Friday, May 29, 2015


I watched this week's Four Corners and Australian Story programs on ABC1 with considerable interest. On Australian Story recently retired Lieutenant General David Morrison talked about what he had done to tackle sexual harassment in the military. It was inspiring stuff, particularly the YouTube video where he made his views clear. It was followed by Four Corners which coincidentally was also on sexual harassment but also on bullying of young doctors during their hospital training. I watched with some discomfort as I listened to these young people talking about their experiences of bullying. I've never experienced bullying in the workplace and I'm very grateful for that. I certainly had some superiors with whom I lacked an affinity but I never felt any denigration of me or my work.

That said I was the victim of severe bullying as a child at primary school - and not from my fellow students. My bully was a teacher and I had the misfortune to be in classes with this particular teacher for four years. As I listened to these young doctors and the effect bullying had on them I was reliving my own experience to some extent - and, yes, it was confronting at times. Having gone through bullying myself I have to say that any education system which permits bullying, where young practitioners are subjected to such vicious mistreatment, has to change. Quite apart from the personal harm being done to these young doctors themselves, if you allow people, who are so stressed by bullying that they are considering suicide, to treat patients, there is obviously going to be an effect on patient care and possibly safety.

Bullying is a scourge and it is often not taken seriously enough. "Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me" we were told when I was a child but words do hurt and the harm they do can be permanent.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Tale of a Laundry Trolley

Pretty, isn't it.

You're not impressed? Let me tell you why I'm totally in love with it.

I live in Western Australia where nearly all of us line dry our washing outside for most of the year. While I have an electric tumble dryer it's only used when the weather is unkind (mainly during our short winter) or to finish off a load when it's still a little damp at the end of the day - perhaps a dozen or so times a year. Do I hear those of you who live in less pleasant climes sighing in envy? I do sympathise having spent time living in London during a snowy winter. One of my flat mates insisted on hanging her clothes outside and to see a line of frozen sweaters, jeans, knickers and bras was interesting to put it mildly.

But back to my laundry trolley story. The thing is I've used a laundry trolley to wheel my washing in and out to the clothesline for more years than I'm prepared to say and worn out a few, too. While they've been better than lugging a heavy basket in and out, they have also been a source of continual frustration. The baskets never quite fitted, with a tendency to overbalance unless packed just the right way - something Pisces has never understood and resulting in much swearing whenever he is helping. Then there were issues with the wheels. They rattled far more noisily than you'd think possible for such small items, they caught on any uneveness and insisted in travelling in a straight line which meant negotiating a curved path was fraught with danger for the unwary or those in a hurry. The worst, though, was that all these trolleys had obviously all been designed for folk only half the size of most of us. I'm short - 159 cms (or just under 5 ft 3 ins) - and I had to bend to reach the handle, which my back was not happy about. If it was uncomfortable for me, you can imagine how the much taller Pisces struggled.

Then my last trolley acquired a bent axle somehow. Actually, although he wouldn't admit it, I think Pisces caught a wheel in a crack one time too many. This made the rear wheels splay out and the whole thing sank even lower and eventually, a wheel flew off and it couldn't be replaced. Oh I was upset - not. I had been expecting it and looking around for a replacement at the local department stores for a couple of months with no luck. Then we went to Bunnings for something else entirely and as we were walking past their laundry aisle I saw this flat pack wonder and brought it home.

I'd like to say assembling it was simple - and it would have been if the instructions hadn't been totally wrong - but we got there in the end with the aid of brute force multiplied by two and a hammer. It's a Goldilocks trolley - just right. The handle is at a level that makes it a pleasure to wheel, the basket sits neatly where it's supposed to and at a height which doesn't involve bending and the wheels are blissfully quiet. In fact, I think I'll take it out to the line and back again now just because I can.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Ellen Jewett Sculptures

I have seen some of the extraordinary sculptures by Canadian artist, Ellen Jewett, before but I am still stunned at how beautifully they are crafted and the richness of imagination she shows. While they are often ethereal and definitely surreal, because she is intrigued by natural history, they also have a sense of reality about them.  In fact she calls her work "natural history surrealist sculpture" and when you have a look at these exquisitely crafted sculptures you'll see what she means. There are times - not often but this is one of them - when I wish I had unlimited money and once you've had a look at these stunning sculptures I suspect you'll feel the same. I'd love a gallery to show some of these lovely pieces off.

Ellen Jewett's website and folio are here. Enjoy.

Monday, May 25, 2015

"Happy" Plant Update

I've been trying to post this for more than a week but blogger has been being difficult and only putting up parts of posts so my fingers are firmly crossed this time.

So as you can see my "happy plant" is now in full bloom.

All the buds I showed you in my previous blog about my "happy plant" are now open and below there is a close up of a few. Delicate and pretty, aren't they.

