time for old father

time clock

My old dad presented us with a clock recently.

It is the third timepiece he’s tendered in as many years.

We had a fair inkling of what was coming because of the telltale tools and little parts strewn over the sunroom table as the clock was painstakingly dissected to find out why it didn’t tick.

The first clock, which he gave us not long after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, was of the traditional German cuckoo variety.

It had been been in a poor state when he recovered it from junk in a shed.

He carefully carved a new leaf to replace one that was damaged, fashioned a new pendulum, cleaned and oiled the chains and their pine-cone weights so the whole thing ran like well … clockwork.

The second offering – following a minor stroke – was a squat, utilitarian post-war mantel clock in which he had replaced the broken chime rods so the bells tolled anew.

But by far the loveliest is the latest of the trio.

A walnut parlour clock with silver nickel hand-painted glass door, it was made by the Ansonia Clock Company in the 1890s.

It has a rich, soft gong which counts out the hours with loving exactitude until you forget to wind it so it starts trying to tell you still have all the time in the world when really it’s far too late.

But the sound is so visceral, so deeply sure and true as it rolls through the house in the dead of night it’s like your heart won’t listen to what your head is telling you.

This clock came not long before the bone scan.

As my dad disappeared into the Stargate of the nuclear medicine department I picked up a magazine from the waiting room and experienced my own time warp.

I flicked through the pages: Maggie T had shed 5 kilos but was yet to lose Richard Zachariah; John Travolta’s son Jett was still a baby; Hilary Clinton was about to become First Lady; Jeff Kennett still ran Victoria and Felicity was standing by him; Liz Taylor was still married to Larry Fortensky; and A Country Practice was still on TV.

The magazine, though in astoundingly good nick, was two decades old. Where did the years go?

The results of the scan came back yesterday.

The cancer has mestastized to the bone with little radioactive “hotspots” showing up all over the place.

Tick … tock, unbidden the thought strikes: Will there be time for another clock?


the eyes have it


The trouble with whales, ” opined a voice from the La-Z-Boy, “is their eyes are too small.

If we letter-boxed the Japanese with pictures of whales with big eyes the killing would stop … end of story.

And … it would be cheaper – not to mention less confusing – than employing sharks,” sniffs he who has no great opinion of the legal profession.

We’d been watching some of the evidence presented to the International Court of Justice as part of Australia’s case against Japan over alleged breaches of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.

And, as it is essentially a question of national face – and the saving thereof – the eyes really do seem to go to the heart of the issue.

Consider the seals.

Not so long ago the Canadians were clubbing baby harp seals with impunity, but today there is less incentive for sealers, with bans on seal products in 34 countries.

And it was those big black limpid eyes that helped turn around public opinion.

Seals, pandas and chimps count among what environmentalists call “charismatic megafauna”, able to stare into a camera lens to win hearts and influence people.

It seems even scientists are not immune to this phenomena, with studies showing “cute and furry” animals are 500 times more likely to be the subject of research papers than less attractive critters – irrespective of whether they are in any way endangered.

This also explains why, after going to one of those Loony Larry/Freaky Fred discount places to buy a loaf tin last week, I emerged – somewhat bemused – with a $2.99 plastic meerkat on a stick.

Has anyone ever gone into a shop intentionally to buy such a ridiculous item?

Yet, there were about 100 standing sentry just inside the entry and by the next day they were all gone.

The Japanese have contributed considerably to the cult of cute or “kawaii”, investing anime and manga characters with huge Bambi eyes since the launch of Astro Boy in 1952.

Eyes can also be a powerful deterrent.

British research shows strategically placed posters of staring eyes around car parks and other high-risk areas reduce crime because thieves can’t shake the feeling of being watched.

Whether the ICJ returns a verdict upholding Australia’s case before the start of the next whale hunting season remains to be seen.

But the world will be watching.

