Can we believe what we read, and what we hear, even what we see?

Information comes at us at a million miles an hour, reams and reams of it.  Some of it may be true, however, the vast majority of it might not be, but something else, conjecture.

We are all guilty of it, we read something, and then put our own slant on it.  It comes from upbringing, education, and the people around us.  There’s an awful lot of influences around us that shapes the way we interpret what we see, what we hear, and what we read.

This is, of course, literary gold for a writer, particularly if you are a journalist.

Everyone has an agenda, whether they choose to admit it or not.  Sometimes circumstances might get in the way, and then they will have to find a way to influence others to knowingly or u8nknowingly support their p[oint of view.

It sounds a lot like politics, doesn’t it?

This sort of thing not only happens in government, but it also happens in private industry.  Everyone to be successful must find a way to push their product or service, sometimes by any and all means possible.

In both cases, there’s more than just a story to be told, and if people learned the truth of how a certain product finally made it into the marketplace, they might not necessarily buy it.

Conspiracy theories abound, pharmaceutical companies rigging test results knowing their product is faulty or using questionable test subjects, shady government agencies running smear campaigns on people who may have influence in an election, leaders of government and private industry misusing statistics and quoting them as fact.

Some even say the moon landings were a hoax.  Given how advanced the magic of the movies is these days, even back then, who’s to say it’s real or not.

Someone always knows the truth.  It’s like finding a needle in a haystack.

And it will provide writers with a rich vein of plotlines until the end of time.

That’s two days of my life I won’t get back

Yep…

I just spent 26 and a half hours in planes and in airport terminals getting home, and lost two days in the process.  The 15th of January just didn’t exist for us.

This is what happens when you fly from Vancouver in Canada to Brisbane Australia, via Shanghai.  The thing is, everywhere way, way overseas is a two-stop run.  We have to break our journey somewhere, like Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Shanghai, Abu Dhabi, and for the sake of managing delays at the originating end, we usually end up with a mid airports stay of five to ten hours.

It all means that when you finally arrive in Australia, you are tired, and look it.  I feel sorry for the Immigration officials who must rarely see people looking good on their arrival.

This time we were fortunate to get back in the morning.  To save being picked up by relatives we arranged for a limousine service, and it worked out well.

I couldn’t say the same for some of the pickup services overseas, but that was more the fault of the travel agent here than anything else.

It only reinforced my thoughts on travel agents, some are excellent, and some are complacent, relying too much on travel wholesalers whose knowledge of the products they sell is appalling.

The original bookings were fine, the agent we used knew her stuff.  But she left and someone else took over, and not so good I’m afraid.

However…

On the whole, it was an incredible expedition, from temperatures of 30 plus celsius to temperatures of -21 degrees Fahrenheit, and rarely above 6 degrees Fahrenheit.

The highlight:  Lake Louise in Canada.  Everyone should see this place in Winter at least once in their lifetime.  Certainly, my wife’s 65th birthday, spent there, was something she will never forget.

And the sleigh ride, in -14 or -15 degrees, well, we might be eligible to be declared start staring mad, but seeing the frozen waterfall was just another of those magical moments that reinforces why we should be preserving the planet, not trying to destroy it.

But…

We’re back home and glad to be so.

 

 

Time Wasting

Have you ever wondered how much of your life you have spent

a) waiting for a doctor’s surgery or hospital appointment, and

b) waiting on the end of the phone to reach customer service or a public servant.

In the first instance, I have had a lot of recent experience with injured children and spouse, and, more recently myself.

What bothers me is that they give you a time and place and issue all the threats around the place if you don’t turn up on time, but it seems to be perfectly ok if they are late.

It could be for some perfectly logical reason but most of the time they don’t tell you why they’re running late, and sometimes don’t even apologize.

Then there are the chairs they make you sit in, obviously specially designed so you do not get comfortable, especially in hospitals.

But the most infuriating aspect?  Just how small the waiting room is and how often it is overcrowded with people also waiting to see a doctor.

