Fires on the NSW South Coast

For the last three days I have been working in the Emergency Management Centre in Nowra ( 2 hours south of Sydney) as a communications officer. I’ll be there for another three days. As a volunteer, I don’t expect or want to be paid. I volunteer for two reasons, to help others and help myself. Volunteering is one of the sure fire ways to boost your own mental health and wellbeing. I’m no hero or saint, I’m just practical!

The twelve hour shifts have me taking messages from 000 (Australia’s equivalent to 911) and delivering them to the operations officer who then decides which fire teams will be dispatched and what other resources will be required.

As well as 000 calls, we meticulously log the movements of the various appliances as they move from place to place.

The voice in the head set declares:

Fire Com Fire Com this is {insert unit name here}

Go ahead {Unit name}

We are proceeding from the X Station to the Y Staging Area at {location}

Received {Unit name} Fire Coms Clear at 16:08

The words are precise to ensure the meaning is clear. The word “proceeding” is important. Emergency vehicles “proceed” when they are just driving normally. They must get permission to “respond” under lights and sirens.

The transaction is then logged both in a written book and in a computer-based time log. The radio messages are recorded. The time log is then available to the State Operations team in close to real time, so they can oversee the various operations around the State. If we have not heard from someone for a while, we will do a “welfare check”.

The written log has numbered pages, each log book must be kept. This means that if there is an enquiry after the event, the log entries can be checked to help determine what happened and why. It’s a heavy responsibility.

We also answer really important questions for crews like where they can get lunch!

The two big rooms that house the EMC are awash with high-vis uniforms and colourful tabards. Tabards are like waistcoats with the role of the person in large letters emblazoned on the back and front. The Incident Controller, Operations Manager, Public Liaison Officer, Animal Welfare. Catering, of course. There is a tabard for every role. It makes it easy for anyone to know who is who because not everyone who is here is from the Rural Fire Service even if this is their “party”.

There are clusters of people from the Police, Fire and Rescue NSW, Rural Fire Service, Ambulance, Endeavour Energy workers ( to cut and restore the power to burnt power poles) National Parks and Wildlife, the Defence Force and more like me, in Orange from the State Emergency Service. We all work side by side to put the jigsaw together without losing any pieces.

For the past three days, the weather has been kind and the mood in the EMC was calm but wary. The relatively low temperatures and light winds have meant that crews have been able to do some back burning and to create containment lines. Holiday makers have been able to get home and the long lines of traffic seen yesterday have depleted, giving the police less grief. There has been a steady stream of lovely food brought in by towns’ people supporting our efforts.

But today is the day before D-day. Disaster day. The forecast is grim. 44C (111F) and low humidity. The light northerly winds of the morning will be whirled around by a strong southerly in the afternoon. It is likely to be another day like New Year’s Eve when more than 100 homes were destroyed, whole towns razed and people died.

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I hope the Bureau of Meteorology has it wrong. The fire crews and all the rest of us will be doing our best but there are only so many fire trucks and only so many people who can do the work. Please follow their instructions. Please don’t go through road blocks. Please don’t light fires. Please make your decision to stay or leave early and please take care, not risks.

You’re going to Fraserburgh?’

The opinion of others.

Culloden Moor Inn carpark was full, yet when I walked into the Keppoch Bar there were only two people other than the barmaid. They eyed me warily.  I asked the barmaid if I could get a drink and some food.

“You might be more comfortable in the restaurant?”

“No” I said “I’m happy to sit here in the bar”

The “crowd” relaxed

The older fellow struck up a conversation immediately picking up on my Australian accent. The usual questions. Are you on your own? Where have you been? Where are you going?

“Fraserburgh???” Willy asked “Why yea going there?”

“Don’t hang aboot there too long” the young bike rider quipped as the barmaid chortled.

I laughed nervously, this was the second group of people who suggested Fraserburgh was a less than desirable place to stop. Mutterings about a drug culture and a depressed economy since the end of the fishing.

“Ummmm, It seemed like a good place to stop and … and it’s got a Lighthouse Museum.”

“Och, Aye” with nods that could be interpreted as sympathetic. Had I made a bad choice based solely on geographic location and a museum? Only time would tell.

