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.

My 200th Post

WOW! This is my 200th post. I chalked up the 100th post on January 1 2019.  So it’s been a busy year, and I am not quite at the end yet.

Although not as eventful as previous years, I have still been trying new things and keeping my mind active.

Including

  • Travelling to Scotland
  • Two courses with the Australian Radio Film and Television School; one on documentary making and the other on mobile video content creation.
  • A jewellery making course with a local Illawarra designer
  • Completing an online SEO course which will hopefully boost visits to this blog.

I have continued running and entered into 3 x 10km events.

I remain proud of the fact that I have posted at least once every week and recently twice a week with the introduction of my Photo Of the Week challenge.

Thank you to those who visit frequently and take the time to like and comment. It’s always nice to know there is someone out there. I think my 60 for 60 goal of 1000 followers is a pie in the sky, but you never know!

 

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Sydney Airport – my old friend

Hello old friend we meet again. I’m sitting in the departures hall surrounded by people speaking languages I don’t understand. Happy travellers returning home or starting their next adventure?

Check in and security completed with a minimum of fuss, although note to self – the boots with the metal trims? Don’t wear them next time! Rooky error! I’ve streamlined my packing and look smuggly at those who are wrestling with their hand luggage to get out all the liquids while I pop my prepackaged plastic ziplock in the tray. Hazar! Travel Ninga status restored

I have 90 more minutes to waste and I’m wishing I hadn’t had that extra glass of cheap wine to help me sleep! My stomach is a little squeamish. Is that nerves or a hangover. Both, no doubt. I do hope it isn’t the slightly under heated lamb shank I had last night at the hotel.

How things have changed in the years since I took my first international flight. That flight, to Italy, was my first time ever on a plane. It was January 1982. After leaving Sydney we stopped in Melbourne then Perth then Singapore then Bahrain, and finally Rome. Mechanical repairs at Bahrain meant we sat on the tarmac for six hours, air con off, no food, no water. Thirty. six. hours. Thirty of those confined to a tiny seat. Thankfully I was small and could curl up cat-like. Thankfully, I was travelling with someone I could lounge against without concern. The invisible force field surrounding the chair could be extended – a little. The toilets became blocked. The plane remained in that state until we got off in Rome.

Back in those days international travel was a novelty. At least for my family and friends who hailed from more or less working class roots. My brother had been to London a couple of years before but unless you count Lord Howe Island, my parents had never left Australia. The ex’s dad worked for Qantas, so his family flew frequently on staff tickets. Cheap travel sure, but you didn’t count your chickens until the door was closed and cross checked because you could get off loaded if another paying passenger needed the seat.

“Seeing a friend off” was a social occasion. Your friendship group would drive you to the Airport and as payment, you would shout them a few drinks at the Airport Bar before racing to the gate. I don’t remember if there was any security screening but I do remember that your friends could come right up to the departure gate where there were many teary goodbyes.

In 1982 the decor vibe was timber paneling and 70’s orange. Since then, it’s undergone many, many renovations. Every time I come here there are hoardings covering up more promised improvements. It’s bright and airy with charging points and interesting seating nooks. Tom Hanks’ character could live here quite happily.

It’s beginning to brighten up outside as Sydney starts it’s day. Jets have started to leave as the curfew is lifted. Come on Iain, it’s time to move to the gate.

Iain! It’s a bit early!

Coffee and your wallet

A cappuccino in a green cup.

Black gold

Last week I wrote about the nutritional value (or not) of coffee, this week the focus is on economic factors. This is a simplified analysis and not meant to be an economic treatise. There are no doubt, lots of angles I have not considered.

Microeconomics – your budget.

Café coffee:

As a point of reference, I am going to use my regular order of a skim milk regular sized cappuccino as the “standard” purchase. You can pay anywhere from $A3:50 – $A6:00 depending on size and location so I will use a cost of $4 per cup.

