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Milk as an instrument of torture.

You might need to sit down for this one, as I’m about to blow the lid off a long held secret.  It involves systematic abuse (physical and mental), of poor defenceless kids by a tag team of the catholic church and the NSW State government (I’m assuming it was the State government, though I’ve never really thought about it). There’s no way of knowing for sure how far it spread, but I know with certainty, from my own first hand experience, that it has left me and almost an entire generation of catholic school children emotionally scarred and deathly scared of moo juice. Yes that’s right, I’m talking about free government milk!

As I’ve said, I’m not quite sure when or how it started (years of denial have clouded my memories), and I don’t know if it extended to state schools as I never knew any ‘publics’ when I was growing up, but I’m assuming it did*. However, somewhere along the line, some government bureaucrat thought it would be a good idea to give free milk to school kids, I’ve never really known what prompted this, whether it was some altruistic attempt to increase our calcium levels, or (and this is more likely) it was a way of subsidising dairy farmers.

Whatever the motive, the execution was abysmal (as is normally the case when the government gets involved in anything). To give you an insight into the bureaucrats’ thought processes, let me paint a quick vignette: “Ok guys, let’s give the kids a treat. We’ll get the milk guy to deliver 30 or 40 dozen, half pint, clear glass bottles of milk** at around 7:00am. For the full effect, it’s important that he leaves them in the middle of the school yard as far away from any source of shade as possible. It’s also important that the teachers co-operate with our plan here, and not let the children touch the milk until play-lunch, which I believe is around 11:00am. This should ensure maximum effect“.

And what could possibly be better than just any old  teachers? You got it… Gestapo nuns! Everyday at around 11:00am, nuns with machine guns would march us in twos (what is it with making little kids march in twos?), down to the milk mountain for our combination daily torture and vaudeville routine***. It was absolute torture for those weaklings who couldn’t stomach the lukewarm, sour milk; and it was really funny for those could.  Of course the penguins (who never touched the stuff) thought it was hysterical. And don’t think that puking everyday could save you, those nuns had no sympathy whatsoever, the more you puked, the more they made sure you were at the head of the line so you didn’t miss out on any of the gruesome goodness that was int he bottles of rapidly congealing milk. (I may be mistaken about the machine guns, it was a long time ago, but I swear everything else is pretty accurate). On the really hot days there was so much puking that it was sometimes hard to tell who was puking from warm sour milk, and who was puking from laughing so hard.  Ah, the memories…

Sadly, there was a dark side to all this fun. I know, hard to believe right? School is a microcosm of society (except in this case everyone was catholic, which isn’t really an accurate representation, never mind let’s forge ahead),  and as such it reflects real life,  and just like real life, there’s always someone ready to profit from the suffering others, in this case it was through a thriving black market in flavoured straws. These were the old ‘paper’ drinking straws with a little felt block, either chocolate or strawberry, wedged in one end. The smart kids would by a few of them on the way to school and sell them to the poor bastards who forgot to. So now instead of just drinking warm sour milk, you could drink warm sour milk through a toxic mix of waxy paper and suspect chemical flavouring. Mmmm, those were the days…

* I did a quick search to see if there was any info about this whole debacle, apparently they did it in QLD too.

** I also found this photo, and trust me that kid had it way better than us, he got to sit down inside, instead of standing to attention in the summer sun. This is not a picture of me, but he looks eerily like I did at the time, complete with freckles.

*** In fact the whole thing reminds me of those old war documentaries about the concentration camps. The way they used to make those poor bastards march, in an orderly fashion, to their doom.

Also:

# ‘Publics’ meant anyone who didn’t go to a catholic school (obviously there were other private schools, but my 10 year old horizons were pretty myopic).

## That photo of the nun is my father and my aunt (dad’s sister).

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Effective cause

The seat covers were the instrument for meeting the future Mrs Willowtree, but none of that would have been possible were it not for a seemingly insignificant event that happened when I was around ten years old. Like most early childhood memories, this one is crystal clear for the thirty or so seconds surrounding it, but blurry on much of the periphery. For instance I don’t remember the lady’s name, nor do I remember how often I walked to the bus stop with her, though I don’t think it was very many times.

What we were talking about is a mystery, why we were talking about it, ditto. But one sentence, more of a phrase than a sentence really, shone like a beacon then as it does now. For some reason this middle aged woman remarked "I’ve been around the world" to a ten year old boy, and it had a profound effect on my life.

