Archive | December, 2011

Pension – by Karen

30 Dec

With Tabitha seeming a little tardy and some time on my hands this morning, I thought I’d jump right in and post. Of course, I haven’t thought of something to actually write about on this week’s particularly baffling subject, “pension”. My first thought, of course, was probably one shared by many flighty dabblers on the cusp of Gens X and Y – oh my god I still haven’t done anything about my super.

You see, I have about eight superannuation accounts, some of which have substantial funds in them, none of which have my current address on file. I did once make an attempt to consolidate them into one randomly selected fund, laboriously compiling all my account numbers onto a form which I submitted with a huge sigh of relief. A couple of weeks later, the forms were returned to my Hong Kong address, with the addition of a stamp saying “received”, and no further clarification. I emailed the fund in perplexity and was told, “There was an error. Please resubmit the form.”

You can guess what happened next (if you’re any decent kind of flighty dabbler on the cusp of Gens X and Y). I lost the forms and forgot about the whole thing.

(Before anyone helpfully informs me, I do realise there is a website where you can track lost super. Last I checked, one of my funds has ended up there.)

Beth’s interpretation of the theme as “future plans” is a sensible one. I guess pension particularly refers to plans for the last quarter or so of your life. I haven’t given a huge deal of thought to this part of my life, but in the spirit of honesty, I will share that I had always thought it would be the best time to experiment with recreational opiates. Right towards the end though.

I’ve given a little bit more time to thoughts of what I want to do when my kids are grown up (probably I’ll be about 50 then, not quite ready to go out on opiates) and most of my thoughts have been travel related. I think that would be a  good stage of  life to split your time between two continents. To have a fairly stable home in two very different parts of the world, with relatively few immediate responsibilities grounding you to either. I’d also like to spend a fairly substantial amount of time in India, which I consider not the most child-friendly destination for a long holiday.

My final thought on “pension” is about “pension” as a form of accommodation. This term always confused me as a child when I saw it in books. I thought it must be a kind of hostel for old people, but kind of wondered what Lucy Honeychurch types were doing there.

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Future plans by Beth

27 Dec

Karen says the topic is “pension” and my eyes immediately glazed over. I’m not really up with the whole future planning thing. We own a house already, and Jeff has made it pretty clear that they’ll be carrying him out of here in a box, so we’re not looking to move anytime soon. I would like to go and live in NZ again at some point, but that’s a way-off in the distance can’t even see how it would work thing. We hope to drop another sprog, but we don’t have any particular plan in mind for that. I put money into my super for the first time last year, so now it’s got $4.11 in it (give or take).We want to run a shop one day. That’s a bit of joint dream but we’re not doing anything to make that happen. Career-wise I don’t have a grand plan or even a mud map I might need gumboots for… So we have some vague dreams, but no dot points.

Do all of you have future plans?

The Plague

25 Dec

This is going to be a short one. I’ve only experienced one plague in my life. I’ve mentioned it before in one of the previous posts. The plague was a locust plague. And it was in Dubbo. It was 2004 and it was my second circuit work trip. Basically locusts were everywhere. In your hair, in your face, in the court room, in your bedroom, in your car. I would walk from the motel to work and would have to wag a stick in front of my face so that I wouldn’t be bombarded my the horrid flying creatures. They were splattered all over the place and oozed a yellow liquid when squashed. It was impossible to go for a jog because when running even at a minimal speed, it was impossible for your face or your bare legs to avoid locust collision. And once there was impact there was pain. The flying monsters caused you actual pain. The local tennis court would use its extra large rain gathering squeegee to remove all the locusts from the green. The Dubbo drivers learned quickly to wrap their front car grilles with fly screens to stop the locusts from entering the engines and radiators. Once the flying bugs were inside the grille, they quickly got fried and then they would leave a putrid smell throughout the whole car interior that apparently would whiff around for weeks. It was a character building experience because I really REALLY hate bugs and I didn’t leave early.

Plague – by Karen

21 Dec

Do you remember last round of Far Flung Four, when we had the topic Avian? I had an unpublished article on pandemic preparedness subculture which I was able to post. I still think that’s a fascinating topic, but sadly this year I don’t have any rejected articles handy on this similar theme, Plague. It was kind of funny/sad that the owner of the main web forum on the topic discovered my post, and interpreted my comments as meaning I thought they were all paranoid nutters. I wish I thought they were all paranoid nutters. The truth is, I totally buy into the whole paranoia/preparedness/bunker-building mentality. If I didn’t have a “sane” partner, I would totally have a bunker in my backyard.

I love survivalism too – totally dug The Road, by Cormac McCarthy and sort of yearn for a world where McGuyver skills and arcane bush tucker knowledge (neither of which I possess) could come to the fore. Hmm, perhaps this ties in with the heroism issues I blogged about earlier? God, I also posted an apocalyptic poem by Yeats and a revelation-style musing of my own. This blog is painting an interesting picture of my character. Why is no one else coming off as unhinged here? Don’t answer that.

