Happy Days

It being the school holidays, I have the pleasure of the company of two grandsons for a couple of days a week.  Recently, they persuaded to make them a machete each.  It may seem a little reckless to arm a 6 year old and a 4 year old with a machete, but I judge them to be more responsible than most and they can take instruction.  Also they live on a farm with machinery and tools from a D7 bulldozer to tweezers, and I have a shed stuffed with tools most of which are potentially dangerous, including an array of 6 chainsaws.  If that wasn’t enough, they have a heap of uncles who each have a farm.  Their father takes safety seriously, and often has them with him, so lays down the law about what they have to do.  So do I.  Parents and trusted carers should take risks with their kids I believe, after the kids have been well briefed about what the risks are.  The alternative is ‘cotton-wool’ them and keep them from activities they dearly wish to try as they see the adults doing these things.  If you take that approach, you also miss the opportunity to instill a culture and mindset of safety.  They will get hurt and that will powerfully reinforce the lectures, so parents can just hope they are not badly hurt.

Anyway, I found some steel of a suitable gauge and hacked out suitably sized blades with a cutting disc.  A broken handle from some ancient tool became new handles, properly bolted, glued and bound with tape.  They asked for the tape and were quite specific it should be red to be easy to find when put down in the rainforest.  It is from clues like this that I realise they remember things I said from long ago.  Alas I didn’t have red so they had to settle for white.  Then we had a discussion about cleaning the blade of rust and sharpening.  Both wanted clean and sharp.  I used an orbital sander to clean and a bench grinder to sharpen.  I limited the sharpening.  For my own superb homemade machete, I continued with refining the angle with a belt sander, then lovingly stroked it with an oil-stone until the edge was razor quality.

Henry & Philip with machetes

They immediately went out and attacked the local vegetation with much gusto.  I had to remind them that one of the rules was that they had to keep apart by at least a few meters, but apart from that they certainly got into the swing of things.  They took their weapons home with them and you might be surprised to know that they were not promptly confiscated.  A few days later they were back in my care with their machetes.  My daughter Alice told me these were the best things they had ever had and they virtually slept with them.

The first thing they wanted to do was go and widen the road by cutting back the vegetation on both sides.   So all of use, armed with machetes, went up the road and started the long, laborious task of hacking back the ever-pressing growth along the track.  Have you ever had a problem keeping little kids on task?  Or getting a break from their constant chatter?  We were there about an hour and a half with constant work and very little said.  Just a couple of reminders for them to stay further apart.  I had equipped us all with water bottles, because any hard yakka in Oz requires a frequent drink.  And I was the one to call off the session, claiming my wrist was aching (true).  Henry didn’t want to leave until I promised another session later.  For them to be so engaged in an activity it must have a great deal of value to them.  I have some idea what the value was, but I leave you to ponder.  Hint:- emotional rewards are the arbiter of value.  We did another hour of track widening in the afternoon.

Yes, I fed them, they played in the creek, splashed water all round my patio, trashed my house and then we went back to the hard yakka of hacking track for another hour.  These kids know what hard work is, and that it can feel good and be satisfying.  I think the next time they are here on Thurs, I will up-grade the sharpening which will increase the effectiveness of their tool and the satisfaction they gain, making the point they have shown responsibility and control.  Kids really respond to praise and reward where it is justly earned.

I had a good day, the grandkids had a good day, we all learned a lot, the sun shined and what more could we hope for.


I Don’t Like it … It’s Too Quiet …

The title is an old western (film) cliche from when that genre existed.  A few seconds later the unfortunate actor would be hit by an arrow between the shoulder blades and sink to the ground.  I had that “too quiet” feeling about a month ago when I realised that I had not had a phone call for about a week.  I had not tried to make a call either, but that is not unusual as looking at my monthly bill I only make about 4 or 5 calls a month and those are mostly in response to calls fielded by my answering machine.  This probably does not reflect your own phone usage.  I am of course talking about a landline and I do not have, or have ever had, a mobile phone.

