Secrets, Lies & Chat

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Is the price of fuel bringing you to your knees?

I read again my comments regarding fuel prices and manipulation by Governments and Oil Companies this morning. My thoughts then were spot on, as I certainly don’t recall being able to buy unleaded petrol for less than $1.20 a litre since I wrote that piece. The price range in Sydney Australia is now from close to $1.40 a litre, even up to $1.45 a litre down to around $1.34.9 at the cheaper end. It’s also interesting to note that when the price is up, it’s exactly the same at most of the service stations in any one area. Word is that prices will climb to $2.00 a litre by 2007.

If you go for a drive and pass by a number of service stations, you can see that there is obviously a decline in those purchasing fuel on any given day at the expensive end of the scale. Possibly those actually using those service stations have fuel cards from their companies or can afford fuel at any price. If you pass by a service station where fuel is around $1.34 a litre, the cars will be lining up. How well the manipulation is working! Now we think $1.34 is a bargain! I managed, on a trip south last week, to buy petrol for $1.27.9 a litre, with no discount dockets. I felt the manipulation inside me as I hastily made the stop to grab this ‘bargain’. I remarked to the man working the desk that his fuel was much cheaper than anywhere else that I had seen that day. His answer? The price would stay as it was until he received a phone call to change it. What price did the fuel cost to go into the underground tanks? How much profit would the owners of that one service station make once the decision was made to up the price in line with the rest of the service stations in the area?

More and more people will most likely begin shopping at those stores that provide discounts for fuel. If you spend over $20 or $30 or whatever their bottom line dollar value is, you are guaranteed a discount on fuel by producing your shopper docket at participating service stations. I purchased fuel yesterday at 4 cents a litre off by using a Woolworths’ docket. On a visit to Westfield Shoppingtown Penrith yesterday, to a chemist advertising my favourite brand of perfume for $26 instead of $74, I found that with my spend of $98, I am now entitled to 30 litres of fuel at 6 cents a litre off at participating service stations.

On a quick read of the brochure about this program, I was interested to see just how many businesses are involved in giving their customers the opportunity to save on fuel by shopping at their stores. It seems this is probably the way retail will go now to get people into the stores – the old ‘WIFM’ promotional manipulation – ‘What’s In It For Me’. It worked years ago when if you bought one item, you could get another one for free or a few dollars extra. As always, what goes around comes around. WIFM worked well in the 80’s and I see it coming to the forefront once again in 2006, predominately with discounted fuel. I will continue to do part of my shopping at Woolworths so that I when I need to purchase fuel, I can at least feel like I’m not being ripped off as badly, by receiving 4 cents a litre discount. I know that Coles and Woolworths have been offering these discounts for some time, and I for one, appreciate it and support those stores.

Yesterday’s fuel cost me $38.33 and for that I received 29 litres of fuel. My vehicle, a Hyundai Sonata Classique, holds 65 litres of petrol. So, a tank full at today’s prices will cost me around $100. Makes flying to destinations a distance from Sydney a much better option, that is if you don’t need a vehicle at the other end or have one you can borrow. The price of fuel will cripple people with more than one car in a family. I can see now the hundreds of ‘second’ cars being sold off for practically nothing in an effort to cut costs. The Oil Companies, and the Government, will cut their own throats, and everyone else’s in their greed. Businesses will fold; people will lose their homes because of escalating costs. Where will it end? For those of us who work in out of the way places that would necessitate three or more changes of public transport to get to work, and the same to get back home, will forego other things in life to pay for our fuel to get us to our work so we can pay the rest of our bills and feed ourselves and our families.

But remember, what goes around comes around. In what form this will appear is anyone’s guess, but I’m betting on another war, and probably a bigger one than we have seen since Vietnam. The big boys are getting toey; they want their servicemen out their seeing some action. They can taste the blood. The old men who will hide in their bunkers want some excitement in their lives, and what could excite them more than a game of chess with real men playing the parts of the pawns? And what better to fight over than food, water, and yes, oil. The anger boiling up in our societies will ensure that there won’t be a shortage of people willing to fight for what we once had, and they will all believe the propaganda that it’s everyone else’s fault but those in power in their own countries.

My thoughts totally, as off the wall they may appear. Time will tell as the clock ticks away, seemingly faster every day, heading us all towards what probably will be inevitable. Let’s hope I am wrong and the ‘come around’ will be a return to sanity and peace for all of us. Oh and lower prices for fuel too. J

©Vena McGrath 2006

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Ban Ignites Long, Slow Death of the Smoko

I'm always interested to read the next chapter in the ban the cigarette campaign in Australia. Well it's not ban the cigarette, it's ban the cigarette smoker. The smoker, who was sucked into smoking years ago by the then legal advertising that was always in everyone's face, by the portrayal of smoking as being very 'in' on the wide screen, in magazines, newspapers etc., is now the lowest form of polluter on the face of the earth. Or so some would have us believe.

