Wednesday, December 31, 2008

#111: The Price Of Love

Day in and day out all we hear from different people are complaints about the rising costs of rental properties in and around our fine city. I can understand this and also appreciate the difficulty in finding suitable rental at an affordable price – after all rental has gone through the roof and yet wages and benefits haven’t increased at the same rate to keep up with it all. Most real estate agencies and tenancy bodies refute this though and will claim that rental increases with the CPI and no higher. Let me tell you right now that they're all lying and here’s your proof.

In 1995 I moved into a large two bedroom property in a suburb just outside of the city. When I moved in the rent was $110 per week, when I moved out in mid 1998 the rent had increased to $125 per week. I was partially working and partially living off the goodwill of our Federal siblings at the time at a rate of around $320 per fortnight with some rental assistance, bringing the total up to around $375 per fortnight. That wasn’t bad in 1998, now I doubt I could feed my cats on that rate.

According to a 2001 paper published by FaCS in 1998 the full rate of Newstart, or whatever the equivalent was called back then, was, pre-rent assistance, roughly $322 per fortnight. According to Centrelink in 2008 the full rate of Newstart is, pre-rent assistance, roughly $440 per fortnight. That’s roughly a 37% increase in earnings over ten years, which equates to 3.7% per annum, which is in line with the CPI. The rent assistance has dropped as back in 1998 you could access a rent rebate from both us in the form of a weekly cheque and also assistance via Centrelink, now the feds have taken it over entirely and I believe that it turns out to be less than what could have been claimed back in the day. As it stands the maximum amount of rent assistance payable is around $52 per week, adding an extra $104 to every payment. In 1998 the amount was around $45 per week, adding an extra $90, plus an additional $50 per fortnight from us, $25 per week.

As of this week the same property that I lived at in 1998, which cost $125 per week in rental, now costs $250 per week in rental. That’s a 100% increase in ten years, or 10% per annum. There’s a fair difference there, in fact it’s a whopping difference between the rent increase and the CPI. Now how do I know what the rent of my old place has increased to? I’ve seen an ad for a place across the road which is very similar in size and location to the property I lived in and I checked the current market rental on the property I lived at back then and the rental prices are exactly the same. Clearly there’s a wide paddock between what the Government gives you and what landlords charge in rent and that difference is virtually unworkable. Even factoring in rental assistance will bring the same rough numbers forward – there’s no parity between the two amounts. Even essential services, such as gas and electricity have increased over the CPI (58% and 46% respectively) and that other most basic of essentials, food, has also gone up and above the CPI (48%) but rent has increased, in this case, by 100%. I’m sure the same applies elsewhere. And let's not mention the increases in medical costs.

So who controls the prices of rent? The easy answer is the market as a whole, which is a joke answer at best. Landlords control rents and there is no real regulatory body to monitor the increases in rent. Even the RTT has no real control. The landlord is obliged by law not to increase the rent by more than the CPI and if such an act happens then a tenant may apply to the RTT to have the rental increase look at as being unreasonable and thus brought into line with the CPI. That looks good on a policy paper, but the stark reality is that if a landlord wants to increase the rent by a considerable amount then they will. The easy way out is for a landlord to merely terminate the tenancy with the required time frames at the end of the lease and then re-let the property at a vastly inflated rate. I’ve heard of this happening more than once and at times the person moving into the property at the increased amount is the same person who just moved out. It’s called circumventing the system. Most landlords will gamble on the fact that their tenants either have no knowledge that they can dispute the amount of rent that they pay to the RTT or that they’ll be too eager to hold onto their tenancy to take the risk. After all the landlord, when it comes to rent, holds the aces in the bulk of the situations. As long as the rent isn’t increased by a large amount then they will continue to get away with increasing it and the majority of landlords will increase the rent of a property anywhere from 5 to 10% per annum, and that’s a conservative estimate. Despite the efforts of the RTT there isn’t anything, nor anyone, to regulate the increases of rent, nor is there anyone to stop the increases of rent. I’ve yet to hear of anyone who has ever successfully challenged a rent increase and remained in the property, quite the opposite. Tenants will frequently grumble about their rent but they’ll still pay it because what are the alternatives? Being homeless? Finding a new devil perhaps? Often it’s a case of the better the devil you know, no matter how expensive and unfair.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – self regulation of the real estate business just doesn’t work. It needs an independent body to regulate it, but one with some real power to effect change and control oput of control rents and landlords, along with exercising some form of legal power over cretinous tenants, unlike both the RTT and Consumer Affairs. Perhaps one day...but not today.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

#110: Welcome To The Jungle

You know where you are? You in the office baby, you gonna die!

