The millstone of the past

My husband has digitised huge numbers of our family photos and they scroll past on our TV, a never-ending stream of images of parents, grandparents, our son as a child, our idiotic youthful activities, old cars, old houses, and holiday snaps.
He loves to look at them. I hate them. They make me cry. That child, that we loved so much, is now an adult, so, in a way, that child no longer exists. I love spending time with my adult son, but I can’t snuggle that child ever again, or read him stories, or hear about his school day, or remedy any mistakes I made in helping him to grow.

old sepia photos of a netball team
I’ll never be that skinny again, or have so many years of my future ahead of me, or have so many opportunities still to take advantage of.
Do I regret decisions and choices I made? Sure. Can I do anything about it now? Of course not. Anything I was going to learn from those mistakes, I already have done. So why would I want to be reminded of it all?
What I do want to think about is now, and the future. How to make the future better for all of us. Navel-gazing the past is pointless, apart from the fun of laughing at the fashions of yesteryear. Those photos, the memories they represent, are an assault on my wellbeing, not a joyous celebration of achievement. I’m not in any danger of looking back with smug self-satisfaction; instead, all I have is a determination to do better. And it will all be so much easier without dragging the past along with me.

Hemorrhoids, the miserable malady

My husband suffered from hemorrhoids recently, and the result was months of marital turmoil as we negotiated doctors, hospitals and pain management.

We just weren’t prepared for the emotional rollercoaster.

Fortunately, treatment was successful, but there was some lingering anxiety about how we had responded to the challenge. We decided to write it all down and publish it to help others. It was a very cathartic process.

So here it is: Hemorrhoids: A wife’s story, now available as an ebook from amazon.com or your country’s Amazon store.

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Gen X vs Millennials — a Baby Boomer perspective

I’ve spent years being infuriated by lazy stereotyping about baby boomers. This is my chance to return the favour. Survivor 33 is going to pit a Millennials team against a Generation X team. My money is on the Millennials. Why?

Here’s a story. My son, born 1982, is an early Millennial. For his tenth birthday we had a party. I set up a treasure hunt, with clues hidden all over our large yard. I expected that to provide twenty minutes or so of entertainment. It didn’t work out that way.

I gave each child a clues sheet. Did they rush off in search of clues like a bunch of frenzied lemmings? No, they did not. A dominant child (not my son) called them all together, and as a group they solved the puzzle, sending delegates off to each location to collect clues. Total time to resolve treasure hunt: five minutes. Pretty impressive effort for a dozen ten year olds.

Gen X though — I’m thinking of some of my ex-work colleagues here. Many were hard working people. Others were incomprehensible. I understood the desire to build collaborative solutions, although the essential requirement for coffee passed me by.

What I couldn’t ever understand was that after interminable discussions aimed at inclusion and making everyone feel good, we still couldn’t get any agreement on the problem, the solution, or any commitment from any individual to actually do anything at all. It was the avoidance of responsibility that drove me crazy.

Time for some new lazy stereotypes then.

Baby boomers: solution orientated, not very interested in whether there is consensus or whether people’s feelings are hurt in the process. Give the impression of being driven and dictatorial as a result.

Gen X: the only goal is that everyone feels good about the process. Solutions may never be reached but who cares? Give the impression of being very low achievers.

Millennials: the best of both worlds, both collaborative and practical.  I’ll back them over Gen X or Baby Boomers any day. I only hope society can live up to their expectations and provide them with the future they deserve.

As for Survivor 33, we’ll have to wait and see.

Kindness—an old-fashioned virtue?

In 1987 my little boy began his education at the local school. It was small, caring and perfect for his needs. The school itself had opened in 1968, in a society distinguished by social conflict, and influenced by flower power, the peace movement and the summer of love. The school had a wonderful motto with the words Kindness, Effort, Humanity.

This inspiring statement was the work, not of baby boomers, but of our parents’ generation, the people who survived recession and war and came out the other side to build a new, better society. These were goals they treasured. Inclusive, achievable goals that would promote the common good. I liked them.

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Move on a few years, past the end of the raucous, glitzy eighties, past the crash of 1989 and into the nasty selfish nineties.

The school was in new hands. Brash younger baby boomers had taken over and wanted nothing to do with these old-fashioned ideas.

