Who wants computers?

You and I need to know about blockchain 

In the late 1970’s I started to read about these computer thingies. The Atari, The Sinclair, and the Commodore were the names most often used.  The first computer companies had short lives as every progress meant the demise of the previous model. In a new school a  parent turned up to the school with a Commodore and said the children could have a play with it as his family had outgrown it. It did nothing. In order for it to do anything it was necessary to write a code for it. 
As a person with dyslexia I found doing this very hard because you only had to miss a full stop and nothing would happen. To reread the code, simple as it was, was difficult because a misplaced colon was just as bad. I found it much easier to add a string of numbers, or multiply them with a pencil and paper than to program that little machine to do either.
A year or so afterwards I had another go with an Apple 11.  It was a secondhand machine for which  I paid $1,000.  (I could buy a second hand car for the equivalent amount today). At any rate I found after lots of self tuition I could type a message and recover it. Around that time I  applied for a scholarship (unrewarded) to go  to America and see how schools were using Apple to help kids read and become numerate. 
Time passed and I was working for a firm in Collins Street. They had a mix of computers that produced work using DOS. However within twelve months they introduced a whole room full of IBM machines, (with a memory less than a smart watch today). They used a form of Word until we all had to learn to use windows 96. DOS was of no use. You simply had to type what you wanted –  if you could remember the short cuts to capitals, etc.
In the period of a few years email and computer use became ubiquitous. Looking back it was a revolution in progress. I remember Frank Vagg saying his firm had brought a main frame computer at the cost of a Toorak home that was redundant almost before all the work had been converted to it. Firms all over the country were dismissing their typing pools and each employee had to learn how to operate a computer. It might seem strange now but making each person responsible for their individual output was an enormous change. 
Throughout the years change has been constant. First something new would appear. Early adapters would have their fingers burned when an advance made a thing easier to use, or make it  cheaper, or a development advanced the technology into a new direction altogether. 
As I write this it is eleven years since someone anonymously invented Bitcoin. I cannot explain Bitcoin simply however I recommend we learn about it quickly. It works a ledger in real time and is of importance because it cuts out the middle man. It operates on trust. When I hand over money to buy something I trust I can take away what I have bought because we both have trust it is ok. You have my money. I have your goods.  I cannot spend the money again because you have it and you cannot resell what I have bought. 
On an individual transaction trust is easy. However it becomes more difficult when others become involved. If I give you a cheque we both have to trust an institution, a bank, that it will go as expected. It usually does because the transaction is audited and checked several times to eliminate fraud. But now banks are involved they have to be paid for every step in the transaction this makes things dearer and is a test of trust. And banks have the upper hand because they know what each of us is doing. Knowledge of what we do is of huge advantage to companies like Facebook. 
Americans live with notes that constantly remind them. “in God we trust.” Wags say, Jesus saves …” and they complete the sentence in anyway that suits them. For instance I have heard people say, Jesus saves at the Commonwealth Bank. Trust is costly when relationships break down as they did in the Global Financial Crisis of 2008. That is when Bitcoin was started.
The person set a problem that required enormous computer power to solve and waited. If anyone took it up it took some time before an answer came. At that point two people had the answer and only they knew the answer. It was akin to the simple one on one transaction given earlier. Bitcoin operates like this today. Only the seller and the buyer are involved but it is not my computer talking to yours because each of us could renounce sale it it did. In Bitcoin  the sale is made openly  to everyone on a  Blockchain and all can see in real time what is occurring. 
Bitcoin apparently uses an much electricity as Ireland to solve about 30 processes a minute banks process 30,000 in the same period. Bitcoin is limited so my reading tells me because it is slow, it uses too much energy and it is limited in size. But something is happening.
Ethererium is the second largest Blockchain and maybe it has more future than Bitcoin. The thing varies in value every minute and it is possible to lose the shirt on your back with something evolving as blockchain is but new uses are being developed every day for it. Supply chains can track diamonds  every stage from mine to finger. An Australian woman owns this accepted method of management across the globe. Drugs, votes, music, you name it, almost anything can be tracked in real time using blockchain. It reminds me of the development of the computer.

Last week Facebook said it was going to introduce its own form of Bitcoin. It will. The Apps being developed on top of Ethererium will become as common as those used on your tablet or phone today. Just spend a little time learning where it is going and you might just keep up. I am trailing behind i

Give something

To Volunteer is to Know

Unpaid work is still work.
 Where would the world be without volunteers? 
Think of the organisations that wouldn’t exist without the aid of volunteer labour?  Across this country at the sign of any sort of trouble the community will pitch in to help one another. A flood, a fire, an earthquake, or any natural calamity and people help one another. Ordinary men and women will appear to help the victims with whatever aide they can muster as soon as possible. A prolonged drought will prompt others to make up a shortage of stock feed,  These signs of benevolence are gifts the donors make without thought of payment. They are simply an acknowledgement of human kindness. Gifts from one to another are driven by compassion.
Any day of the week on Main Street there is a similar story. Beavering away in the background of every opportunity shop is an army of volunteers. Their only thought is to help the ultimate cause. Often they are so far removed from the management of the organisations for which they  raise funds the befitting groups may overlook their work. The volunteers do not stop and think about their work in this way they just get on with it in the hope the needy will benefit. 

