Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Australian, 2008

Birth enlivened by a brush with death a miracle indeed

When I nearly died last year I was surrounded by panic and haste, a sense that something very wrong was happening and that I was about to commit some atrocity. . Everybody else was in a panic, yet I felt calm. As I was wheeled down the obligatory brightly-lit corridor by a ranting medical team with blood coursing out of me I remember wondering what all the fuss was about.

For most people death is such a scary thing. And of course it’s only natural to be frightened and fight for our mortality when the need arises. And when our loved ones die we are terribly bereaved as the recent deaths of Heath Ledger and Paddy McGuinness have demonstrated.. But the hysteria that surrounds death really doesn’t help us come to terms with it, which indeed we all eventually must. The medical team that surrounded me that day were in such a state of apoplexy, screaming at each other, shouting into my face that it’s a wonder I didn’t respond in kind and cark it there and then. They were asking me to calm down. When somebody yelled at me that the general anaesthetic was about to be administered, I remember feeling enormously relieved as they had all become highly irritating. Sounds ungrateful doesn’t it? I’ll always be thankful for what that wonderful team did that night. It’s just a comment on the whole societal pressure put on us to not die, as if it’s fundamentally wrong. I mean, if the medical team is freaking out I knew I must really be in the shit. But to my mind the attitude is all wrong. Many non-Western cultures don’t carry on like this. Take Korea for example. At the time of a loved one’s death they silently and peacefully wait for the moment of fate (the wailing comes afterwards). That sounds good to me.

In hospital they called me the miracle woman. I was visited daily by a myriad of specialists who would stand at the foot of my bed and whisper to each other. At night a midwife with a gold cross suspended around her neck asked in a whisper if I had had a near-death experience (I hadn’t) and if there had been any light (there wasn’t). It seems everyone wants to get closer to death, but only as a spectator. Why else would all the medical dramas on television be so popular? if you’re definitely going to die and it’s more than likely not going to be half as exciting as it is on ‘ER’. And even if it is, trust me, you’re probably going to wish they’d all just shut up so you can get a bit of rest.

But before I tell my little tale, just a word to all the pregnant women out there who are about to read this. Don’t worry about this happening to you. It was a one in a bazillion thing that happened and as I was the bazillionth, you’re off the hook. Gynaecologists who had been gynaecologising since Mary was in a manger scratched their bald pates when they saw me and proclaimed they’d never seen anything like it.

I was giving birth. And it was all going swimmingly well. My baby was out, a perfectly red eight pounder who was enthusiastically exercising his right to yell. The doctor looked at me. Frowned. I heard him murmur that there was a lot of blood. Then I heard a ‘Code Blue’ being announced over the PA system. As I worked in the hospital sector in a previous life I knew what that meant. Oh crap, I thought as a seething mass streamed into the room and fell on me. But I wasn’t half as worried as they appeared to be. There was no pain. My baby was out. Why were these people panicking? Finally I was unconscious. When I came to I had so many tubes attached to me I could barely wiggle my toes. And I was in another room, heck, I was in another hospital. Still no pain. What had happened? An inverted uterus followed by massive haemorrhaging, five litres of blood and four hours of surgery resulting in an emergency hysterectomy. Pretty impressive really. I am the miracle woman. And I never did feel any pain, even when days later the nurses realized they’d forgotten to open the valve to my self-administering pain relief. I lost my fear of dying that day and a magnificent little boy came into my life. A good day’s work really.

Australian Table magazine

Swan Valley Festival

The second week of October brings the annual Spring in the Valley Food & Wine Festival, WA's premier gourmet event. Swan Valley, the state's oldest wine-growing belt, is renowned for ongoing success at wine shows across the country. It's also the birthplace of nearly 30 wineries, a smattering of micro-breweries and enough eateries to sate the most gluttonous foodie. Wine varieties to be featured include chenin blanc, shiraz, chardonnay, verdehlo and merlot, as well as fortified wines. You'll find an amazing range of food there, too.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Open Universities Australia, 2005

Tales from A Broad - England

I’d heard all the tales of warm beer with no head, so it was with some trepidation that I took a tentative sip of my first beer in my first pub in England. Mind you, it was a Foster's so it tasted pretty much the same as it did back home. But to me all beer tasted pretty much the same anyway. Enter my relatives, the beer connoisseurs.

We were Out Drinking with an aunt and uncle from Yorkshire and were having a very nice time getting to know each other. So I was a little alarmed when the discussion turned to the serious business of ales, a very important topic of conversation around these parts.

"I don’t like draughts", my auntie declared. "I prefer the bitters, especially the Belgian imports". Eh? Were we still talking about beer, or did we somehow move onto cars? I mumbled something about liking the pretty creamy froth.

