xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage

Friday, 19 May 2017

An Homeric Odyssey. Three young men in a boat. A very large boat.

Funny how an old song can trigger memories from happy days so long ago. I heard Andy Williams singing “Moon River” today. For most people Moon River reminds them of Audrey Hepburn and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It reminded me that fifty five years ago, in August, 1962, I boarded the SS Homeric in Southampton, bound for Montreal. Moon River and Quando, Quando, Quando were the two songs that were sung frequently every night in the ship’s lively night time bar, The Taverna.

I was travelling on The Homeric with my good friends, Tony and Mike. With three other Aussie mates, we had all arrived in London in February. After working at various jobs in England for low wages for six months, we three decided to become New Canadians and migrate to Canada, searching for more lucrative employment. It turned out to be a wise move.

SS Homeric was a Greek ship. Well, naturally. However, all of the crew were Italians who believed that every day was a good day for a party. As the ship’s passenger list comprised mainly of young North Americans returning from summer vacations in Europe, the Italians did not have too much trouble getting everyone into the party mood.

The first night out we attended the Captain’s Cocktail Party. Here we met an enterprising young Canadian named Roy Green. It was lucky that we did, because almost at the same time we spied three very attractive young ladies sipping on their champagne and obviously needing to make the acquaintance of three young sun bronzed sons of ANZAC. 

Very soon we were trying to engage these young lovelies in conversation. I say trying, because although they seemed very pleased to meet us, whenever we spoke, these beautiful girls would burst out laughing.

They were from Chattanooga, Tennessee. They had never heard an Australian accent before and they found it so terribly amusing. On the other hand, these southern belles spoke with such a sweet, slow, honeyed drawl that we had no idea at all about what they were saying.

Even though we were all speaking English, Roy Green became our interpreter. He would tell the girls what we were saying and then let us know what the girls had drawled back to us.
After a while the girls could listen to us without bursting into fits of laughter and we began to understand them without Roy Green’s translations.

One of the girls said, "You Australians speak very good English”

“Yair,” said Mick, “They teach us English at school?”

“Can you say anything in Australian?” asked another of the beautiful girls from Chattanooga.
That was the cue for us to go into a routine that we had often used when asked the same question by non-British people at parties in London.

Mick said to me, “Kalgoorlie Wagga Wagga Wyalkatchem”.

To which I quickly replied, “Wundowie Coolgardie Gidgegannup.” Well this started the girls from Chattanooga to commence laughing all over again while Tony manufactured a translation along the lines of Mike saying the passengers were all very happy and me replying that we were all going to have a wonderful time.

After the Captain’s Cocktail Party we made our way to the Dining Room for dinner. Unfortunately, the girls from Chattanooga were nowhere to be seen, but Mick was pleased to be sitting alongside a beautiful girl from Boston. Her name was Michelle. She had long blonde hair, blue eyes and a smile that made friends with everybody. She was what you would call a Sunday Girl. Saturday Girls are for parties and having fun. Sunday Girls are soft and glowing and you want to take them home to meet your mother. Mike could see that this was going to be a wonderful ocean voyage.

Unfortunately, for the next two days the seas were rough. Many passengers kept to their cabins. We saw no sight of the Chattanooga girls and Michelle never made it to the dining table. However, the days were filled with lots of activities organised by the fun-loving Italians for those who had found, or indeed had never lost, their sea legs. They had a skeet shooting range at the back of the boat, a sports deck and a couple of swimming pools. There were lots of other activities, including Italian classes, which we attended because we noticed a lot of pretty girls were keen on learning that language.

On one of my sallies on to the sports deck I made the acquaintance of a fun loving Canadian girl named Sandy. She would have reminded me of Meg Ryan except that in 1962 Meg Ryan was just one year old. Sandy was as keen on a party as anyone but she was definitely a Sunday Girl. It was the start of a beautiful friendship. We stayed in touch throughout my two year stay in Canada and have corresponded, generally for Christmas and birthdays, ever since. In 1996 my wife, Lesley, and I enjoyed a delightful visit with Sandy and her husband in Victoria on Vancouver Island.

The social centre of The Homeric was the Taverna. It was very easy to muster up a party every night in the ship’s nightclub. It was in the Taverna, at about 11-00pm on the first night out on the Atlantic, that I met what was to become one of the great loves of my life. Yes, Hip, Hip, Hooray for pizza! They gave slices of it away for free while we all danced and we drank and we sang, “Moon River” or “Quando, Quando, Quando.” I had never seen or even heard of pizza until that night.

