One year on.

| | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (0)
A couple of weeks back we celebrated our first anniversary of moving to Australia. The year has passed in the blink of an eye, but I thought this is a good time to reflect on the differences between life in a small NSW coast town and life in east London.

The experience of the last twelve months has reinforced my view of life in London; the city is a source of tremendous energy that amplifies the influence of day to day experiences.

When things are going well, living in London is like grabbing the terminals of a battery. There is also a sense of being at the heart of things, in a city that has a genuinely global presence, where one can meet anyone from anywhere, where one can draw on the influence of every conceivable culture from around the world.

When things are not going well, living in London is like being trampled. Every activity becomes complicated by the presence of a seething mob of chaotic self-interest that cares little for the problems one is faced with.

By contrast, living in 12,000 miles away in a town of 3500 people does not feel like being at the heart of things. Culturally, the town's population could hardly be described as 'eclectic'. It's also impossible to hide, as one meets the same people every day.

But there is certainly a feeling of genuine willingness to help, and of an easy going atmosphere that makes it very easy to relax. Perhaps a little too easy, as the days can drift by without the external compulsion to action.

Away from the social interactions, there can be little doubt that life nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the mountains afford us spectacular views and easy access to some of the most stunning scenery one could ever hope to step into every day.

The kids love it. They swim, they spend much more time outdoors than they ever could in London, and they have made good friends after an inevitably rocky start. It's a big ask to arrive in a small community where most of the kids have been together since they started pre-school.

My experiences thus far have been mixed. In work terms I feel a touch isolated, and I haven't yet broken into the Australian market, despite positive initial contact with many commissioning editors. That said, I haven't been trying so very hard, as I have been distracted by other matters (spending three and a half weeks in hospital didn't help), and my focus has been divided as I try and kindle an urge to paint into a roaring drive that sends me into the studio (garage) in a blur of brushes and pigment.

And this is where the difference between London life and here comes into sharp focus. Life here is easy. We have space and time. It is up to me to find the discipline to get out of a holiday mindset and knuckle down. Anyone got a spare protestant work ethic?

Unusually for this here blog what I done here, I have not as yet mentioned the spinal aspect of my life.

There is little doubt that many aspects of life in a wheelchair that are easier here. We have enough space to be able to easily access different chairs and other bits of kit. Many more houses are accessible, as single story places are much more the norm. The average temperatures make bulky clothing less of an issue when getting around, and there is less unpleasant stuff to wheel through on a trip to the shops.

However, it is very hilly here (see previous  comment about being by the coast and the mountains), and there is a dependence on the car that makes pavements sporadic and often inaccessible. Drop kerbs are located next to disabled spaces, but they are positioned with the assumption that the wheelchair user is the passenger, so for me to park in such a way as to be able to get the door open means blocking the easy access dealing with the inevitably enormous kerb.

There are other aspects of life here that present more of a challenge than the landscape, but I will save that for another day.

In summary, we are still here. We have had no epiphany, no crystalising of a decision as to where our long term future lies. Maybe that's not the way these things work for most people.
 
If we have learned anything from the last 9 years, it's that change happens and we don't always have much control over it. But we have also learned a bit about our resilience, and that makes facing the future a little easier.

So for now I will continue to leave my tracks in the sand, and deal with rusty bearings for a little longer...
 
beachtracks.JPG

The deeper that sorrow...

| | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (0)


I was shocked and saddened to learn of the death of Andrew Farrow. It has taken me some time to decide what to write on here, if anything at all, for his family will be suffering greatly, and I would hate for them to feel that I am intruding upon their grief. Writing this feels somehow presumptuous, especially as I have never met the rest of the Farrow family.

 

Andrew and I met back in 2008, when I found his blog and discovered that he had recently read my book. There were some striking parallels in our stories; we were both injured falling from a tree, we had lived in the same places, we even discovered that our families shared mutual friends.

 

Over the past six years, we also shared the trials and tribulations of living with paraplegia, of parenting, and the challenges of setting off along a different career path. Looking back through previous blog entries, I found seven references to Andrew; occasions when his experiences so closely matched my own and were so succinctly reported that I wished his words had been mine too.

