Risks of Olympic proportions

pole -vaulter-william-pacheco
https://flic.kr/p/GPBj4 William Pacheco/creative commons

So we’re watching the re-run of the World’s Fastest Man beating the World’s Second Fastest Man in the 100 metre Olympic dash. My heart goes out to the also-rans. Trayvon Bromell of the US, despite coming last in a field of eight, covered the 100m final in 10.05 seconds. Goodness me, I thought. It takes me one minute and 21 seconds to drag the wheelie bin 97m from the car port to the roadside (admittedly uphill), huffing like an old grampus (old Scots saying thought to mean ‘like a fat fish out of water’).

Make no mistake, people, you need to be in peak condition if you want to complete at the Olympic level. She Who Swears at the Remotes was channel surfing, realising that the various iterations of Channel 7 are showing different Olympic events at the same time. Flick flick, she went. Some Australian guy, apparently swimming in the open sea, had opened up a one minute lead on the rest of the pack. It was heartening to see all the support vessels hovering nearby in case of cramp, loss of will to keep going, cossie-loss, shark attack, remnant arctic ice or other. Flick, flick.

Oh, there’s blokes spearing through the water in kayaks, or maybe they are canoes? Foresooth, here are two women spearing through the water in a kayak/canoe.

“Look at their shoulder muscles,” I marvelled, adjusting the heat pack on my compromised AC joint.

Now we’re on to pole vaulting, a sport we take a mild interest in because we know someone who competed in this event at Commonwealth Games level.

“Crikey, there’s so many ways of killing yourself associated with this sport,” She observed. I googled “pole vault accidents”.

Some YouTube contributors delight in posting clips of athletes failing or hurting themselves, including an incident at the Rio Olympics where a Japanese competitor’s penis dislodged the crossbar. This is akin to funniest home videos, a program with which I am not amused. Pole vaulters have died competing in this sport, or have ended up in wheelchairs. So the supposedly funny/shocking videos are insensitive to say the least.

According to Chris Hord, assistant pole vault coach at the University of North Florida, pole vaulting is the deadliest track and field event.

The sport is inherently dangerous because you run at full speed, almost 100-metre sprint with a 15- to 17-foot fibreglass pole in your hand, then you’re bending it, trying to get upside down to clear a bar in the air.”

Sunshine Coast physiotherapist and former Commonwealth Games pole vault competitor Andrew Stewart agrees.

“The worst part is if you accidently land on the tip of the pole, it will bend and throw you anywhere.”

Stewart competed from 1970 to 1984, culminating with a 5th in the 1984 Commonwealth Games event in Brisbane. His own experiences of pole vaulting as a dangerous sport included breaking a leg and spraining both ankles, in the days when landing pads were much smaller.

This 2012 study by the American Journal of Sports Medicine makes for sobering reading.

A few weeks back our choir director Kim Kirkman was encouraging the tenors to reach a high B by pretending we were throwing the discus. That took me back to compulsory school sports days where we were taught to throw javelins or discus by over-zealous sports teachers whose mission in life was apparently to distract boys (and maybe girls too) from thinking too much about the onset of puberty. Now that I think on it, perhaps all that javelin and discus tossing is to blame for my problematic shoulder joint, which responds to steroid injections and physiotherapy but the pain returns when I fall back into bad habits (like not doing the archery exercise, hunching over the keyboard like a man possessed).

But getting back to the men’s 100 metre sprint and other such events, the victors feeling obliged to do a victory lap wearing their nation’s flag like a cape. Mr Bolt, a man much-used to the attention of the media, struck a few poses, the images carried around the globe in an instant. Our journalists salivated over the Jamaican champ’s promise to return to Australia (he was last here in 2012).

Media sports coverage, such as it is

Just so you know, journalists work with some limitations when it comes to reporting on the Olympics. To actually attend as a media correspondent you need accreditation. The accrediting body, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), has a fair bit of muscle.

For example, they banned the use of animated GIFs during the Olympics. GIFs are short animated videos on loop which often pop up on social media. They are more often visual gags designed to shock or amuse, but oft-times capture immortal moments of triumph.

As Business Insider reported, it appears the Olympic ban is not being observed in certain segments of the social media with many GIFs to be found on tumblr and twitter.

A GIF which appeared, if I’m correct, before the IOC ban was announced, depicted a beggar lad alone in Rio’s slums overlooking a blazingly lit Olympic stadium and fireworks display. It briefly touched a nerve before being subsumed by the weight of status updates on Facebook.

