Friday, November 25, 2016

Celebrate the Small Things: Reptilian Friends

My backyard is teeming with wildlife. It's a real menagerie inhabited by all manner of creatures...mostly small, and all very interesting, and many quite noisy.

Ever since I was a boy I have loved reptiles. Some of my fondest childhood memories involve chasing and catching lizards from garden skinks, to blue tongues, bearded dragons and frill-necks. I remember one day, when I was in junior high school, I decided to build a herpetarium in the backyard. I recall how horrified my father was when he came home to discover the massive hole I had dug in the middle of the yard which was stage one of the awesome reptile enclosure I planned. Needless to say, my construction permit was denied and I was forced to fill in the hole.

I still love reptiles, and find lizards especially fascinating. My backyard here in Darwin has garden skinks and water skinks with which I am familiar, but I've also met a couple of new reptilian friends: Gilbert's Dragon These are cute little things with an unusual upright posture and an endearing habit of nodding, and also waving. It is from this latter gesture that this lizard derives its nickname: The 'ta ta' Lizard. These guys probably don't know I exist, busy as they are flying around the yard hunting for bugs, so to call them 'friends' is a bit of a stretch.


Not so unaware of me is my other little mate, who comes inside each evening, under the door and climbs the walls and ceiling. I watch TV while he watches me, and occasionally attempts to catch flies. Let me introduce to you...


The Asian House Gecko, Australia's only non-indigenous gecko. One of the reasons I like them in the house, apart from the company, is that they eat spiders, and I don't like spiders. This gecko also has a distinctive barking sound which is nowhere near as annoying as the cacophony caused by the Green Tree frogs outside.

I really love these lizards. They're so cool, and they make me happy. That's what I'm thankful for today.






Friday, November 18, 2016

Celebrate the Small Things: Ashmore Grief/Darwin Joy

A box of books arrived at my workplace this week. I wasn't expecting the delivery for at least another week or two. I was reminded of two previous occasions on which I had waited for books.

Before my very first book signing, after the release of my first novel, Devolution, in paperback, I waited anxiously, hoping that I would in fact have books to sell and sign at the event which was hosted by the local bookstore. The non arrival of those books resulted in the world's first invisible book signing, and said signing resulted in my appearing in the local newspaper under the heading of The World's First Invisible Book Signing.

On the second occasion, a nameless person who owns and operates a nameless publisher, failed to deliver copies of my book, (at all, let alone on time for the signing), despite repeated assurances that they were variously 'on their way', 'should be there soon' and 'I'm going to the post office today. What's your address again?' I avoided a second invisible book signing by purchasing my own copies through a third party. (long story)

The Book Shop Darwin and Readback Book Exchange are the only


two book shops in Darwin CBD, and two of only three in greater Darwin. The Book Shop will host a signing on December 10, and Readback has copies of Ashmore Grief in stock already.

Obviously I'm very proud of Ashmore Grief, and also grateful to the management of the above mentioned bookshops for their interest and support. You see, I'm a considered a local author. Ashmore Grief is largely set in Darwin, but I had never been to Darwin when I wrote it. Now I live in Darwin, and hopefully I'll sell a few copies on the 10th. Wish me luck!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

A Tale of Disappointment

Over the last couple of years, I've racked up a little credit debt, both through carelessness and recklessness, but my Darwin sojourn is largely about rectifying this self imposed financial mire.

Recently a few lights appeared in the distance, on the highway to Christmas, which gave me a little hope.

I thought I was in line to receive some back pay from my former employer, and a financial company offered me a very good debt consolidation package. These two combined, or even one or the other would have made things a lot easier for me. Then a third opportunity popped up which would have allowed me to move some of my debt onto a temporary interest free credit card.

Things were looking up. I would be comfortably able to handle Christmas and receive a boost to my already accelerated debt reduction program.

Then, my former employer decided I was ineligible for the back pay because I left before the arbitrary cut off date they selected. I missed out by a month. The finance company revised their offer to less than half of the original offer despite rabid assurances from the salesperson. The new offer effectively rendered the arrangement useless, and of no benefit to me so I told them to 'never again darken my doorway.' Finally the credit card company which pre-approved my application (as did the finance company) advised me, after I was on hold for twenty minutes, and was further subjected to a ridiculous set of questions (see below), that my application had been denied.

So, I'm back to square one. Oh well. At least, I know I'm on the right track.

Here is the aformentioned conversation:

Bank representative: Do you have an account with us?

Me: No. I'm a new customer. I received pre-approval for a new credit card.

Bank rep: Do you have a credit card with us?

Me: (I sigh and repeat what I just said.)

Bank rep: I need to ask you some security questions, if the answers don't match...blah, blah, blah.

Me: No problem.

Bank rep: Can you tell about the last transaction you made, either to or from your account?

Me: I don't have any accounts.

Bank rep: Can you tell me how many different types of accounts you have with us?

Me: I don't have any accounts.

Bank rep: Can you tell me the name of the branch where your account is held?

Me: I don't have any accounts.

Bank rep: Your answers do not match what we have in our system. You will have to attend a branch to verify your identity.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Celebrate the small things: Life's little pleasures

I work late on Fridays because I have so much marking to do, and I also need to prepare for the following week's class. When I finish work, I head into town for my Friday grocery shop, and I return via the bottle shop, here in Parap, where I purchase my reward.