 

I would like to think that we provided each other with succour during some of the darkest days, times when physical or emotional pain was such that only the intimacy of shared experience could offer comfort. I certainly gained hugely from Andrew's supportive words, and I would hope that I was able to offer him some support when we shared those 'glass-half-empty' moments.

 

We laughed too.  Big, raucous laughs at the absurdity of life. Giggles over small embarrassments and the awkwardness we had inspired in members of the public determined to help.

 

I met Andrew face to face just once. We had lunch and a chat beside the Thames when he was up in London.  Although our families never met, this was not for want of trying. Our plans always seemed to fall through; complicated by the unpredictable circumstances of complex lives, and then further confounded when we moved halfway around the planet.

 

Still, I felt that we would always keep in touch, and that our paths would certainly cross again at some point in the future. Andrew's passion for sailing had also taken him down a new and exciting road, and I greatly enjoyed learning of his exploits under sail.  Andrew was aiming high, as usual, with Rio 2016 firmly in his sights. As with everything else he did, he offered insight that resonated way beyond the immediate passion.

 

Sometimes this insight was painful to read, especially as I shared many of the same battles. Make no mistake, living with a spinal cord injury is hard, especially if one has a chronic pain condition that has the potential, on a bad day, to tarnish every waking moment. But often, Andrew was able to offer a quote that drew some inspiration from the dark times, such as the words of Khalil Gibran, for example: "The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain."

 

So Farewell, Andrew. Thank you for your wit, your insight and your emotional support. I feel honoured to have had you as a friend. May the wind always be at your back and the sun upon your face.


Enabled

| | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (0)
I have for some time now written a regular column for Enable Magazine in the UK, and I have decided that some of them might make for an interesting read here on my blog.  I will only share those which are still relevant so, fear not, there will not be any entries about what to wear at the London Paralympics, etc.

Here's a link to my latest, on the Enable website: Enable Magazine

Too much pressure...

| | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (0)
This post has been a long time coming. As to why? Well, perhaps the fact that any names (including that of the hospital) are absent may offer a clue.

I am no stranger to hospitals. Since my spinal cord injury in 2005, I have clocked up weeks of ward time. After the initial three months rehab, there was the removal of my spinal metalwork, followed by more than five years on the outside.

This run came to an end when I developed septicaemia in 2012, which resulted in a five week stint, interrupted when I was discharged and readmitted twice (I should point out that I was far from happy with my care during this time, but this was due to the delay in making me better rather than them making things worse). The treatment consisted of lots and lots of antibiotics, until a 'peri-urethral collection' was drained by a radiologist with a syringe, an ultrasound for aim and a talent for darts. With my feet behind my head, I watched in awe as she hit the target first time. Abscess aspirated, the infection went, and I got home just in time to carry the Paralympic torch in Hackney.

All fine and dandy until May of this year. What appeared at first to be a UTI that I couldn't shift became more complicated as blood tests revealed my liver wasn't happy, and the febrile episodes became more frequent. Rather than waiting for my temperature to hit 41c (as it had in 2012. Rigors are best avoided, people), I checked into my local hospital.

Just to clarify, this is not a small country hospital with starched nurses and doctors in aeroplanes, but a 500 bed urban hospital.

On admission, I was put on I.V. antibiotics, and through a combination of CT and MRI  scans a bacterial collection was identified in the same area as 2012 (my abscess, not the torch relay. If the collection had been found in Hackney, I would have been in better shape).

The urologist decided that the best course would be to drain the area surgically, thus making sure that the area was fully clear, in case some residue had been left behind in 2012.

When I came out of theatre, I was informed that I had a 'corrugated  drain' in place to ensure the area is fully drained, after which the area would be dressed, and allowed to close over time, so that it closes from the inside out, ensuring no cavity is left behind.

The drain itself looked like a ribbon cable from an early computer, and was a couple of centimetres wide. My scrotum, on the other hand, was the size of a space hopper, and almost the same colour.



In order to speed up the reduction of the swelling, I was trussed up like a turkey in a double layer of some fetching synthetic stretchy underwear called 'Mollie Pants' to provide extra lift. For a week, I had my dressings changed twice a day, and everything seemed to be progressing well. The nurses did mention that they would need to keep an eye on the drain itself, to ensure it wasn't pressing into my skin.

At the end of the week, the registrar finished his ward round visit with a parting shot. After examining me, he mumbled that there was a small amount of ulceration that they would need to keep and eye on. Despite this being 7.15 am, alarm bells began to sound in my head.

