I invite you to visit also my literary blog: Journeys in Creative Writing where I post original fiction including short stories, poetry and 'Paternity', a full length mystery novel.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Guess who has solar hot water?

From now on I’ll have piping hot showers courtesy of the bright Australian sunshine, and I’ll rarely need to pay a cent for it. There will always be enough for me and a herd of visitors, except occasionally in the depths of winter.
The water was hot enough for a greasy washing up in a few hours after installation, and I’m told that I will need to boost my hot water with electricity only very rarely. Otherwise the sun does all of the work.

It really is nutty to waste the immense benefit of harnessing the power of the big orange ball in the sky.

I could do this because the Australian Rudd Government has set up generous schemes to subsidise householders for solar hot water and electricity, and for roof insulation – all in the cause of reducing climate change and incidentally stimulating the economy.

My two solar collectors on the roof, 315 litre hot water tank and full installation and materials cost me $A1,000 out of pocket expenses as my contribution. The Federal Government is paying $A1,600 and the State NSW Government $A800.

Another Federal scheme which set up renewable energy certificates to encourage the manufacture of energy efficient solar systems further reduced the cost.

It will take a while for me to get back my $A1,000 contribution, depending on how fast energy costs rise, but I’m more than willing for that. I feel I will be helping out the environment and I’ll love the small power bills.

I certainly could not have footed the entire cost by myself, thus I’d have been pumping unnecessary pollution gases into the air for the rest of my life.

I bought roof insulation when I first moved into this house, without subsidies, and it’s been the best. My house is rarely uncomfortable in our hot summers and I never use my old air conditioner.

I’ll think about solar electricity when my wallet recovers from this assault.

Of course, Australia is lucky on the sunny skies front, but solar can be used to break down the use of coal and other polluting power producers in most areas of the globe, at least to an extent. 

I’d be interested to know what’s happening at your place?  Do you use alternative energy sources such as sun and wind? Leave a comment and we can chat. 

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Red Skies - are we looking at the future?

What did the kookaburras think of this lot?

While the world's leaders were ducking and weaving about climate change solutions in New York this week, Australia saw a real live demonstration of what our future could be if we don't act with speed on this front.

My brother lives just outside Sydney and woke up at dawn on Wednesday to see that the sky was what he described as 'fire engine red'.  It was 'the day the outback dropped in'.

A gigantic dust storm had picked up many many tonnes of our precious outback topsoil and flung it, willy-nilly, 1500km across the country and out to sea.  The air pollution was 1500 times as bad it would have been on a normal day - the highest since such records began here.

This is how it looked soon after dawn from beneath the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge. 

Peer through the haze to the majestic sails of the Opera House ...

As my brother said, the sky changed from fire engine red at dawn to bright orange and gradually, over some hours, to yellow and to grey.  This image would have been taken around mid morning. 

Young people made their way to school in an orange glow. 

People put handkerchiefs to their noses and unwise joggers, fit and young, ended up in hospital emergency departments struggling for breath. 

This amazing image is Luna Park, a fun fair on Sydney's northern shore.

How eerie and frightening it must have been ...

This householder/photographer wouldn't have kept the laundry door open for long.  Everything is too clean. Cars, houses and plants were swamped with the clinging dust.

The images above were from websites of the Sydney Morning Herald and the Sydney Telegraph, some taken by staff, but many sent in by readers.  

Results of the dust storm reached the coast and spread more than 2,000km from Sydney to the Gulf of Carpentaria not far from the northernmost tip of the land.  

The dust struck my home 900km north of Sydney late in the morning.  I was speaking to my sister on the phone and looking out of the window at the same time.  I became mesmerised when the landscape began to disappear.

Five minutes later a whoosh of wind changed the world.  I could see no further than houses 200m away.  Everything beyond that disappeared: the trees, cars, high rises on the border, houses.  

I could taste dust on my tongue.  I had no shoes on and the ceramic floor tiles felt gritty. I was frightened because I am an asthmatic.  

I'd closed down hours before thinking the dust might reach us, but left one door open for fresh air.  I shut it quickly and all doors and windows at my place remained tightly closed for the rest of the day, and throughout the night.

So you see, I took no photographs of our dust.  By the time it reached northern NSW the sun was high in the sky, and the dust had taken on a grey hue. No outdoor photography for me!

Next morning though the skies were blue, but so was I, feeling much like a dishrag, needing a good clean out.  I went for a long bike ride to get rid of the grit.  

Today the dust is back in a reduced way, bringing only a haze on our horizon, and leaving the high rises as so many ghosts in the distance.  Even so, I won't be going outside today ...  

