personal political

Location: Sydney, Australia

I have now moved this blog to Typepad: the new address is

Monday, June 28, 2004

relative cold

We spent the weekend in Melbourne, staying with the out-laws. It was our first domestic flight on Virgin Blue (I once flew Virgin Atlantic from New York to London) and I was impressed. Why pay hundreds more for a Qantas snack?
Melbourne was cold. Not incredibly cold, more like 10-14 degrees celsius cold (maybe 8 degrees at night). Which would be warm in London. But is cold compared to the weather we've been having in Sydney (it reached 20C today). Arriving home at 10pm last night, it felt positively balmy. We opened the back door. Today I've worn shoes without socks to work (very Sydney - I wore my overcoat too). We felt relaxed. No need to clench one's body against the cold air. I put away my scarf and gloves and woolly hat, until the next visit to a cold climate.
We visited the new Australian art gallery in the new Federation Square, which was pretty fabulous. In the gallery shop, I bought the book version of AB Paterson's Waltzing Matilda poem, to go with The Man from Snowy River which I bought last year in the Snowy Mountains, and which Olle loves (so do I). He took Waltzing Matilda to school today. We were late for school - actually, they were unusually early and were already in the room by 9.25am. So I watched through the window in the door as he went in, holding the book behind his back and then producing it with gusto. The teacher immediately read it to the class, with O turning the pages. I wonder if she taught them to sing it too? (What am I doing, promoting such Australiana in his life?)

brush with infamy

Simon Crean walked past me in the street this morning.
He was, as most well-known people are, much smaller in real life than one may have imagined.
When I got to work and told two colleagues that I had just seen him, one woman asked if I had shouted at him (meaning in anger and disapproval). I'm not quite sure what she had in mind. It could be a range of things, I suppose, like the Labor backflip on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, which seems to have upset a lot of people. Hmm, or maybe she meant Labor's support of the anti-gay marriage act?
I did have the impulse to say something to him in the street, but nothing as pointed or unfriendly as that. It was more an "oh, Simon, how are you?" impulse. Probably due to watching Australian Story about him and his family, a year ago.

Friday, June 25, 2004

report card

Olle's first report card came home yesterday. Next week we have our first parent/teacher interview in which we will presumably discuss the report. I assume he has been assessed against a standardised statewide set of skills (ie every kindergarten pupil in the state's public schools will receive a report card with the same categories.)
It was a three-page report with comments from two other teachers (German and Computer) besides his main kindergarten teacher. How things have changed since 1962, when I probably brought home something at the end of the year with a couple of stars and ticks on it.

Every skill or ability was rated in this way: E=Excellent G=Good D=Developing NI=Needs improvement
Altogether he got 4 Excellents 26 Goods 3 DGs (halfway between the two categories) and 4 Ds (but who's counting...) The Es were mostly in behavioural categories rather than skills, except for the Excellent in 'concepts of print' ... what on earth is a 'concept of print'?

I find the whole process of having him assessed in this way quite challenging. When I went to primary school, we sat for tests (even in kindergarten) and there was a first, second, third place etc. It was a deeply competitive and heirarchical system. As an adult I developed a critical approach to such competitiveness and I find today's school system, where they really do want kids to do their best, whatever that is, a refreshing change. But that doesn't mean I have shaken the competitiveness that was instilled in me! I find myself very curious to know if other kids got more Es than mine did, especially in the 'academic' areas, but I know it's deeply uncool to ask anyone or make comparisons...
I will not compare my child to others...
I will not compare my child to others...
I will not compare my child to others...

Thursday, June 24, 2004

sombre thought for the day

I grew up in the Menzies era. I was 10 when he retired as PM. As far as I was concerned he had been prime minister forever.
I lived in England for most of the Thatcher era and much was made of the generation who knew no other prime minister or government.
After Reagan's recent death, I came across numerous articles by Americans who were children during his presidency. It made a big impact on them.
I just realised that John Howard has been PM for the whole of Oli's life. If Howard is re-elected and achieves his ambition of passing Menzies as longest-serving Australian prime minister, Oli will have a similar experience to me, where he knows no other leader.
What a vile thought!

mind styles

Speaking of core attributes, I spent some time with a friend yesterday, who told me that her sister (a social worker) had told her about the abstract/concrete random/order categories of learning styles. I think I'm abstract sequential.
More links.


The thing I like best about Dr Spock's book is his section on the fit between parent and child. His thesis is that babies are born with a temperamental proclivity (quiet, restless, buoyant etc), but what matters is not how much like the parents a child is, but how the parents feel about and react to that child's temperament. An introspective mother might enjoy having a very outgoing daughter. An extroverted father might be disappointed in a shy son and consequently ignore him. Good fit/bad fit.
All along I've felt that Oli and I were a good fit, but sometimes I wonder if that's based on me thinking (narcissistically) that he is very like me.
At every stage as he gets older, I think, oh, I only just feel like a parent and he is only just becoming a person. School is the great challenge, the great unknown, and we've only just begun there.
When he was two or three, I secretly wondered if he would, any day, reveal himself to be a mathematical genius or begin reading without any coaching. He didn't.
Instead, when he was four, two drama teachers repeatedly told me he was "gifted". At five, two other drama teachers have effectively said the same. And it's not just them. His ballet teacher remarks on his "imagination". In fact, countless people remark on it, including his school teacher.
This is a bit perplexing to hear. Most four and five year olds like to pretend and to dress up. Oli is not an all-singing, all-dancing, performing type of child (though the fact he does drama and ballet lessons might suggest that to those who have not met him.) But I've heard the "imagination" remark so many times now, I suspect it does point to something unique about him.
What do you do if you have an especially imaginative child? (Perhaps nothing different to what we've been doing all along...?)

I've read and heard numerous recent interviews with Alain de Botton about his book Status Anxiety. I was thinking that as a contemporary parent I feel a nebulous kind of anxiety about my child's future (leaving aside issues of global warming etc for the moment). The old middle-class parental aspirations - to have a child with a highly successful career, marriage and family - just don't apply any more. I know enough about life to realise that being a doctor or lawyer doesn't make you a happy or nice human being. Getting married and staying monogamous could indicate simply that you're a very insecure, scared person.

Now that my child has entered an environment where his skills are measured and compared with other children's, it's impossible to keep the outside world and its definitions of success at bay. (Of course they never were entirely at bay, as we live in the world.) Having a child at school also provokes many memories and reflections of my own schooling, what I was like as a child, what excited me and whether or not (not, mostly) I was able to continue with those activities and passions as I grew up.

I've grown to hate that term "juggling act" as aplied to motherhood, but it does come in useful for thinking about this core activity of parenthood - trying to figure out who your child is, protect his essential attributes and guide him towards the skills which he can use to become a happy and yes, successful, person, if success means giving full expression to yourself.

shrek 2

Oli's class is going to see Shrek 2 next Tuesday, as an end-of-term treat. (Another two-week
holiday coming up.)
Oli's never been to the cinema. He has seen Shrek(1) on video at other kids' houses, though I'm not sure if he's ever watched it all the way through in one go.
He tends to get extremely apprehensive at the slightest scary thing on TV, in a film or even in a book. (He made me stop reading a book the other day because some child was doing something naughty and Oli was scared in case he got into trouble!)
I told his teacher that he'd never been to the movies and she was surprised. (Some kids in his class have already seen Shrek 2. A lot of people seem to rush out to see the latest movies asap. Obviously, we don't.)
After school I was thinking that I should ask her if he could sit next to her in the cinema in case he gets scared. Then I wondered if I should volunteer to come to the film too (they didn't ask for volunteers, though.) I told him I might come and he seemed pleased with that idea. (Not yet old enough to be embarrassed by his mother coming along!) I'm sure they won't mind, but will I be cementing my image as an over-anxious mother?

Actually, part of my wish to go is to want to share this big "first" in his life. It had never occurred to me that a public school would be taking my son to the movies for the first time.

