thousands of proud American citizens went out and bought them by the display-cabinet-load. But hang on a second, how come the "legal tender one US dollar" coin is retailing here for US$19.95? Well, that'd be because keen collectors can hope to make back their $20 and more by selling their limited edition commerative dollar on eBay one day. Is it immoral to profit from the death of the Challenger astronauts? Heck no, this isn't profiteering, it's "commemorating". Riiight!

So, why show the shuttle in launch on the coin, when that was the moment at which the crucial damage occurred to the wing? I can't see the insulation impacting the wing on the coin shown on the web-page, but surely that was just about the lowest-point of the Challenger's service history? Unless you count the moment the NASA Control Room managers decided not to investigate the problem further while the shuttle was orbiting, figuring there was nothing they could do anyway. Perhaps the coin should feature a faceless NASA manager turning away from a control monitor? Tossing a report in a shredder? Or trying to make a spreadsheet balance up?

Anyway, the way Challenger debris was pretty much spread out over the eastern half of the continent by the time it finished its last re-entry, you'd think anyone keen enough to spend $20 on the coin would already have souveniered a piece of debris from some enterprising farmer by now. On the other hand, just because you're quietly sitting on an illicit fragment of NASA roadkill waiting for the FBI to stop monitoring eBay, doesn't mean you don't want to add the commemorative coin to your collection. You never know what someone else might pay for that one day.

Oh, the humanity... tawdry species, ain't we? ;-)

Monday, May 12

Here's my mum's eulogy from my grandmother's funeral service. I hope I can write something this good for her when the time comes.

Thanks to all our family & friends for being with us today to say goodbye to Mum.

Mum hated funerals although she loved cemeteries and her children & grandchildren have happy memories of following her around, admiring beautifully carved headstones and reading out all the really sad epitaphs.

If I could write an epitaph for our mother, it wouldn�t be a sad one, though the last 17 years have had their share of pain and great sorrow. It would say that

�Here lies Ann Fraser Hunter, born 31st January,1917. Died 1st. May,2003. A loyal wife, a loving mother and a proud Scot who would have made a great Australian.
She lived her life with courage, love and laughter. She taught her us to see the clouds and the trees, to love music and to value family and friendship above all else�.

I believe Mum was a great Australian. She hated pretension, she chopped tall poppies off at the ankles and she despised whingers and those who chose money over everything else. She was very proud to see her children and grandchildren achieve a life that she could only have dreamed of in her younger years but she never lost the lessons of hardship and poverty that she learrnt from her life in Scotland and she only respected people for themselves, not for their possessions.

She was a free thinker, nobody�s fool with a Peshaniki fur stole to prove it .However, we could never persuade Mum to become an Aussie. It seemed to her it would be a betrayal of her heritage and her history.

She was born, the youngest of twelve children, in a single room and kitchen in a Glasgow slum, though she took offence when I called 439 Garscube Road a slum! But believe me, it was a slum! Her father, Angus Fraser and her two eldest brothers, Bill and Donald were soldiers, fighting in the trenches of France in the horror of the First World War when she was born.

As a child, Mum slept on a truckle bed that slid out from under her parent�s bed and her three brother and the two sisters who still lived at home somehow fitted into the other room.

There was a communal toilet one flight of stairs down which was shared by three families , the bathroom was a small tin bath in front of the fire and the wash house was shared amongst all the families in the tenement .You washed on your day, rain or shine.

Granny Fraser�s kitchen had an open coal fire with a kettle simmering on the hob for there was always friends and family coming and going .As a child, I remember Granny�s black and white puddings made from blood, offal and oatmeal hanging from the ceiling, tied to the wooden clothes line where the washing dried on miserable wet Scottish days.

As Mum grew up, the Great War was followed by the Great Depression and poverty was always at the door but in Mum�s memory, her childhood and young womanhood were happy days, full of music and laughter with young people always welcome around the fireplace for the price of a song or a poem .

Her father, her eldest sister and a brother died when she was in her teens so there was great sorrow as well as laughter in her life.

Mum met and married our father , George Hunter, in 1938 and went to live with him in his parents front room. There, Betty was born and from there our father left for the Second World War, just over a year later, leaving his 22 year old wife pregnant with their second child, me.

For the next six years, she struggled to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. Dad�s leaves were few and far between but during this time,she had two more children, Jim and George. Her only security and support was the love of her families, the Frasers and the Hunters.

No wonder she had little patience with whingers and complainers. None of us have had as little as she and made such a good job of it. And all the time there was the fear for Dad�s safety , the fear of invasion and fear for the safety of all those she loved.

Six years later, the young man she married came home and they struggled on to make a life for themselves. Sometimes there was porridge for breakfast followed by porridge for tea with bread and syrup to fill in the spaces . Wee Ann was born soon after Dad�s return to be followed by Drew 5 years later.

Like her mother before her, Mum welcomed everyone into her home which was always warm, sometimes tidy and with the door always open but it was a hard struggle. She could make a tin of beans go round an awful lot of people!