They had a Fancy Dress Ball on The Homeric one night. We were told it would have an Apache theme. I made arrangements to borrow some lipstick and other cosmetics from one of the girls on board. The idea was to paint my face and tie a feather duster to my head for that American Indian look. In my mind this get up practically made me a full blood brother to those great Apache warriors, Cochise and Geronimo.

However, when I returned to my cabin about 4-30 in the afternoon, our cabin steward was issuing striped t-shirts and berets. We weren’t supposed to look like Apache Indians at all, but like those French Apache dancers who generally treated their dancing partners quite roughly. I had a lot in common with those Apache dancers because, over the years, I have inflicted an awful lot of damage to the dainty feet of many pretty young ladies.

On our last day at sea we were seated for lunch when into the dining room came a vision of loveliness. It was the beautiful Michelle. She looked a little pale and fragile and had obviously not travelled well in the stormy weather. We all offered her our sympathy and Mike leaned in and said he would be happy to show her around the ship after our meal. As he was saying this the waiter placed Mike’s lunch order on the table. It was fettucine. But not any old fettucine. It was green strips of pasta in a pale green sauce. Michelle took one look at it and rushed from the room. We never saw her again.

The next day we docked at Quebec City in the shadows of the Chateau Frontenac. The day after we disembarked in Montreal and caught the overnight train to Toronto.

Tony and I were teachers and quickly found well paid and very satisfying employment in schools in Toronto. Mike, who had some bookkeeping skills, did not have documented qualifications for any position, but he was quick witted and possessed an opportunistic approach to life. Combined with his friendly personality and willingness to bluff his way through any situation, Mike eventually landed a job in Toronto with a large manufacturing company.

Tony and I eventually returned to Australia. Mike married a French girl and stayed on in Toronto. He spent the first three months in his new job learning what it was all about. Mike was a very fast learner. Thirty years later he was the national manager of the company.

However, that was a long, long way into the future when we dauntless three sailed out of Southampton that sunny August afternoon, “drifters, off to see the world, there’s such a lot of world to see”.
Tony, on the left, in a drinking competition to start off the evening, with an American college student. Roy Green, the translator, is in the middle. I am on the right and Mike is to my right. Some people are wearing the Apache shirts they kept from the Fancy Dress Night

Friday, 28 April 2017

It is the poor who are still getting all the blame.

Recently, The West Australian newspaper published what it called the state’s Rich List.

How interesting it would be for The West to publish a list of our state's Highest Tax Payers. Quite possibly, several of those on the Rich List would be nowhere to be seen on the Highest Taxpayer List. For the sad truth is that many of our richest people and corporations pay little or no income tax whatsoever.

 The British Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said in the parliament recently that the Tories were “Strong against the weak and weak against the strong”. This has long been the case in Australia. Those on welfare are pursued relentlessly, while millionaires and very profitable corporations pay little or no tax whatsoever.

Centrelink has declared war on welfare recipients, in many cases sending them demands for payment of non existetent debts. On the other hand, very rich people and corporations  are helped by government tax avoidance regulations which favour Negative Gearing and turn a blind eye to those who put their treasure in tax havens like the Cayman Islands.

State Liberal MP, Ben Morton, wrote recently that the welfare safety net had become a comfortable hammock for many on welfare. The fact is that most people on welfare are on a knife’s edge, hanging out for the next payment to pay their bills and buy essential goods.

LNP politicians and sections of the media are very outspoken about the perceived rorts being perpetrated by those in receipt of Centrelink welfare payments. Unemployed people on the dole are invariably referred to as job snobs, dole bludgers and disability pension rorters.

The fact is that unemployment in Australia is an unwanted and unhappy state that most unemployed people have no control over. Most of those currently on the dole have worked before and will work again.

At present, there are many thousands more out of work than there are advertised job vacancies. It does not matter how hard you try, or how often you apply for a job, no one can overcome that mathematical imbalance between those seeking work and the lesser number of jobs available.

Similarly, Centrelink’s official figures do not support the charge that their clients are all job snobs, bludgers and cheats. Between 2006 and 2010, Centrelink conducted 4 000 000 reviews in each of those years, covering 60% of its clients. As a result of this extensive investigation into people’s personal circumstances there were, on average, 3192 people referred for prosecution. That represents 0.04% per year. I am sure today’s figures would be similar. Yes, there are some welfare rorters, but a very small percentage.

