AbbottThe Australian government is facing yet more criticism for not sending health workers to Africa to help fight Ebola.

A 25-bed US field hospital that will treat international health workers who contract the virus is due to open soon.

The Australian government now has no excuse not to fund health workers to travel to Africa, said Labor health spokeswoman Catherine King. And she’s right.

“It is now up to the Abbott government to act,” Ms King told journalists in Canberra on Friday.

Australia has so far refused to send health workers to Africa because it says it could not evacuate and treat them if they got infected with the virus.

It has provided A$8m (£4.4m) to frontline services and A$40m (£22m) to the World Health Organization and has not ruled out increasing that contribution.

‘A risky situation’

“We will not be putting Australian health workers in a risky situation in the absence of evacuation plans and an appropriate level of medical care and we cannot currently supply that,” Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said last month.

But the Australian Medical Association, the Public Health Association, the Healthcare and Hospitals Association and non-government organisation Medecins sans Frontieres have all called for the Australian government to substantially increase its contribution.

Sierra Leone and Amnesty International have condemned Australia’s decision to suspend entry visas for people from Ebola-affected countries in West Africa as “counterproductive” and “discriminatory”.

Ms King said there was a split in Cabinet about its response to the crisis, with Immigration Minister Scott Morrison “taking charge” and Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Health Minister Peter Dutton losing control of the debate.

Nearly 5,000 people have died of Ebola so far. More than 13,700 people have been infected in total, the vast majority in the West African countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

Diab

 

You can see, in this beautiful, soft face, the gentle soul of a professional who dedicated her life to helping others. A soul with hopes, fears, dreams, just like the rest of us. And now she is dead. For being a dentist.

We are posting this photograph in memory of Dr. Rou’aa Diab, a female dentist, who was arrested by the Islamic State on August 22, 2014.

She was arrested with four others in Al-Mayadeen, a city on the border of Iraq.

Without a trial, Diab was charged with the crime of “treating male patients”, and was executed by decapitation.

Dr. Diab was was beheaded for the crime of helping prevent and treat dental disease. She should be recognised by the dental community, and the world community, for her innocence, and her bravery and dedication.

And her name should never be forgotten.

May you rest in peace Dr. Rou’aa Diab.

IS are rabid animals who have slaughtered thousands upon thousands of completely innocent people. They must be put down.

So facepalm worthy, they made a statue for it.

So facepalm worthy, they made a statue for it.

OK, forget Cock Flavour Soup. I mean that was good, but we’ve gone one better.

Thanks to our eagle-eyed correspondent, we have now have what must be the all-time unfortunate packaging f*** up – yes, two in just a week!

OK, it’s from Iceland. Or at least, it’s from the frozen foods retailer called Iceland. But they speak English in both places, right?

This apparently got through the client, the marketing department, the quality control dept in the agency … no one in the retailer said anything …

Honestly. I mean, really?

And you thought the horse-meat pies was big news.

 

minge

 

Rumours of single men heading to Iceland for Christmas are greatly exaggerated. And if you don’t get the joke, which we’re sure you do, just click here. If you absolutely feel you need to. http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=minge

As always, for a full list of F*** Ups we have brought to the world for group derision, just pop F*** Up in the search box top left of this page and hit Enter.

Go on, you know you want to.

This has to be the best ever. Unless, Dear Reader, you know better? And yes, we’re not idiots, we know it could be a photoshop internet meme joke thing, but at this point, sans evidence from Snopes.com, we’re treating it as a real F*** Up, especially as we have seen other equally unlikely ones that we know to be true.

Some fancy dusting, right there ...

Some fancy dusting, right there …

Meanwhile, just coz we’re nice, here’s the best mice pie recipe ever. After all, Christmas isn’t far away now, right? And Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without mince pies. This easy recipe for the rich, sticky, sweet fruits wrapped in pastry reveals why they are so more-ishly delicious.

Mince pies have been eaten as part of a traditional British Christmas since as long ago as the 16th century. Back then they were made with meat (hence the name) but now they are made with sweet mincemeat; a mixture of dried fruits, sugar, spices and brandy.

Cute new design that has become popular recently.

Cute new design that has become popular recently.

Home made “mincemeat” is quick and easy to make and there are also many great commercial brands out there to use instead. The advantage of making your own is that you can, ahem, sample it as you go. Fun for all the family. And your tummy. And the kitchen smells simply awesome.

Suet is an important part of the mincemeat and is an animal fat, so if you don’t eat meat, look out for vegetarian version or make mincemeat using an alternative fat.

Shortcrust pastry is my preferred mince pie case, some like puff pastry, you choose.

INGREDIENTS
  • 350g / 12oz plain / all purpose flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 225g butter / 8 oz cubed or an equal mix of butter and lard
  • 1 beaten egg + 1 cold water as needed
  • 1 jar of mincemeat, shop bought or home made (see below)
  • 2 tbsp icing sugar
  • Prep Time: 25 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 45 minutes
  • Yield: Depends on size of tin used.
PREPARATION

Heat the oven to 205°C/400°F/Gas 6

Make the Pastry

  • Place the flour, butter and salt into a large clean bowl.
  • Rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs, working as quickly as possible to prevent the dough becoming warm.
  • Add the egg to the mixture and using a cold knife stir, add cold water a teaspoon at a time until the mixture binds but don’t make it too wet that it is sticky.
  • Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for a minimum of 15 minutes, up to 30 minutes

Assemble the Pies

  • Choose a muffin or bun tin for the size of the pie you want. Choose from a standard 12-cup muffin tin down to small canapé size. The number of pies will depend on the size of cup you choose.
  • Dust a work surface lightly with a little flour and roll out two-thirds of the pastry to 1/8″/3mm thick. Cut circles to line the cups of your tin, don’t worry if the pastry doesn’t come to the top.
  • Fill the pastry lined tins 2/3 full with mincemeat.
  • Roll out the remaining pastry to the same thickness and cut smaller circles to fit as lids on the tarts or to be decorative, cut stars or other fancy shapes.
  • Dampen the edges of the tart bases with a little cold water and press the lids on. Make a small hole in the surface of each pie with a small sharp knife to allow the steam to escape (you can omit this if using star-shaped lids).
  • Bake in the preheated oven for 20 mins (15 mins if making canape size) or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the icing sugar.Mince pies are delicious served hot or cold on their own or with Brandy Butter.They will keep well if placed in an airtight tin – up to seven days. Depending on your personal preference, they benefit from a gentle warming in the oven before serving. As an alternative, eat them with any creamy cheese like Brie or Camembert – unexpectedly perfect combination!

Mincemeat recipe

INGREDIENTS
  • 6oz/175g raisins
  • 4 oz/ 110g sultanas
  • 10 oz/ 275g currants
  • 4 oz/110g candied, mixed peel, finely chopped
  • 6 oz/175g shredded suet (beef or vegetarian)
  • 1/2 lb/ 250g soft, dark brown sugar
  • ½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 tsp mixed spice
  • Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
  • 1 Bramley or cooking apple, cored and finely chopped, no need to peel
  • 4 tbsp brandy
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 150 minutes
  • Total Time: 170 minutes
  • Yield: 3 X 1 lb Jars
The other good thing about Christmas catering!

The other good thing about Christmas catering!

If you prefer, add whiskey instead of brandy.

If you prefer, have a glass or two yourself while cooking.

It’s Christmas. You’re allowed.

Nom nom nom.

 

 

clown

 

There is a curious and well-known phobia where otherwise sane, rational people are scared of clowns.

The phenomenon is relatively recent, as the white-faced red-nosed version of clowns that some people find so alarming is a construction of the 20th century. Before that people with anxiety found something else to fixate on.

Now it seems there’s good reason to be worried. At least in Europe and the USA.

Clowns attack passers by

Freakish aggressive clowns, some allegedly armed with knives, pistols, and bats are driving French towns crazy, chasing down and attacking people.

In the southern port town of Agde, about 15 ‘clowns’ were arrested in a high school car park for ‘laughing manically’ while chasing people. In nearby Marseillan, a clown was detained for damaging a car.

In Montpellier: a ‘clown’ beat a man 30 times with an iron bar and then stole his wallet. Three motorists in the area also complained of “scary clowns.”

