Saturday, November 30, 2019

Snake Oil: Up to 70% off

A special price used to be...a special price. A once a year sale used to be...a once a year sale. Back in the day a product could outsell competitors on the strength of a good advertising campaign alone. There was once much less competition; much less choice, much less confusion and much less danger.

I recently searched for an NBN provider for home WiFi. Initially I used an online comparison website, but it only told me that each of up to a dozen companies offered basically the same thing for roughly the same price. I figured out exactly what I needed, and that NBN was available at my place. (FTP:fibre to the premises to be precise). I then called each of the companies to ask why I should sign with them. I'll give the two extremes. Company A answered with silence. Company B offered me $5 dollar off the advertised price for the particular plan I wanted, waived the delivery fee for the free modem, and offered me a month's free internet if I switched my mobile phone to them. Their phone offer was the same price as my existing plan, but included more data, unlimited SMS overseas, as well as 120 minutes overseas call credits.

To get more customers, companies offer all sorts of deals, but to do even better than the advertised specials, you just have to ask. It's totally worth a call. I do the same thing for my insurance policies. Various companies also run event sales: End of Financial year. Halloween. Christmas. Boxing Day. New Year. Australia Day. I'm writing this on December 1. Most of the Black Friday sales are winding up today and tomorrow. Black Friday is on December 13, but never mind. Close enough. Any excuse for another sale.

The fact companies can offer all these special prices and special sales indicates that by and large they are overcharging their customers. In bricks and mortar stores, crazy prices are often advertised. Some places are always having sales and perpetually offering special prices. You will never enter a shopping mall and not find most of the shops having sales. In supermarkets, the sale items rotate but there are always a huge number of items on sale. My supermarket of choice always sells a large variety of products at 20-50% off. Clothing stores boast of half price, or two for one offers. I've seen shops selling products at 75%. If all this is for real, they can't make money, but of course it isn't. It's snake oil: a barrage of clever marketing tricks which most of us have fallen for at one time or another.

The advertised special prices and sales are hooks, and we consumers are fish. Sales get you into the store or onto the website where hopefully you will see something you like, and spend more money than you intended. Companies rely heavily on impulse buyers; people who buy things because they are on sale irrespective of whether they want or need the product, or indeed if they had even given a thought to it previously. The bait is dangled and we bite.

Successful businesses know all the tricks and employ them strategically to maximize sales. Knowing this helps me to control the materialistic urges within me. Utilizing my own set of countermeasures, my advertising snake oil anti-venom, means that even if I don't always get the best possible deal, I will at least be satisfied that I haven't been duped. I'll also minimize the risk of PPR (post purchase regret) 

Here are my top five PPR prevention strategies.
  1. Shop around
  2. Negotiate as much as possible
  3. Use shopping lists
  4. never spend more than you planned to.
  5. Don't make spontaneous purchases.
Do you have any strategies of your own? Share them here.

Friday, November 15, 2019

A Dog's Eye: The Band-Aid Century

I sometimes wonder if people understand the cyclical nature of life. I don't mean birth, marriage, life and death. I'm not talking about the cycle of life because with minor variations here and there, it's basically the same experience for all of us homo sapiens. And people know that. Opinions about the purpose of it all only differ in limited ways. In relation to world views, there is a fairly basic dichotomy. There's nothing new here.

Nothing new. Exactly my point. I'm currently reading The Memoirs of Richard Nixon who is best remembered for the opprobrium of Watergate. What has struck me several times, while reading-skimming quite a bit actually-is how the names change but the issues don't. International tensions have always existed. Wars go on continually. We've never had world peace. Natural disasters. No solutions, just mitigation of consequences. Political shenanigans. Questionable integrity. Frustrating lack of vision and real leadership. Promising economic theories which don't work. Blah. Blah. Blah.