Call me a dinosaur, a technophobe or whatever you like, but I simply don’t want a mobile.  They are brilliant devices that give access to amazing amounts of information and will become a right-of-passage event when little kids have them implanted in their brains, but I don’t want one.  I graduated with hons in engineering, follow Scientific American and astronomy sites and have built this website, so I don’t tremble in fear of technical stuff and complexity, I just don’t want a mobile.

I definitely didn’t have a phone way back when

I came to Possum Valley 43 years ago after travelling the world for 5 years with a backpack on the hippie trail.  I met thousands of people from hundreds of cultures, so I claim not to be antisocial or introvert, but I don’t want a mobile.  Gads, anyone could call me anytime!  I don’t want that.  I came from crowded England to remote north Queensland to buy a vacant rainforest property to have space and quietness for myself, with the very modest aims of creating a comfortable living space in a rich and natural environment far away from the hustle and bustle.  I wanted to be a semi-hermit only occasionally and reluctantly crawling to civilization to get things I couldn’t grow or make.  Then I got married and had kids.  If you want to wreck your idealised lifestyle, that is the quickest way to do it.  Don’t get me wrong, no regrets, it is the best thing I ever did, but it did require certain mental adjustments.  Or a total reboot.  Then after 5 years of blissful isolation, my wife got pregnant and thought it would be a good idea to have a phone.   A pretty radical idea, but I couldn’t deny the safety considerations.  So I applied to have a phone put on.   Hang in there, I am gradually creeping round to the topic.

Back in to good old days, there was a standard connection fee of about $170.  For this fee a city dweller would get a techie to connect a few wires with a little electrical screwdriver.  I got a whole crew for a week with a D7 bulldozer, a ditchwitch and other heavy equipment to lay and bury 2 kms of wire over hill and dale and through a farm dam.  I also leveraged that out to bury 200m of water pipe in their nicely cut trenches.  I certainly got my money’s worth, but there was a sleeper problem in the phone line insulation.  A certain sealing gunk used at that time proved to be deficient and water could seep into joints and corrode connections.  A multi billion dollar problem for Telstra and a slightly smaller problem for me.  In the wet season the connection pits fill up with water and the line has failed a couple of times before.  It has taken up to 6 weeks to fix.

This time I think a week went by before I noticed nobody had called and I picked up the phone to find no dial tone.  Then I went online to report the fault to Telstra but wherever I went on the massive site I was told to call this number or text this number.  I only had email.  My phone line was down but I could only report this by phone.  Catch 22.  I am 5km from my nearest neighbours who I don’t even know and would probably be an hour or two on hold anyway, so to borrow a phone would be a bit presumptuous.  I finally found a little chink in the armour of the impregnable Telstra fortress as the only place to send an email was to ‘complaints’.  So I complained.  Days later I got a reply saying the account for that number was cancelled in 2015.  WTF?  I have been using the line for 37 years up until a few weeks ago when it failed to function.  They asked for more info and I sent them heaps but to no avail.  After 2 fruitless week I contacted my ISP Skymesh to ask them if perhaps they had stopped paying the Telstra bills, because for simplicity I had bundled the billing for the phone line rental and calls with them.  Then I got some sense.  They provide my internet connection from a satellite 32,000kms up in space and have nothing to do with copper wire buried underground, but I had to report the problem through them so they could “raise a fault” with Telstra.  How silly of me.  I had been thinking of techies with boots and shovels to fix a line fault when I should have contacted a satellite company, via satellite, to fix it.

This morning I picked up the phone in passing and there was a dial tone.  I now have a working phone.   I didn’t miss it much, and don’t think I missed much business, but I can now chat to my daughters again.  I know the days for copper wire are numbered and it is relic technology, but I’m going to hang on to it for as long as possible.  So I quite enjoyed my recent guaranteed days of uninterrupted self-indulgence, but also pleased to have the service back.  There are also safety issues if I manage to cut a leg with one of my 6 chainsaws for instance.  Would be comforting to know I could call an ambulance.

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