The other media curiosity revealed at the Rio Olympics was the Washington Post’s use of robotic reporting technology. The Poynter Institute reported that Heliograf, using data and language templates, churns out medal tallies, event schedules and even results, the automated news briefs forming part of the Post’s Olympic blog.

FOMM reader Ms Hand alerted us to this under-reported technology breakthrough. We’re not surprised. Speech-to-text technology has existed for quite some time, of benefit to vision-impaired writers, scribes with temporary or permanent RSI or lawyers who can no longer afford secretaries to transcribe their daily dictation.

For all you know I could be talking aloud and one of those smart programmes is writing down what I say. Isn’t that right, Siri?

As a former newspaper scribe, I have mixed feelings about machines taking over what was once the detail work of junior journalists. Attending to sports results, racing form, TV guides and the like was the cadet journalist’s way to learning about deadlines, accuracy, punctuation and the consequences of making mistakes.

Meanwhile, back at the pole-vaulting pit, it takes skilful human beings to track down the vitally important Olympic stories like the Japanese pole vaulter who failed to qualify because his penis touched the bar. News Ltd scribe Dan Felson’s breathless, euphemism-laden piece (‘let down by his trouser-friend’) went global. Read it if you must.

Despite its ever-present risks of injury or injured pride, pole vaulting continues to attract devotees.

Sydney man Albert Gay, 73, set an Australian record this year at the Australian Masters Athletics event. The Macarthur Chronicle reported that Gay ‘leapt into the record books’ for his age group with a 3m attempt (the Olympic world record is 6.03 metres, set this week by Brazilian Thiago Braz Da Silva).

Gay said he took up athletics and pole vaulting when he retired, at 62.

“It tests your bravery,” he said. “You’ve got to be a little bit of an idiot to do it.”

SWSR adds: “I prefer to confine myself to channel surfing from the comfort of the recliner, where the only danger to be faced is the possibility of the Staffie unexpectedly launching himself into my lap.”

 

No interest at all

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Johanna Ljungblom/FreeImages.com

Though the headline might put you off, we must ask: why are interest rates dropping, who does it affect and where will it all end?

Few people would be unaware that the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) dropped the official cash rate to 1.50% on August 2, the lowest rate since records have been kept.

The supposed reason is to stimulate the economy (that is, to encourage spending and borrowing). It is theoretically OK to do this when inflation is low or falling as it is now. Conversely, as inflation rises, so do interest rates (RBA considers that this will restrain borrowing and spending).

An official cash rate of 1.50% is a huge problem for self-funded retirees such as yours truly and She Who Supports Ethical Investment. Four years ago we invested in a bank term deposit paying 5%, with interest paid annually. The annual payment dropped into our bank account this week. But where do we turn when this tiny golden goose gets killed off next year?

On current speculation, cash rates could drop to 1.25% by the second quarter of 2017. Given that inflation is currently 1%, that is a pretty skinny return.

The theory is we (self-funded retirees and younger people trying to save), will turn to the share market, where one can not only get better yields, but also the prospect of capital gains (and a tax break via dividend imputation). That means the company paying the dividend has already paid tax on it, so the franking credits (tax component) is refunded to the investor. But as we all know, the share market is volatile; you can lose money, companies can reduce or suspend dividends; gadzooks, companies can go broke and your modest $12,000 investment drifts away like steam from a kettle.

We’re told inflation has dropped from 1.7% in January to 1% in June, yet each week we seem to spend more at the supermarket and the petrol pump. House insurance premiums are rising, ditto rego, electricity and water rates. What’s really going on?

The low interest scenario, not by any means restricted to Australia, is set to continue for the foreseeable future.

Pre the GFC (2008), self-managed retirees could obtain interest rates of 6% to 7% on term deposits so their SMSFs were earning a fair, tax-protected return, sufficient to pay pensions and preserve capital (thus avoiding the inevitable dip into the public purse).

In this low interest rate environment, the biggest risk is that naïve investors will be lured into higher-rate schemes which are either unsecured and risky or just outright scams. The best known of scams is the Ponzi scheme, where a promoter offers you 12% on your investment, making interest payments with new deposits and eventually fleeing to some country with no extradition treaty.

Caveat emptor, mate.