In relating this story on volunteers I am drawn to writing about my maternal grandmother, Mabel  Mason. At just under five feet tall she was born in the nineteenth century Mabel Lillian Hayes. She was the youngest child in the family that lived in Seddon, just beside Footscray. After marriage her life was a busy one spent rearing 8 children in the Yarra Valley. Evelyn my mother was her first born. By the stage Evelyn was nearing ready to leave school the Great Depression had settled upon our land. My grandfather who had worked as an axeman cutting sleepers for Victorian Railways could not find work. Like many young girls my mother joined the post Master General’s Office (PMG) as a telephonist. This was despite topping the public service entrance exams that year. Instead she went to work so she could help the family. Together with her younger brothers, Ron and Doug – who also left school, she helped keep the family stick together in any way they could. 
Being busy was the lot of housewives in those days yet despite her busyness my grandmother volunteered to help her community in Lilydale. First she helped raise money for the local school. Long after her last  children (the twins)  had left the school. Through the 1960’s  she was still making toffee apples for the school fete as she always had.  In those years some grand children attended the school. She also assisted her church raise funds by catering for weddings on  weekend. For this work she was awarded  life memberships as a member of the Red Cross, and the local state school. With a big family her kitchen was a place she rarely left except to help others.

Her contribution to community life was generous but not dissimilar to the lives of other women of her generation. They did what they could to build relationships though tireless service. Being a volunteer in the CWA was usual. Helping in the church community was too. There were also people who gave their spare time to the scouts, the guides, Apex, Rotary, the Lions. You could list dozens of similar worthy groups. They all attracted volunteers. Municipal councils also depended on the generous help of citizens who put their community ahead of their own interests without payment. 
Sometimes only one or two people kept alive an organisation just so it didn’t fall over. My uncle Fred was such a person.  Long after Jim Clarke – the Scottish formula one racing driver was killed Fred kept the doors open to a museum dedicated to him in Duns. Perhaps this is why it still runs today. Volunteers keep things going.
Today volunteering is dying. Perhaps it is the cost of insurance. Perhaps it is dying because people are too busy. Of course things still operate. An example of this is found every weekend when  parents turn up to sporting  ovals and assist organising activities for their children. Little athletics, tennis, foosball, soccer, you name it, they all depend on the volunteers that organise their games. The kids are oblivious to the men and women who coach them, groom them, and feed them, at games. These groups only survive because of volunteers. 
Many organisations have died though. Jobs once done voluntarily only get done now because a cheque book is opened. Councils only operate with paid councillors. Things done in the name of charity are not always as charitable as they could be as the “volunteers “ are paid fund raisers. Hospital wings are donated by benefactors  so their names can hang over the doorway and they can self direct money that would otherwise have gone into consolidated revenue as taxes. Generous to be sure,  but nevertheless self serving and not as generous an act as benefactors of old. 
A blatant sign of this is the generosity of gambling institutions. Their charter says they should give back to their community but almost always that gift is given as an improvement to their own  facilities in the name of,  community service. Those who “benefit” are the few compulsive gamblers addicted to chasing ever growing losses in the hope they can leave the place for good. The bulk of the community know they run a scam in the name of. ….Who would have guessed? Big business.
If we haven’t seen the end of volunteers we can at least see they are no longer freely giving to the group of their choice without someone looking over their shoulder to monitor their behaviour. Few groups operate today without the supervision of someone in the employ of the group itself. This is partly because, as a community, we have become litigations if things go wrong. It is always someone’s fault even if an accident has at its cause thoughtlessness.

Nevertheless I urge people to volunteer with generous hearts because in giving the rewards are great. Great, even if at the end of day it only means you sleep well because you are worn out.

We are equals

Inequality first posted 3 June 2019

It is just over 120 years since the birth of Jennie’s father and, fourteen months later my father was born as well.  All these years and I reflect on just two generations.

Scotland in the time of my father’s birth was a simple place.  Members of the family were rooted to their village. Life was cyclical. Season followed season and life was lived routinely. My uncle Fred spent 60 years working at the same address in Duns. My father was more restless, perhaps circumstances dictated his movements. He worked in the surrounding villages and trained as a gardener. 

It was in this occupation, when with some other young men from the village he migrated to Australia. (After WW1 Australia desperately wanted farm workers to replace the dead and injured. It offered work to the original £10 poms for work as agricultural labourers.)  ((Arthur Caldwell reintroduced the plan after WW11.)) And so Abraham found himself in inhospitable Deniliquin after he disembarked. 

Life there was to him so uncomfortable he headed back to Melbourne to be near his kinsmen. His employment at Rupertswood was followed by similar work for Dr Syme in Lilydale. (Syme of the family that started The Age.) Jennie’s father, at around the same year took a holiday to California. Travel allowed each to broaden their native view. 