A couple of light examples will suffice to demonstrate my point. Richard Nixon was President of the United States from 1969-1974. coming to power when the US had to get out of Vietnam, but
couldn't. It was the single biggest issue. Protests were frequent and frequently violent. On one occasion, he called a university student protester a "bum". Immediate echoes for me of former Australian Prime Minster Paul Keating in 1995 telling a group of student protesters to "go and get jobs." Twenty years apart, in different countries, yet the comments of these national leaders grabbed the headlines; overwhelming the actual object of the protests.

Early in Nixon's presidency, just as television was flexing its muscles as a monstrous manipulator of public opinion, he wrote about how personalities and television performances were becoming more important than actual policy. Little could he guess, how truly bad it would get. In the US, as here in Australia, what passes for news, as delivered through most media in the 21st century, is an embarrassing collection of prejudiced half truths.

The funny thing is people are still complaining about this all the time. Talk to anyone who's alive and at least partially connected to society. They will say the same things. Finding an original idea is like searching for elephants in an ocean. People whine endlessly about all kinds of things, alternating between shock and outrage, always taken by surprise by the things which keep happening.

The results of a research project into children's attitudes to homework were announced earlier in the year. Guess what? Children don't like homework. There's a new diet guaranteed to shift the weight you lazily allowed to accumulate. No wait, it doesn't work. Shock. Horror. A person on Twitter called me a moron because I misunderstood her. Oh no. I've never been called an idiot by someone who doesn't even know me. I'm devastated. I drank too much alcohol last night. I feel sick today. I can't work. No. Really? I had sex with a guy on the first date now he doesn't want to see me again. I could give thousands of examples of how individual people, and society as a whole, seem incapable of learning from mistakes.

Everyone knows the tongue in cheek definition of madness: repeating an action and expecting a different result. Chuckle. Chuckle. But we all do it. Same mistakes by us. Same mistakes by others. Same problems. Same ineffective solutions, and round and round we go.

Blind and stupid. That's what we are, God bless us. Blind, stupid, and fragile, but loved immeasurably by God anyway. I'm calling the 21st century the  band-aid century because nobody wants to address the root cause of all our problems. Instead of highly qualified and experienced physicians we consult Dr. Google. Don't treat my cancer doctor. It's too inconvenient. Just put a band-aid on it, and I'll pretend it's okay. Nobody does that with their health, but what about the health of our relationships and our society. Don't like that question? Too hard? My apologies.

There's a new weight loss program out now which involves eating a balanced diet and exercising. Wow! Why didn't someone think of that before? Never mind. We'll be okay now. As we say Down Under: "She'll be right, mate." Pass the band-aids please. I just cut myself, and by the way did you know children don't like homework?

Friday, November 8, 2019

RelationDips: octopus balls

Every second Thursday, my friends and I get together for dinner. We call it Connect and Chill. On the alternate Thursdays, we meet to study the bible and to pray. These nights are called Connect and Grow. Chill nights are held in various locations around Darwin; a different restaurant or pub each time. The suburb of Parap was chosen on the most recent occasion, but it was  a toss up between Parap Tavern and Oka Japanese. We took a vote which ended up a tie.

Parap Tavern on Thursday nights has a special: two chicken parmigianas and a jug of beer for $30, but it's not special food. It's pub food. Whichever pub we go to, the menu is pretty much the same. You can get a steak, a parmy, a burger, or barramundi (fish). All of which come with salad and chips (thick cut french fries).The menu varies little, and neither does the quality. It's ordinary food. Safe food, Good food.

The first time I went to Oka for dinner, I saw octopus balls on the menu and knew I had to try them. They could have been testicles or just ball shaped pieces of octopus for all I knew. Either way, I had to try them because I love octopus, and every time I pick up a menu, I look for something I haven't eaten before. Japanese restaurants have standard menus too. Sure, they're more exotic than pub menus but Japanese cuisine is not new to Australia. A set of standard dishes, like chicken teriyaki, will be offered to mostly non Japanese customers.

Not everyone likes Japanese food. Others don't particularly like the uninspiring offerings of hotels like Parap Tavern. The thing is, going out to dinner is never about the food. Not for me anyway. The food I eat is only a side dish accompanying the people I'm eating it with. For that reason I never say no to any restaurant suggestion. I expect to find something I can eat, and probably enjoy-maybe even my next favourite meal, but even if I can't, I didn't go for the food, so I'm never disappointed.