Ben Cubby, an environment reporter on the Sydney Morning Herald said the dust storm on Wednesday was 'consistent with what we know about the effects of climate change'.  

Those politicians had better get cracking!

Melbourne Age website - images of the Sydney dust storm set against an excerpt from John Steinbeck's 'Grapes of Wrath'. 

As a little lamented Prime Minister of Australia once said 'we should be alert but not alarmed'.  He was talking about terrorism, not our environment. But my goodness we MUST surely be more alert than we've been when such signs of climate change become ever more relentless. 

Have you signed petitions or other ways acted on the climate change front? 

Do you try to do your little personal bit towards easing this problem - eg using less water or installing a solar panel on the roof? Add such individual efforts together and it will mean something.  

Please tell me in a comment. 

Friday, 18 September 2009

Just the Best Fish n Chips!

The pelicans and seagulls think they sell just the best     fish n chips around, and so do I! This small boat harbour restaurant has tables set out on a wharf at Tweed Heads near my home in Australia.

Dress code is the ultimate in casual. Fingers are definitely de rigeur. Food is served in polystyrene boxes to keep in the heat, and the taste is scrumptious! 

I dropped in yesterday on my latest bicycle ride. Here, for $A8.50 I enjoyed a meal of about eight little whiting fillets (cooked in crumbs after coming straight off the boat) together with a huge serve of potato chips and a couple of lemon wedges. 

No need to cook when I got home.

These days the sea birds seem to have got the message that they must wait to be fed, and show manners. 

Some time ago they thought they could fight humans for the food they'd purchased and squabble and flap around, making the experience somewhat marginal.  That's a battle surely fought in most seaside towns at some time or another. 

Not only is the food good at this little cafe, but there's a lot to watch while you eat. 

The boat harbour is home to yachts large and small, house boats and craft that ply the nearby river taking tourists and even wedding parties on trips that can include music and refreshments. 

The local fishing fleet - source of my fish meal - drops anchor around the corner ...

I took this photograph on a Sunday - otherwise all of the boats would have been out about their business.  

Why do most fishing boats seemed to bear a woman's name? 

Who was Sarah Jane?

The 'NessaJane' was receiving some TLC from her crew.

And then there was the 'Coralynne' ... 

I REALLY like my bicycle.  I notice so much more when I'm travelling that way. 

Where will you head next time you ride your bicycle?

Where would you like to go if you had one? 

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Hearing Voices 24/7

Bloggy mates, I promise to post something bright and cheery soon - but this won't be it! However, I suggest that this will be an experience you won't forget.  

Unless you, your family or your friends are among the one in four of those who have had a bout of mental illness in their lives, you won't know much about it.  Or, at least you won't be able to fully empathise with a person who has had a brush with psychosis.

Mel is a young Australian girl who was dux of her school until psychosis struck seven years ago. Since then, her life has never been the same.  

A little while ago Mel met a presenter from the Australian Broadcasting Commission's youth radio station Triple J and told her story on video.  It's an absolute blow-out. 

Judge for yourself:  

Come back after you watch and leave a comment on your feelings ...

Also, bloggy mates, please spare a thought for Mel's parents and all of those families confronted by these problems.  

And if you know anyone affected personally, you may like to contact the Hearing Voices Network website.  

The head office is in Manchester England: The NSW Australia group established by Mel's father also has a site:

How did you feel after this experience?
You may feel a little hollow right now, but I'd wager that you feel, as I do, that we understand many of our fellow human beings a lot better now.  

Sunday, 30 August 2009

The Media and Mental Illness

It’s about time the media took seriously their responsibilities towards people with mental illness.

A badly worded story can do far reaching damage to sufferers and their families, and yet some newspapers and television journalists are insensitive beyond belief.

One of the newspapers that circulates in our local area disgraced itself last week be printing large photographs and stories featuring a man whose actions may have pointed towards him suffering a mental illness. In fact the newspaper story stated that an ambulance later took the young man for psychiatric assessment at the local hospital.

The young man was not doing anything consciously threatening, terrible or destructive. He was simply acting in a way about which he may have been unaware and which he probably wouldn't want published for all the world to see.

And yet the newspaper, the Tweed Daily News, chose to spread this embarrassment all over the front of its week-end issue and spilled it to fill most of an inside page. Thankfully, these pictures and stories attracted condemnation from the general public, and from the journalists' peers.

The Daily News is published in the Tweed Valley on the North Coast of New South Wales in Australia.

I’m not going to repeat the crime here by reproducing evidence of this cruel act, but I do wish to chastise the newspaper for being self-serving, ignorant and extremely clumsy, to say the least.