Australia had by then a recognition that workers deserved a living wage and balance in the lives of employees. The 8 hour day (8 hours of work -8 hours of leisure -8 hours of sleep.) and the Sunshine Harvester case had established the principle people should not be exploited in the expense of their labour. These principles remained constant throughout my working life. However little by little those principle have been eroded since I retired.

As a young teacher I remember, when I was almost 30 I was paid almost half the salary of the Prime Minister. The wage was sufficient for most of my countrymen to afford a simple house. This memory is much like PM Howard spoke about as being the inspiration of Australians. (Perhaps there was not a universal aim to have a picket fence.) (Consider the pay discrepancy between a teacher the and the PM today.)

People worked and people were paid.  After the Korean War the demand for wool made Australia the richest country in the world. The super rich owned property. Worker pay increased as the wealth of the country grew. It was because the buyer of labour knew without that work his pay was also limited.

What has this to do with a holiday? You ask. Nothing and everything. 

Our holiday was funded by denying our children an inheritance. (Thank you – you marvellous people.) Perhaps this was selfish of us. Time, like many things in this story, will tell. I have come to a period in my life,  if compelled to think about it, makes me realise I know more names on graves than I know of living people. Many of the departed died far too early. Their lives were unfulfilled –  in the optimistic and idealised  way we imagined. Others occupy graves resting in well deserved peace after their long fruitful lives. May health for all defer the grim reaper’s call.

Our holiday was a celebration of our lives. August is the 55th anniversary of the beginning of our waltz through life. The music played. Sometimes I stood on toes instead of lifting my feet. The melody played on. A hop here and there to keep time. The waltz continued. Our lives developed a rhythm despite the busyness of daily living and this trip was a reward for the journey to date.

On this journey I became very aware in 2019 that for millions of people life is an unequal race. Life is complicated by a jump to the right. Change is not with tiny steps now. It is very definitely by jumps. Governments all over the world focus their work today on self interest. Rightful consensus has given way to horrid idealism. The elected kowtow to their supporters. In many nations what happens is dictated by the military. In other centres it is to favour one religion before others. To list governments which favour one group over another would take too long but the evidence is there for all to experience.

What is causing this crisis? Much of it was determined by the victors of past wars drawing new boundaries without consideration for the wants and needs of the inhabitants who they frequently evicted. Nearly all is ultimately the fault of the arms industry. Today wars are clinical. The victors need never see blood. The people displaced this way are seeking safety in any place they can find it. In doing so their arrival in places not expecting them is an unwanted trouble. We need to find a way to accommodate them. Move over. Give them space.

Former colonising countries are now experiencing waves of people from their former colonies. None of the land grabbing countries ever expected these changes as they exploited the colonies they ruled. Their natural wealth was their only concern.  Now they are experiencing change as the ruled exercise what they see as their right to settle with their colonisers. Choosing Britain as an example, John Cleese said today, “London was no longer for the English”. You surmise what he means, but different languages, different faces, does not take away the fact that at least some of it is because of colonialism –  the remainder is perhaps the EU.

Lives are disrupted in developing countries when their people are enticed to work in wealthy countries. This work is a form of slavery when to ensure they work hard, others hold their passports. The country is also depleted when the employer cares little for the condition of their foreign workers and treat them so badly.

Throughout the globe news is manipulated by those responsible for reporting it. Fear is the bread fed to readers. In doing so uncritical readers are exploited. It is so surprisingly easy most do not know they are being duped. They are duped into believing something good is in it for them. It transpires the benefit is only of good to the messenger. 

I haven’t time to write about religion but the once secular Turkey is being radicalised, as is India. By all accounts Greece is about to turn right. The Middle East is as well. The feudal lords ruling over their oil soaked lands want the people where their actions can be monitored.  In America we have copied all that is wrong with their society. Additionally, it must be said the influence of the Pentecostal Church preaching prosperity is harmful.  Many of the evangelist preachers are happy to take the last widow’s mite in the name of God only pausing when the givers are  destitute. It may not be the fault of All Pentecostals but it is the experience of those choosing to tell the BBC.  They report tragically about wealth flowing upwards to the preachers.

It turns out each crisis is man made.  The harm is palpable. It is real and it is in every corner of the globe. We have gone mad and in doing so the world has lost the rhythm and simplicity of our fathers’ day. Our country, and much of the world that we grew to appreciate, has altered the benefits of equality. The world itself is more selfish than in years past. It all comes down to acting inhumanely towards others. What comes next is unwritten. As my German friend Moritz, a former partner of McKinsey and Co says, “It is better to lift people up than pull them down.” You can work to bring back equality – if like me you value it. In today’s world I realise to do so will be like turning water into wine. Scrub that – too preachy!  It is like electing governments  of the people,  for the people, by the people once again.

Am I now advertising?

Food First published 28 May 2019

I have a break from travel and a chance to put keyboard to thoughts. 

