Primarily, because she’s smarter.

Whilst Bill was always a policy wonk – and a consummate speaker and all-round good bloke, of course – it was always Hilary who had the big smarts in his State and Federal administrations.

And her biggest smart is listening to good advice: a characteristic she has honed in recent years, and which has become more obvious as she’s got older.

If you’re interested in politics, whatever your shade of political opinion, I recommend you watch the video.

It will be criticised, of course. It will be called bland. It will be called too carefully crafted. It will be called slick.

All true. But that’s to miss the point.

What most politicians and commentators generally misunderstand is that to win a GENERAL election, as opposed to a by-election, special run off, or any other “smaller” event – even mid terms – one needs to build a broad base of support. That requires a coalition of voters, many of whom are nowadays more interested in a single issue than the broad gamut of policies.

Let me just say that again. People now tend to vote on one or two issues, not a broad brushtroke opinion of whether they support an entire platform, or even any particular party.

Cheery chappie Farage appeals to anti-immigration and anti-EU sentiment

Cheery chappie – UKIP leader Farage appeals to anti-immigration and anti-EU sentiment like a cracked record.

Thus UKIP, for example, in the UK – and many other parties in Europe but especially the National Front in France and the Northern League in Italy – leverage anxiety about over-weening central authority in the European Union and about immigration. They still talk about a heap of other issues, but frankly pretty much needn’t to justify their existence.

Their core base of support is pretty much ensured by those two focii.

Not a difficult concept to grasp - Green party appeals focus on degrading habitat for major animals, and trees.

Not a difficult concept to grasp – Green party appeals focus on degrading habitat for major animals, and trees.

Green parties worldwide leverage fears about global warming and environmental protection generally. Yes, they project a wide variety of other issues into the marketplace, (usually connected to social justice concerns that sit well with their mainly left-wing membership), but again, if they didn’t their raison d’etre would still be clear to a large enough number of voters to see them wield serious minority influence.

But when it comes to a major party, it’s no longer enough to be simplistically “On the side of Capital”, or “On the side of Labour” as it was for most of the 20th century.

If those observations seem somewhat contradictory, let us explain further.

After a century of combat, voters generally realise instinctively that “big” politics is now played mainly in the centre, with only degrees of difference or application separating historically opposed parties that are now not generally in disagreement about the broad thrust of “mixed economy politics”.

Tweedledum and Tweedledee - a common (and probably fair) complaint made against major parties worldwide.

Tweedledum and Tweedledee – a common (and probably fair) complaint made against major parties worldwide.

This is often most obviously expressed in terms that imply dis-satisfaction – “they’re all the same”, for example – but without any great or obvious desire to do anything about that observation at a broad election.

To the intense confusion or annoyance of those who represent more minority viewpoints, the vast mass of voters coalesce into the middle when push comes to shove.

Occasionally – very occasionally – major seismic shifts occur and one of the two major parties in any western-style democracy is replaced, but what then tends to happen is that the new participants start to look very like the organisation they replaced.

Yes, needless to say, there are legitimate squabbles about the size of deficits and the balance of the roles of government and private capital in funding the economy, but in most countries, the difference between left and right is now one of degree, rather than core principle.

And yes, there are “small government” libertarians seeking to outflank conservative parties on the right, and neo-Marxists still clinging to the fringes of the left.

But the days when there was a massive, enduring and quasi-violent divide between labour and capital have surely passed. Today, almost everyone is middle class. Even if they aren’t. Even the reining in of government spending during so-called austerity measures in Europe has not produced a genuine meltdown in public opinion by those affected. Annoyance? Yes. Big demonstrations? Yes.

But Paris in 1968? Britain in the winter of 1979? No.

Those to the far right and left like to pretend that the consensus is breaking down. In fact, it is more solid than ever.

In these days of the comfortable centre a winning strategy is to hold the centre and then judiciously add to your collection of centirst voters those “single issue” groupings that circle around it without a natural home – single issue groups that you can support, and lend a voice to, without betraying core principles too obviously.

Thus Obama won (twice, but especially the second time) by stitching together two groups that historically have not necessarily shared goals, to wit the African American urban constituency and southern Hispanics. In Obama’s case he didn’t even need to be particularly activist in building the coalition. The Republican failure to appeal to the more business-oriented Latino vote by failing to deal with the GOP’s own right-wing’s obsession with restricting Latino immigration (and not normalising residency status for those already int he country illegally) delivered them holus bolus into the Democrat camp in large numbers, thus delivering Obama a second term.

Back in the day, the activist Christian vote in America helped deliver Ronald Reagan big victories not because the whole of America was to be found in the Bible belt, but because they seemed generally wholesome and mostly inoffensive and thus people found it easy to vote for an essentially centrist politician in Reagan with conservative Christian overtones which didn’t really rock their boat. Snaring their political support was a masterstroke for Reagan’s campaign managers. By today, though, fundamentalist Christian activists often seem shrill, rather extreme and frequently to be drilling down to a bedrock of anti-knowledge. This delights their core audience, and attracts all manner of opportunist Republican candidates to their conferences and meetings, but their obvious extremism terrifies the soft centre.

The same is true of some other single issue groups on the right. The extreme small-government brigade frequently seem loopy even in a country where paying tax is begrudged more than most, and where central government is intrinsically very unpopular as a concept. Similarly, the anti-vaxxers and some parts (not all) of the pro-gun lobby seem so actively bizarre that they are, again, hugely popular with their very narrow constituencies, but a complete turn off for mainstream people.

Republican theorists frantically seek to build a winning coalition by yoiking together all these disparate groups, imagining that this is how you build a winning coalition, but all-the-while while bleeding common-or-garden Republicans into first the “Independent” camp and then, as the psychosis intensifies, into the “Well, I’m not really a Democrat, but I’m not going to vote for that lot” column, resulting in a boost to the Democrat vote or (more likely, and just as damagingly) widespread GOP abstentionism.

To win, Hillary has to appear intelligent – which she has no difficulty in doing at all – and to target enough single issue voters which are not likely to “spook the horses”. So now let’s look at that Hillary launch TVC again.

In the old days, in the ad business, we would have said “Ooops, your strategy is showing!” But most people will consume this very professional piece of propaganda without blinking.

Besides people who think Spring is a positive new start to the year – geddit? – these are the groups it targets:

Single parents – note the first woman says “My daughter” not “Our daughter”. Due to marital breakdown, single parents (with women disproportionately represented in caring for children) are a significant and growing demographic.

Returning to work mothers – a key constituency as many middle-class families require dual incomes to cope, and as women born in the feminist era prefer not to stay at home for 18 years to raise their kids.

Latin-speaking people who are – note – in BUSINESS for themselves.

African American expectant parents. Of course, Hillary and her team want all expectant parents to vote for her, but so much the better if she chummies up to African Americans at the same time, so crucial to Obama’s election. Don’t want any black middle class voters being siphoned off to the GOP … notice the people seen here are clearly middle class and relatively well off, not sitting on crumbling concrete steps in Detroit.

An Asian American woman … talking about graduating, of course. Because Asians are all about education, right?

Soon to be retired white couple – very naturally a part of the GOP’s constituency (often called, recently, the “Old White Party”) – if she could get some of those over too it would broaden her overall constituency considerably.

Pet lovers. Well come on. Pet lovers for Hillary.

People going back to work after the economic hardship of recent years. Hillary needs them to forget the bad times and become ironed-on blue collar workforce Democrats again, especially in southern states.

And notice two gay families – one male, one female. Gay marriage – homosexuality generally – is a “light the blue touchpaper and retire” issue for the extreme right, but middle America really couldn’t care less. They just see it as a fairness issue. Yesterday’s news.

What’s more, anywhere between 2% and 10% of the American population self-identify as gay. Many of them are “Dual Income No Kids” – a natural constituency for the GOP, if it were shorn of its religious extremists. So Hillary wants to send a message: you all need to be voting for me. And the gay vote alone could tip a close election one way or the other.

Hillary-2

So in summary, Hillary wants the mainstream pro-Democrat vote (let’s call that 35% of working and middle class whites for argument’s sake) plus you: you Asian Americans, African Americans, Hispanics (especially Spanish speakers), blue collar work returners, expectant parents, near-retirees, dog lovers, and gays. Oh, with a strong implication that she wants women, too, but not too overtly, because that will piss off the men.

That’s a majority, right there. Very smart piece of work. Told you.

text message

 

Story hitting the streets in Australia of a young lady who sent her boyfriend a text message. Except she sent it to her boss instead. Ooops.

As the AFR reports:

It could be the modern worker’s worst nightmare. A bookkeeper has been sacked for serious misconduct after she accidentally sent a text to her boss calling him a “complete dick”.

The text was meant for her daughter’s boyfriend and now she has lost an unfair dismissal claim, failing to convince the Fair Work Commission that it was a “lighthearted insult”.

Before her dismissal, Louise Nesbitt worked for six years as the office administrator and bookkeeper for small mineral exploration company Dragon Mountain Gold in Perth. She and Rob Gardner, the company’s chairman and managing director, were the sole employees.

 As part of an office refurbishment, Ms Nesbitt arranged for plumbing work to be carried out by her daughter’s boyfriend, Robert Guy. On January 12 last year, Ms Nesbitt sent a text message intended for Mr Guy to Mr Gardner describing Mr Gardner as a “complete dick” before adding “We know this already so please try your best not to tell him that regardless of how you feel the need”.

Realising her mistake, Ms Nesbitt texted Mr Gardner, saying, “Rob, please delete without reading. I am so so so sorry. Xxx.”

She subsequently sent another text message to Mr Gardner which read, in part, “Rob I need to explain … that message came across so wrong … that is not how I feel. My sense of humour is to exaggerate … Yes I do feel that my ideas are all ignored but that’s ok … Please forget it and just go on as normal. I am very very sorry.”

Ms Nesbitt did not attend the office for several days, saying she was working from home.

Mr Gardner told the commission that the text message describing him as a “complete dick” was highly offensive, derogatory and a shock given Ms Nesbitt’s position as an employee and their long working relationship.

Commissioner Danny Cloghan noted that although the text message was the main reason for the dismissal, the working relationship between the duo had deteriorated in previous months.

Commissioner Cloghan said he did not accept Ms Nesbitt’s argument that the text was a “light-hearted insult” or that she lived with young people who put “complete” in front of every second word.

