Old folk at lunch

Tuesday, December 1, 1998

MERRY XMAS 1998



Well, the BIG news for me for 1998 is that my son Joey reached 5' tall early this year whilst still aged only 10 years old. At the time of writing he is 5'3". What bets for an eventual height over 6'? I am 5'10 and Jenny (his mother) is 5'8" but Jenny's father was 6'3". Since Joey is quite strongly built he seems likely to be a big man in general. Hard to believe of the cute little tot I knew for so many years! He has already got markedly broad shoulders plus his mother's regular features so he should have an easy time with the ladies in years to come.

Joey also decided during the year that he wanted to be baptised. He had not been Christened as an infant. So at age 11 on 8.11.98 Joey was baptised into the Roman Catholic faith. Jenny and I are unbelievers with a Protestant background but we sent Joey to a Catholic school for his first four primary years and he has continued to go to Catholic religion classes at his State school (Greenslopes Primary). The Brother who takes the religion classes felt that Joey understood what he was doing in wanting to be baptised so Father Brady of the Little Kings movement (a Catholic charity for handicapped children) consented to baptise Joey despite his not coming from a Catholic family.

The Brother who takes Joey's religion classes is from the Little Kings movement and the baptism took place in the Little Kings chapel. I arranged for Prof. John Henningham and Jill Hillman-Marks to be the Godparents. Religion can be a support to people so neither Jenny nor I endeavoured to dissuade Joey in any way. His main reason for getting baptised seemed to be a wish for a religious identity of some kind.

The staff of the Little Kings movement were obviously much taken with the sight of a little 11 year old boy from a non-Catholic family embracing Rome of his own accord and quite a few photos of the ceremony were taken. I gather that any baptism at all was a rare event in that chapel as they had to use a glass bowl for a font. There were eight of us in the chapel to lend Joey moral support and Jenny bought him his first pair of long pants for the occasion. Father Brady is a very kindly old priest and it was a delightful occasion for all. Joey himself must have enjoyed it because he said afterwards that he was now looking forward to his confirmation.

The next biggest piece of news is, I suppose, that I bought a 20-room guest house at Ipswich, near Brisbane, last January for the grand old sum of $185,000. Is that a lot of bedrooms per dollar or what? Guest houses do take a fair bit of management but can be lucrative in theory. I was in fact quite happy with my financial situation previously but when I saw 20 bedrooms for the price of a Sydney bachelor flat it was just too much of a bargain for me to pass it by. So I am now a genuine slum landlord providing accommodation to the poor! For the price of a free room, however, I have caretaker there who does most of the managing and collects some of the rents for me. Good in theory but the first caretaker I had soon decamped with a fortnight's rent (the police eventually caught him and got him convicted, however) and the next three after him also scarpered. I am supervising the present caretaker on an almost daily basis however and he seems OK so far. I have still not succeeded in getting full occupancy -- even at the pensioner rate of $40 per room per week -- so the place is in fact only barely paying its way. Being a slum landlord is not all beer and skittles!

One of my great-grandfathers (Joe Copelin) was a rough-tough goldfields publican who made money selling booze to the miners so I think he and I might have a similar outlook. I am sure his drunken miners were as big a pain as my drunken tenants! I had a bit of difficulty borrowing the money to buy the guest house with but the National Australia Bank ended up financing the entire purchase at their best interest rate (5.49%). They do seem to have somewhat more sanity than most of the other banks in Australia. The Colonial State Bank wanted to charge me huge fees plus high interest and Metway Bank solemnly informed me that they could only finance me into a $45,000 purchase. Isn't competition wonderful?

Metway were particularly hard to believe. When I rang them what I got was a girl in front of a computer screen who knew nothing beyond what was on her screen. I pointed out to her that I had very large assets and no debts but I was wasting my time. All she knew was what was on her screen. Why a bank would put its big borrowers into the hands of airheaded teenagers quite eludes me. I would have thought that any sanely managed bank would treat housing borrowers as VIPs. Metway also could not find the title deeds to two of my other properties that I had once mortgaged to them. They swore blind that they did not have them and it was only when I faxed their general manager with threats of legal action that they finally found them. And I always thought that banks had to take good care of their records!

