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End of an unknown era

This afternoon, in an unremarkable corner of the world, a long partnership came to an end. I cannot say when it started, but I am sure that it had endured for many years. The players in this pairing each bear scars and marks that illustrate a long, unspoken history.

I only came to know this partnership very near the end, as the last of a long line of third parties that have joined a team of two, inseparable for so many years. Even in my brief connection to the others, I came to take them for granted. With the sturdiness of good wood and the durability of iron, they never complained and they never boasted, but they were always there and they always performed. Until today.

I had been digging a garden bed and I hadn’t noticed the split. It would have started as a very small tear, possibly months ago, but suddenly it was wide open, forming a new shape, like the head of a spear.  As my foot fell to the side of the shovel, this new apex ripped through the leather of my boot and stuck fast. I suffered no damage, but this was the last desperate cry of a shovel who’s time had come. 

The handle may go on, but the blade cannot. I quietly detached one from the other and left them alone for a few minutes, in a silent farewell. As the shadows lengthened across my garden bed, the sun set on a fine affiliation that had achieved much.

Ice Bucket Challenge (sort of)

A friend of mine invited me to take on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. There's no question that ALS is worthy of greater awareness and increased support, but I had some mixed feelings. Here's what those feelings eventually gave rise to.


Plants get sick too

Image by Оля Марусин та Zlir'a (Own work (Власна робота)), via Wikimedia Commons Like so many others, I spent a bit of time recently being ill. In between the sniffles, coughs, nausea and self-indulgence, I had time to think about immunity, but not just my own. I found myself musing about plant immunity. I mean they get sick too, right? Well yes they do and after some quick research I was surprised and impressed at the complexity and ingenuity of immunological response exhibited by those in the other living kingdom. More . . .

The Face of Money

Australia changed from pounds and pennies to dollars and cents in 1966. After a special commemorative polymer $1 note in 1988, Australia moved to a completely polymer banknote system in the early 1990s. The design of the new notes was entirely new –new graphics, new features and new faces. I remember at the time wondering how the people who’s faces had been replaced might have felt. It was just a passing thought. Recently a colleague mentioned a similar thought with specific regard to scientists and engineers featured. I went and had a look and it seems that sometime between the 1960s and the 1990s, Australians changed their opinion about the status of scientists. More . . .

Ein Lila Luftballon

Image by Stefan BallThis afternoon in a shopping centre, I watched as a little girl’s purple helium balloon broke free from her hand and quickly rose to the ceiling. It’s a high ceiling  - perhaps 5 metres – and although the balloon did have quite a long ribbon attached to it, it was still well out of reach. The girl walked on, holding her mother’s hand, and for a moment I thought that would be the end of it, but then she stopped, pulled on her mother and with her free hand pointed to the liberated latex orb. Then the tears began. I saw her mother bend down and begin the painful discussion about how there was nothing they could do and they were in a hurry, perhaps that she would buy her another balloon later, but this was to no avail and the distress continued to mount.

Somehow my eyes and mind had observed more about the scene than I might otherwise have thought. I approached the mother and explained that if she had a moment, I thought we could rescue the balloon. I don’t think I really waited for an answer, but with a little bit of Batman, a dash of MacGyvor and probably a certain amount of stranger danger, I walked into the nearby hairdresser. I asked the slightly disconcerted teenager on duty if I could borrow their stick – the one with the hook on the end that they use to pull the roller door down in the morning, the one clearly visible propped against the wall. Again I assume to she agreed, although I have no specific memory of her acquiescence. I grabbed the stick, walked out of the salon, positioned myself beneath the balloon, hooked the ribbon and calmly pulled the balloon back to safety.

“Oh my god, thank you so much”, said the mother. “Aren’t we lucky there are such nice people in the world, what do you say?” she asked her daughter.

With red, bewildered eyes, the little girl stared at me and barely audibly replied, “Thank you”.

So shines a good deed in a shopping mall. It was probably also the perfect opportunity to mention that the earth is running rather low on helium and that such balloons are perhaps not the best use the noble gas, but in the warmth of the moment that didn’t occur to me and I think I’m glad.