When I go out in the evening the perfume is heady but not overpowering. It has a certain musky undertone mixed with a sweet scent that I quite like, unlike some other folk. I guess it's down to personal preference.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Great British Barbershop Boys

Oh my. I had all sorts of things planned for today's blog post. The world is full of controversy and things we need to think about and then I found a delightful video. It must have something because it even distracted me from the football match I was planning to watch - something that does not often happen, I should say.

So have a look and see if you enjoy The Great British Barbershop Boys performance of the Evolution of Song as much as I did.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Honey Bees

I was reading a blog this morning - Jo on Food, Life and a Scent of Chocolate - and the writer mentioned a shocking report she had read on honey bees and how they were declining in numbers. So I investigated and she is right to be shocked. A report featured on IFLScience described how in recent decades honey bee numbers in the US had declined by 60%. This is shocking in itself but the latest report by the Bee Informed Partnership together with the Apiary Inspectors of America, which surveyed over 6,000 apiarists, indicates that there has been a further loss of 42% of honey bee colonies in the United States.

While some of these losses have been caused by the destructive varroa mite and presumably some result from the use of toxic chemicals to control insect pests with bees affected as accidental damage, what else is affecting colonies is unknown - and this is very disturbing. We need honey bees - and not just for their honey. The honey bee is the major pollinator of many of our food crops and if we lose bees we lose much of our food.

This list, while it is largely based on the Northern Hemisphere, gives some idea of the plants which are pollinated, either partly or entirely - by the honey bee. Don't assume that if the honey bee isn't listed as a primary pollinator - or even not listed as pollinator - for some of the plants mentioned that they don't play a part in pollination in other parts of the world. I've certainly seen honey bees foraging in tomato and eggplant flowers in my garden, for instance, while the list says they are pollinated by bumble bees (which we don't have in Western Australia) and solitary bees (again not found here). So the honey bee - here and probably elsewhere - has moved beyond its traditional food crops into other niches.

While the bulk of the cereal crops (which are wind pollinated) would survive, many fruit and vegetable crops would disappear. Here in Australia we have been protected from pests like the varroa by our very strict quarantine laws - something we've resisted changing despite pressure from overseas  - but, even if we end up with the only healthy honey bee population, that won't save the world's food crops. We need the honey bee. If it dies out, we are in serious danger of dying out too.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Well That Was a Surprise

though I don't know why I felt that way. Let me tell you the story.

I've been working a lot in the garden over the last few days and have been going in and out totally focussed on what I had to do next - and obviously not paying enough attention to what was happening around me. That's how I happened to miss what was going on with this plant.

This is a Dracaena fragrans - better known as a happy plant or Chinese money tree. This one has been living in a pot in this corner of my back veranda for around twenty years. It's a bit over two metres at the moment and it would have been much taller if I hadn't cut off its top a few years ago when it was  leaning on an awkward angle. This means it now has two crowns and makes a beautiful foliage specimen, as does the original crown which I planted into a pot.

But back to my story. I had noticed that something sticky was getting in my hair but had no idea of where it was coming from although I'd checked all around the garden. Then last night I went out on to the veranda at night and suddenly realised what I'd been missing. The happy plant was in bloom and the stickiness was nectar.

Although it's obvious now I think about it, I had never expected this plant to flower. After all, they're marketed as foliage plants but, of course, they must have flowers in their natural habitat, mustn't they. So here's a close up of what's happening to give you a better idea of what's happening on my veranda.

That it has flowers has not been surprising to others. When I looked it up I discovered that the happy plant flower opens at night and is noted for its fragrance. Well, given it has "fragrans" in its name, there was a bit of a hint, I suppose, especially as its leaves have no apparent smell. I have to say, though, while the flowers have a subtle, sweet scent it's nothing like the overpowering perfume many people complain of. Still, as you can see in the close up, only a few flowers are open at present so maybe this will change. I'll let you know if anything else happens.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

UDI Dance Troop

The UDI dance troop comes from Siberia and they are simply breathtaking. This video is of their performance on the talent show, Britain's Got Talent. I do have to wonder, though, what they were doing on Britain's Got Talent. Surely they should have been on Siberia's Got Talent or Russia's Got Talent, shouldn't they? Well, it doesn't really matter, does it? Let's just watch and marvel.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Words Fail Me

Honestly, how could anyone do something like this? I despair of people sometimes. Not only are most of these birds critically endangered so removing them from their range puts the entire species at risk but the cruelty of it beggars belief. Apparently the smuggler thinks we're all stupid, too, because he says he was only carrying two birds for a friend and knows nothing about the nineteen other birds, which were packed in the same crate.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

More Kitchen Reno Stuff

Well, we're committed now, aren't we. We've selected the colours for the cupboards and the glass splashback - antique white for the cupboards and a luscious milk coffee for the splashback if you're interested - and paid the deposit. Now we have to go and choose the floor tiles (We're thinking of a terracotta colour. Well, Pisces is. I'm not so sure) and pull up the existing vinyl floor covering ready for the tiler to come to work. From then it will be sitting around and waiting while the cabinet makers do their thing and until the other trades come to do their bit. Oh I mustn't forget that we have to replace the old microwave which has suddenly decided to shed the wheels on its turntable.