Another acquisition late this year was a new computer -- a bottom of the range job running a 266 mhz Celeron chip. It may be bottom of the current available range but I have still not filled up its 4 gigabyte hard disk. I have plenty of games for Joey that I could put on but 4 gigabytes just takes so many of them. 4 gigabytes is of course 4000 megabytes. Compare that with the first computer that I bought in 1989. It ran at all of 8 mhz and had a 20 megabyte hard disk! Time marches on! In less than 10 years, processing speed went up 33 times and storage capacity went up 200 times. Another amusing contrast is with the first computer I ever programmed for -- the GE mainframe at the University of Queensland. It had 16 kilobytes of RAM compared to the 32000 kilobytes on my Celeron. But that WAS over 30 years ago.

Buying the computer also had its amusing side. When I was ready to replace my old one, I found the cheapest Celeron being advertised in the paper (by a firm called Global Computers) and rang up and ordered one. When I arrived I asked to test the machine to see that it worked, only to find that the computer was nowhere near ready for use. All they had done was put it together. They had not even formatted the hard drive. So I had to partition and format it myself (warned by past experience with computer shops, I "just happened" to have a DOS boot disk in my pocket) plus set up access to the the CD drive plus set up the soundcard -- all of which took me about 20 minutes while the salesman just sat on his bum staring into space.

At the end I found that the sound did not work and pointed this out. He asked his technician about it and was told that a special piece of software would be needed to get the sound running. I asked if he would like my phone number so he could let me know when the sound was running. He did not seem to want to be bothered so I just walked out the door with my cash still in my pocket. As I walked out he said: "Thanks for wasting my time". He was angry with me because I would not buy an inoperable machine! So I then rang someone I had long known ("Game Dude") and asked him for a quote. He charged $1321 -- about $200 cheaper than what the moron was charging. And when I went to Game Dude he had everything all set up. I just had to walk in, test it and hand over the cash! Shopping around can make an amazing difference. Game Dude was of course an owner/operator of his business.

Although Jill Hillman-Marks and I split up over a year ago we have continued to see a lot of one another as friends and still quite often go to classical music concerts etc. together. Jill had a new 11-room house built for herself at River Hills which she moved into in April and which seems to suit her very well. I helped her with the moving in, of course. It is not every lady in later life, however, who moves from a big house into a bigger one! The house is of a somewhat Tuscan design with a portico and lots of ceramic-tiled floors so she has named it "Siena" -- after her favourite Tuscan (Italian) city.

Jill also retired from her administrative job at the University of Queensland during the year so she could easily have become a lady who lunches. Because of her very friendly nature, she has lots of friends to lunch with. Being used to a busy life, however, she has now got herself a part-time job as Librarian for St. John's College at the University of Queensland. Jill and I still usually have a picnic lunch together each Sunday but some Sundays we get a bit more fancy and go instead to either a classical music concert at the old Customs House or a service at St John's Cathedral. Neither of us are religious but St John's often has very good music. After the music we then stroll down to the Hilton where we have one of their fabulous club sandwiches between us for lunch. One club sandwich there is such a big meal that it feeds two of us!

Not long after Jill and I split up I met and got involved with Judy Power. She has a generally very slim figure (but takes a DD-cup bra!) so my nickname for her is "skinny" but she herself thinks that she is fat! She was born in Mackay and is a 5'7" tall blue-eyed blonde. She had a month-long trip overseas during the year in which she went for a trip along the Trans-Siberian railway and also visited Mongolia. Judy is a nurse who still works in nursing but is by now heartily sick of it. She can hardly wait to reach pensionable age. She owns her own house at Rocklea (5 minutes drive from my house at Moorooka: Very handy!) and has some investments so she expects to retire in some comfort.

Although Judy and I first got together only a year or so ago, we have had several bust-ups in that time but we now seem to have settled into a stable relationship. Despite the bust-ups the attraction between us made us keep coming back to one-another. Romance among the oldies! I am 55 and Judy is a little older. As Judy is a shift-worker we see one-another only a few times a week at the moment, however. Judy finished doing a Masters degree in the Department of Anthropology & Sociology at the University of Queensland during the year so our common background in the social sciences is a help in some ways. She and I ate out a lot together at first but I eventually realized that she is not really much into food unless it is chocolate! She and I in fact both love dark chocolate with nuts in it -- which has a much more unfortunate effect on my waistline than on hers. She was only 3lb when she was born so I think she is just constitutionally slim.