Slowly but surely the rights of the person who is now addicted thanks to all of the above and more, which I might add our Governments all backed and joined in by the members of each party smoking happily away wherever and whenever, have been eroded. Bit by bit the smoker has been forced out of almost everywhere and branded a killer.

Okay so let's assume smoking is bad for us and it would be better if we all gave it up. We would no longer sit at a table in a restaurant chafing at the bit to have a smoke after dinner, we would no longer need to get out of the office every now and then for a fix. We would be happy just doing whatever, whenever, without our trusty pack of ciggies and lighter close by for emergency exits. Those that now whine about the smoker going out of the office for a smoke forget that once upon a not so long time ago, they worked in offices with smokers and rarely did any of them say 'boo'. But then there are many sheep amongst us who jump on the nearest bandwagon so as to be seen finally.

In my humble opinion, if you were hired as a smoker, and your employer knew before they hired you that you were a smoker, then you have justifiable rights to take time out to smoke during the work day. I for one don't take morning or afternoon tea breaks. I don't go to work and cook my breakfast there and then sit and nibble contentedly on that breakfast while I read the morning papers or surf the internet or do my private business work. I have cigarette breaks where it takes me a minute to walk outside and a few minutes to smoke a cigarette. I am then back at my desk and into it. Today's cigarettes burn away very quickly so that we smoke more.

As I get off my soapbox, I paste under here a few words I just sent off to the SMH as a comment re their article this weekend, title above. I don't know about anyone else, but I am so tired of cigarette smoker bashing, and not just because I am a smoker. There are a lot of things bad in this world we live in and perhaps these people would be better off focusing on some of those issues instead of beating the same tired old drum. If the Governments of today are not willing to ban tobacco then leave the poor bloody addicted alone. After all, we are smoking a legal drug, the Government says so. Butt out - find another cause.

SMH Feedback - Saturday 1.4.06
If smoking is as bad for our health as those in the 'know' are constantly portraying, and if the do-gooders who tag along behind so as to be seen to be doing something were fair dinkum, they would all be lobbying for cigarettes and all forms of tobacco to be banned. So let's get real about the issue. We all know why they will never be banned - the cigarette smokers pay a high price to smoke and the Government receives the largest share of the dollar spent. Their greed feeds our habit.

It's a shame the same campaigns aren't mounted against alcohol. I have never heard of a cigarette smoker killing someone in his/her car after a tobacco fix, nor have I ever heard of a man bashing his wife after he has just smoked a few cigarettes, or his children.

Keeping smoking in the limelight as the polluter of the earth gives breathing space to the real polluters. Look up into the sky above you or, even better, go into the city and look out towards the mountains from a tall building. That's what is polluting our city, not cigarette smokers. Look around at the smoke stacks nicely placed amidst our homes and workplaces.

But to be fair, ban tobacco and its products and we will all have more money in our pockets. Then the do gooders will have to find another passion to pursue. In another lifetime perhaps, not this one where what is said is just for show.

Vena McGrath

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

No Pain Website Building

If you have visited my website I hope you were impressed. It's simple, and yet the messages I wanted to share, and the parts of my life and work I wanted published, are all there.

When I first decided to have a website built, I organised it through an agency. I was disappointed because the website was not 'me'. Each time I wanted a change made to try and make the website how I saw it, the message came through loud and clear, that I was causing delays in my changes, that I had to make up my mind and stick with it. Articles, stories etc that needed to be posted were held up; not by me, but by the person in 'control'. Control is a word I detest; no one should have control over anyone else and no one should control your website unless you choose to agree to those terms.

The website never lived up to what it should have for the price. Sure it was a lot cheaper than other quotes I had, but it was a clone of another website and definitely not artistic or pleasant to visit. Nothing was right about it and when I tried to gain control over it, the fight was on.
Eventually I gave up the fight and bought another domain name and a template for a website that was pleasing to my eyes. When I did all this I was holidaying on the Gold Coast with a friend. He supported me totally and we stumbled through the buying of the domain, settling on a host, choosing a template and wondering what on earth we were going to do with it all once we had it.

But I had great faith in my friend and it soon proved that my faith was well seated. Before long the website was coming into shape and because it was all above my head, I left it to Bryan (that's my friend :)) to sort it all out. Bit by bit it grew and Bryan learned how to get it all together. I watched fascinated. By the time we returned to our respective havens, the website was inspiring.

The template I bought made it a lot simpler as the html was built into pages that came with the template. Bryan soon worked out how it all fell together, and eventually the exciting day came and I was directed to the website, and there it was, sitting out there in cyber space. I smiled and knew I had done the right thing, and Bryan had achieved what the person I had paid had failed to achieve. We worked together remotely on the design and the layout, with Bryan uploading all the documents I sent to him, without a murmur. We laughed at mistakes, worked through the tangles, and sat back one day with pride.

