You don't have to understand the world. You just have to find your own way around in it. - Albert Einstein

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Anzac Biscuits for ANZAC Day

This post here by Kirsty, an Australian woman living in France, at You had me at bonjour really touched and moved me this morning. I considered typing a post consisting of my thoughts on this occasion, and it would have been a fabulous post, but my brain just wasn't up for wrapping itself around an essay today. I felt the need to make a more tactile, physical, domestic gesture.

And so, to the kitchen, and to the baking of Anzac biscuits.

My recipe comes from the P.W.M.U. Cookery Book, first published 1904. My copy, pictured here, is a 1971 reprint passed down to me from a great-aunt. This was the cookbook in my home when I was growing up. I have doubled all the quantities given, because one batch is just not enough.

4 cups rolled oats
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup melted butter
2 tbsp golden syrup
2 tsp bicarb soda
4 tbsp boiling water

Mix oats, flour, sugar and melted butter, then the syrup, and lastly the soda dissolved in water.

Drop by spoonful onto baking trays. Bake in moderate oven 15-20 mins.

An offering in honour of those who fell, and those who lived to remember.
Lest we forget.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

in the Poetry Corner - Three Sufi Mystic Poets

While Europe was immersed in what we now describe as The Dark Ages, Arabic and Islamic cultures were blooming, and among the many flowers that grew are some of the most profound and beautiful poems in the world. Here today, in the Maroon Poetry Corner, we have a small selection from some of my favourite poets, Rumi, Kabir, and Lalla, as an example the poetry of the Sufi mystics. Sufism is a branch of mysticism in the Islamic tradition. There is a lot of dancing and music and poetry involved - creative expression in honour of the divine.

Once upon a time, I arrived to stay at a friend's house and found her in the middle of an acute psychotic break/manic episode. As you can image, we were up all night. I swear I tried everything short of shooting her with a tranquiliser dart to get her to go down. It was indeed fortunate that I had selected my copy of The Soul is Here for its Own Joy - Sacred Poems from Many Cultures, edited by Robert Bly as a travelling companion that day. Somewhere in the wee hours I discovered that if I read poems like these to her, she would lay still and keep quiet. A miracle right there, in front of my very eyes.

You can click on the names of the poets if you want to read more.


Eating Poetry

My poems resemble the bread of Egypt - one night
Passes over it, and you can't eat it any more.

So gobble them down now, while they're still fresh,
Before the dust of the world settles on them.

Where a poem belongs is here, in the warmth of the chest;
Out in the world it dies of cold.

You've seen a fish - put him on dry land,
He quivers for a few minutes, and then is still.

And even if you eat my poems while they're still fresh,
You still have to bring forward many images yourself.

Actually, friend, what you're eating is your own imagination.
These poems are not just some old sayings and saws.

The Mill, The Stone and The Water

All our desire is a grain of wheat.
Our whole personality is the milling-building.
But this mill grinds without knowing about it.

The mill stone is your heavy body.
What makes the stone turn is your thought-river.
The stone says: I don't know why we do all this, but the river has knowledge!

If you ask the river, it says,
I don't know why I flow.
All I know is that a human opened the gate!

And if you ask the person, he says:
All I know, oh gobbler of bread, is that if this stone
Stops going around, there'll be no bread for your bread-soup!

All this grinding goes on, and no one has any knowledge!
So just be quiet, and one day turn
To God, and say: "What is this about bread-making?"



The Spinning Wheel

The woman who is separated from her lover spins at the spinning wheel.

The Bagdad of the body rises with its towers and gates.
Inside it palace of intelligence has been built.

The wheel of ecstatic love turns around in the sky,
and the spinning seat is made of the sapphires of work and study.

The woman weaves threads that are subtle,
and the intensity of her praise makes them fine!

Kabir says: I am that woman.
I am weaving the linen of night and day.

When my Lover comes and I feel his feet,
the gift I will have for him is tears.

The Clay Jug

Inside this clay jug there are canyons and pine mountains, and the maker of canyons and pine mountains!
All seven oceans are inside, and hundreds of millions of stars.
The acid that tests gold is there, and the one who judges jewels.
And the music from the strings that no one touches, and the source of all water.

If you want the truth, I will tell you the truth:
Friends, listen: the God whom I love is inside.



Your way of knowing

Your way of knowing is a private herb garden.
Enclose it with a hedge of meditation,
and self-discipline, and helpfulness to others.

Then everything you've done before
will be brought as a sacrifice
to the mother goddess.

And each day, as you eat the herbs,
the garden grows more bare and empty.

- translated by Coleman Barks.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

of an Uninvited Midnight Visitor

I'm talking about the possum. But if the possum could blog, he would probably be complaining about me being the unwelcome intruder. It depends on your point of view.