Word travels fast in all Government jobs so although these events have yet to happen in the department where I work I fully expect that eventually some bright spark in upper level management will swoop on this as a great idea indeed. I’m also aware that by writing about this someone might seize on the events and introduce them anyway, the downside of that, for the person seizing that is, is that they’ll have to admit that they not only read this blog but also take notice. There’s people in the field where I work who’d rather admit to paedophilia than that.

Over at our Federal chums they’re attempting to solve the age old problem of internet usage and productivity. Instead of merely dumping dud workers who sit there all day surfing the likes of Facebook and MySpace, they’re looking at a blanket solution, roughly translated, “Let’s penalise everyone in order to get the few slackers that we want.” The problem being that those slackers will merely refuse to turn up for work anymore and will instead miss being harmed, go on sick leave and eventually be redeployed in a higher position with fewer duties. Personally I think alligators have the right idea – they eat their own, especially the useless ones. In our department we had the annual lecture regarding internet usage and were told to tone things down a bit, no blogs, no Facebook or other social networking type sites, and keep other sites for downtime, breaks and the like. Now that I can, and do, agree with. You don’t need to be surfing eBay while you’re working on a complex case, and if you are surfing eBay then you’re clearly not working. I know I’m totally switched off when I surf such sites at work, but I’ve never gone onto Facebook or the like during work hours. Mind you I am aware that someone spent a lot of time visiting on-line dating sites during work hours, but we don’t go into that. Our lecture finished, with some humour, all agreed on what was discussed, some of it was promptly forgotten and ignored and life goes on. We’re aware of the consequences.

Now the Federal counterparts…Gawd…are they harsh! Welcome to the jungle indeed. The problems with them seem to lie squarely on the fact that costs are being cut everywhere, they’ve closed essential service, and indeed have shut down at least one major service delivery point here and routed everyone into the suburbs, and moved/merged other departments. If you’ve ever phoned them and wondered why they all sound so pissed off it might have something to do with all their calls being timed, no external stimuli at all, no break times outside of the pre-designated lunch half hour and that old granddaddy of all Victorian practices – timed toilet breaks. I’m surprised that they’ve left the doors on the stalls and not resorted to chaining people to chairs.

I’m not sure how a timed toilet break works. Does it mean that someone comes along with you with a stop watch and hits start when the action kicks in? Someone might need to explain that one in greater detail.

The other practice about to be put into place is far more draconian than any of that though. What someone in upper level management has decided, and this has been decided by someone who has never done the job in question and operates/manages from nearly 2,000 kilometres away, is the introduction of what is charmingly called ‘Focus Days’. A ‘Focus Day’ involves the removal of all external stimuli, internet, email and even their own internal contact services for up to three days per week. Anything that could be used to contact anyone outside of the offices, even phones, are banned and forbidden. I have no idea what the penalty is but as it is Government I expect the punishments would involve that time honoured practice, the ‘informal discussion’, another way of having someone scream at you about useless you are without the need for official witnesses or union representation. It’s all noted down and can be used to show a pattern of bad behaviour when your time has come.

The general aim of the ‘Focus Days’ is to focus the attention of staff on their work and increase their overall productivity across the board. As that classic Futurama poster says, ‘A Mindless Worker Is A Happy Worker, So Shut Up And Do Your Job’, and nowhere is this more apt. The idea of sealing a worker in a room, cutting off any forms of communication and expecting them to work away happily went out with the formation of the Bee Union. It just isn’t workable, especially in this day and age and here’s why.