"Bitters and draughts are quite different, you know", my uncle patiently explained to me. "And the difference between the two is that bitters are a much more pure ale due to the higher levels of fermenting". Mmm, yes. I sipped at my Foster’s thoughtfully and reminded myself to only drink bitters from now on. At the next round I stoically ordered a pint. Delicious.
Full of all good things hopsy and yeasty, with a proud creamy head that left our fluffy white lager froth back home somehow sadly lacking. I am now a beer connoisseur. Plus – no finger frostbite. You could actually appreciate the brewing process without all that chilliness. Much more drinkable. I took another creamy sip.

I harked back to your average beer conversation in Australia, which based itself around levels of consumption, alcohol content and how much you threw up the next day. We had clearly moved into a higher social echelon.

"Before you go", my kindly English mother had advised before we made our sojourn over to the UK, "eat plenty of steaks and fresh fruit and vegetables. Because you won’t be getting them over there".

I can now quite assuredly tell you (and my mother) that this widely-held belief of nasty English produce is a fallacy: possibly deriving from the outbreak of Mad Cow Disease a few years back, more likely dating back to the post-war era. But it is not true. In fact, I have enjoyed some of the most enormously juicy porterhouse steaks right here from our local butcher. The said butcher also bakes his own pies (steak, pork or cottage), stuffs his hand-made sausages and proffers fruit & veg in case you can’t be bothered with the traipse up the hill to the local Tesco’s.

I also got to enjoy vast quantities of ripe, plump strawberries when we first arrived; and these days the refrigerator shelves are groaning under the weight of luscious blood-red cherries. Not to mention the roasts, available with every kind of root vegetable known to man, and my Aunt Connie’s outstanding gastronomic feats. Never did we figure on the culinary delights proffered by my kind aunt. Chicken and saffron paella. Spiced lamb with apple and red cabbage. And puddings after every meal: home-made jam tarts, variously flavoured cheesecake and succulent seasonal fruit salads. Who said we’d starve?

Motor Trade Association, May 2005

Gas: The Economic Alternative?

As petrol prices skyrocket around the country, many Australians are beginning to hunt around for fuel alternatives for their motor vehicles. As a relatively inexpensive automotive fuel, LPG Autogas is currently leading the way as an accessible and more economic fuel option to petrol.

LPG is also much more environmentally friendly. According to LPG Australia, there would be between 10 and 15 percent less greenhouse gases than petrol-powered equivalents from Autogas-powered vehicles. LPG also has 20 per cent less ozone-forming potential (a measure of the tendency to generate photochemical smog) and one fifth of the air toxic emissions.

According to the Australian Institute of Petroleum, there are approximately 250,000 vehicles in Australia currently running on LPG, with more than 3,500 service stations selling it. Estimates are that exhaust and evaporative greenhouse emissions are approximately 15 per cent lower from LPG than from petrol vehicles, and it does not need lead or other additives to boost its octane rating. When converted to a gas, LPG expands up to 270 times. This means that the liquid form is a very efficient method of carrying large amounts of gas, and hence more economical than petrol.

In Sydney and Melbourne recently LPG was selling at an average of 40 cents per litre compared to the average price of unleaded petrol at $1.07 per litre. According to LPG Australia, at that price a Holden Commodore driver traveling 20,000 kilometres a year on Autogas would save $1,145 – the equivalent of $22 per week.

Possibly inevitably, oil companies are finally beginning to recognise the advantages of fuel alternatives that are economically as well as environmentally friendly for consumers. Shell have just announced that it would progressively phase out the supply of lead replacement petrol (LRP) throughout their Australian service stations by mid 2005 due to a sharp decline in demand. BP is also in the process of phasing out LRP, estimated to be completed in the second half of 2005.

In line with the phase-out of LRP and for those people who have been caught out, a new product called Nulon Lead Substitute is available which allows drivers to safely use either standard unleaded or premium leaded petrol in their leaded-fuel engine.

Following the phase-out, the Government has promised that LPG will remain excise-free until 2011, when a $1,000 rebate will be paid to motorists who purchase a new Autogas-powered vehicle. After this date an escalating excise will apply. The high establishment costs to convert motor vehicles to LPG have also been eased by the Government offering a $500 subsidy for private vehicles. To date, there are an average of 1,500 subsidy claims per year.

"Autogas has always been much better value than petrol. However the current upward trends in petrol prices should prompt motorists to again consider the potential savings to be had by running their car on Autogas," said LPG Australia's industry development manager, Phil Westlake.

Pat Browne from Pebco is used to being inundated by enquiries for gas conversions every time there is a price hike in petrol.

“There has been a huge increase in the last couple of weeks,” says Pat. “We are getting 50-60 per cent more telephone calls right now than we were two months ago, which is estimated at about 6-10 calls per day. At the moment, we’re getting through two full gas conversions per week, which is all that we can handle right now with the other work we have”.

Despite the Government’s subsidy for private users, there still remains no subsidy for commercial or fleet vehicles, acting as a disincentive for businesses to convert their cars to more eco-friendly gas. Pat sees this refusal as completely unacceptable.

“I think it’s criminal that the small business sector cannot get a subsidy for its vehicles. I find it absolutely disgusting that one person is eligible for a discount and the next can’t”.