To become a fully qualified paraplegic, I had to undergo a rigorous training programme that covered all the elements that would enable me to be considered self-caring. As a result of this training, even the mere mention of the words ulcer or pressure are enough to make me scurry for a mirror and embark on a spontaneous yoga session to allow me to, if not disappear up, at least scrutinise my own arse.

Having been in dressings all week, I had not had a previous opportunity to inspect the drain site or the area surrounding it. I pulled a mirror from my wash bag, and angled it between my legs to discover an area of very dark purple skin, with two angry red sores on one edge.

In having the drain pushed up against my skin, the combination of pressure and the exudate (the fluid draining from the wound site which can burn surrounding skin. See, I learned something) from the drain had caused a pressure sore 2cm x 3cm.

I was seriously annoyed. As far as I am concerned, this was an avoidable complication, and for it to happen to someone like me (I like to think I can fight my corner pretty well, and I've made it my business to learn as much as I can about SCI) was even more worrying. What if I had been incapable of self examination? What if English wasn't my first language?

The wound management CNC (a nurse consultant) was called, and she recommended an appropriate dressing, and a careful watch and wait strategy to find out just how deep the tissue damage was. 

A few days passed, and by the time she returned, the area had become considerably larger. During her absence, the colo-rectal doctor had happened to examine me (they got in on the act to make sure the original infection hadn't come from their end, as it were). On looking at the pressure area, he suggested getting plastics to have a look at it.

I mentioned this to the Wound CNC, and plastics duly paid me a visit. The registrar described the area as being necrotic and the kind of thing they only usually see with a bad TB infection or someone who is immuno-compromised. He put me on the surgical list for the following day.

The surgery involved the removal of the affected area (thankfully the scrotum has plenty of skin to go around), and after three days, I was packing my bags to go home when the plastics team paid me a visit with some bad news.

The tissue they had removed had been sent for analysis, which revealed an MRSA infection. There was enough evidence from previous tests to indicate that I was not carrying MRSA prior to the sore developing, which means I had a 'hospital acquired infection'. Suffice to say, I have made a formal complaint; I await the official response with interest.

Fortunately, I was able to leave with two lots or oral antibiotics, so my return home wasn't delayed any further. Yesterday I finished the course. Now I have to wait and see whether the infection is cleared or whether it will reassert itself. A nervous time, especially when my confidence in the standard of care I can expect to receive has been undermined.

Would my experience had been different had I had private medical insurance? It's hard to know, but from what I saw, it would only have provided me with free TV, and possibly a side room (although I don't know if such rooms are available for private patients, as I am not one). Perhaps private cover would have made it easier for me to ask for a second opinion, but seeing as there isn't another urology team for many miles around, I'm not sure how practical it would be for me to be passed on to another hospital.

My experience of the NHS has been far from perfect, but the principal under which the organisation operates does make it feel like one big institution, where moving from one discipline to another is relatively easy (depending on how stubborn the consultant is). The UK population still cares deeply about the concept of the NHS, even as the Government attempts to dismantle it before their very eyes.

During my stay in an Australian hospital, I overheard another patient describing how one of their relatives had meningitis and had been advised to seek treatment in a hospital elsewhere in the country, but couldn't afford it. Their inability to pay would make a difference to their long term prognosis.

At the coffee counter in the hospital, there is a tin for people to make donations. The money was to help a 2 year old child who was seriously injured in a fatal car accident. The money is to go towards the cost of treatment, a wheelchair and rehabilitation therapies.
In one of the wealthiest countries on the planet, why is it necessary to rattle a tin in order for this child to get the best care and rehabilitation?


In Australia, the Federal Government has just cut $50 billion over eight years from the health budget given to all of the states to provide healthcare services. The idea is to force each state to have to raise the money to cover the funding gap by increasing GST (Australia's equivalent of VAT) or by taking funding from other state services.

To hold the provision of healthcare for all Australians to ransom like this  is one of the most appalling pieces of political cynicism I have ever seen. It does not bode well for the future standard of care for those who cannot afford to pay for their treatment.

It could be you...

| | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (0)
Struggling through the fug of yet another bladder infection (yes, we're back in that world again. Boo.), I have been struck by a change in thewwording of an ad campaign that has received high prominence on the highways around our part of New South Wales.