If I really think hard about it, I'm not very pleased that they are focusing on Shrek in this way. A. it's a commercial American film and B. from the reviews I've read, there is a lot of product placement and a lot of adult-humour in it. But I'm sure other things are going to come up during his schooling which will require more of a parental hard line. And he is right into it. They did a Shrek 2colouring-in sheet in class yesterday - Oli brought it home to finish and took it back in today, to see if he had won the colouring-in competition. He's not been this motivated by anything else!

Monday, June 21, 2004


Tom's dispatch, which is always analytically informative, sometimes amusing and often anxiety-producing because of what it uncovers, recently ran a two-part series on torturegate. Today, as well as revisiting the subject of Bush and Cheney lies, Tom gives examples from his luminous mailbag in response. If any of us had any doubts that the torture policy comes right from the top, he quotes from Bush's 2003 State of the Union address in which he literally brags about US-sanctioned assassinations, including a link to this article which quotes Bush:
"To date we have arrested, or otherwise dealt with, many key commanders of al-Qaida. ... All told, more than 3000 suspected terrorists have been arrested in many countries. Many others have met a different fate. Let's put it this way, they are no longer a problem to the United States and our friends and allies."
In other words, Americans are out there murdering "suspected" terrorists. And the president smirked and almost wink-winked with pleasure. He was bragging about American assassinations.

This is Howard's dear friend.

blogspot oddity

I created a blog entry called angel boy last week, saved it as a draft, edited and posted it this morning. It has shown up as a Thursday 17th entry, rather than under today's date. So anyone who thinks they are totally up to date with their personal political reading should scroll down to find that.


Oli has been doing a drama course at the AYTP for 5-8 year olds. Last year he did one for 3-5 year olds, in which they all ran around being superheros or princesses. The older class is of course more structured and dominated by 7 and 8 year old girls.

Last year his two teachers told me more than once that they thought he was very talented, gifted. At the time I was a little perplexed by this, not sure what to do with their assessment. Not that they were saying he should go on the stage (he is not at all the performing type), but pointing out that his vivid imagination is quite unusual.

The last class of his current course is next weekend and we'll be away. So at the end of the class on Saturday, I went in to talk to the teachers for the first time. I was unsure whether or not to continue with drama next term or return to jazz ballet (which is on at exactly the same time, so it's an either/or proposition). My impression from looking in the door occasionally is that Oli had been very shy in this much older class and hadn't participated much.
I asked one teacher how he'd been and to my surprise she started raving about how wonderfully imaginative he was. As an example, that day they'd done an exercise where they had to pretend to stay under a radar. Oli had become so frightened of the power of the radar that he started crying. She said "With some other kids, it's all about 'me', but he has an amazing imagination where he really sees the radar. He's going to be a wonderful writer or filmmaker or director one day".
As we walked to the car, I asked Oli about the radar game ... apparently if they were caught in the radar, they would be "zapped". "I've never seen a radar before" he said, "so I didn't know where it was and if it would zap me". He does indeed really believe.
We went off to a five-year-old birthday party (a personal friend, not a schoolmate), which was fun, but later in the day he was a bit teary and obviously wrung out. I feel guilty that we've been racing around too much while he's had a cold for the past week. I asked him which he would rather do, jazz ballet or drama, and he said "neither"!
So I think we'll definitely not do drama again next term. Still haven't decided about jazz ballet (I've already paid $60 for the shoes and it's more of an ongoing discipline - if he dropped out, I'm not sure when he could take it up again. Plus there are three other boys in that class, and boys are in short supply in dance classes.)

Friday, June 18, 2004


While looking for something written by Maurice Sendak (who wrote and illustrated Where the Wild Things Are, a storybook I didn't at first like but now greatly appreciate), I came across this review of a book by Sendak and Tony Kushner, who wrote Angels in America. What an interesting connection.
I wonder if Sendak is gay.

deja vu

I took Oli to get his hair cut yesterday after school. We go to a really nice young woman who is originally from Yorkshire and has the accent to match. I reminded her that during his last haircut in March, she had found head lice. (Apocryphal stories abound of hairdressers refusing to continue at the sight of a lice or nit, but not our Sam.) I told her that this term he is sitting on the end of a table next to a boy with short hair, so the chance of him catching them again has gone down (last term he sat in the middle of the table, next to a girl with swinging hair). About one minute later, a small dark insect walked out of his hair and down his neck and she said "What's that?" I got hold of it and squashed it. It was a lice (or louse, singular.)
Sam continued on calmly. She found no other signs of lice. I wonder if it had jumped on just an hour or two before?

We already had anti-lice products waiting at home. This time we tried the Thursday Plantation Tea-Tree gel (last time we used Quit Nits oil.) The gel was less messy and easy to apply, though I'm not sure it covered every hair as thoroughly as the oil.
I stripped all the beds, but we decided to take a risk and not treat our adult hair, hoping that there hadn't been time for the infestation to spread.
This morning, co-parent found just one egg in his hair. Doubtless there will be more, but hopefully we did find them in the earliest stage.
I wonder if he will continue to get them at this rate all the way through primary school?

graham little

Thanks for the comment under my Garrett entry which pointed me towards Graham Little. He sounds like a very interesting man.


Walking to work this morning, I caught sight of the lead headline in the Sydney Morning Herald: 'Bin Laden's Doomsday Plan'. A moment earlier I had been thinking about the lead headline in yesterday's Guardian online: 'Oil chief: my fears for the planet'. Yes, the Shell chairman is very worried about climate change'.

What a contrast in news agendas.

For those of us walking down that city street, where is doomsday likely to come from? Not from Bin Laden. From climate change (and the pollution which accompanies it). Yet our political leaders (and the media) keep on drumming up the so-called 'war on terror' and at the same time accelerating their pursuit of oil and petrol-fuelled transport and industry. The world feels increasingly like a version of 1984.

At least the SMH carried Paul McGeogh's straightforward piece today as well.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

angel boy

Olle came into the bedroom at 7am, said "Here Mummy, this is for you to hug" and put a stuffed leopard into my hands.

Later we had a brief conversation about the fact that he wants a Robin [of Batman and...] doll and after a pause, he said thoughtfully, "Mummy, I'm going to change my name to Dick".
[Robin's 'real' name, for those who have forgotten]

The other night after his shower, he pulled his vest down around his hips and did a dance. He said he likes skirts, because when you are wearing them "you can sway from side to side".

He wore his sword in scabbard on a golden scarf tied around his waist to the nearby park after school one day last week, but when we got there, two older boys (12 year olds) were kicking a soccer ball around. Ol sat down and would not come into the park. I asked if it was because of the big boys. He said yes, that if he came into the park, then they would hear him swishing his sword. This was undesirable.
On Saturday, he announced that he wanted a classmate, James, to come over and have afternoon tea and then they would go to that same park and play soccer. It was a delayed response to the sword incident. I figured out that he thought the two big boys would still be in the park when he got there with James and they would be very impressed. We rang, but James' family had gone away for the weekend. Still, at 7,30am on Sunday, Ol jumped up to get dressed ... "because James is coming over". I explained for the fifth time that James was away. He was a bit teary (but ended up having a good day anyway. He dressed as Harry Potter and spent a long time standing in the kitchen talking to someone invisible.]

This morning he put his hooded dressing gown on, with the hood on and the buttons done up but his arms not in the sleeves - "this is how Errol Flynn wears his cloak" [in the 1930s Robin Hood film which is his favourite]

He says so many delightful things every single day that I can't remember half of them to write down.


