Sunday, January 17, 2021

Life Gets Teejus Don't It

 This is the version of this monologue I remember my Dad having - and playing frequently - on an ancient 45 record when I was a kid. We all learned it off by heart and it would be quoted at times when things were getting a bit fraught. I don't know why it suddenly came to mind today but it seems somehow appropriate for these times. 

Here is Carson Robison and Life Gets Teejus Don't It for your enjoyment.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

And They're Gone

The Christmas decorations I mean. They were a little low key this year - I just didn't have the enthusiasm somehow. I'm not sure why given Christmas here was pretty much what Christmas always is. We kept up the family traditions with the decorations going up on the first weekend in December and coming down on January 6. They were a little sparse although that sounds more grim than it really was. We still had a bauble laden tree with masses of shiny strings of gold and red beads and a wreath on the door - and the Christmas cards made a cheery display on the sideboard in the dining room. 

We only give children's presents these days - and let's be honest watching children open their gifts is far better than getting a gift yourself anyway. When we went around to Virgo's on Christmas Eve Miss Four and a Half was all but bouncing off the walls with excitement - while Master One was more interested in my walking stick until his ride on car was revealed. I gave Virgo and her husband a large jar of shortbread and Miss Four and a Half was already "sharing" it by the time we left. That was followed on Christmas Day by lunch with our extended family and another family lunch on New Year's Day. So all pretty much the usual.

Somehow, though, it didn't seem the same. We may have been going about our lives here but so many others weren't. Friends and family in other parts of Australia were caught up in yet another outbreak and even more were in lockdown in the UK and Canada. There's no doubt that this pandemic has quite a way to run and when it will start to wind down is anyone's guess.The new vaccines are very promising but we don't know how long immunity will last and what the new mutations may bring. It's all a guessing game and to be honest that's more than a little depressing.

All we can do is to try to keep people safe - and if that means lockdowns and social distancing so be it. I for one am not complaining about any measures put in place to protect us. We need to keep our heads and yes, I get that people are over living like this, never knowing when or if they might get infected and what the repercussions of that might be but we can't afford become blasé or to fall down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories and doubt. Just remember that this will eventually end. All we have to do is to remember that. 

For me there is hope in the words of the English mystic, Dame Julian of Norwich, back in the Middle Ages, "All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.". She was a woman of great insight, much admired in her time - and she had a pet cat apparently. Obviously a woman of taste as well as wisdom.

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

Windy Days and Consequences

I live not far from the coast close to the top of a hill and my house is oriented pretty much to the north. This means there's only with only a small part in full sun at any time of the day. The front where the afternoon sun would otherwise beat down on the front of the house is shaded by a huge and very lovely marri tree. And I'm used to windy days. They are part of what makes summer living here so pleasant.  We get the cool easterlies from inland in the summer - well, they're cool in the early mornings until the land heats up by mid morning and then the The Doctor - the sea breeze - arrives around midday or a little later and cools it down again.

Sounds great and usually it is but this year is not quite the same. I mentioned a while back that we've already hit 40° C several times and, while this is not unheard of, it is more common in February, not December and early January. Then there's the wind - and recently it hasn't been our friend. 

Early in the evening of New Year's Day quite suddenly after a warmish humid day the wind decided it was tired of gentle breezes and sent us a blast of furious and hot easterly gusts which have only just started to ease a little. The gusts were so strong they blew down the shade cloth covers over my veggies, tore small branches off my neighbour's trees while each gust rattled the windows making sleep difficult and the sea breeze? Forget it. 

While all this wind has been exhausting there are other consequences. We've had bushfires in several outer suburbs with mass evacuations required while several are raging out of control a bit further up the coast to the north of the city. We have bushfires every summer, some years worse than others - a couple of years ago a whole town was destroyed - so fires aren't unexpected and fortunately so far at least they are nothing like the scale of those that wreaked havoc on the east coast last summer. Folk there are slowly rebuilding their lives with many still living in caravans and sheds - and for those in the mountains it was a long, cold winter. However, it's only the start of the bushfire seasons so we can't afford to get complacent and the fierce winds are making any fire control difficult to impossible. 

The truth is the British who came here as colonists made some bad mistakes as far as farming and other land use was concerned. While fire has always been present here - most of the continent is hot and dry and always has been - the indigenous people those colonists supplanted had had something like 60,000 years of living with and managing it. Instead the newcomers disrupted systems that had sustained many generations and tried to transplant European land management to an alien and completely different landscape. It was successful for a time - Australia was supplying large amounts of meat, wheat and wool to the world market for more than a hundred years - but now the consequences of that form of agriculture and the logging of our old growth forests are showing in salinity, dust storms and out of control bushfires.