On the other hand, many rich people and highly profitable corporations have made an art form of rorting the income tax system. These “Fat Cats” have been aided and abetted by the Federal government, which has sacked thousands of Australian Tax Office workers, severely cut the ATO budget and closed whole departments in order to save money.

Tax Avoidance and the lesser and, perhaps the more honourable practice of Tax Minimisation, is a growth industry in Australia. Tax accountants charge huge sums to reduce their clients taxes to negligible proportions. Peter Martin, Economics Editor for The Age newspaper, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald on May 13, 2014, said that ATO statistics showed that “75 ultra-high earning Australians paid NO INCOME TAX (My emphasis) at all. Each of them earned more than one million dollars from investments or wages and between them they accumulated $195 million, an average of $2.6 million each. But they paid no tax whatsoever. They paid no Medicare levy, no Medicare surcharge, even though 60 of them had private health insurance.”

Meanwhile, the LNP government, aided by Rupert Murdoch, who controls 70% of Australia’s media, continues to focus on those greedy, job snob welfare cheats. News Corp doesn't devote a lot of space to corporate fraud...unless it involves a trade union.

It was Kerry Packer who famously appeared before a Senate Committee and said that he paid his taxes but he was not going to pay one cent more in taxes than he had to and anybody who did was a fool. Of course, nobody but the taxman ever knew just how much tax Kerry Packer actually paid. We do know that he could afford very expensive tax accountants.

This attitude stands in direct contrast to that of Irving Berlin, who became extremely wealthy by writing some of the world's best loved and most popular songs. One day the famous composer's tax accountant started telling him how he could reduce his taxes.

"Stop! Stop!" exclaimed the great songwriter. "I do not want to reduce my taxes. I want to pay my taxes. I love this country."

What a shame that in Australia we have very rich people who are quite happy to be listed on The Rich List, while nobody knows who is on the Highest Tax Payer List.

Irving Berlin saw paying your taxes as a duty and an honour. I think we should know and salute those Australians who do make big personal tax contributions to our nation.

After all, when the footy match finishes, the commentators do not wax lyrical about the players who were paid the most, they wax lyrical about the players who made the most effective contribution to the team.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

When they say they are there to help, it is just Apple sauce.

Last Saturday morning my lovely wife, Lesley, woke to find that her iPhone had been locked. On the screen a message said. “Activation Required. This phone needs to be activated. Please enter your Apple ID and password.”

Well, Lesley was quite surprised. She had purchased the phone from a Telstra shop in April 2014, and had been very actively using it for three years. She could not understand why Apple was now asking for the phone to be activated when it had been well and truly activated for thirty-six months.
When the iPhone was purchased in 2014, eldest daughter, Jane, configured it with Apple and downloaded several apps. Jane kept a record of the Apple ID and passwords  that she used to set the iPhone up.

Unfortunately, when the Apple ID and password were entered on to the iPhone they were rejected. Apple said, “Either you Apple ID or Password are incorrect.”

Lesley tried a few variations of the Apple ID and password”. A few capital letters or a dot between first and last names, but nothing worked. Apple continued to say, “Either you Apple ID or password are incorrect”.

Lesley decided to take the phone to the Whitfords Telstra Shop where she had purchased it. The helpful Telstra staff said they could not fix the problem because it was Apple who had all the ID and password details. They suggested Lesley phone the Apple Support Line.

She did. After forty minutes of conversation the person on the Apple Help Line said he could not help and suggested Lesley visit the Apple Store in Perth.

Lesley phoned the Apple Store and made an appointment for 1-00pm that afternoon.  We caught a train in to Perth, walked to the Apple Store in Hay Street and said we were ready for some help.

“We need proof of purchase before we can help with this phone,” said the very polite Apple technician. Well, that seemed reasonable. The happy and helpful Apple technician even used his iPad to show us a map where the nearest Telstra Shop was located further along Hay Street. Off we trotted.
In the Telstra Shop a very affable young man behind the Reception Desk said he would certainly try to retrieve our iPhone invoice from April 2014. After a minute, he looked up from his computer screen and said that unfortunately his records only went back to August of 2016.

Noticing our crestfallen looks he said, “Look, ring this number at Telstra Billing. They will help you.” Lesley said she could not ring anyone because Apple had locked her phone.

“You are quite welcome to use any of our phones, “said the affable young man, pointing to a whole raft of phones and computers along the opposite wall. 