Prior to this I had no interest in Geography, as a matter of fact, my interested the subject remained exactly the same after she uttered those momentous words. When it came time to choose my elective subjects, I chose French and Art and therefore didn’t study Geography at all. Somehow there was a disconnect between what she said and the fact that it had to do with countries. Nevertheless, at ten years old, I decided that one day, I too would go around the world.

All of which, I guess, means that Molly wins a prize, and a good thing too if you ask me; as far as I’m concerned you just can’t own too many Aussie flags!

Here’s the strange part, this was entirely unplanned. I hadn’t made an appearance in words for a while, and frankly didn’t have the motivation, so I wrote a paragraph hoping no-one would notice what a slacker I’ve been. But just like in the story, small events can have significant outcomes, and I’ve decided to write about my first trip around the world (yes, I ended up doing it more than once).

So stay tuned for Willows Big Circumcision, I think that should be Circumnavigation.

PS. I’m not sure how many parts there will be (as you know I don’t outline, I just write), so if you can’t be bothered waiting and reading and waiting, just checkout Molly’s comment in the previous post for the Cliff Notes.

Of Cakes and Bloggers

Why is there a cake tin on my computer desk?

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That’s an interesting question, and for an answer we need to go back a couple of days to when I received an email from a fellow blogger who, along with another blogger, was making his way back to Gympie after a holiday in Sydney. He knew that I have policy of not ever wanting to meet fellow bloggers in person, but he had also read my post where I actually met one and wasn’t too scarred by the experience, so he asked if I would be up for a brief get together.

My initial reaction was "Fuck! How did he get my email address?" followed by "If I just ignore the whole thing he’ll assume I didn’t get the email".  After thinking it over, and deciding that as he was older than me, if things went bad I could probably take him, I replied "Sure why not, but don’t expect me to talk to you."

And so it was that Peter and Wazza showed up at my refuge for cats, dogs and people that hate everything…

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Wazza (on the right) isn’t really as angry as he looks in the photo, yet strangely enough, Peter (on the left) who is smiling, was one cranky son of a bitch! Just kidding, they were both good blokes and we had a lot of laughs in the short period they were able to spend here.

So what’s all this got to do with cakes and dogs having severe pain inflicted upon them. Well let me splain. I’m a big fan of the CWA and what they stand for, so knowing that two itinerant bloggers were heading my way I made this cake…

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Yumm, looks good eh? It was a Tea Cake, and we each had a small slice. Now this is where the story takes a turn for the worse. Seeing as these two bloggers were on the road and hadn’t had regular internet access for a while, I offered the use of my connection to check their mail, which Peter accepted, but Wazza being only semi-literate declined, as it normally takes him several hours to read a couple of emails and they didn’t have the time.

And so it was that while we were all in the computer room, Belle came trotting down the hallway carrying the cake tin in a scene reminiscent of Oliver Twist asking Mr Bumble for more. Having lived with Belle for the past three plus months, the warning bells started ringing immediately, so excusing myself I raced back down the hall only to find the cake that was sitting on the table awaiting our return had disappeared without a trace.

I’d love to show you photos of what happened next, I had my hands full doing in impersonation of Homer choking Bart! However, Peter took a picture of it so if he sends it to me I’ll post it.

As a postscript, Belle was funny to watch for the rest of the night. She was obviously feeling the effects of her over indulgence (it was a pretty big cake, full of sugar, flour and three eggs) that had only had three small slices taken out of it. She was slow in her movements and couldn’t stay awake, but neither could she seem to get comfortable. Serves her right!

Willow’s Big Adventure, the death scene

Well here it is, the long awaited conclusion to Willow’s Big Adventure (except this obviously isn’t the conclusion as I’m still alive and life is still an adventure), so buckle up we’re a bumpy ride (who said that?)

Unfortunately we can’t escape a bit of house keeping and some boring background explanations. First the housekeeping: these are the links to the previous parts of the story Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 (I was tempted to really lay on the linky love and point to Stephanie’s post and let you find them from there ha! talk about linkage lunacy, actually I ended up using her post to get the links anyway, as it was quicker than searching for them myself – thanks Steph).