If you buy one cappuccino every day, you are going to spend $4 x 365 = $1460 per capita per annum.

So maybe you only buy coffee on the days you work. Using a 5 day work week and four weeks annual leave that’s $4 x 240 = $960.

Let’s say your working life is around 40 years;  you’ll end up spending between $40,000 – $60,000 on coffee! If you’re living as a couple, that could be $80-120,000 over your lifetimes.

SHIT that’s scary money!

That’s three years of mortgage payments! Is it worth it?

Do-it-yourself coffee – instant.

Ok, so you’ve decided you can’t do without coffee. Can you save money by making your own?

Well yes!

A  200 g jar of instant coffee will set you back around $13 from Woollies and will make around 100 cups of coffee. Plus there’s milk and sugar or sweetener if you use it. I am not going to try and factor those in here.

If we stick to the one cup per day, every day of the year you will spend $47 per annum.

Over your work life and not allowing for inflation; $1900.

BOOM!  An instant saving of $38K per person. But you aren’t going to switch to Moccona because we have all become coffee snobs who want “proper” coffee from the trendy cafe! And in reality, you’ll probably drink both the made at home/work and the cup(s) from the cafe.

Maybe you can buy a coffee machine and save money that way?

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Do-it-yourself – coffee machine.

This calculation presents a few problems. It’s a bit of a “how-long-is-a-piece-of-string” argument. Just typing “coffee makers” into Google; gives you machines ranging from $3000 to $59. If you spend $3000 on a coffee machine, it will take you 2 years to make your money back, and I bet you won’t!

Why?

Because even if you have a fancy coffee maker, you’ll still buy coffee from the cute little cafe near work! You know you will!

Using a pod machine will save you money too, BUT you’ll have to deal with the environmental cost of all those plastic or metal pods. AND you’ll still buy coffee from the cute little cafe near work! You know you will!

Of course, you could grind your own coffee too and use a plunger or lots of other methods which would be cheaper than cafe coffee so you could potentially spend much less than that estimate of $60,000 over a working lifetime.

I’m not here to tell you how to spend your money or tell you if you can afford that or not. You’ll have to decide that for yourself, but you may have not given it much thought. I think the main point is that coffee is a luxury. While some of you will argue that it is essential, it’s not. Not like food or shelter. The money you spend on it is discretionary.

Macroeconomics – the global economy

The Production Side of Coffee

Coffee is derived from two main species Coffea arabica and C. Robusta. It has only been in widespread usage as a beverage for around 500 years. It is thought to have originated in Ethiopia where it was domesticated before being distributed widely. The now huge South American crop originated from the seeds of a single plant taken from the Amsterdam Botanical Gardens.

The ten biggest coffee growing nations are Brazi, Vietnam, Columbia, Indonesia, Peru, Ethiopia, Mexico, India, Guatemala and Uganda. The countries that consume the most coffee are (in order) United States, Germany, Japan, Italy and France.

I think you can see how things are going to pan out here. There is an imbalance between the economic power of the people who grow coffee and the people who drink coffee.

Poor people grow it, rich(er) people drink it.

The price of coffee is controlled by the commodity markets in New York and London, a long way from the growers. It is the second most traded commodity after crude oil. I have no idea how these commodity markets work, but I’m sure that the people on the floor yelling and shouting at each other aren’t thinking about whether a grower can feed his family on what he will be paid.

According to the documentary  Black Gold (2014), Ethiopian farmers are paid around 65c per kilo. It costs them 90c to produce one kilo of coffee. (huh???)  There are up to six steps in the chain from grower to consumer with each step adding to the price. The coffee part of your daily cup is only worth around 3 cents. While this data is now five years old, the principle remains the same. The growers are not given a fair price for their labour and have to endure significant hardship so you can be perky.

I recommend you download the Black Gold documentary. You can watch the trailer here or buy/rent the full version.

Watch it,  then try and drink your coffee with a clear conscience!