This has been such a long winded process. We started trying to get quotes last September and couldn't even get anyone to come or, in some cases, answer phone calls or emails. But things have changed. With the slump in the economy they are suddenly more interested in getting work and we ended up spoiled for choice.

So now we wait. Let's hope it all goes smoothly.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mothers' Day

It's Mothers' Day here in Australia. It's a bittersweet day in some ways for me because my mother passed away in 2011. On the other hand, it was lovely to have a visit from my children including a small grandchild who handed me a present wrapped in personalised (decorated by hand) wrapping paper. Aww.

Like most mothers I know, this is all I want for Mothers' Day. Unfortunately, that's not how businesses see it. The commercialisation is rampant and while I don't mind that Mothers Day provides a once a year bonanza for flower growers, I'm constantly appalled at the tasteless advertising. Honestly, if someone gave me a vacuum cleaner or a microwave for Mothers' Day - or any other gift-giving occasion for that matter - I would be tempted to throw it back at them. I wouldn't, of course. I was brought up to smile politely and say thank you no matter how appalling the gift but I wouldn't be surprised if not everyone behaved in that way. 

The idea of a day to honour mothers dates back to Roman times but Mothers' Day as we now know it began in the United States in May 1908 when Anna Jarvis decided there should be a day devoted to mothers and marked by the gift of a white carnation and lobbied to have it recognised officially. Sadly commercialisation began very quickly and in later life Anna Jarvis came to regret she had ever started it.

Here, coming as it does in autumn, Mothers Day is right in time for the flourish of flowers that comes before winter sets in. While the season means chrysanthemums (not carnations) are the traditional choice in Australia - roadside stalls pop up all over the place with buckets of cut flowers for sale - it's also a time when cymbidiums, zygo cacti and early cyclamens are in flower so pots of these are also very popular. Not everyone sticks to these, though, and Virgo broke with tradition this year to give me a potted lilium - and very lovely it is too.

Friday, May 08, 2015

How Sad

I  seem to be finding a lot that links back to my A-Z Challenge posts. It's not intentional. Things just keep turning up that connect to what I was writing about.

This one is about the harmless and very endangered pangolin which is under threat everywhere in its range. This, you might think, would mean that anyone with the capability of thought would avoid killing or otherwise harming them. Instead, sadly, the illegal trade in wildlife is flourishing and these and many other creatures are being taken and sold as pets and, even worse, are killed and sold as exotic meat.

The authorities in most areas are doing what they can to break the trade and this recent raid on a warehouse in Sumatra in Indonesia was one success. I have to say that I found the photo of thousands of frozen pangolins heart wrenching and the accompanying text makes it clear that many, many more animals - and not only pangolins because they also found bear paws - had already been sold on. Truly, I despair of humanity sometimes. At least the 96 live pangolins recovered now have a chance of a good life.

Thursday, May 07, 2015


We're well into autumn here now because in the temperate areas of Australia we use the European pattern of four seasons. That means winter starts at the beginning of June which in turn means it's only a few weeks away. You wouldn't have thought it from the weather until the last couple of days. It's been glorious - sunny days with temperatures averaging in the low to mid twenties and nights ranging from around 10-16C and it usually continues on like this for all of May. As a result it has been quite dry as well with the garden needing to be watered.

But there's been a change - and a very sudden one. On Sunday we were deluged with blessed rain - and, almost magically it seemed, the garden changed. Now everything is fresh again. The leaves look greener than they've been for months and, once the flowers had shaken the rain off their petals, they were reinvigorated. These are just a few of my pot plants.

As if that wasn't enough, it was followed by a plunge in temperature with the nights dropping to 4C and even lower in the hills area behind the city. The shock to our systems! Wardrobes were raided for warm clothes, winter quilts replaced summer blankets and heating was turned on for the first time. Pisces and I scurried around closing air conditioner vents (we have an evaporative system with vents linked to a roof top unit so cold air can seep in) and dusted off the gas wall furnace. It's warmed a little since then but we've been reminded that winter is close and that we need to prepare. At the shops this morning I stood behind a woman at a department store checkout. She was loaded up with an armful of winter pyjamas and thick bed socks. I'm a little better organised but I will still need to fill a few gaps in my winter wardrobe. 