Anyhow, Hollywood’s perseveration on these themes assures me I am not alone in their enjoyment. I was discussing with a friend recently the frisson we all experience when a major world event takes place – the idea that everything could change inspires an undiscriminating and usually foolhardy excitement. Apocalypse ASAP.

Knowing I “take a keen interest”, Richard emailed me a link to this article reporting a new crop of cases of avian flu in Hong Kong. This is the choice paragraph:

“It is unfortunate that an avian influenza case is detected before the Winter Solstice, necessitating a halt to the supply of live chickens,” Chow said.

Indeed.

The thing about avian flu is that once infected,  you’re more likely to die than not. With something like swine flu, your odds are much better, but on the other hand, avian flu doesn’t spread easily from human to human like swine flu. Some think it’s only a matter of time before we get a double whammy.

Whenever there’s a “scare” in the media of some kind, it’s not just the paranoids like me that get excited. There’s also another group I find interesting psychologically. Let’s call them the stoic stalwarts. These people have been excitedly waiting for a different opportunity –  not to trek into the hills to live in a cave, but to Not Have Been Wrong. Students of historical events where people were Wrong and “panicked for nothing”, the stoic stalwarts are determined to show how clever and calm they can be, listing all the instances in the past (Y2K! Swine Flu! SARS… oh wait, lots of people died in that one) where a potential problem was thwarted by human organisation or proved not to be a concern. These people will leap on such illustrious platforms as the SMH comments (shudder) at the first opportunity, determined to have it on record that they did not panic.

Of course, when it comes to the modern day plague, there is a middle ground available to all you reasonable readers. Relax, and check your vitamin D (43 per cent of young Australian women are deficient).

 

PS Just saw this article after posting!

Plague – by Tabitha

21 Dec

I have spent the last couple of nights at my sister’s farm in Poowong. To a visitor it’s an idyllic, verdant property right out of Country Living with a cottage garden and various amusing animals such as an enormous showy turkey, who, if you gobble at him will gobble right back.

But like all farms, you don’t have to scratch the surface too deeply to find that it’s not all fluffy sheep gamboling in the rolling hills. In fact, it can be quite grim.

One of my sister’s recent trials has been quite Old Testament awful: crows have been spearing her chickens in the neck and ripping their throats out. This is probably why they call them “a murder of crows”.

The turkeys have all had some disease called black head they’ve bizarrely caught from earth worms, there’s a cow with mastitis, some thrushes that keep throwing themselves out of their nest, and a dog that can’t resist eating the ducks.

Apparently there’s a country saying “livestock means dead stock”, which you employ when some ill fate has befallen one of your creatures, which it will, regularly.

I like scratching the pigs behind the ears, picking the raspberries, and cuddling the lambikins, but I think my Little Golden Book idea of the country is clear evidence that I’m from the city.

Ring a Ring o’ Roses by Beth

19 Dec

I was confidently explaining to Jeff how the nursery rhyme ‘Ring a Ring o’ Roses’ was about the Plague the other day. “One of the symptoms of the Plague was red rings on your limbs”, I explained patiently. “People carried herbs around in their pockets for protection, sneezing was a sign you were about to cark it, and then everyone died.” Well, bollocks Beth. Not true. Turns out that interpretation only cropped up after the second world war and the rhyme dates back to the 1790s. The Great Plague happened in 1665.

This discovery led me to look into a few other nursery rhyme interpretations. Kind of interesting. Mostly not. Except that ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ was biographical. “As a girl, Mary Sawyer (later Mrs. Mary Tyler) kept a pet lamb, which she took to school one day at the suggestion of her brother.” That’s the coolest.

The only vaguely plague-like illness in Sydney these days is Hand Foot and Mouth Disease (aka as the decidedly rude coxsackievirus). High temp; ulcers in the mouth; rashes on feet, hands and nappy regions. Went around our mother’s group recently. I don’t remember this virus from my childhood at all. Do you guys? It is really contagious and not to be confused with Foot and Mouth Disease which is sometimes fatal for cloven-hooved animals. Poor cloven-hooved dudes.

A Polish Christmas in Review – by Justyna

18 Dec

It is meant to be winter here. Plummeting minus temperatures, woolen mittens, snowmen in peoples’ gardens, white goodness all around. It is meant to be Christmas time. But in reality it is sloshy at its best. We are being completely ripped off on the winter front. Kazek is not even wearing thermals under his pants. Talking +2 to +8 degrees. Atrocious. Good news is that we are saving a heap on the heating bill. The bad news is that because temps haven not reached freezing, there is plenty of ‘sickness’ in the air with the bacteria just refusing to die. Meaning, people are constantly fluey or drippy or both.