The French freak-clown wave began in the north a couple of weeks ago, in suburban Douai. In Bethune, a fake clown got a six-month suspended jail term for threatening passers-by.

A French police statement blames the web. “Since mid-October, a rumor inspired by videos published on the Internet has created the presence of threatening and aggressive clowns in France. Symptomatic of the impact of the Internet, this phenomenon can lead to damaging individual acts and disturbances to public order”.

The ‘clown craze’ is thought to have been triggered by a viral YouTube video and a recent episode of American Horror Story featuring a killer named Twisty.

Clown attack cases didn’t begin in France though: London’s Metropolitan Police dealt with 117 clown-related incidents in 2013.

In Portsmouth, UK, a masked figure began stroking passers-by in the city streets with a single red-gloved finger. As we come from Southampton, we’d believe anything of people in that particular locale.

US police have also made dozens of clown-related arrests, most prevalent in California.

Fear of clowns? It’s understandable.

But why be scared of the very look of a clown?

Coulrophobia – fear of clowns – is difficult to understand. They straddle a cultural nexus between fear and entertainment, but are generally intended to be affectionate, especially towards children.

The phobia may grow from the fascinating concept of “the uncanny valley”. The uncanny valley is a hypothesis in the field of human aesthetics which holds that when human features look and move almost, but not exactly, like natural human beings, it causes a response of revulsion among some human observers.

The “valley” refers to the dip in a graph of the comfort level of humans as something moves toward a healthy, natural human likeness but does not become entirely indistinguishable from a human. Examples of the effect can be found in the fields of robotics and 3D computer animation, among others. Unless the simalcrum is perfect, some people find it disturbing – and some find it so in the extreme.

The term was coined by the robotics professor Masahiro Mori as Bukimi no Tani Genshō (不気味の谷現象) in 1970. The hypothesis has been linked to Ernst Jentsch’s concept of the “uncanny” identified in a 1906 essay “On the Psychology of the Uncanny”. Jentsch’s conception was then elaborated by Sigmund Freud in a 1919 essay entitled “The Uncanny” (“Das Unheimliche”).

Mori’s original hypothesis states that as the appearance of a robot is made more human, some human observers’ emotional response to the robot will become increasingly positive and empathic, until a point is reached beyond which the response quickly becomes that of strong revulsion. However, as the robot’s appearance continues to become less distinguishable from that of a human being, the emotional response becomes positive once again and approaches human-to-human empathy levels.

This area of repulsive response aroused by a robot with appearance and motion between a “barely human” and “fully human” entity is called the uncanny valley. The name captures the idea that an almost human-looking robot will seem overly “strange” to some human beings, will produce a feeling of uncanniness, and will thus fail to evoke the empathic response required for productive human-robot interaction.

For robot, read clown. But why would humans react this way to something which is “almost” human, but slightly different, like a clown? The science is fascinating.

 

"What do you mean you don't want to have sex with me my pretty?"

“What do you mean you don’t want to have sex with me my pretty?”

 

A number of theories have been proposed to explain the cognitive mechanism underlying the uncanny valley phenomenon:

  • Mate selection. Automatic, stimulus-driven appraisals of uncanny stimuli elicit aversion by activating an evolved cognitive mechanism for the avoidance of selecting mates with low fertility, poor hormonal health, or ineffective immune systems based on visible features of the face and body that are predictive of those traits. Put simply, we avoid mating with weird looking people.
  • Mortality salience. Viewing an “uncanny” person elicits an innate fear of death and culturally-supported defences for coping with death’s inevitability.
  • We don’t want to get sick. Uncanny stimuli may activate a cognitive mechanism that originally evolved to motivate the avoidance of potential sources of pathogens by eliciting a disgust response. The more human someone looks, the stronger the aversion to its obvious defects, because (1) defects indicate disease, (2) more human-looking organisms are more closely related to human beings genetically, and (3) the probability of contracting disease-causing bacteria, viruses, and other parasites increases with genetic similarity. To some people, clowns look sick. We don’t want to catch whatever they’ve got.
  • They mess with our brains. Thanks to a concept called “Sorites paradoxes”, when we see a character with both human and nonhuman traits it undermines our sense of human identity by linking qualitatively different categories. That’s why quasi-human monsters like vampires are simultaneously attractive and scary. And why some Halloween costumes scare the bejeesus out of some people.
  • They just don’t measure up to our expectations. There is a concept of “violation of human norms” which says that if someone looks “almost” human, they elicit our model of a another human being and we have detailed normative expectations of how they will behave. Their non-human characteristics will be more noticeable than if they were trying to be something totally non-human, giving the human viewer a sense of strangeness. In other words, a clown stuck inside the uncanny valley is no longer being judged by the standards of a clown doing a passable job at pretending to be human, but is instead being judged by the standards of a human doing a terrible job at acting like a normal person.

So there you have it. If you’re frightened of clowns, you may have deep biological reasons to be so. Although frankly, we think having your new iPhone nicked by a hoodlum is the best reason to view with alarm someone approaching you in the street looking like a refugee from Billy Smart’s circus.

Thanks to Mix FM for gathering together people’s photos of the monstrous electrical storm that hit Melbourne in the wee small hours of Monday morning and to Colin for alerting us to them.

It was a real doozey, and the traffic and train chaos from power outages and flooding the next morning was astonishing. It is only a matter of time, of course, before some religious nut blames it all on God being angry over homosexuality, abortion, or the Australian cricket team. Actually, looking at the result against Pakistan, I think the cricket team were to blame.

The Wellthisiswhatithink household was certainly bleerily woken up, with candles lit in advance of the expected blackout which for some reason didn’t occur, unplugging computers from the wall etc. We’re only sorry we couldn’t take our own photos, but the new camera hasn’t arrived yet … of that, more soon!

 

lightning melb 1

 

lightning melb 2

 

lightning melb 9

lightning melb 8

lightning melb 7

lightning melb 6

lightning melb 5

lightning melb 4

lightning melb 3

 

 

tuni-MMAP-mdThe so-called “Arab Spring” was hailed at the time in the West as the beginning of a creeping democratisation of the Middle East, belatedly joining most of the rest of the world on the faltering path to democracy, separation of powers, and so on.

What is clear is those expectations were vastly overblown.

What happened in Egypt was one nasty dictatorship was replaced by an even nastier one when “democracy” elected a Government unacceptable to the military, to the capitalists, and to the West. In Libya the West got rid of Gadaffi but a lack of central leadership meant we replaced him with a series of vicious tribal warlords controlling their own little chunk of the country. We fomented an uprising against Assad in Syria and ended up with a brutal civil war and IS. In the deeply conservative Gulf States any change has been entirely negligible. If nothing else, the West has learned that involvement in the Middle East is always a matter of herding cats.

But there is one shining example of success. In the cradle of the revolutions that swept the Arabic-speaking world, the secular party Nidaa Tounes has now won the largest number of seats in Tunisia’s parliamentary election, defeating its main rival, the Islamist party Ennahda, according to two analyses of results across the country. The Islamist party has apparently accepted the result with good grace. “We have accepted this result and congratulate the winner,” Lotfi Zitoun, an Ennahda party official, told Reuters. Zitoun said the party reiterated its call for a unity government, including Ennahda, in the interest of the country.

North Africa expert Michael Willis, a fellow of St Antony’s College, Oxford University, said the decline in Ennahda’s electoral popularity reflected public discontent with their handling of the economy. “On the doorsteps, the economy was the main issue. Nidaa Tounes is seen as having the expertise to get the economy back on track.” Nidaa Tounes is 10 percentage points ahead of Ennahda. It has won 83 seats, with roughly 38 percent of the popular vote, to Ennahda’s 68 seats, representing about 31 percent of the vote, the Turkish news agency Anadolu reported after tabulating its own count of 214 of the 217 parliamentary seats.

A parallel tabulation conducted by a Tunisian election observer organization, Mourakiboun, placed Nidaa Tounes at 37 percent and Ennahda at 28 percent. Those figures were based on a random sample of 1,001 polling centers across the country, with a margin of error of 2 percent and 1 percent on the respective totals.

Young Tunisians, in particular, engaged enthusiastically with the new political process.

Young Tunisians, in particular, engaged enthusiastically with the new democratic political process.

Officials from both parties said that although premature, the counts matched their information.

