Government ‘Services’

Today I embarked on a web hunt for some specific information from the NSW Office of Fair Trading. While I wouldn’t class myself as a whizz-bang technological expert I am reasonably competent. But I met my match with this website. One had to untangle a variety of pointers to legislation, and then wade through the legislation to find the reference. Broadening its terms so that it could be applied, in layman’s language, to our Strata’s specific requirements, required the skill of at least a para-legal.

I should not complain; it only took me ten minutes waiting time on the phone to try to get a more linguistically sympatico  version of the information I required,which of course. is not available. This could change in the immediate future with the NSW treasurer promising a cutback of 2400 public servants in his latest budget. Presumably politicians aren’t public servants, and so are quarantined from such cutbacks.

The website, which could help thousands of ordinary people like myself, appears to be deliberately opaque, couched in the ever-so-incomprehensible legal jargon.

I think, that if we wanted to find out the current definition for ‘service’ it is probably contained in a special edition of a government dictionary, i.e. the meaning would read ‘count yourself lucky if you get it’.

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Plan your trip using NSW Transport

Dear Minister for Transport,
Needing to travel from Bondi Beach to Ramsgate RSL by public transport, I took the advice of the NSW Transport website and copied down the directions as listed by the Trip Planner for that trip.
The first direction was to catch the train from Bondi Junction Station to Rockdale Station, which I duly did.
And thereby hangs a tale!
The next instruction was to go to Railway Parade, Rockdale, locate Bus Stand A, catch bus no 947 and alight on the 19th stop.
I walked up and down Railway Parade, but could find only Stands G & H. In final frustration I enquired of some commuters where I might get the bus to Ramsgate. ‘Oh’, they said,’ that stand is on the other side of the railway line.’
So NOT Railway Parade, but GEEVES Street.
I found Stand A, but alas it was for bus no. 422 which goes into the city.
So NOT STAND A!
Again I appealed in frustration to a commuter. ‘No,’ he said, “I think tha the bus you need goes from Stand C or Stand B.
So I hiked back to Stand C – didn’t look like a bus to Ramsgate went from that stand. So I tried Stand B. Success I think. There is a bus that looks like it might take me to Ramsgate – NOT 947, but 478.
A 478 arrived and I asked the driver to let me off at the stop nearest to Ramsgate RSL. He didn’t know where it was, and when I gave him the cross street, he demurred, saying that he didn’t go past that intersection.
So in desperation I called on the passengers.
Success again. I was to be let off at Coles and walk 2 minutes to the Club.
I found it.
And so dear Minister for Transport, my request is that you travel from Bondi Junction Station to the Ramsgate RSL using the helpful directions provided by your Trip Planner site.
Sincerely……

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Going to Jail

Why would a middle class, middle aged suburban housewife and mother, mature aged university student, go to work in a jail? Well, when that career of a quarter of a century of marriage and motherhood crumbled around her, she found herself on the margins of society, a sole parent on a pension. Part time work over that quarter of a century had been structured around family responsibilities, not career trajectories. Studies in  an Arts degree majoring in Medieval Literature did not hold promise of a career, but as some wits suggested, maybe were entirely appropriate for a career in the NSW prison system!

What surreal world did this employment decision catapult her into? And how did this decision enable her to advance to becoming the inaugural manager of the first pre-release community-based transitional centre in this state? And then to write a published memoir, Careering into Corrections?

Well, that’s another story.

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No Place like Home

but how come I’m out almost every day? The gym, the voluntary work, the grocers, the dentist, the doctor, the podiatrist, the ophthalmologist, the pathologist, the radiographer! What is it about the ageing process that takes so much time? Well of course, there are the movies, the galleries, the ballet, the opera, the concerts – all at concession rates.

Home is Bondi Beach, and today was a day at home. I could have gone for a swim – the weather had cleared, the tide was flat – no explosions of foam over Ben Bucklers rocks.The water temperature is warm – I dipped and ducked in the ocean last Sunday – water beautiful.

But decided on a brisk walk down to Bondi IGA, with a concise list of 3 items. So how did I end up in Vinnies? No, it is not on the way to the the IGA, it’s up in the next block. But I was only going to browse for specific items, so how come I came out with another handbag and a jumper? To my credit, I did buy only 2 of the 5 items I’d selected, so that shows some discipline. And I’m giving back a jumper from my existing stock. It’s lovely, but actually, I never wear it.