Nevertheless, an official interest rate of 1.5% looks generous compared to the UK, US and Japan, the latter entering negative interest* territory in February. In post-Brexit UK, the Bank of England cut the cash rate this month to 0.25%, its first rate cut in seven years. The rationale for doing so was to support growth and return inflation to a sustainable target of 2%. UK inflation was 0.3% in May, so we can see what they mean.

Steve Worthington, adjunct Professor at Swinburne University of Technology revealed an odd cultural reaction to negative interest rates in an article written for The Conversation.

One month after the Bank of Japan’s decision to unleash negative interest rates, applications to join the loyalty programmes of Japanese department stores such as Mitsukoshi, Daimaru and Takashimaya (which offer discounts on goods of 5% to 8%), were 100-200% higher than in the same month of 2015.

Such consumer behaviour undermines the intentions of the central banks. Prof.Worthington proffers that if the weapon of negative interest rates does not work as expected on currency values or domestic consumption and investment, what else is there left to deploy to prevent deflation and a further slowdown in economic activity?

Prof. Worthington says negative interest rates are intended to boost domestic demand by forcing banks to lend money out and encourage consumers to both borrow and spend.

But they cannot bank on the unpredictable behaviour of individuals and organisations. Prof Worthington referred to the unexpected result this week after New Zealand’s central bank cuts its cash rate to a new low of 2%.

“Rather than that lowering the value of the NZ dollar, it has actually sent their dollar higher – economics theory meets reality and is found wanting!”

Many Euro Zone countries are already in negative interest mode, Japan has just joined the club and the US (0.5%) and UK (0.25%) is as close to zero as you can get. There are even a few economists in Australia who believe we could be at zero interest within a couple of years.

A collaborative essay in the Wall Street Journal examined the trend to negative rates, uncovering some evidence the policy was backfiring. The authors wrote:  “some economists now believe negative rates can have an unintended psychological effect by communicating fear over the growth outlook and the central bank’s ability to manage it.”

If the primary motive of low or zero interest rates is to encourage citizens to borrow or spend, it appears to be a lost cause. The OECD index of household savings shows savings are high and likely to go higher in countries such as Germany, where the percentage of disposable income which is being devoted to saving rose to 9.7%, and is forecast to rise to 10.4% this year.  The OECD also forecasts the rate to rise in Japan.

While Australians now are saving just under 10% of their disposable income, in the noughties we were saving virtually nothing and gearing ourselves into unsustainable debt.

A Federal Treasury paper, The rise in household saving and its implications for the Australian economy, theorises that had household savings remained at  2004-05 levels, consumption would have been 11% higher than its current level – about 6% of GDP.

“The primary effect of the turnaround in household saving has therefore been to reduce the extent to which interest rates and the exchange rate have needed to rise to maintain macroeconomic balance.”

The paper noted that subdued household spending will also present challenges to the retail and residential construction sectors.

So what does the average punter do – buy a safe (apparently ‘trending’ in Japan), stash the cash under the mattress, buy gold bullion, collectables or vintage wines?

You can still find a few banks with term deposit rates around 3%, though the rate does not vary much between six months and five years.

Self-funded retirees who need a certain level of return to maintain their lifestyles have only a few options: take riskier investment strategies (hybrids, debentures, unlisted property trusts), dig in to capital; apply to Centrelink for a part-pension or (shudder) start job-hunting. (Either that, or forget about that trip overseas…Ed).

*instead of receiving a return on deposits, depositors must pay regularly to keep their money with the bank.

 

Showing mercy on old ships

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Africa Mercy, courtesy of www.mercyships.org.au

If you’ve ever taken a long journey on a ship, chances are you reminisce about the romance of it all; sitting in deckchairs with your dearly beloved, watching flying fish pass over the bow. The sweet memories bypass the sad realities of sharing an 8-berth cabin with other young travellers, determined to ignore the claustrophobic realisation that your cabin is below the water line.

Ships do a reliable job ferrying people and cargo from one port to another. According to statista.com, the number of passengers carried by the cruise industry is expected to exceed 25 million in 2019. The numbers are also huge around container trade, which accounts for about 60% of all world seaborne trade. The quantity of goods carried by containers has risen from around 100 million metric tons in 1980 to about 1.5 billion metric tons in 2013. If those numbers dazzle you, just stare at your flat-screen TV or your other household goods for a while and multiply it by every other similar household in Australia and you quickly realise the extent of trade by sea.

But there comes a time when the rigours of salt water and the impact of waves pounding at the hull takes its toll and ships must be retired.