Travel broadens the mind but not as quickly as the waistline. My undisciplined brain is assembling some disjointed thoughts and what follows may finish a long way from the direction of my first thought.

First, Seabourn. It promises everyone luxury which it delivers in a manner requiring no effort from the guests. We, the guests, all pay. Some pay considerably more than we did and this was a minor concern to one of our “friends for the day” Ellen, she  moved her business from other carriers expecting that for her money she would be receiving more than (possibly she meant me) for her dollar than others because she paid for a luxury suite. She was disappointed to learn all suites are basically the same. Some may have more expensive cosmetics but the layout is the same except for those in the “Wintergarden,” or “The Owners suite”. These people get additional space, a private table able to seat up to 12 guests and a separate entrance for staff. Basically it is a one class ship where everyone is treated equally. We were all spoilt according to our individual requests. No problem for me but it seems hard to overlook for others.   We were able to order caviar any time day or night, we ordered it quite often, it came as a snack with some shaved bread, sour cream, grated hard boiled egg and onion.

My earlier description of it being a floating retirement home on the sea is not far from the truth. As one day floated into another it would have been possible to become institutionalised.  And many have because as almost a daily conversation starter we were asked, Where are you taking your next cruise to? Many of the guests exercise the option of saving 5% on their next voyage booking while on board forgetting their next trip will be priced at a premium to any discount offered to late arrivals. Not that is seeming  a worry to the regular passenger. They start booking from “anchors aboard” to “anchors aweigh.”

                              *******    ********

The truly wealthy do not cruise in a ship owned by someone else. They invite unpaying guests of their own aboard their own vessel.. As far as I can see, from this lovely little Island in Greece, Hydra, this has its own problems. We have seen some magnificent floating castles. Yet can you imagine the pain when your fully staffed immaculate vessel is docked beside an even grander one?  More staff, more decks, more staterooms more size etc. it must be hell to realise your dream is insignificant beside this one, and worse when alongside an even grander sparkling yacht only ever sailed in by the owner when the sun never wanes and sunsets are awesome. Such is the lot of the unseeing uncaring 0.01%.

      *********** ***********


On Seabourn if you book in advance you can book a table at the fussy Thomas Keller dining room. Seats are limited to around 50. We booked. We were underwhelmed. I haven’t looked him up but Thomas Keller is an American food genius apparently. The service was diligent. The table superb. Each evening had a new offering And a list of favourites. These are what most Americans chose. Hamburgers, Barbecued Spare Ribs, New York Steak but the most favourite is, you must wait for it. Are you ready?  Are you sure?  Hang on it’s coming. The favourite is Cheese on Macaroni. Throughout the ship the coffee is best left unspoken. The most favourite desert is a different flavoured soufflé every evening. This is broken by the waiter and into the broken crust the waiter pours a watery custard. Delicious. Or so most patrons agree.

It is appalling I am making fun of a man recognised as a master chef. I promise to stop. The food aboard was excessive unless your capacity to say no was firm. Drink of all kind was never restricted. Though the wine varied.  it is is vin ordinary unless one is prepared to pay excessively for Grand Cru. No limit was placed on anyone, unlike Oliver Twist asking for more. If you wanted more you got more.

Late evening was  very very relaxing. Our only complaint is that I liked to breakfast without hordes of others and needed to be there before them and that meant going to bed while others partied. This self imposed discipline meant Jennie became more and more tired each day as she refused to catnap during the day. I publicly apologise for my thoughtfulness.

           *********.     *********/


Here on Hydra I have come to appreciate good food is simple. It is wholesome. It is all we need. The health benefits are written elsewhere. Experts like nephew, Sam Nicholson can advise you on what is best. No sugar. no salt, etc. Mediterranean diet etc. Exercise etc. Rest etc.

If you insist on cruising, (I hope you get a chance), remember to heed the advice of those like my mother who said, “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach”. And stop being tempted by food you don’t need. Today I am an example of all one should not do. I am going ho

Give me a gun

Guns first published 18May 2019

Here we are sailing north on the Red Sea. The colour of the water is still Blue. Supposedly the sea gets its name from the algae which grows in these warm waters.. Today  the air temperature is about 34 degrees. The water temperature is just a little less,  at 31 degrees. The humidity is about 76 according to the report the captain reads to us each day. Is it any wonder algae grows here?

To the Portside we have a threat. To the starboard there is another. We don’t feel personally threatened but since Muscat, where extra security has boarded to fend of pirates,  or other threats,  the American shipping company has had these specialists to protect its largely American list of passengers.

In the past few days an American aircraft carrier has ploughed past us up the Arabian Sea to warn the government of Iran president Trump means what he says. Sort of.  As we left the Arabian Sea  two Saudi Arabian ships carrying fuel were damaged near Bahrain. Hence the heightened security.

When these events are added to the uprising in Sri Lanka that caused  our ship to be diverted from Colombo people are interested in everything happening in the region. Rockets in Israel have been returned by more lethal fire into Lebanon. Gossip is now the new currency. Will we stick to our schedule and visit Israel or enjoy an unscheduled side trip elsewhere. Time will tell.