Food and eating brings us together. Most cultures do this exceptionally well. Gathering together with family and friends to enjoy a meal. My wife finds the idea of a pot luck dinner weird, but she comes from a culture in which if you ask someone out to a meal, you are expected to pay. The person you ask can invite someone else along and you will be expected to pay for them too. The concept of ordering individual dishes is also strange to her, as it is to people from many other countries.

Australian's have learned how to share when we eat at Asian restaurants. We've learned to appreciate the finest flavours from across the globe. It is an indisputable benefit of the controversial multiculturalism doctrine that our palettes have been broadened. In culinary terms, our lives have been enriched, but for me, it is still not about the food; it's about the people.

Food should add value to our relationships, regardless of similarities or differences in our tastes and appetites. Food is not just fuel for our bodies, it is lubricant for families, friends and society on the whole. 

Oka lost the vote last time, but we are going to eat there next time. Mark the date: November 14, and join me for some octopus balls. Don't worry about what they are. Just try them, and let's enjoy the experience together. Remember, it's not all about the food.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

A Dog's Eye: Everyone wants a piece

There are 56000 charities on the ACNC Charity register in Australia. They are all competing for our money. If you'd like to know more about charities and not for profit companies in Australia click here

Just under half of Australia's registered charities employ no staff. In other words they are completely run by volunteers. That is great. Charities are great. People who donate money to charities are great. Whether it's time, money or expertise, giving and serving is good for individual souls and good for society. No question about it.

One such charity which operates under its own steam in Australia, but is in fact an international charity is the Movember Foundation. The Movember Foundation have a very clever gimmick to raise awareness of and money for men's health issues. I have known about Movember for many years, but have never participated; either by donating or growing a moustache. Last month, I decided that in 2019 I would, so I am currently growing my first ever moustache. I'm 51. I don't know what I'm going to end up with on my upper lip but it doesn't matter.

I have been seeking donations since registering two weeks ago. My friends, family and colleagues have all been hit up for a donation. I've never asked for such before, and because of that I was expecting more people to donate. The thing is most people don't donate to charities. Period. Those who do, usually have their favourites to which they regular make donations, and they'll usually do so, that is choose a particular charity because there is some personal connection. You would expect someone who lost a loved one to bowel cancer, for example, would, if they were the 'giving to charity' kind of person, donate to a bowel cancer charity. This leads me back to the issue of competition.

You will have received many cold calls from various charities. If you gave once you will forever be on their list. I don't have a problem with that. I usually say no. On one occasion I bought a Care Flight Bear (dressed as a groom). Later I bought a bride Care Flight Bear and gave the groom to my wife on our wedding day. I have no intention of buying anymore bears even though I think Careflight do a great job and I know how much they depend on donations. 

I can't say yes to everyone. I often miss these calls anyway because they usually come in while I'm at work. However, yesterday I said yes to the RSPCA, although I've never given them money before. Donating to animal charities is not how I choose to spend my money. My point is I'm in the middle of this battle for charity dollars, and am now contributing to it by asking people to sponsor my mo.

I'm okay with people saying no. I'm less okay with people always saying no to everyone and everything. People who can't afford to support charities other than the RSL by pushing bucket loads of money through poker machines...for example. People can do whatever they want with their money. I'm not writing to condemn anybody. Respect. Do what you like with your money.

The thing is I'm beginning to feel less and less like my money is mine. I've acknowledged that all I have is a gift from God including my money. My current job was literally a God send. I used to donate money and feel guilty because I couldn't afford it, or resentful because I could, but I didn't feel like I could say no. In the past 2 weeks I've made four separate spontaneous donations, and I feel great about it.

I think part of the reason for me doing Movember is to continue this process of letting go. Obviously I believe in the cause. Men have traditionally been terrible at looking after themselves, both physically and mentally. Suicide rates are terrible. I believe in the cause, but there's something about giving, about being involved in something greater than yourself, which is humbling and liberating.

