Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 10 — think about the Olympics 1

So I start with something completely irrelevant, as this being my blog I can do what I like!

Just released on YouTube and 13,000+ views already!

Well, amidst much angst and uncertainty, and with an unprecedented backdrop of COVID-19, the Games Have Begun!

Today let’s back-track.

2012: Watching the Olympics in Wollongong Mall

Not exactly crowded…

Of course I have family links to the Games, which I am proud of — have held Olympic gold medals in my own hands!

I used to enjoy telling people I coached Beverley — and I did, in Year 10 English! The Wikipedia article there is very good, clearly written by someone who knew her well.

Beverley Joy Whitfield (June 15, 1954 – August 20, 1996 in Shellharbour, New South Wales) was an Australian breaststroke swimmer of the 1970s, who won a gold medal in the 200 m breaststroke at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. She was coached by Terry Gathercole and Don Talbot.

The daughter of a fitter and turner who worked in the Wollongong steelworks for more than 35 years, Whitfield was taught to swim along with her sister and their cousins at the age four by her maternal uncle, who was active in the local Learn to Swim program. Along with her sister and cousins, she was a childhood member of the Shellharbour Swimming Club, and was mainly taken to local swimming competitions by her father and uncle. This became even more pronounced following the death of her mother from cancer…

Her father Max was my cousin, so she was my second cousin then. Sadly she died suddenly of a heart condition in 1996.

Marge, Beverley, Max, Margaret in the early 1960s.
Salt spray and sun have faded this a bit.
The ocean pool, Shellharbour.

And then there was the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, by which time I had a recently established blog — or “diary” as I called it at the time.

Saturday, September 16

GO THORPIE!!!! Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi OI!!!!! That 4X100 relay was sheer magic.

More on the Opening Ceremony–yes that torch thing did get stuck apparently! However, wasn’t that “underwater” lighting spectacular! And the waterfall! Yes–they did lay the politics of reconciliation on a bit thick, but it needs to be addressed and the Olympics was a powerful symbolic time: so too for the two Koreas and East Timor–moving moments both. However, I think the image of the girl and the songman remains the most powerful image for me.

I was tutoring in Chinatown today. One student, an 18-year-old from Mainland China, came in clutching tickets to the Olympic Table Tennis where his team will undoubtedly do well! He too admired the message of reconciliation in the Opening Ceremony, and was touched not only by that and the two Koreas being united, but also felt the fact China and Taiwan could play together in the Olympics sent a good message to the world and to the people and the politicians.

And my site passed the 2000 today! A minor matter but pleasing. In August this diary averaged seven hits a day; this month to date it has passed the total for August, averaging seventeen hits a day! Mind you that other site I declared “war” on a week ago has averaged twenty-four hits a day so far this month, so don’t get complacent my friends!

I see Brisbane has won the 2032 games — but who here will forget the bid that eventually ended with “The winner is SIDDENY!” No, not a typo — those in the know will know!

Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 4 — talk to a Rabbit

Not just any rabbit. This rabbit: At the end of December 2002 Mister Rabbit drove me out to Sutherland… Mister Rabbit wondered whether I would be writing up our day in Sutherland (and Sans Souci) beyond what I had to say on the day… Mr Rabbit was 20 at the time, and had his say as well:

We passed my father’s old school, which has a great view (“The Catholics know how to buy land”), and the place of N’s early religion, which looked, I thought, not unlike a scout hall. And then an unexpected surprise: N’s childhood home, which he hadn’t been inside since 1952, was completely empty (on account of being ready for auction), and its front door was wide open. We ventured in and had a good look around. N pointed out the many structural changes, including the removal of fireplaces; thankfully, the house itself can’t be knocked down: built in c. 1913, it is heritage. It is, however, being encroached upon by medium density housing, of which there is much in Sutherland these days. But if I had a spare $400,000 in the bank, I’d buy the house tomorrow. N was glowing afterwards, and I was very happy too.

Only $400,000? You would need maybe THREE TIMES that these days, Rabbit!

Anyway, after an absence Rabbit has reappeared on Facebook. He is no longer 20 just as I am now much nearer 80! He is also a very experienced High School English teacher — indeed Head of English somewhere in the Blue Mountains, where he currently lives.

Our latest conversation was conducted via Facebook comments. I had posted a link to the following quite disturbing story in The Guardian, which certainly raises interesting ethical and aesthetic issues.