Here's an anti-war American journalist blogging from Baghdad.

work and home

Anyone reading my changes entry (below) who does not know me could end up thinking I was some kind of 'career woman', the amount of dashing to and fro from work I appear to have done. This is not actually the case. Reflecting on my change of work location this week, I've realised that I probably would not have returned to work at all when my baby was one if my workplace hadn't been just a few minutes walk away from home. I could not have made the mental leap out of the intensity of the fulltime mothering relationship if that leap had not been so easy. As it was, I went back to work four days a week and then quit entirely when he was two and a half, as I felt the time was flashing past and I did not want to miss any more of his toddler days - and because we did not want to put him in childcare. I'm very glad I did that and very fortunate that freelance work with the same company opened up to me again when he was four.
I was chatting to a dad at school yesterday - he is on paternity leave looking after five, two and 10 month olds. He goes back to work in August. He said he is looking forward to going back to work because "I find being at home quite hard".
Being at home with young children is hard. It's much more psychologically difficult than being at home unemployed or between jobs (of which, as a freelancer, I've had many periods in my life.) When you're home alone, you can read, compute, watch tv, clean, garden, do nothing, chat or go out whenever you like. When I was home with a toddler, I felt as if I was constantly fighting against the quicksand of "the moment" - little children live in the moment and as the adult you have to provide the edges, the framework, which make it possible to move from moment to moment. Yet you also want to be in the moment with them, because that moment is so delightful, many times a day. Even more delightful if you have a bit of time away from it.
Longterm maternity/paternity leave along Scandinavian lines - 18 months or more - followed by secure part-time work strikes me as the best solution to the intensity/inertia of parenting young children.


[This blog is in danger of becoming a TV review, but there is a method to my subject selection...]
I caught the Agent Orange story on Tuesday's Foreign Correspondent too. Watching old footage of planes spraying herbicides from the air was almost unbearable and then to see the results, in children and foetuses with terrible malformations, was awful.
Last night we watched a documentary of a different kind, about two American gay men who go to Vietnam to adopt a baby boy. This was an an interesting contrast with the Australian documentary, recently repeated on SBS-TV (I saw it both times), about two Australian gay men who go to the USA for the birth of their surrogate baby son. There was something quite brittle about that couple, although I appreciate that being filmed at such a momentous time in your life would be difficult. I also found watching the separation of the baby from its mother quite painful - as indeed did she.
In He's Having a Baby, the baby boy had been completely abandoned to an orphanage in south Vietnam. I wonder why? There were many apparently healthy babies in the orphanage (no sign of Agent Orange deformities...)
At first the 8 month old baby (who became Joe) would not look at any of the American strangers when they picked him up. Yet he subsequently quickly attached to his new adoptive parents. So he hadn't been psychologically traumatised by being abandoned - the women who had cared for him in the orphanage had really loved him. Years ago I watched a documentary about the Romanian orphans who were adopted into Britain in the late 80s - they had been kept in very bad circumstances in orphanages, tied to beds, never held... Their capacity for attachment was fatally damaged by this start to life and despite loving adoptive homes, most had severe ongoing problems - AHDD, autism, etc.
The nicest thing about last night's story was that the partner, Don, who was at first resistant to the idea of becoming a parent, seemed to take to fatherhood with intensity. He then revealed that he too had been adopted at the same age as Joe.
Maybe it's unfair to compare the two, but foreign adoption seems infinitely preferable to me to the creation of a surrogate baby. Yet our government wants to prevent gay people from adopting, although it can never prevent them from reproducing (except those of us with fertility problems).
We're off to Vietnam next month (just for a holiday).


The other night I happened to catch a Foreign Correspondent report by Jane Hutcheon, one of my favourite ABC TV journalists, about the proposed evacuation of Israeli settlers from the Gaza strip. It was very much about the human face of the conflict there - two Israeli mothers of dead soldiers, a Palestinian mother of two teenagers shot dead by a sniper - and the complete disconnect between them.
This article says there is actually no plan to evacuate settlers - it is all a fig leaf. The writer is the founder of Gush Shalom, an Israeli peace movement. It's always interesting - and reassuring - to come across people like this, who usually never make it into the mainstream media here.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004


Quote of the week from Carson of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy: "God grant me the serenity to read the care label every time".

I recently bought a lovely and reasonably expensive green woollen sweater from Esprit, wore it a few times, then washed it in the machine, on Delicates. It came out stretched around the neck and armpits, where before it was nicely-fitted. Damn. Then I read the care label, which of course said 'handwash only'. Why are some woollen things machine-washable and this one not?

It's not a total catastrophe, though I've noticed that I've avoided wearing it again so far.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004


My workplace has moved. I'd known it was coming since last year, so had a long time to reconcile myself to it. But I was never going to be happy about moving. I've worked for this company on and off for seven years and incredibly felicitously for me, they were located just seven minutes walk from my home. (Since we moved home last year, it became 12 minutes.) What this meant at first was that I could go home in the middle of the day and take the dog for a short walk or bring her to work with me and take her home when she reached the end of her tether, usually about three hours.
Then, while I was pregnant, I was able to go home and lie down at lunchtime. When I returned to work when Oli was one, I was able to go home and breastfeed and see him every lunchtime, for over an hour on quiet days. I could pop home to see him (he was home with the co-parent) if he was sick. When he started at the preschool nearby, aged four, I was able to get up at 7.30am, drop him off at 8am and be at work minutes later. When he started school this year, I was able to go to work early and at 9.15am dash across to the school playground to greet him on arrival, stay 15 minutes to watch the assembly, then get back to work. Once a week I was able to go over to the school at 9.30am to do my voluntary reading-help and be back at work by 10.15am.
In Birth of a Mother, Daniel Stern says that after having a baby, you will measure every external event in your life by your baby's/child's age at that time. I've found that to be true. I can no longer keep a straight timeline in my mind for events like the war in Yugoslavia, but I can tell you exactly what stage Oli was at when we walked across the Harbour Bridge on National Sorry Day 2000.

Likewise, apart from measuring my working life in terms of access to my child outside of work, my relationship to the building we inhabited was marked out for me in terms of pregnancy and motherhood. Every time I went into the downstairs toilet, I thought of going in there to check for blood during the first trimester (when I bled for weeks and was in a perpetual state of high anxiety.) Six years later, I could sit in the courtyard to eat my lunch at 1.15pm and hear the joyous screams of the schoolkids as they erupted into play two blocks away and know that he was part of that.

Today it took me 30 minutes to get to work, bussing and walking. (Not bad, as far as work journeys go.) My chair and desk feel awkward and we're in a hermetically sealed skyscraper, although on the lowest floor. I've taken my bicycle in for a service and will ride to work when I can. I've also cut my working hours, as I can no longer bring my son in with me before school and finish at 3.05pm to collect him. I'm aware that I've had immense good luck, located so close to home during the years when it really mattered. I'll adjust to the new environment - I even enjoyed walking the city streets this morning, reminded a bit of busy London. But I would have rpeferred to stay put.


We spent a beautiful weekend at Palm Beach, the northernmost tip of Sydney, with a friend and her four and a half year old son. The weather was unseasonally warm. On Sunday we walked 30 minutes up to Barrenjoey Lighthouse, had a guided tour of the lighthouse, ate a picnic lunch on a rock looking across the ocean (Oli saw several whales ;-) ) and walked down again. Monday we took a ferry round to the Basin, where the kids went swimming (it's winter!), we saw a small wallaby and watched people extracting yabbies from the sand with a periscope-type contraption. After lunch we hopped on the same ferry to go along to the next beach, Currawong (which is owned by the trade union movement). Jen and I went for a walk while the co-parent stayed with the boys on the beach. We were walking up a grassy track which led to the cabins when Jen suddenly jumped backwards and clutched my hand. She had almost walked onto a snake. It was yellow underneath and looked black on top and I'm sure its tongue was yellow. It put its head up and flicked its tongue for awhile, then slid across the track. The track was about three feet wide and after the head disappeared into bushes on one side, the body kept coming for a minute ... so this was a long snake, maybe two metres long. I've been trying to find it on the Web and can't - apparently there is no such thing as a yellow-bellied black snake. It was probably a tree snake. Jen, who was only wearing thongs (it was so warm) was very alarmed, but as the person in the rear I could afford to feel nothing but thrilled! It was so exciting to encounter it. I've seen about four other snakes in the wild, but none with this vivid colouring.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

queen's birthday

It's a long weekend here. Not even in England do they celebrate the "Queen's birthday' like this.