Official results have not yet been released, and parties are restrained by law from announcing their own count before the election commission does. Provisional results are expected on Monday, but final results will take at least 48 hours.

Early results also showed a surprise gain for the party of the Tunisian tycoon Slim Riahi, who ran a flashy campaign that included handouts and pop concerts. Some of the smaller political parties fared badly under a new voting system, in particular Ettakatol, a coalition partner in the former government.

Nidaa Tounes, led by former Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi, 87, is an alliance of former government officials, liberals and secularists that was formed in 2012, largely in reaction to the post-revolutionary chaos under the Ennadha-led government. It was sharply critical of the Islamists’ performance and ran a campaign for a modern, secular society.

The results, if confirmed, would be a blow for Ennahda, which won a large popular vote and 89 seats in 2011 but struggled to manage rising insecurity and a sliding economy.

Tunisians filled polling stations on Sunday to elect a new Parliament, expressing a strong desire and some trepidation that, after months of political turmoil, the country would turn a corner nearly four years after a revolution.

Officials said the provisional turnout was nearly 62 percent, which election observers said demonstrated Tunisians’ support for democracy.

24The elections are the second in Tunisia since the popular uprising that overthrew President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 and set off a wave of change that was later dubbed the Arab Spring. They will bring in a new Parliament and government for a five-year term. Presidential elections are scheduled for next month.

The immediate return for Tunisians in maintaining a lid on tension and achieving a peaceful transition will be, of course, yet more tourism dollars flooding into the country. The country has also maintained close relations with Europe, and with France and Italy in particular, with growing mutual trade.

colloseumAn island of sanity in troubled north Africa, it is also an exceptionally interesting and beautiful country, with a fascinating history of civilisation going back thousands of years, notably being the home of the Carthaginian Empire which was so dominant in the Mediterranean area in centuries before Christ, and it was later occupied by Rome which made good use of its vast fertile soils to produce huge amounts of cereals, plus olive oil, figs, and more. Various waves of conquerors including Ottoman, Arab and French have created a multi-layered and outward-facing culture.

The country lies within a couple of hours flight from the major population centres of Europe. No-one could begrudge them this “peace dividend” and let us hope they continue to provide a beacon for sanity for the whole Arab-speaking world. Indeed, the rest of the region can learn much from Tunisia beyond its peaceful transition of power – it also has a large number of women MPs, a highly progressive code of individual freedom for women, Islamic extremism is rare (although not non-existent), the country enjoys a relatively open low-tariff economy, and it is accepting of Christian and most significantly Jewish minorities.

Today, we salute the Tunisian people for their fortitude and commonsense. When we rail and wail at the inability of much of the region to behave intelligently, let us look to the example of Tunisia, and hope.

Abdullah ElmirA Sydney teenager who ran away to join jihadists in Syria is the pawn of terrorists who “groomed” him just like pedophiles groom their child victims, a terror expert says.

Abdullah Elmir has turned up in a propaganda video for the IS group, also known as ISIL, after disappearing from his Bankstown home in June, saying he was going fishing.

The video is the fourth in a series called “Message of the Mujahid” which features foreign fighters, with previous releases showing British, French and Moroccan jihadists.

Grand Mufti quick to condemn "Islamic" extremists

Grand Mufti quick to condemn “Islamic” extremists

The Grand Mufti of Australia, Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammad, urged Muslims to reject calls from abroad tocommit violence against Australia and said it was “utterly deplorable for violent extremists to use Islam as a cover for their crimes and atrocities”.

In a joint statement, the nation’s peak Muslim organisations expressed “profound concerns and sadness” over Abdullah’s appearance in the Islamic State video and said there was an “urgent need” to examine how and why the teenager felt the need to leave the country and fight with a terrorist organisation.

In the clip, the 17-year-old threatens Australia and any nation that would try to stand in the group’s way.

Professor Greg Barton from Monash University’s Global Terrorism Research Centre says Elmir was recruited by wanted terrorist Mohammad Ali Baryalei, an Australian based in Syria.

He says terror recruiters lure targets by making friends through social media, like many sexual predators.

“It’s like sexual predation,” Professor Barton told the media.

“Somebody might strike up a friendship in an online chat forum and present themselves in a different fashion – to try to get them into their web. By the time they actually meet the people they’re speaking with, they may be in too deep to know better.”

He says the boy appears as a “pawn in the machine” in the chilling video.

“He thinks he’s the star … but the reality is, his new friends have got him a one-way ticket,” he said. “He’s not in charge of his own destiny at all, he’s being used.”

Prof Barton says young people are the easiest to radicalise.

“Teenagers, 20-somethings, particularly young men more than young women, are vulnerable to making rash judgments,” he said. “And they tend to be more rebellious toward (older) generations and sceptical of establishment figures.”

It is believed former Kings Cross bouncer Mr Baryalei, 33, recruited Elmir through western Sydney street preaching group Parramatta Street Dawah.

“He’s said to have recruited 30 plus young people – mostly in western Sydney through Street Dawah” Professor Barton said.

We agree with Professor Barton. What we are seeing is teenage braggadocio. No 17 year old understands the geo politics behind the likes of IS, they have no idea what the reality of death and injury is on the battlefield, they do not yet have an understanding of the terrible implications of the violence they may wreak on other families or what it really means to take another life, nor do they have the discretion to understand varying views of their own religion. What we are seeing here is the sophisticated internet version of the gathering of child soldiers by unprincipled militia in Africa and elsewhere.

abdullahThis young man will, one day, without any doubt, die a bloody death unknown, unmourned and unmarked in the conflict in Iraq. Those who recruited him as a footsoldier will not bat an eyelid at his passing.

Even if he does not, his life is effectively ruined, as he will no longer be welcome in his home country. The very best outlook he probaby has is to become a stateless refugee, in hiding.

It is all very sad, and a huge burden of guilt lies on the souls of those who recruit our innocents. The cases recently of two young Austrian women who travelled to join IS only to find themselves pimped out to fighters, impregnated, and now unable to leave after becoming utterly disillusioned, is yet more evidence that these people deserve our unflinching condemnation.

Meanwhile,  Abdullah’s family have said they are shocked and devastated. They believe he has been “brainwashed” and they want to know who paid for his air ticket and encouraged him to go. They have described him as academically bright and caring: and it is often so – those with intelligence, compassion and passion are the easiest to turn to the darkness.

We should all pray this young man somehow survives and is reuinted with those who can care for him. That, however, is vanishingly unlikely.

Screen shot 2014-10-20 at 4.43.30 PM

 

Note to Real Estate Advertisers … remove Lorum Ipsum from your website and replace with actual captions before you let the site go live.

*sighs*

What do they teach the young people nowadays? Mutter mutter, grumble grumble.

Mind you, it’s easily done.

I well remember many years ago my company was preparing a website for the Liberal Party who were about to defend their Victorian Government in a general election. (Don’t shoot me, fellow leftie peeps, it was paying work and not all my partners were lefties.)

eff-kennettAnyhow this work mainly consisted of sticking up simple web pages with each Liberal candidate on, and then a short bio after them.

But in preparing the draft of the website for the notoriously mecurial Jeff Kennett and the Liberal Party luminaries, the junior flog who was doing the grunt work on the website hadn’t been provided with a list of names of the candidates, so he just typed “Some Liberal Wanker” as a placeholder under each photo. He was presumably a leftie, too. Or maybe just sceptical about politicians generally.

Anyhow, the account executive concerned bundled up the website draft without looking at it and emailed it to everyone for their approval. Like that.

When we realised the error, with a sick feeling in the pit of our stomachs, a few bottles of wine were opened and we bunkered down waiting for the phone call telling us we’d been sacked.

But apparently, when Jeff saw the mock up, he laughed like a drain and commented, “Well, most of them are!”

A politician with a sense of humour? Who knew?

Since those days Jeff has gone on to reinvent himself as a media personality, a passionate supporter of his beloved Hawthorn Football Club, and most of all as an effective and thoughtful advocate for the anti-Depression group Beyond Blue. And good on him, too. Having once been one of Australia’s most polarising personalities, he is now considered something of a local treasure, and the work he’s done on Depression has changed lives. Funny old world.