Guns are good. Good men with a gun makes the country better than a bad man with a gun say the NRA so it must be true. Guns make the world safer and big guns, on a drone, controlled from an easy chair in Washington means no one gets blood on their hands. Our American friends understand this. 

Man loves guns. How else can I explain our war memorial in Canberra is being expanded to the tune of half a billion dollars under the careful management of Dr Nelson, a sometime adviser to the arms company that generously supports it. We love  Raytheon so much that the inscription of our acceptance of aide is in larger type than the privates and generals whose names are recorded in an equal sized print on honour boards everywhere else.

We continue to learn more about guns. In Australia we have other signs we love guns. Not only are guns good – we retire them safely.  These are sign of peace when positioned outside RSL clubs.  They must be because that is where you will find them – right? Oh,  in your town you might also find a cannon pointing down  the main  street at some poor tree that once threatened the village. Look for these peaceful weapons and feel safer. 

On board ship we cannot see any guns  but the captain has announced a drill for 10 am tomorrow morning. It won’t be about weapons of course just as the last drill on an invasion by pirates was not about pirates. This area was the home of pirates in the 16th century and these very old men are of no risk to us now. That is why we are relaxing with caviar and a GnT chaser.

We just hope you vote. Vote for peace for mankind, or at the very least hope men seek advice on peace from the women in their lives.



Puns first published 14 May 2019

I’d like to write something light. Something full of puns and much less serious than the writing I have subjected you to in the past but I think I’ve lost it. I can turn your message into a meaningless pun when you least expect it. Jennie explains my behaviour as, “Bruce’s attempt at humour.” And when a joke is explained this way the teller gets no pleasure from the effort. Silence is the only anecdote.

It wasn’t always the case. At school I showed no skill at writing, yet a Miss Smith – who later went on to marry Robert Gunner, – was my English teacher in my last year of school. She said to me, “I really liked that essay you wrote for me in your last exam. I can’t take your exam paper and use that as copy for the school magazine but do you think you can write the same article again for me and I will put it in Baltarta? I promised to try but it never appeared because I could never reproduce something I had written spontaneously. 

The same problem reappeared a year or two ago. I was in Tea Tree in the Northern Territory, and I had spent an afternoon musing, much like I am now, and I closed my IPad and lost every word I had written. I couldn’t remember the sentence construction, nor could I remember much of the illustrative examples of it as it was written as a sort of meditative exercise. Such is life when the blessing is living rather than remembering.

Not like Pat, the girl guide commissioner who went to a fancy dress party dressed as a gynaecologist. On the front of her operating gown was a message, At your cervix. On her back,  So dilated to meet you. This might be comical, but hilariousness is met when she tells us her son, and his Indian wife, have only this photo as a reminder of the dress up, and it is the only one they have of their parents  on their dresser in New York.

Humour is difficult to define. Slapstick can be funny yet it is not funny when the butt of the joke is hurt as you so frequently see in Australia’s home videos. Sixty one line gags a minute might have worked for Bob Hope but it leaves the listener no time to savour the words. Shaggy dog stories told by a competent storyteller will leave you wailing at the absurdity of the tale and while the story is funny it is too silly to dwell upon. These are like the jokes loved by the six year old. They are innocent and easily forgotten. Why did the chicken cross the road? A. It wanted to meet the horse, it’s neigh-bour.

I find sarcasm comes easily to me, when said it is usually said without malice.  However  when I spoke that way before Jennie’s aunt Gertrude, early in our marriage, she replied curtly, “ Sarcasm  is the cheapest form of wit.” Since then I have swallowed plenty of remarks yet too many have escaped my lips and caused unintended harm. 

Hannah Gadsby is a comedian with a droll delivery. Her one hour show on Netflix, Nanette, has been an international success. Her delivery previously was to tell jokes at her own expense. I too told many tales of this nature without thinking seriously about them, just for the sake of a laugh at a quip. Over the years many people have told me not to put myself down in such a way. Thank you Kate.  I have more recently come to understand it can be cringeworthy to the listener and I have sometimes avoided a remark for this reason. Hannah Gadsby says she has put behind her this practice too. Her recent work is sharp, decisive and unforgiving as she cuts into the memory of notables known widely for their misogyny yet untouched previously because of their fame. Her show is not funny because truth hurts. Too often we allow remarks and behaviour to pass and we don’t call it out for what it is simply because we have been trained to be polite and not hurt people. The people who trample over the lives of others need to be called out but like Trump, if they are they  seem never to be affected by it.

So much for lightness. Humour is after all a serious business. As is said today, “Suck it up princess.”


A Few Words inspired by a visit to Doha

Without fear I choose to write on the topic water today. The ABC website tells me Lake Eyre is filling faster than it has for 40 years. The certainty of life it offers the incredible indigenous fish seemingly able to withstand impossibly long periods without it is impressive. As certainly you will be reading elsewhere about the bird life now nesting there. It is almost impossible to understand how birds are able to predict the arrival of it. Water and  fish living in such a dry area.  