Without consultation, they changed the motto. The new one exemplified their greedy, elitist way of looking at things. Dare to excel neatly divided the children into two groups—courageous high-achievers and pathetic gutless losers. No sympathy for weakness there, and no concept of kindness either.

These were the type of people who went on to support Australia’s shameful refugee policy, a dramatic shift in our culture towards selfish, heartless individualism and a total disregard for others.

That battle is still being fought, but the advocates of humanity are losing. Our country and our planet need a lot more kindness, effort and humanity. On the other hand, there’s far too much daring to excel.

There is some hope. The school has since changed its motto once again, this time to Reach out, aim high.

Perhaps we can look forward to a resurgence of kindness and social cohesion after all.

See another advocate of kindness here https://teddycanblog.com/2016/06/04/the-paradoxical-nature-of-kindness/

About the bear

Settle down, you lot (you know who you are). I’m talking about my toy bear, the one my grandma made for me in 1956.

I’ve always loved him and still have him, along with a tiny number of much-loved books. That’s it from childhood, really.

I don’t have any photos. My mother went a bit strange at the end of her life and destroyed most of them, and then my brother threw away the rest. The bear is pretty much the whole story.

The bear’s name is Me-me. Let no-one ever say us baby boomers are self-centred! But then again, I was only two years old at the time. My brothers in due turn received similar bears, one also named Me-me (with a stunning lack of originality) and the other Super Tom. No idea why.

My nieces, born post-2000, have rooms full of toys. Houses full. They have so much stuff that they have to stage annual garage sales to make room for the next lot.

That certainly wasn’t my baby boomer experience. The bear, the books, the blanket, and one bicycle, much anticipated, for my tenth birthday, kept until it was stolen eleven years later. Two dolls, a plastic tea set (also destroyed by my brother). I think I remember a netball, since I certainly had a netball goal post in the yard.

Lots of baby boomers are well off now (of course, many aren’t). That doesn’t mean we had childhoods of plenty. We mostly didn’t, mainly because there were too many of us. Young parents, lots of kids, meant not much money for things. We weren’t deprived, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t long for things we couldn’t have, TV made sure of that.

I desperately wanted a tin of  Derwent coloured pencils, the big one with a picture of the Lake District on the top and two layers of pencils inside. That was in 1964. I finally bought these for myself in 1998. Not to use, just to have, because I had wanted them all that time. That’s the baby boomer experience, delayed gratification with a delay of over thirty years.

I love my coloured pencils. But I love the bear more.

Book review: Geared for the Grave by Duffy Brown

I found this book when I was doing research into cozy mysteries. This is the first book in a series called The Cycle Path Mysteries. Who could have imagined such a thing existed? And with such a fabulous cover?

This wonderful little story is set on Mackinac Island on Lake Huron in Michigan, a peaceful tourist island where there are no cars. People get around in horse-drawn vehicles or on bicycles, unless something goes wrong.

And since this is a murder mystery, something does go wrong. A much disliked local resident ends up stored in the back of the general store, sharing the freezer with a large number of tourist snacks.

Evie Bloomfield is the protagonist. She is on the island to curry favour with her boss, but instead she becomes very attracted to the lifestyle, and even more so to the local cop, Nathan Sutter. Evie negotiates her way through alien cultural practices that would be unheard of in her hometown of Chicago, and survives many attempts on her life to solve the mystery and achieve a happily ever after.

Events move at a frenetic pace and it’s impossible to put the book down. If you want to read a cozy mystery with a fascinating cast of eccentric characters and a real sense of place, this is the one for you. And I’ll be looking for the next in series, Braking for Bodies.

Buying a house in 1979 Australia

We were young (25), our total joint income was $A12,000 a year. Inflation was rife (9 percent in that year alone, 10 percent in the following year). Prices leapfrogged over and over, leaving wages behind. We were desperate to get into the housing market before it was too late.

Obstacles were huge. We had no deposit or savings record. It seemed pointless, since mortgage repayments were less than rent back then, and we had paid rent for years, thereby making saving impossible. I still don’t understand why paying rent doesn’t show financial reliability.

Mortgage rates were set at 3 percent in those days before the $A had a floating exchange rate, but banks were not lending. Banks were not our friend. Our only option was to borrow from a non-bank lender, at 11 percent. And that wasn’t easy either. We applied to four different building societies before we could find one that would lend against my income — the others wouldn’t take the wife’s income into account, and without it we wouldn’t have had enough.