*meerkats image from Road Travel Africa


there goes the neighbourhood


The long simmering row between two of my favourite local retailers has spilled over to the street with signs appearing in each of their windows inviting customers to take sides.

It’s not subtle. Take this salvo:

Megalomaniac: n. One who has delusional fantasies as to the greatness of their power.

e.g. Being such a devout megalomaniac she actually expected that her ranting and raving would result in the local authorities overhauling their traffic management policies to meet her ludicrous demands.

No wonder she is so frustrated and cranky all the time; no one listens to her malicious babble or does her bidding.”

And the response in the adjacent window:

Hmm, I wonder what brought on this new outburst … Perhaps all his staff cars got parking tickets at once! Believe me, I don’t want parking laws changed … I just wish shopkeepers would let customers have the parking rather than taking it for themselves.

If that is the definition of megalomania it is a very curious one. But hopefully none of our customers have an interest in name-calling and misogyny.”

This is pretty uncomfortable for people who love both good books and good food and is creating a vibe not much conducive to either.

It’s the restaurant that most surprises me – like, the owners are practising Buddhists.

But that’s the thing about such disputes. They can unhinge even the most Zen individuals.

Reading the signs – wondering if I can ever enjoy a secondhand book in my favourite Thai restaurant again – the name Eddie Azzopardi springs to my mind.

Eddie became legend for his pursuit of justice after the garage of his rented home was burned down in 1971 in the midst of him disputing a negligent driving charge following a bingle with a policeman.

The fire became one of the most inquired into matters in NSW judicial history, spanning more than 25 years.

Eddie was a man obsessed with proving his case.

Hard-bitten journalists would near weep at news he was on the phone, knowing that he wouldn’t draw breath for an hour.

Eddie always had right on his side and was ultimately proven to be the victim of a great injustice.

But at what cost?

The acclaimed investigative journalist Evan Whitton once asked him how many more years of his life the case would consume

Eddie replied: “Forever. It’s like a cancer; it just keeps growing …”

the mouse paradox


Hailing from a time of typewriters and telephone boxes, I sometimes find the rapid advances in technology just a teeny bit terrifying.

Take the mouse – that iconic emblem of digital connectedness.

You mightn’t guess by looking at us, but we are the same age.

Only now we are about to celebrate the half centenary, one of us is on the brink of extinction as interface between binary and biological blurs.

Doug Englebart, who produced the first prototype of the mouse – a wooden shell covering two metal wheels at a time the PC was still a pipe dream – only just predeceased his invention.

News of his death last Thursday (July 4) at age 88 was announced via tweet from The Computer History Museum.

Englebart, a genius himself, was said to have been driven by the belief that innovations that catapulted us into the information age should be used to bolster collective human intellect – not to change TV channels with the blink of an eye.

He believed co-evolution between technology and human philosophy would resolve the world’s really important problems.

But seeing toddlers intuitively swipe a screen or tap an app makes me wonder if development hasn’t actually been arrested innovation, that while we might just end up with long froggy fingers, our minds are destined to remain in the primordial swamp.

My old Dad tells a story about Australia’s first commercial radio-operated international facsimile.

As a young telegraphist/facsimile operator working for Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) he remembers a hulking great machine in Queen Street HQ.

Specifically he recalls, at the end of the war, the transmission of the first images after the Allies’ liberation of the Nazi concentration camps.

Those images – printed on a machine so big and important that it occupied its own floor – helped alert the world to the Nazis’ grossest crimes and prosecute those responsible.

Today that rudimentary technology, refined to the size of a pinhead, has become like cellular cyanide in some cultures.

Last week news emerged of two Pakistani sisters aged 15 and 16 shot dead in an apparent honour killing.

Noor Basra and Noor Sheza offended male family members by gleefully running through a sudden downpour outside their family home in the ultra conservative far north.

A video of their spontaneous rain dance circulated on the ubiquitous mobile phone sealed their fate.

It shows we might eliminate the mouse, but we remain just a click away from the trap.