While you may have seen documentaries about third-world ship recyclers, pulling beached ships apart by hand, there are occasions when older ships are used for worker accommodation, emergency housing or as hospital ships.

Mercy Ships is an organisation which provides much-needed medical care for people in developing countries. The idea was born in 1964 when founder Don Stephens, then 19, survived the devastation wreaked by tropical hurricane Cleo in the Bahamas. In the aftermath of the storm, Don was struck by local people talking about the need for a hospital ship to treat their injured and provide urgently needed medicines. Though it took many years, in 1978 he and fellow fundraisers paid $US1 million for the Victoria, a former cruise liner. Work began to convert her to a hospital ship and in 1982, the vessel, refitted with three operating theatres and a 40-bed ward, sailed as the Anastasis – the first Mercy Ship.

The Anastasis was home to Queensland nurse Helen Walker from late 2004 to February 2005. Specialising in ophthalmic nursing, she spent three months volunteering in Benin, West Africa. She and a colleague from Jamaica assessed 5,000 people who had gathered outside the city stadium many days before, after hearing the Anastasis was soon to dock at Cotonou.

The main mission was to perform cataract operations, routine amongst Australia’s 65+ age group, but life-changing for poor people in Africa.

“Those who showed evidence of advanced cataracts were allowed inside for further assessment by the British or American ophthalmologist, who also volunteered his time to help the poorest of the poor,” Helen said.

Helen, who now works as a remote area nurse in far north Queensland, tells a story which she says typifies the resilience of the Benin people.

Pascale, an elderly gentleman dressed in his best suit and waistcoat, stopped to mop his sweaty brow as he was gently escorted from dockside to the eye examination room aboard the Anastasis.

“He had said to the taxi driver in the north of Benin, ‘take me to the big white ship’.

“How this man, with only ‘perception of light’ sight, had made it to dockside is beyond me.

“We did our eye checks, found him a bed and he had his cataract surgery next day.

“The following morning, when the eye pad was removed and the eye chart held 6 metres away, Pascale was able to read half way down the chart!

“I watched for the usual lively signs of happiness that the Africans show, but Pascale had only the faintest smile on his lips. He just knew that we would fix his sight.”

The Anastasis was one of four Mercy Ships, three of which have been retired after serving in 150 ports throughout developing nations.

Mercy Ships relies on donations and volunteer staff to carry out its works. In Australia, the head office is in Caloundra, Sunshine Coast. The most recent field mission starts this month in Cotonou, Benin, where the flagship Africa Mercy will be based until June next year.

Africa Mercy is a former Danish rail ferry acquired in 1999 and commissioned in 2007 as the world’s largest non-governmental hospital ship.

The eight-deck Africa Mercy’s lower decks are a modern hospital with five operating theatres, an intensive care unit, an ophthalmic unit and a recovery ward with beds for 82 patients. The ship also has accommodation on its upper decks for 484 crew members including families, couples and individuals.

The ship’s medical equipment includes a CT scanner and X-ray laboratories. Physicians can consult with pathologists in the US via satellite communication.

In 2016, the medical team will provide up to 7,000 surgeries a year, including patients suffering from maxillofacial deformities such as cleft lip/palate. The team will also be providing reconstructive plastic surgery for patients suffering from severe burns, congenital abnormalities, and soft tissue tumours.

From February to May next year the team will be providing surgeries and treatments to female patients suffering from obstetric fistula, uterine prolapse and other gynaecological conditions.

Ships used to garrison troops and workers

Your average land-lubber may not know this, but ex-passenger ships and ferries have long been used as barracks for navy personnel, construction and oil rig workers and as emergency housing.

Barracks ships were used to garrison UK troops in the Falkland Islands after Argentinian occupation forces were ousted in 1982. Rangatira and another former ferry, Odysseus, housed workers building an oil platform in Scotland circa 1977–78. Rangatira housed workers who built the Sullom Voe Terminal in the Shetland Islands in 1978–81.

I fondly remember taking a journey from Sydney to Singapore aboard the Chandris Line’s backpacker special, the Patris.

After Darwin was almost destroyed by Tracy on Christmas Day in 1974, the Patris anchored in Darwin Harbour for nine months to provide emergency accommodation. Many people of my vintage journeyed on the Patris in the 1970s, as it was often the first leg of the great Overland Trail from Singapore to London via Pakistan, Afghanistan and other countries now seen as no-go zones.