The poster featured a serious looking surgeon, and the original strapline read,
"Late or paralysed? Don't rush."

Hard hitting, for sure. It may have had an impact on many drivers, possibly acheiving the desired change in driving behaviour.  There were even dot matrix boards containing the message (with no brightness adjustment, making them dazzling at night, ironically risking an undesirable change in driving behaviour).

I am all for a campaign that seeks to reduce the carnage that takes place on the roads every day. Australia is a car-culture, and the infrastructure requirements of a small population spread across a huge landmass mean that the car is understandably king when it comes to personal transport. But even allowing for this difference in habits, the rates of traffic related death are more than double that of the UK.

However, I must confess to feeling a sense of unease at being 'the bogeyman', used to scare people into driving with more care. It is not that I would wish paralysis on anyone, but rather that I would prefer not to wheel down the road as the living embodiment of a cautionary tale, Der Struwwelpeter brought to life. Have no doubt: life with spinal cord injury is challenging, often exhausting, sometimes profoundly upsetting. But it's also life that can still be fulfilling, hilarious, joyous, energetic, adventurous, even...... inspirational.

Yes, that was me using the I word, but I do so with a caveat. The inspiration to which I refer is the one that comes through people who have learned to live after a life changing injury passing on their experience and encouragement to others facing the same challenges.

In the time that I spent working with the Back Up Trust, especially on the wheelchair skills training programme, I was privileged to have people tell me that what we had taught them made a real difference to their lives. Not just the practical skills of getting around, but  confidence that extended into the way they faced other difficult aspects of everyday life.

The latest Back Up campaign focuses on a subject that sorely needs addressing; the accessibility (or otherwise) of public transport.

Obviously the focus is on the UK, where access tends to be sporadic, leading to frustration when one finds 80% of a journey wheelchair accessible. This also leads to unnecessary car journeys. 
  
Here in Australia, the picture is all too familiar. Transport maps peppered with isolated wheelchair access points, making practical use of the network very difficult. This is made even more frustrating when one is charged full fare for a service which cannot be fully accessed. But that is a tale for another day...

As for the NSW road campaign? Maybe someone had a quiet word, because now the choice on offer is between being late and having a crushed skull. In my mind, I pictured a paleontologist losing control of a van full of extremely rare fossilised remains, so maybe it won't have the same impact after all...

For more information on the Back Up campaign, visit the Join the Dots Page.

It's that time again

| | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (0)
Somehow the 1st of April came and went, without me taking to Looking Up and reflecting upon this date, the anniversary of my accident. This can probably be viewed as a good thing.

The reason I haven't commented on reaching 9 years post-injury is because I have been insanely busy writing on a very diverse range of subjects, all of which will become clear in the fullness of time. It's good to be busy, although it does mean that I have spent less time with the kids, and been somewhat preoccupied. Even my conversations with Penny have been largely filled with me waffling about work.

All for this is very mundane and makes me far from unusual as a man in his forties with a couple of kids, eking out a living as a freelancer. With the exception of my daily battle with chronic pain, I'd say it's all pretty normal.

Nine years ago, however, the idea of my life being normal ever again was inconceivable. My day to day was dominated by trying to master the simple everyday activities that most of us take for granted, and that would enable me to 'look after myself' again. I felt that I would eventually master this, but I couldn't really imagine a time when such things didn't dominate my life.

Now? Well I sleep badly, I spend too long in the bathroom, and I take slightly more medication than I would like to. Forty-something man, etc...

The way that I interact with the rest of the world has certainly changed. Living in a small town in Australia also means that I have lost my anonymity. With my appalling memory for names, and the Australian habit of using names immediately and often ("Tim? Hello, Tim. Well, Tim, this is your bank card." etc.) I spend the first few minutes of every conversation thinking,
"I know you. How do I know you? Are you a neighbour? Or is it a school thing? It could be a school thing. Do I know you? Maybe I don't know you. Have you just been told my name by someone else?"

As with any small town (and this is a pretty friendly one) every trip out to the shops inevitably involves several conversations. I have also had the inevitable curiosity voiced.
"How long have you been in a wheelchair, if you don't mind me asking?"
"What happened to you, if you don't mind me asking?"
Always tough ones, those. If I do mind, well it's too bloody late now.
And If I had been in a wheelchair all my life, how awkward would these questions become? What if there was no accident, no moment people could 'imagine for themselves' to help them understand?