This feller here is the current resident of the Possum Hilton, which is a really, really big tree just behind my house. It really is an unusually large and opulent tree for such a densely built-up residential area, standing around 20m high and quite broad too, and makes a damn fine piece of real estate for the modern urban possum.

He has a real personality, this cheeky little bugger, he does. He makes it quite clear that the backyard belongs to him, not us, and is the reason why the biodiversity of my vege garden is limited to onions. He loves having his photo taken, and he's also quite good at impersonations. His favourite is the one where he sounds just like a crazed methamphetamine addict who is trying to break into the house by tearing the tin sheeting off the roof.

Friday, 20 April 2012

of Beauty to be Found - Day Tripping at the Public Hospital

Today was a hospital day - half the day spent at the hospital while Mr CJ has a nerve-treating procedure, performed by a pain management specialist. Hmmm sounds like fun...not...much! But I have had enough of these hospital days to give me time to apply my philosophy of looking for the beauty in the everyday, of believing it is always there to be found, even surrounded by all the disasters and dramas that go on every day in a public hospital. So today I took my camera around the building and grounds for a little tourist-in-your-own-town action.

One of my favourite things about this hospital is that is has its own book stall. What a brilliant idea! It's located as obviously as possible, just inside the main entrance, and there is always something different to see here. Some days the shelves are so chockers with books you can hardly get one out without knocking the whole stand over, then a few days later the shelves might be all but bare. All books are $1 and I think I've seen every kind of book imaginable except the 'adult' kind among the collection over time - contemporary novels, classics, academic texts, religious books, children's books, bodice-rippers and trashy romances, biographies and dictionaries, foreign languages and strangely random community publications. I've collected a few fine titles myself here, and I know that some locals actually come here to the hospital just to look at the books. I really think that every hospital should have a book stall, simply for this reason - if you ever find yourself stuck in hospital unexpectedly, a good book can make all the difference. For this reason I give my own books that I don't need to keep any more to this book stall. I always say a little prayer for them to be found by someone who really needs and loves them.

It wasn't surprising, given the current climate of celebration of multi-culturalism, that the old chapel gave way to a modern, multi-faith Spirituality Centre during the last major renovations. All welcome.

Artwork - EARTH and AIR by Patrick Negri, b. 1935, Australia

In a little nook to the right of the painting is a spontaneous art therapy station - a blank book, pens and pencils, and an invitation to put them into action. The book is half filled with children's art, lots of colourful hearts and heartful prayers and letters. It didn't seem appropriate to photograph the contents.

There is a selection of literature from various faiths. I am always disappointed by the conspicuous absence of any pagan religion. The only earth-based religion represented here is the beliefs of the Wathaurong people of South-Western Victoria.

In a corridor on the way to the outpatients clinic, this glass artwork by Wathaurong Glass, and a telling of the creation story of the Wathaurong people.

Then outside to The Garden of Reflection and Remembrance, with a theme of military history. This mural is dedicated to health workers who served in military situations. The Aleppo Pine framing the image is a Lone Pine Tree - a direct descendant of the original Lone Pine at Gallipoli.

There are plenty of park benches here, and rose bushes, and everything has its own little brass plaque, or possibly several, dedicated to our collective ancestors, in groups or individually, by number or by name.

Little splashes of secret colour hide low among the mulch.

Outside the enclosed garden now, and around the grounds to the west and south of the buildings.

This one perfect rose is blooming among a bed of bushes that are all pruned bare, right up in the corner that is closest to all the passing traffic, both pedestrian and vehicular, as though it were reaching out to all the people going by the main entrance.

Roses galore and decadent in a lovely bed outside the day stay unit.

This little patch of wandering jew, tucked away in a shady, windy corner, is, I suspect, a survivor from the old days. Its status as an introduced pest means it was unlikely to have been included in the latest, politically correct, drought-resistant landscaping projects. I'm so sorry that I couldn't come close to capturing the vibrancy of its dramatic autumn colours in the picture. The maroon was positively glowing.

A good swathe of bottlebrush flowers always reminds me how lucky I am to live in this beautiful land.

Rampant salvia in full bloom, resplendent in today's unseasonably hot sunshine. And I mean hot. I got a little sunburned just while on this little nature photography jaunt.

And, of course, I do love a fine gum tree... or two. One of the things I love about the trunks of gum trees is the way they wrinkle so neatly where they bend. These handsome trees are splendid examples - you can see the sharp relief of the wrinkles.

Back indoors, I had my first ever desire to whip out my camera while in a public toilet - I had to laugh at this purpose-printed dunny-door literature. There's a logo in the lower left corner - it says 'Toilet Talk.' It's supposed to make us 'feel better.' I don't know whether to think it's cute or crude, so it's probably very Australian. Featured quotes include -
"You will never amount to much." - German schoolmaster to Albert Einstein.
"We don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out." - Decca Recording Company rejecting The Beatles.