How we are going to deal with these problems I don't know - successive governments have shown little ability to grapple effectively with them - but we certainly need to. It's probably too late to go back to the indigenous systems but we certainly need to do something. Climate change is happening whether we like it or not. It will bring more damaging fires and other consequences. We ignore it at our peril.

Friday, January 01, 2021

Happy New Year

 And because 2021 doesn't look as if it's going to be all that wonderful (at least in the early stages) here are some strawberries in one of the hanging baskets outside my back door.


They tasted as good as they look. It's something of a surprise that the strawberries are doing so well given we've had a very hot spell with the temperature hitting 40°C on several days. They and the blueberries are in places where they get shade from early in the afternoon but the paving under them stays hot for a long time and generates a lot of heat until well into the evening. 

We had a modicum of relief yesterday when the temperature only reached 31°C but it was horribly humid so not pleasant. The forecast for today is 35°C and the sun already has a sting. I've just been hanging out the last of the washing and the first lot is already nearly dry so it looks like the forecast is going to be right. 

Wherever you are I hope you're having a great day - or one as great as you can in the current state of the world - and that the New Year brings you and yours happiness and good health.


Tuesday, December 29, 2020

To Cull Or Not To Cull

I try to avoid being too controversial here but this is something I feel strongly about so I hope you’ll bear with me this time.

When I mentioned in a recent blog post how the survival rate of baby bobtails is low due to predatory birds a commenter on this blog - hello, David - reminded me about the importance of predators in maintaining a healthy natural balance. He is quite right, too. All the evidence suggests that if you remove apex predators things start to go awry. Populations of some animals explode and that in turn has follow on effects right across the board. 

Western Australia, where I live, has a vast coastline and like most of Australia, the bulk of the population lives along that coastline, particularly in the south western corner - and we do love our beaches. They are pretty spectacular - miles of pure white sand and crystal clear water with many impressive surf breaks on the edge of the Indian Ocean. Surfing is popular - driving along the coast you'll see large numbers of folk out on their boards every day but so is swimming and for those of us who prefer not to use a surfboard, the waves are ideal for body surfing. There's good fishing, too, for any who like such activities, both from the beach and by boat. Add in long and very hot summers - we've already had several days over 40°C in Perth this summer and inland it's been much hotter - and as you can imagine the beaches and the ocean get a lot of use.

But with all this watery living there is a problem. Oceans have fish and a large fish population brings with it predators. Dolphins preying on fish frequent harbours, bays, estuaries and lower reaches of some rivers, and hunt along the coast and sea lions are found on many of the off shore islands. Further out to sea in some areas there are much larger predators in the form of orca pods. We accept these without question acknowledging that they need to eat and largely interactions with them are positive. Mind you I for one wouldn't want to risk taking a dip if a pod of orcas happened to be nearby. Beautiful they might be but they are fearsome hunters and might mistake me for something more to their taste.

I haven't mentioned sharks yet, have I, but obviously they're here. They don't have the same warm acceptance as the other predators partly because they do on occasion come into contact with us - and when that happens the outcome is rarely good. In Western Australian shark attacks are mainly by great white (Carcharodon carcharias) and tiger (Galeocerdo cuvier) sharks in the ocean and bull sharks (Carcharhinus leucas) in rivers and estuaries. I get that these are fearsome creatures and being attacked by a shark if not fatal almost invariably leads to terrible injuries and I wouldn't wish a shark attack on anyone. 

That said, while horrific and shocking, they are relatively rare - in the last thirty years there have been 21 fatalities - which means while there are always going to be sharks out in the ocean your chances of being attacked by one are pretty slim if you’re a swimmer. Board riders are at more risk and there's some evidence that sharks confuse people wearing black wet suits for seals or sea lions, and take an exploratory bite before realising their error. As the majority of fatalities have been surfers and were not devoured it makes me suspect this may well be the case. 

My problem is that whenever there's a shark attack there is an immediate public outcry and demands for a cull including nonsensical talk of "rogue" sharks as if they are deliberately seeking out people and if we cull them the problem will go away. There are a number of things wrong with this approach in my opinion.

1. For a start how do we know the shark we cull is the one that attacked? Obviously we don't and we risk taking out sharks that never have and never will attack a person.

2. Sharks are long lived creatures and if we remove a number of mature breeding females we could completely disrupt the balance of the natural ecosystem because older sharks are not being replaced.

3. We know that when an apex predator is removed from an ecosystem on land the effects are huge. Why can't we grasp that the same will happen in the ocean?

4. When you remove one large predator the likelihood is that another will quickly move in to take its place.

Obviously there is a problem but as you can guess I don't see culling as the answer. 