Lesley dialled Telstra Billing and spent five minutes telling someone of her blocked iPhone and her need for a proof of purchase invoice from April 2014. After a few more minutes of discussion, Lesley was put on hold and then handballed to another Telstra Billing operative. She retold her story again. There was more discussion. Then she was handballed to another Telstra Billing operative. She retold her story once again. When that Telstra person started asking if Lesley was having trouble paying her Telstra bills, she knew she had been handballed too far and decided to hang up before she was  put on hold once more and transferred to the lady who makes the tea at Telstra Billing.

We walked over to the affable young man at Reception and told him we had decided to go back to the Whitfords Telstra Shop to see if we could get a proof of purchase invoice. We thanked him for his help and the use of the phone. He beamed and said,” No problem at all. I am always here if you need any help.”

By this time, we were getting the strong impression that the very bright young things that worked as support staff at Apple and Telstra were very friendly and charming but they were like politicians on the campaign trail. They smiled and gave enthusiastic responses to our questions. But that is all they were, responses. We did not want responses. We wanted answers and solutions.

So, we caught the train back to Edgewater station and then drove to Whitfords Telstra Shop. Here we spoke with the assistant manager, a relatively old man of probably 25 or 26. Unfortunately, he could retrieve any invoices from 2014 but he wrote a letter on official Telstra letterhead saying that we were the lawful owners of the iPhone in Lesley’s possession and put in some related numbers to identify the iPhone.

Home we went and quickly phoned the Apple Store to make an appointment for 10-00am on Monday. We were home and hosed. We had the proof of purchase and Apple would quickly resolve our problems.

Well, not exactly. We fronted up at the Apple Store sat 10-00am and showed the official Meeter and Greeter our proof of purchase and driver’s license. Everything was in order. We were not a latter day, ancient and decrepit, Bonny and Clyde team on a mobile phone pinching spree. After a while a young lady came and said that she would be only too happy reset our phone.

“Reset?” asked Lesley. “Does that mean I will lose all of my data, my texts, my photos, my contacts list.”

“Yes, “said the bright young thing. “We will re-reset your phone to the factory settings.”

“But I do not want that, “exclaimed Lesley. “Look, Apple has blocked my phone. Apple knows what my ID and password are. If you forget your bank User Name or Password, but can prove  you are the account holder, then you get a chance to either retrieve or reset your User Name and password. Surely Apple can do that.”

Clearly the bright and charming young lady did not think so.  It was obviously it was beyond her level of expertise. She excused herself and said, “I will need to speak to my manager.” She walked away and spoke with several other staff before returning with a slightly older lady, maybe 30 years of age, with a North American accent.

The Apple Manager smilingly repeated what the bright young lady had told us. They could only return the phone to factory settings and no data would be retained.

Lesley and I both again pointed out that in all other organisation, when you lose or forget your User Name and Password there were opportunities to reset that access information.
The Manager aid we caould always ring Apple Support.
"We did that yesterday," exclaimed Lesley.

"What did they say," said the Manager, seeing a ray of sunshine.
"They said to bring it to the Apple Shop."

“Look,” said Lesley. “Apple knows my ID and password. Every time I type something in it says it is not correct. Obviously, Apple knows what is correct. All you have to do is retrieve it. It cannot be that hard?”

“We do not have that information here,” was the cold response. The smile had faded from the North American lady’s face. She was still responding politely, but she would not, or she could not, provide the solution we wanted.

“What do you mean you do not have the information here? You are Apple. You have all the information on iCloud or on a database somewhere. You can access it by computer or iPad. It should be easy. Banks and other organisations can do it. Why can’t Apple?”

“Privacy reasons,” said the now quite stern jawed North American who was there to help.

“Privacy? What privacy? It is our phone. It was working perfectly and Apple has destroyed it. Made it inoperable. It is not about privacy, it is about Duty of Care to your customers.”

Well, if there had been a judge and jury sitting at our table we would have won in a canter. But there wasn’t. There was just our now very controlled and determined looking Apple helper, who told us our only options were to restore the phone to factory settings or hang on to a blocked and useless telephone.

So, after an hour and half of Apple non-help, Lesley decided a working phone was better than no phone at all. Fifteen minutes later we left the Apple Store with a working, but pristine, mobile phone.

Although Lesley has her phone back and working, she is not happy with the unhelpful Apple Company for giving her a weekend of stress and trauma. Be advised, if you are ever in Lesley’s company and she says something to you that requires an affable response, please, say "No problems” or “She'll be right.”

Under no circumstances say, “She’s apples!”