Meanwhile, inside the day stay unit, everyone was being very nice to Mr. CJ, miraculous modern technology was employed, and all went well. Nurses are awesome and they need support - please have a look here to see what they have to say.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

my Favourite Things - 102-year-old Medical Encyclopaedia

Hello, dear readers! I didn't want to leave you all in the nasty gloom of yesterday's tale of woe and despair, so now, just for fun, we'll be having a look at one of my most extraordinary salvaged treasures. There may be some who are wondering how looking through an encyclopaedia is something to be celebrated as extra, super, FUN - if that's how you're feeling, well then, you might often find things a little odd around here at The Maroon Diaries.

I found this book about six years ago at the Hobart tip shop Resource Recovery Centre, which means that it was salvaged directly from the tip. To say it's in poor condition might be putting it mildly. It is still technically a book, thanks to the incredible quality of the stitching holding the signatures together, but I sometimes think that it won't be long before it will really just be a pile of related pages. The front cover is missing entirely, and the back cover and spine exist separately to the text block - I just place them together how they should be on the shelf. It just seems the right thing to do. Every time I pick it up or look through it there is danger of further decay - but it's not like I can just leave it on the shelf and never play with it. That would be no fun at all. It's a dilemma.

And so, without further ado, introducing the decidedly shabby Medicology, or, Home Encyclopedia of Health - A Complete Family Guide - Ten Books in One Volume, by Joseph G. Richardson, M.D., William H. Ford, A.M., M.D., and C. C. Vanderbeck, M.D., Ph.D., with Managing Editor, James P. Wood, M.D., and assisted by a Large and Able Corps of Medical Practitioners, Lecturers and Teachers. Copyright 1903, this edition published 1910.

Intriguing chapter titles.

Plenty of anatomical illustrations.

The Picture of Health, apparently, is a young Aryan male wearing lipstick.

Love the pop-up layers. They feature all through the book.

This lady is whitening her teeth with an althea twig, and is billed as 'the picture of Womanhood.'

And she's going to get a lot more advice on being 'womanly' throughout Book IX, Model Home Management,  and Book X, Treasury and Hand Book of Health and Home Information.

Oh my god, I only have eleven dish towels, and one of my mixing bowls only holds six quarts. Not to mention the conspicuous absence of a cherry stoner. Oh dear, I guess I'm stuffed then.

I still haven't been through every section of this enormous tome - I just potter through it from time to time. It really does have a little bit of everything. There's a generous dose of good old-fashioned common sense - something that's struggling to come back in style again. There are all the features you'd expect in a medical encyclopaedia - a complete treatment of anatomy & physiology, diseases (including a three-page entry on a terrible-sounding disease called 'softening of the brain'), drugs, and the stages of life and growth. The sections on growing, cultivating, harvesting and preparing medicinal herbs, preparing decoctions, tinctures, compresses and the like, seems to me to be comprehensive and accurate enough to cover the content of a modern naturopathy & herbalism diploma course. The 'Table of Conception and Barren Periods' is just as fine an introduction to natural fertility management as any. There are nutrition guides that look just like something a modern Weight Watchers-style philosophy would promote. The sections on housekeeping could give the Martha Stewarts and Mrs. Beetons a run for their money. One page contains recipes for mock-turtle soup (the mock turtle is calf brains) and for a damn fine chocolate cake. Really, a housewife could do anything with this book - cure syphilis or poison oak rash, whip up a dinner party for a horde of guests, and get that stain out of the carpet (bullock's gall is the answer). And then there are all these crazy bits that leave you wondering whether you should laugh or cry. I've copied some out here for your amusement/despair for humanity.


Development of Puberty... To the boy approaching puberty... The father had best perhaps tell him something of the change which will occur, and teachers should be patient in cultivating the voice. Singing should not be indulged in until the "new voice" is well established... In girls...It is well in some cases that the mother should tell the girl something of this change which will occur... Many girls are better removed from school...(the) future usefulness of many girls (is) endangered... by injudicious care at this period. Moral companions must be secured...

- from General Care of Children, p.1068


Criminals Should Not Have Children - That criminals should not create offspring is widely accepted. How to prevent this is the question that has excited discussion for several decades among learned men...
Children of Criminals - A large number of their children are epileptics or idiots. With this horde of misfits in the community, there is a constant drag backwards on the wheels of progress. Emasculation is the remedy most certain, and is offered by the most enlightened and advanced men in the world, but few... are prepared to accept so severe a measure. Many people fail... to realise that duty to mankind is above duty to individual man.
Cleansing the World of Disease - The above paragraphs... on criminals are but hints to the thinking, and if followed to their natural conclusion will demonstrate the necessity of cleansing the world of disease by... prohibiting (those afflicted) from perpetuating their kind, which they should have no desire to do anyway if they realise the sort of offspring that will surely be given them.