We added things as time went by and Bryan worked out how to put links on there for me to important websites that discuss issues I wanted to link to - those involved in child protection and danger online for kids.
Bryan worked out how to put my book on the website with PayPal and when my beautiful mate Scrubber passed away, he created a special page for him and a photo gallery as a surprise for me. It took me a while to go there but once I was brave enough to, the presence of Scrub on my website gladdened my sad heart.

We started working on the website in February 2005 and now in March 2006, I am able to upload my own pages and edit those already existing. I have been able to do that for quite a while, thanks to Bryan's patient teaching. Again most of this was done remotely by talking in a chat room, via messenger or by emails. The constant contact was amazing, so different to my first experience with having a website built. I was taught how to upload additions by using cuteftppro and how to use Microsoft Frontpage to make the pages for the website. I learned to 'see' things in the html code so that sometimes I was able to fix my own mistakes.

The only thing I haven't been able to achieve is to learn how to set up a photo gallery page. I have a template to work with, and yet my head can't see round the corners. A quick 'help' to Bryan, attachments to a couple of emails that he returned to me quickly, and I uploaded the photo album - of Shaye, my puppy. It's just how I wanted it, of course.
Oh, I forgot to mention that eventually I gained control over the other website and Bryan, through sheer will and determination, worked out how to cut it adrift so that anyone using the old domain name would automatically go to the new website. An achievement I still wonder about. That's a sign of a master using his skills and knowledge; way too complex for me.

Hence the title of this piece - No Pain Website Building. There should be no pain, there should be no begging to have work uploaded or changes made. A webmaster should want his client to be able to run his/her own website easily and should be happy to teach the owner how to achieve this and then be contactable if there are problems.

So, if you are considering having a website built at a very reasonable cost, by someone who will treat you as you should be treated, you could go no further than Bryan to find all those things. He didn't learn out of books or by going to a college, he learned his trade by actually building a website, something he had never done in his life before.
Bryan can be contacted by email :

He is located in a suburb of Brisbane and has the patience of a saint doing what he likes best, making something out of nothing and sharing his knowledge. Bryan is presently building another website and as I have seen some of it already in the making, I know it will turn out just how the owner wants it. Whatever she asks for, he does his upmost to find and incorporate in the website. Now that's old fashioned service, and with a smile too.

So send Bryan an email and havachat. It won't cost you anything to chat, there is no consultancy fee for a query :)All the best!

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Some News

Here it is, exactly one month since I last posted. Time sure flies when you are having fun.

Some good news this last week, when I was released from my contract and all rights to my manuscript 'Secrets, Lies & Chat' were returned to me. I can't disclose any details but the end was amicable. At least now I can do what I like with the manuscript, maybe do a rewrite, and I can now approach any publisher I choose to with my next work. It cost me legal fees, but them's the breaks. Better to do this properly, with advice, than to go it alone.

My son and his partner, who now live in Western Australia, will be returning to the east coast late May. That is a exciting news for the rest of the family as we miss them so much. It's a long way to Geraldton, and expensive to fly, impossible to drive unless you are well prepared for a long trip through some fairly isolated country where mobile phones don't work. They will do the trip back by road, same as they did going over. But my son is very self reliant and they have each other so the 4 days or so on the road won't be that bad for them.

They plan to move north from Sydney, towards Newcastle, where apparently the coal mining business is thriving. My son has done a lot of work underground but at the moment is driving an 85 ton truck at an open cut gold mine, 150 ks north of Kalgoorlie. It's hot out there, 50c plus. Fortunately all the vehicles are air conditioned and of course the accommodation is as well. It's like a resort and he lives there for 14 days, works 14 x 11 hours, one week day shift then one week night shift, then flies home for a week. Two of those days of course are flying to and from, which necessitates two flights each way. The planes are small and not being a frequent flyer, he found it fairly daunting, scary even. I think he will be happy if he can score work where he can drive himself to and from each day. Being away from home for 14 days straight isn't much good when you are in a relationship.

My beautiful dog, Shaye, is growing in leaps and bounds, and is now beginning to look more like a Golden Retriever as he coat is starting to grow longer. He is very sweet, a pleasure to be around. He gives my moggie a hard time, but I tend to think she likes the challenge and enjoys having something to hiss at and strike out at. He loves water and swims like a champion, duck diving under the water chasing toys. My granddaughter, who is 11, loves to be in the pool with him as he is a lot of fun. He chases people when they are swimming and ends up usually on their backs as he can dog paddle at an amazing rate. My pool is 10 metres long and he can swim up and down without any worries. When he gets tired he sits on the step in the water. He has his own little paddle pool for when the big pool is locked off to him, so he is almost always wet. He prefers to be wet, will tip his water out and lie in the water and go to sleep. Strange how these instincts are inbuilt into animals. When the breeder brought him home to me when he was 7 weeks old, she said that when he finds water he will never be out of it. She was so right! So, if you want a good size dog, with a lovely nature, who is almost always wet, don't overlook a Golden Retriever.