I must confess to a little cruelty. A couple of weeks ago, I was in the bottle shop (off licence).
A 'bloke' came in as I was waiting to pay, and after a relatively short silence and his offering an "Alroight, mate," he asked me,
 "What happened to you, if you don't mind me asking?"
"Oh," says I, "I was just an idiot."
He looks uncomfortable.
"Yeah," I said, pointing to the sticking plaster bound around my thumb, "I was trying to open a shrink-wrapped pack of batteries with a craft knife and my hand slipped."
He smiled, nervously.
I paid and left.

Looking Up on ending up.

| | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (0)
While I have commented upon linguistic differences in the past, I would like to return to the conversation (see what I did there?) with a wider look at Australian speech.

The most common observation made of the Australian accent is that all sentences end with an upward inflection. Indeed, the accusation is often made that this 'blight' is affecting the voices of younger Britons.

In truth, accents and speaking styles are constantly subject to outside influences, whether it's the 'Valley Girl', "And I was, like, totally, y'know. And he's all...etc." Or that most wonderful fusion heard on London buses, where the confluence of Asian, Jamaican, Cockney and US hip-hop creates a 'mash-up' that makes it impossible to tell the ethnicity of the speaker without looking.

Anyway, back to Australia. It is inaccurate to describe every sentence as ending up. This device is actually used to inform the listener that there is more to come, whereas the final line finishes down. This is not always the case, but certainly the most common use.

There are lots of methods employed to keep control of a conversation, be it 'you know', 'is it', 'like' or 'd'you what I mean'.  All of which indicates a universal truth; everyone is insecure, and needs constant verbal or non-verbal validation in order to continue a conversation. Ooh, I love a good generalisation, me, so here's a few more:

  • Australians use names much more frequently bthan their British counterparts. If you introduce yourself, the person with whom you are conversing will use your name with a frequency that is unfamiliar to the British ear. I suspect that one of the effects of this is that Australians are better at remembering people's names, but I have no data to back up this theory, so let's just assume I'm right.


  • Using the word, "Look" at the beginning of the sentence is common, and does not carry the same aggresive undertone that it would in the UK. This may be in part because the UK use would most likely have the prefix 'now'. "Now look, there's no need to generalise." etc.


  • Some words are best avoided altogether. If you are attending a sporting event in Australia, do not ask "Who are you rooting for?" In Australia, 'rooting' is a slang word for having sexual intercourse.


  • By contrast, there is a liberal throwing around of spunk. Everyone is full of spunk. Spunky. Spunk on the sports field is applauded. Down here, spunk does not come from down there. Rather than being a slang term for semen, spunk is used to denote enthusiasm, boldness, energy or courage. Confusingly, it may also be used to describe the attractiveness of males.  Should you wish to find an Australian euphemism for semen, then might I recommend 'spoof'?


  • Football is a battle ground. That's the word, obviously, unless you are talking about rugby league, in which case 'battle ground' pretty much sums it up. Again, this is a subject I have visited in the past, but I have an update. With Australia qualifying for the World Cup, and the domestic A League gaining a wider audience, more Australians are using the f-word to describe soccer.  This could cause some awkwardness, what with the national team being known as the Socceroos...

All of which goes to show that any living language is built on shifting sands; a fluid form of communication that only has meaning when both parties ascribe the same definitions to the words used.  To ensure this is the case, ending on the up is a device that usually garners a non-verbal response from the listener that means "I understand. Do go on."

That said, it makes it bloody hard to ask anyone a question...

A rush of boot to the head.

| | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (0)
There are some Australian brands that have acquired an iconic status. Perhaps the most famous of these is Vegemite, immortalised by Men At Work as the contents of the sandwich referenced in their hit 'Down Under,' but perhaps better described in the sublime 'Vegemite-the Black Death', by Amanda Palmer.

