Teachers With Guns


It’s funny how little things bring to mind old memories. When President Trump floated the idea of arming teachers to protect children, I vividly remembered my first day at high school in the north of England. All the new boys were herded into a lecture theatre and briefed by the teacher whose duties also included running the Lost Property Office.

We were told that the teachers were Masters and we were to address them as ‘Sir’. We would be addressed by our surnames, followed by our initials where there were two of more boys with the same surname, and we were not to fasten any but the middle buttons of our blazers: top and bottom buttons were only for show. Oh, and while in uniform outside the school grounds we were always to wear our caps.

There was to be no walking on the grass, and the path that offered a short-cut on the way to the cricket pavilion was out of bounds to all boys except sixth-formers. On reaching that pinnacle we would also be allowed to wear brown shoes instead of black and, in the summer months anyway, exchange our regulation caps for boaters.

At frequent intervals we were reminded how lucky we were to be admitted to such a good school.

All in all it sounded like a declaration of war. I can’t help thinking that, if our Masters had been armed, the boundary between corporal punishment and capital punishment would have got blurred pretty quickly.

Sevangi of Bangalore


It is not often that I am moved to poetry by a session with a call centre, but it happened today . . .

My heart has an open door
For Sevangi of Bangalore;
When my mouse wouldn’t work
She discovered a lurk*
That made my spirits soar!

On Friday my USB optical mouse stopped working. “Oh well,” I thought, “it’s quite old, I’ll buy a new one for A$4 at Officeworks.” I did, and that didn’t work either. So I did the things that any mildly tech-savvy layman does in such circumstance – turning my laptop on and off, shouting “#&$@” at the screen, smashing my forefinger down on random keys – to no avail.

I complained to the manufacturer’s website of course. Then, when I discovered that the old and new mice both worked perfectly when plugged into my old computer, I turned my wrath on Hewlett Packard.

My first live-chat session with HP Tech Support ended in my PIN being invalidated, leaving me unable to access my own computer until a secret code had been emailed to my wife. My second and third ended when the people at the other end found out I was in Australia. “We only support customers in USA and Canada,” they said as they flicked me lint-like off their sleeves.

Today I ’phoned a local HP retailer in hope of help, only to find that the call went through to an office in another state and, anyway, they just sell stuff. So in desperation I gave HP Tech Support another go. I groaned as I went through the same rigmarole with the same robot and waited to hear a human voice.

To cut a long, long story short, after two false starts which ended with line drop-outs I found Sevangi. She instructed me, encouraged me and tried all sorts of tricks that I would not have thought of. After two hours she concluded that the problem lay in the operating system, and the only remedy would be to download it afresh. That would mean wiping all my programs and files off the hard-drive, so I’d better start backing them up. She promised to ’phone tomorrow to see if I’m ready for the operation.

It felt like being told I had cancer. That sounds silly, but it did. On my way to the gym I thought about all the programs I’d have to recover somehow: MS Office, Outlook, Norton, PDF995… how many more?!

Soon after I got home the ’phone rang. It was Sevangi. “I spoke to my superior,” she said, “and there may be another option that won’t mean losing all your files and apps.” She then guided me through a process using the DOS command prompt (ah, nostalgia!) and a long string of code… and it worked!

“I’ll ’phone you tomorrow anyway,” said Sevangi, confirming her place at the top of my list of favourite people, “to make sure everything is still working.”

So you’ll understand why I was moved to honour Sevangi in verse; and why, whenever I hear a negative comment about Indian call centres, I shall recount this story. I’ll probably buy another HP one day too.

* In Australian/NZ idiom a ‘lurk’ is clever scheme or dodge.

Sex, Politics and Ethics


No, I’m not slipping in a sly plug for The Eeks Trilogy – although if you find the title intriguing you’ll probably enjoy The Eeks Trilogy, now available in a single volume titled Goldiloxians.

But right now I’m having my say about the story that’s been hogging the front pages of Australian newspapers for a week or so (it seems longer) and shows no sign of abating. It’s about Barnaby Joyce, who is

  • Leader of the right-of-centre National Party, which represents the interests of the rural sector and is in government in coalition with the Liberal Party;
  • Deputy Prime Minister (a requirement of the coalition agreement);
  • Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources (to the dismay of environmentalists who see this as a conflict of interest);
  • Minister of Infrastructure and Transport (since December);
  • The centre of a storm surrounding an affair with a member of his staff who is now pregnant with his unborn child;
  • Consequently separated from his wife; and
  • In open verbal warfare with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

The story is a gift that keeps on giving to the newsmongers because it irritates so many people for so many reasons.

First, there is a sexual morality issue. Barnaby has been an advocate of family values, invoking them in the recent debate about redefining ‘marriage’ to include same-sex couples. Barnaby was on the losing ‘No’ side of that debate.

Then there is the MeToo aspect. As Deputy PM, Barnaby was in a position of power over Vikki Campion, the humble Media Advisor who became his mistress. To some people this looks uncomfortably like a Harvey Weinstein situation.

Third, in a vain attempt to keep the affair quiet the mistress was transferred to the office of another National Party minister, in a high-paying job that was allegedly created especially for her.

There is Ministerial Code of Conduct that prohibits having one’s partner on the payroll. Barnaby is claiming that at the time of Vikki’s employment in his department she was not his ‘partner’. She was having sex with him, but was not actually and legally his partner as such. The PM has now made clear that the Code of Conduct will henceforth forbid sexual relations between ministers and their staff. This was immediately labelled the Bonk Ban.

To cap it all, it has emerged that Barnaby was staying rent-free in premises provided by a prominent National Party donor and commercial supplier of services to the Party.

In Australia we have a thing called ‘the pub test’. This sweeps away legal niceties that allow obvious rogues to hold up their hands in a gesture of supplication and say, “But I did nothing wrong!” Needless to say, Barnaby Joyce has failed the pub test on a Biblical scale in the eyes of all but his most one-eyed supporters.

One final comment from me… The story runs and runs because it gives sub-editors such wonderful opportunities for punny headlines. A photo of an obviously pregnant Vikki Campion was headlined ‘Bundle of Joyce’. Another headline over the Bonk Ban story referenced a campaign to ban poker (gambling) machines: ‘No Pokies’.