Take care until next time.


Saturday, February 04, 2006

A New Beginning - Change

How many of them have I had in my lifetime? My childhood ran the course that most do with change coming from outside influences, not from me, although I guess in some ways I was evolving as I found my own thoughts and feelings.

Once I was married there were changes, yet for a number of years I stayed more or less the same, bringing up a family, running a home, and later going back to the workforce. Once I made that transition from housewife and mother, to working woman, with the other duties still there but with less time to do them in, I began to change. Suddenly I had an income, money to spare, money to enjoy. I spent it wisely and our home started to show the benefits of that extra cash. My children had things they had never had, and perhaps didn’t miss that much, like bought cakes for school, a wider variety of food to eat at home, and new furniture and electrical appliances.

The enjoyment we gained from our new life was wonderful and we were like four kids, not three plus a mother. My husband never really got into the swing of the euphoria like we did, but that didn’t dampen our pleasure. My daughter remembers coming home from school to find something new now and then on her bed and tells me often how excited she was each time, no matter what the gift was. I don’t remember that, but it’s lovely that she does. Where once I made most of the children’s clothes, they now had store bought clothes. That probably was the most significant thing to them along with the VHS player/recorder, new stereo, freezer, air conditioner, wood burner fire etc. Our home was transformed with fresh paint, new carpet, new curtains, outside blinds to keep out the heat, and other items we had gone without for many years. We didn’t miss all those things, as I never was a person who had to keep up with the Jones’, nor was my ex. The only thing that didn’t change was the unhappiness within the walls of our home. But that’s another story.

Gong to work not only brought changes to my home, it brought a lot of changes to me personally. As a Scorpio, I know that I am reportedly ever-changing and, thinking about my life, I see that is just about spot on correct. Whilst there are years of little or no significant change, there are other years of mammoth change, swings totally against what would be considered normal for me. But then I always maintain that there is no such thing as normal, nor is there any such thing as typical. We are all unique, no one is a carbon copy of anyone else. Statistics are just that; a whole pile of numbers thrown into one pot with one number coming out – that’s the typical and normal number.

On re-entering full-time permanent work, I found a whole new world, one that frightened the heck out of me and almost sent me scurrying back to the safety of my small world at home. However that world at home was too small for me. No one was home during the long days, and my mind needed to be occupied and challenged. So my fear was overcome by my desire to change my life, and in changing my life, I changed that of my family as well. The first day I stepped through the door of the office I was to work in for the next five plus years, was most likely the first day of many steps that would ultimately lead me to probably the biggest change and challenge of my life some eight years later – divorce.

I was like a fish out of water in the office, and had to be shown how to put staples into a stapler. I had never seen some of the gear they had in the office. An electric typewriter had me fooled, as I couldn’t work out how to get it to go. Once I found the ‘on’ switch, I kept reaching for the carriage return lever, not realising all I had to do was press another key, or just keep typing, and it would automatically return. What a strange, new world of machines it was.

I began my first day by calling the boss ‘Mr’. I wondered why he looked at me strangely. Everyone else called him by his first name, something that I had never seen before in a workplace. The positions I held from 16 to 20, some 14 years previous, had all been so proper. I was Miss McGrath and everyone else above me was either ‘Mr’ or ‘Mrs’ or ‘Miss’. My workmates I called by first name, of course, as they did me. I found it very difficult to call my boss by his first name and indeed all the other executives that I met in those first weeks. I realised that I had to change because I was being laughed at and must have appeared so old-fashioned and proper. The language in the office was outrageous. Swear words I had never uttered nor been exposed to before, ran loud and free. At first they resounded in my ears, but once again, I realised that I either had to join this new world and be part of it, or I might as well go back home and forget about a new life. I decided to join the throng of this new world and the old ‘if you can’t beat them join them’ phrase, became my motto.

In many ways I remained the same. I was straight down the line on some issues and for many years I never wavered from my convictions. My beliefs and values didn’t change, although my personality did. I learned how to laugh at what I considered nonsense or outright crudeness, and I learned how to swear at the appropriate times, and I learned how to be part of a team. I took the changes that were happening to me at work, home with me. My ex was finding it difficult to reconcile with this new me and fought the changes. My life at home with him became more difficult and I found that very hard to understand. By going to work I was improving our lifestyle, relieving him of some of the stress of the bills, and I was giving our children things they hadn’t been able to have before. They were all in High School by the time I joined the full-time workforce, so I wasn’t abandoning small children who needed a mother, or someone at home, before and after school.

The problems with my ex compounded and grew, and with each change in me, came more anger and more bricks were knocked down from the matrimonial wall. Where we had already drifted apart over the years because of many different reasons, we were now both definitely on different roads. The person I fell in love with at 16 and married at 20, was someone I decided I didn’t want to know about – on our wedding night! The laws of the marriage were laid down that night, all laws for his benefit, none for mine. Being a Scorpio and not realising the potential of that sign, I felt anger and humiliation grow inside me that night, and I think I disliked him intensely from then on. We had three wonderful babies who grew into marvellous adults, and yet I take almost all the credit for that, as they would agree I should. I was their safe, loving shield, and they were my salvation. But as I said that’s another story. Sufficient to say things inside the walls of my home were not what was perceived by those outside the walls.