Media too often feeds on sensationalism, and time and again sells newspapers and explodes ratings at the expense of unfortunate people. It was great to see the public reaction this time was the absolute opposite.

However, the Daily News is certainly not alone in displaying insensitivity, even though their example was astonishing.

Surveys of Australian media have shown that one fifth of items on mental illness still used language such as "cracked up", "crazy lunatics", "nutcase", "a psycho" and "mental hospital".

In 50% of cases, the method of self-harm in reporting of suicide was described in detail. This is despite recommendations that the method of suicide not be described less copycat behaviour result.

Sane Australia is an organisation doing great work in this area, attempting to educate the media about how to approach this fraught subject without doing damage.
Its web site can be found at

Featured is Sane’s Stigma Watch programme which monitors media portrayals of mental illness and suicide, to ensure that they are accurate and respectful. If they’re not Sane tells them so, and suggests educational programmes to stop it happening again.

The Australian Government’s Mindframe National Media Initiative has a stunningly good web site. Mindframe was produced to inform appropriate reporting of suicide and mental illness, to minimise harm and copycat behaviour, and reduce stigma and discrimination.

It was developed with the assistance of media professionals, suicide and mental health experts and consumer organisations.

One section discusses the portrayal of these issues on the stage and screen in Australia.
There are also resources for media, police, courts, and health professionals. See

Personally, I’d also recommend these sites to every person interested in helping others cope with mental illness. To understand the issues, and spreading the word are themselves priceless contributions.

Wiping out stigma is a major concern if we are to reduce the impact of mental illness in our communities.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation television programme Media Watch last night featured criticism of the Tweed Daily News stories and photographs.

Presenter Jonathon Holmes called the newspaper 'a little rag'.  The programme carried comments from the young man's father who also castigated the newspaper and confirmed that his son suffered a serious mental illness.

He said the young man had hoped the news team would help him, and was upset when they didn't.

The father said his son saw the articles and went missing for four days.  He was subsequently admitted to the local psychiatric unit for treatment.

Perhaps the Daily News may now begin training their staff about respect for mentally ill persons.

Perhaps they will make mandatory the study of the Australian Government's superb website Mindframe -

Do you know why it is not acceptable to call a person ‘a schizophrenic’?

Could bad media reporting result in a person with mental illness committing suicide?

Did you know that 20 per cent of Australians experience some form of mental illness at some time in their lives, and that this figure is repeated in many other nations?

Friday, 21 August 2009

Identify Choices and You're Ahead!

Choices are a big deal in my life.

Until one learns to recognise that we almost always do have them, choices can slip by unnoticed and are wasted.

Once understood, I reckon they can introduce us to a path towards happiness or helplessness, productivity or inactivity, self realisation or mediocrity, the ordinary or the extraordinary.

For many people, the matter of having choices can be a big revelation. And choices are not simply beer and skittles, for they carry with them the reality of a big word – responsibility.

Once we’ve made our choice it’s our bag, not anyone else’s.

All actions are greeted with a reaction. Once we make our choices we need to live with them, and need to make them work.

I say to my children that they would be wise to look out for a fork in the road throughout their lives. By that I mean to suggest that they recognise when it’s time to make a decision – a decision that may very well carry huge consequences for the future.

The trick is to recognise the moment when we are being presented with choices: to understand that it’s time to pause, investigate and mull over facts and feelings, before taking the next step.

I encourage my kids to make their choices wisely; not becoming worry warts, but taking enough time to produce a confidence that the choice has been made with care and knowledge.

Every day is generally filled with seemingly insignificant forks in our life’s road: ‘Do I go shopping today or do I make a cake and take it to Mum’s for morning tea?’

‘Should I go out with that boy I met at the disco, or keep my promise to attend the movies with a school mate?’

On some days there are more important forks in the road, requiring a lot of careful thought before making a decision.

‘Will I take my best friend’s word that taking a tablet of Ecstasy is worth the risk – or not?’

‘Will I marry him or will I not?’

‘Should I take this job or that one?’

‘Will I sell my business and strike out on my own, or stay where I am for another year?’

Recognising and making a choice are the first steps of course; steps which can be taken in the twinkling of an eye if we’re not careful. It’s the living with those choices which takes the time and effort.

End of my little soliloquy.

My small thought bubbles (above) came to me this morning after I was sent an advance copy of Roger Emerson Fishman’s new book ‘What I Know – uncommon wisdom and universal truths from 10 year-olds to 100-year-olds’, out in the US of A next month.

I’ve spoken about ‘What I Know’ on 70 Plus previously, after I saw the announcement of its coming.

It turns out to be a small book with a big inside.