Just as certainly mankind has an infinity with H2O. Without palatable water we die. Here in Doha we are surrounded by it. As has happened in Dubai artificial islands have been made to provide habitable locations for the wealthy to live. The most prestigious area here is just such a place. The indigenous nomads who ranged these countries just a few years before would find it unrecognisable.

The dry landscape is being transformed. Where we live in Upper North Torquay cultivated flowers grew only two years ago. Now that area is a giant dormitory. New houses are completed each week. On a larger scale a modern city is being constructed in Doha. Rows of multi storey buildings are under construction. Freeways, roads, and streets are transforming the desert.

This is an area where rain is as unpredictable as it is at Lake Eyre. Desalination in only possible on such a large scale because energy is cheap. Without cheap energy none of this would be happening. Osmosis is naturally slow. So too is distillation.  Energy provides the power to extract the salt from saline water quickly.

Once fresh water is produced grass grows. Avenues of trees survive as if this was an oasis. Man is able to rehydrate.  The hot desert air is doing its best to extract every drop of moisture in the air yet even exhaling does not stop him or her when water is so abundant. 

This city will grow. It will prosper because of the ingenuity of the engineers able to turn brine into clean water. Without their help camels could not survive in the number as  individuals are predicted to live here in future.They can only do so because the stuff mankind takes for granted is abundantly available here with modern engineering.

Should it be?  That is a question I cannot answer. Every person has a right to potable water. If you grew up in Australia you are aware of this . If you are a visitor to Sydney you will have heard it is necessary to conserve water. My reading tells me Sydney water usage has reached a number where is now 50% of the reserves. The reserves meant to last three years have had most of its  allocation consumed in just 1 year.

If Australia knows about water conservation so do the Arabs. Saudi’s Arabia has bought a large tract of Western Australia not because it was cheap land but because it is in an area recognised as having a reliable rainfall. The Saudi’s plan to grow cereal crops on the land not to sell but to ship to Saudi Arabia as grain because this grain is really water they have harvested from us. 

Water is precious. Oil wealth is nothing near as precious as abundant rain. In listening to a talk given on board by an oceanographer on climate change he was indecisive about it – possibly because he wanted to keep his job in addressing a room with many skeptics. There may be scientists who remain skeptical but if they are it is their duty to test their question against the known science because it comes down to a realisation climate change is real. George the oceanographer said as much in his talk. Anecdotal references by people on board supported his evidence. 

Water is abundant. Very little of it however is available to many people on earth. When you drop an ice cube into your G and T think about it. When you brush your teeth remind yourself. And when you dream, dream of standing under a waterfall and marvel at the sweet sound in makes and the life it sustains.

We are tribal

First Find Your Tribe posted 9 May 2019

As I open this page to write I have no motivating thought but a vague heading, “First find your tribe.” Today we are in Dubai. It has been an extremely busy day for the staff. Possibly as many as two hundred suites had to be spring cleaned to house the new passengers alighting almost at the time  as as many disembarked. And as we breakfasted the busy army removed everything left behind by the vacating horde.

By the time we wove our way back to our suite we stepped around half consumed bottles of alcohol, glasses, books removed from the library, empty boxes, discarded property, general waste, linen, and staff with cleaning appliances and chemicals. It was really chaotic. 

Maria, a regular room’s maid, said she started work at six and had made up her first bed at seven. She apologised for looking disheveled she said, when I spoke with her, she only had one room left to complete and when I saw her at lunch she would be neat and spry with her makeup on. I haven’t seen her since but I am sure she would have been true to her word.

In starting this note I am aware all passengers are fairly similar. At least it is so when talking about the people we have travelled with in the Singapore leg this was generally true. The first difference was  the way those from countries with small representation tended to stick together. We had a strong group of Mexicans and they met as a group everywhere they congregated. The same could be said of those from Singapore. A group of LGBT people on board met formally a few times and those traveling as couples tended to meet and talk with other couples at public functions.

I had a reservation many of those from America would be Republicans. Some were. Fortunately many were not.  We did find ourselves seated with a couple from Texas one late busy afternoon. And we did exchange some pleasant thoughts with them and then the woman asked, What do you think of Trump? My answer was another question, “Before answering that, tell us, what do you think?” “Well we wish he wouldn’t tweet so much. We like him because things are so much better. He has done a lot. But someone should take that cell phone away from him.” Richard, the retired  British lieutenant colonel said, “You mean the wall and all that?  And from that point the conversation dwindled away to a quiet politeness.

Friends, who travel a lot, met by chance on this tour. The group in question were the Qantas people. Noel our next door neighbour is a case in point. He was settling down in a chair and he remarked to his wife Joanne, “it would be funny if Brian was on this tour.” And his point was proved within a hour. Brian his best man 47 seven years before was indeed on the ship with his wife and within a day they met another couple. All three were retired captains, further, Shirley – my memory may be faulty on her name – was the woman in charge of their rosters and she too was on the tour. All of them disembarked today.