Doppler Effect

Posted: October 19, 2014 in Popular Culture et al
Tags: , , , ,

ambulance night

 

The sound of an ambulance

very late in the fetid night

closes, then closer, louder,

howling, cutting machete-like

through the traffic for the ER,

then leaving us, passing

away now, quieter,

and quieter. Just how you

entered my life, in a hurry,

and left it as suddenly.

 

All there is now to tell the tale?

A wreck, and a fading echo.

say what?Wellthisiswhatithink is somewhat well-known for our seemingly endless selection of F*** Ups. Advertising F*** Ups. PR F*** Ups. Packaging F*** Ups. Social Media F*** Ups. And so it goes on. And on. Our eagle-eyed correspondents can be relied upon to feed us through this week’s latest edition with staggering regularity.

Just stick F*** Up in the search box top left of this page and you’ll see what we mean.

Anyhow.

This here is a new, modern, abstract Christmas tree being, er, erected in the centre of Paris.

 

christmas tree

And that, Dear Reader, is precisely all we are saying on the subject. Mules, whips and chains (oo-er missus) will not drag further comment from us.

No. No … stop it. No, don’t say it.

We daren’t even call it an Art F*** Up for fear of being mis-interpreted.

 

Akidi

Akidi

As the world focuses its attention on Ebola, Kurdish Journalist Muhanad Akidi and Iraqi cameraman Raad al-Azzawi have been murdered by Islamic State as acts of pure spite against those who oppose them.

Kurdish journalist Muhanad Akidi was murdered by IS militants on 13 October reportedly in retaliation for Kurdish self-defence in the north of Iraq and Syria.

His death was confirmed by the Kurdistan Democratic Party, who said he was executed at the Ghazlani military base.

Akidi’s death has not received as much coverage in the West as the beheading of American and british aid workers and journos. Akidi was reportedly captured two months ago whilst on assignment in the IS-held city of Mosul. He had been working as a journalist for a local news agency and also presented a television show.

Azzawi

Azzawi

News of the journalist’s death comes just days after reports that Iraqi cameraman Raad al-Azzawi was publicly executed near Tikrit.

The 37-year-old is believed to have been executed with a single shot, alongside his brother and two other civilians in the small village of Samra on Friday. It is thought they had refused to declare their support for Islamic State and work for the extremist group.

Their murders have also received relatively little attention in the West.

One of al-Azzawi’s relatives later said: “They came to his home and took him and his brother. He did nothing wrong; his only crime was to be a cameraman. He was just doing his job.”

Al-Azzawi, a father of three, was detained by IS militants on 7 September, according to Reporters without Borders.

Social media users have been circulating photos of Akidi and al-Azzawi, specifically calling for them to be remembered like western journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, who were beheaded.

The barbaric terrorists of “Islamic State” have declared that any journalist wanting to work in their territory must declare their allegiance to the caliphate or face execution.

One resident of the Islamic State-held city of Raqqa in Syria has confirmed that anyone who speaks to someone from the Western media will be killed.

Ebola in Liberia

Watching the world go into collective meltdown over the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is highly instructive for anyone who is interested in how the media works, how politics works, and how groupthink works.

The media are rubbing their collective hands with glee. Suddenly they have a new and potentially terrifying threat to wax lyrical about: ISIS terrorism is so last week, right?

Now a “deadly” virus that most people have never heard of, that’s escaped from the nasty, mucky, dark continent of Africa, and threatens us nice white people in our impeccably clean western societies, offers the media a chance for wall-to-wall coverage, most of it hysterical and uninformed.

Politicians now fall neatly into two camps. Those who give a shit about tackling the outbreak, and those who simply give a shit about blaming someone else, and always on the other side of the aisle.

And groupthink has merely descended into group terror. You can’t blame people for being scared, but the level of fear has reached ridiculously high proportions astonishingly quickly.

So here’s a few facts.

ebolavirusEbola can be and is deadly, (with morbidity rates as high as 70% in some of the countries currently under attack), but the vast majority of people infected (perhaps upwards of 90%) will survive IF they receive proper medical care, such as simple matters including rehydration.

This is actually higher than some other much more common severe illnesses.

The huge death numbers in West Africa are because the sanitation, medical and social systems there are completely inadequate to deal with the illness.

The strain of Ebola affecting Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Liberia is not airborne. You HAVE to have an exchange of bodily fluids to catch it. The rapid transition rate in West Africa is because poor people are caring for sick relatives in their own homes, and avoiding contact with saliva, blood and bodily wastes (or surfaces contaminated with them) is extraordinarily difficult in those circumstances.

In reality, as you can see here, the spread rate of Ebola against other serious illnesses is very slow. This is partly, tragically, because in poor countries the sick don’t live long enough to pass the virus on to very many people. Ebola is actually a very inefficient virus. It kills its victims too quickly.

The solution to the Ebola crisis is very simple. By all means isolate the very few cases that will occur in advanced countries, and treat those people with all due care for the treating staff as well. The majority of infected people will recover, especially if they are treated early. Impose travel bans if you wish, though it would be much more sensible to implement heat screening of in-bound passengers, such as was used during the SARS crisis in China.

There is also evidence from previous outbreaks that educating the local community about how to handle patients and reduce infection-risk is an effective way to slow or end outbreaks. This is another area of activity that should be ramped up.

In the meantime, though, whatever else we do, we must DRAMATICALLY increase aid to West Africa. We should be FLOODING the area with capacity to deal with the crisis, AND to deal there with any aid workers from advanced countries who become infected, keeping them there instead of repatriating them to their home country. Although conditions in these countries are extremely difficult, it is not beyond the wit and wisdom of mankind to isolate and treat the virus there. What IS needed is willpower and decisive action and plenty of fast money.

If this was a war, an immediate and resolute response would be found.

Well, this is a war. A war to save potentially hundreds of thousands of poor victims worldwide. This is not a war to protect the West. It was and is and will be a war to protect countries in Africa (and possibly elsewhere) from being set back 25 years in their development, through the avoidable death of countless innocent people.

Rabbit caught in headlights? Pretty much.

Rabbit caught in headlights? Pretty much.

In this regard, the failure of the Australian government to yet send staff to the area is staggeringly weak and vacillating.

Health Minister Peter Dutton waffles on about not knowing where to treat any staff who contract the virus.

Well, here’s a question to answer, Mr Dutton. If Ebola gets into the slums of the poorer countries of Asia (such as especially the Philippines and Thailand) or the favelas of South America, it will then GENUINELY be too late to stop a worldwide humanitarian disaster. What will you do then?

If you are genuinely concerned about the safety of our aid workers or troops, (and not simply trying to save money and hope someone else does the heavy lifting) then explain the situation simply and clearly, and ask for volunteers.

Action, this day. Nothing else is acceptable.

PS Don’t expect to see the commonsense in this article reported in mainstream media, so feel free to share it.

 

 

australian progressives

As a bit of an ironed-on old radical, I have long despaired of finding a political home in Australia to nestle in, to work for, or even to stand for. The Memsahib and I used to be very involved with the Australian Democrats, but they sadly degenerated into squabbling and ultimately irrelevance, which is a great sorrow. We have happy memories of being a speechwriter and campaign organiser for Janine Haines, the great work done by Sid Spindler and Janet Powell, (all now very sadly deceased) and the consistency, clarity and dignity of Lyn Allison.

Anyhow, I simply can’t join the Liberal Party, even though I have some time for identities on the left-wing of their party, which still includes some old “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” centrist types. Indeed, as recently as a few weeks ago a very senior minister in the Liberal Government in Victoria almost begged me to join. But I am afraid the party is now comprehensively captured at all levels by the hard men of the neo-con Thatcherite Friedmanite right, and we wouldn’t last five minutes in it before being comprehensively squashed or expelled.

The Australian Labor Party is so right wing it could virtually replace the Liberal Party and no one would really notice the difference, except, perhaps for the trade union barony replacing the influence currently wielded by the top end of town, and as anyone who has dined in top restaurants or clubs around the country can attest, away from the confected antagonism of the bear pit of Parliament or the Murdoch press, there is nothing a good Trade Union leader likes as much as a generous and compliant Captain of Industry, and nothing the Captain of Industry likes as much as a supine and properly tamed Union Leader. Plus the sight of Labor seeking to out-do the Coalition on creating ever-more brutish asylum seeker policy, and caving in utterly on environmental protection, makes one throw up in one’s mouth just a little. Or a lot.