If you're not a giver, try it out. You'll be amazed by the results.

Here's the link to my Mo Space if you'd like to make a donation.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

The Mirror: Armageddon

I don't know how many times I've seen the film Armageddon or, until last night, the most recent time I saw it, but I really enjoyed watching it again. For those who don't know it, the basic premise is this: an asteroid is on a collision course with earth. The only way to stop it and the catastrophic destruction it would cause on impact is to land a deep core drilling team on the asteroid and plant a nuclear bomb in its core.

Armageddon was the highest grossing film in 1998. Aside from the impressive ensemble cast led by Bruce Willis, it has some funny lines, suspenseful scenes and mind blowing visuals courtesy of the awesome special effects, but I found one thing particularly interesting.

Willis plays Harry, the best deep core driller in the world. His crew includes Chick (played by Will Patton). On the eve of their trip into space for the dangerous mission, Chick visits a home where he sees his son playing outside. His estranged wife appears and tells Chick he's breaching court orders by being there. The viewers learn that the boy does not know his father, whom Chick's wife calls a salesman before sending the boy inside. We are not told anymore of Chick's back story other than he regrets the current situation. Before he goes, he apologizes and leaves a gift for his son: a model space shuttle.

Harry's crew fly into space amid much media hype surrounding the mission to save the planet. The men are lauded as heroes. Chick's son sees his father, who he thinks is a salesman, on TV. Now suddenly willing to tell her son the truth, Chick's ex reveals the true identity of the salesman. Only four of the crew return from the mission. Chick is greeted on his arrival back on terra firma by his wife and son and all is apparently forgiven...because he's a hero now.

This is typical of the simplistic way films and television shows deal with complex issues. It is also symptomatic of our hero worshiping nature. Most of the true heroes in the world don't get public acknowledgement or material rewards. We have a tendency to place public figures on pedestals and idolize them whilst ignoring or being dismissive of everyday heroes. Beyond these negatives, Armageddon also presents some echoes of profound truth.

Think of the broken relationships you've experienced or are experiencing. Could one monumental act of bravery or self sacrifice, or some other huge achievement fix it? I don't know why Chick and his wife split up in such acrimonious circumstances, or why his son didn't know him. I suspect it may have had something to do with Chick's gambling habit and the fact that his job kept him away from home frequently. It just struck me as implausible that one act, albeit such a massive one, could so easily fix things.

And then I remembered Jesus Christ, and his one incredible act of self sacrifice. His death and resurrection fixed things between us and God. The metaphoric end of the world for those who have hope in the God of hope is never actually the end of the world. One man died to save the world and repair, restore and renew all our relationships. 

What would it take for you to believe this?

Friday, October 18, 2019

Snake Oil: completely normal

Advertisers push boundaries, deliberately creating ads which will cause controversy because controversy sells. Sex is also a great seller so if you combine the two you, ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner. Even if the ad gets pulled because the standards council, or whoever has jurisdiction, says the ad has gone too far, the product will still get a boost. Controversial ads never lose.

I decided earlier in the week to not buy a particular product because of its use of women in sexy sleepwear. The women are depicted-let's saying putting the product on. If I mention camera angles I think I've said enough. I then decided to not buy any product whose advertising contravened my personal standards. Mainly in the area of sex which regular readers will know is a hobby horse of mine, but generally anywhere where I felt offended or didn't like the message the ad was projecting.

And then came Libra with it's "periods and menstrual blood are completely normal so why cant we show them in an ad." What do you think the chances are of a condom ad being produced which shows another completely normal bodily fluid? We don't have nappy ads which show faeces, do we? Sexual intercourse is also normal.  We used to little see very in films, and none on television, but is okay now. You can't escape it. Sex is used in some films even when it is of no relevance at all to the plot. Maybe we should depict sexual intercourse in ads for beds. Anyway, I digress.