The consumption side of coffee

I live in the small city of Wollongong which has a population of just under 300,000. A Google search of cafes in Wollongong throws up 8 pages of results. The people at Wollongong Council told me there are X cafes. (I’m waiting on the council to get back to me with that number but it’s lots! ) That’s a lot of cafes and a lot of jobs. Multiply that by towns in Australia, and then the world. There must be a bazillion million million dollars sloshing around in coffee.

People who work in or own cafes aren’t exactly rolling in cash either. In Australia, there are more small traders selling coffee compared to big chains like Starbucks or Tim Hortons.  Many cafe workers are students earning the minimum wage. Then there are the roasters, the distributors, the drivers who deliver the coffee, the importers, the cup manufacturers, the barista trainers, the espresso machine makers, etc. etc. etc.!

According to IBIS World, the cafe and coffee shop industry in Australia alone is worth $10Bn with a growth rate of 2.2%. 139,091 people are employed by 20375 businesses. (I don’t think this includes all the ancillary services listed above.) Contrary to what I was thinking, this represents only a tiny proportion of the total value of Australian business which was estimated to be around $1.7 trillion in 2016.

So, perhaps the Australian economy wouldn’t fall over if we all stopped buying coffee, but it would be sleepier and grumpier!

Can you be a more ethical coffee consumer?

Yes – to an extent.

  • Buy your coffee from a small business rather than big chains or multinationals. That way your money goes to pay for a family’s expenses and not making faceless corporations bigger.
  • Choose places that offer fair trade or direct trade coffee and be prepared to pay a little more if needed.  Read more about ethical coffee buying here
  • You can look at helping finance a grower directly through an organisation such as Kiva which provides micro-loans directly to people in need. You can read about Kiva here.

 

Is your daily coffee habit making you fat, farty, and broke?

A cappuccino in a green cup.

I sat down with the intention of writing a short piece about coffee and the effect it has on our waistlines and wallets. As I started doing some research and looking at various websites on how many calories there are in various coffee beverages, how much coffee is drunk daily in Australia etc.;  it got me thinking.

Where does this coffee come from? How much do we as a nation, spend? What about worldwide? Are there long term health benefits or does it cause health issues? Is it sustainable? All those disposable coffee cups have got to end up somewhere. Can all those corner cafes be supported? Where would you go to meet friends/on a first date if you don’t want to drink coffee and it wasn’t beer o’clock yet? What about tea? Would we solve all/any the issues if we switched to drinking only tea? Is coffee even worth drinking? Now come on, be honest, do you even LIKE the taste of coffee?

My swirling mind became caught in a spiral of ideas worse than being trapped in a Pinterest Vortex! I decided it was way bigger than one post could handle and it needed to be a series of blog posts. This post serves as an introduction and sets the scene. I will follow it up with another 5 posts over the next few months. (It might even grow from that number!)

Part 1 will be about the Waistline Effect: here I will explore the pharmacological, health and dietary effects of caffeine.

Part 2 looks at the economic effects of coffee on a micro (your household budget) and macro (the global economy) scale.

Part 3 investigates the environmental impact: are we burying our cities under a mountain of disposable cups. Are Keep Cups going to save the day? Are we causing rural poverty in those countries that supply our daily fix?

Part 4: What are the cultural differences in coffee drinking. Is Australian the only place you can buy a decent skim cap? I need your help here. Have you ever been able to buy a decent coffee in another country?

Part 5: Tea v Coffee. Does it make a difference? Plus anything else I haven’t been able to fit into the other posts.

I feel like a bit of a coffee expert, not because I drink lots, but because way back in the day when I was completing my undergraduate degree in Food Technology, I wrote my Honours Thesis on “Caffeine and its Derivatives in Australian Foods and Beverages”.