“To call a person a ‘dick’ is a derogatory term to describe them as an idiot or fool,” he said. “The word ‘complete’ is used to convey the message that the person is, without exception, an idiot or fool – they are nothing less than a ‘dick’.

He said he was satisfied that Mr Gardner believed on “reasonable grounds” that Ms Nesbitt’s conduct was serious enough to justify summary dismissal and she had not been unfairly dismissed.

Much easier than calling the boss a complete dick. Even if he is. Perhaps especially if he is.

Much easier than calling the boss a complete dick. Even if he is. Perhaps especially if he is.

 

It really would have been so much simpler for Ms Nesbitt had she simply purchased her boss a copy of this very excellent book, which was proudly edited at the literary desk of Wellthisiswhatithink. Head to iamtheproblem.com.au for the best $30 any employee – or employer – ever invested.

Not sure how to give the book to your boss? Well, we suggest buying it and dropping it onto his or her desk anonymously after hours.

Incidentally, we notice Ms Nesbitt’s apology to her boss included the words “Yes I do feel that my ideas are all ignored but that’s ok …”

Memo to bosses: if you wonder why your relationship with your direct reports is declining, that’d be a big problem, right there. Buy the book, find out what to do about it.

Frankly, we feel rather sorry for all concerned and are reminded of that famous old aphorism, “what we have here is a failure to communicate”.

Dunno how he got through life, being so unattractive, an' all.

Dunno how he got through life, being so unattractive, an’ all.

Talking of which, can you remember where that term started out?

It’s actually quotation from the 1967 film Cool Hand Luke, spoken in the movie first by Strother Martin (as the Captain, a prison warden) and later, slightly differently, by Paul Newman (as Luke, a stubborn prisoner).

The context of the first delivery of the line is:

Captain: You gonna get used to wearing them chains after a while, Luke. Don’t you never stop listening to them clinking, ’cause they gonna remind you what I been saying for your own good.

Luke: I wish you’d stop being so good to me, Cap’n.

Captain: Don’t you ever talk that way to me. (Pause, then hitting him.) NEVER! NEVER!

(Luke rolls down hill; to other prisoners)

Captain: What we’ve got here is failure to communicate. Some men you just can’t reach. So you get what we had here last week, which is the way he wants it. Well, he gets it. I don’t like it any more than you men.

The Captain’s line is often misquoted as “What we have here is a failure to communicate” (which is more grammatically correct in the United States).

Near the end of the film, when Luke is surrounded in the church and about to be shot, he also says, “What we got here is a failure to communicate.”

The phrase ranks at No. 11 on the American Film Institute list, AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movie Quotes which makes fun reading for saddos like us.

farageOuch. There will be a few of these, no doubt, as the UK election progresses to its climax next month.

One has to feel a little for politicians and their minders, sometimes. Even when they are about as far across the political divide from ourselves as it is possible to be.

Not only do they have to watch what they say, but as Nigel “UKIP” Farage discovers here, they even have to watch the signs they are walking next to as well.

Cue some poor media adviser flack being sacked for not predicting the photo, one suspects, and a bonus from the media proprietor to the photo-journalist who we bet stood there for a while to get the shot.

OK, yes, it’s utterly trivial, but it’s fun. And it’s Friday.

slipperyPerhaps more worryingly for Farage and his party, and the Tories, both of which constantly rail about the cost to the National Health Service of “health tourists” chewing up NHS resources in Britain, stats have just been released showing that holidaying Brits cost five times as much to Spain, Italy, France etc etc as incoming tourists cost the Brits.

The gap is largest in the cases of Austria and Germany. Austria’s health service spent 43 times more – £5.6m – on treating British travellers than the NHS did on those from Austria – £130,000. Germany, which is visited by 2 million Britons every year, had to pay 34 times more than the NHS – £22m compared to £643,000. Still, they’ve both got pots of money, so who cares, eh?

One of the joys of following an election is when a few facts interpolate themselves into the bullshit.

Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe, center, arrives in Pretoria, South Africa Tuesday, April 7, 2015 for a state visit to the country.. Mugabe will be in the country until Thursday and will meet with South African president Jacob Zuma - photo AP.

Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe arrives in Pretoria, South Africa Tuesday, April 7, 2015 for a state visit to the country. Mugabe will meet with South African president Jacob Zuma – photo AP.

We will bring more to you as we go along.

Meanwhile, on the same theme, we sincerely hope the photographer who snapped this shot of Zimbabwean tyrant Robert Mugabe in South Africa has already fled to somewhere safe, as this photo has gone viral worldwide, and the afro-fascist doesn’t have a reputation for a very vibrant sense of humour.

HorsehillsurreyApparently Obama has just ordered the Sixth Fleet to the English Channel to remove the dictatorial government of the UK with solid proof they have weapons of mass destruction.

The Australian Government are holding their hands up excitedly and jumping up and down at their desks wanting to commit resources to the Coalition attack force.

All joking apart, this is great news for the UK. Read the whole story here:

http://www.bbc.com/news/business-32229203

It is a matter of urban legend, Dear Reader, that your indefatigable correspondent has been known to suffer an attack of the vapours climbing up a step ladder to replace a lightbulb. We simply don’t do heights. Although weirdly, we have conquered our fear of flying (the result of genuinely taking on board the very obvious fact that one is much more likely to be killed driving to work every day than hopping somewhere on a plane) and we have very little fear of very high places that are enclosed in glass (we will lean on the window of an 89th story apartment, after a while to consider our actions carefully, showing probably unwise trust in the professionalism of builders) but we simply do not do edges. Whether walking, cycling or in a car, edges don’t do it for us.  We hate mountains with a passion, unless viewed from ground level. Even then they make us feel somewhat anxious.

Wandering around the worldwideinterwebs thingy we found this little gem of a story.

To say that climbing Mount Huashan in China is not for the faint-hearted doesn’t do it any sort of justice. Located about 120 kms from Xi’an in Shaanxi province, the path was first created in the 2nd century BC by Daoist monks, and was a major religious centre.  From that time onwards, monks and nuns slowly began to populate the mountain and surrounding areas. The mountain, with an elevation just over 7,000 metres, is considered one of China’s Five Great Mountains.

Despite some of the paths being restored or improved in recent times due to a large increase in tourists, (say what?! people do this for FUN?) it still remains extremely dangerous, with estimates that over 100 people are claimed by the mountain each year. It starts with a set of almost vertical stairs and evolves into a literally death-defying set of boardwalks and ladders. If you do happen to make it to the top, there is a small temple that has been converted into a teahouse. We’ll let the pictures tell the rest of the story.

Source: imgur.com

Stop now. The vertically-ness stuff is a clue.

Source: imgur.com

Wrong way, go back

Quality nail-work, right there.

We suspect the sign reads “Do you feel stupid now you realise you could have stayed in the noodle bar and had another beer?”

People leave padlocks to symbolise their eternal love. Eternal being the appropriate term if they fall off going back down.

Ooooh, nice. Refreshing cup of tea time. Pardon us if we take ours on Margate Pier.

And just in case that didn’t freak you out enough, here is a video to completely take your breath away. We were actually almost physically sick looking at this. Enjoy:

(Some of this story originally written by Adrian Cordiner : April 6th, 2014)

Death row Filipina s family begs Indonesia for her life

The family of a Filipina on death row in Indonesia made a tearful appeal for her life on Wednesday, insisting that an international drug syndicate duped the single mother of two.

Mary Jane Veloso, 30, has been in an Indonesian jail for five years after being caught at Yogyakarta airport with 2.6 kilogrammes (5.73 pounds) of heroin, and is among a batch of foreigners facing imminent execution.

But in an interview with AFP in Manila, her parents and sister said a crime syndicate involving a friend had deceived her, and she did not know the drugs had been sown into her suitcase before flying from Malaysia.

“Please don’t kill my sister. She is innocent. If you kill her, you will have blood on your hands,” Veloso’s elder sister Marites Veloso-Laurente said in a plea to Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

With tears streaming down his cheeks, Veloso’s father said the syndicate that used her as an unwitting drug mule had pledged to kill all family members if they reported the racket to authorities or went to the media.

“Life’s been hard. We’ve been living in fear. My daughter’s recruiters have been threatening us – they threatened to kill us one by one,” said 59-year-old Cesar Veloso.

The family is from a poor farming town about three hours’ drive north of Manila, and Veloso had sought to provide for her two young sons by working as a maid overseas.

The single mother initially worked for nine months in Dubai in 2009 but was forced to come home after her employer tried to rape her, according to her father.

A family friend then offered Veloso work as a maid in Malaysia.

When Veloso got to Malaysia she was told the job was no longer available but there was another one in Indonesia if she flew there immediately, according to her parents.

“My sister’s a loving person, she’s so kind. But she trusts too much. We don’t engage in vices or anything illegal, no cigarettes, no alcohol,” her elder sister said.

When Veloso was arrested, her sons were aged just one and seven and they too have become victims.

“It’s as if they lost all hope… they are worried about what would happen to them if their mother never came back,” the Veloso matriarch, Celia, said as her two grandsons sat quietly next to her.

She said the eldest son, Mark Daniel Candelaria, 12, was struggling at school and may have to repeat eighth grade.

Veloso’s youngest, Mark Darren, 6, copes by singing his mother’s favourite song, a Filipino ballad called: “Just wait”, which has become an anthem of hope for the family.

Veloso’s mother, 55, insisted that if her daughter was involved in the drug trade, her family would have seen some benefits of it.

Instead, she shares a cramped brick and wood shanty with her husband and six grandchildren, including Veloso’s sons.

“We beg you, Mr Indonesian president, if my daughter was involved in drugs, we wouldn’t be this poor,” she said.

About 10 million Filipinos work overseas, with most heading abroad to escape deep poverty.

Many work in menial jobs or face dangerous work conditions, but even salaries of $300 a month are more than can be earned at home.

The government has previously warned Filipinos heading abroad about the dangers of drug traffickers trying to exploit or dupe them.

The are 125 Filipinos on death row around the world, with many of them convicted of drug trafficking, Connie Bragas-Regalado, chairperson of overseas workers’ rights group Migrante, told AFP.

The Indonesian Supreme Court last week denied Veloso’s request to review her conviction.

The Philippine government said Wednesday it would file a second appeal.