Work became a place I could go to 5 days a week to escape the solitude and sadness of my marriage. The times I was at home I wrapped around my kids. Fortunately for me my parents owned a house with water frontage and we would escape there as often as possible for weekends. An escape hatch, something I am forever grateful for having. My parents didn’t know the extent of my life or the sadness engulfing it, as I never discussed my personal life with them. I grew up in the ‘you made your bed now lie in it’ era. My mother told me years after my divorce that the children used to tell her things about daddy and she would tell them not to tell her, that it wasn’t right to do that. How the world has changed, or perhaps it’s part of my changes. If my granddaughter came to me with stories like the ones my children told their nana, I would be on my charger instantly and off to try and rectify the situation. No way would I leave things and sweep them under the carpet as my mother did.

Change. Something that people now attend training courses in order that they can manage it. There were no courses for me to attend; I changed and evolved and handled it myself. My beliefs and values changed as well, but not until I moved from being a married woman to a single independent one. By the time I walked out on my marriage, I had been working full-time for 8 years, and had transferred from a local office of my employer, to head office in Sydney. My income was such that I believed I could make it with luck and the help of my two children, who moved out with me. They were both working, so the cost of holding a home together for the three of us wasn’t all mine. I paid all the costs to set us up in a rented home, and paid the rent each week. They supported our new life by assisting with the food bills, electricity, phone etc. We split those bills three ways so the cost to all of us was minimised. This was their first big leap into change as well, and probably went a long way towards making them the independent adults they now are.

My son who remained with his father is still finding life a hard battle. He is a good man, but he has never been able to get his life together like the other two have. I believe the fact he remained in that home after we left had a lot to do with his problems and issues with the world at large. I see hope for him now though, as he has made changes, big ones. He met a lady 11 years older than himself, and they live together. They sold everything they owned almost, with the exception of his van, and headed off to Western Australia, to hopefully a new life. The trip took them 6 days, and is one my son says he will never make again by road.

They found the transition from east to west difficult, although finding somewhere to live wasn’t difficult, and much cheaper than in Sydney. My son’s lady managed, after a few months of knock-backs and frustration, to secure a job, and she supported them while my son went into a tailspin at not being able to find work. With her help he paid for driving lessons, and passed the exams to drive an 85-ton truck. Within a week of that exam, he had scored himself a job. He usually worked underground in tunnels on the east coast, but didn’t want to go underground again after a workmate was killed on the last tunnel site he was working on in Sydney. Hence the truck licence. He now works at an open cut gold mine, some 150 kilometres north of Kalgoorlie in Western Australia. He is flown out to the mine and works 14 days x 11 hours a day, then he is flown back to Geraldton, where he lives, and he spends a week with his lady, when she isn’t at work. Whilst he is still working in the same type of industry, he is above ground, and in control of a huge vehicle, with all the responsibility that brings with it.

Big changes in his life and from all accounts, positive ones. I am very proud of him for facing the challenges of his life and his mind, and overcoming them. His self esteem and pride in himself can only grow in leaps and bounds now that he is once more back earning a living, and especially one that is different to what he normally has done. His beliefs and values have also changed as he has evolved, and if he can sustain the changes and let them grow, he will become a different person and find peace within himself.

I was fortunate when I was married, though I didn’t think so at the time, to be the one who had to balance the budget, pay the bills, and keep us out of debt. There were many times when my purse was empty and there was no money until my ex received his next fortnight’s pay. As we had a mortgage, that was the first priority to be kept aside for the end of each month. The remainder had to meet the cost of living with never anything left over. Our only time in each year that there was money to spare, was when he received his income tax reimbursement. That money was well spent on things that we went without but felt we needed. Those years of battling the budget made it easy for me to move to a lifestyle where I not only had to balance the budget, but I also had to be the breadwinner, or the biggest shareholder in that commitment. The belt was pulled in tight and yet the happiness we had found in our new rented home, far outweighed the ‘hardships’ of our new life. I battled all the usual negative feelings for a time and the fear of reprisal from my ex. Each time a car came into the cul de sac where we lived, I was afraid he had found me. As time went on, the fear abated, and I found a new life.

During the next two and a half years I proceeded with my divorce, bought a block of land further out where I could afford it, and my eldest son and I secured a mortgage and had our home built. Once again, change. I learned many things from this experience, all adding to the changes in me as a person. Once the three of us moved into our new home, life became even harder as the mortgage was costing both of us big-time, with interest rates at 17%. Two weeks of my salary was the mortgage payment of a month, and it was even harder for my son, who earned less. However, the three of us split the other bills and we all coped and enjoyed our lovely new home.