They ask if we remain respectful but after an hour and a half in those chairs and not treating us with that same respect they ask for, I’m surprised I have only witnessed one case of the angry patient.

In the second instance, there are two circumstances I take issue with.

The first is where you have to select from a menu and what you want isn’t one of the menu items and there’s no catch-all just disconnection, and

After waiting patiently on the line for up to thirty minutes or more you hear the connection, you think you are about to get to an agent and the call disconnects.

That is only one step removed from being connected … back at the selection menu and then sent to the back of the queue.

I’m sorry, but this technology is no advancement but I doubt if we will get back to the ‘old days’.

Of course, there is that other major advancement in telephone answering technology, voice recognition.  I’ve been on the end of it, and quite frankly, it just doesn’t understand me.

Odd, I Know, because I speak very good English with no accent.  Perhaps that’s the problem.

I can’t wait for the first humanoid robots.  I hope they can understand me better than the inhuman phones do!

Things I’ve learned while away

Probably the main one is that we should appreciate living in Australia more than we do.

Why?

We do not have many of the problems that exist in countries like America and Canada.  Our politicians, or as they are called here lawmakers, are stupid, but they do not hold workers to ransom to score points.

We do not have the multicultural problems at home like there are in both Canada and America.  Perhaps that’s because we live on an island, and there’s no need to build walls.  We just have people arriving in boats.  Or used to.

But politically, we have developed a universal attitude that all our politicians are like children, you only have to read Hansard to discover how childlike they are, and nothing ever gets done because we have a three-year political cycle.

Best of all is the political campaigning at election time.  Each side blames the other for the lack of progress and promises to make it better.  And once elected, blames the other side as the reason why they can’t.  The end result, another three years of nothing happening.

I can empathize with everyone in America.  Your politicians or lawmakers are the same as everywhere else, blame the other side, and bury their heads in the sand.

But…

At least everything is cheaper than at home, or almost.  Lego in Canada is dearer.  Or perhaps I should say you never can tell what the price of anything is in Canada because there’s the price on the shelf, then the one that ends up on the receipt at the cash register, invariably higher.

At home, the price on the tag is THE price.

Petrol is cheaper, though out in some areas it can be very expensive, and particularly on Manhattan island, where the price is three times that in New Jersey.

Books, which is one of the reasons I was excited about coming, are dearer than at home, much dearer in fact, so I’m leaving disappointed.

As for the tourist experience, we have had only one bad experience, and that was in an Avis office in New York where the black woman behind the counter called me ‘stupid’ in front of other customers, for breaking the GPS which she did not think to check before giving it to us.

It was a case of treating foreign white trash with contempt, and it was amusing, not annoying.

It was the only bad experience, and every other person, no matter what nationality were the epitome of the best ambassadors their respective countries could offer.  I have nothing but respect for people who sometimes work in very unappreciated positions, but all of that can easily be undone by one person.

This time it did not.  I just will never use Avis in New York ever again.

There’s more positives, but this can wait for another time.

More from here

So, I have partaken in two distinctive American pastimes, though probably not for all.

The first is ice hockey.  It’s not for everyone but I’ve adopted the Toronto Maple Leafs as my team, and they were playing at ‘The Rock’, otherwise known as the Prudential Center.

It’s not as big as the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, or as noisy, and the 80’s theme, I thought, fell a bit flat, but the game was good edge of the seat stuff and went down to the wire.

The Maple Leafs won, so I didn’t leave disappointed, like the last time in Toronto.  I could not say the same for the many thousands of Devils fans.

Going to the game involved negotiating the underground and NJ Transit, which with a little help was painless, just two stations on the A train, and two stations on the NJ line, about 45 minutes each way.

Before the game, we dropped into a bar and burger place and the burgers and beer were spot on.  So far we have not had a bad burger experience.

That was yesterday.

Today we went to a diner.  The Brooklyn Diner to be exact, and it was everything I expected it would be, atmosphere wise, as it looked old, and had a picture of Ebbets Field where the Brooklyn Dodgers used to play.  That the waitresses were not in the dress of yesteryear was perhaps all that was missing.