Veloso’s parents and sons also visited the Indonesian embassy in Manila on Wednesday to lodge a letter appealing to Widodo for mercy.

Aside from Veloso, convicts from Australia, Brazil, France, Ghana and Nigeria are set to face a firing squad after they had their requests for presidential clemency rejected, although a further appeal in the case of the Australians Chan and Sukumaran is planned.

The death penalty was abolished in the mainly Catholic Philippines in 2006.

The obduracy of the Indonesian government in the face of serious concerns about either the guilt of the accused or whether they deserve being executed is disgusting.

Another of the batch to be executed suffers from paranoid schizophrenia: it is a widely accepted rule of law that it is wrong to execute someone whose mental impairment may have contributed to their behaviour, as it goes to the issue of their culpability.

Rodrigo Gularte is relaxed about the death penalty. He knows it has been abolished across the world. The people that monitor and control him via satellite through the microchip they have implanted in his head have told him so.

Gularte, 42, is a deeply disturbed paranoid schizophrenic who is facing imminent execution by firing squad, along with ten others.

He has no concept of what is happening to him. When his family visits, he is constantly distracted as he searches the skies over Nusakambangan prison for the manned satellite that is stalking him.

Gularte, from Curitiba in Brazil, was arrested in 2004 with two other Brazilian couriers bringing 6kg of cocaine into Indonesia. He’d been treated for depression since his teenage years. He had become a drug addict and was an easy target for Brazil’s drug cartels, looking for people to ship cocaine to Indonesia.

Troubled teen ... Rodrigo was struggled with depression Pictures: Supplied

Troubled teen … Rodrigo struggled with depression from an early age.

Proof that Gularte was unwell was evident by what he did when he was arrested: he told police that the two men with him had nothing to do with it. He took all blame.

The two were allowed to go home to Brazil and the following year Gularte was sentenced to death.

The hearing was itself a travesty. Gularte’s mother, Clarisse, now 71, and his cousin, Angelita Muxfeldt, 49, flew to Jakarta a week after his arrest. As they waited to see Gularte, a lawyer arrived for an unexpected late-night meeting.

The lawyer said he could get them into the police station, right at that moment, to see Gularte. He was trying to show them how influential he was. They were suitably impressed, and paid him “a lot” of money.

He then abandoned his client.

When Gularte was sentenced to death in 2005, he was totally alone. The lawyer had fled with the cash, failing to tell the family and embassy officials that he was to be sentenced. He did not stand a chance.

Alatoui's wife campaigns ceaseless for him to be saved.

Alatoui’s wife campaigns ceaseless for him to be saved.

Another inmate was arrested for working on a “drugs lab” as a welder, but had no knowledge of the eventual use of the construction site he was working on and had only been there three days: he had no involvement in drug trafficking whatsoever.

Serge Atlaoui, a father of four children, was arrested near Jakarta in 2005 in a secret laboratory designed to produce ecstasy. He was sentenced to death in 2007 on drug trafficking charges. Already imprisoned in Indonesia for ten years, he has always denied the charges saying he was installing industrial machinery in what he thought was an acrylics factory. What a nightmare for him and his family and friends. The French President and Foreign Minister have campaigned vigorously for him not to be executed.

It becomes increasingly clear that these impending executions have nothing to do with justice and everything to do with playing internal politics in Indonesia. Indonesian President Widodo did not even READ the case files on these poor people before rejecting their appeals for clemency.

In reality, the only thing that may be keeping these people alive is international attention. It needs to be more embarrassing for Indonesia to carry out the death penalty than it is for them to back down.

Wellthisiswhatithink urges you to share this story, and any others you see, to ensure that the visibility of these poor people’s situations is maintained. Tweet this story, Facebook it, re-blog it. Thank you.

(From AFP, Daily Mail, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and others)

British leaders debate

Yes, well that’s pretty clear, then.

So seven leaders line up to give the country their vision for the future of the UK. Except that’s the UK without Northern Ireland, who weren’t given a guernsey because – er, well, who knows? Especially as Northern Ireland MPs could very possibly form part of the Government of the country after the May election, propping up a winning – but insufficiently winning – David Cameron.

Anyhow, this debate, and the public reaction to it as measured by innumerable polls, gave almost no insights into any of the leaders or their parties, and showed once more why the Nationalists are now so popular in Wales and Scotland. Their leaders were articulate and focused, and the English were mainly waffly and uninspiring. Cameron and Milliband could be bosom buddies – one could hardly get a sheet of paper between their positions on just about anything, and Clegg was just plain woeful, realising, perhaps belatedly, that he’s leading his party to an historic shellacking that is almost entirely his fault. The Greens were insubstantial and Farage of UKIP was just folksy and occasionally horrid.

In other words, as you were. And we’re heading to the closest election in British political history, with outcomes so multiple and impossible to predict that it is quite fascinating, although also worrying, as a country that has no confidence in its leadership is a country with problems.

Our prediction? Keep your eyes on the blog over the coming weeks, and we will give our fearless before-the-day forecast as always. But not just yet, thank you. One major gaffe either way could tip it. What is sad is that it is very unlikely, on this showing, to be one major burst of innovation and inspiration.

Avocado

Nom, nom, nom – AND good for you.

By now, we all know that a little bit of healthy fat is good for us. And that butter – as we have always said – is much better for us than polyunsaturated spreads, which turn into deadly trans-fatty acids at body temperature. IE, when you eat them.

But a lot of one fat might be even better – at least, in the case of avocado.

Apparently, eating an entire creamy green fruit every day could significantly lower your cholesterol, say new avocado industry-funded findings published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Researchers put 45 healthy, overweight adults on an average American diet (read: heavy on the saturated fat and carbs) for two weeks. Then, they switched them to a low fat (24% fat) or one of two moderate fat diets (34% fat) for five weeks. One of the moderate fat diets contained so-called healthy fats like sunflower and canola oil; the other got the majority of its fat from one whole avocado per day.

Each of the new diets improved participants’ LDL cholesterol (the bad kind), likely because all three were significantly lower in saturated fat than the average Western diet. But the avocado eaters fared the best: their LDL cholesterol dropped 13 points, compared to around 8 points for people on the low-fat or avocado-free moderate-fat diets.

You'll be amazed what can be done with avos if you hunt around.

You’ll be amazed what can be done with avos if you hunt around.

Why? Well, all sources of monounsaturated fat – including avocado – contain fatty acids that can help lower cholesterol and boost heart health.

But according to the researchers, the guacamole staple seems to have additional cholesterol-lowering properties, like fibre and plant sterols, plus a type of sugar that might increase satiety. (That’s how “full” you feel, so you stop eating.)

Even so, a medium avocado packs around 320 calories and 30 g of fat – and eating a whole one every single day doesn’t exactly seem realistic. So replacing some less-nutritious foods with half an avocado per day is more doable – and still beneficial.

“Eating that amount has still been shown to reduce total cholesterol and LDL levels,” says registered dietician Tina Ruggiero. Try mashed avocado instead of mayo in your sandwich, diced avocado instead of sour cream or cheese on your black bean soup, or half an avocado with lime juice and sea salt instead of a granola bar for an afternoon snack.

Sounds pretty darn delicious to us.

Oh, an interesting little factoid. Over 98% of shoppers squeeze an avocado in the store before buying it. Admit you, you do.

PS We really mean it about butter. Have a look at Why Margarine Will Kill You.

We were fascinated by this exploration of the presentation of the female face throughout western art history, and grateful for Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink spotting it.

What is remarkable is how consistent what artists consider to be beautiful really is, despite the huge differences in representative style. Do take two minutes to watch it, as it is mesmerising and genuinely interesting. The Yo Yo Ma cello soundtrack is nice, too.

 

What is considered “beautiful” in a female face seems unchanging when viewed by many for whom visual appreciation is all. The symmetry of the two sides of the face … the eyes locked onto those of the viewer, or if gazing elsewhere, their openness and appeal … and often, the combination of challenge and supplication in the stare. Absolutely enthralling to see it demonstrated in this way.

The subject of what makes a woman beautiful – or anyone, for that matter – is often discussed on blogs, because, we suspect, everyone would like to think they are beautiful or could aspire to be “not bad”, at least.

Here’s a good example: http://realdoctorstu.com/2011/03/16/the-science-of-attraction-what-makes-a-beautiful-face/  The writer notes the role of symmetry, but also the crucial role of “averageness”.

Men are apparently more inclined to consider a woman beautiful if she has an average face.

That’s to say not too obviously pretty, not too obviously disjointed or unbalanced, not too obviously out of the norm.

The example the writer uses is Keira Knightley, the Brit actress whose face has launched a bazillion magazine covers. Men eulogise about her. But women? Nah, not so much. Interestingly, the writer proposes, and we agree, that Knightley’s appeal is that she isn’t perfect. Her nose has a bump in it. Her forehead is probably a bit expansive. Her teeth need fixing. And without professionally applied make-up she looks, well, ordinary. Those famous knife-edge cheekbones aren’t so obvious without skilful etching with blusher and shade. So: she’s cute, but ordinary.

knightley

Other women find those women uninteresting.

Jolie plays a man in Salt.

Jolie plays a man in Salt.

I have always found it fascinating that in answer to the parlour-dinner party-game question to straight women “So, come on, if you absolutely had to turn, which woman would you find attractive enough to bed?” the answer – way above a median average – is Angelina Jolie.

Whilst she has her male admirers, to be sure, (including, of course, the man often considered the most beautiful in the world by many, her husband Brad Pitt) men are far more equivocal about her appeal, but she comes up in straight womans’ lists all the time.

We have often thought that it is because her face has the capacity to be considered “fine”, “strong”, and “handsome” rather than girl-next-door-pretty, and also because so many representations of her in movies have been of her being, well, not to put too fine a point on, rather like a male action hero.

stewartWhen the first Twilight movie came out to very mixed reviews, long before the Twihards took control of the process and turned it into such a successful movie franchise, we remember seeing a review of the movie which (amongst other criticisms) complained of Kristen Stewart being “blandly” beautiful.

It struck us as a rather odd and snippy comment at the time as she appeared to us then (and now) to be extremely pretty. But in light of the finding that we find average looking people “beautiful”, it makes perfect sense. Stewart is essentially a gawky kid grown up. Her eyes are a bit narrow – not giant and rounded like a sweet anime character – her lips are a bit odd – and her nose ends in a snub. Nevertheless, she has been on almost as many covers as Knightley.