There are numerous other iconic Aussie brands; these are just a few that I am familiar with:
  • The "Chesty" Bonds singlet (a figure hugging vest as worn by clothing manufacturer Bonds' cartoon figure 'Chesty Bond' who, one assumes from his name, suffers with terrible catarrh.)
  • The TimTam. A Chocolate coated chocolate biscuit produced by Arnott's and mostly famous as a hot drink-biscuit-straw. The victim nibbles off opposite corners of the biscuit before using it to suck up tea/coffee/seawater/any last vestiges of dignity. In my experience, the physics of this is more enjoyable than the taste or texture. I have never tried this with a penguin, either as an alternative biscuit or as a flightless companion, so I'm not sure if these properties are unique to the TimTam.
  • The Esky cold box. A brand that, like the Thermos or the Hoover, has become a common name for the product they make. Cool boxes or eskies are vital in Australia, as milk will often spoil on the walk from the shop to the car. Once inside the car, it is useful to have an esky to keep your freshly made yogurt from growing legs and running away with the melted mess that were your TimTams.  Most Australian eskies have the added advantage of being big enough to hide a corpse in, should the spoiled dairy produce or the searing heat coming off the sun-bleached dashboard account for any passengers on the journey home.

There are others, but it is to the Blundstone boot that I turn my attention. For those who have never come across 'Blunnies', they are an Australian work boot made of supple leather with elasticated side panels, allowing the wearer to get them on and off easily. Popular with outdoor workers, these boots are often worn with boot guards - canvas gaiters that prevent stones, soil, snakes, spiders, kangaroos or TimTams from falling into the top of the boots.

In my landscaping days, I came to love my Blundstone boots. Once broken in, they were tremendously comfortable, and being able to slip them on and off made the working day very much easier. My work boots were very well used, so when I was in Australia in 2005, I bought a new pair.

Unfortunately, it was a month after our return from Australia that year that I suffered my spinal cord injury, and the boots sat in the cupboard as a poignant reminder of the life I would never return to.

Still, it was a shame to see them go to waste, so a couple of years on, I had a go at slipping my feet into the boots. It took  some experimenting with different insoles and variations in approach to come up with a way of donning my Blunnies without folding my toes up as if I were trying to revive the ancient tradition of foot-binding. I did get there in the end, although I wouldn't wear them every day in case I were to develop marks on my feet or other pressure concerns that could lead to a sore developing. I have made a habit of changing my footwear most days for the same reason.

When our shipping arrived in Australia, I was reunited with my boots, only to discover that there were several areas of the soles that now had holes in them. Obviously, I know that these have not come through use, as all my shoes have pristine soles due to their lack of contact with the ground. I can only put the damage down to a suspicious customs inspector wondering why anyone would ship a pair of brand new Blundstones into Australia.

Determined to wear the no-longer immaculate soles as a hidden badge of honour, I decided to don my Blunnies in an effort to blend in and hopefully prevent people from bringing up the rather awkward topic of the cricket.

Socks in place, I grabbed the left boot and reacquainted myself with the technique and angle of approach necessary to get the boots on without snapping my toes like twiglets (not an iconic Australian brand).  It requires a significant effort in both force exerted and balance maintained, but all seemed to be going smoothly until my right hand lost grip on the boot strap. Without an even pull on front and back strap simultaneously, the boot twisted around and reared up, still containing half of my left foot. 

As I sat there, tears streaming down my cheeks and nose throbbing, there was no way to avoid the painful realisation: I had just kicked myself in the face.

How do you like to start your day?


Commercial breaks.

| | Comments (2) | TrackBacks (0)
Watching television here in Australia can be a stressful experience. This is not because I am out of step with many of the cultural references, nor is it because I don't know who any of the celebrities are; back in the UK, I had little idea who half of the celebrities were. Indeed, many of the shows on here are familiar, with programmes like Graham Norton's chat show being screened often.

The problem comes when I am sat, half awake, in front of the idiot box consuming some undemanding drivel. What seems like a relaxed and jovial chat show suddenly jumps into a dramatic confrontation between vampires and werewolves, or an exposé revealing the imminent danger of breathing during a longhaul flight or drinking tap water. Having been jolted from my torpor by this dramatic announcement, I am suddenly fully focussed on the TV. Why is everyone shouting? What should I be doing first? Is it too late to buy firearms or a gasmask?

At this point, the TV will cut to an overweight man in a suit, looking awkward and shouting at me about cars or washing machines. This is usually the owner of the business who lacks even the presentastion skills of a barrow boy, but insists on declaring the life-changing properties of their products. It is all very loud and confusing.