After three years of travel daily to the city to work from our new home, three hours a day driving, I had come to the end of the rope and couldn’t cope with it anymore. I was a victim of road rage, more than once, had a bad accident that wrote off my vehicle (not my fault) and was totally worn out from the long days and stress of driving in peak hour traffic. I decided to toss in my job and work closer to home. I also decided to have some time at home before I looked for work, and my superannuation payout enabled me to do that.

Finding another full-time job was not as easy as I anticipated. I realised that I should have found a job before I left the one I was in. Never just accepting things as they appeared, I joined a number of temporary staff agencies hoping to improve my chances of making an income, and was soon out on the road working for many different employers. Change again. This change didn’t suit me as I was never a gypsy type of person. But I did find the type of workplace that I liked best of all – government departments. I started taking on more and more temporary work in government departments, and eventually went for an interview and landed one not all that far from home. As the trip to and from work was across country, not with the flow, it was ideal.

I was a temp there for 2.5 years before the position was finally advertised, and I applied and was successful. Finally, all the years of never being able to take time off with the exception of public holidays and weekends, never being able to lie down and be sick, were over. I had sick leave and I had recreational leave, and, if I chose to work longer hours, I could take a day off a month using that extra time accrued. The world was once more a wonderful carefree place, with money going into my bank every fortnight no matter if I was at work or not. The relief that came into my life was marvellous.

By this time interest rates had dropped to a point where the repayments on our loan had reduced somewhat. My son and I agreed that we would never pay only what we had to pay. We always paid much more, keeping it up near that 17% level, although reducing the repayments enough so as to relieve some of the pressure from us and to give us a small amount of extra money to enjoy. Once I left my full-time job in the city, I also lost the salary I was on and the extra benefits. It took me 10 years to get back to that level of salary and to go past it. If I were still in that job today, I no doubt would be earning a much higher salary than I do where I am. However, money isn’t all that matters. I am happy with my job; the stress is minimal and is mainly what I put on myself. My workday consists of autonomy, something I find very important, as I’m a self-achiever, and I don’t need to be watched or motivated.

In the position I held n the city I was under a lot of stress, mostly from other people. Corporate Australia is a much harder taskmaster than the government, and people in corporations, at that time anyhow, treated their staff exactly as they wished to, and spoke to them exactly as they wished to. That’s why I liked government departments because it was very evident to me, coming from a large corporation, that the people who worked in those departments, in the main anyhow, had respect for others no matter how much lower down the pecking order they may be.

The change in work direction came along with many other changes, and was a result of some of those changes in my attitude to life and my priorities. As I keep moving along in life I’m finding change is easy. I’m no longer afraid of it, in fact I instigate change because I can see outside the circle and instinctively know what I need to do to go on to the next stage. I am a far different person to that young girl, who thought she knew it all, and wanted nothing more out of life than to marry the guy she thought she was in love with, and be with him forever. Nothing is forever unless you don’t embrace change and are happy with your life the way it pans out. I see things I would like to change; others accept what they see as being all there is. Some of them are happy and probably lucky and most likely unable to accept change, or live with it. Some accept their lives with bitterness and despair. I accept nothing as being all there is. I know there is more and will continue to search for whatever it is that’s out there for me to find. Perhaps in that way I am a gypsy of life.

Today is all we have for the moment, and the moment should be as good as we can make it.

© vena mcgrath 2006

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Say It Loud, Say It Clear

I keep hearing a song on the radio, almost every day, which is very relevant to my life. Some of the words, and I quote, “I wasn’t there that morning, when my father passed away, I didn’t get to tell him, all the things I had to say” – or similar anyhow, touch me deeply.

I listen to the words of that song and often think that every person in the world should hear it every day, no matter where they live, no matter what language they speak. How many of us have, too late, realised that things we should have said to the important people in our lives, we didn’t say, for one reason or another? It’s too late once that person has died; the window of opportunity that may fleetingly have opened has gone, perhaps never to open again or to constantly be ignored in our rush through life.

In my case I have a double whammy. My father passed away suddenly in 1990. I didn’t say many of the things I should have. It was taken for granted he would be there forever or that the day of parting was a long way off. He knew I loved him and yet I should have told him more often that I did. He deserved that. Something cold is in my heart that makes it hard for me to say those words, except to my children and my granddaughter. It seemed that I didn’t need to say things to Dad, as there was a bond between us that could never be broken. But now I know; the words should have been spoken, and often.

Mum passed away last December. Not suddenly, like Dad. Death was at her door for a long time, and yet there was no window of opportunity open to me by the time I realised I had things to say, and needed to say. Dementia is a cruel disease and can strike anyone. Mum slipped into it slowly, so slowly that no one realised what was happening to her, until it was too late. Forgetfulness? A sign of old age, everyone gets there eventually. My visits to Mum over the last five years left very little scope for me to say much to her at all. Most of the time she didn’t know who I was, or if she did, she chose not to acknowledge that she did. I was angry with her and wondered if she was doing it on purpose, just another way to continue the trend that existed throughout our life from my earliest memories.