It was my intention to hug the Moray Coast east (across the flat bit of northern Scotland), turn right at Fraserburgh and drop down to Aberdeen. I discovered that this was called the Coast Trail (east) and it was well signposted. Since being here I have discovered lots of signposted routes. The NC 500 (I knew about that one) but others. The Rock Route, The Pictish Trail, The Castle Trail to name some which all take you to themed points of interest. I followed most of the Rock Route by chance and most of the NC 500.

The drive from Forres to Fraserburgh was grey and wet. The bright colours of the sweet little towns of Buckie, Portessie, Cullen and Findochty muted by the rain. The ocean steely blue and the beaches, dull despite the light coloured sand.

I spent a while at Lossiemouth in the Museum of Fishing and Community. Run by volunteers,  it was small but had some fabulous model boats and quite good archival material if you were looking up family who may have lived in the area. I found the 14th April 1912 issue of the Daily Mirror interesting. The front page news was about the Titanic. The the page 3 banner proclaimed that all passengers were safe!. Goodness! Was that a bit of false news or what? It would take another day to reveal the true story.

As I had arrived in Fraserburgh in the late afternoon, I went directly to the Lighthouse Museum and just managed to join in on the last tour of the day with one other fellow. The guide gave us his undivided attention and it was inspiring  to go right up to the lens room and see how the whole mechanism worked. (Ok, ok so I’m a bit of a nerd in that respect!) The Kinnaird Head Light is built over a castle and therefore has some unique features. It is no longer operational. The museum exhibits have a large collection of beautiful glass lenses which are fun to look through.

As to the rest of Fraserburgh? It was bleak with ALL the buildings made from the same dull grey stone. The dark skies adding to the gloom and things were quieter than the other places I had been too. It had obviously been a prosperous town with its public buildings and monuments reflecting more opulence than it now had.

The large harbour was filled with fishing boats that ranged from tiny dinghys up to huge trawlers.

The lovely host of the AirBnB had recommended the fish market as a place to take good photos, so in the morning I went in search of them. I asked for directions at a cafe and a very hospitable young fellow, Mathew, who works on his dad’s trawler, gave me a private tour of the selling floor, despite the fact he had a cup of tea going cold!

So yes Fraserburgh was bleak, it did seem gloomy but the people I meet added a little sunshine!

Travel mascots: Part 2

I lost Iain.

My muscular travel companion is lost somewhere after only a week of travel. We were having such fun too! I can’t be certain but I think I left him on the car roof at Salen Jetty. Perhaps, I just left him on the rocks staring out to sea. I did not realise until I got to the Glenfinnian Memorial and discovered he was not in his little carry pouch. I presumed he was on the front seat of the the car. A thorough search showed no signs of him. I messaged the owners of the shop at the jetty to no avail.

I was devastated. Close to tears. He may have only been a plastic action figure but he and I had made a connection. Well, the connection was really with my friends who had been commenting on his daily antics. That was the connection.

The connection with the travelling strangers who saw me taking the photos and joined in on the fun.

The connection was with the young hitch hiker I picked up near Bunessan on the Isle of Mull. When he got in the car and introduced himself as Iain, I had a hard job not choking on my laughter. I then of course had to explain why him being Iain was so funny.

I seriously thought about coming home. What was the purpose of my journey without Iain? He and I had been preparing for this trip for months. The rational side told me to get over myself.

The question of course is do I try and find a replacement? An Iain the second, son of Iain? The second Cheif of Clan Mangerton?

Will Iain return? If you know someone currently travelling in Scotland share this post and ask them to return my lost Iain of Mangerton. Please spread the word. Someone has him? Someone must be holding him for ransom?

Of course, he may have slipped through the stones we touched at Kilmartin? I half expect him to turn up on the front seat of the car at any moment.

PS: Please ask around your networks – someone in the world must have him? Last seen at Salen Jetty near KILCHOAN on Sunday 23 June 2019.

Podcast delights!

I have added a new item to my pre-travel checklist; downloading podcasts so I can listen to them offline. Twelve to fifteen hours worth! In addition to the 12 hours or so of downloaded TV series/HBO movies etc I am set for two international flights.

I haven’t listened to the news on the radio in my car since May. My car’s bluetooth picks up where I left off on the last episode of whatever it  was I was listening to.

I have become a podcast junkie!