According to MuseumVictoria, after leaving Darwin in November 1975, the Patris was converted to a car ferry cruising between Greece and Italy. In 1987, after a long period of idleness, she was towed to Karachi, Pakistan and left in the hands of shipbreakers.

Surely a humanitarian cause like Mercy Ships is a nobler end for vessels nearing the end of their service lives? But as care2.com observes, the vast majority of old ships are sold to breaking yards on the tidal beaches of South Asia.

European-based ship recyclers offer ship owners between 150 and 225 euros per ton of steel. South Asian shipbreakers can offer up to 450 euros per ton.

You can read more (above) about this dirty, dangerous work and the workplace health and safety risks taken by workers in places like Karachi (Pakistan) Alang (India) or Chittagong (Bangladesh).

Or you could go to www.mercyships.org and read more about a truly enlightened use of recycled ships.

 

Homeless for a week

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Photo ABC/Giulio Saggin

The first time I thought of Homelessness Week 2016 (August 1-7) was when a young family member posted something on Facebook, aiming to raise funds for a St Vincent de Paul homeless charity, Fred’s Place. Alice took part in a community sleep out on Thursday night, raising funds to keep Fred’s Place operating.

Vinnies operates a few such sites across Australia. This one in Tweed Heads offers a home and support for people experiencing homelessness or who are at risk of homelessness.

Fred’s Place is a fully renovated home with three bathrooms, a large laundry, internet and telephone, television, staffed kitchen, inside and outside areas to socialise, storage and mailing facilities. There’s also a dedicated room for Centrelink, Medicare, Counselling, Legal Assistance and Housing NSW, all available on a weekly or fortnightly basis.

You might read elsewhere about chief executives sleeping rough for a night to get the smell of homelessness in their nostrils and raise money for charities. They’ll be up bright and early next day for eggs benedict and lattes at their favourite café, but who’s quibbling about that? All of these once-a-year sacrifices by those fortunate to have a job and a roof over their heads helps highlight homelessness as a serious issue.

New data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows that almost 256,000 people received assistance from homelessness services in 2015. So yes, it is serious.

High rents and tight vacancy rates are forcing many people to settle for less than ideal accommodation, be it share houses, hostels, motels, serviced apartments, or, down the other end of the scale, living in their cars, in campgrounds, under freeway overpasses, in tunnels or huddled in doorways.

As I wrote in the Hinterland Times last year, the Sunshine Coast is not immune from homelessness. In upmarket Noosa, where the median house rent is $650 a week and a three-bedroom unit rents for $510, 60 people, including 22 children, ended up at Noosa’s Johns Landing Camp Ground.

I began to wonder what happens to these people on the fringes, heading off to work each day,  in a region where there is a paucity of emergency or affordable housing.

Habitat for Humanity, an organisation founded by Millard Fuller and supported by former US President Jimmy Carter in the 1970s, builds houses for families who want to improve their circumstances. More accurately, the people who will ultimately live in these houses help build them. Those wanting to own a Habitat home have to be employed, scratch up a deposit and have the capacity to repay a no-interest loan. They must contribute 500 hours of ‘sweat equity’, helping volunteers and pro bono tradespeople. Habitat for Humanity has built, rehabilitated and repaired over 800,000 homes, providing four million people with improved living conditions.

The first time I visited Winnipeg, it was a refuelling stop on a flight from London to Los Angeles.  We sat on the tarmac and looked out the window where men in bright orange parkas circled the aircraft, fogging it with hand-held hoses to stop ice forming on the wings. Subsequent visits to Winnipeg, at one time home to the elder brother of She Who Was Born In Canada, Eh, were thankfully in the summer.

Those who have never been there probably know of winter on the Manitoba prairies via SBS weather, cheerfully reporting Winnipeg to be 40-below in January (average daily max -13.9). We were on a tour of the city with my brother-in-law when I spotted a homeless person asleep on a park bench.

“Jon, what happens to these people in the winter?” I asked. He then explained Habitat for Humanity, which at the time was very active in Winnipeg. When you live in a town where the rivers ice over and you have to plug your car in to stop the engine block freezing, you need a house – with central heating.

Habitat is a concept which would appeal to people who disapprove of social security, as Habitat for Humanity is a ‘hand-up’, rather than a handout. In Canada, Habitat’s funding is greatly enhanced through a chain of thrift shops called ReStore. Jon Toogood says he and several colleagues founded ReStore in Winnipeg in the 1980s and the concept has since spread world-wide. ReStores sell donated household goods and recycled building materials. Jon tells me the two stores he co-founded grossed $1.2 million last year.