I would fly home depressed after every visit. Sometimes it would take me a couple of days after arrival to force myself to visit her; I felt guilt, sadness, depression, and anger. I wondered why I bothered flying to see her three or four times a year when I received very little back from her. Not even a hello, or a goodbye, or a smile, or a kiss. I didn’t understand what was happening to her and thought only of how I felt, not of how she was.

In the last two years or so, I’ve done a lot of soul searching and spent time thinking about my mother’s life. Losing her first-born son at the tender age of three. Spending those three years living a life filled with the woes of a child who knew no happiness. The harshness of that era with a World War raging. The resultant hardships of having little money, food, clothing or assets. Women in those days, well a lot of them, stayed up at night scrubbing lino floors while everyone else went to bed. They spent untold hours every day hand washing clothes, cooking meals with meat that needed to be cooked slowly for hours so it could be eaten, making something out of nothing so their children could have clothes to wear. Lining up for food stamps, crockery, anything at all they needed for half an existence. I knew none of that, although I was born at the end of the War in 1945. I don’t remember any of it so I can’t feel it.

Because of the severeness of my brother’s health, caused by German measles during early pregnancy, he had to be taken frequently to hospital for treatment. Having no car, my mother travelled by train. People stared at her, cursed her, because she had this seemingly badly behaved child who screamed all the time. His eyesight was so poor that he wore little glasses with brown paper over the lenses to protect his eyes from light. His visits to the hospital were to have injections in his eyes, and one can only imagine the dreadfulness of that for my mother. He never walked, he never sat. He was like a baby and had to be carried everywhere.

My problems with my mother, I think, began from the moment I was born. On the one hand she would say how much she wanted me, on the other hand she would delight in telling me, and anyone who may be listening, how she cried when she first saw me after I was born, because I had red hair. That story haunted me from a very young age and I detested my hair, thought it was evil. After all it made my mother cry so I definitely had something wrong with me to do that. Our relationship wasn’t like those of my cousins with their mothers, or my girlfriends with their mothers. I longed to have that, but I never did. Sometimes during the years when my children were small, and later as well, I saw softness in her towards me, but not often. There was a barrier and I have no idea what it was. I became my father’s daughter and I was blessed to have such a wonderful father, so blessed. My birth came a year after my eldest brother passed away. I had another brother, older than me, who survived.

I thought about all these things, many of them I learned from my aunt. I started to see a reason perhaps for the way Mum was. She had a breakdown before my brother died and he was taken from her. How that must have devastated her. He died alone a day after my mother and father had visited him. I can understand why she was so protective and close to my brother who survived. She would have been terrified something might happen to him. Since my mother passed away I have spent many hours going through her photos and letters she kept, and the memories that I’ve found have touched me profoundly. I seem to have found my mother, but all too late.

Over the last two years before she died, when I visited Mum, I tried to summon up the courage to talk to her. It was too late; she didn’t comprehend much at all. Talk about Sydney and our life as a family drew a blank look. One day she became upset and I had to stop talking; perhaps that day she comprehended what I was saying. I would whisper to her that it was okay for her to go to Dad, that it was time they were together. I had heard that this often worked; not so with Mum. I had so much I wanted to say to her; that understanding had come finally and forgiveness as well. Each visit I resolved to say it all, each visit resulted in nothing being said and I kept it all inside me.

Three weeks before she died I sat by her bed and held her hand. Pressure from her hand reached mine and it was a wonderful feeling. Finally I felt that she knew whom I was and she touched me. It had been a long time coming. When she finally drew her last breath, I knew it had happened. I am sure that as her spirit departed that body she came to me and said goodbye. I was over 1,000 kilometres away and yet I knew she had died. Sure enough, about ¾ hour after I had a flash message, I received the news.

I spent time with Mum before the cremation and I spoke softly to her, saying some of what I had wanted to say to her for so long. It was too late for her, and yet it brought me some peace of mind. I wished however that while she was alive, and was without dementia, that we could have talked, and reconciled. I stoked her hair, it was so soft, and her face was like porcelain. The body in the coffin wasn’t much like my Mum; it was just what remained of her. I touched that face and kissed it several times and took a rose from the wreath on the coffin and laid it against her face. At that moment I truly loved my mother and told her so – too late. My hope is that she was around somewhere watching and now knows that I loved her, always had. I wasn’t able to show it because she didn’t seem to ever show it towards me, or hardly ever. I don’t remember hugs, just criticism it seemed of most of what I did or didn’t do. That’s all gone now and as I read the letters she treasured so much, I’m finding my Mum, warts and all.