I was looking for traditional American food and was not sure what was on the menu, but there were spaghetti and meatballs, chicken pot pie, and thanksgiving every day.

I chose the turkey, and it was delicious.  I had a local beer which was different, and I finally got a cup of coffee that was exactly what I wanted.  Who thought it would be from a Diner?

Now, all we have is one day left, and that’s going to be for Red Lobster in Times Square.

Oh, and we did go for a walk in the Park just to lose some calories.  It was cold, about minus three, but we were undeterred.

Tomorrow its going to be warmer.  How odd it is to be cold one day and warm the next, then cold again.

 

Another day in, well, New York

OK, I have to start this off with a beef…

I can’t get a good cup of coffee.  I mean, for a country that is supposed to be renown for its coffee, so far the best I can say for it is, it tastes like bilge water.

So…

It seems that a standard cup of coffee with one shot is basically odd tasting milk.  A double shot, if they deign to give you one, tastes a little better.

A triple shot, well now we’re getting close to what a single shot tastes like where I come from in Australia.

I’m beginning to believe that what we call coffee in our country, would not be very acceptable here as it is too strong.

But…

The biggest problem I have is getting anyone who serves to understand what I want.  I ask for medium and I either get a small or a large.  I ask for a small, I get a large or a medium, and pointing directly at the cup I want gets no response whatsoever.

Is it because they cannot understand Australian?

I mean I speak English, but I’m resigned to the fact unless I make it myself, I’m going to give up.

And, just as a side note, Starbucks do not make coffee.  I’m still trying to work out what it was I got the last time I was there.

Now for the good stuff…

Public transport in this city is amazing.  I read a lot about the problems New Yorkers seem to have but for me, my experience couldn’t be better.

I had to go from 59th Street, Columbus Circle, to Penn Station Newark.  When we set out the only thing we knew was how to get to Columbus Circle.  There a very nice New Yorker helped us get underground tickets for the A-line.

At the other end, a Penn Station, a friendly policeman told us where we needed to go, and then a lady in the information center directed us to the platform.

The same happened on the way back.  I cannot speak more highly for the people in both New Jersey and New York in helping visitors.

All in all, an interesting day.

Experiences as inspiration

At what point does the journalist come out in a writer?

Quite often journalists become writers because of their vast experience in observing and writing about the news, sometimes in the category of ‘truth is stranger than fiction’.

I did journalism at University, and thought I would never get to use it.  I had to interview people, write articles, and act as an editor.  The hardest part was the headlines.

How much does that resemble the job of coming up with a title for your book?

Well, several opportunities arose over the last few months to dig out the journalist hat, put it on, and go to work.

Where?

Hospital.  I’ve had to go there a few times more in the last few months than I have in recent years.

And I’d forgotten just how hospitals are interesting places, especially the waiting room in Emergency.

After the second or third visit, I started to observe the people who were waiting, and ran through various scenarios as to the reason for their visit.  None may have been true, but it certainly was an exercise in creative writing, and would make an excellent article.

Similarly, once we got inside the inner sanctum, where the real work is done, there is any number of crises and operations going on, and plenty of material for when I might need to include a hospital scene in one of my stories.

Or I could write a volume in praise of the people who work there and what they have to endure.  Tending the sick, injured and badly injured is not a job for the faint hearted.

Research, if it could be called that, turns up in the unlikeliest of places.  Doctors who answer questions, not necessarily about the malady, nurses who tell you about what it’s like in Emergency on nights you really don’t want to be there, and other patients and their families, all of whom have a story to tell, or just wait patiently for a diagnoses and then treatment so they can go home.

We get to go this time about four in the morning.  Everyone is tired.  More people are waiting.  Outside it is cool and the first rays of light are coming over the horizon as dawn is about to break.

I ponder the question without an answer, a question one of the nurses asked a youngish doctor, tossed out in conversation, but was there a more intent to it; what he was doing on Saturday night.

He didn’t answer.  Another crisis, another patient.

I suspect he was on duty in Emergency.