Friday, June 11, 2004

connection via blog

Two weeks ago I emailed an English friend who lives in Spain to tell her about this blog. Today I had a reply saying she had never read a blog before reading mine. Now she has started her own.
We used to work together in London but haven't seen each other in the flesh for over 14 years - she moved to Cyprus and then Spain, where she is settled.
I enjoy reading some blogs of people who I've never met, but there is another, growing category on my blog favourites list, blogs and diaries by people who I have met but may not have seen for a long time, who won't realistically be present in my daily life again or for the forseeable future, but whose lives and experiences I can stay connected to via blog.
We have an 82 year old friend who says he writes at least three letters every day. I was a letter writer in my teens and twenties too. I became a postcard writer in my hectic 30s, then an emailer at 40.
True, online communication isn't as personal as the handwritten sort. When my father died recently I had to go through boxes of letters and cards he had kept. I have my own similar boxes in the attic. Will our children we trawling through ancient emails to get a glimpse into our lives after we die?
Actually, I've printed out most of the emails I wrote that concern Oli's birth and babyhood. Something you can hold in your hand seems more lasting.

iraqi roundtable

A roundtable discussion between six Iraqis which took place before the latest UN resolution.

john kerry

As for John Kerry, what type of politician is he? He's looking too much like a straight man (I don't mean sexual orientation-wise) so far.
If he ever does say anything worth hearing, will it be relayed to the American people?


I'm a blank slate when it comes to the Peter Garrett story. I was living in another country when Garrett stood for election as an anti-nuclear activist, I have no idea what Midnight Oil music sounds like and have simply not paid any attention to him until now.
Obviously the man is not a complete naif, though he is a Christian. Will he be chewed up and spat out by the Labor Party, just as Cheryl Kernot was?
And what does all this indicate about Mark Latham? That he really cares about the environment or that he's simply a smart political operator?
Philip Adams (at the talk I went to recently, see blog entry way below this one) put forward a thesis [which had been put to him by someone else, I forget who] that there are only three categories of politician in the world - the straight man [sic], the fixer and the 'maddie'. John Major was a straight man, I think John Howard is a fixer, Margaret Thatcher and Paul Keating were maddies. Maddies are the charismatic idealists, whether from the right or the left. Maddies are the most inspiring yet also the most dangerous. It's quite a fun game to play ... Bill Clinton for example, I would type as a fixer, even though he was charismatic.
I'm not sure what to make of Latham. At this point I veer towards thinking he is a fixer, but the fact that he's written books in pursuit of his own ideas, that he toured the Tasmanian forests with Bob Brown and now that he has poached Garrett, could mean that he is a bit of a maddie too. I hope so.


A big lightening, thunder and heavy rain storm hit us last night just as we were watching the final ep of Angels in America, which was quite fitting, as there was thunder, lightening and melodrama on screen too. [I was not very taken with AA - thought it verged on hysterical much of the time.]
Elder dog has been terrified of thunder all along - last night we discovered that younger dog is too. He sat on my lap trembling all the way through.

when is a 'joint training facility' not a base?

Donald Rumsfeld says the US military needs to be more "agile" these days. So they are not setting up a base in northern Australia (probably near Townsville), but a "joint training facility", from which they can "jump off" into any hotspots nearby. Indonesian hotspots, most likely. Malaysian ones, maybe. Possibly even hotspots in the Phillipines.
What a wonderful future awaits us and our children as base camp for the US war on terror in southeast Asia.
Hardly a critical word on any of this in the Australian media so far this week, though hopefully some people have their thinking caps on about it. At least the usual suspects do.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

health education

Speaking of health, Oli had his first ever 'life education' sessions at school recently. Finding out what went on is like trying to get blood out of a stone. The kindergarten sessions were about making choices, as far as I know. He came home with a sticker for, which has some interactive games for 5-8 year olds on that theme.


The Playschooler wrote: I don't regret smoking. I loved it. In fact, I was a dinner party recently where we all talked about what we would do if we knew we were dying and there was no cure. Two of us immediately said that we'd start smoking again. I miss it. Frankly I hate the fact that I have no vices left. I do NOTHING wrong anymore and it is so boring. Gym, sensible eating, mongamy, no drinking or drugs. It is all worthy but dull, dull, dull. I yearn for something subversive again. Smoking would do it."
I don't miss smoking at all. I gave up in October 1987 and haven't had so much as a puff since - and haven't had the faintest desire for one either.
But I know what you mean about the lack of vices. Or excitement. Who was it who wrote the song that goes "I've forgot more than you'll ever know..."? Sometimes I feel that way. I find that I am constantly telling Oli things like "Did you know I've ridden a camel in the Sahara?"; "We've been to Japan..."; "When we were in India we..." Then there are the countless things I can not yet tell him, about households, lovers, collectives... Yet he only ever sees us living a quiet family life in the same house in the same street in the same city every day of his life.
Though put like that, I'm happy to be staying still to do that.

Valerie posted "I've read that lungs heal over time, and that after a certain number of years without smoking a person's lungs go back to pretty close to normal." I've read that kind of thing too, and tables which show that your likelihood of getting lung cancer goes down the longer it is since you smoked. Which I don't doubt.
The final straw which broke my smoking back was that I got another in a series of very bad chesty colds in autumnal London. I realised that my one-a-day, which I had almost convinced myself was not-smoking, was having an effect on my chest. I gave up and the chesty colds completely disappeared.
Until about eight months ago. Actually, I didn't get a chesty cold then, but I did get my first throaty cough in 16 years. Then two months ago, I got another one. My antennae went up - I wasn't supposed to be getting throaty or chesty things, as I'm a non-smoker.
Talk was that there were a lot of viral coughs around. (There is always a lot of whatever ails you around, if you talk to enough people.)
So it was probably just one of those things. Put it down to global warming.

I have no desire to smoke anything ever again, but I do love the smell of marijuana. Whenever I chance across it in the street, I want to follow the source, reassuring them that I am not an undercover police officer, simply someone for whom that smell is extremely redolent...

anna quindlen

Valerie asked if I had read anything by Anna Quindlen. Yes I have. Not any books, but she used (years ago) to write a regular magazine column (was it Newsweek or Time?) which I read. And just a few weeks ago, someone forwarded to an email list I belong to an old article Quindlen wrote about savouring the time with her children while they were little, because it goes so fast and now they had turned into teenagers. I'd read that piece before (probably as a forward on another email list), but I enjoyed reading it again. I can't find it anywhere to link to here, unfortunately. It fits well with my theme of the week, regrets (and how not to have any).

I did just find a similar-ish article she wrote recently. I only have one child, who recently started school, and I already feel touches of what she describes here.

regrets, risks, consequences

My eye is always instantly drawn to articles such as this one about the signs of ovarian cancer. Having been through, oh, about five medicated IVF cycles, I have a lingering fear of getting this. The evidence as to whether or not fertility drugs increase the risk for ovarian cancer is still unclear, though they probably do increase the risk for breast cancer. (Everything the average western middle aged woman does or has ever done seems to increase the risk of breast cancer.)
It's funny how when thinking about other people's risk-taking behaviours - everyday ones, such as taking anti-depressants while breastfeeding, now a very common pastime, it seems - I am prone to think "how could she do that?" Not in a moralistic way (I hope), but more in a fearful way, in the constantly-recurring state of temporary amnesia which makes me think of myself as someone who would never knowingly take a risk with my own health. Yet I skimmed the page in the consent form which informed me of the risks of fertility drugs, weighed those risks for about 30 seconds and knew that I wanted a baby more. And having got one, I could never regret that or what I did to get him.

Our culture is so weighted towards individualism - including individual guilt and responsibility - especially when it comes to health and our bodies. And of course we each experience pain and pleasure as individuals within our own bodies. But the factors, social, technical, environmental, which come to bear on our individual bodies, are usually not under our individual control ... but they can be under collective control, such as the regulation and testing of new drugs. So when weighing up the risk of fertility drugs, I had to hope and believe that the appropriate authorities and regulators - and my doctors and medical personnel - had done their jobs conscientiously.