Feminine hygiene ads have traditionally been a bit weird, for men and women, but I think has changed. Some companies have made some very humourous ads which were designed to defuse the awkwardness surrounding this natural function of the human female. There's no reason to be weird about it. My wife and I talk about it in the same way we would discuss what we're having for dinner. The question is: do we want to see it on the TV while we're eating dinner?

Advertising can do a lot of good. It can be highly effective at educating people, and changing people's opinions. However, it is also a front line weapon in the war against decency and moral standards.

I understand what Libra are doing with their ad, but I think the logical extension of their justifying argument takes us into dangerous water. It smells a bit like the pervasive and divisive social engineering undertow of which the majority of people are blithely ignorant. At times the effect of snake oil is subtle, being applied gradually and in small doses. At other times, it's more like a snake bite. Is there an anti-venom to fight against this poison?

Here's the ad if you haven't seen it. 

Friday, October 11, 2019

RelationDips: microwave relationships

It's a thing of the past now, but I once had a blog called 'I Don't Cook' which had a huge following in Poland. For all but 9 months (that's interesting) of my 3 year and 2 month long Darwin experience, I have lived alone. Those who live alone appreciate the problem of cooking.

Even if you like cooking, it often does not seem worth the trouble just to cook for yourself. My solution to this problem was to primarily consume microwave dinners. This had several benefits beside convenience, but I'll get to them in a moment. Reactions from people who I inform of my reliance on frozen meals are mixed; understandably so.

The proof is in the pudding though. I have saved a small fortune, maintained my weight and not wasted any food. Microwave meals tick a number of boxes for me, but one thing I do not do is draw any parallels between frozen dinners and relationships. Why would I? Why would I indeed?

  1. Microwave meals are cheap. If you want to save money, you could easily get away with only spending around $30 for a week of dinners. Eat only frozen dinners with your partner, justifying your choice with parsimony, and you are barking up the wrong tree.
  2. Frozen dinners are convenient. If you are consistently, or periodically time poor, these meals are life savers. In 5-8 minutes with nothing more than a few pokes of a fork through the plastic, you can have a meal. Be so busy that you are a.squeezing in time to be with your partner around your other activities or b. assuming they will accept being an afterthought, or c. playing the "quality time' over 'quantity time' card, and you have the wrong end of the stick.
  3. Microwave dinners are tasty. They come in a huge variety of cuisines with plenty of pasta and rice dishes as well as vegetarian offerings. I've eaten a few duds, but by and large they taste good. However, I've never had a "proper' meal and wished I was having a 'nuked dinner' instead. There's a big difference between an okay relationship and a good one. If you don't know the difference, let me give you a phone number to ring for help. Mediocre is not an acceptable adjective when applied to relationships.
A good relationship is expensive. It will cost money and time, and if you want it to stay good, then sacrifice is required. Love requires the exertion of your will and the execution of your selfishness. It takes effort. A good relationship should be consistently good, at the very least. It doesn't always have to be great, but it should have plenty of great moments. If you're in a relationship which has more lowlights than highlights you're in trouble. 

If your relationship feels like a microwave dinner, do something about it. Fix it. In other words, be the solution. If you can't fix it because the other person doesn't want to, then get out. Go to a restaurant and buy a real meal, or go to the supermarket and buy fresh ingredients to cook up something special. Ditch the frozen dinner relationship. You're better than that.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

A Dog's Eye: Gym Gaffs

Gyms are like different countries which many people choose never to visit. However, I have a passport and a permanent visa so I'm a regular visitor. I almost belong to the gym sub-culture. I say almost because I'm a Square Peg.

Here's a list of my pet peeves at the gym. I'm sure I'm not the only one bothered by them, but overall these things seem to be generally accepted as normal in the gym sub-culture.

1. The music. Selected by a handful of gym folk, it is a nice blend of jungle music (dance and hip hop), and...more jungle music. I need a metal and rock soundtrack. I could chose the music and share it with everyone else, except for the fact none of the songs I like are available on the "jukebox". My iPod shuffle saves me.

2. The dropping of weights. If people can't put the weight down, then I'd suggest it's too heavy. I'm sure this is not attention seeking behaviour but it does attract attention.