I have learnt many things and heard lots of inspiring stories.  On the downside, I know all about Blue Apron subscription food services, more about mattresses than I care to, including how much cheaper they are in the US compared to Australia. Dry shampoo, bras that fit, shipping options, and how Uber is changing.  Podcasts are usually free so to be viable they must have advertisers or some sort of paid subscription model.

I was not an early adopter and only discovered podcasts about 3 years ago. It’s now my preferred form of entertainment. It helps that I live alone and therefore don’t have to worry about having it interrupt other people.

If you are into reading blogs you probably already know what a podcast is but I thought I would do a little googling to find out the whys and wherefores of podcasting.  I found this  “quirky” (insert weird) little video which defines podcasts in some depth.

What is a podcast

I also found this timeline https://internationalpodcastday.com/podcasting-history/

Apple first started supporting the platform  in 2005. There are now over 525,000 active shows and more than 18.5 million episodes. (https://www.podcastinsights.com/podcast-statistics/)

This infographic from podcastinsights.com shows that podcast listeners are loyal, affluent and educated. More men than women listen to podcasts.

2018 Podcast Statistics

What are the benefits of podcasts?

Nearly half the listening is done in homes, and over 50% of US households have listened to podcasts. Lots of listening happens in the car.  I suspect the statistics are similar for Australia. The real driver behind podcasts has been the rise of the smartphone and the ease at which you can connect to the myriad of podcasts available.

While there have been lots of negatives that have come from smartphones this has to be a positive! Although decision fatigue may be a problem with so much to choose from.

Unlike books and movies or other visual formats, podcasts don’t tie you down to one spot. You don’t have to look at a screen. You can plug in your headphones and head off anywhere. Podcasts are 100% portable and allow for multitasking.

Many podcasts have an accompanying website which has “show notes” which includes links and more information about the content of the episode. Sometimes it has the whole transcript.

This is very handy because it’s frustrating when you are driving and the host mentions something you want to follow up but you don’t have the tools to write a note without breaking the law. (Hack: carry a little notepad and pencil! You can’t get fined for using that at the traffic lights!)

What I am listening to.

I have i-devices so I use iTunes although these days they have rebranded to Apple Podcasts. Here’s the rather eclectic list of the shows I subscribe to.

My current “A” list.

I try to listen to these each week.

Side Hustle School: Host Chris Guillebeau. https://sidehustleschool.com/podcasts/ American. Daily episodes of about 10 minutes with a monthly longer extended cut. I have had this one on high rotation and went right back to the first episode. Now I save the daily episodes up to listen to in one go on the weekend. It’s all about making money on the side without quitting your day job. Sometimes it makes me squirm a bit when I think about all the useless stuff people are trying to make and then sell as it does not fit in with my values of using less and re-using more. Still, it’s given me some ideas for ways to supplement my income which I hope to put into action in the next few months.

So you want to be a writer: https://www.writerscentre.com.au/blog/ep-244/ An Australian podcast hosted by Valerie Khoo and Alison Tait, both writers. Val is the head of the Australian Writers Centre. It’s free and has no ads except for courses at the AWC. It’s cheerful and Val and Al have a great rapport. The content includes interviews with writers and gives lots of writing and publishing tips. It also has a Facebook group you can join. One weekly episode, about an hour.

So you want to be a photographer: https://ginamilicia.com/category/podcast/ Another Australian one produced by Valerie Khoo but this time with Gina Milica. You can listen in the car but because they are talking about photography and  have lots of images on the website you really need to look at the show notes. Includes interviews and tips. Val and Gina are a bit racier than Val and Al and some episodes are very funny when they have had a few drinks! Gina and Val are both great ambassadors for Australia. If you are not Australian, you’ll love their accents! Once again no ads except for Gina’s photography courses. One weekly episode, about an hour. A Facebook community supports the podcast.

My B list

I really enjoys these too but I save them for longer trips and listen to a few episodes at a time.

All in the mind. http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/allinthemind/ Hosted by Lynne Malcolm and supported by one of Australia’s national radio stations Radio National. It’s about all things psychology. They explain things very well and talk about psychological problems as well as wellness and positive mental psychology – one of my favourite topics at the moment. Some fascinating insights into people who experience things like synesthesia where they “see” sounds in colours or even flavours. Weekly and the length varies but it’s  usually around half an hour.