In our experience, women loathe her.

Googling “stars without makeup” – for which there are umpteen thousands of web pagesScreen shot 2015-03-31 at 3.45.27 PM – shows how fascinated we are with the raw material that make-up artists are working with. But what is more interesting, we think, is that time after time what is revealed by the un-caked original form of the face is someone who could really be living, un-noticed and un-remarked, next door.

And how, very often, the un-made up star is actually – somehow, counter-culturally, even oddly – more alluring than the perfectly “crafted” version of her face. The German/American busineswoman, model and occasional actress Heidi Klum looks way more beautiful, in our opinion, in the picture on the left rather than on the right? No?

So we must come to the conclusion, we guess, that many girls and women who don’t think they are attractive might actually be hugely attractive to many men. Which is something to be celebrated, indeed shouted from the rooftops, we think.

The comment “Pffft – I just look like the girl next door” could actually be the key to landing the boy of your dreams.

As to what the boy of anyone’s dreams looks like, that’s another whole thing. Thank the good Lord that we don’t all have to look like Brad Pitt to find a girlfriend or even a mate, or the Wellthisiswhatithink line would have come to an ignominious and crashing halt.

And yes, we know that all beauty is really on the inside, before some spoilsport decides to tell us, but that’s not the point of the article. So shove off. :-)

 

As we approach Easter – for most people just a long weekend when they can regroup and rest – for some people the spiritual highlight of the year – we can often forget, when contemplating his deeper spiritual messages and the agony of his personal journey, that the historical Jesus Christ was a dangerous man who subverted the ruling status quo in his country, and that, above all, is why he was put to death.

This Facebook meme reminded me.

 

banker

 

As we approach Easter, we should dwell on the fact that Jesus fought against the institutionalisation of religion, fought against its co-option as a business enterprise, and talked of how the Kingdom of Heaven resided in all of us, and not in buildings, if we could but find the key.

He also detested the brutalisation of society by economic forces, and the obsession with accumulating personal wealth and how it diverts us from what really matters.

But in cleansing the temple, Jesus did not argue against public worship. Quite the opposite. He wanted the Temple reserved for its rightful use.

And worship definitely serves many valuable purposes, not least sharing information and insights on complicated spiritual matters, building community, showing spiritual respect, and bringing peace and joy to people.

But he did argue against hypocrisy. When religion is reduced to mere pomp and circumstance, or when it mindlessly supports the bastions of conformity, he was on the other side of the metaphorical barricade.

He told us to become like little children in our understand of the world and our role in it, and in relation to what we perceive as God. Simplicity, innocence and trust. And a trenchant opposition to anything which reduces the world to a mere monetary exchange.

Jesus the Revolutionary. Coming soon to a Church near you. We hope.

Happy Easter.

 

This is a photo of a young Syrian girl, taken by Arab photojournalist Nadia AbuShaban.

The child was terrified that the camera was a weapon, and “surrendered” by pushing her little hands to the sky, in a heart-rending exposition of what life is really like for so many children, throughout the Middle East.

Young Syrian girl

As of March 30, AbuShaban’s message had been re-tweeted almost 9,000 times and favourited another 4,000 times. Her Twitter profile has also been flooded with messages.

It has since also been shared to other social media platforms, attracting millions of views and thousands of comments on Tumblr, Reddit and other popular sites. And now this blog.

vietnamWe are reminded of the famous photo from the Vietnam conflict of the girl running down the track, naked from a napalm attack. and we suspect that AbuShaban has taken another of those impromptu, heart-rending photos that can change attitudes and opinions.

If the look in that child’s eyes, and the quivering terror of her clenched lips, do not melt some hearts on all sides of the various conflicts raging in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Israel and elsewhere, well, then we have no hope.

This image provided by NASA/JPL-Caltech shows a simulation of asteroid 2012 DA14 approaching from the south as it passes through the Earth-moon system on Friday, Feb. 15, 2013. The 150-foot object will pass within 17,000 miles of the Earth. NASA scientists insist there is absolutely no chance of a collision as it passes. But next time? (AP Photo/NASA/JPL-Caltech)

A simulation of an asteroid approaching from the south. The kilometre-wide object will pass close to the Earth. NASA scientists insist there is absolutely no chance of a collision as it passes. But next time? (AP Photo/NASA/JPL-Caltech)

A massive asteroid, capable of wiping out an entire country, or maybe the entire planet, is on a near-collision route towards Earth. Once again, the world will be completely focused on our complete inability to deal with a giant asteroid hitting the surface of the planet.

The 1000-metre wide mammoth asteroid has sparked fears of an unprecedented disaster, as it travels at a speed of more than 23,000 mph.

Small meteorites pass by Earth regularly, but one of this size is an occurrence that only happens once in 5000 years.

The impact would reportedly trigger earthquakes, tsunamis and devastating changes in climate.

If the asteroid, called 2014-YB35, did collide with Earth, it would unleash an explosive force equivalent to more than 15,000 tonnes.

“Smaller scale events like Tunguska (see below) are absolutely a real risk, largely they are undiscovered and so we are unprepared,” Bill Napier, professor of astronomy at the University of Buckinghamshire, told the Daily Express. “With something like YB35, we are looking at a scale of global destruction, something that would pose a risk to the continuation of the planet,” he continued.

If an asteroid this big was to hit Earth, it is possible that plumes and debris thrown into the atmosphere would change the climate and potentially make the planet uninhabitable.

“The real risk is from comets, which even if the Earth passes through the tail, can generate a massive plume of smoke with hugely significant consequences,” Napier said.

NASA has said they expect the YB35 to pass within 2.8 million miles on Friday.

The rock was detected by the Catalina Sky Survey last year and has been closely watched this week.

And astronomers have named June 30 as Asteroid Day to highlight the dangers of potentially dangerous asteroids.

“It just takes one asteroid to completely destroy life, not just humanity, but all species,” said initiative co-founder Grigorij Richters.

Keen observers of the issue will remember the Hollywood movie Armageddon when Bruce Willis and assorted other heroes used the Space Shuttle to blow up just such an asteroid before it wiped out the species. Sadly, no actual plan to do that – or anything else – exists. So if an asteroid was on collision course, we would all be well advised to remember the crash landing instructions heard on most commercial jetliners.

“Lean on the seat in front of you, grasp your knees firmly, and kiss your arse goodbye.”

OK, we added the last bit.

But we don’t have to experience an “Extinction Level Event” to see an unprecendented disaster. Imagine a Tunguska-style event took place over …. Melbourne? New York? Rio? Munich?

The year is 1908, and it’s just after seven in the morning. A man is sitting on the front porch of a trading post at Vanavara in Siberia. Little does he know, in a few moments, he will be hurled from his chair and the heat will be so intense he will feel as though his shirt is on fire.

That’s how the Tunguska event felt 40 miles from ground zero.

And after more than 100 years, scientists are still talking about it.

“If you want to start a conversation with anyone in the asteroid business all you have to say is Tunguska,” says Don Yeomans, manager of the Near-Earth Object Office at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “It is the only entry of a large meteoroid we have in the modern era with first-hand accounts.”

Trees felled in the Tunguska event

Trees felled in the Tunguska event

While the impact occurred in ’08, the first scientific expedition to the area would have to wait for 19 years.

In 1921, Leonid Kulik, the chief curator for the meteorite collection of the St. Petersburg museum led an expedition to Tunguska.

But the harsh conditions of the Siberian outback thwarted his team’s attempt to reach the area of the blast. In 1927, a new expedition, again lead by Kulik, reached its goal.

“At first, the locals were reluctant to tell Kulik about the event,” said Yeomans. “They believed the blast was a visitation by the god Ogdy, who had cursed the area by smashing trees and killing animals.”

While testimonials may have at first been difficult to obtain, there was plenty of evidence lying around. Eight hundred square miles of remote forest had been ripped asunder. Eighty million trees were on their sides, lying in a radial pattern.

“Those trees acted as markers, pointing directly away from the blast’s epicenter,” said Yeomans. “Later, when the team arrived at ground zero, they found the trees there standing upright – but their limbs and bark had been stripped away. They looked like a forest of telephone poles.”

Such de-branching requires fast moving shock waves that break off a tree’s branches before the branches can transfer the impact momentum to the tree’s stem. Thirty seven years after the Tunguska blast, branchless trees would be found at the site of another massive explosion – Hiroshima, Japan.

Kulik’s expeditions (he traveled to Tunguska on three separate occasions) did finally get some of the locals to talk. One was the man based at the Vanara trading post who witnessed the heat blast as he was launched from his chair. His account:

Suddenly in the north sky… the sky was split in two, and high above the forest the whole northern part of the sky appeared covered with fire. At that moment there was a bang in the sky and a mighty crash. The crash was followed by a noise like stones falling from the sky, or of guns firing. The earth trembled.

see captionThe massive explosion packed a wallop. The resulting seismic shockwave registered with sensitive barometers as far away as England. Dense clouds formed over the region at high altitudes which reflected sunlight from beyond the horizon. Night skies glowed, and reports came in that people who lived as far away as Asia could read newspapers outdoors as late as midnight. Locally, hundreds of reindeer, the livelihood of local herders, were killed, but due to the sparse population in the area there was no direct evidence that any person perished in the blast.

“A century later some still debate the cause and come up with different scenarios that could have caused the explosion,” said Yeomans. “But the generally agreed upon theory is that on the morning of June 30, 1908, a large space rock, about 120 feet across, entered the atmosphere of Siberia and then detonated in the sky.”

It is estimated the asteroid entered Earth’s atmosphere traveling at a speed of about 33,500 miles per hour. During its quick plunge, the 220-million-pound space rock heated the air surrounding it to 44,500 degrees Fahrenheit. At a height of about 28,000 feet, the combination of pressure and heat caused the asteroid to fragment and annihilate itself, producing a fireball and releasing energy equivalent to about 185 Hiroshima bombs.

“That is why there is no impact crater,” said Yeomans. “The great majority of the asteroid is consumed in the explosion.”

Yeomans and his colleagues at JPL’s Near-Earth Object Office are tasked with plotting the orbits of present-day comets and asteroids that cross Earth’s path, and could be potentially hazardous to our planet. Yeomans estimates that, on average, a Tunguska-sized asteroid will enter Earth’s atmosphere once every 300 years.

