Archive for the ‘Popular Culture et al’ Category

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.

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)

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. :-)

 

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.

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

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.”

Wandering Facebook today brought us across this lovely snippet from our friend and reader Mimi in California.

“Today’s irony, brought to you by Hailey’s school:

“Let’s have a moment of silence for the deaf” at the end of the afternoon prayer.”

How thoughtful of them. Next week, poking our eyes out for the blind, no doubt.

marceauxAnyhow, it did remind us of the only joke we have ever consciously written. It ran thusly:

“So when Marcel Marceau died, did they hold a minute’s noise?”

Hardly enough to establish us as one of the world’s great humourists, but we are proud of it. Years later – and we never published the joke apart from gleefully sharing it with friends and acquaintances in the pub and over dinner – it was fed back to us from a comic in the UK. Amazing how the world works.

Marceau was a French actor and mime most famous for his stage persona as “Bip the Clown.” He referred to mime as the “art of silence,” and he performed professionally worldwide for over 60 years. As a youth, he lived in hiding and worked with the French Resistance during most of World War II, giving his first major performance to 3000 troops after the liberation of Paris in August 1944. Following the war, he studied dramatic art and mime in Paris.

In 1959 he established his own pantomime school in Paris, and subsequently set up the Marceau Foundation to promote the art in the U.S. Among his various awards and honours, he was made “Grand Officier de la Légion d’Honneur” (1998) and was awarded the National Order of Merit (1998) in France. He won the Emmy Award for his work on television, was elected member of the Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin, and was declared a “National Treasure” in Japan. He was friends with pop artist Michael Jackson for nearly 20 years, and Jackson said he would use some of Marceau’s techniques in his own dance steps.

Marceau’s work was frequently whimsical and humorous, but also often exquisitely beautiful and sad. Given that existentialism is basically a French invention, it is hardly surprising that he addressed it in his work.

His famous performance of “A Life” in three minutes was happily captured on film and is on YouTube with a number of his other history-making performances, and although the quality is very poor – it almost obscures the fact that he starts and ends in a foetal position – it is well worth viewing. What is fascinating is how he can create tension through repetition, can create suspense through inaction, and can provide shock through the tiniest changes in facial expression or bodily position. In a word: exquisite.

surprised_horseAh, sub editors.

They do love to just slip one in now and then.

Just to see, you know, if the Editor is actually awake and paying attention.

We love this:

Needs help

Holding the milk crate steady? Lifting the pony’s tail up? The mind doth boggleth.

http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/man-who-had-sex-with-a-horse-needs-help-says-ballarat-judge-20150225-13p34t.html

It’s good to know our judiciary are so thoughtful.

You really should click on the link for the full story.

rape victim_b60e1Australians are already tossing up whether to avoid Bali as a holiday destination in light of the Indonesian government’s apparent intransigence over the upcoming execution of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran for trying to import heroin to Australia, despite their obvious rehabilitation during ten years in prison.

News that Indonesian President Widodo did not even consider the facts of the mens’ case before rejecting their appeal for clemency – including urgings from their prison governor that they not be executed as they are so useful in the prison – has created considerable anger in Australia, and lawyers for the pair – the so-called “Bali2″ – are seeking to use the unseemly rush to shoot them as cause for appeal in Bali today.

Now news emerges that Indonesian police identified but let go a man accused of brutally raping a teenage Perth woman in Bali on Christmas Day, allowing him to escape the island.

The man allegedly assaulted the 19-year-old in a sustained attack that began in a villa and continued during a traumatic 30-minute taxi ride after she tried to escape.

When the woman reported the assault the next morning, she was subjected to a “virginity test”, watched on by medical students in Bali’s Sanglah Hospital. As if whether or not she was a virgin determined whether or not she had been raped.

She has been in hospital twice since her return to Perth for an aggressive sexually transmitted disease – “a revolting, painful reminder” – and must wait four months on an HIV test.

Her parents have now appealed for help to find her attacker.