Modern Love. https://www.nytimes.com/podcasts/modern-love A  spin off from the New York Times column. Weekly, around 30 minutes. TV personalities read the essays published in the NYT about “love, loss and redemption”. Sometimes uplifting sometimes not.

Chats 10 Looks 3: http://www.chat10looks3.com/ Hosted by Australians Leigh Sales and Annabelle Crab, who are both political journalists/commentators. This is a very funny slightly rude look at all sorts of things but not politics. They have a bit of a cult following in the 30 – 50 year old female demographic. Good for a laugh. Weekly-ish about an hour. They also do live shows and there is a VERY active Facebook community.

The full catastrophe – Australian ‘celebrities” and pollies talk about embarrassing/terrible things that have happened to them and the War on Waste – a spin off from an ABC TV show.

My C list

I was listening but have stopped

The Minimalists. https://www.theminimalists.com/podcast/ Weekly-ish and often more than an hour. Josh Fields Millburn  and Ryan Nicodemis are THE minimalists. I had this on high rotation in 2016 and 2017 and listened to every single episode and the entire back catalogue. Then I got the feeling they weren’t saying anything new. I also felt that they were  “middle class privileged white boys” who could choose to be minimalist etc etc and it rankled my politics. The message however is on song –  don’t use too much, conserve what you can, buy experiences not things. I haven’t listened for more than 6 months. I might catch up on my next long flight.

Happier by Gretchen Ruben. https://gretchenrubin.com/podcasts/ This was recommended by Chris Guillebeau (the Side Hustle guy). Weekly for a longer episode and one mini episode midweek. Gretchen chats with her sister and they offer advice on how to be happier. They are wealthy, white and privileged. It got on my political goat. Especially when they started talking about buying material goods to make themselves happy. While they talk about less materialistic ways to happiness, the conversation around getting the “perfect” black purse put me off.  I am probably their target audience being relatively wealthy, white and educated, but I don’t know…I just couldn’t get into it. Having said that it was peppered with a few good ideas so maybe I will give it another go, perhaps I just overdosed and need it on a longer turnaround rather than back-to-back.

What are you listening to? Any recommendations?

The Sad Case of the Vanished Cracker Night.

Australia is a constitutional monarchy. The Queen of Australia – Queen Elizabeth the 1st (She is Elizabeth the 2nd in the UK but only the first Elizabeth we have had) has very little sway these days in terms of our laws, the parliament and that sort of thing but we still get a public holiday to celebrate her birthday. Even though her actual birthday is in April we celebrate it on the second Monday of June. It’s a welcome holiday. By the time June has come around, winter has usually hit and the Indian summer of May has ended with a bang. It’s probably raining and it will be cold(ish) It’s a perfect weekend for inland retreats at wineries or being indoors with a book and a fire and catching up with friends.

When I was a kid, Saturday of the Queen’s Birthday weekend was Cracker Night. There would be bonfires, pretty fireworks and explosive crackers in nearly every backyard. My favourite was the Catherine Wheel which would be nailed to the fence. It would spin around as jets of coloured sparks shot out the sides. The neighbourhood would be shrouded in smoke and the poor dogs would be going crazy.

You could buy crackers at any corner store, regardless of your age. My dad used to blow up our home made letter box every year. He’d fill it with bungers and attach a long wick and then run. The wooden box would get shattered into thousands of sharp, splintery missiles and we would squeal with glee from our hiding spots.

My family must have been a bit more careful than other families. I don’t remember any one getting hurt although my hair did catch on fire once when an ember jumped out of the bonfire. Despite our own personal luck, because in retrospect, I think it was good luck rather than good management, every year you would hear of a another 10 year old boy who had blown his hand off or blinded himself or suffered some other horrific injury because they had taped a few large bungers together or had tried to build a bigger, better explosive.

It became (sensibly) more difficult to buy crackers. You had to be 18. Then it become illegal to sell them in NSW. You could still buy them in the Australian Capital Territory, so people would take the drive down there to stock up for an illicit cracker night party. The firework shops were cheek-by-jowl with the porn shops (Canberra, incidentally also being the only place you could buy X rated movies!).