So how do we deal with the problem? Well, first off we need to accept that the ocean is the shark's natural habitat and not ours. We are land creatures and while we may like to swim and surf by doing that we are entering an alien environment, one where there are dangers. As well as choosing sensible times to go in the water - like avoiding dusk and dawn and dull cloudy days - we can mitigate the dangers by netting swimming beaches. Unfortunately it's expensive and experience shows such enclosures can cause creatures other than sharks to get trapped in the netting. There's been some experimentation with shark deterrent lines at beaches recently, too, which are still unproven but look hopeful. We can patrol the most popular beaches and warn swimmers and surfers to leave the water when a shark is sighted. This is very effective at swimming beaches and has been in place here for many years. It's now being augmented by helicopter flights along the metropolitan coast line. Finally we can ensure that whale carcasses and anything similar attractive to sharks are removed from the vicinity of beaches as a matter of urgency, closing beaches where necessary. 

All of this will help but the truth is if we choose to swim or surf - particularly at times or places where sharks are likely to be - we have to accept there is always a risk. I write this as someone who grew up swimming and body surfing daily in the summer and who was taught from an early age to be aware of my surroundings and to be mindful of the potential dangers. By taking reasonable precautions we can be fairly safe but there can never be a guarantee, something we had drummed into us early on. I can't begin to imagine the horror victims go through and their families' suffering. It's something I hope would never happen to anyone ever but if we choose to enter the water we put ourselves into a place where a different set of rules apply and we have to accept that.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Sorry, People, But We're Living In A Pandemic

I'm lucky enough to be living in what is probably one of the safest places (in terms of COVID 19) in the world at the moment. We had a relatively brief lockdown in February and March which was gradually lifted although we have maintained strict controls over who can and cannot enter the state. In total as of today there have only been 854 cases here - all from incoming people (travellers, returning residents and crews of ships) and of those there have been 9 deaths. There have been no infections in the community at large. 

What has given us this safety is our hard border policy and it is supported strongly here. This has meant that apart from essential supplies coming in from outside and strict quarantine measures for those who are granted entry - you can get exemptions for a variety of reasons but then have to self isolate or go into quarantine - for months now we've pretty much been living our lives as usual. A system of contact tracing has been put in place for anywhere that large groups meet up and we can travel freely in most of the state.  This has not been universally popular in other parts of the country, many of which have been vocal in their complaints and regularly demand we open our borders. One newspaper has even accused us of threatening national unity. Those who live here, on the other hand, have seen what happens when things are not so tightly policed and are well aware of how lucky we are so are none too keen on risking what has happened in other places happening here. 

That said there is as always a small proportion of those folk who think their wants should come ahead of the safety of the whole community. Every day there are complainers - we call them whingers here - who want the rules to be relaxed and I get it. We're social creatures and we want to go back to a world where you could jump on a plane and visit family interstate or in another country, one where you don't have to sign in when you take your child to swimming class or at a restaurant, where you can go where you want when you want. The trouble is life has been turned upside down worldwide and that way of life no longer exists. 

This is not important to the whingers, though. Every day on talk back radio, on social media, in letters to the newspaper there are people complaining that they can't do what they want when they want and it's not fair. In the past few days I've heard complaints ranging from how unfair it is to not let someone from another state bring their one year old here to visit his grandparents - it's his first Christmas, how can they be deprived of this - to how inconvenient it is to have to fill out your contact details at a public venue and that's before we even consider the idiots who breach self isolation or quarantine or try to avoid quarantine altogether. They are being robbed of these moments by a mean spirited government which should let them do what they want because they want it whether it's meeting with family or going to a nightclub when they should be in quarantine. Community safety means nothing to them. 

Well, the world doesn't work that way. Even in normal times we can't always do exactly what we want and people miss out on moments like a grandchild's first Christmas all the time. People get ill or have accidents and end up in hospital instead of at a family lunch. It happens. I've missed enough Christmases with family due to health problems to know the day is not what matters. You miss that particular moment but you catch up later and it's all the sweeter for it. Let's try to understand that and realise that a small sacrifice of a looked forward to pleasure for the common good is not the end of the world. Truth be told in this world of the internet you can get to see pretty much everything via video anyway and while it's certainly not the same as having physical contact it's a great deal better than nothing.

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Bobtail


 This handsome fellow is one of the bobtails I mentioned a few days ago that live in our garden. This particular one has been turning up in all sorts of unexpected spots lately. Yesterday evening as I was watering the plant pots he - I think his slightly swollen tail makes him male although it is notoriously hard to tell the difference - suddenly appeared from between two pots where he had presumably settled for the night. He was somewhat irritated at the accidental spray he'd received. He's also been a great source of kitty TV as Mr Puss fixates on him as he wanders past various doors. His mate hasn't been about as much so far this year and has very different colouring being more grey than brown. They mate for life and the female usually gives birth to two babies in spring. Sadly survival rate for the young is not great as they are preyed on by many birds. Also sadly many are killed crossing roads. Since they eat snails among other things  - and my strawberries which they consider a delicacy are safely in hanging baskets - they are very welcome here.