Hours after the alleged assault, the woman named the man she said had raped her as Henry Alafu, identified him and led Bali police to the Jimbaran villa where the incident took place.

But police did not arrest the 25-year-old and told the woman they wanted to follow him to Jakarta so he would lead them to a “bigger network of criminals”.

The man is now believed to be on Java with a fresh warrant out for his arrest. “As the days and weeks go by we lose hope that there will be any justice,” the woman’s mother said yesterday.

The teenager said she was still fragile. She felt violated twice after getting no choice but to have the invasive virginity test she was told was necessary to report a rape to police.

“The hospital report confirmed I had been raped and assaulted,” she said.

“The police issued a warrant for his arrest. I don’t understand why he hasn’t been arrested.

“This man raped, threatened and humiliated me. He laughed in my face at my fear and helplessness.

“I was terrified. I have had my fair share of nightmares since the incident. Sleep is still difficult.”

In the days after the assault, the family employed a Balinese law firm to help. It billed them $US13,500 ($17,300) for six days work, including $US400 for replying to an email from the mother.

Her mother, who was holidaying in Bali with the 19-year-old and her younger sister, said the whole family had been traumatised by the rape and aftermath.

Young women, in particular, might consider that there are safer and equally inexpensive places to holiday in Asia than the island which combines a great sense of fun – as well as serene beauty in its hinterland, and the kindness of most of its people – with a very poor record for holidaymaker safety.

The White Rose

Sophie Scholl and members of White Rose

One of the most disturbing, heart-rending and thought-provoking films we have ever seen was “Sophie Scholl – The Final Days”.

The movie covers the efforts of a resistance group fighting the Nazis called “White Rose” Although the White Rose is well known in Germany, it is not well known overseas.

Der Weissen Rose was a group of mostly students at the University of Munich in Bavaria. Some were studying philosophy. Most, but not all, were religious in some way. Some of the boys had done military service but were allowed to do stints at university between stints on the Eastern Front. This experience provided them with more knowledge of what was actually going on than the average person living in Germany at the time, and it appalled them, but in their courageous resistance they still come across as young and somewhat naïve. It is this naivety that has made the White Rose so appealing. The operated from “pure” theological and philosophical intellectual opposition to National Socialism, to fascism, to dictatorship, to the war, and to the slaughter of Europe’s Jews.

To believe that there was very little resistance to Hitler inside Germany is a serious misunderstanding. Resistance to the Nazis began, of course, before they even came to power, and continued during the thirties and throughout the war.

Serving members of White Rose

Serving members of White Rose

Resistance came from political groups of the left, centre and even conservatives, from unions, from churches and religious people, from within the government and branches of the military. Several attempts were made to assassinate Hitler both by groups and individuals. Although it did not succeed in overthrowing Hitler or ending the Nazi tyranny, the resistance did have an impact on the war and the ultimate defeat of the fascist regime.

Why does it seem otherwise? Well, the Nazi regime set out systematically and ruthlessly to destroy all opposition. Thousands of the people who would have been part of an even more effective resistance movement fled into exile soon after Hitler came to power. Many more were perfectly understandably frightened by the danger and sank into silence and inaction.

Sophie Scholl was guillotined, as was her brother, another brother was lost on the Eastern front. In a final meeting, Scholl's father told her he was proud of her and not to regret her sacrifice. She replied that she would see them again in Heaven.

Sophie Scholl was guillotined, as was her brother, another brother was lost on the Eastern front. In a final meeting, Scholl’s father told her he was proud of her and not to regret her sacrifice. She replied that she would see them again in Heaven.

Yet many did not and paid the price. At least 5,000 were executed and many more spent time in prison. Some were simply murdered.

There was a feeling within Germany that people really shouldn’t undermine the government during wartime

Many ordinary Germans saw members of the resistance as traitors because that was what almost every source of information available to them told them they were.

