Thursday, 24 April 2014

Talking to the animals

Whenever I visit my family I am surrounded by animals of all kinds  it's a welcome change from my urban life, where I admire other people's dogs from afar. 

Sometime yesterday one of the heifers gave birth to a female calf, chocolate brown with soft curls. Her mother seemed to take little interest and the calf was left alone, breathing heavily and rapidly. The calf was able to stand up but seemed exhausted by the effort. Meanwhile the mother looked on and moved away whenever the calf approached. The calf sniffed my legs and groin, imagining that I might have milk to offer. I didn't. Somehow, the calf managed to attach herself to the mother's udder, but this was short lived when the mother wandered off. 

Another cow tried to nudge the calf towards its mother. The calf responded by trying to drink from it. 

We decided to separate the cow and her calf from the rest of the herd. We got them into a separate paddock, carrying the calf part of the way. While the calf rested in the shade of a tree, the mother bellowed and stared at us but made no move to be near her calf.  We ran her up along the fence line towards a smaller yard and then the cow climbed over the fence - back into the paddock from which we'd just removed her! A horse was saddled and the job finally completed. 

I've named the calf "Kylie", even though she's not mine to name. I hope it sticks and I hope she makes it.

Checking each other out.
Copyright 2014 divacultura

We tried to feed Kylie on the bottle but she didn't like that much either. 
Trying the bottle.
Copyright 2014 divacultura

I decided that Shirley the lamb was a better prospect as I explained she would one day help me knit a jumper!

Shirley the lamb
Copyright 2014 divacultura 

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Lolling about with a novel - holiday bliss.

Yesterday I did something I haven't done in a while. I spent the whole day reading a novel. The novel in question was "The Goldfinch" by Donna Tartt, winner of this year's Pulitzer Prize for literature. The last thing I did before sleep the night before was read more pages. I reluctantly stopped for sleep.  The first thing I did upon waking was reach for the book. I stopped for breakfast and then placed a chair on the verandah to take advantage of the autumn sunshine and took my spot. I stopped for lunch and then finished at about 4pm. I raced towards the end because I was so engrossed in the story. Upon finishing I felt simultaneously satisfied - as if I had just finished a delicious meal - and bereft, because the story was gone. 

I think "The Goldfinch" is my new favourite book of all time. 

It's a long time since I've been free to completely absorb myself with a novel in this way. It's also been a while since I have loved a novel so much that I feel part of the story. It reminds me of Easter holidays long gone. 

Returning home from boarding school or university, it was nothing for me to stay in bed with a big novel. I read Peter Carey's "Oscar and Lucinda" and "Illywhacker" in single, day-long sessions, emerging bleary-eyed and jet-lagged from my trip into other places through the pages of a book. 

Taking literature subjects at university, with their demanding reading lists, meant homework was a pleasure, even if the choice of what to read next was dictated by upcoming assessments. 

I find the choice of "what's next" after such a big, satisfying book as "The Goldfinch" difficult. After such absorption and connection with one writer I find the switch to another author can be jarring. My choice this time is a slimmer book: "The Italian Girl" by Iris Murdoch - my book group's next choice. The gears changed as I opened to the first page and began the task of reorientation. They are still grinding a little, but I'm sure we'll settle in together. 

Having finished the novel, I now understand a conversation I had with my local Yarraville bookseller about the Booker Prize winning "The Luminaries" by Eleanor Catton - another big, fat book which I enjoyed immensely. The bookseller hadn't enjoyed "The Luminaries" because she was part way through "The Goldfinch" when she grabbed it to take on her Christmas holidays. She was dismayed to discover she had the wrong book and was forced to commence "The Luminaries" while she was stranded, remote from her copy of "The Goldfinch". Devastation! Disappointment! Frustration! Restlessness! All would have ensued. 

I'm amazed that in such a busy year I've managed to finish two huge novels - along with six others!

How do you like to read? What are you reading now? What's your favourite book?

My view from the verandah. The aeroplanes were very busy. 
Copyright 2014 divacultura

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Superannuation - what's your name again?

I've made some progress on my superannuation campaign! I've also been stuck in another bureaucratic loop.

The good news is that I've received a refund of insurance premiums and fees. It's a small amount of money but an important acknowledgement that other people were spending my money in a way I had not authorised and that is of no benefit to me.

In the meantime, the Australian Tax Office is investigating whether I've been denied choice of superannuation fund under the requirements of the superannuation choice legislation. I suspect I know what the answer will be, but it's all part of amassing evidence to then mount an argument and perhaps broaden the campaign.

My local members of parliament will soon be hearing from me.

Today I received a letter from the UniSuper Fund thanking me for my request to change my membership details. They then went on to note my new name and new address.  I've had the same name since birth and the same mailing address for fourteen years, so I was a little concerned. I rang the fund and was advised that the university HR department had changed my details.

"Change them back please," I said.

"We can't do that over the phone," came the reply from Alice.

"Why not?"

"Only the university HR department can change those details. You need to speak to them."

"Am I the owner of the account?" I asked.


"If there was money in the account, would that money belong to me?"


"Why can someone who is not me change my name and address?"


"You'll need to speak to HR. I can't do anything."

Maybe I'm feeling a bit sensitive after having to convince another employer on the weekend about what my name is. There was no folder with my name on it. Several people pointed me to the folder with the right first name, but the wrong surname.

"Oh, you're not Tanya Frew?"

"No I'm not."

"Are you sure?"