In the UK, we have some kind of warning that we are about to be plunged into the world of advertising. A message will come up on the screen telling us what programme we are leaving, or simply saying 'back soon'. It's the commercial TV version of the Corinthian Spirit. We know what to expect, and some programmes even contain jovial references to putting the kettle on during the ad break, as though acknowledging the commercial interests is somehow vulgar.

Not so here. Advertising is dumped into programmes with no warning and great frequency. I recently watched a film which was an hour longer than normal running time because of the ads. An hour. About a third of the viewing time. If that wasn't enough, there are also ads popping up in the corners and along the bottom of the screen, just in case we want to know what else we could be enjoying.  Watching Australian television is the closest I've come to experiencing ADHD.

As if the frequency and delivery style were not confusing enough, there is the matter of the content itself. Sandwiched between the fishing tackle and chainsaw promotions, we are treated to adverts for earth moving equipment. Shouty earth-moving equipment, of course. Can there really be that many people considering their next industrial equipment purchase while watching the cricket, or is this just a public service to placate 2 year olds who are obsessed with diggers?

As far as I can make out from the ads, the average Australian family has a swimming pool (excavated with their own JCB), a ride-on lawnmower, a fishing boat with an outboard motor and a chiller box big enough to hide a dead body,  several chainsaws, a utility vehicle, a sports vehicle, a sports utility vehicle, an outdoor kitchen (complete with extractor hood and 8 ring gas barbeque), and enough air-freshener, anti-bacterial sprays and insecticide to create a home that would make the surface of the moon seem fecund and teeming with life.
 
But you needn't worry about the environmental implications of all this. The average Australian family spends all their waking hours gambling in casinos, on pokies, on line and on their smartphones. Is this why it's called The Lucky Country?
'Two countries divided by a common language.' A quote variously ascribed to Oscar Wilde or George Bernard Shaw pertains to the cultural relationship between the UK and the US. It could just as easily be used to describe the differences between any two national or regional variations of the English language.

These differences have contributed to the strength of what has often been described as a 'bastard language.' The creation of slang and regional difference, along with the appropriation of words from other languages have served to important roles.

One, to obfuscate meaning with a code of sorts. This way, workers could talk across a shop-floor without their bosses unserstanding, or a community could choose to exclude newcomers from conversation.

The other role is to make communication easier. If you have a word that better describes an object or concept, we'll just appropriate it. This early adoption of other words has proved to be  a real strength for English as a global language.

Which leads me to Australia, and specifically Australian english.

Yes, we've all donned cork-decorated hats and chucked another lazy stereotype on the barbie, mate/cobber, but there are other words and expressions which do get used every day, and some of them are genuinely new to me.

This post was really prompted by a shocking news story that has received a lot of coverage in Australia, and has even prompted a change in the law. The case involved a drunken idiot who killed a passer by with a single punch. The newspaper headlines and the TV newscasters have all referred to the perpetrator throwing a 'king hit.'  I have not heard this expression before, but it obviously refers to knocking out an opponent with a single blow.

Inevitably, there are numerous other examples of Australian english and slang that are unfamiliar (hooroo, anyone?), but the use of king hit is an example of a word or phrase that occupies a different place in the lexicon. Whereas the media in the UK tends to use either 'proper' english or a tabloid informality, over here one often comes across what could be considered to be informal 'slang' that has migrated into more formal use of language.

Some of this is tied up with attempts to define what is uniquely Australian. Back in the days of the John Howard government, there was much talk of 'mateship' as a uniquely Australian attribute. The words may be, but surely friendship and loyalty are found universally?

At the same time, there is a tendency among politicians to try and demonstrate their 'man on the street' credentials through occasionally painful use of slang. At the start of the recent election campaign, soon-to-be-Prime-Minister Tony Abbott described the election as being about who is 'fair dinkum'. And if that's not a lazy stereotype, I don't know what is...mate.


Categories

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.

Recent Assets

  • beachtracks.JPG
  • 640px-Latrodectus_hasseltii_close.jpg
  • timgerroa.jpg
  • hittingthebeach.jpg
  • TFfootball.jpg
  • TFSB.jpg
  • roughTerrain.jpg
  • ash.jpg
  • rax.jpg
  • allterrain.jpg