The grocery list stayed almost on target – bought only two extra items (on special). And I had promised to indulge myself on this day at home with coffee at my favourite coffee shop, Gertrude and Alice. But blocking my entrance was a tub full of marvellous, quirky greeting cards – $2 each or 6 for $10. It would have defied all budgetary common sense to resist.

Now for the latte. Oh goodness, what has just hit me in the eye? Oh, a gorgeous spelt berry scone. Why not? After all, this is my day at home in Bondi Beach.

Of course the brisk walk home morphed into a ponderous plod, as extra bags and groceries combined with an indulgent afternoon tea dragged my steps into a slow,  arduous journey home.

But hey, a day browsing in my own territory doesn’t yet threaten my entitlement. And there really is no place like home.

 

 

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Strata Living

Dear Resident of no. 16

 

 

Although we’ve never met in the eighteen months since I moved here, I feel that not only do I know you, I know you intimately. Late at night, or in the early hours of the morning, I am able to track, somewhat reluctantly, your very audible movements. I share, rather unwillingly, a range of your activities with you as you wander from the bathroom, to the bedroom, to the lounge room. And have you, I wonder, thought of WD40 for your windows? I would be happy to give you mine if this would subdue some of your nocturnal operational activities.

 

The fluid sounds from your bathroom have particular resonance, as they tinkle unhindered through hollow, aqueous conduits. Or perhaps, more accurately, stream down like Niagara Falls surging through a narrow spout. That’s how I deduced that you have a particular appendage suggestive of the male of the species. You know, I have just read that apartments in Switzerland have by-laws regulating males to sit, rather than stand, when performing functional rituals at a late hour. I know this is not Switzerland. We live in the legendary land of the tough where ‘the boys don’t cry,’ and a dead-eye dick aim is a long bow from an apple on a Swiss hero’s head.

 

And I do understand that every Tarzan needs his Jane. But in keeping with evolutionary progress, you and your Jane don’t swing in a hammock slung between the tops of trees. Rather, you plump down on a somewhat rickety bed, which creaks loud complaints in time with the rhythmic stresses percussing its unstable frame. And your Jane is a vocal spirit, who soars off into operatic shrieks of ecstasy. Allow me to congratulate you on an admirable application of skills and equipment.

 

I don’t know an easy solution for this. Perhaps I should withdraw the offer of the WD40, and suggest you keep your windows closed, to muffle the crescendo of climactic trills.

 

I have one last request. As you lumber around your space, would it be possible to tread more lightly on your floors which, in their natural, uncarpeted splendour adjoin the flimsy, porous substance of my bedroom ceiling? So could you try not to drop whatever it is you drop on the floor? And to refrain from dragging furniture, or dead bodies or whatever it is that you drag around, at such uninviting hours?

 

Yours of the bathroom and bedroom below in

 

Unit No. 8

ã 2004

Cleo Lynch

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THE NIGHTLY BATTLE

 

I could no longer put it off. Bodies had been washed and cleaned, and caked-on excrement sponged off and disposed of. The final cups of tea had been slurped and sucked, and the evening shift was coming to an end.

 

Except for one last chore. The glasses beside the beds wait expectantly to receive their gruesome charges.

 

Plunging my hand into the first mouth, I grope around soggy clumps of biscuit crumbs jostling with pieces of masticated corn. Drooling secretions ooze between my fingers, covering them with a slimy film as I poke and prise.

 

There is always a struggle, as some faint memory of ownership reasserts itself in a painful clamp on my hand. Releasing it from harm I start the process again.

 

Success at last, as I drop the dripping, discoloured teeth into the glass. Particles of food, released from crevices, float sluggishly in the water.

 

Now for the lower set. As my stomach heaves up to my throat, I gag it back, and again plunge my hand into the unwilling mouth.

 

Cleo Lynch

ã 2006

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PATIENT LIVES

She stood there, a small, stocky dog with short, light-brown fur and squat legs squarely planted on her rug. A leash trailed listlessly beside her. I passed by her as I obeyed the therapist’s direction to walk briskly around the edge of the gymnasium floor, with my fellow participants in the heart rehabilitation program.

 

Her eyes bored into me before I actually saw her; Large, doleful, brown eyes, fixed expectantly on the walkers and their shuffling responses to the therapist’s directive to walk briskly.