The Greens have their moments, but the leadership is weak and faintly ridiculous, and they are far too oppositionally-populist for my liking. They seem obsessed with trying to take over the news cycle with what are often ever more silly statements, and as a result they have undoubtedly plateaued in support, and they also seem very uncertain as to how to broaden their support base from its current inner-urban trendry core plus a few “doctor’s wives” thrown in. I am not passionately opposed to them, but I am not encouraged to join them, either.

As for the Palmer United Party, that is one pup I am not buying. I actually quite like Jackie Lambie’s complete lack of guile – it’s moderately refreshing even when I don’t agree with her views – but Clive Palmer just doesn’t ring true to me, as anything other than a rather maniacal ego for hire with more money than sense. You just can’t make up policy on the run month after month with no clear identification of where you sit on the political scale – somewhere to the right, but where exactly? – and no clearly enunciated suite of policies for the future. Pure populism is all very well – and there is still considerable scope for Palmer to wreak havoc in the next Federal Election, hurting the Liberals and Nationals especially – but it is a waning asset, and I suspect PUP will die out before long, and they won’t be much missed, either.

I am not going to join the Nats, basically because I am not especially interested in country or regional development (I’m not agin it in any way, it’s just not where my interests lie, you understand) and I am not a socially-conservative-agrarian-socialist-protectionist with no real interests other than clinging to relevance in Government and the seats gifted them by their Liberal brethren. No tick there. And I have been impressed with the Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm elected by accident in NSW – he’s been excellent and uncompromising so far on personal liberty – but their laissez faire libertarian-right economic policies belong on the toilet walls of a lunatic asylum. So no tick there, either.

Which is a long way round of saying “A plague on all your houses” and announcing that I am so fed up with both established right and left in Australian politics that I have decided to join a new party as a founding member. That way I avoid just vegging out and leaving it to the idiots, and I get to help form the policies and direction of the new party.

Could turn into nothing. Most new parties do. And if it does fizzle and bust, well, no harm done. But I like the way it talks about working outside the electoral cycle to promote new thinking as well as being an electoral alternative. There are many ways to influence events, and not all of them involve winning overall power at the ballot box.

Or it could turn into something I distrust or dislike, at which time I will leave.

So it’s a punt, but really, Dear Reader, what have we got to lose?

Join me?

https://www.australianprogressives.org.au/

 

progressive values

 

I would welcome comment, positive or negative. And polite.

Stephen Yolland
Melbourne October 2014

 

Shock death: jockey Caitlin Forrest.

 

Regular readers of Wellthisiswhatithink will be very familiar with our love of thoroughbred racing.

But there have been stark reminders this week that it is anything but a sport without risks.

The racing industry in Australia is reeling from news of the death of a second jockey in one of its most important weeks after Caitlin Forrest died from injuries sustained in a horrific four-horse fall at Murray Bridge on Wednesday.

The 19-year-old South Australian apprentice crashed to the turf and was hit by the pack of horses behind her when riding in the race before the Murray Bridge Gold Cup.

Forrest was semi-conscious and responsive when airlifted to hospital, but her condition deteriorated and she died from her injuries overnight.

Horrific four horse fall.

Horrific four horse fall.

Adrian Patterson (El Prado Gold), Justin Potter (Ethbaal) and Libby Hopwood (Barigan Boy) were all flung to the turf as well when Forrest’s mount Collo Voce stumbled on the turn. Collo Voce was put down, but the other three horses regained their footing after the fall.

Forrest’s death came just a day after Queensland jockey Carly-Mae Pye died from injuries she sustained when a horse she was riding in a Rockhampton jump out on Monday broke both its front legs.

Race clubs across the country flew flags at half mast and jockeys wore black armbands on Wednesday in the wake of Pye’s death.

Tributes are flowing on social media for Forrest, who was considered a top prospect in the saddle after notching up 44 wins last season.

Caitlin and her partner, fellow jockey Scott Westover - the other tragic fact, of course, is the young age of so many of those killed in sport.

Caitlin and her partner, fellow jockey Scott Westover – the other tragic fact, of course, is the young age of so many of those killed in sport.

“She was there when I was starting my stable, she worked closely together with myself and Kelly and she was really part of our family,” said trainer Sam Kavanagh, who took in Forrest while she was learning her craft.

“She comes from a racing family, her dad Darren rode worked for dad and myself and her mum Yvonne broke in horses for us. We watched her grow up and my heart goes out to them and her partner Scott [Westover].

“I can still remember giving her her first ride in a trial and a race, she was always happy and had a great sense of humour. She had a great attitude and a great love for all animals.

“She was a very good young jockey and had it all in front of her, so it is just very tough to think she is gone.”

Forrest’s death has sparked calls for a complete review of Australian racing, which has lost four female jockeys in 14 months. Simone Montgomerie died after falling on Darwin Cup day in August last year while mother-of-two Desiree Gill died after tumbling from a mount on the Sunshine Coast in November.

At the Wellthisiswhatithink desk we strongly doubt that racing of any kind can ever be made totally risk free. We have recently seen a near death on the Formula 1 circuit, a death on the Nascar circuit, last year a death in international cycling, and various very sad accidents in the ski-ing world. And it’s not just racing: for racing, read football of all kinds – read rugby, Aussie Rules especially – ice hockey, and more.

But we cannot, surely, do more than to make these sports “as safe as possible”? It would be an immeasurably poorer world were people stopped for pursuing the sports they love because there is an element of danger in them. Caitlin’s death – the death of any sportsperson – is a bitter tragedy, but it should also be said that a tiny percentage of sportspeople die in pursuit of their dreams.

Professional jockeys put their lives on the line more than most, though, and today we salute them all for their skills and for the mesmerising excitement they bring to millions. They deserve every cent they make.

Our deepest sympathy to all who grieve.

Sydney Morning Herald and others

putinshirtless“Look, I’m going to shirtfront Mr Putin … you bet I am.”

Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s fighting words about insisting Vladimir Putin face up to his complaints about the downing of MH 17 by Ukrainian rebels almost certainly sent the diplomats in the Russian Embassy rushing for their Australian slang dictionaries on Monday, not to mention Pravda’s opinion writers to bend over their sweaty typewriters in faux outrage.

Many Australian observers were also left scratching their heads at the evocative choice of words, which hails from the lexicon of Australian Rules football.

Ultimately Mr Abbott (or his media manager) may be the only one who truly knows what he plans to do during bilateral talks with Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, at the G20 in Brisbane next month.

We wouldn’t have thought Mr Putin was the easiest person to shirtfront as he is so often without one.

So what exactly is a ‘shirtfront’? For those uncertain as to the niceties of Australian Rules Football, it goes something like this.

Shirtfront (Australian Rules) noun, “A fierce tackle, usually delivered by the shoulder to the chest of an opponent.” verb, “The act of delivering such a tackle.” – Oxford Australian Dictionary.

oh-really

 

It’s been awhile since we had a really good F*** Up to share, and we can feel your nervous anticipation, Dear Reader, so here is a new one for you. Ta-da!

 

cock flavour soup mix

 

Quality since 1922 indeed. We think that means since twenty past seven last night.

Believe it or not, this was seen on a BRITISH supermarket shelf by our eagle-eyed correspondent. Amazing.

As for which market segment might go hunting for this particular item, let us just say that our lips are sealed.

neuro-blissMeanwhile, I am not the only blogger driven nuts by the stupidities of packaging. The Flaklist kindly found this beauty.

As he says:

Oh good, my years of waiting have finally paid off.  At last, there’s a drink on the market that has married the shapely form of a butt plug with the distinctive colouration of a used condom.  That’s just what I’ve always said would make a beverage look irresistibly appetising.  Brilliant.

And you thought we are harsh!

Flaklist also takes aim at a series of packaging ephemera from Sainsbury’s in the UK.

Along the lines of health warnings like “Contains Nuts” being on a clear-wrap packet of peanuts, he bemoans the idiot extra comments advertising writers put on packaging in case we don’t, just, you know, get the point.

This is my favourite. Yes, when in doubt, say more. And more and more and more.

 

fruity

 

Refreshing and fruity.

Fruity (adjective) – having the taste or smell of fruit.

Raspberry (noun) – a type of fruit.