- from p.1070


Sheep's-Head Soup - Cut a sheep's liver and lights into pieces and stew them in four quarts of water... then put in the sheep's head and boil until quite tender; then it should be taken out and everything strained from the liquor... A glass of wine may be put in... if desired...

- from Art and Science of Cooking, p.1107


A Mother's Responsibility in Child Training
"Mothers," remarked the cynic, "are of two classes: those who have preconceived ideas as to how to bring up their children and won't learn, and those who have no ideas and can't learn."
Ignorance of Mothers - We will probably not all agree to this rather sweeping statement, for most of us are fortunate enough to number among our acquaintances several brave, conscientious women who are true mothers in every sense of the word. But... we must admit that there are lamentably few such examples, and that the majority of women are most woefully ignorant on the important subject of child-training... Possibly because... a mother's labour in the bringing up of her children is not generally considered in the light of a profession... a woman rarely hesitates to undertake this difficult task without a previous study of the subject. The disastrous result of this act is felt not only by the child but also by the thoughtless mother, who alone is responsible for the consequences.

- from p.1225


One Dozen Good Reasons Why a Boy Should not Use Tobacco

1st. Cigarettes or tobacco in any form hinders the growth and injures the nerves and health.
2d. Cigarettes foster the tobacco habit, and may make any boy a slave to it.
3d. The cigarette habit does not help a boy in his life work, and may prevent him from obtaining a good position in business.
6th. Cigarette smoking makes a boy dull and stupid, impairs his memory and prevents his advance in school.
7th. Smoking creates an unnatural thirst, which may lead to drinking intoxicating liquors.
8th. Smoking is a selfish habit which may cause annoyance, discomfort and distress to others.
12th. It is also a filthy habit and defiles the body, and anything that defiles or injures the body is a sin against God, who created man in His own image.

- from pp.1252-3


Entering Upon Marriage
Courtship - The object of courtship should be to study dispositions and affinities, also mental and physical conditions...
Engagement - Engagements should, as a rule, be brief. The spectacle of engaged couples trying each other's patience for years by delaying marriage is a pitiable one. The contract entered into becomes a mortgage without interest.
Affinity - Affinity differs from love. It may exist in the marriage estate, and be productive of comfort and happiness in the absence of the sentiment of love. Yet it cannot be said that the converse of this ... is true...
Mental Condition - ...An ignorant man or woman should not mate with one of education, nor vice versa...
Marriage and Longevity - It is a definitely ascertained result of marriage that it lengthens life, where... conducted in a proper manner...
Physical Forms - Intercourse in the lower animals and in plants is so regulated by experts as to lead to great improvements in the species. This is equally possible in mankind... The brunette may marry well with the blonde, with the hope of modifying parental complexions in offsprings... large-boned people should marry those of small bones; beauty should marry homeliness; those of strong facial contour should marry those with less decided physiognomies; and so on... with the hope of curing in their posterity what may pass for defects in the parents... at least so modifying physical forms as to produce a more satisfactory form.

- pp.1300-02


The Marriage Estate - Things Young Wives Should Know.
...Courage is assigned to man - to woman it is due...
Propagating Likes - Sexual emotion is absolutely necessary to conception. The impress is made at the moment. Every quality of mind or body which is dominant then will undoubtedly determine the fate of the offspring. How... necessary it is then, at that moment, to permit nothing but the most pleasant fancies to occupy the mind... the thought of those actions and things which is most desirable to reappear in children...
Will the Babe be Boy or Girl?
Function of the Ovary - The ovary is undoubtedly the predominant factor in this respect. The only means by which the determination of the sex can be influenced is by the nutritional processes in the ovary. Disturbances in the ovary... seem to determine a preponderance of male ova, while... normal nutritional processes favour the production of females.



Onanism or Self-Pollution - Effects and Remedies.
How Regarded - Some medical writers treat this worst of all youthful, or even adult practices as a habit, others as a disease, and still others as a crime. It is all three, ... but, beyond everything, is a crime against nature, punishable by consequences that are simply appalling.
When to Suspect - ... a youth may be suspected when, at the period of puberty, he seeks to remain in solitary places...
Terrible Effects - This vice soon renders him careless of his parents... indifferent to the sports of his equals... he falls into a distaste for everything except the opportunity of indulgence... the muscles... consequently become soft; he is idle; his body becomes bent; his gait is sluggish, and he is barely able to support himself. The digestion becomes enfeebled; the breath, fetid; the intestines, inactive; the excrements, hardened in the rectum... the skin... is studded with pimples... The corners of the mouth become lengthened; the nose becomes sharp; the sunken eyes, deprived of brilliance... are cast down; no look remains of gayety (sic); the very aspect is criminal... General sensibility becomes excessive... perception is weakened, and memory... destroyed... desires become capricious... envy rankles in the mind... his character is entirely corrupted, or his mind is totally stupefied...