Unlike in the countries Germany tried to conquer, the resistance had to assume that much of the population actually supported the government and would report their activities from a sense of duty or from totally justified fear, thus making their actions even braver. Nevertheless, their writings struck a chord with many in the community.

The nations fighting Germany during World War II also decided not to publicise the German resistance to Hitler during or after the war. The insistence on unconditional surrender and the strategic bombing raids which caused so many civilian casualties made it necessary to see Germany as guilty as a nation rather than as itself a victim of Nazi tyranny. The allied armies knew about the resistance and benefited from it but did not want to praise it, at least initially.

MovieSophieSchollSo the story of Sophie Scholl and her family and friends remained almost un-talked about until about the 1970s, when the German community started to discuss the war years more openly, and then again in 2005 when the remarkable film about the events was released.

You can watch the entire film, in its original German, with subtitles, below.

If you haven’t seen it, we cannot recommend it highly enough, but we warn you that it is gut wrenching.

Nevertheless, if you haven’t seen it, find a couple of hours, pour yourself a strong drink, and watch it. Those that died deserve to be remembered.


When people discuss the White Rose it has been suggested they were a brave but ineffective resistance movement. That is, in fact, not true. When they were active they caused the regime considerable annoyance. Although many who received the leaflets in the mail handed them in to police, many did not, and the regime had to deal with the fact that those who handed them in may have read them.

Sophie Scholl was an ordinary girl - devoutly Catholic, she fell in love with one of her fellow conspirators, she loved the countryside, she adored her parents. She was very ordinary, just very, very brave.

Sophie Scholl was an ordinary girl – devoutly Catholic, she fell in love with one of her fellow conspirators, she loved the countryside, she adored her parents. She was very ordinary, just very, very brave.

They managed to establish branches in Berlin and particularly Hamburg where sadly many of Hamburg White Rose met the same fate.

The White Rose also had a role in a student uprising in Munich— which was quickly suppressed.

After their execution graffiti appeared on walls in Munich: “Ihr Geist lebt wieter” “Their Spirit Lives On”.

Others carried on the fight. Copies of the leaflets were smuggled out to the Allies and later dropped in their tens of thousands by bombers over German cities.

An example of the leaflets (there were a total of five) is produced below. The courage of young people who could make these arguments against the might of the Nazi Reich simply beggars belief. Especially as they operated in the sure and certain knowledge that one day they must be caught, with their horrifying deaths as the inevitable result.

Many brave people died during the Second World War. These young Germans were amongst the bravest.

THE THIRD LEAFLET

Salus publica suprema lex (Public safety is the supreme law)

All ideal forms of government are Utopias. A state cannot be constructed on a purely theoretical basis; instead, it must grow and develop in the same way an individual human being matures. But we must not forget that at the beginning of every civilization the state already existed in a rudimentary form. The family is as old as man himself, and out of this initial bond man, endowed with reason, created for himself a state founded on justice, whose highest law was the common good. The state should reflect the divine order, and the highest of all utopias, the Civitas dei, is the model it should ultimately resemble. We will not compare the many possible states here—democracy, constitutional monarchy, monarchy, and so on, but one issue needs to be made clear and unambiguous; every human being has the right to a just state, a state that safeguards the freedom of the individual as well as the good of the whole. For according to God’s will, man should be free and independent, while fulfilling his natural duty of living and working together with his fellow citizens, and strive to achieve earthly happiness through self-reliance and self-motivation.

But the present “state” is the dictatorship of evil. “Oh, we’ve known that for a long time,” I hear you object, “and it isn’t necessary to bring that to our attention again.” But, as I ask you, if you know that, why do you not rouse yourselves, why do you allow these men in power to rob you step by step, both openly and in secret, of one of your rights after another, until one day nothing, nothing at all will be left but a mechanized state system presided over by criminals and drunkards? Is your spirit already so crushed by abuse that you forget it is your right—or rather, your moral duty—to eradicate this system? But if a man can no longer summon the strength to demand his right, then he will definitely perish. We would deservedly be scattered over the earth like dust in the wind if we do not marshal our powers at this late hour and finally find the courage we have lacked up to now. Do not hide your cowardice behind a cloak of expedience, for with every new day that you hesitate, failing to oppose this offspringof Hell, your guilt, like a parabolic curve, grows higher and higher.