“From a scientific point of view, I think about Tunguska all the time,” he admits. Putting it all in perspective, however, “the thought of another Tunguska does not keep me up at night.”

We’re not so sure about that.

It is a nightmare of Kafkaesque proportions.

Raif Badawi received the first 50 of his lashes in January

His family now say that Raif Badawi, already sentenced to a vicious public flogging and appalling ten years in prison, could also be tried for apostasy, which carries the death penalty.

The case attracted worldwide condemnation when he was publicly flogged in January.

Now his family say they have been told he is to be tried for apostasy.

“Apostasy charge is punishable under Saudi law with the death penalty by beheading,” they said in a message posted on Facebook.

“We also received confirmed information that the Supreme Court has referred Raif case to the same judge, who sentenced Raif with flogging and 10 years imprisonment.This judge is biased against Raif.”

Background to the case:

In July 2013 human rights activist Raif Badawi was sentenced in Saudi Arabia to seven years in jail, and 600 lashes, for insulting Islam. His sentence has now been increased to ten years and 1,000 lashes.

Raif and his children in happier times: one can hardly imagine how his family are suffering.

Raif and his children in happier times: one can hardly imagine how his family are suffering.

Badawi, founder of the Saudi Liberal Network, was convicted of “creating a website insulting Islam” and criticising the role of the notorious religious police. Before his arrest, Badawi’s network announced a “Day of Liberalism” and called for an end to the influence of religion on public life in Saudi Arabia. He has been languishing in jail since June 2012.

According to this report, the lawsuit against him was instigated by Saudi  by clerics. An appeals court overturned the original sentence and sent the case back for the case back for retrial, which culminated in the even harsher sentence.

A further court upheld the 10-year jail sentence and 1,000 lashes – also ordered him to pay a fine of one million riyals ($266,666).

The rights group’s co-founder, Souad Al Shamari said:

The only hope now is an amnesty from the king or a swift move by the justice minister to form a fair judicial committee. Even the worst terrorists have not received such a harsh sentence.

Mr Badawi, 31, received the first 50 of his 1,000 lashes in January. The rest of his punishment has been postponed because of injuries he sustained.

The flogging was surreptitiously filmed on a mobile phone, with footage uploaded to the internet.

It was conducted with a flexible stick, in front of a large crowd in the public square by the al-Jafali mosque in the Red Sea city of Jeddah. Mr Badawi was allowed to keep his shirt on, as is normal in Saudi Arabia, lessening the effects somewhat, but he can still be seen to flinch.

“Raif told me he is in a lot of pain,” Mrs Haidar said in an earlier statement released by Amnesty International, which has campaigned on his behalf. “He said that when he was being flogged he took the pain silently and rose above it, so that history will know that he did not react to their punishment.

Badawi was also given a jail sentence and a fine of £175,000 after being convicted of insulting Islam on a liberal online forum he created.

His family said he could not originally be charged with apostasy – abandoning his faith – because the criminal court could not deal with crimes that carry the death penalty. That changed with a new regulation passed last year.

Ensaf Haidar, wife of Raif Badawi, takes part in a news conference calling for the release of her husband in January (Reuters)

Ensaf Haidar, wife of Raif Badawi, takes part in a news conference calling for the release of her husband in January (Reuters)

They asked that Mr Badawi be pardoned and allowed to travel to Canada, where his wife and three children are now living.

“We call on the world citizens and governments not to leave Raif dragged by such bigots to death,” they added.

The death penalty is the standard penalty for apostasy in the Muslim world, though it is rarely carried out, even in Saudi Arabia which still carries out regular executions.

The Prince of Wales is believed to have raised the case during meetings with King Salman during a visit to Saudi Arabia in February.

How long will this courageous man be permitted to suffer?

How long will this courageous man be permitted to suffer?

We can only hope that the gale of protest around the world at the treatment of this entirely innocent man can cause the new Saudi regime to release him. These are our ALLIES, after all, with whom we have a huge trade relationship. That should count for something in asking them to listen to our concerns.

If you wish to do something, why not tweet your call for Badawi to be immediately released, using the hashtag ‪#‎Raifbadawi‬ ?

Alternatively, or as well, sign the change.org petition? Click below, and thank you:

https://www.change.org/p/free-and-safeguard-the-liberal-saudi-raif-badawy-no-600-lashes

Or perhaps you could simple share this blog on your blog, or on your Facebook page?

Whatever you can do to help, thank you.

The Wellthisiswhatithink crew had an uncharacteristically busy weekend, including visiting the glorious Yarra Valley for a day out wine tasting.

And we unearthed an absolute gem.

boat

The other side of Yarra Glen from Melbourne, on the road to Yea, stand some of the most famous wineries of the region, including De Bortoli, (where the expensive but unique botrytis-affected Black Noble is required tasting),  Yarrawood, (a very pretty spot with affordable food, free music, and well-trained cellar door staff, and the pretty scene seen above), and Balgownie Estate, (where the tasting staff were especially welcoming and knowledgeable too). The old days when the cellar door was literally that – the barn door to where the wines were maturing, complete with a rough-hewn bar and a couple of stools with a crusty old winemaker waxing lyrical about this year’s crop – have long gone, sadly. These places today are magnificently run tourism destinations with superb restaurants attached and sometimes luxury accommodation too. It’s all very nice, and seductive, but perhaps without quite the rustic, authentic charm that the area used to have.

Which is why we were thrilled, turning right on impulse when leaving Balgownie Estate, to find another tiny little vineyard tucked away at the end of the lane.

minerscottage

Acacia Ridge is like it all used to be. Sure, they do marquees on the lawn and can arrange flash catering for you and all of that good stuff, but on this glorious autumnal day there was just a bona fide miner’s cottage, with the front room packed to the gunwales with a hens’ party checking out all the wines, and a back room for everyone else to enjoy a tasting, presided over by an unshaven and somewhat bleary-eyed vigneron, who was suffering a shocking hangover from the conjunction of the release of his Cab Sav Reserve the day before and his 81st birthday.

But despite a thumping head, his child-like joy in sharing his wines was infectious, (we quickly bought a box of the Reserve about ten seconds after we tasted it), and sat down to hear his story, all the while trying to keep out of the way of his energetic (and we suspect long suffering) wife who was working much harder introducing the girls to their wines, eruditely, to our ears.

Gavan Oakley, checking vines for mites

Gavan Oakley, checking vines for mites. His first customers were his patients in his dental practice.

Gavan Oakley used to be a dentist in suburban Blackburn, where deep in the last millenium he was also a Labor candidate for Parliament for the seat of Deakin (drafted in and very narrowly missing out on winning, a prospect he viewed with some consternation), a local Councillor, and well-known local figure.

As he explained, his claim to fame was “saving” the Blackburn Lake from developers, by persuading Liberal Premier of Victoria to chuck in a bunch of funds to rejuvenate it, which monies he got matched by his friend and famous Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, and the local Council.

Never let it be said one person cannot make a difference. Blackburn Lake today is one of the small but priceless jewels of Melbourne.

Anyhow, driven by the madness that leads anyone to grow grapes and make wine, and realising he was getting sick of staring inside people’s mouths, presumably, Gavan and his wife Tricia began the establishment of 4ha each of Pinot noir, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon in 1996. Halliday noted that most of the grapes are sold to other Yarra Valley winemakers, and when the Oakleys decided to have part of the production vinified for the Acacia Ridge label, they and some other small vignerons set up a marketing and grape-sharing co-operative known as Yarra Valley Micromasters. It is through this structure that the Oakleys obtain their Chardonnay, which complements the Cabernet Merlot and Shiraz made from their own plantings.

As their website explains: “The property was planted in 1997. The original plan was to sell fruit to the larger wineries. This is still going on, but because the fruit is of such a high standard, we decided to begin making our own wine. This was done under contract by specialist wine makers, local to the Valley.

The grapes are slow ripening, small bunch clones, ensuring intensity of color and flavour. Irrigation is used to a minimum, to assist us in achieving high quality fruit.  A full range of wines are available to taste, these including the popular Sauv Blanc, Chardonnary, Rose, Pinot, Cabernet Merlot, Shiraz and a few other surprises.”

At the Wellthisiswhatithink tasting desk, which is today feeling just the slightest bit over-trained ourselves, we strongly recommend dropping into Acacia Ridge if you’re anywhere nearby. And grab as much of the Cab Sav Reserve as you can afford. Which at just $25 a bottle, could be a fair bit.

It is drinking now a lot better than many more famous wines at twice or three times the price, (even when sourced at cellar doors), and a couple of years somewhere dark and temperate like your hall cupboard will undoubtedly release yet more complexity, if you can keep your hands off it. It’s already darkly plum-red, luscious in the mouth, and manages to magically combine rich fruit with a dry, grippy edge. Quaffable by all means, yet round and finished with an elegance that entirely defies it’s price. It tastes – and almost certainly is – a labour of love.

The type of love that saves lakes, in fact. In a word, superb. And the joy of finding a bit of the Yarra Valley like it used to be? Priceless.

Related reading:

http://acaciaridgeyarravalley.com/

http://www.wineriesyarravalley.com.au/

wasp nest

The European wasp Vespula germanica is native to Europe, North Africa and temperate Asia. Records show that the European wasp first reached Tasmania in 1959, where it soon became well established. However, it was not until 1977 that the European wasp was first recorded on the mainland in Melbourne.

About a year before the European wasp reached Tasmania, the English wasp Vespula vulgaris was recorded in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne. It is a close relative of the European wasp and has very similar colour markings. The English wasp has not enjoyed the same success as the European wasp and has only spread to the eastern parts of Melbourne and Gippsland. But for all practical purposes (venom potential, nesting position, biology etc) the European and English wasps may be considered as the same. In the remainder of this article, we only refer to the European wasp, however, many of the comments are equally applicable to the English wasp.

Research has shown that the spread of the European wasp has been greatly aided through hitching rides on human transportation. So the European wasp probably arrived in style by boat or plane!

At present, the European wasp distribution appears to be restricted to the cool and wet climates of coastal southern Australia. It occurs throughout most of Victoria and Tasmania. In country New South Wales, nests have been located at Coonabarabran while several nests have been recorded in south-east Queensland. In South Australia, the European wasp is well established throughout the hills surrounding Adelaide and Adelaide itself. And in Western Australia, it has been recorded from Perth and Albany.