Judy did, however, appreciate it when I took her to the well-known "Clansmen" restaurant at Annerley here in Brisbane for a "bon voyage" dinner before she went overseas. "The Clansmen" is in a gracious old building set in spacious grounds which is vaguely modelled on an old Scottish country house so it has good decor, good service and good food. A hard combination to beat! I always wear the kilt when I go there so I have become one of their better-known patrons.

Judy is very soft-hearted so when she told me that one of her cats needed $70 spent on it to fix an eye problem I suggested that maybe it was time to trade in the cat on a new cat. She said, "I knew you would say something horrible like that!". We both knew it was just a tease however and had a laugh about it. Perhaps another sign of how soft-hearted she is comes from the following little story: Judy reported to me once something of a conversation she had had with one of her friends. Apparently her friend asked her about me and asked was I "nice". Judy replied: "No, he's not nice at all. He's quite arrogant in fact. But he is also unfailingly courteous, considerate and kind." Isn't romance wonderful?

Someone interesting I met during one of the break-ups with Judy was a rather remarkable young lady named Irena Mavroleon: A very attractive French girl aged 30 who also happened to be a lecturer in philosophy at the University of Queensland. As I have had papers on philosophy published in the academic journals we could have been well suited to one-another. Unfortunately her French existentialist philosophy clashed with my British empiricist philosophy so we parted company with some regret on both sides. We both enjoyed having dinner-table conversations on such rarefied academic topics as "causality" and "self-theory" -- two topics on which we did see eye to eye.

I had an attack of what seemed suspiciously like chronic fatigue syndrome around last Xmas and into the new year. My main symptom was a complete lack of energy to do anything. I took it very easy with lots of bed rest but it still took me a month to get over it. I suppose I was lucky to get over it at all. At least I lost some weight during it. I seem subsequently to have found that lost weight again, however!

I had a robbery in March in which my old Hi-Fi and a lot of old cheque books and credit cards were stolen. The police caught the thief about a month later in Darwin but only after he had bounced cheques and run up credit-card bills in my name all over North Queensland and the Northern Territory. He put over $4,000 on one of my credit cards alone. As it was not my signature on the cheques or credit-card vouchers however I did not have to pay. Interestingly, he did not steal my credit card itself. I always carry it on me so he couldn't. He just found an old statement for the card and had a new card forged using my numbers. So keeping your card itself safe is not always enough. To be really safe we would have to destroy immediately all receipts and statements arising from its use.

My fourth wife Kathryn divorced me during the year, which saved me $500 and a lot of paperwork. So she must be aiming at remarrying. As it will be her 5th marriage she has a lot of heart! My ex-wife Jenny (mother of my son Joey) had to go into hospital for a minor operation in April but recovered well and is now feeling fighting fit. She still seems to be a long way off remarrying, however. I like to think that I am hard to replace! She does however have a very good friend in Jeff Roberts -- someone we have both known for many years.

My retirement from academic life is now more or less complete. I am no longer an academic. I am now a slum landlord. My only paper in the academic journals for 1998 will be a letter in "Political Psychology". My major hobby activity is going to classical music concerts -- of which Brisbane has lots.

Monday, July 20, 1998

55th birthday



Jill and I got together for my 55th birthday. We went at 6pm to a "Twilight" concert at the Long Room of the old Customs House for a concert put on by the University of Queensland Department of Music. Some French Dances by Marais were the highlight of the programme for me.

Jill then took us to the Hilton for their smorgasbord -- which was very good indeed. She wore a very fancy and pretty cream-coloured crocheted blouse plus her black Harrods suit.

Afterwards we adjourned to her house ("Siena") for the rest of the evening. As Dorothy Hallam took me to dinner at the Sultan's Kitchen the night before and Jenny gave me a birthday lunch the following Saturday (with all the kids present) my 55th was a good one too.