Many, perhaps most, of the readers of these leaflets cannot see clearly how they can mount an effective opposition. They cannot see any avenues open to them. We want to try to show them that everyone is in a position to contribute to the overthrow of this system. Solitary withdrawal, like embittered hermits, cannot prepare the ground for the overthrow of this “government” or bring about the revolution at the earliest possible moment. No, it can only be done through the cooperation of many convinced energetic people—people who agree on the means they must use to attain their goal. We have few choices as to these means. The only one available is passive resistance. The meaning and the goal of passive resistance is to bring down National Socialism, and in this struggle we can’t shrink from any means, any act, wherever it is open to attack. We must bring this monster of a state to an end soon. A victory for fascist Germany in this war would have inconceivable and terrible consequences. The first concern of every German is not the military victory of Bolshevism, but the defeat of National Socialism. This must be the first order of business; its greater imperative will be discussed in one of our forthcoming leaflets.

And now every resolute opponent of National Socialism must ask himself how he can most effectively fight against the present “state”, how he can inflict the most damaging blows. Through passive resistance, without a doubt. We can provide each man with a blueprint for his acts; we can only make general suggestions, and he alone will find the best way to achieve them.

Sabotage armament industries, sabotage every assembly, rally, ceremony, and organisation sponsored by the National Socialist Party. Obstruct the smooth functioning of the war machine (a machine designed for war that is then used solely to shore up and perpetuate the National Socialist Party and its dictatorship.) Sabotage in every scientific and intellectual field involved in continuing this war—whether it be universities, technical colleges, laboratories, research stations, or technical agencies. Sabotage all cultural institutions that could enhance the “prestige” of the fascists among he people. Sabotage all branches of the arts that have even the slightest dependence on National Socialism or serve it in any way. Sabotage all publications, all newspapers, that are in the pay of the “government” and that defend its ideology and help disseminate the brown lie. Do not give a penny to public fund-raising drives (even when they are conducted under the guise of charity), for this is only a cover. In reality the proceeds help neither the Red Cross nor the needy. The government does not need this money; it is not financially interested in these fund-raising drives. After all, the presses run nonstop, printing as much paper currency as is needed. But the people must never be allowed to slacken! Do not contribute to the collection of metal, textiles and the like. Try to convince all your acquaintances, including those in the lower social classes, of the senselessness of continuing, of the hopelessness of this war; of our spiritual and economic enslavement at the hands of the National Socialists, of the destruction of all moral and religious values; and urge them to adopt passive resistance.

Aristotle, Politics: “Further….[a tyrant] should also endeavor to know what each of his subjects says, or does, and should employ spies everywhere…and further, to create disunity and division in the population: to set friend against friend, the common people against the notables, and the wealthy among themselves. Also he should impoverish his subjects; the maintenance of guards and soldiers is thus paid for by the people, who are forced to work hard and have neither the time nor the opportunity to conspire against him…Another practice of tyrants is to increase taxes, after the manner of Dionysius at Syracuse, who contrived that his subjects paid all their wealth into the treasury within five years. The tyrant is also inclined to engage in constant warfare in order to occupy and distract his subjects.

Please make as many copies of this leaflet as possible and pass them on!

Further comment superfluous.

Further comment superfluous.

The internet was left well and truly broken last weekend with the news that the entirely delightful Emma Watson was possibly dating Britain’s most eligible bachelor Prince Harry. The idea that Watson – who has just announced she will take on the role of Disney Princess Belle in a live action Beauty and the Beast remake – might become an actual, real-life Princess was the stuff of fandom dreams.