Life is full of little pleasures, little treats: a rest, a break, a reward. I am not even close to being a workaholic. Work has never been my priority. I enjoy work, and I am not lazy, but I work to live, not vice-verca. The beer and the nuts reward is just one of the many ways I chill in order to keep as calm and relaxed as possible. 

Chilled is not my normative state. I'm inclined to be a worrier, and a stress head, but as I sipped my Boag's draught from the beer stein my son bought for me when he was in Germany, and chewed on those crunchy, salty nuts, I was thinking about nothing except the pleasure those things were giving me.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Celebrate the small things: Flattery might get you somewhere.

Unfortunately flattery has a bad reputation. It is seen as disingenuous and manipulative, even though it works sometimes. Using words of praise merely in order to get something from someone is morally questionable, but most people do it, or have done it. Although I belong in that group called 'most people', more often than not I use complimentary words to encourage people and to express genuine feeling.

When I tell my partner I think she looks beautiful, I mean it. Despite what she thinks of herself, she is beautiful to me and I tell her so. Everyone likes to receive compliments, and words of praise and gratitude. Words are much more powerful than most people realize. The only danger with compliments is that they can be unhelpful: just as damaging, potentially, as insults.

Both compliments and insults can distort our view of self. They can disguise lies as truth. We need to know ourselves and ensure we are honest and humble about who we are, what kind of people we are.

This week I gave my class an opportunity to express their opinion of their English course; the course, the school, the management, the facilities and naturally, the teacher. It was a writing assessment. They do one every week. I advised them to be honest and to use this as an opportunity to express any feelings they had, either good or bad. I also told them they would not receive lower grades for negative opinions or criticism.

The results were very illuminating. Some of their concerns I knew about, others I did not. Pleasing personally was the fact they were highly complimentary of me: both my personality and my methods. Earlier the same day, one of the senior managers popped in to see me, and he too was full of praise for the work I have been doing for the school since I started back in August.

I received all this praise, safe in the knowledge there is much upon which I can improve. Words of praise are certainly nice and encouraging and I am thankful for them, but I know myself. I know who I am, and I always carefully reflect on and evaluate my performance as a teacher. Self awareness and humility are crucial human faculties.

Flatter me or insult me: I know who I am. I know the truth about myself, and I am thankful for that.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

My Security Blanket

Most people like to maintain some degree of control in their lives, or at least hold to the illusion of control. There are many things we can control, but there are many we cannot. Attempting to control every aspect of our lives has major pitfalls, and the truth is that such a goal is unattainable.

The illusion or impossibility of being the complete master of our own destinies, does not stop many from trying. One of the main problems is that we share the world with other people-lots of them, and people cannot be controlled without infringing on their rights. Our choices are seldom made in isolation from the choices of others.

Enough of the philosophy. I accept that to a certain extent I am powerless, and at the mercy of other people's choices, and 'accidents'. However, I do like to control what I can. Enter my security blanket: routine. 

I live alone at the moment, so my home environment is a controlled one in which I stick to certain routines. Moving to a new state meant, among other things, establishing new routines. I did it quickly, or as quickly as I could, and then kept tweaking the plan to make it more efficient. I have a tight rein now on my spending now, for example, because I am here to save money and pay off debt. Last week I came in $50 under my budgeted spend for food and entertainment for the week, and I am still rejoicing.

I feel safe with my routines, and whilst not in bondage to them, I am, in most cases pretty loath to break them. If my routines were a person, I would hug them each night as I lay down to sleep.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Celebrate the Small Things: a little shower

One thing I have noticed since moving to Darwin is that the weather is not usually a small talk topic, except for the month of October which is known as 'the build up'.

It's hot here. I mean it ranges from hot to hotter. Overnight temps hang in the mid twenties (celsius), while maximums are mid to high thirties. It's pretty much been the same since I arrived. When the weather is so entirely predictable, there doesn't seem much point in talking about it. People don't say, 'It's hot today' because it's always hot. Mark Twain's famous quote is meaningless in Darwin because no none complains about the weather.

October is called 'the build up' because it is the month leading into the wet season and is therefore characterized by ridiculous humidity: 96% yesterday, for example. The temperature stays the same pretty much, but the humidity? Whoa. Try stepping off an air-conditioned bus and having your glasses instantly fog completely because of the heat. Yes, that's steamy!

A peculiar weather event happened last Saturday and it had everybody scratching their heads. It rained overnight on Friday which is not terribly unusual, but the next day it kept raining-lightly mind you, but it rained all day and the maximum temperature only reached 26. It was in fact the coldest October day ever recorded in Darwin.

I set off on foot for gym that Saturday morning in the light rain, and briefly contemplated using the umbrella which I carry with me everywhere, in case of a sudden tropical downpour. There was a nice cool breeze blowing and the rain felt so nice and smelled so fresh, I decided to not use the brolley. I did get a little wet, but what  a joy it was to walk in the rain. It was magical.

The weather anomaly ended the following day, but I will never forget the invigorating respite that little bit of a shower provided. So today I am giving thanks for rain.