Björn Andrésen was just 15 when he walked straight into the lion’s den, being cast as Tadzio, the sailor-suited object of desire in Luchino Visconti’s film Death in Venice. Its release in 1971 made him not merely a star but an instant icon – the embodiment of pristine youthful beauty. Sitting alone in Stockholm today at the age of 66, he looks more like Gandalf with his white beard and his gaunt face framed by shoulder-length white locks. His eyes twinkle as alluringly as ever but he’s no pussycat. Asked what he would say to Visconti if he were here now, he doesn’t pause. “Fuck off,” he says.

No one who sees The Most Beautiful Boy in the World, a new documentary about Andrésen’s turbulent and tragic past, will be surprised by that answer. Visconti, he tells me, “didn’t give a fuck” about his feelings. He wasn’t alone in that. “I’ve never seen so many fascists and assholes as there are in film and theatre,” says Andrésen. “Luchino was the sort of cultural predator who would sacrifice anything or anyone for the work.”…

The Rabbit began:

Rabbit: haven’t seen the film but recently listened to the audiobook.

Neil James Whitfield: The book is very good.

Rabbit: It is. Shorter than I had realised too.
Neil James Whitfield: The movie is magnificent too — it is reading what it did to the boy playing Tadzio that gives me pause.

Rabbit: the Polish boy was played by a Swede?

At which point I posted the music from the movie.

Rabbit: well I think I will watch it during this lockdown

Neil James Whitfield: So I am rereading “Death in Venice” right now as it is in my eBook library.

Rabbit: The theme of pestilence seems relevant.

Neil James Whitfield: Parts of the last chapter seem very relevant. Yes, I have finished it now. That final paragraph really is something.

Rabbit: well I just watched the film. It’s quite something. They nailed the casting of Tadzio.

Neil James Whitfield: Yes, I was absolutely speechless when I first saw it — and I hadn’t read the book at that stage. The boy really IS Tadzio, and Dirk Bogarde is very good too. The cinematography, the music, everything — all so good. That’s why that Guardian article really does raise interesting questions.

Rabbit: visually such a beautiful film. [Referring to my comment.] Yes very true. I want to watch the new film about the boy actor and also other films with Bogarde who I don’t know much about.

Neil James Whitfield: Wikipedia as usual is a good intro — Bogarde was in some great films and had a very interesting life. What Wikipedia says about his sexuality is very true.

Rabbit: the film Victim is on YouTube and I’ll start with that.

Not all Facebook time is wasted!

Nor is listening to great music and viewing great movies a waste of time. Thanks, YouTube! Not so long ago we could not have had this pleasure.

NOTE: I am replacing the final video I had earlier as I see its maker has produced something even better, and more relevant to The Guardian article.

Some other July days in the past decade or so… A photo post

Looking through my archive for July 2016 I see retrospectives that are worth selecting from. So here are some, nothing too heavy.

Posted on July 13, 2009

1207 006a
Passing parade — Elizabeth Street, Surry Hills

Posted on July 24, 2009

glebe 021
Cornstalk Bookshop, Glebe — owner Paul Feain at the freebies table…

Posted on July 11, 2010

Sunday lunch — Trinity Bar, Surry Hills

Posted on July 14, 2011

On Wollongong City Beach looking towards Port Kembla.

Posted on July 19, 2011

Lunch at The Diggers Club.

Posted on July 27, 2011

Wollongong Harbour.

Posted on July 20, 2012

Lunch at the Steelers Club — the club and the neighbourhood are totally changed since then!

Posted on July 13, 2013

A rare sighting of Michael Xu in Wollongong, at the back entrance to Illawarra Grammar School in fact.

Posted on July 29, 2014 

From my window, Mount Kembla on the left.

Posted on July 11, 2016

Lunch with Chris T at Ziggy’s House of Nomms, which included two treats especially, the first being a sencha tea delicately scented with flowers. Lovely. The second we tried because we didn’t know what it might be, but it turns out to be a thing! Taiwan Taco Gua Bao.

Just looking back on July last year…

Not many of us could have imagined that one year on we would still be dealing with the pandemic. Now, despite clear imperfections, mistakes and all that, the fact remains that Australia has done comparatively well. But even so…

Had an Alan Jones attack on FB last night…

Posted on  by Neil

No, not directly — but there I was watching YouTube music videos, not having the stomach to watch the undoubtedly excellent Four Corners last night — too depressing, I decided — when a “recommended” video attracted my attention: Alan Jones’s latest spray on Sky In The Dark.  Now Alan hasn’t been doing all that well. Probably explains why Sky are trawling YouTube.

Week one of Alan Jones’ new life as a Sky after dark talking head. So how did he go? Well, it wasn’t encouraging — from the strong opening night audience of 109,000 on Monday it was a slide to just 57,000 on Thursday.