With nothing more than my trusty portable typewriter and correction tape, I banged out one hundred and thirty pages of meta-analysis and lab results about methylxanthines, the chemical group which includes caffeine and other similar compounds. While some of it is outdated, it remains a good starting point.

On a personal note, I’m a tea drinker. I limit the amount of coffee I buy from a cafe to around 1 – 2 cups a week if that. This decision is based on three factors.

  1. Kilojoule intake. I drink skim milk cappucinos. That’s around 120 kcal or nearly 500 kJ which is approximately 8% of my target daily intake.
  2. Lactose intake – I think I must be a little lactose intolerant because milk-based coffee drinks make my belly grumble unpredictably with embarrassing consequences!
  3. I am stingy. $4 a cup every day that’s nearly $1500 a year!

I hope you’ll enjoy these posts and let me know your favourite cafe in the comments below!

I’m still working on Parts 3 – 5!

 

Not Millennial but Perennial

As I was looking for articles about older women doing amazing things, I came across this story in the Telegraph. Not exactly what I was searching for, but thought-provoking none-the-less.

The report concentrates on the shift in attitudes of women who, 20 years ago, may have been described as middle-aged. It highlights how older women are generally taking on a more positive approach to aging and being more confident to express a style other than “grandma”.

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This section particularly resonated with me and sent me on the search for more information.

Everywhere we look, highly visible older women are rewriting all the rules. From JK Rowling to Nicole Kidman; Michelle Obama to Anna Wintour, they are at the peak of their power and creativity.

They are engaged, influential and often increasingly political.

There’s even a new term to describe people with this no-age mindset: ‘perennials’

It was coined by US internet entrepreneur Gina Pell, 49, who explains, ‘Perennials are ever-blooming, relevant people of all ages who know what’s happening in the world, stay current with technology and have friends of all ages. We get involved, stay curious, mentor others, and are passionate, compassionate, creative, confident, collaborative, global-minded risk takers.’

Hell yeah! I want to be a perennial!

You can hear more about Gina Pell’s idea of perennials in this Youtube video. Not everything she says had the same point of resonance, but I like where she is coming from. 

 

I  think the Telegraph has misquoted her because Nina refutes the concept of being ever-blooming. My interpretation is that age should not be equivalent to relevancy.

Travelling mascots

I have a big adventure looming with a 5-week road trip around Scotland. With less than 2 months till departure, I am madly micro-planning. My itinerary is pretty well fleshed out and I’m just filling in the fine details. I have the accommodation booked, the hire car sorted, the ferry crossings reserved and a few day trips locked in.

I will be recording Episode5 of  “Planning my Soctish Holiday ” video soon.

You can have a look at some of my previous posts in the links below

Planning My Scottish Holiday Ep 1

Planning My Scottish Holiday Ep 2

Planning My Scottish Holiday Ep 3

Planning My Scottish Holiday Ep 4

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This quick post is to introduce you to my new travelling companion – Ian – Ian of Clan Mangerton. He’s the strong silent type! In the past I have travelled with a rabbitchickens and a new set of chickens after I lost the first ones! Ian will be featuring in some of my facebook posts and will make some appearances in the blog posts I write while I am away.

Travelling mascots are always a bit of fun! He’s smaller than a gnome and can stand on his own two feet!

 

 

Our changing view of paedophiles.

Sexy is here to stayI found this newspaper advertisement in a recipe book my mum kept full of clippings of things she wanted to cook. It’s from 1975. It caught my eye for two reasons. It shows how our attitudes have changed, and it struck me as oddly relevant to my life at the time.

While the  #MeToo movement has highlighted the need for women (in particular) to be treated with more respect and dignity, things were different in 1976.  What we would consider sexual abuse or exploitation was a “normal” part of the landscape.