-pp. 1379-81

(I would love to include more of this section, but it goes on for three pages and ends up painting a picture much more terrifying than that 'softening of the brain' caper.)


Marriage in Old Age
Disappointment in Store - One more lesson attested by abundant observation... is that men in...  old age who contract marriage with young or middle-aged women, expecting thereby to render their remaining years more cheerful and happy, are very generally disappointed.
Divorce in Sight - For a... majority of such cases either a divorce court is resorted to in a few months or the men die early from efforts to perform...

- p.1382


See? Didn't I tell you this would be great fun?

I'm still wondering, ever since I bought this book, what exactly to do with it. Is it too far had it to be worthy of a museum type collection? Would it be a terrible shame to further its destruction in order to use the amazing pages for artworks? Please, people, tell me what to do.

Friday, 13 April 2012

and now for something a little different - a Rant against Scum-sucking Faceless Bureaucrats

When I started this blog, I decided that I really didn't want to be one of those bloggers who just whinge and whine. It's one thing to share hard stuff you're going through, it's another to just bitch and moan. I decided that I would apply the advice of the proverb I often heard used as a child - if you haven't got anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. Well, maybe that was a good theory - but I can see now that it's just not going to work out in practice.

And so, a rant. If you don't feel inclined to read a rant about the evils of corporations and all such modern inconveniences, feel free to log off now and come back later when there's something more fun going on.

You see, dear reader, I have spent two half-days over the last week on the phone, arguing with the phone company and their debt collectors. Perhaps a shiver is now running down your spine as you recall the horror of your own experience. The news is always full of dreadful statistics about what a disastrous job the telecommunications industry is doing in the area of customer services, if the astounding numbers of complaints, disputes and interventions by the Ombudsman are any indication. What can one say but aaargh! - or perhaps something that would conventionally be spelt with little stars.

It all began when a letter came in the mail, addressed to Mr. CJ. It's part of my job as carer to manage all the administrative matters and paperwork on his behalf. A debt collector was saying that he had a debt to Optus, a matter of $155. The letter mentioned court proceedings and was quite intimidating in its manner of communication. I've noticed that debt collection agencies can take great artistic license in composing their letters. For example, 'repeated attempts to contact you' can mean that they rang once and you didn't answer the phone. On one occasion, I pointed out to a debt collector that that was not entirely accurate. He actually laughed out loud and told me outright that the people who write those letters don't care about accuracy, they just want to get a reaction. Straight from the horse's mouth, folks.

With regards to the the current issue, the obvious problem for me was that Mr CJ has never had an account with Optus, other than a pre-paid phone service. I arranged it like that specifically so that he wouldn't receive any bills. So I was very curious as to where this debt they were alleging actually came from. I rang the debt collector, and asked them. They said they didn't know, all they had was the balance from Optus, which apparently had been 'verified.' So I rang Optus to ask them. They asked for a reference number, and I gave them the number printed on the letter from the debt collector. They said that it wasn't an Optus account number, and they needed an Optus account number to look into it. Another call to the debt collector. No, they definitely don't have an account number, just a balance, and a phone number for the account Mr CJ was being charged for. Now here's where it gets really weird. I recognised the number they gave me as being my friend Dr MJ's home phone number. This is a private number, it is not an Optus number, and it has been in use for over 20 years, with absolutely nothing to do with Mr CJ, who hadn't even met Dr MJ until a few years ago. Cue the music from The Twilight Zone.

At this point the debt collector told me I 'had to' go to the police as this 'must be' fraud. Well, I could just imagine the reaction of the police officer who, in between calls to car accidents and incidents of domestic violence, has to listen to me complain about a phone bill. I really didn't think that was appropriate. Another call to Optus. They used all Mr CJ's details to do a full search and could not find any record of an account in his name. Well, I asked them, why are the debt collectors hassling us? Oh, I don't know. I'm sorry, I can't help you. That was the last phone call with Optus.

I made one more call to the debt collector, and pointed out that neither Optus nor the collection agency were able to find any record of an account or a debt, so I didn't really feel that we could be compelled to pay it. Even so, Ms Debt Collector insisted that we had to pay the debt or legal proceedings would ensue, and that was final.