I have no patience for conversations like that.

I refuse to be sent back into the bureaucratic haze of buck passing between the employer and the superannuation fund. I insisted that the details be fixed. Alice just called back and told me the problem had been rectified. It's amazing what becomes possible when you persist, sound like you know what you're talking about and sound like you mean it.

I'll be calling the university HR department tomorrow to remove any authority for them to make changes to my account. I'll also be asking for details of the authority that they had to make the changes in the first place. That should be interesting.

In the course of the call, I've discovered that my account has been reopened, but no money has been paid in. It is set up without insurance attached, so that tells me that someone, somewhere is listening.

I'm a supporter of compulsory superannuation, but won't accept this distortion of the system.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

To borrow a phrase - I can't stand the rain

It's raining in Melbourne. It's been raining solidly for the last couple of days. Apparentlly we've received our monthly rainfall in a couple of days. I forget which month. It's a bit wearing, travelling around, hauling umbrellas, avoiding others' umbrellas, being constantly damp, managing frizzy hair, but it's been lovely to see the grass green again.

I've been persisting with my daily walk. The trains and trams are so stuffy and humid that it's actually nicer to be out in the air, even if you are a bit damp and your hair has turned into a fuzz ball. In one spot where I walk there is a glorious stand of eucalyptus trees. I pause to take in the scent. I also notice the bubbles forming on the puddles and feel sorry for the people trapped in their cars, lined up and going no where.

I've been puzzled by the people I've seen hunched over, as if they are making themselves so small, they would fit between the raindrops. In one hand they clutch an umbrella. Why don't they open it and take shelter?

Umbrellas are particularly hazardous when boarding and alighting from trains and trams. I was nearly stabbed to death by a small Asian woman who suddenly changed direction while we waited to touch off our mykis on the way out of the station. I stood very still and she looked terrified.

All the floors are slippery and I walk like a 90 year-old woman everywhere I see a smooth service. Since my fall last year, I'm acutely aware of how a simple fall can cause serious injury. I'm constantly surprised by how many walking surfaces are completely unsuited to wet weather and rushing crowds of people.

This morning's commute was chaotic. Power failures further down the line meant cancellations and delays. As the train pulled into the station 15 minutes late, the windows were dark with crowds inside and fogged with all their breathing. I insinuated myself into an inadequate space, having already let one train pass. I held onto an overhead railing at an angle just wrong enough to make me feel discombobulated when I finally arrived at my destination.

Coming home a woman asked whether station announcements are made on the train.

"Sometimes," I told her. "If you're lucky, they might even be accurate."

She looked at me like I was some kind of zealot.

Soon the voice of Metro trains announced that the next station was Seddon. It wasn't. It was South Kensington. Only two stops out. The woman looked at me with mistrust when I told her where to get off. The train, I mean. I shrugged. She could trust me - a stranger on a train - or she could trust the disembodied, malfunctioning woman with the voice. Or she could look out the window and see the name of the station.

It's nice to arrive home to a dry place; although I'm slightly nervous that the unattended hole in the ceiling will soon prove to be catastrophic.

As I settle in to watch Survivor tonight, I'm reminded to be glad that I'm not camping on a beach, even if I was in the running to win a million dollars. Or in north Queensland waiting for the cyclone to arrive.

How do you feel about rain?

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

In concert - Bernadette Peters

I spent last night with Broadway star Bernadette Peters in concert. I saw her a few years ago at the Sydney Opera House and remember being a little disappointed. I put it down to the dodgy acoustics. When she came out and started with "Let me Entertain You" from the musical Gypsy, I wondered if it wasn't the hall that was the problem last time.

Before the show I struck up a conversation with a woman whose table I was sharing while I had a cup of coffee. She didn't really know who Bernadette Peters is and had won her ticket on the radio. I told her that she's 67 years old as the woman looked at her program. The woman told me that she hadn't looked as good as Bernadette when she was 25! I considered her now and believed this to be true.

Ms Peters looked fantastic wearing a spaghetti-strapped, soft lilac gown with just the right amount of sparkle and a split in the front of the skirt coupled with satin heels. She shimmied around the stage and wasn't always on the microphone.

Hamming it up during one of the best versions of "Fever" I've ever heard, the diva slinked her way up the stairs to lie on a black velvet pillow and strike a shapely drape on top of the piano, she sang the song with lust and wit accompanied by double bass and drums. Yes! This was great performance.

Charming conversation interspersed the evening. "Joanna" from Sweeney Todd started with a cracked note, but improved from there. I started to get a bit twitchy and then I realised what the problem was. Bernadette Peters is much more an actress who sings, than a singer who acts. She is at her best when there's an emotional or comic element to the song. Listening to her sing is not enough and will be a disappointing experience. If you can absorb yourself in the emotion of the performance, then the experience is sublime. Losing my Mind from Stephen Sondeheim's Follies was extraordinarily emotional and like watching someone have a break down driven by the grief of a broken relationship.

The show ended with the big Sondheim song, Being Alive from Company, full of hope (and a fluffed lyric or two).

For encore, Peter Allen's song "I Honestly Love You" left me with tears overflowing. She then shared "Kramer's Song" a song she wrote as part of a children's book written for an animal shelter charity. Kramer is her dog and it was lovely.

I'd love to see Bernadette Peters in a show, rather than just in concert. It must be incredible.

Were you there at Her Majesty's Theatre last night? Have you seen Bernadette Peters? What did you think?