Still, headlines about ovarian cancer jump out at me.
(I have no idea what led to all these thoughts about health and regrets!)

participatory journalism

Articles are springing up all over the place on the role/function/place of blogs. Here's one which is a handy outline of all sorts of sites of participatory journalism (though USA-dominated).

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

wishes, fears, regrets...

Maybe that regrets entry was misnamed. I do regret smoking, but perhaps when the thing which is regretted comes from outside oneself, such as the smokiness of bars and the pollutedness of the air, regret is not the right word. It implies a level of choice and control which is non-existent. I mean, I don't at all regret riding my bike for 10 years in London, but I do wish the air had not been so polluted. I don't regret going to bars and clubs during that period of my life, but I do fear the possible consequences from the passive (and active) smoking I did there and wish smoking had not been permitted.

I still haven't got the hang of blogging. I feel unsure if I'm keeping some kind of diary or making journalistic reports. Rebecca Blood, weblog doyenne, recommends not erasing entries, but instead posting corrections if you find out you got something wrong. She meant factual mistakes, not subtle misrepresentations of the blogger's own internal thoughts. Still, I take her point that the nature of a blog is intrinsically of the moment and that moment should not be altered at a future moment. I find it hard not to go back and tweak sentences and thoughts in previous entries, as that what's I do with all my writing. But if I were going to wait till each entry was word-perfect, I'd never post anything - it's hard enough finding the time to write anyway.

What I want from this blog is a record of the intersection of the personal and the political in my life. The personal is political and the political manifests in personal life. (That should have been the subtitle for the blog...)

I guess I have to learn to blog without regrets.

sword number three

I took Oli to the dentist for a check-up after school yesterday. Everything was fine, post surgery. The transit of Venus was happenning - on the car radio, ABC announcers repeatedly warned listeners not to look at the sun. I can remember a similar warning when I was about six or seven at school, there must have been a daytime eclipse. Maybe I have some long-suppressed anxiety left over from then, of course I felt as if I desperately wanted to look at the sun. In order not to, I took Oli into a large educational toy shop. I said he could have one knight figurine. I showed him a 100-piece jigsaw of a besieged medieval castle and looked at a set of pine building blocks which would match the ones he already has. Then I browsed for word and spelling games. He stood in front of the costumes and stared at a sword in scabbard. He already has two swords - well, technically, one is a curved pirate's cutlas. But he doesn't have a scabbard.
I ended up not buying any of the 'educational' toys and buying him the cheap plastic sword in scabbard. He is thrilled. When we got home I threaded a golden Steiner scarf through the scabbard and tied it around his waist. He sat down at his castle table (a permanent fixture in the living room) and played with his new knight (actually, a prince) and went to bed with his sword beside him.

regrets, I have a few

I went into a bottle shop attached to a pub last night to buy some wine - there must have been an event on at the nearby football stadium, as the pub was packed and the air was thick with smoke. The man who served me grimaced when I commented on it. I found it hard to handle being in there for just a few minutes.
On the walk home I tried calculating exactly how many nights I spent in similarly, in fact even more smoky bars and clubs during those halcyon days in London. At least two a week for about six years, I reckon. On top of that I rode a bicycle just about every day (though I did often wear a mask while riding) - opening my lungs to the pollution. I also smoked, sporadically. (I was one of those one-a-day or three-a-week smokers who attract the disdain of pack-a-day types.)
I remember when I first arrived in London, being astonished at the black dust on the windowsills inside the house, but I soon got used to seeing black particles in the snot when I blew my nose.
Apparently the level of pollution in London could take 10 years off a life. Hopefully not mine.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Reagan drivel

Thank goodness for the Web (and for The Guardian). If it weren't for them, you could be forgiven for thinking that everyone in the western world thinks that the recently deceased Ronald Reagan was a great man, great leader, great everything... Our own PM, off shaking the hands of old soldiers in Europe (hysterical footage on ABC-TV news last night of an old Brit saying "I don't know who you are" after having his hand shaken), declared him the greatest US president in his lifetime, while back at home, the acting PM said Reagan's greatest achievement was the downfall of communism. (Not a mention of Gorbachev or the eastern European peoples in that little achievement). It is sometimes a shock to realise just how right wing our current leaders are - they are very good at presenting themselves as oh so normal and reasonable.
As the plain-talking Eileen (of a longstanding email list I belong to) said, time for the drivel spigot to be opened.
However, Reagan haters, of which there seem to be many in his own country, are returning fire with some drivel of their own. I chanced across this (scroll down for Monday's entry) which led me to this.
I am mildly amused by a headline in today's ninemsn world headlines, Bush orders day of Reagan mourning ... I know it's just a figure of speech, but the picture it elicits of compulsory mourning is, I don't know, Stalinist or something.

Monday, June 07, 2004


Took Ol to a five year old party on Saturday (the youngest kid in his class) - Spiderman was the guest of honour. When we left, Ol told me it was an ordinary person in the Spiderman costume, though he didn't seem at all disappointed by that. I said "oh, so he was an actor?" "Yes". One small step towards reality-based thinking, I suppose.
Nevertheless, last night he wore his Spiderman pjs to bed and found a short rope which he hung on the bedpost, telling me that it was his web.
I am somewhat surprised by how fantastical most five year olds still are. One girl in his class told me that she had been to the Great Barrier reef on a ferry last week, on the day of the teacher's strike. She described seeing sharks and dolphins. I asked if she had been to the zoo or the aquarium (both real possibilities), but she inisted it had been the great Barrier Reef.
Another girl who is turning six in August surprised me by not knowing when her birthday is. (I know it's August because her mother told me.)
When we arrived at the party on Saturday, the host-mother said "So Ol doesn't eat sugar?" That's what her son had told her and presumably what Ol told him. Of course he does eat sugar, although it sounds as if he is trying to project the sort of healthy image that he thinks is required of him by the mother who constantly tells him that sugar isn't good for him (ie me).
[Should I be glad that he's taken this on board, at least superficially, or worried that I'm making him feel guilty about enjoying sweet things?]

the exhibition

I had a closer look at the "family" exhibition when I colected Oli from school today. I figured out that every child had addressed four statements:
what a family is...
what my family does together
where does a family come from?
how my family makes me feel

Oli's answers were
a) a group of humans who care about each other (!)
B we eat dinner together
c: from many different countries
d: curious

Interestingly, answers to C tended to divide between geographical answers and facts-of-life answers. One boy whose mother is a white Australian, father African-American, very specifically replied that families come from Australia, America and Africa!
A few children said that families come from tummies, and one boy said that families grow from seeds. I will have to take a closer look to work out whether the kids who supplied that answer are the ones who have recently had a baby sibling.

safety net

I just filled out the Medicare safety net registration form. It specifically says that a spouse covers only a man and a woman, whether married or in a de facto relationship. I put Oli and myself on the form (hopefully we'll get back some of his enormous dental surgery bill) and wrote a little protest note on the Spouse section.
Not that the co-parent ever visits doctors - in fact when re-applying for a passport the other day (proof of identity required) she discovered that her Medicare card had expired two years ago.
This form was attached to the Government's Strengthening Medicare propaganda booklet, which came through the door the other day. They boast about having introduced new measures to encourage doctors to bulk bill for children under 16 [which means free treatment, for those international readers]. Of course, if this same government hadn't been busy influencing doctors to stop bulk billing over the past six years, they wouldn't have needed these new measures.
Fortunately we have a GP who bulk bills everyone [I have wondered to myself whether she has a rich husband, as every other GP in the area has stopped doing this] and her receptionist told me she would always do so, no matter what.


The latest kindergarten exhibition, following 'what I want to be when I grow up" and "I love my mum because..." is "This is my family". Timely. They've each drawn a picture of their families and labelled everyone in it. I noticed that a lot of the kids put names to the people in their drawings, but Olle simply labelled the two adults in his, "mum" and "mum". Interesting, as he only calls one of us Mum. He included the two dogs and two cats - I didn't have enough time to check whether they had been given names.
Underneath was typed (were typed?) a few sentences about what Olle said about families: [paraphrasing] A family is a group of people who eats together. Families can come from all different countries. My family makes me feel curious.