Unfortunately, the European wasp is here to stay in Australia and eradication of this annoying pest is no longer an option. Despite early frantic reports labelling it as a ‘Killer Wasp’, no human deaths have been recorded in Australia. However, we must learn to live with this nuisance or pest and take precautions when eating and playing outside.

First aid

From personal experience, the sting from a European Wasp is more painful than a sting from a honey-bee. We were once stung on the leg when a wasp flew up it when we were making a major presentation at the Studley Park BoatHouse. Needless to say, the event was paused while ice was applied.

For most people, a painful reminder of the sting, sometimes lasting several days, is the only after-effect they will suffer.

Applying an ice-pack to the sting site helps reduce the pain and swelling. The ice-pack should contain a mixture of ice and water rather than placing ice directly on the skin.

Some sting victims may have a hypersensitive reaction, while others who have suffered several stings, may develop an allergic reaction. Allergic reactions to a sting may involve puffiness of the skin extending well beyond the sting site, or the development of an asthma-like condition making breathing difficult or, in severe cases, the heart may stop beating.

wasp applying ice using inhaler

If a victim is suffering breathing difficulties, then a salbutamol inhaler (‘Ventolin’) should help breathing. Needless to say, if this does not settle the problem, an ambulance should be called immediately.

When a known wasp-allergic person is stung on a limb, the recommended first-aid treatment is the same as for snake bite, ie. the pressure-immobilisation technique.

The limb is kept still while a bandage is wound around the sting site. Wrap the bandage around the limb a few time away from the heart side of the sting (ie. towards the fingers or toes), then firmly wrap as much of the limb as possible bandaging upwards to the groin or shoulder.

applying bandage applying bandage

The wrapping pressure should be firm but not constrictive. Seek medical attention as soon as possible. Never apply a tourniquet.

Locating a Wasp Nest

The easiest way to confirm a European wasp nest is to see a stream of yellow and black wasps flying in and out of some site.

European wasp nest site

European wasps usually forage for food within 50 to 250 metres of their nest, although in some instances they have been recorded flying several kilometres for food. If you have a large number of European wasps interrupting your outdoors activities, then you can probably assume you have a nest nearby.

Whatever the wild-eyed amongst us might say, do not, under ANY circumstances, seek to deal with a wasp nest yourself, unless you want to risk spending time in hospital from hundreds of stings. Just call a pest control company, for goodness sake.

About 80% of European wasp nests will occur in the ground with the remainder usually found inside buildings.

Why are there so many wasps about right now? In all probability it’s because we’ve had a dry winter followed by a mild, dry summer. No underground flooding has happened to restrain their lifecycle.

Remember, Europeans live with these wasps and have done for centuries. Their sting is nasty, but not deadly. Ice really will help, as will any well-known anti-sting ointment, and if the swelling bothers you perhaps an anti-histamine tablet.

Four key tips:

Stay still.

If you’re afraid of bees and wasps, this may sound as reasonable as eating jelly with chopsticks. But the worst thing you can do when a wasp flies around your head is swat at it. What would you do if someone took a swing at you? Right. So if a wasp comes near you, just take a deep breath and stay calm. It’s just trying to determine if you are a flower or some other item useful to it, and once it realises you’re just a boring, un-tasty person, it will simply fly away.

Think about your garbage.

Wasps love sweet things, like empty soda and beer bottles with dregs in them, and will check out any food waste in your garbage, too. So don’t let food residue build up on your garbage cans. Rinse bottles before throwing them away, rinse your bins well now and then, and always make sure your bins have tight-fitting lids on them to keep wasps away from your garbage. This will substantially cut down on the number of wasps hanging around your home.

Feed your pets indoors

Wasps nests can live on the food you put out for Fido, and his bones. Bring his food bowl inside, and any bones you give him to chew, at least during peak wasp season. It will make it less likely he’ll get stung, too.

Think about what you wear

Wasps are mainly looking for flowers stuffed with lovely nectar. Don’t wear floral prints outside. Dur. There’s a reason bee keepers and pest exterminators wear white: flying insects tend to ignore the colour.

In summary

wasp trapWasps are with us, bugger all we can do about, basically.

It’s essentially pretty simple. Don’t make your home attractive to wasps, and they’ll go elsewhere.

If that’s too hard, then build your own wasp traps with old soda bottles and one-way entries.

The ‘net is full of examples, just look around, or you can buy them at hardware stores, too.

Be aware that spraying wasps with some knock-down glop may or may not help defend you. They don’t succumb as quickly to popular insecticides as flies, for example. And you should be aware that a downed wasp may or may not be dead, and their stinging mechanism is one of the last things to decline as they die. Also, the Queen is popping out new wasps much faster than you can kill them, so it’s probably a fruitless effort, unless you can locate the nest and remove it. Ignoring them may take resolute willpower, but it’s probably the way to go.

One old wives solution is possibly good advice, as it they often are. If you’re picnicking, and there are wasps around, then locate a small quantity of something sweet and attractive 25 yards or so from where you’re sitting. My Mum always used to use a piece of cardboard with jam smeared on it. Worked a treat.

Just be careful out there.

 

Lake Learmonth at sunrise on the summer solstice … you can almost hear the magpies saying good morning

Today, I was woken, as I often am, by the sound of the Australian magpie, sitting on my roof, carolling away.

When I first came to Australia, some 25 years ago, having only been in the country a few days, I was taken camping by friends at a very pretty spot called Lake Learmonth, near the Victorian country town of Ballaraat. About an hour and a half north of Melbourne.

At about 5 or 5.30 am (having not been asleep very long), I sat bolt upright in my tent, when the most astonishing noise from the depths of some awful Hell broke over my head like an aural tsunami.

I flung open the tent and stood up in my undies, still lily-white from the northern winter, (me, not the undies; they were a sort of off white) and utterly panicked. I must have made an amusing spectacle for the numbers of hardy, bronzed Aussies that were already up and about, gathering wood for barbecues, showering, getting boats rigged for an early morning sail, or fishing.

When I had gathered myself, I soon surmised that on the ground nearby was a single black and white bird, singing away for all it was worth, hoping to be chucked a scrap of spare bacon in all probability, and with the most astonishing collection of sounds I had ever heard.

Warbles, cat calls, obbles, wobbles, doodles, melodious notes held apparently forever, soaring trills, clicks, coughs* … a seemingly endless repertoire of noise. No, it wasn’t Armageddon. It was a single bird.

Needless to say, it was some time before my Aussie hosts allowed me to forget that I had been so terrified of one small black and white bird looking for some free breakfast that I ran around the campsite in my smalls.

Anyway, lying in bed this morning listening to the morning chorus which I have now, of course, grown to love, it occurred to me that you, Dear Reader, might like to hear what all the fuss was about.

The first video is an exceptional sound file, although poor for seeing the bird. The second is not so good for the sound, although still good, but lets you see the birds clearly.

And there’s another good sound file for you to listen to here: http://tinyurl.com/6numspx

The other bird we hear regularly, of course, especially when my wife is selling her beautiful handmade glass at lovely Warrandyte market by the Yarra River, is the Kookaburra, a member of the Kingfisher family, and the iconic “laughing”  Australian bird.

Enjoy!

The Australian Magpie was first described by English ornithologist John Latham in 1802 as Coracias tibicen, the type collected in the Port Jackson region. Its specific epithet derived from the Latin tibicen “flute-player” or “piper” in reference to the bird’s melodious call.[1][2] An early recorded vernacular name is Piping Roller, written on a painting by Thomas Watling, one of a group known collectively as the Port Jackson Painter,[3] sometime between 1788 and 1792.[4] Tarra-won-nang,[3] or djarrawunang, wibung, and marriyang were names used by the local Eora and Darug inhabitants of the Sydney Basin.[5] Booroogong and garoogong were Wiradjuri words, and carrak was a Jardwadjali term from Victoria.[6] Among the Kamilaroi, it is burrugaabu,[7] galalu, or guluu.[8] It was known as Warndurla among the Yindjibarndi people of the central and western Pilbara.[9] Other names used include Piping Crow-shrike, Piper, Maggie, Flute-bird and Organ-bird.[2] The term Bell-magpie was proposed to help distinguish it from the European Magpie but failed to gain wide acceptance.[10]

*One of the best-known New Zealand poems is “The Magpies” by Denis Glover, with its refrain “Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle”, imitating the sound of the bird.

The bird was named for its similarity in colouration to the European Magpie; it was a common practice for early settlers to name plants and animals after European counterparts.[4] However, the European Magpie is a member of the Corvidae, while its Australian counterpart is placed in the Artamidae family (although both are members of a broad corvid lineage).

Magpies are ubiquitous in urban areas all over Australia, and have become accustomed to people. A small percentage of birds become highly aggressive during breeding season from late August to early October, and will swoop and sometimes attack passersby. The percentage has been difficult to estimate but is significantly less than 9%.[81] Almost all attacking birds (around 99%) are male,[82] and they are generally known to attack pedestrians at around 50 m (150 ft) from their nest, and cyclists at around 100 m (300 ft).[83] Attacks begin as the eggs hatch, increase in frequency and severity as the chicks grow, and tail off as the chicks leave the nest.[84]

These magpies may engage in an escalating series of behaviours to drive off intruders. Least threatening are alarm calls and distant swoops, where birds fly within several metres from behind and perch nearby. Next in intensity are close swoops, where a magpie will swoop in from behind or the side and audibly “snap” their beaks or even peck or bite at the face, neck, ears or eyes. More rarely, a bird may dive-bomb and strike the intruder’s (usually a cyclist’s) head with its chest. A magpie may rarely attack by landing on the ground in front of a person and lurching up and landing on the victim’s chest and peck at the face and eyes.[85]

Magpie attacks can cause injuries, typically wounds to the head and particularly the eyes, with potential detached retinas and bacterial infections from a beak used to fossick in the ground. A 13-year-old boy died from tetanus, apparently from a magpie injury, in northern New South Wales in 1946. Being unexpectedly swooped while cycling is not uncommon, and can result in loss of control of the bicycle, which may cause injury. In Ipswich, a 12-year-old boy was killed in traffic while trying to evade a swooping magpie on 16 August 2010.