Secondly the background, unfortunately we can’t avoid a bit of technical crap so that you get a better picture of what happened…

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The image on the left is a schematic of a headframe, the image on the right is a photo of real one very similar to the one we’re talking about, in fact this mine is close to where the story is set. If you’re interested the photo is from Kalgoorlie and the story is set in Agnew (Leinster if you google).
In the schematic you’ll notice two things, the big chimney which is part of the motor used to power the winder, and a rope that goes from the winder to the top of the headframe. 

35twicklungIn our story there is no fossil fuel motor but instead a 3,000 volt electric motor about this size. The building that houses the motor, the winder (the drum that holds the rope) and the winder operator is called the winder house (go figure), and because everything is so much bigger than in the schematic it’s further away from the frame, that’s why you can’t the winder house in the photo. Still with me? Good. The company I worked for had installed the motor, but as yet it hadn’t been commissioned (gone through rigorous safety testing). This is important.

Now, on the end of the wire rope is a fifty ton bucket that is lowered down a vertical shaft to collect the diggings from the decline shaft (this is where reading the previous posts would be helpful). Obviously in order to take the weight of the bucket when full, the rope needs to be fairly robust. To try and give you an idea, just imagine a normal rope about a half inch in diameter…it’s made up of a whole bunch of strands that are wound into bigger strands which are then wound together to form a rope, there are thousands of strands making up the rope. Now imagine a rope who’s smallest strand is solid steel about a 1/4" thick with about a thousand of these wound into a rope about ten inches in diameter and very strong.

So now to the point( finally). The construction of the shafts went 24hrs a day with three 8 hour shifts. Each shift had a crew of 5 miners working the face, and a heap more driving dump trucks and doing other mine type things. At the end of the shift, the crew working the face would get into the bucket and they would be brought to the surface. As I said before the winder motor and associated controls had not been commissioned which meant that the bucket was not certified to carry people. There should have been overspeed and underspeed cutouts as well as sensors on the rope to alert the winder driver to it being either tight or slack.

One morning just as were arriving at the winder house to work on the installation, there was a really bad noise, actually there were a lot of really bad noises. So now all you guys that have been patiently waiting for the gore, here it is. What happened was the electric brakes failed and the winder driver was unable to stop the motor, so when the bucket reached the surface instead of stopping to let the miners out, it just continued to the top of the headframe (about 160ft). When it got there, the motor just kept pulling on the rope until finally it snapped (you don’t argue with 3Kv motors).

In the space of about 20 seconds the following happened: the bucket fell to the ground bouncing of the metal frame like a pinball and depositing body parts wherever it hit, leaving arms, legs, heads and bodies strewn over a 100ft radius. At the same time, the wire rope snaked back like a huge rubber band and left an 18" wide gash in the roof of the winder house, it also amputated the winder driver’s arm at the shoulder. All up it was pretty gory.

But to make matters worse (for me), you might recall that I injured my leg on that site, and while I didn’t miss any work, I did have to go to see the nurse every day to have my bandages changed to prevent infection (you might also recall that the burn was so deep it severed my calf muscle). Later that day when I went to the infirmary to get my leg seen to, I discovered where they were keeping all the body parts.

There, now wasn’t that better than a goofy old contest? Thank you Robin, Karmyn and Stephanie for keeping at me to finish this. Mind you the adventure didn’t end here, I left the mine and flew to Bali, and then spent the next six months traveling through Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand using only local transport (buses, trains and ferries). But you don’t want to hear about that.

I’m an avid recycler.

I am a passionate recycler, in fact this is where I was yesterday (it’s only a short drive from my place).

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Here’s a closer look, the facility (I love calling it that, it’s really just a tin wall with holes, in front of a bunch of 50 gallon drums) is run by the local Aboriginal community.
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So why am I posting pictures and writing about a recycling ‘facility’?  Well, I’ll tell ya. Today’s story first appeared in OUAB in July, but since Julie, and possibly Robin are the only ones that may have read it, it’s worth another run. I feel like a TV network in the non-ratings season. It may be a bit crappy, after all I hadn’t found my style yet (man if I knew then that all I needed was to be insulting, I never would have gone to the trouble of writing this).

Anyway I hope you enjoy "May Ahms Cart"….

When I lived in England I worked for a department store called Marks & Spencer. Not all dressed up nice and selling quality merchandise, but in a small warehouse loading trucks. Not loading quality merchandise but rather, shop fixture and fittings, toilet rolls and paper goods, stationary and anything else to do with the operation of the stores.