I'm not sure what he means by that, but I like it anyway!

Friday, June 04, 2004

school friend

Yesterday I met up with B, a schoolfriend I hadn't seen in about 27 years. She is now a university teacher, has two teenage sons and a huband who is a high school teacher. She has not gone grey and looked remarkably the same. Even though I have gone grey, she said I looked the same too. We spent a very pleasant two hours in a pub, sharing the few skerricks of information we had about mutual school friends, discussing our siblings, children, education systems and a little bit about work.
B ran into one of our closest classmates a few years ago in a restaurant and talked to her for awhile. She said her impression of this woman was that she was "sad", in some way. That didn't surprise me.
I came away feeling impressed with B, pleased that she doesn't seem sad. She seemed grounded and very in touch with her sons and partner. However she is so busy this year (her first in academia) that we probably won't see each other again until the school reunion.


Jan, the mother of one of Oli's classmates, is doing an MA in Cultural Studies. She's currently writing an essay on the history of the memento tea-towel. I mentioned the popularity of the tea-towel sold by the English feminist magazine I worked on in the 1980s, which said "It starts when you sink into his arms and ends with your arms in his sink". In green and purple, the feminist colours. It was our biggest seller in what we called the Extras department (today this would be known as Merchandise).
It turns out Jan has a lesbian sister who used to work on Outwrite, a primarily anti-imperialist women's newspaper in London in the 1980s. I think we were both excited to discover that kind of connection.
She came round to our place on Wednesday evening to do some more research. I got out the "sink" tea-towel; then the boy-playing-cricket tea-towel I bought at the Cadbury chocolate factory in Birmingham in 2002; a pumpkin-soup-recipe tea towel from Berrima, which I souvenired in 1984 on a visit to Oz; a Nefertiti tea-towel which I thought was from a Brixton pal of mine but which co-parent insists was given to her by a friend of hers who bought it in the British Museum; a Great Barrier Reef tea-towel, still fresh, which had been unused in my recently-deceased father's flat; a striped tea-towel from our resort in Noosa, on the Oli-chickenpox holiday; we also looked at some colourful tea-towels which are now almost rags which I was given for a birthday in the 90s.
I think Jan was a little taken aback by the enthusiasm and opinion I brought to bear on the subject.


Contact Play School by e-mail on or phone 8333 4401.


"I'm Brenna. That's me in the blue. My mums are taking me and my friend Meryn to an amusement park," the little girl says over images of her two mums smiling and waving."

That's all it was.

The co-parent tells me that quite a few women rang ABC radio yesterday to say they interpreted this as being about a mother and a stepmother - so many kids have that type of 'two mums' these days!

I've been thinking that, short of making us completely disappear, people like Larry Anthony would probably like to issue our children with gag orders, so that they can't mention their household situation anywhere near the delicate ears of children such as his.

serenity not

It's hard to stay serene these days, before the annihilatory wishes of this government. This time it's the
Play School furore. Just about every Australian under-5 watches Play School at some point. It's a lovely program. I happen to know that two children from a two-mum family have appeared in filmed segments doing ordinary things like catch a bus. They were not wearing a big sign that said "Children of lesbians" at the time.
This week another child of lesbians (who we know) appeared in a playground segment and was heard in a voiceover referring to her "two mums". The nation's conservative politicians have gone haywire.The Communications Minister even rang the managing direction of the entire Australian Broadcasting Corporation to complain. This is outrageous. (I am so sick of feeling outraged by these idiots.)
Tony Abbot, whose daughters are now too old to watch Play School, says that he would have been shocked if he'd seen this segment with them. Get real Tony. Your children would not have been shocked. Okay, some of Olle's preschool classmates were curious, asking who the co-parent was and how she could be his mum when I was his mum. But they accepted the simple explanation: he has two mums. Fine. They liked him and played with him despite this "shocking" information. In turn, Olle was exposed to a child whose father had moved out of home "because he was mean to my mummy". More prosaically, he was exposed to the first time to children whose parents had "split up". He was exposed for the first time to children who go to church, which is shocking to me.
I could go on, but won't.
I heard a letter read out on the radio yesterday from a heterosexual woman whose toddler has a classmate with two mothers. I hope that many heterosexual parents feel moved to write similar types of letters ... letters from "politically correct" lesbians just don't count any more.

yet another convulsive moment

So Howard has gone to a foreign country (the USA) and enlisted its leader into the Australian election campaign. The man has no shame.

Thursday, June 03, 2004


For the past year or so, I have been given to suddenly swearing out loud or physically convulsing while reading newspapers or articles on the web. Watching the tv news is even worse - I almost spit abuse at the screen. My co-parent complains that I'm like a madwoman. We'll be driving along with the radio news on and I become almost apoplectic about some phrase in a newsreader's precis of events.
Just a couple of items which had this affect on me today: PM will urge Bush to hold his nerve; "On his European visits, Bush will compare Iraq to rebuilding Germany and Japan after the second world war. He will raise the spectre of the west against communism in the cold war. He will contrast Nazi atrocities to Islamist terrorism. He has even said that he will instruct Europeans that Iraq is like the United States before its constitutional convention"; and "Child-care hot spots to get cash injection", which, forgive my cynicism, reads like a government press release.
I think it's healthy to express anger in this way.
(And the spellcheck here wanted to replace 'madwoman' with 'madman'. Expletive deleted.)


The Allergic “Shiner”
Hay fever symptoms are not limited to a runny and stuffy nose, itchy eyes and sneezing. “Commonly, you’ll also see dark circles under the eye, or what is known as an allergic shiner,” says Dr. Sandberg. These dark circles result from nasal congestion that slows the blood flow in the skin of the lower eyelid.”
Interesting. (Though in his case, it is merely a sniffle.)


A couple of people have written privately and mentioned they were having difficulty making Comments on this blog site.
For blog novices: immediately below each post is the word Comments, usually preceded, on my blog, by a 0, which means no comments have been made. If there is a number, then you can double click on Comments and it should bring up in a new window all the comments which have been made. My post will precede the comments, so you have to scroll down to read them. At the very bottom it will give you the option to make your own Comment. Click on that and it brings up yet another window, where you have the option of commenting anonymously (though you can sign your name to your words) or as a registered Blogspot user, if you have your own blog. I guess in that case it would provide a link to your blog.
I hope you can figure this out! I like getting comments. One of the things which put me off having a blog for a long time was the un-interactivity of them. It makes me feel rather egotistic to be airing my own thoughts online without referring to what any readers have to say about them. I prefer conversations to monologues.

the adoption/marriage ban

Here's what my MP Tanya Plibersek wrote back to me about what Labor proposes to do on the gay marriage/adoption ban. Pretty wishy-washy. Even though the notion of marriage leaves me cold, their rationale for supporting the bill in that respect is pathetic.
[By the way, I also wrote to my email list and pointed out that forwarding my original post, with my email address and name on it, directly to a politician, no matter how sympatico that politician is, without asking my permission is a breach of netiquette.]

"The government attempted to use same sex relationship recognition in the same way they have used race and refugees in past election campaigns. They want to be seen to take "tough action" against a non-existent threat.

Labor has responded by accepting that the Marriage Act refers to marriage between a man and a woman, but preparing a whole raft of other amendments which show that we recognise and value same sex relationships equally with heterosexual relationships, and that we believe in full equality for the GLTBI communities.

Labor's position on the government's proposed amendments to the Marriage Act and Family Law Act, adopted today in caucus, says that we will not oppose the changes to the marriage act. The proposed changes do not take existing rights away, so we will not oppose it in the House of Representatives but we will send the legislation to a Senate inquiry for thorough examination before voting in the Senate. This will give all community members who are interested the chance to make a submission to the inquiry, and put on the public record their thoughts about relationship recognition. The reference to a Senate committee was one of the major requests made by people who contacted me about this legislation, and it has been delivered.