It’s the kind of book you keep nearby somewhere and take up occasionally for another fix. Before you know it you are being encouraged to reach out to others and their wisdom – and that’s quite a reward.

‘What I Know’ collects stories and little gems on diverse topics including perseverance, keeping your word, reinventing oneself, sharing, friendship, parenting, change and longevity. It’s attractive and easy to read.

Roger chats about choices in one of his many anecdotes throughout the book. He talks about his young son Jack 'the centre of his universe' and the life lessons he'd want him to know and practice. The fact that Jack will always have choices is one of them.

As I consult this book, and if just some of the wisdom rubs off, it's possible I’ll be able to make my personal choices more easily and wisely in future … and perhaps so will lots of others.

What do you do when you come to a fork in the road in your life?

Do you find it easy to recognise choices?

Monday, 10 August 2009

Appliances with Built in Faults Make Me Cranky

I get cranky when I buy household appliances that have features built in to fail.

It does seem that manufacturers do this so that we must replace items in the short term, thus adding to their profits.

And to the frustration of buyers!

In my book, household appliance manufacturers could be seen as being in the same box as the banks and financiers who created the global recession. I mean this in the sense of the danger the practice poses to the globe.

I reckon this built in obsolescence of so much stuff - not just electrical appliances - must stop if we are to make any headway against climate change. The waste occurring because of this practice is extreme, and the damage to our environment beyond measure.

Imagine my Dad’s day when everyone made things to last. People had pride in their workmanship and we could count on having possessions around for years to come. We should concentrate on making today's technology last.

Now, rarely do goods work much past their warranty period, and break down in that time, if we’re lucky.

Land fills are full of them.

Surely it is possible to make things last without too much overall expense. It costs to send things to landfill. It costs to make packaging for two processors rather than one well made one. I think of the transport from one side of the world to another - twice. On and on.

We’ve become meek little lambs to the slaughter, not questioning this shoddy practice, although grumbling as we try to make ends meet. It’s unfair and it’s immoral.

The obsolescence fiend struck again this week - at my place. My food processor threw in the towel. The motor seized.

While working well enough when it was working at all, this little machine had been falling to bits almost from the day it reached my kitchen.

The discs for shredding and slicing were the first to fail. They were made of thin aluminium which was bound to buckle. And did in short time.

More recently the main blade developed stress fractures in the plastic holding the sharp steel. This quickly became worse, and the little fractures expanded to dangerous looking cracks. It looked as though the blades could fly off any time during operation of the machine.

The failure of the motor and my decision to give the machine the flick happened at almost the same time. And I hasten to say that I hadn't been trying to chop up anything solid.

I decided to beat the system and pay twice as much for a stronger machine that would last. The new one has a big strong motor and can even be used in commercial kitchens.

It cuts and slices and shreds and mixes with supreme simplicity. My new machine with its ten year guarantee of the motor will be around as long as I will!

But wait …

The day after my purchase I’m taking apart the spindle and the blades so I can wash and store them. The spindle is stuck and won’t come away with all the twisting and pulling I can muster.

Eventually I tap the top of it on the bench top, hoping it will come free.

Still no joy. I tap half a dozen times before the two bits come apart, as it should have done easily in the first place.

I'm called on to fight this battle again when I reassemble the blades for another test. I cut my finger on the blades on this attempt, and the blood flows.

I’m off to the shop today to take back my beautiful processor.

So much for beating built in obsolescence.

How do you approach this problem at your place? Do you pay more or just get the cheap stuff and replace it early?

Should society ban the manufacture of rubbish?

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Ginger Meggs the Role Model

GINGER MEGGS, Jimmy Bancks’ brilliant Australian comic strip character, was my hero when I was a little girl.

The more I think about it the more I’m convinced that my love of reading and writing began when I followed Ginger Meggs from a very early age.

Ginger was a raggle taggle schoolboy who led his pack of mates and pets into all sorts of adventures. They stole fruit from the neighbourhood orchards, played tricks on other kids and their Mums and had an ongoing hate relationship with the headmaster at their school.

I suppose I was about six when I began looking forward to Ginger’s adventures each week-end in the Sydney Sunday Sun. My Dad would divide up the pages when the paper arrived. He’d read the news section, Mum the recipes and my sister and I would get the comics.

The colourful strips with the lively loose sketches of the red-haired hero were wondrous to me, and it wasn’t too long before my thirst for the written word took in books as well as comics, and I began to write little stories myself.

I was just twelve when I did a rewrite of Cinderella and sent it into the Sunday Sun children’s pages, then called 'Sunbeams'. In my story Cinderella morphed into ‘Jetrella’ and rode off to the ball in a space ship. It won a 'Sunbeams' certificate and a few shillings.