Now some might argue that was low because the AFL and NRL games were underway on Fox Footy and Fox League. Paul Murray’s audience (after Jones) also fell sharply — to 66,000 on Thursday night from 94,000 on Monday. Sky will blame the footy for fall, but the channel’s management programmed Jones up against the start of the football, knowing that those codes and Jones share similar demographics — middle aged to elderly white men and the occasional women who are angry. If Jones and Murray had really rusted-on viewers (as we have been led to believe), the falls wouldn’t have been so big….

I’ll come back to Paul Murray later.  Oh and I won’t bother showing Alan’s segment — seek it out yourself if you must. I will however quote my FB spray.

I see (but will not display his idiocy) that Alan Jones, now on Sky In The Dark, has graduated from expertise in climate change to confident pronouncements on the uselessness of masks in limiting the spread of COVID-19. Says he has read medical sources. Wow. I have too. They tend not to support Alan Jones.

My cousin Julie, being an actual doctor (PhD and medical) researching in the public health area, has read even more. Certainly more than Alan Jones. Her latest post here was on how you should treat your mask — obviously endorsing their usefulness when properly used.

Jones is famous for talking a lot. I find his voice rather like chalk scraping on a blackboard — but that of course is subjective.

He has a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Queensland, and completed a one-year teaching diploma at Worcester College, Oxford. He did win a Blue there for Tennis. (– Wikipedia) All of which makes him a great climate scientist and shrewd epidemiologist. Obviously knowing more than, to take but one of many possible examples, Raina MacIntyre.

Why on earth anyone would even listen to Jones is beyond me. His thesis, of course: “The freedoms of Australians ‘are being stolen on a false premise’ ” His loyal followers include this guy: “The Nazis made Jews wear yellow stars and also had the military manning checkpoints….”

I despair sometimes. Alan, shut the f*ck up!

Raina MacIntyre has said:

…the bottom line is no intervention gives you 100% protection, you have to use them in combination to reduce the risk, and until the time that we can vaccinate people, you really have to use these interventions in combination. And when you are out and about, you can’t always predict when you can social distance and when you can’t. There could be factors outside of your control where someone comes up right in your face and you weren’t expecting it, so given that unpredictability when you’re out and about, that also makes sense to use both the physical distancing and the masks.

Norman Swan: You and I talked a few weeks ago about the masks reducing the risk by about 60%. Does that bear out in the studies that this Lancet paper brought together?

Raina MacIntyre: Yes, so the masks reduce the risk by 67% in this study….

Raina MacIntyre: The debate and discussion around the use of masks is not driven by evidence, it’s driven by other issues, ideology and beliefs and issues that have not got anything to do with the scientific evidence, that’s all I can say.

Quoting there from Face masks, physical distancing drastically reduce coronavirus risk.

And I might add what my cousin Julie had to say in her FB post yesterday:

Social distancing is still most important (equivalent of road design and rules for car safety); Hygiene (hand-washing & cough etiquette) is the next most important (equivalent of a well built car driven properly) adding masks is like adding an airbag- it’s a last line of defence if things go wrong, it doesn’t make it safe to drive backwards down a freeway. It doesn’t make you invincible.

ALWAYS wash/sanitise your hands immediately after touching/adjusting/replacing your mask.

And please, please, please don’t snitch them from hospitals, doctors surgeries etc remember if our health staff are sick, dead or in quarantine they can’t save you or your loved ones.

PS yes, we did ‘change our minds’ on masks. Not because the facts changed but because it turns out Aussies are not good at following the rules when nobody’s looking and supply chains are better than at the start of 2020 as well as we now know more about the sneak factor of COVID.

Julie really is a highly qualified scientist in the relevant public health area.  I have meanwhile done my research and found, unsurprisingly, that NONE of the pundits on Sky In The Dark has any scientific qualification of any kind — and some, like Andrew Bolt, didn’t even make it through a BA. On the other hand are people like Julie and Professor Raina MacIntyre. Whose word weighs most, do you think? This is not argumentum ad hominem — it is simply asking “Would you buy a used car from that person?” Common sense caution. Oh, check out Raina MacIntyre’s CV. And read Victorians, and anyone else at risk, should now be wearing face masks. Here’s how to make one (updated 19 July). Watch:

Sadly though many echo this anonymous comment I found on The Blot Report (do check that site out!)

All these doctors, nurses, virologists, immunologists and epidemiologists keep saying Covid-19 is dangerous, but all these people who barely passed science in high school keep saying it’s not. It’s so hard to know who to believe any more.