Incontrovertible (adjective) – using the term ‘fruity’ to describe a fucking fruit.

Junior marketing managers approving packaging detail, please note.

We do confess, Dear Reader, to occasionally being somewhat impatient with our feminist sisters.

Let’s be clear: we are totally on-side with equality of opportunity. Equal pay. Demolishing the glass ceiling. And freeing women from the need to constantly defend themselves from the appalling ingrained sexism that sees them the victim of unwelcome sexual advances, and worse.

And please note: fruit of one’s loins was sent to learn Taekwondo from the age of 11 to 18. Apart from the fact that Pop Pops will come after you with a machete, we doubt any male would survive assaulting her will leave the scene with their gonads intact.

But women shouldn’t have to become self-defence experts to protect themselves, and anyway, there are some attacks no one could defend themselves against.

 

Reshma before and after

Reshma before and after

 

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/support-acid-attack-survivor-reshma

Like us, you may want to donate to help provide treatment for a much-loved 18 year old Indian girl hideously disfigured by an acid attack in Mumbai.

Her full story is here:

 

India's acid victims still suffer despite new rules

 

India’s acid victims still suffer despite new rules. The Indian teenager’s voice trembles as she recalls the day she lost her face when her brother-in-law and his friends pinned her down and doused her with acid.

Amid the horror of the attack, which followed a family dispute, Reshma Qureshi should have received swift state aid after India’s top court ruled that victims were entitled to 100,000 rupees ($1,600) within 15 days.

But, five months later, she is yet to receive a penny.

“One of my eyes is ruined, yet no help is coming,” the 18-year-old told AFP in her family’s cramped Mumbai tenement, as tears ran down her disfigured face, to which her mother applied cream to soothe the burning.

Acid attacks have long plagued India, often targeting women in public places as a form of revenge linked to dowry or land disputes or a man’s advances spurned.

 

Twenty-year-old Ritu was attacked by her cousin during a dispute over property about two years ago.

 

Those who survive the attacks face lifelong scars and social stigma. Reshma, once a pretty and outgoing commerce student, no longer socialises with friends but lies quietly on the family bed, saying and eating little.

Despite steps taken last year to help wipe out the scourge and improve financial aid for survivors, activists say little has changed.

“Still there’s no awareness on the issue,” said Alok Dixit of the New Delhi-based Stop Acid Attacks campaign group, accusing authorities of “buying time”.

The Supreme Court in July last year gave Indian states three months to enforce restrictions on the sale of acid, but campaigners say it remains easy to purchase.

The court also said victims should get 300,000 rupees in compensation, a third of it within 15 days of the assault.

Dixit said he knew of nobody who had received this initial sum so quickly, while only two in 100 cases had managed to win the full amount.

“People don’t know how to apply for compensation. The authorities don’t know,” he said.

Even if claims were successful, the figure is “not at all enough” for the costly and multiple plastic surgeries required, Dixit added.

 

Laxmi was 15 years old when she was attacked by her brother’s 32-year-old friend after she refused his marriage proposal.

 

Reshma, the adored youngest child of a taxi driver, was attacked in her family’s northern home state of Uttar Pradesh, and the fact that she lives in Mumbai complicates her claim.

Her relatives have clubbed together and taken out loans for her treatment, but doctors have said she may need up to 10 more operations.

Nothing will be alright.

“After that things will be better, but still nothing will be alright,” she said.

Relatives were in tears when the press visited the family home, reached by a steep ladder down a maze of alleyways.

Reshma’s elder sister Gulshan, whose estranged husband carried out the attack, witnessed the assault and suffered burns on her arms, but wishes she had been the main target.

The family believe Reshma was singled out because of her beauty and popularity.

“Reshma is very emotional and she wants to study,” Gulshan said.

While Gulshan’s husband was arrested and jailed, a juvenile in the gang has been freed on bail and two other accomplices remain at large, according to the family.

“The police don’t say anything, they don’t search anything,” said Reshma.

Last year, acid attacks were made a specific criminal offence in India punishable with at least a decade behind bars. But court cases can drag on for years.

Particularly in northern states, “police are not very cooperative and we have heard of cases where they try to get families to change their statement,” said Bhagirath Iyer, a member of the volunteer network “Make Love Not Scars”, which helps victims.

 

A fashion photo shoot featuring five acid attack victims is drawing wide attention in India, where open discussions about violence against woman are drawing attention to a long-ignored public scourge.

 

Crowd funding help

Frustrated with the lack of government aid, activists have meanwhile turned to online crowd funding to help raise funds for acid attack survivors.

“Make Love Not Scars” has set up a campaign on the website Indiegogo for Reshma, who returned to hospital for more treatment on Friday. The immediate target was $2,200, which has been passed, although her overall costs are expected to be much higher.

Iyer said donations usually came from wealthier Indians living abroad, but they were “bombarding” Indian celebrities on Twitter to spread their message.

“Crowdsourcing is possible but you have to market it really hard,” he said, adding that upper middle-class victims often won more attention in the Indian media than those from poorer social backgrounds.

Reshma, who describes her face today as “so scary”, is desperate to finish her treatment and hopeful that she will bring her attackers to justice.

“I want to tell them that they should not be able to do to other girls what they have done to me.”

The campaign site for Reshma can be found at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/support-acid-attack-survivor-reshma. Please donate; it takes a few seconds, and even a few dollars will make a huge difference to this poor girl and her family.

And to our feminist friends, let us say this. Yes, we know terrible attacks happen to women in Western countries too, but in less developed countries they are far more common, more culturally acceptable, and include, in some places, virtually no communal resistance to rape, lynching, spousal violence, casual murder, stoning, whipping, and more. They mean women cannot work for pay, are virtual slaves in their homes, cannot be educated and may be shot if they say they should be, may not leave home unaccompanied, are forced to wear uncomfortable and restrictive dress, are not allowed the same rights as men to a fair and independent trial, and are frequently jailed or executed for their “crime” of being raped and demanding justice.

The women of ALL the world need feminists from ALL OVER THE WORLD to campaign on their behalf. Now.

If you want to know why, watch this:

 

#itsagirlthing

 

Change is the only constant - Heraclitus.

Change is the only constant – Heraclitus.
Photo: Lincoln Harrison photographs star trails taken over 15 hours in Bendigo, Australia at scenic Lake Eppalock.

 

As we age, the brain plays curious tricks on us. Time, for one thing, seems to speed up, although it does not, of course. It is merely that our own understanding of the mutability of life becomes more acute. Our awareness of change, and the relentless pace of change, intensifies as we age.

When we are young, we have a seemingly endless amount of time stretching ahead of us. But as we enter middle age, and then old age, it is clear that our time is inevitably limited. And apart from the ever more rapid recurrence of landmark annual events (Wimbledon, a particular horse race, Proms concerts, 4th of July: we always know it is early May by the arrival of the FA Cup Final, for example) what seems to mark the clicking of the shears most often and most obviously is the endless round of the seasons, rolling on regardless of what we seek to make of our small and insignificant lives, and amply demonstrated in the world around us.

Our gardens. The landscape. Change is constant. Inevitable, inexorable.

Last night, we had a fierce wind squall. Just one. It lasted no more than a minute, and was, in its way, rather alarming. The suddenness, the roaring noise, the feeling of an invisible and irresistible force battering at the plate glass doors which bowed and complained.

What was most dramatic, though, was the effect of the wind on the magnificent ornamental cherry tree just outside our front door. For a few weeks now it has been literally groaning with the most exquisite light pink and white blossom, as it does every year, lending us joy and a sense of wonder every time we walk by it or look out.

In the last few days, a few of those blossoms have been fluttering to the ground, their work done. The tree has been a mine for our local bees, who have been harvesting it for all they’re worth before disappearing back to wherever their hive is, but they have been fewer in recent days, and now the slightest gust of wind brings petals down on our heads. It is a little like a shower made of flowers.

Suddenly, the leaves  break through.

Suddenly, the leaves break through.

When the squall hit in all its demanding force, the tree bent almost double, so we feared it might break. And in what seemed an instant, it released a waterfall of colour to the ground. After the wind Gods had passed on, it seemed suddenly somewhat denuded. Uncloaked. And in that instant, it seemed that soft and gentle Spring had come, and gone, and all that was left now was the aching, baking heat of summer. The ground looked like a hailstorm had passed, but the hail was flowers. It seemed terribly sad, and permanent, and like something was lost.