3.Water bottles. It is not far to walk to the bubbler for a drink between sets or exercises, but for many people it is apparently too far. Irony alert.

4. Sitting on equipment but not actually using it. I reckon it's possible to leave your phone in your bag for an hour. It's also possible to have a conversation with your friends whilst not sitting on a particular machine.

5. Excessive grunting. I know it's hard work and it's painful, but some gym folk are Maria Sharapovas. Not seeking attention, but getting it.

6. Racking weights. There are signs everywhere, but it's evidently too hard to put away the weights they use when they've finished.

7. The floor is better than the storage cubes. There are empty spaces for bags to be stowed off the floor, but it's a bit difficult to lift the bag and place it so people just dump them on the floor.

8. Share your conversations with everyone. People who talk really loudly; thus ensuring the whole gym can hear every word.

Two final thoughts: I wonder how many other people even notice these things, and secondly I wonder how many people have to fight to overcome the self consciousness I still feel when I'm working out. Maybe, it's just me. 

Saturday, September 28, 2019

The Mirror: breaking chains

You once made a poor choice which had long lasting and widespread consequences for you and those you love. Let's be honest, most of us have done this multiple times. You have the means to travel back in time to change that decision. Do you?

It's a classic hypothetical question. Time travel, as far as we know, is not possible. It is however the subject of countless films, television shows and novels. It is even a recurring theme in love songs. Recently I watched Back to the Future for the umpteenth time. I've previously written about Time Travelers on Netflix. Today I watched an episode of Dark Matter. Same subject: time travel. Science fiction series always have time travel episodes. It's fascinating and mind blowing stuff, but it's fictional. Purely speculative.

Why is time travel such a rich vein to mine for stories? What makes it such a popular theme? 

We all have regrets. At some point in our lives, we've all said those fateful words, 'If only...' Even though we cannot change the past, we still obsess about it. It's very human to think this way, but it isn't very helpful. As the writers of science fiction clearly explain, any change to a single event in the past would automatically impact on many other events. The ripple effect is a slave to the laws of physics. Time is not exempt. We can't selectively change the past, but even if we could, would we really want to?

The answer depends entirely on how you feel about yourself. The fact is the person you are now is primarily the cumulative result of your experiences. You have been shaped by what has happened to you. If you can accept that, you can break the chains and find peace and move forward. If not, you're in big trouble because you can't undo what has been done and the burden of history is far to heavy a load for anyone to carry.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Snake Oil: Things that made me go hmmm...

Snake Oil posts are typically reserved for comments on advertising. I could write about the controversial Libra television ads showing menstrual blood, but I want to stretch the Snake Oil mission statement a little to talk about things which made me go hmmm over the last week.

Image result for jetstar dreamlinerA Bali bound Jetstar flight was flying over Darwin, halfway to its destination, when the pilot noticed a crack in the cockpit window. He chucked a mid air U-turn and returned to Melbourne. When I heard this story, my first thought was that the pilot was correct to want to get the plane on the ground. My second thought was why didn't he land the puppy in Darwin? The flight was halfway to Bali, but he took them all the way back to the airport of origin.

Image result for rexona aerosol deodorantJournalism is famous for hyperbole, so I took the radio news announcement that there was a chroming epidemic in Queensland with a grain of salt. Rexona spray deodorant was named as the number one choice of chromers and apparently there are empty cans everywhere. In store theft of the product is rife so managers have removed it from the shelves. It's still on sale, but you have to ask for it. Rexona's response was to announce it would enlarge the warning signs on the cans. My thought: People who sniff aerosol cans to get high do not read labels, but sure Rexona, give that a crack.

Image result for ashes cricket fifth testAustralia took a 2-1lead into the fifth match of the Ashes series. The reaction of the selectors to us winning the fourth match easily was to change the team. Retaining our worst performing batsmen, but dumping our vice captain. He was replaced by an all rounder with a poor test record whose inclusion gave us two identical bowlers. Left handed deadly weapon Starc was overlooked, as was the aggressive speedster, Pattinson. Having made unnecessary changes to the team, we then elected to bowl first after winning the toss, and got smashed by over a hundred runs.