Well, not really! People who know what they are talking about as against ideological warriors who REALLY don’t? Not a hard choice at all.

That brings me back to Paul Murray, who actually can be quite personable even if he seems most of the time to be a propaganda vehicle for the hard right of the Liberal Party. But he stepped out of the Sky line the other day — and aside from the fact that I pretty much agree with what he says, I recommend going on YouTube to sample the howls of hate that he brought on his head! And to be fair: that testing is a really good idea is a bipartisan position — hardly radical anarchist leftie! — supported by just about every leader from ScoMo and Albo down.

One example: “If it so contagious why such a ridiculous test Why are they breaking people’s Blood Brain Barrier They are infecting and killing people intenionally Why should we believe the media or the government You are all bought.” AAARRRGGGHHH!!!!!

Yesterday’s post on Jones and Sky In The Dark scored!

Posted on  by Neil

I am glad to say! Thanks, Maximos Russell Darnley on Twitter: “Neil has written an excellent piece beginning with a critique of Alan Jones disinformation monologue about mask wearing & #COVID19. Neil goes on to quote from the experts. What is it with the #MurdochCommentariat? Is it plain stupidity after all?”

Chuffed too by my niece-in-The-Shire! There are two electorates in The Shire: ScoMo’s and Craig Kelly’s. My niece lives in Craig Kelly’s. She commented on the FB version of yesterday’s post:

 I love what you have written here. Alan Jones is a thorn in everyone’s side. The ads he does to promote his show are filled with self importance and arrogance. He has very little real knowledge.

He needs to expand his reading and perhaps listen to those who actually know what they are talking about.

Thank you Uncle Neil for saying what I have been thinking. 

My cousin Julie was encouraged to post more too — and her employer also posted her.

Townsville public health physician Dr Julie Mudd is encouraging the Townsville community to play its part and get tested for COVID-19 if unwell, busting the myth that testing is painful.


“When testing was first introduced, the world-wide standard was to take a swab of the space behind the nose which can be painful for some people,” Dr Mudd said.

“We now know that it’s just as accurate to test using a deep nasal swab, which swabs the inside of the nose itself and is less uncomfortable for the person being tested.”

Dr Mudd said the new technique was also suitable for children.

“Swabbing is completely safe and appropriate for children and we can modify as needed so that we don’t cause any unnecessary trauma,” she said.

“Early intervention not only means we can stop community spread, but it also means that we can monitor an individual and manage the virus and try to prevent it from becoming worse.

“In most instances we will able to manage a patient in their home without admission to hospital, and all testing and treatment is completely confidential.”

Dr Mudd also encouraged people to chat to their doctor if they have symptoms but test negative for COVID-19, as it may be an indicator of a different illness that will still need treatment.

From Julie comes this recommended reading — and very powerful it is too: The New Stability” by Anna DeForest, M.D., M.F.A. from The New England Journal of Medicine.

What else is there to say? You are dead, like so many others, and the rest of us are left to live in the absence of any certainty. We can’t go on, and we go on: back to work, back to rounds, back to the next case coming crashing in. It is no use to think about the future, our training, or what happens next. We are all attending now to a historic and global suffering, and learning the limit of the grief our hearts can bear.

Finally, a David Pope cartoon that appeared this morning in Loon Pond

pope (1)

So, that’s two posts from a year ago, And here we are — coming to you from lockdown in West Wollongong, NSW. And the Delta variant…

Nine years, Jim Belshaw? How can that be?

On Facebook Jim posted a memory, adding “Is it really nine years?!” This is the memory:

Jim Belshaw — Daceyville — 24 June 2012

It was indeed a lovely day, on which I did two blog posts: Sunday lunch in Daceyville and More pictures of Daceyville.

(L-R) Noric Dilanchian, Clare Belshaw, Neil Whitfield and Dennis Sligar.

Dennis turns out to have been just one year ahead of me as a student at Sydney Boys High in the 1950s and we reminisced ourselves silly.

He was also a Public Servant of note and gets mentioned in Kim Beazley’s autobiography. Noric is of Armenian background and among topics raised by him was the matter of history and perspective. Jim’s daughter Clare is also quite passionate about history, particularly about the Julio-Claudians it appears and has a perhaps not unrelated interest in zombies. I also learned for the first time – though I am sure most of you already knew – about Kickstarter,  a funding platform for creative projects. What a great thing it appears to be!

All that and roast lamb too.

Thanks, Jim.

And not least was Daceyville itself — on which see the two blog entries linked above.