Also, there was a portion of the internet (to wit, the Harry Potter-reading portion) who were vindicated in the knowledge that Hermione really was going to end up with Harry, after all.

But alas, those hopes and dreams had barely taken flight before they were crushed cruelly today.

Watson took to Twitter to deny the rumours early this morning. “World,” Watson said, “remember that little talk we had about not believing everything written in the media?!” This was a reference to a 2013 tweet from Watson, who responded to (false) rumours that she was going to star in Fifty Shades of Grey.

But Watson wasn’t finished yet. The actress tweeted again, sharing a clip from beloved film A Little Princess with the caption “marrying a Prince not a prerequisite for being a Princess.”

We could have told everyone it wasn’t true. Watson is cerebral, intelligent and thoughtful. Neither of those characteristics are requirements for dating Harry. Nor is she blonde.

None of which, of course, means we can’t post a completely egregious and unnecessary glamour shot of Ms Watson for no apparent reason without even pretending it has any relevance to the story. We are only human. *Sigh*

Neil-Patrick-Harris-2015-Oscars-Host

On Wellthisiswhatithink we are fairly consistent in two things.

1. We celebrate talent, and hard work.

2. We love creativity.

The opening of today’s Oscars starring their host Neil Patrick Harris (amongst others) was simply superb. Frankly, we wonder if the rest of the show could possibly live up to it.

Harris was consistently the best thing about the gloriously funny and touching show “How I Met Your Mother” and has also been awarded for his onstage work on Broadway. We stand in awe of his talent. Frankly, we’d be hard pressed to even remember our lines in a song as long and complex as this. His timing is superb, his performance faultless. Big ups too for Anna Kendrick who is wonderful, and Jack Black, in supporting roles.

Phew. And a word, please, for whoever wrote it. As a writer, we fear we are always the forgotten ones, or nearly always. The writer here has earned his or her money a dozen times over. “We are here tonight with our Xanax and Dior.” Glorious stuff.

The technical quality of the staging is brilliant too. Just look at the Sharon Stone moment to see what we mean. So clever.

This is American popular culture at his best. When they’re good, my word, they’re good. The YouTube page we watched it on was running a bit wonky and has now been removed for copyright issues, but if it’s not on YouTube watch it on the tele later. Or find, you know, a proper website. You could try this one:

Watch here

We’re TRYING, OK?

Can’t wait to see the rest of the show.

Tony-Abbott-WinkOK, it’s Friday, we have a headache, we have to go stand around in 90+ degree sunshine, and we simply can’t be arsed to rattle on about how wrong it is to execute Australians in Indonesia (or anywhere for that matter), how horrid IS are (and more interestingly, why), or how stooooopid Australia’s Prime minister is. (Answer: staggeringly.)

So we just thought we’d have a larf with these inspired alterations to public signs. Have a great weekend, Dear Reader.

 

I really wish we were as funny as this. Really. We strive to be. We just ain't. You could call that a chip on our shoulder. Ha! See what we did there? Maybe we are funny.

I really wish we were as funny as this. Really. We strive to be. We just ain’t. You could call that a chip on our shoulder. Ha! See what we did there? Maybe we are funny after all.

 

Leveraging America's obsession with Bacon, which we completely get.

Leveraging America’s obsession with Bacon, which we completely get.

 

Gorgeous. Even like the drawing.

Gorgeous. Even like the drawing.

 

They do, too. Always knew it.

They do, too. Always knew it.

 

This would make us laugh no matter how many times we walked past it. Whoever drew this has done the world a kindness.

This would make us laugh no matter how many times we walked past it. Whoever drew this has done the world a kindness.

 

Oh, the humanity of it.

Oh, the humanity.

 

We have highlighted this one before as a reminder not to put advertising material where it can be reached, but it's very funny.

We have highlighted this one before as a reminder not to put advertising material where it can be reached, but it’s very funny.

 

Yup.

Yup.

 

Funny and a comment on society all in one. Clever people around.