What binds these three stories together is two things. Firstly, my reaction. Mystified. Bamboozled. Secondly, the dearth of information which fueled my bewilderment. Jetstar and Rexona were just short news stories. Reporting on the Rexona chroming epidemic was over the top, but the point is I don't know anything other than what I've told you. Based on very little information, I was left shaking my head and feeling confident that I would handle things better...or at least differently.

I subsequently investigated both issues a little and found out in the case of the Jetstar incident, the pilot had good reason for travelling all the way back to Melbourne. Melbourne is where they are able to fix the windscreen most quickly because its' the airline's repair hub. 

The point is there is always more to the story: the story on the news, the gossip in your ears, the picture before your eyes.

The cricket is a different story. The selectors are mad, our captain made the wrong decision at the toss, and we lost because the game was not important. On this issue I can speak with some authority because I've been watching cricket for over forty years.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

A Dog's Eye: Once Upon a Time in Darwin

Image result for gilbert's dragon
It happened one morning as I was walking home along a damp footpath mostly covered by the unfortunate leaves and twigs which had been ripped from their arboreal homes by the power of regular monsoonal showers. It happened as I ignored the dogs in every front yard I passed, which ignored me until I passed then barked feverishly at my back. It happened as I watched in joyful fascination as juvenile Ta-Ta lizards tore back across the path to the safety of the garden. Stopping just before entering their refuge, briefly to wave their feet. Gilbert’s Dragons must be the cutest reptiles in the world with this endearing little habit of theirs, but thinking of them led me to thoughts of the cat which roams my backyard, hunting and killing my little reptilian friends.

I turn into my driveway between two rugged pillars of tropical palms, and more little dragons scurry away. I wonder, as I have on many other occasions whether they have less muscles than humans, and if that explains why their movements seem so jerky. I mean they fly when they run: like a blurry poem, but they stop so suddenly, and jerk their head around so robotically that I wonder why they lack the smoothness of a man. Perhaps it’s a perception thing. I make a mental note to Google it when I have time. I always have time for such trivialities. The problem is having the time and using the time are not the same thing.

Placing the key in the lock of the front door, I turn it and pull the handle, but nothing happens. The door is supposed to open. I pull again: harder, then tumble backwards as the handle divorces itself from the door most melodramatically.

At this moment, I utter a reserved expletive, before examining the door. Running my fingers around the edge, I find no impediment to its successful opening until I reach the bottom left hand corner. The useful gap which used to exist between the door and the jam has disappeared. With gentle persuasion quickly giving way to anger fueled brutality, I wrench the damn thing open by gripping an exposed corner of the door at the top. I swear some more.
My mind wanders back to the journey home from the gym. I almost always feels I’ve hit it hard, and that’s what I tell the few people who ask. I stay longer, do more repetitions and use heavier weights. I lift until my muscles scream, then rest and do it again. The pain focuses my thoughts to a pinpoint. There is me, and the music in my ears, and the agony of exertion.

It takes half an hour to walk to the gym, and I go four three afternoons a week and one morning, rain, hail or shine. My head covered my either a hat or an umbrella. I ditched the orange Cairns Taipans cap, partly because I gave up on the team after two matches of the new season, and partly because of concerns about exposure to the sun. It’s hot in the tropics, but even if it wasn’t, the sun delights in burning the pink flesh of foot travelers. My cranium may have been protected, but I knew my ears, and my cheeks and the back of my neck were receiving unsafe levels of exposure and I had seen too many parched and wrinkled heads, scarred by melanoma removal, to carry on taking the risk. Although I thought I had a big head – I finished third in a celebrated head measuring contest at a family gathering- the smallest sized hat with a brim swiveled alarmingly around my skull. However, as the look and the Billabong insignia were both very cool, I took a chance on the chin strap as the solution to excess movement. My hat is still on my head as I enter my flat, but it is the first item I remove. The second is my bag, then, once it has been drained of its contents, the third is my shoes and socks – an audible sigh from my feet fills the room-, and lastly my sweat soaked shirt comes off and I toss it on the floor of the bathroom. It lands exactly where the laundry basket would be if I had one. When I need to transport my dirty clothes to the laundry which is in an adjacent outhouse, I use Coles shopping bags. Courtesy of me frequently forgetting to take the old ones with me when I go shopping, I now have a large collection. Soon my cupboard will be full of them.