So by now it was time to call the Telecommunications Ombudsman and register a complaint. The lady I spoke to there did assure me that there would have to some evidence of a debt existing if it had to be paid. At last, a voice of reason! And of action, apparently - only a few moments later Ms DC from the collection agency called me and told me that Optus had recalled the debt, and that I wouldn't be hearing any more from them, the matter was resolved from their point.

Next, a letter in the mail arrived from Optus, apologising very nicely, and cancelling the debt without admitting any liability. Wonderful! I just wanted to get on with my life. I don't care where the mix-up happened, I was just glad it was over.

But no, it wasn't to be that simple. Today, a new letter from the debt collector arrived, addressed to Mr. CJ, and using intimidating language in a slightly different combination of sentences, insisting that the $155 had to be paid.

Still hoping and trusting that this was just another little mix-up, I rang the collection agency to tell them that Optus had recalled the debt and resolved the matter. I had written confirmation from Optus as well as the verbal information given me by Ms Debt Collector over the phone. At this point I was informed that I would have to provide proof to the collection agency that Optus had indeed cancelled the debt, or I would continue to get calls and letters and the debt would continue to accrue and head toward legal proceedings.

Even then I didn't panic. Not too much. I rang the number for the case manager assigned to me by Optus, and left a message explaining the situation. Again, I trusted that she would be able to resolve it. I was about to set myself to doing something relaxing when the phone rang. It was a different man, from the same collection agency, saying he was returning my call. Um, excuse me, but I hadn't left any calls to be returned. I had already spoken to someone earlier. Anyway, he asked me for various reference numbers, and I gave them to him. He told me that I had called the wrong department. I pointed out that I hadn't called him, he had called me, and I still didn't know why. He told me he was going to transfer me to someone who could resolve my problem. Then I found myself on the line with the same Ms DC I had spoken with last week. She insisted that I would have to prove that Optus had cancelled the debt. I felt that that really wasn't my responsibility. Surely it was up to the arrangements between Optus and their debt collector to keep tabs on which debts need to be paid. I find the irony quite striking - last week, I was asking for proof that the alleged debt had ever existed in the first place, and nobody could give me a straight answer, but insisted that I should pay the debt anyway. Now, later, when the issue has apparently been resolved, they are saying that the onus is on me to provide proof that Optus had actually cancelled the debt - apparently Optus had neglected to pass this information on the collectors. I reminded her that she had called me last week and told me that Optus had recalled the debt. How could she have told me that, if Optus hadn't provided her with that information somehow?

At this point, Ms DC squealed in resentment. I never called you, she said - you called me! Well, I can assure you, folks, that I did indeed receive, not make, that call. I have a witness who was there when the phone rang. She also denied that she knew or had said anything about Optus recalling the debt. She kept insisting that I would have to provide the proof that this ever happened. Then she said to me - why are you calling me now? I pointed out that I hadn't called her, the agency had called me. Now she was getting pretty hysterical, insisting that I had called her. Outright, calling me a liar. Again, I have a witness who heard the phone rang and saw me answer it. I am not going mad. It seems a pretty stupid thing to try to deny - phone records can instantly show who called whom, when. I'm starting to wonder if this woman has some paranoia issues, or perhaps has been drinking on the job. It was that kind of crazy vibe.

Finally I asked to speak to her manager and was transferred to a much more reasonable-sounding person. He sounded quite surprised when I told him some of the things Ms DC had said to me. He said he understood my frustration and that he believed me that Optus had cancelled the debt, but that it would remain in their system until Optus contacted them to inform of this. (I'm still wondering how Ms DC had that information to give me last week if it wasn't in their system. No explanation was ever offered for that.) Both this manager and I were confident that the Optus case manager would sort that out in the near future. Which left the question - why did someone ring me this afternoon, just to put me on to Ms DC for a twenty-minute lecture on the ways I could supply this proof that I apparently had to provide to the agency? Hmm. No answer to that either.

Not much fun, going through all that. I'm sure we'd all agree with that. Spending hours on hold to various bureaucratic bodies, listening to the inane beeping that passes as 'hold music', getting shuffled around from one department or another, typing in codes when prompted - aargh. It's such a common experience in the modern world - apparently as unavoidable as death and taxes. I remember my mother used to get prepared whenever she had to call the Child Support Agency. This was back in the days when telephones were still attached to walls. She would sit us down in front of a full feature-length video movie on the TV and sequester herself in her bedroom with the second phone, a plate of snacks, a packet of cigarettes and a bucket of coffee. Now that is the attitude one needs to get through a phone line queue! This went on about once a month or so, for a few years, when the Government finally started deducting those court-ordered maintenance payments that my father was refusing to pay directly from his tax return and salary. So I was prepared, when I grew up and went out into the world and had to make my own phone calls. I knew how to approach a phone line queue with patience, and to not take out my problems on the poor person who is just answering the phone, and wasn't actually personally responsible for all that money that's disappeared out of your account, or whatever.