We have also committed to move an amendment opposing the government's moves on adoption. Adoption will remain the responsibility of the states, and those states and territories which currently allow same sex adoption will not have their laws tampered with.

We will also move an amendment on superannuation. The government has claimed it will introduce superannuation legislation making it easier for inter-dependent couples of all types (i.e. same sex couples, siblings etc) to leave their super to one another. This legislation is separate from what has already been introduced, and no-one has yet seen it. Labor will move our own amendment and challenge the government to support it.

Perhaps most importantly, the ALP has committed to provide absolute equality between same sex and hetero-sexual de facto couples. This is something the lesbian and gay communities have been lobbying for some years, and we will urge the government to support our changes. If they don't, we will deliver on this promise in government. Every piece of Commonwealth legislation will be examined, and every bit of discrimination based on sexuality or gender identification will be removed.

I still believe the Prime Minister's proposed changes to the Marriage Act and Family Law Act are intentionally divisive and a dirty political exercise, however I believe the package of reforms Labor has negotiated, if passed, would be a huge step forward. The GLTBI communities can look forward to genuine, far-reaching reforms under a Labor government.

Best wishes,

The reason I think it's clear that this is just dirty politics is firstly, no Australian couples currently have access to same sex marriage. The change to the Marriage Act is not necessary to prevent same sex marriage in Australia - this is just gratuitous. The marriage act and common law make clear that marriage is between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others. The reason this is being brought up now is to distract from the polls, the prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq, the destruction of our health and education systems, the re-emergence of leadership tensions in the Liberal party - and the Trish Draper scandal.

The government's legislation also says that it is better for a child to grow up in a Calcutta orphanage that to be brought up by loving same sex parents in a committed relationship in Australia. Also, single people can still adopt, so couples will adopt in the name of one parent. What will be the legal position of the co-parent if something happens to the legal parent? How can it be in the best interests of a child to introduce such legal uncertainty?

work and childcare

I found out this morning that my job is ongoing. For the past year I've been replacing a woman who was on maternity leave. She was due to come back in early July. There'd been signs for awhile that she wasn't eager to return anyway, but I was told today that she'd said she could not find any child care for her baby, so has resigned.
I'm pleased, as this job is perfect for me, very flexible, but I feel a tinge of concern if she really has resigned due to the lack of childcare (I'm not entirely convinced that's the whole reason.) There is a crisis of childcare in Australia. I hadn't fully understood why this was the case until I read that article and forum transcript. I did know that in 1999, when we toured a childcare centre near our home, we could have had a place the next week for our baby. (We didn't take it.) Now that centre has a waiting list of 200. We happen to have a friend who is the receptionist there and she reports that every day she has to turn parents away, by telephone. We were very fortunate in getting Oli into the four-year-old room there last year, at short notice. Some people we know have not been able to get their 4 year old in this year, despite visiting the office a few times. (And ringing all other centres in the locality). So their girl stays at home with her mother (and a baby). When she starts school next year, it will be after a year at home, no socialisation with other pre-kindergarteners. Not a good beginning to school. And as usual it is all this government's fault!.

Eagle-eyed friends of mine, by the way, will spot someone who is special to me in that forum (clue=couch).

dark circles 2

Interesting comments on the dark circles. In fact there is a family tendency towards hayfever - my brother has had it badly since he was a child and my sisters get it too (luckily I escaped that particular genetic trait, though I have my share of inherited bad ones). My brother once told me he'd read a fascinating book on the history of hayfever. It was a condition unknown until the Industrial Revolution.
It hadn't really occured to me that Olle could have hayfever, but this paleness/under-eye circles do seem to occur after he's had a sniffly nose for awhile. My brother says he feels much better when he cuts out all dairy during high-pollen times. So maybe for Ol, the dairy milk is connected to the dark circles is connected to hayfever?
Valerie, did you know that I also have Polish ancestry?! My maternal great-grandfather (my mother's father's father) was Polish. My mother's maiden name was a Polish one. They were Catholic Poles though.
My other great-grandmother (my mother's mother's mother) was Jewish but had converted to Catholicism before marrying her husband (who was English). I don't know what her ancestry was, whether it was Polish or other European. The great-aunt who I mentioned yesterday as having dark circles was from that side of my family. I have seen a photo from about 1910 of that great-grandmother with her two daughters. They were all very dark and obviously Jewish looking. I never found out about the Jewish connection until after my grandmother died when I was 18. My great-aunt was a spinster, lived alone in a flat in Kings Cross and her hair was black. She also had very dark eyebrows - it never occured to me as a child that any of this was dyed!
This morning I asked another kindergarten mother who is a doctor about dark circles. She said 'tiredness' and that some ethnicities, eg some Indian children, just look that way.
By the way, it's not as if he looks like he's wearing eye-shadow! But I am not entirely imagining the shadows either.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004


We visited my nephew on the weekend. He is about to turn 12. Last time I saw him, he had recently turned 11. There has been a big change in that year - he is now as tall as his mother and pre-pubertal. He is coming out of childhood but is not quite in adolescence yet.
When he was six and seven, he was keen on toy soldiers and military vehicles. He got those out for Olle to play with. I asked what he liked to play with now; he answered "Books". He showed me a thick hardback called "Wellington and Napoleon", plus "The Lord of the Rings", which he said he had read three times so far. He also watches the LOTR videos over and over, apparently, and plays a medieval computer game.
I was excited. He was a boy who still wanted to be read to when he was 9 - he was not very enthusiastic about reading for himself. Now he lives in books. This is becoming more and more unusual.
The best book I've read in years was Francis Spufford's The Child That Books Built, a reflection and analysis on the role of reading in his own life as a child and teenager. Although he was English and a boy, I identified with much of his book. It brought back to me not only the excitement of many of those stories (reading the Narnia stories for the first time was one of the highpoints of my childhood), but how crucial reading time was to the development of my own thoughts and ideas, alone in my own mind.
There is a lot of talk around now about how boys are struggling with reading - not only in learning to read but in wanting to read. So I'm really pleased to see that my nephew has become a book-lover at the age when apparently a lot of boys stop reading. I feel that some part of me will be holding its breath for the next seven years to see how it will turn out for my son.


I seem to have stumbled into the role of co-organising a 30-year reunion of my secondary school class. I went to a Catholic girls school. I stayed in touch with four or five of my final-year friends for two or three years after leaving school. After that, I stayed in touch with only one woman, who coincidentally also moved to London, where she still lives.
I saw her here again last year for the first time in five years. We talked about our other friends and wondered what they were up to. I did a web search and found two of them. One was not particularly encouraging; the other was delighted to be in touch. We've been trying to arrange to meet ever since and in fact have a date for tomorrow evening.
Around the same time as I did that search, I came across a website which links old school friends. My co-parent had signed up to a similar site back in England and got emails from some old friends. So I registered too, for both my primary and secondary schools. Weirdly, I recalled the faces behind the names on my primary school site better than for the high school ones, some of which were totally foreign to me. Perhaps primary school is a much more vivid time. And there were 'only' 40 kids in my primary class, whereas there were 120 girls in my high school year - I couldn't know them all.
On the other hand, apart from reading their bios, I have no interest in getting in touch with my primary pals. One of them emailed me. She lives in New Zealand and has rugby-playing teenage sons. She is keen to have a reunion. I can't imagine what we'd talk about at a reunion. When I think back to that time of life, we seem like unformed people - I wasn't yet the person I was to become. I started becoming that person in late secondary school. I wouldn't mind getting together with my very best friend from primary school (who went on to the same high school with me) and reflecting on our childhoods, but the others in our class are strangers to me.
One of my high school chums, who is now a university academic, posted a note to the site asking about a possible reunion. I've looked at that note from time to time in the past six months and done nothing about it. Yesterday I replied. Since then, with the aid of email, a small group has convened to organise the reunion, at the school, towards the end of this year.
I have a friend who also became a mother late, at 44 in her case. She is Jewish but went to a private Christian girls school. A couple of years ago she went to her 30-year reunion and found it worthwhile and productive. She re-established connections with a few schoolfriends who had become the kinds of women she finds interesting. She found out that she did not have the very youngest child, though some of her classmates are already grandmothers - as are mine!
20 years ago, I would have run a mile from a school reunion. I wanted to put as much distance as possible between me and that institution, that time of my life. Approaching 50, having a child at school, I've changed.