I use email constantly where I work. I’ll freely admit that not all of my emails are work related but a good percentage is. We’re encouraged to establish links with other agencies in the community and email can be a more effective way to communicate, especially when the person you want might be in and out and not always within phone reach. With email you can attach reports or documents for review. I can go to web-sites and download documents that I need. It’s all there with a click of the fingers. To remove that would seriously hinder how well I can do my job. It’d also mean that I’d spent far more time on the phone trying to reach people when I could simply hit ‘send’ on my email and be done with it all. In short, to remove the internet would mean that my job, while not impossible, would be a lot harder and I doubt I’d be working more efficiently. After all count the amount of time you spend on hold waiting to reach some saps answering service only to discover that you’re not able to leave a message, and then compare that with the amount of time it takes to write a few lines and send it off into cyberspace.

Not comparable. So for all you poor employees who are about to have your basic right of communication taken away by someone who’s clearly studied the Ebenezer Scrooge Book Of Workplace Relations I’d suggest that you check with your union representatives first, because it might ever so slightly not be on the up and up. And for the management who feel that a good employee is one who is browbeaten, why don’t you go without your mobile phones and internet for a few days and lead by example. But then you need all of that to stay in touch with other agencies don't you?

Anyway, have a great Christmas a safe new year. I’ll be back in ’09 and hopefully on a more regular basis than I was this year. As always, feel free to leave your comments.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

#108: Beast Of Burden

Funnily enough the worst part of attempting to evict disruptive tenants doesn’t come from physical eviction, nor does it come from any investigation, threat or physical actions. It comes from the one section that should be assisting us but instead throws up multiple roadblocks in the name of ‘fairness’. You might have guessed who I’m talking about – the Residential Tenancies Tribunal.

The RTT was set up to act as an independent body to oversee tenancy issues in any state, county or country where housing is available to rent. In effect they’re there to protect tenants from a landlords who might see fit to jack the rent up or sexually harass them. It’s also designed to protect landlords from tenants, where needed. It’ll step into disputes and adjudicate, but only if asked to. It has the power to make an order and see that the order is carried out. All orders are legally binding and the cases are overseen by all aspects of the legal fraternity, judges, barristers – you name it, it’s a good way for them to perform a community service, of which they do get paid for. The RTT also act as the holder of all bonds – if a landlord doesn’t lodge a bond with the RTT they can be taken to court and heavily fined, if caught, charged and prosecuted. Such is the power of the RTT.

Or so it would appear. In theory they are the be all and end all of tenancy. They are the ones who will always do the right thing and defend the rights of all from those who would seek to exploit, injure or damage. In practice they’re more often than not a toothless tiger who’s insistence upon outdated practices force it to protect and shield the guilty whilst harming the innocent. On alternate days I have either a lot of time for them or I curse them and the horses they ride into work upon.

Here’s an example. There’s a certain tenant who now has control over an entire street, I kid you not. As rent is paid on time and in full and no complaints are received – and more on that shortly – there’s nothing we can do. Not ‘not a lot we can do’, but actually nothing we can do. We're not completely ignorant or oblivious to what's happening though. I know what they’re doing, I know who they’re doing it to but nothing is reported due to a climate of fear that comes from being housed near these tenants. We’re talking extortion, threats of death and physical violence, threats of arson and property damage. We’re talking theft, abuse, assault, illegal drugs, vehicular offences – you name it, they’ve not only done it but they’re still doing it. And all the time we’re powerless because of one restriction that the RTT have seen fit to not only put in place but strongly adhere to – witnesses.

In a court of law witnesses are protected these days. A witness of a violent crime, such as serious assault, rape, attempted murder, harassment, stalking and the like, does not need to confront the perpetrator. They are free to give their evidence via video link-up and in the most extreme of cases allowances can be made to give evidence in-absentia. Not with the RTT. Believe it or not, and it is the truth, a victim of a tenancy crime has to stand up in the same room as the offender and deliver their side of the story with nothing but a few chairs separating them. It can be a dangerous practice and can also cause of a lot of hesitation when it comes to delivering valid evidence. Hence evictions are all but impossible with the most serious offenders as witnesses often are too frightened to appear before the tribunal.