My grandmother gave us some money, $3000, a generous gift. To make up the rest of our deposit, we took out a personal loan from a credit union. In those days, banks didn’t know everything about everyone’s money like they do now, or perhaps they just pretended not to know.

My beautiful picture
Our townhouse in about 1980

So here’s how it ended up: we paid $40,000 for our three bedroom townhouse (a row house) in a medium density development, all to be repaid over 20 years at 12 percent per annum interest rates plus capital, based on our income of $12,000 per annum. Our repayments were about 40 percent of our gross income. Difficult enough. But the 11 percent interest rates became 12 before we even moved in, and rose to 14 over the next couple of years. It never got easier.

Why didn’t we choose a fixed interest rate? Because they weren’t available. It was variable rates, at the lender’s discretion, or nothing. Also, this was all out of our after tax income. In Australia housing is only subsidised through the tax system for investors, not owner-occupiers.

In 1989 we sold that house and bought another larger one for our family. Interest rates rose to 17 percent on our new larger loan. Perfect timing. Just before we lost our jobs in the early nineties recession (unemployment then was over 10 percent).

Not until 1996 did interest rates fall back to 10 percent. By the time we paid our mortgage off in 1998 (19 years after we started) it had at last dropped to 9 percent.

So all you Gen X and Y people just don’t care? You think I’m playing the world’s smallest violin? You still think we boomers had it easy?

You should care. Part of the high prices you face for houses now comes from the massive costs we had to pay in interest, and then from the inflation of the 1980s that we coped with every single time we shopped for groceries. Sure, the house looked cheap, but the total once interest was added in wasn’t cheap at all.

I never want to see another discussion of relative housing disadvantage that doesn’t look at ALL THREE ELEMENTS: house price, income, and interest rates. Discussing any one or two of these is just cherrypicking.

Does that mean I think young people now have it easy? Absolutely not. The employment situation for young people is dire. But it won’t get any easier by fooling yourselves that your situation is uniquely terrible, or that back in the day baby boomers just walked into home ownership without sacrifice.

[Feature image licenced from iStockphoto, townhouse image P Kelley]

All our fault for being born

Baby boomers in Australia were born between 1945 and 1965. This is called a “boom”, a massive “bulge” in births, a “demographic time bomb”.

And it’s all our fault for being born then. Nothing at all to do with our parents. We will be an “unprecedented burden” on “productive workers” as we age. Because only baby boomers age, everyone else presumably stays the same age indefinitely.

But is any of this true? All those boom-time children made up around 30% of the population back in the 1960s. The cost burden was, presumably willingly, borne by the people responsible, the parents of these children.

Now check out the graph that shows the % of the Aussie population in each age group in 2014 (based on data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics).

By 2014 baby boomers made up only about 22% of our population, while Generation Y and the Millennials between them rack up 55%. Now that’s a bulge! The SHOCK HORROR baby boomer bulge looks more like a tiny ripple.

Daily I read cheery little comments from trolls about how pretty soon now all the baby boomers will “die off” and take all their pension-grabbing greed and ultra-conservatism with them.

Well, guys, you can’t count. The biggest bunch of baby boomers is now (2016) aged between 52 and 56. They are more than a decade off pension age and won’t be dying off any time soon. In fact, they’ll probably be around until at least 2040, so get over yourselves.

And if you don’t want us to be a burden, stop squeezing us out of the workforce as soon as we get to 50, or wear the consequences.

Changing times, changing pronouns

1097793I’m reading Carr’s What is History?, an interesting exploration of the philosophy and practice of history, written in 1961. I’m having big trouble with the pronouns. It’s all “mankind” this, “man” that, and “his” the other.

Reading this now just feels WRONG. Every time I hit one of these words my brain rejects it. My brain wants to substitute gender-neutral words and sentence structures.

Of course I know that this usage in theory meant all of us, of whatever gender or none (if such a concept could be acknowledged in the nineteen sixties). And I remember the ructions when this convenient assertion came under challenge in later decades, because the intention never seemed to translate into practice in the real world.

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Some authors play with gender pronouns. One example is Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, a book about an artificial intelligence turned human. The protagonist doesn’t really understand gender, so uses feminine pronouns for most individuals, unless there is direct evidence that the individual is male.