If it is necessary to walk near the nest, wearing a broad-brimmed or legionnaire’s hat or using an umbrella will deter attacking birds, but beanies and bicycle helmets are of little value as birds attack the sides of the head and neck.[90] Eyes painted on hats or helmets will deter attacks on pedestrians but not cyclists.[91] Attaching a long pole with a flag to a bike is an effective deterrent.[92] As of 2008, the use of cable ties on helmets has become common and appears to be effective.[93] Magpies prefer to swoop at the back of the head; therefore, keeping the magpie in sight at all times can discourage the bird. Using a basic disguise to fool the magpie as to where a person is looking (such as painting eyes on a hat, or wearing sunglasses on the back of the head) can also prove effective. In some cases, magpies may become extremely aggressive and attack people’s faces; it may become very difficult to deter these birds from swooping. Once attacked, shouting aggressively and waving one’s arms at the bird should deter a second attack. If a bird presents a serious nuisance the local authorities may arrange for that bird to be legally destroyed, or more commonly, to be caught and relocated to an unpopulated area.[94] Magpies have to be moved some distance as almost all are able to find their way home from distances of less than 25 km (15 mi).[95] Removing the nest is of no use as birds will breed again and possibly be more aggressive the second time around.[96]

Other husband's spend their weekends watching football. Oi.

Other husband’s spend their weekends watching football. Oi.

 

One of Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink’s favourite leisure activities, Dear Reader, is to grab a gold pan and head to the streams around Ballarat and wade around looking for flecks of alluvial gold. This is always more fun if it’s done in cold, steady drizzle, or blazing mid-summer sunshine.

"Did you find something, did ya? Did ya?" "No guys, it's time for lunch." "Oh."

“Did you find something, did ya? Did ya?” “No guys, it’s time for lunch.” “Oh.”

So far she has managed to find four mosquito bites, an old Coke can, and a husband who prefers to sit on the bank eating ham sandwiches and taking photos of the meadow flowers with his iPhone.

But this would obscure the fact that others are more lucky, especially those peculiar bods wandering around with a stick with a plate on the end of it and a pair of headphones.

Grumpy husband unearths 2.7kg gold nugget

Grumpy husband unearths 2.7kg gold nugget

A Victorian man is $141, 000 richer today thanks to his wife.

Kerang resident Mick Brown had just given up smoking and was in such a bad mood his wife told him to get out of the house to give her some space.

A seasoned prospector, Brown decided to let off some steam by searching a patch of land near Wedderburn. Wedderburn is a rural town in Victoria, Australia on the Calder Highway, 214 kilometres north of Victoria’s capital city, Melbourne.  It is mainly a farming community but its early residents were gold miners and prospectors.

One of the main attractions for tourists is Hard Hill Reserve where, with a bit of imagination, one can feel a sense of what it was like in the ‘old days’ living in tents on the goldfields. Apart from gold, a number of Eucalyptus stills used to operate in the district and a replica still has been situated on the site and is fired up, by arrangement, for tourist buses. On site is one of the original batteries for crushing the ore and removing the gold. A puddler is also on site and a demonstration of it working can be seen during the annual Gold and Heritage Festival held round about the end of February and the beginning of March. The town  is a popular spot for hopefuls with gold detectors who are still finding the occasional nice nugget.

But  42-year-old Mick did not expect to find anything having scoured the area many times before without success.

It was his lucky day.

Just 15 centimetres below the surface Brown struck gold, unearthing a 2.7 kilogram nugget.

“I thought, ‘bugger me, it is, it’s bloody gold,” Brown told local media.

“I just dug it up, 87 ounces of the good stuff.”

He has affectionately nicknamed his find “Fair Dinkum” which is Aussie slang for “real”.

Asked what he would do with the money, Brown said he planned to pay off his debts and buy his children a spa. Good luck to him.

Now we just have to persuade Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink that a weekend’s light gardening in the suburbs is more likely to yield more long term personal satisfaction than standing in a stream miles from anywhere, swatting flies.

To learn more about “fossicking” (love that word) in Victoria, head here:

http://www.energyandresources.vic.gov.au/earth-resources/recreational-prospecting-and-fossicking

Some of the other big nugget finds in Australia can be seen here:

http://www.sbs.com.au/gold/story.php?storyid=113

In a story that really will cause all fair-minded people to pause and wonder, a photograph has captured what is believed to be the ghost of a little girl who drowned at a popular swimming hole in Queensland 100-years-ago.

The image shows three children and two adults playing in the water at Murphy’s Hole near Helidon in 2014. But a strange fourth child’s face appears to be in the picture, too.

 


 

The bizarre image was posted to the Toowoomba Ghost Chasers Facebook Page. The eerie white figure can be seen in the water between two women swimming with their children.

It is thought by some to be the face of 13-year-old Doreen O’Sullivan, who drowned in that exact spot in 1915.

Jessie Lu, who is one of the subjects in the photo, said the image had been examined by experts.

“At the time of taking this photo there was nothing between us,” she said.

“There was only three children there on that day. Two adults in the water and two adults on the bank.”

Oddly, Ms Lu added: “The older girl had trouble in the water on two occasions that day.”

Doreen’s death was reported in a local newspaper in 1915 and a grave belonging to a 13-year-old girl by the same name has been found.

Was Doreen returning to the scene to warn the children of the dangers of the spot? Is it a trick of the light? What’s your opinion, Dear Reader?

And do you have any real life ghost stories of your own to share?

The latest wonderful glass sculptural pieces from Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink … Very happy to advise you to click and enjoy!

Dramatic effective panel of bright colourful glass….

They sell like hot cakes, and each one is completely unique, so if you want one, contact her directly. The waiting list is growing.

Email her at jensstudio@yahoo.com.au

One morning last week, Dear Reader, one found oneself up uncommonly early. On the freeway at a tad before 6am, the result of supporting a football team playing on the other side of the world. No sympathy required: and at least they won.

But it did give me the unusual experience of watching the world at a time when I am usually still snuggled comfortably under the goose-down doona. The freeway was full of traffic and moving very fast, with a much higher percentage of young adult male “tradies” in trucks driving like lunatics on their way to somewhere or other. It was like Monza for pick-ups, all doing a few mph above the speed limit about two feet from my back bumper, and, frankly, it was mildly terrifying to our rheumy middle aged eyes.

Heading into the City, I was also reminded of how many different types of people work at all sorts of odd hours, to convenience the rest of us. The rubbish trucks were well underway with their noisy stop-start rounds, cafés were already open with barristas blearily making perfect skinny cappuccinos for early-to-rise or late-to-bed forex traders, barrels of beer were being delivered to pubs, here a flower stall being set up, there some coppers guarding the as yet empty entrance to the State Parliament, and, incongruously, a lone TV reporter already practising her lines to camera for the morning newscasts.

One rather cold winter – I think it was 1977-78 – I found myself working over the Christmas period. Not coming from a wealthy background it was common for me to work during the school holidays, in fact I think I had done some work or other in every school holiday from the age of 14 onwards, and in this particular break, having reached the very advanced mark of 17, I found I qualified for work as a relief postman.

Postman with lettersIt’s hard for people to imagine nowadays (those below a certain age, anyhow) but there was a time when most homes had plenty of letters and parcels delivered almost daily, and at Christmastime a virtual blizzard of mail would arrive every day.

The advent of electronic greetings cards and social media has reduced “snail mail” to something of a trickle, and a “postie” has an easier job nowadays than then.

Not to mention they belt around on little mopeds rather than walking.

But way back when, deep in the last millennium, so many cards were posted that extra postmen (and I am not being sexist, as they were all men) had to be employed to get all the mail delivered to people’s homes in time for Christmas.

It was something of a culture shock to the 17 year old me. I had made cups of tea in a beach cafe, washed pots by the mile, waited on tables, sold ice-creams from a kiosk, even worked as a fruit and veg delivery van boy, but nothing prepared me for the rigours of being a relief postie.

BOURNEMOUTH38For one thing, I had to get up at 4.30 am, fling on some clothes and walk through the murky laneways that linked my home to the nearest bus route, and get the first bus of the day which was the 4.59 am, and it was always sepulchrally empty, except for me.

As the walk to the bus was about ten minutes in pitch darkness I think you can tell, Dear Reader, that I never spent long on personal hygiene, breakfast or my sartorial appearance. I took to going to bed in the clothes I needed to wear the next day. It was so damned cold the extra layer of sweat thus accumulated on my skin undoubtedly served a useful prophylactic purpose.

The bus trip into town was eerie at that hour. All the shops were still closed, of course, and this was before permanent retailer illumination and acres of neon became commonplace, so their windows seemed like so many dead eyes staring at us as the elderly yellow-paint-peeling Leyland double-decker lurched by, wheezing and coughing. Decades-old streetlights would struggle to do any more than bring a damp orange glow to the mist around their heads. Occasionally a battered old Austin or Morris would sneak past us in the other direction, puffing exhaust into the air, its driver swaddled in a bobble-hat, scarf and sheepskin overcoat. It wasn’t just me who felt the keen wind knifing its way inland from the English Channel.

Exactly 47 minutes later – never 46, never 48 – I would be deposited outside the central sorting office, wide awake now, but cold and hungry.

I recall the first time I went in with absolute clarity. Through a magnificent Victorian façade, the building opened up like some vast human zoo, packed with worker bees before dawn had even considered breaking, with vast clouds of cigarette smoke winding up to the distant frescoed ceiling. The regular postmen were already at work, each with their own little cubicle, busily sorting the post into delivery routes. A nervous enquiry at the entrance directed me to one of the cubicles, where I met the cheery, middle-aged chap whose deputy I would be for ten days.

sortingSizing me up in a glance that lasted mere seconds, he smiled and said “I’m not ready for you yet, go and get some breakfast and come back in 20 minutes” and went back to his work, filling a wall of slots with mail of all shapes and sizes from the pile on the counter in front of him. Every now and then he would put a rubber band around a bunch of mail. I didn’t know it at the time, but not only was this highly skilled individual organising the whole of his round (and mine) by putting the mail in some sort of logical street order, (requiring an encyclopaedic knowledge of his area that was at least as complex as the famed “Knowledge” of London taxi drivers) he was also sorting the mail within each street by house order, faster, it seemed, than the eye could follow. His hands flashed in front of him ceaselessly. Occasionally, with an irritated grunt, he would retrieve an elastic-banded packet, open it up and insert a letter he had missed the first time round, and return it to its little wooden home.