Funny and a comment on society all in one. Clever people around, huh?

 

The effort people will go to is amazing - we hope the killjoy idiots in the local Council will leave this one up. Brilliant.

The effort people will go to is amazing – we hope the killjoy idiots in the local Council will leave this one up. Brilliant.

 

Yet more social comment. Reminds us of when billboards for cigarettes all over Australia were spontaneously inscribed with "Cough! Cough!" before they were banned.

Yet more social comment. Reminds us of when billboards for cigarettes all over Australia were spontaneously inscribed with “Cough! Cough!” before they were banned.

 

But this is our total favourite. We swear we are going to carry a pen with us from now on in hope of seeing a "Bill Stickers" sign. Bravo.

But this is our total favourite. We swear we are going to carry a pen with us from now on in hope of seeing a “Bill Stickers” sign to add this to. Bravo. Encore!

 

Any more great examples muchly appreciated. Email them to yolly@decisionsdecisions.com.au.

Her

Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) takes his artificial intelligence lover on holiday with him. In his pocket.

Recently, Dear Reader, we were much taken with a movie called “Her”, a thought-provoking, rather touching, well-crafted and occasionally funny fantasy comedy-drama about a man who falls in love with the “Artificial Intelligence” character inside his computer.

Written and directed by Spike Jonze (his first full-length screenplay), at the 86th Academy Awards, “Her” received five nominations, including Best Picture, and won the award for Best Original Screenplay. Jonze also won awards for the screenplay at the 71st Golden Globe Awards, the 66th Writers Guild of America Awards, the 19th Critics’ Choice Awards, and the 40th Saturn Awards. The movie was both a critical and financial success.

Given the burgeoning growth of online relationships and megamultiplayer online environments it had the smack of a reality that could well arrive reasonably soon. Of course, the idea of an iterative pseudo-intelligence that grows and learns as it goes along is a regular in science fiction – think Data from “Star Trek, Next Generation”, or even the on-board computer in “2001 A Space Odyssey” – and “Her” took that to its logical conclusion, including a very clever ending which we are far too kind to spoil.

Anyhow, although it is still essentially driven by human brainpower, now a man from the United States has created a mobile phone app that gives users a ‘relationship’ at the touch of a button.

For just $30 – a lot less than your drinks tab for an evening hanging around in a singles bar – you can buy a significant other through the new Invisible Boyfriend/Girlfriend app.

You can even choose the specific details and characteristics to make up your dream partner.

Every customer is promised at least 100 texts, 10 voicemails and a collection of handwritten notes.

“Recovering lawyer” and co-founder Matthew Homann says the app enables people to convince others that they are in a relationship and save themselves from awkward questions.

He says there’s a wide range of reasons why people sign up.

“They might be getting tired of getting hit on at the office. Or they might have grown weary of people asking if they are single.”

The ‘relationships’ are managed by a team of 500 employees in the US.

Mr Homann says they hope to expand the service to include deliveries, so people can get gifts brought to their workplace to impress their colleagues.

It would be easy to scoff at such an idea, but we view it sympathetically. There are a lot of lonely people on this planet, and there is great social pressure to be considered desirable. If people choose to engage in a small subterfuge to relieve them of that stigma, well, so be it.

It might be a bit embarrassing, though, when their friends beg to be allowed to meet the gorgeous person who sends them flowers to the office.

And we do wonder what level of self-delusion might develop as the text messages ping into their inbox. Might they imagine they are actually in a real relationship with whoever is sending the text, even when, simultaneously, they know logically that they are not? The mind is perfectly capable of such mental gymnastics.

scarlettPart of the attraction of the movie “Her” was that the voice of the artificial intelligence was played by Scarlett Johannson. Regular readers will understand when we say that we think we’d fall in love if she was the voice of our computer, too.

Mr Wellthisiswhatithink is only human, when all’s said and done.

If Mr Homann can arrange for voicemails from Scarlett to be delivered to our phone, we’re in.