Many community groups had public firework displays which varied in quality. Over the years, these have petered out too. I guess the expense got too much. Perhaps, the audience got too used to the HUGE New Year’s Eve Fireworks that light up Sydney Harbour. What community groups could afford were fizzlers in comparison.

Last Saturday night would have been cracker night but I didn’t hear one. Not a single one. It’s a shame. Another fun, old tradition that has gone by the wayside.

It made me think, what will today’s kids remember? Oh wow I sat indoors all day playing Total Domination against some random in the US? It was like… So totally awesome!!

…somehow I don’t think so. Will their memories be totally devoid of the types of rich stories that made up my childhood and adolescence?

This year, my Queen’s Birthday Weekend was filled with reminiscences of other kinds. A weekend full of “remember whens” at a 40th high school reunion. Unfortunately, it was only a small gathering. We danced to old 70s and 80s tunes. We argued who was the bigger loss to the world – Lennon or Bowie? We talked about old teachers chasing the girls who were smoking in the playground (not me!!) We talked about those who had not come to join in the party.

Only 10 of us made the journey

Those who had left before the HSC (the NSW matriculation qualification) and had gone into more manual labouring jobs complained that their bodies were beginning to give out. We all complained about our failing eyesight. We compared photos of our adult kids and for some of us, our grandkids. We settled into an easy rekindling of old friendships and lamented that so few had made the journey to Old Bar, NSW.

This one from Primary School

As we tried to put names to all the faces in the old school photos, there was one girl, at the end of a row of the 1C photo that no-one could remember. I’d hate to be that girl. Why did no one know her? We had no special story for her. That made me sad and I wondered if there were other people looking at other class photos who wondered who I was? If there were some people I had never made an impression on? In my own Robyn-centric world I find that hard to believe but I guess I was not the centre of everyone’s universe!

I don’t know if we will have 50th reunion. By then I will be 67. I hope I will continue to enjoy the same good health I have now. I hope I will tick off some more of those bucket list items. But most of all, I hope I can contribute some good memories to the students I teach.

In 2038, I hope some kid says at their reunion, “Do you remember that old chook Ms Lang? She was a bit crazy!” and smile.

Tall tales and true! (Mark and Craig both school buddies since kinder!)

Central Park, New York

New York is legendary. The thing of thousands of stories. Central Park is …well…central to many of these stories. Police dramas where unsuspecting joggers get murdered or raped on one of the winding pathways to romances like When Harry Met Sally. A quick search of the internet throws up several web pages that give you a list of movies made in Central Park. Have a look here for a start. http://www.centralparktoursnyc.com/central-park-movie/

Since being in New York I have visited the Park a lot. My lodging location helps, I’m just across the road. (Thanks again RJB!!) The pace of my morning jog has been slowed right down as I have stopped to take photos of early morning reflections in the ponds and the reservoir.

Yesterday, I enjoyed a picnic on Sheep’s Meadow and indulged in some serious people watching. On this, the first hot sunny day of spring, puffer jackets were replaced by bare chested men playing spike ball (see this video – I had never seen it before https://youtu.be/jdRKqguEbas)

The blossoms trees had blossomed and the bees were a-buzzing. Clusters of daffodils, jonquils and crocus had survived the previous week’s snow to brighten things up.

The less active, lay around on the grass reading or sleeping.

To think only five days ago the flowers were buried by snow.

I can see why this enormous Park is labelled New Yorker’s front yard. It’s a place to play and relax. A place to meet a place to zone out. A place to remember green.

A very public proposal

There I was minding my own business sitting on the basalt steps at the Pebble Beach between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges waiting for sunset and along comes a man and woman carrying a double sized white rocking chair. They plonked it down and started rocking in the last rays of sun before it dipped behind the skyscrapers.

The sign on the fence said “No pets or furniture can be brought into the park.” When I first saw that sign I thought “goodness who would bring furniture” but obviously it’s a thing.

Next along comes the Photography Tour Group. They set up their forest of tripods in front of the rocking chair. The rocking chair people moved their chair to one of the lower steps, but to the side of the camera group. At first I thought they were together but no, just there at the same time.

As I watched the wedding parties and engagement photo shoots all looking for a divine sunset to silhouette the bridge and provide a perfect back drop, I forgot the chair people.