Goodbye until next year

Goodbye until next year

But that is only one way to view the event. Another way, entirely, is to celebrate the new look of the tree. Now one can perceive that it is newly dressed in bright green leaves that shimmer and shine in the morning sun, with their own pleasing beauty. Some blossoms still adhere to the tree, but now they drop pretty much constantly, eddying in the breezes.

But where each delicate flower falls now lives the possibility of a cherry, red and pretty and hopeful, like a young girl’s first experiment with lipstick.

And without the coming heat of summer, driving in on us now as it is with blind and careless certainty, no fruit would duly ripen on the tree. The gorgeous bird life that we are blessed with in all seasons would have nothing to squabble about as they flit from branch to branch just a yard or two from where we sip our cooling drinks, just as without the blossoms the bees would have nothing to do.

As far as nature is concerned, we are mere bystanders. Nature understands the cycle of change, the endless mutability, the replacing of one joy with another. And that’s the thing about change. Change is a way of remembering what was there before change occurred by sharpening our awareness of our life, making us more thoughtful, more “mindful”, in modern jargon. Change brings things into stark focus, as only loss can. But loss can be a beginning, not just an end.

Change is what we make it. We can either be confronted by it, or embrace it as unknowable, unavoidable, and inevitable. Seeking what comes after with the same enthusiasm with which we celebrated what went before. More than 2000 years ago, Socrates said “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new.”

My mother, who was much taken with what she called her “little sayings”, often remarked, when change happened, that “It’s an ill-wind that blows no-one any good.”

The green leaves and the tiny cherries agree. Everything to its time, and then round we go again.

Photo: Maarten Van de Voort. Used with permission. See http://maartenvandevoort.nl/

Photo: Maarten Van de Voort. Used with permission.

I first fell in love when I was 10 years and 11 months old. She was 10 something, too. It was 1967. Early June. A day trip to Brownsea Island. There was me, my Mum, and my best mate Ian Sinclair. Ian was from Glasgow. Lord knows what his family was doing living in suburban Bournemouth on the genteel South Coast of England – Costa Geriatrica they call it – but he was incredibly exotic and attractive, with his rough Glaswegian accent, short, nuggety frame, tousled brown curls, and impish good looks. I think every girl in school was mad about him, not to mention a few older girls who had already gone ahead to big school, but with whom we shared the local bus service and cafes. Ian was, naturally, going out with the prettiest girl in school, Helen. I was going out with the next prettiest, her twin sister Julie. Both girls were exceptionally attractive, awesomely tall, slender, played a demon game of netball, and were kindness personified. But whereas at nearly eleven Helen and Ian were already a little more “advanced” than might have been quite proper with their affections, neither Julie and I really had a clue what we were doing, apart from snatching the occasional mis-managed kiss and giggling inanely. She used to draw a lot of cartoon horses heads, too, and delighted in drawing them kissing each other, which was, she explained, a cipher for our affections, and much easier than both of us trying to surreptitiously watch the more skilled Ian and Helen and work out what we were doing wrong. At the time, this compromise satisfied my emotional requirements from a girlfriend entirely, and we were great friends. But then, one fateful day, on Brownsea Island, Ian and I rounded a corner, having left my mother reading the early edition of the Bournemouth Evening Echo on the sun-kissed grassy lawns, and walked into Erin. Erin was the same height as me. Her lustrous hair, cut into a fringe behind which a pony tail tumbled and bounded around her shoulders (think Olivia Newton-John in the early scenes of Grease, but with light brown hair) shone – literally shone – and her face seemed almost to have a halo around it. She wore a simple summer dress, and across the bridge of her upturned nose lay a spray of tiny freckles. Above that, a pair of laughing, humourous brown eyes twinkled challengingly. I swear I stopped stone dead. Transfixed. She was, without question, the most beautiful creature I had ever clapped eyes on. Despite her holding my gaze, and swinging her body invitingly from side to side, I simply couldn’t speak. Ian laughed: “This is my best friend, Steve. I’m going over there, you talk.” And with that, he left. Wise beyond his years, to a fault, was our Ian. In retrospect, she did all the work. couple handsShe asked where I was from, explained she was from a village nearby, told me her life history, (which basically consisted of which school subjects she liked), and generally tried to put me at my ease. She was smiling constantly, as if in possession of a secret I did not share. Before long she had enough of talking, and her innately wild spirit took over. She insisted we wander the more isolated part of the island, and soon enough, hand in hand, that is what we did. She was not my first kiss. But she was the first that happened spontaneously. Sneaky games of spin the bottle didn’t count, even if I had been introduced to the joys of kissing “properly” by Rick’s big sister Anna, who when the bottle slowly ground to a halt in front of me took me into the hall and proceeded to inculcate in me a joy of necking that stood me in good stead in years to come. With a rather tired and world-weary air, the 13 year old took me under her wing, almost as a social service. It was great. But my goodness, it was not as great as kissing Erin. Our lips met, without warning, and it was perfect. It wasn’t forced, or scary. I felt a rush of emotions that were mainly composed of testosterone and adrenalin, and it was altogether wonderful. When I pulled back, she stood there with her arms around my waist, and leaned back, gauging, I think, the reaction in my face. Obviously satisfied, she kissed me again. We walked a bit, mostly in silence, punctuated by laughter. She told me what she liked about me. At that moment, nothing was wrong, or could be wrong. Then we ran. Ran as if the wild winds of the world were snapping at our heels. We ran for what seemed like hours, but it can only have been only a few minutes, maybe thirty, running with complete abandon, but always hand in hand. Our hands were clasped as if to let go would be to bring the world to an abrupt end. We ran through tree branches and bushes and down tracks and up hills and over the endless fields of purple heather and nothing could stop us; at that moment, I think I could have gladly run forever and never needed to breathe. Until, of course, we ran into Ian, just before we reached the lawn, and the ferry that would take us and the Triumph Herald back to the mainland, and the inevitable goodbye, and the hilarity in Ian’s face punctured the moment, and Erin kissed me briefly just once more, and wrote down her phone number, and I went home. Somewhere a peacock cried its lamentation to the skies. As I left, she got smaller and smaller, but it looked like she didn’t take her eyes off the ferry, until we had bumped off the other end, and turned left along the Sandbanks sand-dunes, and she was hidden from view. And when Mum asked us in the car what we were talking about, she told me in no uncertain terms that I was too young to be getting a bus to another village to see a girl the same age, and goodness me, what would her mother think, for Heaven’s sake, and no, I couldn’t ring, and give me that piece of paper, and that, emphatically and finally, was that. I’ve had a thing for freckles ever since. And girls called Erin. I never even got to say sorry. She must have thought I didn’t care.

There is a persistent belief that the Sport of Kings is only open to those with very deep pockets. Oil sheiks. Bankers. Mafioso. Captains of Industry. And, er … Kings. Well nowadays that’s simply not true.

 

Khutulun belts home at Sandown. Photo courtesy Sarah Ebbett at Victoriy Media.

Khutulun belts home at Sandown. Photo courtesy of Sarah Ebbett at Victory Media.

 

With the growth of syndication – where ownership of a horse is split up between a bunch of like-minded owners – the tinker, the tailor, the soldier and the sailor is getting into it more and more. Not to mention, ahem, the occasional writer.

As an old Uncle of ours once remarked, “Nice to have an interest, boyo. Don’t need to own the whole thing – that’s a big black hole that you throw fivers into. Buy a nose and hopes it gets it in front now and then.”

Wise advice. So about 18 months back, La Famille Wellthisiswhatithink invested in just 5% of a pretty filly called Khutulun. Our five per cent cost us just a thousand bucks, plus a promise to pay about another $1000 a year. That’s it. Virtually all the horse’s costs would be covered by that investment for a whole year. And we could bale out if money suddenly became an issue. And although a couple of grand isn’t nothing, well, it’s also not a lot to turn a lifelong dream of owning a “nag” into a reality. Not when a top restaurant can be $2-300 a couple for dinner nowadays. We’d rather have sausages at home and feed the horse.