My downfall is, as I have mentioned, anything to do with electronic, technological devices, and I'm afraid that arguments with telecommunications companies fall into that category. Somehow, the arbitrary power a telephone company has to disrupt my finances freaks me out even more than other kinds of services. Perhaps it's something about the intangible nature of telecommunications - just a guess, I really don't know why. I just can't cope with shit like this. I know it shouldn't get to me so much, and I don't know why, but it does. After both half-day sessions of phone calls, I was absolutely distraught and cried for hours. I really feel like I can't deal with this. I have spent the last week seriously considering whether to just cut off all the phones and the internet just to be sure that I NEVER have to go through this again. And I mean seriously. I have been mentally going through all the people I keep in touch with by phone, and considering letting everyone know I'm only doing snail mail. I would have to give up this blog, and all the blogs I love to follow, and so many things that I love. I searched within myself, and found that yes, I could do that, be an off-the-grid Luddite and incur the frustrations of all the people who want to call and email me, if only I could be spared the venomous accusations and threats of people like Ms DC and their faceless automatic systems. The price of all these luxuries is too high, if people can just send me threatening letters for no reason whenever they feel like it. That's how much I feel traumatised by these kinds of experiences.

I hit a wall, however, when it came to the issue of health management. Mr CJ needs to have a phone to receive medical appointments. If I didn't have a phone for him to call me on if there was ever a problem, I wouldn't be able to leave him alone at all, and then would hardly be able to leave the house at all. If there is an emergency, I have to be able to call for help, or, realistically, it could seriously increase the chances of either Mr CJ or me having an untimely death. Things really are that drastic when you are living with serious health problems. I realised that I am trapped, held in bondage to capricious corporations whose computers can just spit out any numbers they like and put one's life - or at least one's credit rating - into turmoil. I seriously considered suicide - for the first time in quite a while. If I can't live without telephones, well then, I'd rather not live at all. That might sound drastic, but that's the nature of a phobia - unnecessarily drastic.

This is the fourth time in my life, with the third telco company, that I have had an issue get to this point. In each case, the fault was with the telephone company mistakenly assigning me a debt I did not actually owe. Each case was a matter of an amount of less than $200. All these cases were resolved in my favour, but not without a reasonable dose of agony, panic and tears along the way. In the case of debt collectors, however, I suspend the consideration that they might be a just an innocent bystander who happens to be answering the phone. These people know what the company they are working for is doing. They know that contact has begun with a letter that uses threatening, intimidating language to express its purpose, and if they are answering the number given on that letter, they are putting themselves in a position of responsibility for the distress it is causing me. These individuals who call me, demanding money, don't actually, personally, have any proof that the alleged debtor has any legal debt at all. So I let them have it and tell them exactly what I think of them. Apparently it's been quite entertaining around the Maroon Household lately, overhearing Lady Demelza muster all her prowess of the English language to deliver the most painfully, pompously offended diatribe possible without actually resorting to swearing.

My next-door neighbour happened to be an over-hearer, and she said that she was impressed that I was taking the time and energy to argue the point, because most people would just pay the debt, what with it being not too great an amount, rather than go through the stress of taking the issue to its conclusion. My mind boggles when I imagine how much money the telco companies are making through all these 'little mistakes'.

One debt collector, a few years ago, once he had been informed by Telstra that the relevant debt was indeed a mistake and that I didn't have to pay it, said to me, 'I'm sorry, I didn't know.' I replied, 'yes, and you didn't care, did you?' All that time he was being so demanding and insisting and intimidating toward me, he had never bothered to take any steps to be sure that I actually was a guilty party before threatening legal proceedings, in a direct reversal of the supposed 'innocent until proven guilty' philosophy of our society's legal system. Seeing as it was later established that I had never incurred a debt in the first place, the actions taken by the debt collectors amount to nothing more than unjust accusations and harassment - actions that are punishable by law, if people who aren't employed by debt collectors commit them. He just took instructions from his computer screens and pleaded the old excuse of war criminals everywhere - I'm just doing my job.

I think that if you are going to take a job that involves harassing innocent people who have been mistakenly accused of a debt, that is your responsibility, and you are going to hear exactly what I think of you.

I ended up suggesting to Ms DC that there was hope for her yet, she didn't have to continue degrading herself in such a reprehensible occupation. Perhaps she could find a more morally respectable position elsewhere - I understand that there's always plenty of work available in the adult entertainment industry.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

in praise of Dentists

I went to the dentist this morning.