Those who live in colder places might think we're being a little precious but relativity is important. Our summer temperatures of high thirties and low forties mean that when the temperature dips this low, even in mid winter, we tend to be somewhat surprised. Even then it's a fairly rare occurrence, so you can see why we react as we do.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

An Adventurous Little Koala

When I wrote about koalas during the A-Z Challenge I didn't expect to see what happens on this video. I suppose like every animal some are more cautious or more adventurous than others. Because they are relatively sedentary creatures that we see resting or sleeping in trees during the day - this is largely as a result of their diet which doesn't contain much in the way of energy producing food - we tend to think they don't move around much but, being nocturnal, it is at night that they do most of their wandering.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Kitty Update

I've just done a few calculations and realised that Angus must be seven years old - and what a handsome boy he is.

We're not sure of exactly how old he is because he was part of an abandoned litter rescued from a local marina but the vet estimated that he was 14-16 weeks old when he came to us on 14 July, 2008. He was very sweet but previous attempts to re-home him had failed because, as we later realised, he was terrified of men. We assume this was because of the way he and his sisters had been dumped and perhaps because the marina is a popular fishing spot where there are resident feral cats. Some of the fishermen take offence at their bait being stolen and they may have scared him. In any event, although he took to me quickly it was a much longer road before he accepted Pisces enough to let him touch him. Pisces was very patient and slowly - it took nearly a year - Angus came to trust him and they're now great friends.

When Virgo brought him here, I'll admit I was reluctant to take on another cat. My sweet but needy little dog and our old and somewhat neurotic cat seemed quite enough to deal with but, of course, I fell in love with him. Perhaps he came into my life for a reason because not six months later my old cat died and Angus helped fill what would otherwise have been a horrible gap in our lives.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Autumn Harvest

We're only a few weeks off the official beginning of winter here and although things are slowing down a bit there's still quite a bit of food to harvest from the vegetable garden. These are yesterday's pickings.

The butternut squashes are the last of them - there are already a number in the store cupboard - but the small tomatoes are still coming with each day producing a decent size bowl full and a mass of small green ones on the vines. I'm not too sure how much longer the basil will survive now it's cooling down but if the winter is mild it can keep going until it's almost Spring. This bowl of it made for a delicious pasta and pesto lunch and there's enough left over for someone's evening meal. See.

This isn't all there is in the vegetable garden. Even now, when most of the summer crops are finished, there are spring onions, snake beans, lettuces, nasturtiums, garlic chives and parsley - both flat leafed and curled - and I noticed this morning that we have Chinese gooseberries coming up - although they are more fruit than vegetable.

Even so it's time to get planting for winter so there'll be a visit to the local plant nursery for seeds and seedlings this week. It might sound very late compared to many other parts of Australia but our summers are long, hot and dry here and any earlier and we'd risk losing them.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Reno Start?

I'll believe it when it happens. If you've followed this blog for any length of time you'll know we've been trying to arrange 1) a kitchen refurbishment and 2) new floor coverings for over 18 months. Since the second relies on the first being done - and, in a misguided burst of optimism at the beginning of the process, I pulled up the existing floor coverings - you can understand how frustrating it has been that, after 18 months, we still have a kitchen which is falling apart and bare concrete floors.

There is - finally - hope. We've had three people come and quote, something you'd think was easy to arrange but which had proved impossible. Trades people would not return a call or answer an email when I tried to contact them or, even more irritating, would make appointments and not turn up.

The economy has changed though and, with tradies now looking for work, we've had them all but falling over themselves to be accommodating. With an agreed price we've made a choice and they've come and measured up so it looks like it will actually happen - not that, after all our trials, I'll really believe it until it's all finished. Fingers firmly crossed for now.

Friday, May 01, 2015

It's Over

The A-Z Blogging Challenge that is. I've had fun writing about things I wouldn't necessarily normal think of, I've certainly increased my knowledge, both from my own research and from other bloggers, and I've found some interesting new blogs - as if I don't already spend far too much time reading interesting blogs. Sigh.

So will I do this again? No question. It's a good exercise to have to think about something new to write about on all but 4 days of a whole month. Sometimes it was a bit of a stretch, especially as I've not been well for much of April, but I did it. As I said above I've visited many blogs I would otherwise not have even heard about and this is a good thing. Not all were in line with my interests but a fair number were. I was fascinated to find so many blogs by writers. Hardly surprising, I suppose, since those of us who write tend to seek out any opportunity to play around with words.

So, in summary: it was highly enjoyable both from the point of view of writing my own posts and reading other people's blogs, it was a good exercise in writing to deadlines (something I've not done much of recently) and it was educational. If you haven't ever tackled the challenge, I recommend it highly.

See you next April for more blogging A-Z but I hope you'll stick around for the rest of the time between now and then, too.