 

Not an especially beautiful animal, yet without moving a muscle, she inveigled her way into your awareness with an unwavering, pleading stare. Undaunted by the disorganized pedestrian shambles, the dog gazed wistfully at us, patiently alert to the semblance of a nod, a sound rising on a positive inflection, any human sign which could be interpreted as an invitation to trot along with us around the edge of the gymnasium floor.

 

But bound by canine obedience, she remained rigid on the rug, only her eyes giving any hint of movement. Although one day during exercise class, her owner suddenly broke off in the middle of neck stretches, and reiterating sternly, ‘No, no,’ left the class and marched over to where the dog waited. Or rather, to where she should have been waiting.

 

But the rug was vacant. The dog had moved sideways to squat in front of two elderly women. Their sympathetic noises, and invitations to patting and stroking and other doggie indulgences, had proven irresistible. Succumbing to this attention and affection, the dog had recklessly abandoned her rug, to grovel in canine subservience at the feet of the indulgers. Inevitably there were consequences for this breach of obedience, and with stern reminders of her canine status, her owner asserted his authority and herded her back to her rug, where she resumed her mournful vigil.

 

As she rivets me to her gaze, mounting her silent plea, my mind swirls with memories of another dog, whose photo sits on my bookshelf, a ginger haired mixture of beagle and labrador. Of average size and well proportioned, she was bigger than the dog at the hospital. White fur patched her face, and flecked her coat. Her doggie eyes gaze out at me from the photo, feigning a look of innocent naivety, which masks an innate, canine cunning. Her name was Kelly.

 

Years ago, Kelly inhabited our household. Mind you, she was meant to inhabit it externally, but with passive canine persistence, she crept vigilantly around identified obstacles until voilà, she finally succeeded in beguiling her way through the back door to the laundry. Tail wagging incessantly, she feigned an air of deceptive innocence, to distract from this boundary breach. Once in the laundry it was only an elongated slink to human company and the comforts of kitchen and lounge room.

 

There were, inevitably, some lapses of judgment, such as the ill-advised attack on the baked chicken I had rested momentarily on the open oven door, right beside the laundry. A quick canine calculation balanced the disadvantages of resisting temptation against the consequent explosive, but short-lived, tirade of anger and outrage. Indeed, that dog established a case for virtuous innocence, portraying herself as the confused victim, powerlessly wafted through the open door on the aroma of the chicken.

 

But that brazen, illicit sampling of roast chicken was a severe setback on the course of domestic integration, and strategically, she literally went to ground, practising every fawning gesture of subservience as she sought to ingratiate herself back into the forbidden domestic boundaries. During long doggie days she would watch and wait, plot and plan, alert to the smallest gap through which she could slither and begin to pad her stealthy path back through the laundry door.

 

As usual, she would frequently sabotage her best efforts with minor, petulant canine outbursts when she felt excluded and starved of attention. Unfortunately, digging up the newly planted garden as payback for being left home alone was the wrong sort of attention, and she knew it. But so pathological was this canine need to be noticed, she would herself alert us to the wrongdoing, responding to our cheerful calls with head hung down and tail between her legs, sure indicators of a guilty doggie conscience. Any kind of attention it seemed, was worth the consequences.

 

There was the time when she took advantage of my trustful inattention. Walking into the lounge room to collect something, I caught a furtive movement from the corner of my eye, and turned my head to investigate. There, slinking down from the sofa to the floor, like one of those slinky toys that oozes its way down steps, was Kelly, in a contorted simulation of slink and grovel. Had she not moved I would never have known she was there. But some vestige of canine obedience pricked her into a guilty retreat, exposing her to an outraged reprimand. To be in the lounge room was one thing. But to be lying on the sofa! This wilful flaunting of boundaries flabbergasted me.

 

But for Kelly it was only a minor distraction. Perseverance and patience, those dogged qualities, which over centuries had defined the relationship between her species and ours, had imbued her with an indefatigable ability to triumph over any adversity presented by humans.

 

Predictably, she was eventually ensconced in the house, fixing us with that same steady, mournful gaze calculated to make you feel guilty, like the dog at the hospital. A brief snack, the indulgence of a meat pie, would see her planted squarely in front of your feet, doleful eyes scrutinizing every mouthful taken. No matter that she may have just been fed, or rewarded with some titbits. Nothing deterred her from this guilt laying-on ritual. You felt like a glutton stuffing yourself in the presence of a starving waif.