Sometimes we are not eating. When we are our preference is to enjoy our own company.  Yet  such is life aboard conversations run into meal times and then we eat with our companions. In those times we had several meals with girl guide commissioner Pat from Glasgow. She and her husband Bill almost need water wings because they sail so often. Bill made his money from sports reporting and his career started at school. He started to report on local matches sending in his copy without any expectation. As it does, serendipity intervened, and he was soon writing permanently. His interest expanded and his business did too just writing about the little round ball game. In their many voyages they met Americans Susan and Michael and now a booking leads to a conversation and they travel together. Pat is a natural story teller and she often uses mimicry to tell her tales. Many times she had us laughing with jokes sparked by the topic being discussed. Sometimes her jokes were risqué so it was all good fun.

Oil men seem to sail too. The fellows we spoke to had worked all over the world. Telling us tales of cultural differences they shared with their wives who were traveling with them. We also had interesting talks about the methods of extraction as well. These men were clearly knowledgeable, well educated – one a PhD- yet men of simple pleasures. Neither knew of the other or was interested in the past experience they possibly shared.

Seabourn likes to advertise luxury. One luxury ignored by the passengers we have travelled  with to date has been ignored. To get away from the madness they offer a special space to 15 couples prepared to outlay an extra US $150  a day. In this space is a central pool. It is surrounded by lounges, tables and chairs and curtains for extra privacy. This  space provides the patrons with a private butler to attend to their every wish. Everyone I have spoken to thinks it would be stupid to be so silly as all this is all available to us all elsewhere on the ship except for the “privacy” of sharing your life with 14 other couples. As it is every suite has a private verandah. So far no one wants to join this club so it is vacant every day. Judging by the jewellery many of the women wear in the evenings it is not money preventing them for joining either.

Such are the ways people filter out who their “friends-for-the-day” will be on board. To quote the term used by Jennifer Hermecz.   Interest in the other is fascinating here abroad.

This is what I think

Indulgence posted 6 May 2019

It is indulgence personified to live for over a month on a luxury cruise. We need think of nothing or anything. If we do, we only have to ask and our wants are met.  More this. Less that. Some more wine sir? Can I carry that for you? Don’t do that,  let me do it for you.

Our crew live lives devoted to our every want. At the crack of dawn the last person you saw the previous evening is willing and ready to serve you again. Their days are busy and broken into short shifts. In those prime moments they tell me they ring their boyfriends, do their washing, play Xbox, eat and sleep. 

Most of the staff are on a revolving 4 month contract. The only people I have heard with longer contacts are those working in the galley for 6 months. In the first two months their only job is to clean plates. They separate waste into categories for destruction, recycling, reusing etc. night and day. The next 2 months they simply load and unload dishwashers. Finally in the last third of their contract they stack and sort all cutlery, crockery, and kitchen equipment.

On this ship staff come from all continents, all nationalities, and probably every personality type know to man. Their dress indicates their station on the ship. Strangely, despite this being a commercial line it is run on naval lines with military insignia apparent on the officers and key crew members. This probably makes for efficiency and helps to reduce crew costs I suppose. But it does seem a trifle militaristic.

Those staff members who have contact with guests, (the rest of us are guests, even if some are guest entertainers or presenters),  are personable and efficient. Those with jobs not obviously requiring guest acknowledgement do their work almost invisibly, and anonymously. If anyone hates their job they mask their hatred well.

For us guests everything is designed for our indulgence. Some of the guests are impossibly demanding and, depending perhaps on their nationality, rude. When they are, other passengers shun them as a sign of disapproval.

Indulgence means different things to different people. The aged academic who likes to be called Dr Ursula, told me she could afford to travel for months at a time on board the ship and did not seem to need for much. However she confessed her indulgence happens in the dining room.  Staff always seated her at a hosted table at night because they knew she was traveling alone. She is a  good conversationalist but was finding it a little difficult in the busy restaurant to follow each speaker.

Harri on the other hand is fifty five. Single. He is a just retired banker. He is enjoying not wearing a business suit all day, learning bridge and playing Trivial Pursuit. Katherine is the twenty something Welsh nightclub singer. She and her guitarist partner  have just bought a home in Manchester. For her it is an indulgence to not have to travel each night all over the country.  They are working longer hours and not earning less being here.  Yet it suits them to have none of the daily costs of home.

Beth and Jeff are both pilots flying domestic routes in the US. This cruise is some together time they miss because of their work. Their fur baby is missing out but  these get aways take much planning. “Jeff has it all on spreadsheet so we know what we are doing.” 

Many are seasoned travelers on board and they like things to be easy for them their wants are reasonably easily met. Their lizard like skin tells the story of too much time lazing around the pool drinking cocktails. Their life is indulgence personified. Yet it all pales into insignificance when compared to those who live in absolute consumption.

Take the Indian mogul of Mumbai who aims to be the wealthiest man in India. His wife and he live in the tallest multi storey home in the city. Not just in an apartment but the entire 22 stories. It has two heliports on the roof. Multiple car parking places, cinemas etc. (You can find this information online). They live in this house with only one of their three children and 600 servants.