Khutulun. Well, she wasn’t called anything at that point, actually, she was just a big, ornery filly with a large arse and a bad attitude. Both things endeared her to us. The large arse because coupled with a big set of lungs they make up the best combination any racehorse can have. Of course, we were guessing on her lungs, but there were “stayers” all down the Dam side of her pedigree, so we hoped we’d picked well. And we loved her ornery attitude, which everyone associated with her was quick to mention. Some people worry about such things, but horses take time to mature, and with a filly, especially – who will race in fillies races and mare’s races, to be sure, but will also have to take on the bigger, stronger even ornier boys sometimes – a little bit of “attitood” never goes amiss. She had plenty of vim and vigour about her – plenty of “you know who I am? – so we took a plunge.

She was born at the wrong time of the year to do much in Springtime, so her first “preparation” was in autumn last year. Everyone was full of doubts. She didn’t like her work, loved lying down, was a bit flighty, and didn’t seem to learn. One thing was noticeable, though. She ate everything offered to her like a trencherman on steroids, (she still does), and she never seemed puffed after a run. Some wanted to bail out of her. We hung in, convinced we had chosen well, even when those who are paid to know these things had their doubts.

A warrior nature. That made sense.

A warrior nature. That made sense.

Why Khutulun? The world’s most mis-pronounced name for a horse – think “Kutlin”, Kutulin” “Kootoolin” – it’s actually Koo-Too-Lun, if anyone cares – was a desperate final attempt to find something, anything, that combined it’s Sire’s name (Soldier’s Tale) with it’s Dam (Great Tradition). Perhaps fifty names were knocked back as already in use.

Eventually Khutulun – a warrior princess from Mongolia, daughter of Kublai Khan, famous horsewoman – got up.

Cue press releases hopelessly trying to persuade race callers to pronounce her name correctly. The owners didn’t care: it was just one more “us against the world” feature of the whole exercise. We knew how to say her name, that’s all that mattered.

And as soon as Miss Ornery of Caulfield hit a racetrack – in cheerful, charming, rural Kyneton – she proceeded to cause a shock. Because she romped home to win it. All over the park, a little bit to the left, then heading right, belting on down the straight when the race was already well won, apprentice jockey clinging to her back for all he was worth. And she pulled up looking ready to go round again. Cue raised eyebrows all round.

 

"I got this."

“I got this.”

 

A series of races at Sandown and Caulfield city tracks followed.

For many racehorse owners, just getting to a city track is as good as having a winner. That wasn’t what Khutulun was about, though.

She never ran worse than fourth, grabbed a third, a fighting second to the horse that later won the Queensland Derby, (after having been baulked 200 metres out, too), and bagged another win. She quickly amassed $100,000 in prize money, and she still didn’t run like a racehorse. She just shook her head up and down and side to side and ran. And ran and ran and ran. Clearly didn’t like the idea of any other horse getting to the line in front of her – ornery, see?

Her season ended with a creditable performance beaten maybe three lengths in the Queensland Oaks when she started from the widest possible barrier and threw a shoe off halfway round. She was cheered on by a bunch of owners who had flown in from all round the country. A horse that cost us just $1,000 each, running in a Group One race in the sunshine in Brisbane. A horse no one thought would ever do anything, from a Sire that was recently retired because nothing ever won from it.

Dream come true? You betcha.

And along the way, something rather lovely happened: the 20 owners became friends, and turning up at the races became like one big party each time. A more disparate bunch you couldn’t imagine – a Council worker, handful of tradies, a writer, couple of public servants, a pair of real estate experts. More than a few tubes of amber throat-charmer lubricated the delightful swapping of life stories, everyone enthusing ever more delightedly about “our girl”.

Luke Oliver ... quietly spoken, a shy, ready smile, and a headful of bloody clever.

Luke Oliver … quietly spoken, a shy, ready smile, and a headful of bloody clever.

We got to know the trainer, Luke Oliver, and his racing manager Steve Leonie.

A nicer pair of blokes you could not imagine.

Not only were they and their team turning our no-hoper into something resembling a champion, but they never showed a moment’s ennui while answering our endless (and usually ignorant) questions without giggling at us even once.

Luke’s the quiet pragmatic type. Steve Leonie cares so much about each of the horses they train he frequently can’t stand to watch the actual race, heading for a quiet spot in the cafe for a fortifying coffee. Or to the bar for a fortifying something stronger. They both have passion in bucketloads.

Steve kindly arranges lessons in racecourse ettiquette. Because that’s the other great joy of being an owner, of course. On arrival at the track there’s free parking and the man at the gate in the blazer who waves you through with a cheery “Good luck, Sir … Madam.” Then they immediately usher you into your own private area for a free drink, or at the posh courses, a free lunch. Well, not so much free. You have to buy a horse to get in. But you see what we mean.You don’t have to be royalty, you just feel like it.

And wonder of all wonders, you get entry to the mounting yard before and after the race, where you stand around frowning intelligently as the trainer first tells the jockey what he wants him to do, using all sorts of riding jargon that means the best part of bugger all to those of us standing around nodding for all we’re worth, but that’s OK because what we’re really doing is impressing the pants off our friends who are left back in the stands, because this is the the most “we made it” moment of all moments imaginable.

And ten minutes later we’re there again, smiling and taking photos with the jockey and a sweaty successful horse, trying to shake the jockey’s hand only to be told – again with exquisite politeness – that this is, of course, against the rules, and whooping and a-hollering, and generally behaving like six year olds on an extra dose of Ritalin. And all around us stand solemn rich people whose hugely expensive horseflesh we have just made to look like it was rooted to the spot, all mildly discomforted by the council workers and tradies and public servants and retail experts and writers who miraculously now find themselves calculating their share of another winners cheque. And sod them, too, suffer in yer jocks, buddy, because we’re The Khutulun Crew, and that’s all ya need to know.

And then there was the team from the syndicator, Grand Syndicates, Sam Lyons and Peter and Karen Morley. An email or voicemail every week kept us up to speed with every gulp, fart, hiccup and snort the horse gave out, helping us all to feel genuinely part of the loop, even tangentially involved in the training decisions and where to race her. When we got to Queensland the Grand Syndicates crew even threw a few bob over the bar and we all drank free for the afternoon. And some of us drank a little too much. Ah well, what happens in Vegas, etc.

Peter Morley of Grand Syndicates. "Have I got an 'orse for you, my son? Have I ever!"

Peter Morley of Grand Syndicates. “Have I got an ‘orse for you, my son? Have I ever!”

They didn’t have to do that. Nicely done, right there. And once again, they were always endlessly patient with the inevitable barrage of questions from the over-excited owners.

And so now we’re here in October 2014. Now the blossom is on the trees, and the wind has switched from the West to the North, the grey skies have flown away and it’s all “on again, for man and boy”, as they say over here in Oz. And for daughters, and wives, and friends.

After winter standing around eating her paddock down to bare earth, Khutulun’s “preparation” number two is underway, Spring is here in all it’s glory and The Khut (we’re in Australia, of course she has to have a nickname) is back in the lists.

So in the watery Spring sunshine, Khutulun goes to Sandown last Saturday, just for a little jump out, you understand? Looking like a right trollop, with half her winter coat still on her.

“We’ll let her run on her merits, sure, but she’s still fat and happy from her winter spell, so don’t expect too much.” “Keep your money in your pocket.” “Look, always hopeful, but really, it’s quite a tough race and she’s not fit yet.” Everyone nods sagely. “She’ll be better for the run.”

Fair enough, then, we’ll have a quiet beer or three and just enjoy the sunshine.

No one told the horse, of course. Five hundred metres out, and plumb last except for one other nag, she looked up, and just set off. Jockey Ben Melham, feeling the fire in her belly, smartly eased her out into clear air and told her to go. And as surely as day follows night, and one by one, she picked off the entire field like they were from some other species of lesser beings. As she went past the post, one could swear she was winking. “Oh ye of little faith. Don’t you know who I am?”

Bang. A winner. Again. Ornery. Always put your money on ornery.

To find out more about going racing with nice people and without breaking the budget, head to:

grandsyndicates.com.au

lukeoliverracing.com.au

You don’t have to be rich, just rich of heart. Go on, you know you want to. See you at the track. Next stop, Cranbourne Cup Day next Sunday. Total winnings now up to nearly $170,000 and counting. We’re buying the beers …