 

That dog! Always contriving to present as an innocent, dumb animal, while maintaining a vigilant alert to any disruption to her comfort! We would only have to mouth the word ‘bath’, and she would disappear, way under the house, where we couldn’t reach her. Her bathtub, the wheelbarrow, was anathema to her, regarded with heightened suspicion even when used for its legitimate purpose. Human wiliness had to be pitted against canine resistance to cajole her out from her hiding place to endure the indignity of a bath.

 

Beagles are fetchers, invaluable to hunters, and in the absence of birds and small animals, Kelly had evolved into an obsessive fetcher of balls and sticks. Strategically placed on each back step was a stick, mute symbols of canine optimism that one of them might be thrown out into the yard so she could indulge her passion.

 

New neighbours, beguiled by this benign, tail wagging creature whose friendly overtures were always accompanied by a stick, would enthusiastically hurl the stick, only to find it back at their feet faster than a returning boomerang. Enthusiasm would soon subside into exasperation as the exhausted stick-throwing victims tried stoically to ignore this pesky animal.

 

But the obsession with balls was a boon to the neighbourhood cricket team. Kelly was always on the team, a fast, reliable fielder. All the kids in the street loved Kelly. She never tired of fetching the ball, which enthusiastic batsmen belted up and down the street, over fences and down gutters. She could even catch it on the full. And she played to the rules of the game, always surrendering the ball, drooling with saliva, immediately she had retrieved it. No one seemed to worry about doggie germs back then, as the ball was immediately scooped up in an attempt to run the batsman out.

 

She was an energetic dog who exuded robust health, but there was no escaping the onset of old age. An intermittent limp was the first symptom attributable, the vet claimed, to degenerative rheumatism. He had a simple remedy. She was he said, to rest, and stop running after sticks and balls. But this dog was the Peta Pan of canines. Not for her a quiet, dignified old age. She relished youthful exuberance, revelled in the attention and affection that rewarded her feats with sticks and balls and jigged around expectantly, waiting for the game to begin. The pain from a gammy leg could not compete with the thrill of the chase.

 

And then, one day, quite suddenly, in mid-ball catch, she staggered and collapsed. She had sustained a stroke. The vet was cautious in his prognosis. She might survive he said, but if she did, would be unable to get about, and remain dependent on intensive medical treatment. So it was to be vale to Kelly. Tears still come to my eyes as I cast myself back to that day when I had to make the decision to determine Kelly’s fate. I have never heard, before or since, such anguished cries as those of my son, although as the youngest of six he had already set an unrivalled precedent for volume. It was his birthday, but Kelly’s demise rendered celebration impossible. He would always, he loudly sobbed, connect his birthday with her death.

 

Kelly had been his companion since he was a toddler. Like him, she was an unplanned addition to our family. A phone call had come from an erstwhile brother. One could never judge the accuracy of the information in such phone calls, but as we had just lost a dog, we decided to risk the veracity of this call. Friends of his he said, were expecting their first baby. They wanted to give away their dog because they felt she wouldn’t adjust to competing for attention with the new arrival. The dog had undergone, my brother assured us, obedience and other training, although given many of Kelly’s later lapses it is doubtful that she ever graduated. So telling the children we were collecting a surprise for them, we crossed Sydney and took ownership of the dog.

 

When they saw her they were ecstatic. This was a surprise beyond their expectations as our house extensions were still not finished. To our youngest child the dog became an inseparable companion, a reliable source of unquestioning affection. Kelly for her part, revelled in her new surroundings and seemed to have no qualms in relinquishing her old home and settling in with us. If the children were all out she went in search of them, taking advantage of the unfinished back fence to make her escape. She would go no further than the local school where the attention she craved was lavished on her. Kelly quickly became a neighbourhood identity, and the school would either notify us, or children would make a detour to ensure that she arrived home safely.

 

For a number of reasons we never replaced Kelly. For me, she could never be replaced. But as the dog at the hospital fixes us with its gaze, I am overcome with nostalgia for that time in my life when a dog’s tricks, a dog’s antics, a dog’s personality, a dog’s needs, were a part of my everyday existence.

 

As its owner berates the dog at the hospital for daring to move from its rug, I am reminded of the chicken, the sofa, the dug-up gardens, the dogged canine persistence in inveigling its way into our hearth and our hearts.

 

But for now I can only look at the photograph on my bookshelf and treasure my memories of the Kelly era.

 

ã 2007

Cleo Lynch

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