Or, take our wonderful Sultan. He has this multi storey palace in Muscat. A home in the country and not one, but two yachts docked at the port as big as this ship carrying 600 passengers. He has never been aboard the 4 year old new yacht but he is so generous he has donated the old boat to the navy. Just as the best hotel in the city of Muscat  has a whole floor set aside for his use if he ever decides to stay. “He is so good. He has given us a new opera house. The largest, possibly in the world, all clad in Italian marble, just so we can hear the wonderful music of our country.” Said our guide.

The 0.01% who live like this across the globe cannot be satisfied knowing just across the country someone else has more. Having more, consuming more, more, more, is a burden I am sure. It is best relieved by total commitment to consumption. Give me the seven deadly sins any day. Well, actually I don’t mean this literally even if I have the time left to fit it all in. I have left it too late.


Mangalore posted 1 May 2019

The first port of call for us, in India, was Mangalore. It is one of five cities in India served by air, sea, rail, and road. The earliest European settlers found the area good for growing cashew nuts. And so cashews have been a cash crop in the area since for centuries.

As it is one of major industries in the region, many of us, took this excursion as an arranged activity. (The organisers missed out the part of cashew growing and we went to one of many hundreds of places where the nut is processed.)

Apparently the fruit, similar to an apple is bitter. Too bitter to do anything but ferment and make into an alcohol. The apple like fruit has an appendage hanging where the kernel is formed outside the flesh. This is lopped off in an on farm exercise.  This is this a  hard nut at the base of the fruit. We first saw thousands of them lying on concrete pads drying in the sun. Each one black, hard, bent like the nose of Punch. (Punch, as in the children’s puppet pantomime Punch and Judy.)

These noses lay in the sun all day and dried. Next, in a shed, built for function and not comfort, women on a daily rate equivalent to about $1.30  took a nut and cracked it open.  The machine used was invented when man first discovered iron. Or almost at that time. The woman took the hard nose like kernel and with two fingers held it between iron jaws that were closed by  a foot operated guillotine. It  closed and broke the nut. Before she flung into a basked,  the next was manipulated into place and cracked. Such was her life except for three months in the rainy season, later in the year. Her young children slept in cots or played in the attached nursery crèche all day while she worked.

That day the broken kernel with the nut attached was boiled in water for 6 hours. After that it spent two days cooling in heap on the floor. The women were in the most uncomfortable of atmospheres.  It was only 33 degrees in Mangalore yesterday but the humidity was in the 90’s. Even our guide said it was unusually hot for this time of year and the apparent temperature, that which we feel,  was equivalent to heat in the late 40’s


I must break into the story and relate a tale of my own life. As we were standing in the factory beside a wood fired boiler  listening to the cashew story I was aware of being uncomfortably hot.  The last time I was so hot I was a teenager. John Reed had not long married my aunt Pauline.  As well as being newly married he was recently certified as an A grade mechanic. The work of a mechanic was more valued then than now as cars were very unreliable and a good mechanic was treasured as a man (It was almost only ever a man) who could get things going. 

A few doors from the garage John worked for, and later owned, was a baker. His reasonably new mechanically operated oven had developed a problem and he had called on John to fix it. John had said it must be switched off and allowed to cool before he could think of repairing it. 

The very next day I arrived for a holiday and was sent to the garage to spend some time with him. (I have never fixed broken machinery except to repair a broken bike chain.  Before that broken chain  I could never work out how the riveted chain was threaded through the rear bike frame. With the break I discovered that on one link, and only on one side of the chain, a split pin was inserted to join the final link to form the chain.) 

John hadn’t asked my advice, but he said I might be of help to him if I would lie on an oven bread tray as the thing moved  and have a look inside the oven. I was to look  for an obvious fault while he stepped the bread chain slowly round its course.  The oven had been turned off for hours so no one thought to check what the actual  temperatures inside might be. The oven chain would only move one way, forward into the inferno. Riding on the carriage, only meant for bread, it hadn’t moved far when the heat took my breath away. The deeper into the oven I went  the hotter it got. I could hear John’s muffled voice ask if I could see anything as I searched with an unreliable  AA lead battery operated torch to see if there was an obvious fault before he started pulling the thing apart. 

Fortunately for the baker, and for John, even with my limited knowledge I recognised a pin was missing.  The oven did not need  disassembling provided  I cooperate. All that I was required to do  could be solved if a new pin  was found,  it was, and I was sent around inside the oven once more to insert it in into its appropriate spot. 

It was on my return journey, to do this work,  I remembered, like today, just how unpleasant overheated air can be.


Mangalore has more.  Firstly, I suggest next time you eat a cashew you give a thought to the woman who earned $1.30 per day so you could eat your nut without due thought to its real cost.  Finally I suggest you find some pictures on line and save yourself from the blistering humid heat and smog. Oh, this comes from the coal and wood fires always burning, so there is more to learn than I could ever write. Best luck with your study.