The moral of this story? The title says it all – Say It Loud, Say It Clear – every day of your life to everyone you love. Tell them you love them always. It becomes a habit after you do it for a while, and if you forget to say it, you may even ring and say it once you realise it was forgotten because it will trouble you that you forgot something so important. Those words can mean so much and can make a huge difference to the emotional well being of all humans.

© vena mcgrath 2006

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Australia Day - 26 January 2006

It's 12.56pm Sydney Daylight Saving Time and humid. There's a heavy cloud cover and no sun shining at the moment. The usual kind of day when there is high humidity. However, it's markedly cooler than some of the days we have experienced during December/January. I just checked the temperature under the carport and it's now 34 celcius .. without the humidity it wouldn't be a bad day.

I'm home alone today and it's a public holiday in Sydney. My son was down from Orange for a couple of days but just left to go back as he has to work tomorrow. I took the day off tomorrow so as to have 4 days straight at home. Shaye, my beautiful pup, is happy someone is here as he is experiencing for the first time now, long days alone while I am at work. Bryan, who was my partner, and I broke up, and he left here on Tuesday. Six months proved to us that although we were great friends away from each other, together there was a lot lacking.

I saw no point in continuing with a relationship that hadn't grown and never would, and so we agreed to part. I am sad about what happened as it was wonderful to think that perhaps two people alone could make it together. After 17 years without a man in my life permanently, I guess it was all too much for me, and I was probably all too much for him. We are very different and couldn't reconcile our differences. He has moved north close to his children and that's a good thing. Blood is thicker than water after all. I learned a lot sharing my home with Bryan, and I hope that in some small measure I helped him go forward and to better things. I suppose that is one good thing about today's freedom; you don't have to marry someone to live with them and you don't have to stay together if it's not working out. There's no messy divorce, no splitting up assets, just an agreement to end before bitterness and unhappiness sets in.

Now it's back to square one and to knuckling down to work, both paid work and unpaid at home. I haven't done much writing in the last six months as I chose to spend more time away from the computer when I was at home, than sitting in my study working. Having Bryan here gave me the incentive to ditch the computer for companionship. It lasted for a while but then slowly began to disintegrate.

Shaye has had a busy morning exploring outside as he now has the whole yard to himself. Bryan sectioned the yard off because his dog didn't like the pup and was savage to him. Now Shaye has both sections to himself and a lot of discovering to do. He has worn himself out and is asleep on the tiles in the house, dreaming happy dreams I hope :)

Bryan built Shaye a wonderful kennel before he left. Well it's more like a young child's cubby house. It has an awning, a verandah, and a lean-to for extra shade where his small pool is that he likes to lie in most of the time he is outside. He loves the big pool too but can't access that area unless someone is outside with him. He is a very lucky doggie to have such a magnificent kennel. Now all I have to do is paint it. I will miss Bryan for a lot of reasons and I could have been selfish and kept him around as an odd job man, but he needs to find his own life, be himself, and with me he wouldn't have done that. The odd jobs I can get done by various means without using another person for my own advantage. I couldn't offer him what I should have been able to, it just wasn't there to offer. I hope he meets a lovely lady who will be just the right person, the person I'm not.

I can hear the kids next door in their pool having fun with friends who are no doubt visiting for a bbq for Australia Day. There are lots of activities going on around the country today to celebrate the beginning of the slaughter of the Aboriginal people who once lived here happily and in harmony with the land and with nature. Our forefathers sure put a stop to that idyllic lifestyle and stamped on them the British way.

There are many Aussies now who pine for the simple life, especially those over 50 who can remember a vastly different Australia to the one they now live in. They are opting out of the 'make all the money you can and buy everything you think you need' syndrome, and are moving out of the cities to quieter lifestyles for what are supposed to be the best years of a lifetime. I hope to break out of this cycle myself in the not too distant future and live a much more laid back life. I have all I need and as things wear out, then I will have to replace them. I never was a 'keep up with the Jones' person so it won't bother me much not buying the latest version of whatever.

I've been thinking along the lines of moving into a retirement village, buying a strata title smaller home and settling in, hopefully very close to the sea. But this is a little ways off yet as I can't get a pension until I'm 63.5 years. I'm lucky to have a good job and probably lucky John Howard considers we should all keep working until we pass away at our desks so we don't go on a pension. However, I have other ideas, and working for ever isn't one of them. There are a number of family issues at the moment that are keeping me from making a move and I accept that things happen for a reason, hence I'm not in the least bit frustrated at staying put for a while.

Anyone who has a happy stable relationship is very lucky. I think from looking around me that those relationships are few and far between. There are many people like me, who live alone because that's the road life threw to us for various reasons. It's a shame as nothing alone is really ever as good as sharing it with someone who enjoys whatever it is as much as you do. Perhaps I will be fortunate and still have time to run into the right person. That's what life is all about, the unknown.

Until next time, stay happy and if you aren't happy, then take steps to change the situation. We only have one go at this life and I don't think we were supposed to be miserable and living in a hateful environment.