 

 

When I was 15, I used to walk home from school through the local shopping centre. I could take one of two routes. Either through the arcade (quicker) or up to the end of the shopping strip (more to see). This longer walk went past a butcher’s shop. The butcher, Bill, was a man somewhere between 35 and 40. He used to park is brown Porsche Carrera out the front of his store. I would sometimes slow down to look at it. He must have noticed me, and he would wave and smile. After a few weeks, the wave and smile turned into him coming out to say a few words, and then eventually me going in to chat with him. It all started pretty innocently. Then the talk started getting a bit risque. Flirting, I thought, and I was flattered that an older man with a Porsche would pay any attention to me, a silly school girl in a short skirt. It eventually became outright sex talk, and I felt excited! He was a sophisticated guy, and I felt so grown up! I knew it was “naughty,” but that was the risky part of it, the part that made it fun.

So I kept going by and talking to him.  It’s hard to remember the time frame now, but he asked me out. I was over the moon. Can you imagine how sophisticated I felt! I didn’t tell my mother, but my best friend’s mum was in on it, and she didn’t seem to think it was inappropriate. She gave me no warnings. There was no talk of the age gap beyond “Wow…he’s an older man paying attention to you; be flattered.” Mrs. J helped me get ready in a tight black dress and lace-up boots. I looked fabulous in a 70’s kind of way!

He picked me up from their house, and off we sped in the Porche. First, to a Chinese restaurant in Beverly Hills, where Bill winked at the creepy-looking maître d’. The maître d’ ran his eyes over me in a way that stopped my breath. This was my first inkling that things were a little more sinister than my naivety had allowed. The nervous, excited butterflies in my gut began to be replaced by more anxious thoughts. I didn’t have a Plan B. Plan B’s were not a thing in 1976; I had no money. I was a long way from home.

He bought a bottle of wine and poured me a glass. The drinking age is 18. The restaurant was breaking the law. “No problem,” said Bill “the owner is my friend.” After dinner, he suggested a movie. Sounded good to me, perhaps a little tipsy.

We went to Oxford Street in Sydney. These days a hip place with lots of bars that cater mostly to the LGBTIQ crowd, back then, about the only place you could see X-rated movies in Sydney. As we walked in, he handed the guy at the door some cash, presumably, a bribe since it was a restricted premise. We sat in the dark seats, I looked around, and  I realised there were not many other women there. The “action” started on screen. I felt sick! Uncomfortable. Scared. I said I didn’t want to watch anymore and would he take me home.

He did.

I’ll give this to Bill; he never tried anything I hadn’t said yes to. He never tried to kiss or touch me. We drove home from Sydney to my place. The one hour trip took less than  30 minutes.  He drove hard and fast in that Porsche, certainly exceeding the speed limit. He didn’t speak. I could sense he was angry.

From then I always went home via the arcade. I never saw Bill again. I had emerged unscathed.

More than forty years on I reflect on this and it stands out so clearly he was a paedophile. That he had been grooming me from the beginning. Starting with slightly rude jokes and working up to porn. Thankfully, he had some principles. It could have ended very differently. I don’t recall hearing words like paedophile then. Sure, there were creepy guys you avoided, but as a 15-year-old, I didn’t feel like a target. I hadn’t heard of books like Lolita. It just wasn’t a “thing”. Not in my world anyway.

“Things” have changed. The findings of the Royal Commission into Institutionalised Child Sexual Abuse shows this behaviour was rampant and people either turned a blind eye or didn’t think it was an issue in the first place.

I don’t characterise myself as a victim. I willingly, although naively, put myself in a place I should have avoided. In retrospect, I am concerned my friend’s mother did nothing but encourage me. I am glad to think this is less likely to happen now.

(Apologies to you mum! Here’s another story you didn’t know about!)

I wrote this post in response to the trial and later sentencing of Cardinal Pell; Australia’s highest ranking priest and a man who has caused misery to many.  If this post has caused you any distress, I urge you to seek help through some of the agencies that have been set up for this express purpose. Just because it happened a long time ago, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

These services may help:

https://www.blueknot.org.au/

https://bravehearts.org.au/