Habitat for Humanity has not caught on in Australia to the extent it has in New Zealand where there is a national head office, 10 affiliates and 13 ReStores. There are two chapters in Queensland (Gympie and Ipswich). NSW has five chapters, Victoria has three and its operations include two ReStores.

Spokeswoman Jen Farmer said Habitat Queensland was currently researching to see if a ReStore could be viable here. Ipswich coordinator Ken Fischer said the local chapter was set up in 2005. Its first project was to renovate a house moved from Victoria to a quarter acre block. Mr Fischer said three prefab houses were donated to Habitat in 2011 to replace Ipswich homes destroyed in the flood. The homes were located on the same land, but raised on 2.5m stumps.

Mr Fischer said the Ipswich chapter had recently begun to work with social services groups to train homeless people to become trades assistants and work on Habitat projects. Long-term, they plan to look at how Habitat can provide housing for homeless people.

Not that it matters now, but I remember my brush with homelessness. I had paid for a one-way air ticket to New Zealand and had £11 to survive in London for a week.

Even in 1977, £11 didn’t go far. A contact told me about a hostel in Charing Cross where I could stay for a week, all found, for £9. I had to pay up front and, relieved to have somewhere to stay, it took a while to realise this was one of those homeless shelters where they feed you dinner and breakfast and put you on the streets between 9am and 5pm. I was assigned a bed in a large dormitory full of smelly, farting men whose tubercular coughs and nightmare screams kept me awake half the night. Some of those screams might have been my own.

In the bed next to mine was a 30-something Irishman who’d come to London to work on building sites but no such work eventuated. Like me, his capital had dwindled and he was now hard pressed to make himself look presentable and stay upbeat to look for work. We found a homely workers’ café in a Soho back lane where lunch – soup, bread rolls and a bottomless cup of tea – cost 50p. As I recall, my Irish friend and I shared a tureen of soup, snagging extra bread rolls from the counter while no-one was looking.

Appropriately, Mel Brooks’ comedy High Anxiety was one of the movie choices on the flight back to sunny, green New Zealand. I scored a job as a storeman packer two days later and rented a room in a share house with like-minded people. I sometimes wonder about the Paddy with the soft voice and shy manner and how his life turned out.

More reading:

http://bobwords.com.au/everyone-should-have-a-home/

http://bobwords.com.au/goodwill-housing/

http://bobwords.com.au/little-bit-compassion/

 

The dog ate my spectacles

Spectacles-Dumped rubbish-Lifeline. photo: Chris McCormack
Dumped rubbish next to the Lifeline bins in Point O’ Halloran Drive, Victoria Point is costing Lifeline thousand to remove the rubbish. Photo: Chris McCormack

Is it wrong to blame a dog, hours after said dog has done something to make you cross? They say dogs have no sense of time, and, clearly cannot distinguish a pair of spectacles from a chewing toy. Staffies get anxious when you leave them alone for a few hours and this one chews things. We have learned to behave as if there is a toddler in the house – every chewable object goes ‘up high.’

Nevertheless, I apparently left my reading specs sitting on top of an unfinished (aren’t they always?) crossword on the dining room table. Dog therefore must have got up on his front paws and grabbed said spectacles, putting a tooth through one lens, scratching the other and chewing the end of a spectacle leg. Making Marge Simpson annoyed-at-Homer noises, I set off to the optometrist and duly ordered a replacement pair. Imagine my ire dissipating on discovering private health insurance covered all but $18 of the cost. First world problem, right?

I was just about to leave with my new specs when I was asked if I’d like to donate the old pair to a charity which collects, repairs, cleans and distributes recycled specs to people who don’t have health insurance (or $18 for that matter).

Curiosity piqued, I set off to learn more about charities which collect and distribute specific items, as opposed to those which operate charity bins and Op Shops (more on the latter later).

Lions chairman (Brisbane) Kenneth Leonard told me Lions in Australia and Japan have been increasing their collections of eyeglasses to more than 500,000 a year. Recycle 4 Sight involves volunteers as well as people on Work for the Dole, inmates from a female community correction facility and people on Community Service Orders from the court. Collectively, they have achieved a nett 400,000 refurbished pairs of spectacles annually.