This was unskilled labour, and everyone except me was Irish. One day I was working with Paddy and Paddy (that wasn’t their real names but to Aussies all Irish are Paddy and all Scots are Jock, interestingly the Scots call everyone Jimmie). Old Paddy had lived in England for a long time and spoke quite clearly. Young Paddy was another matter; he had only been there for a couple of weeks and was near impossible to understand.

We had to load one of those (heavy) refrigerated deli display units onto a truck. This was one big mutha and it would be a tight squeeze getting it onto the loading dock. I was at the back pushing and young Paddy was at the front pulling and guiding it through the door. “Weet! Mairnscart!” he called called out to me.  Not being fluent in Gaelic, and seeing no sign of a Wheatman’s cart, I took this to be Irish for “Push harder!”. This was not the time to discuss the Irish language, so I just pushed harder. “Asset weet! May Airn Scart!” he repeated (this time a bit louder) and once again I complied. It was then that Old Paddy, who had been alerted by young Paddy’s increasing volume, came rushing over and shouted at me “He said wait! His hand’s caught!”. Which, I now saw, it was.

In fact all I could see was four fingers sticking out between the fridge and the door frame. Unfortunately we were laughing so much it took us another couple of minutes before we could free his hand. (It didn’t help that while we were pulling our guts out trying to get the unit off his fingers, I yelled “Pull man! Pull like you’re pulling an Arab off your sister!”). Until then I had never  seen an old man’s knees buckle and collapse in hysterics on to the ground. That’s one thing about the Irish, they not only tell a good joke; they appreciate one too. Oh yeah, no broken fingers, just bruising and swelling.

Hmmm, it’s a lot shorter than I thought it was.

We can’t all be geniuses

Now it’s my turn to steal an idea from Ree. She did a post today about some of her experiences with special people, and I got to thinking "hey I’ve got some too". Plus it gives me a chance to prolong the suspense of the ‘great mining disaster’, don’t worry folks it’s coming. But in the meantime here’s a story concerning some very nice people.

My friend Claude, who owned the Australian Restaurant in San Jose, was a cranky old prick but he had a heart of gold. One of the ways he demonstrated this was by holding monthly picnics for the staff of a  sheltered workshop in SJ. Another was to only employed retarded kitchen hands and busboys. But that’s a story for another day, this story is about the picnics.

I used to work at his restaurant too, but I did it it out of friendship – not for pay. Although I did always eat there for nothing.

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This is the outside of the restaurant, from now on I’ll just call it Claude’s. He had it for many years and it was on W.Lincoln Ave.

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This is the interior, neither of these pictures have anything to do with the story, but there’s nowhere else for them to be, so here they are.

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This is Claude loading my truck with food for the picnic (actually it was ET’s truck, but at this particular time I was driving it). This wasn’t one of our usual picnics, I can’t exactly remember what it was for, but it was bigger than normal.

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The guy in the purple shirt was the manager of the workshop, he was a really good guy. Oh, an interesting story, he once shot and killed an intruder in his house. He had friends on the Police force who told him that if you ever have an intruder and you shoot at him, shoot to kill, otherwise they will sue you for everything you have. So he did.

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And this is what it was all about. A day out and some food that they don’t usually get to eat.

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A funny thing that I learned early in the piece, its easy to relate to those with Downs syndrome or some other physical indicators, as they are generally very friendly, but those who look just like anyone you would meet in the street can sometimes be a bit harder to get to know because their problems can manifest in so many different ways and can be psychological rather than genetic.

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Here’s a good example, you wouldn’t know anything was amiss (ok, the outfit kinda gives him away, but put him in a good suit and he’d give Omar Sharif a run for his money), but he was mad as a March Hare. But he was a lot of fun too.

Time for a Serial

I was trying to think of what to write, but drew a blank (I was going to draw a bullet but I didn’t have enough powder). As you know I don’t like longs post, I’m not religious, I don’t have kids, I’m not all that philosophical and I keep my episodes of depression to myself.

So that doesn’t really leave that much to write about except self inflicted pain (which I have a few stories about) or pets (which I’ve flogged a bit lately), then it hit me…why not tell an adventure story? So that’s what I’m going to do, problem is, I think it will take about four, possibly five posts to tell. However it may be worth it if you want a glimpse into the life of exploration mining.

Seeing as this might be a biggie, there needs to be some organising of thoughts etc., so it will start tomorrow.