My attention came back to the them when I saw the original couple slink off away and leave the chair empty. It was soon taken up by another man and woman who sat there chatting, when all of a sudden, he got down on one knee with a ring. The camera club turned in unison and quickly adjusted their focal lengths. At first, the girl looked a bit confused. She seemed oblivious to the hoard of people watching them. Then tears, hugs and kisses. Many, many kisses. She had obviously said yes. The crowd all around burst into spontaneous applause and cheers.

The couple suddenly became aware that they were the centre of attention. More tears, more hugs.

The original chair carriers appeared out of the crowd. There was backslapping and thank you’s from the groom-to-be and “Did you now about this??” from the bride.

It was obvious then that the man had planned this very carefully with his friends. Perhaps he hadn’t expected the camera club to be there but in the end they had better photos than the friend who had tried to take shots from a distance, so emails where exchanged. These photos are a re-enactment. They decided they needed some more photos of their own so turned the chair around and did it again. A bit of over-acting, but still very touching.

The tear-jerking moment for me though was when the girl called her Mum to let her know. You could see (and hear) her waiting for mum to pick up and the call going through to a message bank. She looked so disappointed. Then seconds later mum calls back. More tears!

Floods of happy tears.

There was no spectacular sunset that day. It ended up very overcast and cold, but I felt a little warmer for watching this bit of love. I wish this happy couple lots of luck and hope that the groom stays as thoughtful for the rest of their marriage.

The Deal Breaker.

I locked the car and looked at my reflection in the window.

“Oh well this is as good as I get.” I thought. Not too bad for an old chook.

Joe had said that personality was more important than looks. I hope he had meant it. I could feel my heart pumping in my chest and wondered if you could see the pulse in my neck beating. I hated that. It made me want to vomit when I saw it in others.

Joe, on paper (well on screen) was perfect. Witty, quick to come up with a jovial retort. A good writer. Liked to keep fit. Liked travelling. The photo of him sitting at a table, not unpleasant. After a few days of chatting back and forth, I agreed to meet him, my first attempt at online dating.

As I walked towards the cafe, I was regretting my decision to make my online avatar’s name Ruby Red Shoes which necessitated the the wearing of red CFM shoes. At 11:30PM on a Friday night with a few wines under the belt, it had seemed like a splendid name. Now, in the cold hard light of day, it was just a tad undignified. As I scanned the cafe from the distance I couldn’t see an Adonis. No choirs of angels singing. No nicely matured George Clooney clone drinking Nespresso.

From 200 metres away, I saw a man dressed in black jeans and a black T-shirt with a camera. (The agreed identifying sign). It was clear he was taking photos of me. At 100 metres I could see he was slim and that his black hair and beard was peppered with grey. Not bad – I could get used to that. At 50 metres, it became apparent that he had no bum. Worse – he had a hyena bum. Sloping forward and disappearing into the skinny black jeans.

Could I turn around and walk away now?

We stood there awkward for a moment.

“You must be Joe?” I blurted, holding out my hand in a pre-emptive strike to avoid the kiss. No way was I going to offer my cheek for the perfunctory peck!

Not for a hyena bum!

It turns out he had done this many times. He was very candid. His polished responses to my online introductions a cut and paste from his many other attempts, not especially crafted for me.

He had been married, that was OK. So had I

He had adult children, That was OK so did I.

He had a hyena bum and that was the deal breaker .

We had coffee, talked about his camera and photography. We had a few laughs but as soon as we stood up to go for a stroll along the waterfront I was reminded of the hyena bum. As an older woman, I no longer cut the dashing figure I once did, so perhaps my shallowness was self-defeating and vain. He was probably thinking “Ewww! Look at her chicken neck!” I didn’t care. Alone – yes, desperate – no!

I had not prearranged a rescue call so needed to extract myself independently. He beat me to it.

“I have to get going – I am working nights.” he said at a lull in the conversation and after an exaggerated look at his watch.

“Thank god!” I thought. “I gotta go too” I said and again I rued the wearing of the red shoes which slowed my departure.

Back in my car tapping my forehead on the steering wheel, I realised I had not asked him to delete the photos. I grabbed my phone and logged into the dating site and pushed the “Close my account” button. Once was enough, my first attempt at online dating would be my last. I’d hang up the red shoes for a while longer. I wasn’t ready for the dating jungle if it was infested with hyena bums!