Since 2000, Recycle 4 Sight has distributed 2.5 million pairs of re-graded spectacles to Africa, Europe, Middle East, China, the Pacific Rim, Southern Asia and Oceania.

Another useful charity, Soles4souls Australia, collects, cleans up and re-distributes ‘gently worn’ and new shoes to needy people around the world. It might seem obvious, but Soles4souls sets out on its home page exactly what types of shoes it wants (and doesn’t want). Sports shoes, kids’ shoes and men’s and women’s fashion, work and business shoes get a tick. They say no to heels of three inches or more, Ugg boots and slippers and women’s fashion boots. It might not need to be said (you’d think) but they also do not want single shoes, damaged shoes or empty shoe boxes.

If only this charity had been around when I decided to ditch my Doc Martens, expensive English leather shoes favoured by 53-year-old songwriters who want to look cool. I’d looked after them but rarely wore them as they were heavy and the narrow-fitting shoe did not suit my wide feet. So one day circa 2004 I put these shoes in a plastic bag and slipped it through the slot of a local charity bin.

Some years ago American songwriter Kristina Olsen, who spends a great deal of time in Australia, told me about a charity which collects old guitar strings. Actually, there are quite a few charities which collect old guitar strings (and musical instruments) to ensure poor people in third world countries get the opportunity to make music in a style we obviously take for granted.

Musician Darryl Purpose and his activist friend Kevin Deam have delivered more than 20,000 sets of used strings since starting the Second String Project in his native Holland. Many professional musicians use a set of strings for a few gigs then replace them and throw the old ones away. The Second String Project collects these lightly used strings and sends them to poor musicians.

Smalls for All was launched in 2009 by Maria Macnamara after she read an article about the problems facing women in Zimbabwe who didn’t have any undies. Donors are asked to purchase a packet of (new) underwear but Smalls for All will accept ‘gently-worn’ bras (which, few men realise, can cost up to $200).

Macnamara says a lack of underwear is a health and hygiene problem for many poor African communities. Many women often only own one pair of tattered pants or have none at all. Underwear is also seen as a status symbol and offers a degree of security.

Meanwhile, the National Association of Charitable Recyclers (NACRO) sent me useful information about illegal dumping at charity bins and Op Shops (see photo above). A report released in May and supported by charities including UnitingCare (owner of Lifeline), NACRO and the Queensland Government, estimated that about 8,200 tonnes of rubbish were dumped at Queensland charity sites in 2014-2015.

The report identified rubbish including soiled mattresses, broken furniture and window blinds, green waste and household waste.

NACRO told FOMM the research found 50% of donors were ‘unintentional dumpers’ who didn’t understand the consequences; 40% were ‘champion donors’ and just 10% were ‘deliberate dumpers’. These people are (charitably) perceived to be the least informed about the consequences and ‘may not respect charity work’.

NACRO chief executive officer Kerryn Caulfield told FOMM people may think they are doing the right thing by leaving items outside donation bins and Op Shops.

“But in fact they are dumping a huge burden on the charity they are seeking to help. Sadly, people pilfer these donations if they are worth anything and not already damaged by the weather and in the process damage other items. The charities are left to clean up the mess.”

Sources told me about worst case scenarios: prawn shells wrapped in newspaper dumped in a charity bin, contaminating everything inside. How about people who help their smallest child climb through the slot to retrieve the DVD player that still works!

The main problem for someone wishing to donate to a charity is where to take it. Most major charities have depots in the city but in smaller towns you should probably ask at your local Op Shop. Coincidentally, it is National Op Shop week August 21-27. So, dear reader, go carefully through your wardrobe and bookshelves and see if you can come up with useful books, ‘gently worn’ clothing, and other (clean) items in good condition. (See above re: unwanted spectacles, shoes, guitar strings or bras.)

So in a week when a deranged man killed 84 people in Nice, when there was an attempted coup in Turkey, when Sonia Kruger (someone whose utterances we are supposed to take seriously, apparently), said uninformed things about Muslims, when Pauline Hanson went on Q&A, Bob wrote about the dog chewing his spectacles.

But as those who read to the end would know, there is usually a relevant sub-text to Friday on My Mind. In this instance, despite callous acts of terrorism and madness, political stupidity, racism and egregious behaviours here and abroad, people are still capable of acts of kindness and charity.

 

Independent journalism, commentary, satire and droll humour, posted here on Fridays.