I wandered off in search of breakfast, following my nose, trying not to get in the way. In a side room off the main area I found Aladdin’s Cave. These were the days of “company canteens”, where vast quantities of very-bad-for-you food was served up for a few pennies to working men who were yet to hear daily from nutritionists and national health advisory boards why they shouldn’t start each day with two fried eggs, a mound of bacon the size of St Catherine’s Hill, and some steaming mugs of tea each sweetened with three teaspoons of sugar. I had never seen so much food in one place in my entire life, except just once in a NAAFI eatery on an army base which had a similar quantity-over-quality attitude to feeding the nation’s troops, which was warmly welcomed by a visiting bunch of schoolboy army cadets used to the more meagre rations served up by po-faced kitchen hands in the penny-pinching minor public school where I was perpetually hungry for seven long years.

beans_on_toastI found I could afford baked beans on two oil-oozing slices of fried bread for, if I recall correctly, three pence.

And it was unquestionably the best breakfast I had ever eaten, teaching me, for the first time but not the last time, that immutable law of the universe that asserts that timely, accidental simple pleasures outweigh more complex, well organised ones every time.

I sat at a plasticated trestle table wolfing down the beans, looking around me in amazement at the rows of black-coated men looking like a murder of crows bent over their plates and talking ten to the dozen, keeping my own counsel, much too frightened to speak to anyone.

When I returned to pick up my bag of mail, I discovered it was a large as me, and I could hardly lift it. I would have complained, were it not for the very obvious fact that my colleague’s bag was at least twice as heavy. “You’ll get used to it” he encouragingly said, although I was at that moment much more inclined to run for the hills than get used to this strange life. But the money on offer was excellent for a mere callow youth, so I hefted it on my shoulders and walked, bent double, back out the front door, and to the bus stop, where another bus waited to transport me to streets unknown. “Get off by the footie ground, and go from there” he advised, and settled down to do his pools entry.

I did as I was told, and he waggled his pencil at me by way of goodbye, not lifting his head from deciding whether Chesterfield were likely to execute a score draw with Newport County or not. Which is how I came to be standing at the beginning of a long street of fine middle class houses with a brown hessian sack bulging with mail, and very little idea what to do next. Deliver Her Majesty’s Royal Mail, I supposed.

Sink or swim training methods. I opened the sack, which had a flap over its mouth secured by a belt buckle, and found that on its inside face was a list of streets, with the first being the one I was perched on the edge of right then.

You get the picture.

You get the picture.

I worked out that I should deliver in that street order – someone had written the list for a reason – so I just started. Which led me to my next discovery: that not only were the letters sorted numerically, they were sorted into odds and evens, making it much simpler to walk up one side of the street and down the other rather than cross the road from odd to even each time. I breathed my thanks to my mentor, although I did notice that this would inevitably return me to the same point I was at already, and that the next street was at the end of the one I was in now, meaning I had to walk back again to deliver that street, thus doubling my walk.

In time I would learn to examine the mail for each street to evaluate in advance whether it would be quicker to cross the street as I go, or go up one side or the other and then retrace my outward steps. Of such problems was my teenage mind consumed, and especially when it rained buckets of ice-cold rain or sleet on my grumbling teenage head, which was often if not daily.

As I finished each street I noted that the next street was the next bundle down in the sack, followed by the next street, and so forth until the sack was empty. When I told my mother this breathlessly over the dinner table, she murmured “a stitch in time saves nine”, which was one of her many “little sayings” that leavened my youth.

On the days it rained, the hessian sack became progressively heavier and heavier and more difficult to swing up on my shoulder or to handle in any manner at all, especially when I was huddled into an anorak with a fur-trimmed hood pulled down around my face and using every excuse to keep my brown faux-leather gloves on.

Relief postmen didn't get hats - more's the pity.

Relief postmen didn’t get hats – more’s the pity.

I quickly learned to only open the sack under a spreading horse-chestnut tree or in the porticoed entrance on some of the larger houses, lest the mail inside become utterly sodden.

Nonetheless, sometimes, by the end of the round, it was like delivering a series of obscure papier-mache sculptures to the sentinel homes, watching me impassively as I struggled. Where the inky addresses had run so badly I couldn’t make out the intended recipient I simply delivered the whole remaining bundle to the largest home in the street, figuring that if they could afford a home that large they obviously had money, and money obviously meant time on their hands to sort out the mess, and anyway it would give the occupants a good excuse to actually speak to their less well-off neighbours when they found a letter or card from family members they didn’t know they had.

As one neared Christmas itself, one had the odd and oddly moving experience of receiving “Christmas boxes” – monetary tips, and sometimes quite substantial – from grateful householders who clearly assumed I was their regular postman.

One chap memorably came to the door in a padded dressing gown, bare-footed despite the arctic weather, and wearing a “Wee Willy Winky” sleeping cap. He could not have looked more alien to me than if he had announced he was from Venus. He was carrying a cut glass decanter of sherry and two glasses, and insisted I take “a little something to keep out the cold”, despite me being under the legal drinking age and it being 7 am. It did make the rest of the day a little easier, to be sure.

Incredible riches,

Incredible riches,

I always felt tips should not be given to me, so returned them, religiously, to the real postie the next morning, which mildly astonished him, I think.

On Christmas Eve he gave me a pound note, and then an additional ten shilling note, which was admittedly but a fraction of the whole sum collected, but which was nevertheless a small fortune for me, and probably half a day’s pay for him.

It was a cheering moment, and taught me something valuable about worker solidarity.

Didn't pick the right year to spark a demarcation dispute.

Did not pick the right year to spark a demarcation dispute.

This was, infamously, the “Winter of Discontent”, the biggest continuous episode of industrial tension in the UK since the General Strike of 1926, and the apogee of trade union influence in Britain, where “the dead lay unburied” and rubbish piled up in the streets. The chaos would usher in the Thatcher years and break the power of the unions forever, but we didn’t know that then. What seemed like the entire workforce was striking for higher pay, with their wage packets being eroded dramatically by a combination of short-time working and inflation at 26.5%.

To say that everyone was a little bit touchy is like saying that winter was cold and wet. There was one hilarious incident that made it all seem very real and close to home.

One morning, arriving early, I waited not in the canteen but by my chap’s desk, sipping a cup of tea and reading a copy of The Sun that had apparently been consumed and then abandoned in a nearby booth. A supervisor chappie breezed by self-importantly, and dropped a big bundle of mail on the desk.

“What are you doing?” he asked, snappishly. “Er, just waiting for Joe,” I answered, anxiously. “Well, sort those while you’re waiting,” he commanded. “Yessir!” I replied, and jumped to it compliantly. In those days any teenager would call an older male “Sir”. I still do, to this day, funnily enough.

When Joe arrived, he was aghast. Incredulous, he called his mates over to show them what the supervisor had ordered me to do.

Within seconds it seemed like the whole place was in an uproar. “You go and get some breakfast, Son”, he murmured in a friendly fashion, “I’ll deal with this.” And he bunged me sixpence. I wasn’t quite clear what was going on but I wasn’t about to turn down free baked beans so I trotted off cheerfully.

Within a few minutes, though, the whole depot was at a standstill. I had sparked – completely innocently – what used to be called a “demarcation dispute”. No mere yoof could be sorting the mail. That was a task reserved for the mailman on the route. This was long before computerised mechanical sorting, and it was part of their skill set, without which the entire Royal Mail service would descend into frightful disorder, and it was a jealously guarded activity.

Senior management came worriedly weaving into the canteen, and quizzed me on the story, which I related without embellishment. No one blamed me, but the supervisor concerned was disciplined, I learned later. After an hour or so of industrial argy-bargy everyone went back to work, but the mail was delivered late that day.

In the more mundane jobs she has taken on to supplement her soaring educational career, the Fruit of One’s Loins has worked in a retail bakery, usually arriving at work just as the bakers themselves were leaving, having started work at 1 am. She’s worked in other busy retail environments too, learning perforce that the general public can be as ornery (and stupid) as a bunch of mules, as well as occasionally charming and good-natured. And she’s often up at the crack of sparrow’s fart to head across town to “nanny” some kids who need to get to school while their parents are already at work.

She’s probably going to end up as a leading academic, a famous psychologist, or a top actor – or all three, knowing her. She’s a natural leader, and the sort of person who will change society for the better, given a chance.

But I particularly welcome her experiencing “real” life in this way. Indeed, I think all young people should. “Real life” is what happens to everyone else: those who aren’t comfortably ensconced in a “professional” career, relaxing over a warm computer screen, usually pushing money around and often making decisions high in their ivory tower.

A Saturday job for some: a life for others.

A Saturday job for some: a life for others.

Those who lead our society need to know what it’s like for the “little people”: we all need to know that there are skills and value in a whole variety of jobs, and it’s not only the Prime Ministers, the Bishops, the Captains of Industry, or Oscar Winners that have stories to tell, and that our common stories as people struggling to get by are what bind us together. Too often, in the political field, for example, we see people rising to the top who have never held “a proper job”, heading straight into their chosen party’s machine from school or University. Or we find medicos at the top of their profession that have never worked anywhere but a leading teaching hospital, or senior public servants who have spent their entire career in the cosseted marble clad halls of government, or educators who never went near a poverty-stricken school or funds-starved kindergarten in their life, and so on, and so on.

I am intrinsically disinclined to prescribe to society what an individual’s life should look like. So I am not about to propose “civil conscription”, where every late teen or early adult needs to spend at least a year working in their choice of society’s less glamorous and perhaps more demanding jobs. But it is a tempting idea, and one that would surely improve our society overall in countless ways in years to come.

But perhaps the next time little Joey or Jemima whinges that he or she hasn’t yet had his or her “gap year” lying around on a beach somewhere – and could Mummy and Daddy somehow magically produce a quick ten grand to make it happen? – more middle class parents should answer: “Absolutely, you need a gap year. Go and work as a postman for a bit and we’ll talk about it.”

I will end this article here, before I get to pointing out that at the age of five I had to shovel coal from the outdoors coal store for the heater/cooker in the kitchen every frozen morning before school, or there’d have been no hot water for washing, and no sweet cup of tea nor yet a plate of baked beans. But we should stop before we get to the seemingly inevitable “and we used to live in shoe box in’t middle of road” end of the tale.

I will content myself with: “Tell the young ones nowadays? They wouldn’t believe yer.”