It's incredible how the mention of a visit to the dentist strikes fear in the heart of even the biggest, toughest and meanest. We seem to have this deeply entrenched cultural agreement that dental work is a terrible thing to have to go through, deserving of much sympathy. We hold up the hypothetical trip to the dentist as a measure against which to compare all unpleasant or painful experiences. Just the sort of thing that I want to look for the beauty in. Just to be a bit subversive.

Now, I'm not a masochist - obviously, there's no denying that a dental procedure, with all that drilling and grinding and poking and whatnot is an uncomfortable, unpleasant experience, even with the dramatic improvements in anaesthetics. But I have found a way to remember to look on the bright side and not let that discomfort become distress.

I'm lucky that the public dental services in my area are really good. These services can really vary a lot in availability according to where you live, I have found. I had been to this clinic before to get my wisdom teeth removed. Everyone there is really friendly and professional, and the individuals work together as a team well. So, when a piece of one of my molars broke off last week, leaving a sharp edge, I called them straight away. Well, once business hours started. It helps to have these things happen on a weekday.

I was actually panicking a bit when it happened. I've never had a piece of tooth fall off for no apparent reason before, and it seemed to be a sign of something disastrous. Then I started to notice that when I told my friends what had happened, they weren't at all shocked or disturbed, or considering it much of a big deal. Hmm. I guess this is just one of those things that starts to happen as you get older.

The time for the appointment came around. The receptionist was lovely. I hardly even waited five minutes before I was called in. The dentist was a lovely, tiny lady. I told her that my tooth had broken, that I had panicked at first, but as the week passed and it didn't hurt, and I didn't cut my tongue or cheek on the sharp bit, I had come to the conclusion that it wasn't too drastic. She had a look. In 20 seconds she knew exactly what she was going to do. I could see her mind processing so efficiently. She told me she was filling it in, and applied the anaesthetic with much reassurance and soothing. She worked quickly and confidently and kept telling me I was doing well. The whole procedure, four layers of the filling and polishing it up, took no more than twenty minutes. I told her my secret to being a good dental patient. Here it is. Imagine a world without dentists.

I came up with this reasoning while undergoing a root canal treatment about ten years ago. I didn't want to be freaked out by the procedures. I thought about it. I thought, well, what if I were living hundreds of years ago, or in a remote, poor country, and there weren't any dentists. What if there was nothing that could be done for the toothache but to take brandy or attach a piece of string to a door handle and slam. I realised that the toothache was worse than the dental treatment. That's why we go to dentists. This line of thought made me feel very grateful for the dentists, for their skill and knowledge and the technology of their modern tools, and rather inclined to be co-operative. Then, when I was in the dentist's chair having my canal rooted, I meditated upon this with all the concentration I could muster. I breathed deeply and opened wide. I relaxed to the point where it wasn't traumatic. The dentist commented that I was a very good patient - though I can tell you that there are quite a few hospital doctors out there who would not agree. The procedure was successful. I still have my tooth in my mouth. Since then I have applied this technique and never stressed about a visit to the dentist.

One of the less obvious health problems associated with mental illness is a reduced ability to keep up good dental care. For me, it happens like this. If I'm not horribly depressed, I make reasonable efforts to brush and floss regularly. But on a really bad day, just getting through the day without doing anything drastic is enough to deal with. On a bad day, if I get to the end of the day and I haven't attempted suicide, I've done well. If I have eaten some real food at some point in the day, that's a bonus. Brushing my teeth just does not come anywhere on my list of priorities. When I'm in that state, I just want so much to die, I really don't believe that I'm going to be alive for much longer. From this perspective, the prevention of tooth decay is pretty irrelevant. So, there are times when I don't brush my teeth, or don't brush them often enough, according to the state of my mental health.

I also have to admit to eating way too much of the things that are bad for your teeth. I am badly addicted to sugar, especially chocolate. That might be considered to be a separate issue to the mental illness, but I'm aware that I use chocolate to self-medicate. That's actually a little more rational than it sounds. Modern studies are showing there are definitely natural anti-depressant chemicals present in cocoa. It's unfortunate that it usually comes processed and mixed up with lots of fat and sugar.

This leaves me dependent on the tools and craft of the dentist to fix up the damage. Well, I reckon they're doing a fine job. I still have all my teeth, patched up as they are. I don't think my 18th century counterpart would have been so lucky. Nor my third-world counterpart. The public health service is providing me with the wonderful service of these skilled workers and the benefits of high technological standards, in this case without a ridiculous waiting list to get through, and as a pensioner, I only had to pay a contribution of $25 for today's appointment. I am so thankful for our public health services.

Of course, the hours that followed were a bit uncomfortable, what with the half a mouth being numb, and feeling funny as the anaesthetic wore off, and then being a bit sore when it did wear off. If there was any residual grumpiness, I got to take that out on the debt collector later in the day. But that's another story.