Our good friends, Rena and Jimmie Davidson, were making a good life for themselves in Australia and offered to sponsor our family, to organise a job for Dad and to help him find a house for us. Mum was determined to leave Scotland,to find a better life for us all, even though it meant leaving all those she loved behind.

But she couldn�t leave her mother . When the fog of dementia overtook Mum, her last link with the life she had lived was the memory of her mother. We all faded away but her love for her mother stayed with her for the longest time.

Finally , after Granny Fraser�s death,Dad left for Australia in 1957. That was a terrible night as we all wondered what the future held but Mum was as strong as a rock. Throughout her life, she refused to wallow in self pity or sentimentality, except in graveyards. She rarely cried.

A year later with the great help of the Davidsons , we joined Dad in Sydney. Mum and Dad had been married for 20 years but had been together for only 13 of those 20.

From there on, Mum never looked back, though it was harder for Dad who missed Scotland greatly. Mum threw herself into a life she couldn�t have imagined.

She learnt to drive and was rarely still after that. She had friends everywhere and our home was again filled with visitors. They were able to put money in the bank and , best of all, Dad was able to buy the house in Eaton Rd, West Pennant Hills .

To own and drive a car ! To buy a house! These were things undreamt of! Up until Dad�s death in 1986, life just got easier and better for Mum and Dad. They managed a trip home , having thought they would never see their families again.

Mum managed 3 trips back and, with Ann & Donald�s help, she travelled to Canada, Singapore and with Dad, they had quite a few trips to New Zealand, catching up with Fraser relatives who had left Scotland generations earlier.

But Mum never recovered from Dad�s death. She refused to leave Eaton Road though she gradually cared less about the house, her friends, her hobbies and, eventually, herself.

Depression overwhelmed her until she at last agreed to move to a retirement village in Normanhurst where we felt she could make friends and live a more social life again. We just didn�t understand the realities of dementia which was complicated by increasing deafness.

Finally, we persuaded her to move to Princess Julianna Hostel where the care and affection she has received have been marvelous. Not that she always appreciated it!

And now she�s gone and nothing will ever be the same again. I am so glad that she was my mother and I thank her from the bottom of my heart for all I have learned from her. Rest in peace, Mum.

Well, my grandmother did die a few days after that last blog entry. She didn't come out of the coma, and her last few days were very peaceful. True to her wishes, the family buried her. Interesting choice, because she wasn't religious at all, so we had a ceremony with a 'celebrant' who bookended the service, with family members providing three very moving eulogies.

The celebrant just called herself a "celebrant" which I suppose sounds less contradictory than "funeral celebrant". I couldn't picture myself introducing myself as a "funeral celebrant" at cocktail parties... but then, I don't attend many cocktail parties.

The celebrant did her best, but what are you going to do when you don't actually know the deceased at all? Any inspirational, positive stuff you come out with has to be so generic it comes across very tacky. "Well, at least she had a good innings," she could have said, but did she really? How would the celebrant know? Would it be too painful to do some research prior to the service perhaps? Speak to some of the close family... ring them up... "Hello, you don't know me, but I'm the funeral celebrant for your grandmother's service next Monday, and I was wondering if I could have 10 minutes of your time to get you to recall any especially insightful memories you have of her. Oh, I'm sorry, you're grieving right now? OK, perhaps I should call back later, what time would be most convenient for you?"

I was so proud of my uncles Jim and Drew, and my mother Jean. Each of them gave a very moving eulogy, all of them moving everyone attending to tears and laughter several times. My grandmother really valued people's honesty, and she couldn't abide false emotion, and I can't help thinking she would have been very proud of her three children and they way they spoke about her life.

Monday, April 28

i had a weird day today. in amongst the usual whirlwind of work and life-maintenance, i took time out to visit the nursing home to see my maternal grandmother, who after almost a decade of senility, has finally slipped into a coma, and has only a few more hours to live.

partly it was a bad-weird because i did a lot of nurse-assistant work in nursing homes when i was studying, and it's always quite jarring for me when the patient in the bed is someone i love, rather than just another old smelly person who needs their sheets changing.

but partly it was good-weird, because i've had a lot of friends and family die in the past, but this is the first person i've had a chance to say goodbye to before they died. often i've experienced regret that i didnt get to speak to the person before they died, with the knowledge that this was the last time i'd speak to them. my grandmother wasn't really there to hear me - whatever you want to call the spirit, it had already moved on to a better place - but at least i got to say some stuff that i'd want her to hear if she was still listening from wherever she was now. and i got to hold her hand for a while, think upon old memories, and kiss her cheek one last time, which was surprisingly warm and soft, pretty much like i remember it being all my childhood.

if i was the supreme being, and i was redesigning for Reality 2.0, i think i'd make that a key feature for the upgrade - give everyone some kind of forewarning of impending death and give friends and family a chance to address all the stuff that usually, regrettably, is left until it's too late. for me, the fact that this feature isnt already there in the current release makes me as certain as ever that either there's no supreme being, or that we're beta testers.

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