Christmas in nonetheless upon us. And this being my sixth Christmas in Poland, I thought it best to do a mini review of the Polish Yuletide festivities. I guess the general vibe in a nutshell is family and food. Bit of Christ-is-born thrown in there for legitimising purposes, but overall it is all about family and food. And cleaning. Polish women kind of go mental on the cleaning front. They actually have the strength and willpower to do complete spring-cleaning type efforts in the middle of harsh atmospheric conditions. We are talking washing of the windows. Ah yes. A very close friend of mine recently caught a cold washing her windows despite wearing a winter get-up of beanie, gloves and scarf. That is commitment for you. My mum the other day enquired whether I had washed mine. She caught herself mid sentence and exclaimed, I guess you’re eight months pregnant so you have an excuse not to. Well phew. And here I was thinking I would be expected to pull the ladder from out the basement. Kitchen cupboards get done-over with every jam jar and pasta container removed so that shelves could be wiped. All toiletries in bathrooms are also removed and bathroom cupboards cleaned. I know of instances where jars of creams and hair spray bottles are also wiped down. Curtains are washed and ironed, dust is removed from lamp shades. Basically entire homes get made-over. A friend runs a local gym for women. It is usually open from early morning hours until very late at night. She has been forced by the crazy cleaning women of the area to reduce the opening hours by about a half in the two weeks before Christmas. Most of her clientele had informed her that what with Christmas cleaning, going to the gym will simply be put on hold.

Once you have cleaned for a week you then start on the cooking and the shopping for all the cooking…

Although the giving of presents during Christmas is part of the tradition and always has been, it does not carry as much attention as it does in Oz. People in general don’t talk about Christmas shopping. They don’t go all out with efforts of what to get their loved ones. There are no massive Christmas shopping rushes in malls like those of the ones I knew back in Sydney. There really is no late-night Christmas presents shopping culture. And no one, no one, buys gifts outside the month of December. This chilled approach suits my anti-shopping ways just fine. But what the Poles do go crazy over is the food shopping. Think Tesco meltdown in the fish section. Bombardment of baking aisles with almonds, poppy seeds and baking powder being bought by the tones. Meats accumulated in such proportions that if Poland experienced a nuclear disaster, its citizens would be set with protein for about fifteen months. What you do not do, what you must never do, is leave your Christmas food shopping until the last minute. You will be entering hell if you do. Instead you do like the wise older-generation local housewives do (who lived most of the their lives without massive supermarkets at hand), you purchase in small doses throughout the week. Bring some herring in on Monday. Some flour and sugar on the Tuesday. Sauerkraut and dried wild mushrooms on the Wednesday. Everyone knows that the last thing you purchase is a carp. Usually still alive. You tend to buy it the day before Christmas Eve. And if you happen to be out of yeast or sour cream, then you send the kid or the husband to the local shop to avoid culinary disasters.

And then the cooking begins. There are twelve dishes on the Christmas Eve table and the deal is you are meant to try a little bit (or a lot) of each one. Again the women go into over-drive. Into hellish cooking frenzy. To the point that they are completely exhausted by the time the great feast begins (which is around 4pm at the ‘light of the first star’) and often do not make it to Midnight Mass. Christmas Eve is the big night of celebrations. It is a pescatarian delight with various fish and traditional dishes set on the table. Presents are also given on this night and if you want to go strictly by the book, the Christmas tree is dressed during the morning of the 24th. You sing carols (well we do), men wear suits and ties, women pretty dresses. The head of the family ‘breaks bread’ in the form of a communion wafer (‘host’) and everyone individually wishes other members of the family health, prosperity and other personal wishes. It is a pretty special moment whereby ten, thirteen or so people, before sitting down to the great feast, stands around the living room wishing one another best of things for the new year to come. If the family is churchly the grandparent might read a bit from the bible. Then you sit and eat. And you eat and drink (no alcohol, no meat) slowly but surely until midnight, when the fam puts on their woolies and hits the Midnight Mass. You then come back (if you are lucky you will be trudging through the snow), to the feast table and that is when the grog and cakes come out. Jesus has officially been born, so you can now indulge in the more sinful aspects of life – alcohol and sugar.

Christmas Day is much of the same but more low key. Red meat comes out, ties come off, families are relaxed, the women fuss less around the table. It’s also a time when you visit closer friends and distant family members. Basically your gut continues to be full, you refuse to take another morsel, but when the pork loin with the prunes is wheeled out, you just can’t bloody help yourself. Advent is officially over.

The tree is up until around the 6th of January (The Day of Epiphany). And then the Carnival begins.

 We are having Christmas at our place this year. Being close to popping I didn’t really fancy driving for ages across Poland and running into the possibility of giving birth in a forest somewhere. So my parents are coming and so is Natalia, my cousin from Sydney. It will be the first time in my life where I will be playing, along with Michal, Christmas host. How very grown up. I am in a sentimental trap though, wishing also to be in Oz during this time. The warmth would abound, the Eve would be balmy, the prawns would be chilling and the herring salad would only serve as a reminder of the ‘motherland’. Living here and experiencing a totally Polish Christmas every year I have grown to love all the more and miss the Australian version we made for ourselves with the aunts, uncles and cousins, way back when.

 Happy Christmas everyone!