People have complained that this makes the story really difficult to read. I didn’t find it so, but I didn’t finish the book either. The pace was slower than I like, and I didn’t care about the characters, perhaps because their gender wasn’t clear? I don’t know. Ancillary Justice is an award winning book, so other readers must have felt differently.

22544017Alexis Hall is another author who plays with language and gender, especially in the wonderful Prosperity series. In Hall’s stories, the characters draw me in, and revelations of their gender add to their interest and complexity rather than defining them.

So why is the history book really annoying, while Leckie’s  or Hall’s works are just intriguingly different? I guess because Carr is following a convention without questioning it, a convention that ignores more than half of humanity, while both Leckie and Hall make use of the convention as part of their storytelling.

Language changes around us, and rewrites our brains without us noticing. Recently I needed to write the word “fireman”. A perfectly acceptable word for describing a man, and in the context of what I was writing at the time, appropriate. But my brain complained, and insisted that it wanted to use “firefighter” instead.

I prefer “firefighter” for regular use. I prefer to use language mindfully. I prefer not to exclude people accidentally. And if I want to set a story in a misogynist and backward world where all the firefighters are men, I will use “fireman” instead, and over-ride my twenty-first century brain’s objections. It may take some time, and not a little discomfort.

Multi-nationals rule the world?

Back in the sixties people were concerned about the military-industrial complex, companies which owed their prosperity to manufacturing weapons of war and other military requirements, and were said to have undue influence over national government decisions.

Since then large corporations, including financial institutions such as banks, have occasionally surfaced as public enemy number one, especially in 1989 and again in 2007. Environmental disasters such as the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico or the recent tailings dam collapse in Brazil have also shone a spotlight on the behaviour of these behemoths.

Now it’s the turn of internet and technology giants such as Google, Amazon and Apple. Unlike earlier cases of corporations being bad public citizens, the complaints are mostly (not entirely) about their failure to pay tax in jurisdictions where they make significant sales.

In other words, they haven’t paid the appropriate bribes (tax) to the appropriate governments in order to be allowed to operate in the controlled territory (country). In Australia recently it was revealed that most of the 500 largest companies here pay no tax, and of those that do, the amounts are miniscule, often less than paid by a nurse or school teacher. Even worse, many of these companies are in fact paying bribes in the form of large donations to political parties — in other words, they are paying bribes to competing warlords. The government of the country, the representative of the people in our democracy, doesn’t get a look-in.

We haven’t progressed far past mediaeval times. Most of us are not much better off than the peasants that Robin Hood protected from the depredations of the Sheriff of Nottingham. Our own governments act as the Sheriff’s soldiers, keeping us in line for the benefit of the corporations. God help us if we don’t pay our own taxes, but for large companies this is totally optional.

I’m inclined to give Google a bit of a free pass, though. Yes, they make a lot of profit advertising to us. But, in return, they give us a lot for free, things many of us use every day without paying a cent. The Google search engine, free email, Google Maps, these are available at no cost to everyone with internet access, and would make a significant contribution to our personal productivity and therefore to national income.

I appreciate Google’s gifts to the world, and any similar contributions made by other companies. BUT, and this is a big one, it doesn’t disguise the fact that I woke up this week and realised that the dreaded government of the world by corporations is no longer a just a future possibility. This staple theme of science fiction, domination of the planet by corporate interests and the enfeeblement of national governments into irrelevance, has clearly already arrived.

This makes me sound like a conspiracy theory nutter. Perhaps I am. But what other explanation is there for daily decisions by governments that don’t benefit any of the people who voted for them, but only corporations, who don’t even have a vote? In whose interests is it OK to ruin valuable farmland (of which Australia has relatively little) by fracking? Why are miners permitted to dig up stuff, go broke and walk away, leaving the mine sites un-remediated, just one more socialised loss for taxpayers to meet? Why is it a waste to provide welfare and support for citizens, but a marvellous idea to develop railways and ports at public expense for miners? Why are we selling off public assets such as water supply (water being the single most scarce, vital and valuable resource in Australia) at bargain prices to private sector carpetbaggers? Why is our government signing trade treaties that benefit others but not us? Or still sending young Australians to die in other people’s wars over issues that affect us hardly at all and over which we have absolutely no influence?

It’s obvious in retrospect that the military-industrial complex never went away, and that other corporations have infiltrated global governance to such a degree that nations no longer have much control at all. And that means citizens have none, whether in democracies or not.