Public school teachers in NSW are on strike again today. The first strike was last Wednesday. Oli spent that day at the home of a kindergarten friend R, whose father is on paternity leave, looking after their 5, 2 and 10mth olds. Oli loves being at their home (he also spent a day there during the Easter school holidays), with its family atmosphere. In fact, as we were getting into the car after I'd picked him up, he said that he wanted our family to move in with them! I don't think he generally minds being an only child, but he does enjoy being a kid among kids.
Today, the mother of another kindergarten boy, J, collected Oli from our place, was then going to collect R and take the three boys for a walk along the coastal path south of Coogeee Beach. She will then drop Oli and R back at R's place for the afternoon.
Funny that a mere four months ago we didn't know any of these people. I'm so pleased he goes to a public school.

dark circles

Oli has dark circles under his eyes. Last week I scanned a recent photo of him and the resulting digitised image revealed distinct dark circles. I was alarmed, but there wasn't anything I could do about it as the photo was a month old and the circles were no longer apparent. However, I've been monitoring his face (even more than I usually do) and last night at bedtime, there were the circles again.
When he was a young baby, Oli had severe anaemia - his haemoglobin at one point was 6.3, which is almost at blood transfusion level. It was one of the many traumatising aspects of my first year as a mother. There are photos of him before he was diagnosed looling like a white marble statue. After diagnosis, he had to take liquid iron, which had to be taken with solids, so he had to start solids, even though he was not ready. I felt as if I was constantly subjecting my baby to painful blood draws and shoving unwelcome rice cereal and iron down his throat.
His haemoglobin recovered but I didn't ... I have remained supersensitive to any imagined pallor in his face. Even though I don't eat meat, I'm happy for him to, if it will keep anaemia at bay.
I have always had rosy cheeks, but he does not share my skin type or complexion - he has olive skin and has hardly ever shown any redness on his cheeks. Sometimes I worry that he looks sallow ... though I think this is mostly the aforementioned supersensitivity on my part.
Before Christmas he went through several weeks of lingering mild illness - mild cough, sniffly nose, etc. He got pale (I wasn't imagining it.) I worried that his bedtime was too late. Even though he sleeps for a solid 10+ hours every night, he doesn't go to sleep till what is considered by most parents of young children a late hour - usually 9pm (8.30 on a very good night). Maybe staying up past children's natural bedtime was placing a stress on his nervous system, resulting in paleness...?
One day I was browsing in an ABC shop and came across an Australian book of natural treatments for childhood complaints. (I should have bought it.) It had a chapter on iron-deficiency anaemia, and a quick scan revealed that the combination of dairy milk and a lot of pasta could lead to anaemia.
When we are lazy and in a rush, we often feed him pasta, and busyness means that we fail to buy rice milk, so we let him drink cow milk.
Hmmm. I immediately stopped him drinking cow milk, stocked up on rice milk and iron-rich foods and within a week, he began to look glowing again.
As I'm writing this, I realise that I have recently slipped ... I've been working fulltime, so organic shopping and cooking has gone by the wayside, dairy milk and pasta are back on the menu.
I did a web search on under-eye dark circles. One website suggests dark circles are either a result of ageing or inheritance. It's clearly not the first for Oli, though my eldest sister has had dark circles under her eyes only since turning 50 and I vaguely recall a great aunt who had very dark under-eyes.
Another site suggests food allergy or intolerance and specifically mentions wheat and dairy.
Although I tend to be a sceptic about the ubiquity with which food allergy is raised as the source of health problems, in this case it does raise a red flag in my mind. Looks like we should once again prevent our boy from drinking cow milk, cut down on the pasta consumption (though I suspect the milk is the major culprit) and see what happens.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

a reply

The principal emailed me back and said that the school newsletter could not be used for political purposes, even though she fully supports my point of view. (And I know that she does, she's not just saying that.)

D-Day revisited

I caught a glimpse on TV news the other night of George W Bush dedicating a new war memorial in Washington DC. His words, as usual, were appalling, claiming America's soldiers as the one and only champions of freedom in the world.

Then I read a piece in The Guardian about the decication. One veteran "Everett Cox, 83 ... felt apart from other Americans in their shocked reaction to the abuse at Abu Ghraib prison because he understands what a war can do. "We did a lot of things that were even worse," he said. "If the Germans ever captured us they would shoot us, so when we got German prisoners we would kill them too - right on the spot."

Possibly the Germans did shoot some prisoners, but not all. My Scottish father-out-of-law John went ashore with the Royal Marines at D-Day plus one. A day later he was captured by the Germans. He was marched on foot across France and interned in a POW camp in Germany. He survived and like Everett Cox is now 83.

John is a conservative voter. But last year he came along on the huge Sydney march against the invasion of Iraq, his first ever demonstration in his life. He told me he is shocked by the treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. "We knew that the Geneva Convention applied to German prisoners and it applied to us - we relied on it, it was the only thing which kept us alive".

We have a friend whose father 'A' flew bombers for the RAF across Europe during WW2. He and a few other Australian pilots sailed to California, travelled across the US by train and then caught a troopship across the Atlantic to Britain to join up with the RAF. He told us recently that there were thousands of American troops on their ship. The Australians had watched them embarking and noticed one particularly nasty sergeant haranguing his men. One day out from New York, 'A' and a friend were standing on the top deck, when they saw on a deck below them two US soldiers bundle the sergeant overboard. He would have drowned. Presumably he was listed as "missing", but it's likely his murderers went uncharged.

I got mail

Hmmm. I sent an email out to the Rainbow Babies lesbian parents group (about 150 members), plus some other friends of mine, about the gay adoption ban issue, including the suggestion about turning up outside Mark Latham's house. The next day I received an email from Tanya Plibersek MP, in response to my letter. I doubt she is on the RB list, so I guess someone must have forwarded my post to her. I will ask her how she came across it. She says that Labor is not going to support the ban on gay foreign adoption and [I don't have her email here to quote from directly] that they are trying to work on ways to deal with the gay marriage ban. At which I got a picture of her and other leftwingers frantically scrabbling around behind the scenes trying to change course on that issue. And so they should be.
She happens to be my MP and a fellow [sister?] member of our local branch of the Australian Breastfeeding Association. I was intending to email her about it anyway.

Australian psyche

Last night a friend and I went to hear Philip Adams speak on 'the Australian psyche', under the auspices of the NSW Institute of Psychoanalysis. It was a heartening evening, for the sheer intellectualism - and radicalism - of Adams' talk and responses from the audience.
I first noticed Adams when I returned to live in Australia in 1992. I was struggling then (still am, in ways) with the small-pond-just-a-few-big-fish aspect of Australian culture and intellectual life, so I was wary of having to fall into line as a member of the Adams fanclub simply because he is leftwing and so am I. I tend to read his column in The Australian magazine and newspaper more often than I catch his Radio National program (although now that I come to think about it, I haven't read a column for weeks.) The column I've enjoyed most in the past decade was one he wrote about his Jack Russell dogs. Maybe that says something about how alienated I generally feel from Australian political life.
I did enjoy his talk last night though [I'll write more about it later], and warmed to him as a person. I liked that he kept patting the hand of the man who introduced him, Dr Ron Speilman, and in fact held his hand during the final applause. Maybe I liked it because it was a mostly reflective talk, rather than a polemic.
He is not very admiring of Mark Latham and said he doesn't think he is at all socially progressive. I haven't made up my mind on Latham yet. Latham did say he supports the right to abortion, a few weeks ago. And he's not religious. But he made an uncritically silly comment when he said America was not all bad, just look at cultural offerings like "Shrek". So we know what his young children are watching. [I'm one of the few parents I know who does not like 'Shrek' or see it as an essential item for my child to own.]

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