It’s very upsetting to have to walk so far to the laundry, and I often swear at the old Samsung washing machine as if it is to blame. I also want to kill the stupid thing when it presents my washed garments in a thick knot of cotton. It has no agitator. I’m told the agitator is crucial to the efficient washing of clothes, but this machine seems to do its job well nonetheless, apart from the knotting which does not occur in machines which contain agitators. This could be a source of irritation, but neither of the two alternatives – buy a new machine or hand wash my clothes- appeal so I will settle for frequent complaining. That’s what most people do anyway. Even problems which have obvious solutions, tend to be cherished above the potential tranquility of not having the problem.

I dump the knotted clump into a shopping bag, then march to the clothesline which is undercover. As I untie the knot, I pen my Facebook status update, because it is important for people to understand my suffering. I use Facebook a lot, and as is the case with many lonely people, I overshare matters of inordinate triviality. I’m older than Facebook. I was an adult before social media was even conceived, let alone prospered into the communication titan that it is today. I don’t recall what I did with all my thoughts, ideas and grumbles before Facebook gave me such a helpful platform of release, but I suppose I spat them into the wind. At its most grand, Facebook is the most populous community on earth, an indispensable mode of communication and connectedness. At its worst, it’s a waste of time and a pathetic substitute for authentic relationship.

I put on a clean single and switch on the kettle. The noise annoys me, but I have no choice, unless I want to boil water on the stove which I don’t have, or build a fire in the yard and boil a billy, because that is so practical. I have a choice. In fact, I have lots of choices, and that is perhaps one of the greatest problems of the twenty first century: too much choice. I recall my first visit to a supermarket in the United States when I wanted to buy some milk. There was a huge selection of bottles, all containing liquid which looked like milk, but nothing that was actually called ‘milk’. Just ‘milk’. I began reading the labels, desperately hoping to find something which told me I was buying what I wanted, but my heartrate was going through the roof by the time I hit the bottle which said it contained acidophilous. I didn’t even know what acidophilous was – still don’t, so why, I reasoned at the time, would I buy it. It was a twenty-four-hour supermarket, and I had no particular place to be, but I’m pretty sure that nobody of sound mind, enjoys hanging out in a supermarket. I know some people like to browse, and plan their menus according to whim, but most people, I venture to say, use guerilla warfare tactics like hit and run. I doubt anyone vocalizes this thought, but for sure and certain it is played out in the minds of all who enter supermarkets. Okay, men. Let’s get in. Get what we need and get out. Watch your back. Stick to the plan. You have your orders. Go!

The kettle roars to a climax, then switches off, and I begin the tea making ritual. The bag, the sugar, the milk. In that order. Washing machines, kettles, social media and twenty-four-hour gymnasiums. What a wonderful world. I can feel stiffness creeping into my joints as my tortured muscles begin to cool and relax into liberty. A fleeting panic is caused by a whisper of apprehension: what if I overdid it, and I can’t get out of bed tomorrow morning. Needless worry. Of all the things I do, in this I excel.

With my tea ready, and a handful of chocolate chip cookies loaded onto a plate, I leave the cavernous and clammy interior of my flat and settle on a moderately comfortable chair outside. I switch the laptop on, and it boots in seconds – as ASUS promised it would. I knew I could trust the Taiwanese. A little nation of rebels just like Australia. Same population in a country two hundred and fifteen times smaller. Taiwan is overpopulated and Australia is underpopulated. It’s a nice picture of the weird inequality which exists on planet earth. At least Australia doesn’t have such a major issue with its sovereignty.

The final part of my health and relaxation regime is tobacco.