I became one of those lucky people who developed a hobby as a child that was to remain important to me for the rest of my life. By fifteen I had a full time job doing it and worked as a journalist and corporate public relations manager for the next 45 years.

After retirement I did my first degree, choosing a BA with Creative Writing and Australian History majors, and have been writing short and long fiction ever since. See my writing blog here.

Ginger Meggs himself is still very much alive, albeit his founder Jimmy Bancks died in 1952 from a heart attack. Bancks’ little hero first saw the light of day when the artist worked for the famous Bulletin magazine and at the same time submitted to the Sydney Sun a strip called ‘Us Fellas’ in 1921.

The red-haired Ginger Meggs was one of the ‘fellas’, and soon gained a comic of his very own. This became one of Australia’s most popular strips. A string of other cartoonists have drawn the strip since Bancks’ death, and today Melbourne comic strip artist and comedian Jason Chatfield creates the drawings.

See Jason's comment below which corrected a former remark of mine. Sorry Jason! Have a look at some of Jason's work and here at the official Ginger Meggs site where Jason has been kind enough to feature 70 Plus and Still Kicking.

Ginger Meggs illustrations from

Do you think comics can play a role in encouraging children towards reading better quality literature?

Were you lucky enough to have a hobby as a child which later became a full blown career/interest for life?

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Wisdom and Wrinkles

I'LL BE 73 NEXT MONTH AND I'M PROUD OF EVERY WRINKLE. There’s been a lot of energy expended getting me here, and a lot learned on the way.

Those who visit 70 Plus regularly will have heard me say more than once that I believe oldies shouldn’t hide themselves under the nearest bush.

Surely it’s best for them to share the wisdom they’ve gained on their treks through life – for the sake of whippersnappers (of all ages) and for themselves. Oldies also deserve to receive kudos for what they know.

I have a few hobby horses so far as the getting of wisdom is concerned.

Take curiosity. It’s long been my contention that those blessed with the bug of needing to discover are among the luckiest around.

CURIOSITY drives one to do new things. That’s when we brush up against different people and experiences and, unless we’re impervious to our environment, it’s when we LEARN – spelled in capital letters.

Those incurious human beings we all know are the followers – the types who are stuck in the rut that life has handed out TO them. They don’t make their own paths, and much knowledge that could be gained from experience passes them by. Sad eh?

Be curious and we discover a big world out there.

Then there’s TRUST. Trust is number one in my book when it comes to relationships of any kind. Without trust a relationship isn’t worth having.

Picture in your mind walking into a shop to buy the morning paper. That little transaction is built on trust, if you think about it. The shop assistant hands over the newspaper fully trusting that she will receive payment in return.

Imagine if this almost universal trust in shopping transactions broke down – what chaos!

Right now in this little old world, we’re seeing trust dissipating in so many directions, and mores the pity. Nations disintegrate when corruption (ie abuse of trust) takes hold. The financial system similarly, as with the courts in many lands.

Marriage breakdown, of course, is another classic example, and very much closer to home. We can all see the devastation that abuse of trust is causing to families in a street near you. The fact that trust is important is a vital piece of information that many people learn too late.

When we do learn the lesson of trust, and are lucky enough to have trust returned, we gain huge rewards throughout our lives. However, the beginning is always up to us – and that part’s easy.

This week I was impressed when introduced to the concept of a new book that’s coming out in October. Its subject is the wisdom of human beings at each end of the age spectrum – 10 to 100.

‘What I Know – Uncommon wisdom and universal truths from 10-year-olds and 100-year-olds’ will be a reasonably slim volume, weighty with knowledge gained by human beings during short and long lives.

The book is the brain child of Roger Emerson Fishman, a former News Corporation Executive, Vice-President for Worldwide Marketing, who has now formed his own company concentrating on digital strategies.

Roger travelled 3,000 miles from Montana to New York talking to people in all walks of life, trawling for their outlook on positive living. The book is a result. You can find out more here.

He talked to 101-year-old Dorothy Young who was escape artist Harry Houdini’s assistant in 1924. She believes Harry chose her for the job because she ‘had faith in herself, just the way she was’.

That rings bells for me.

Roger gathered this little pearl from a much younger person called Joseph:

‘The secret to life is not to try too hard. It seems like usually when I’m wanting or
looking for something, the best way is to not really look too hard, and then I find it.’

That’s in my armory as well. We operate much better when we are relaxed don’t we?

Do you have little pearls of wisdom of your own that you’d like to share? Pop them in a comment below.