In the case of the tenant above a great deal of time was spent explaining to other tenants, both public and private, about the workings of both us and the RTT. We have protocols to fulfil in order to evict, we need substantiation, but that isn’t always enough as we also have to produce witnesses before the RTT. The shortcut, as I’ve explained previously, is via what is known in this state as a Section 90, which allows for neighbouring tenants to bring eviction proceedings against other tenants. In this case several neighbours elected to go this route and began the proceedings. What they believed was the beginning of the end of a long nightmare was anything but, indeed it has the same effect as someone shooting an airgun at a bees nest and standing back expecting not to be stung. This is what happened. The Section 90 was filed with the RTT who duly, and correctly I might add, contacted both the residents who lodged the order and the tenant in question advising of a hearing time, date and location, the names of the people involved and the information required from both sides. Within a fortnight the order was withdrawn at the residents request. Why? The tenant in question contacted (and I use that term very loosely) each and every resident on the street and threatened them with death at the very least. Some residents were told that houses would be burnt down and a scorched earth policy strongly adhered to. Some were told of broken limbs that were forthcoming. Cars were damaged, houses broken into. That wasn’t the case of withdrawing of the complaint though. It was when a resident’s 3 year old daughter was threatened with abduction, rape and murder that the order was finally rescinded. The RTT don’t ask as to why an order is withdrawn, nor do they care. Once it’s out then it’s out. Any evidence provided is null and void and cannot be used in the future. That’s that. The residents were also told that if they contacted any outside agency, namely us and the police, then the threats would carried out post-haste. Thus complaints to us and the police ceased. We only discovered all of this as part of a follow-up, to much abuse from the (rightly) scared, threatened residents.

Why did all of this happen? The RTT operates under the clauses I’ve already outlined. Any information provided is given to all parties, no information can be entered anonymously. People have the right to question any evidence and witnesses, witnesses who must be present at the time of the hearing and be face-to-face with the offenders. The rooms are closed off but there is nothing in the way of real security to protect a person from being attacked by another, outside of the regulation security guard. It’s a Victorian way of thinking and approaching serious issues that more often than not involve serious crime. The best hope a person has is that the offender refuses to appear at the hearing because if a person does turn up the tribunal can, and often does, order what’s known as an order – which means the offending tenant has a certain amount of time to rectify the breach/behaviour and if they do, that is if no further complaints are received, then the RTT will dismiss the eviction notice. Again, any evidence entered at this point cannot be used in any future hearing, meaning that if the offender starts again then it’s all at point zero.

In fairness, in the most serious of cases, if the offender refuses to appear, or if the correct police presence is on hand, then the RTT can order an eviction with time frames ranging from 4 hours through to 28 days. These are exceptions to rules though, especially when it comes to private vs public housing. The most important aspect of this to remember is that any eviction is legally binding, thus if you have been given an order then at the given time legal authorities in the form of police, sheriffs department and/or relevant landlords will turn up to the property in question, physically evict anyone on the premises, change locks and, if the need arises, also board up any windows. If there’s any personal belongs left on the property then a time needs to be arranged via the RTT, police and/or landlords so that any relevant people can be present for any items to be removed. The landlord can refuse to engage at this point though meaning that the now ex-tenant will have to seek a court order to enable them to collect any personal items. Charges will be raised to dispose of any goods and cleaning and these can and will be charged back to the now ex-tenant. None of this is of any use whatsoever in the case that I’ve outlined.

So what’s the solution? I have no idea other than to strongly suggest that the RTT align themselves with the general magistrates court system and change the ways that evidence is allowed to be introduced. I’m all for providing evidence – without evidence you’d soon be evicted by a neighbour who just doesn’t like your car or the way you look with false complaints. Evidence, and strong evidence, needs to be maintained. Diaries outlining the times, dates, impact and results of disruptions is always a bonus. Times and outcomes of any police involvement in the form of report numbers and/or police reports is even more of a bonus. The more evidence that can be substantiated the better. And right here is where the wheels fall off the wagon.

The RTT needs to introduce a system whereby substantiation can be introduced without the need for a witness to directly face, and be questioned by, the offender. Video evidence, written impact reports, all of these and more could be introduced, especially if the allegation is one of violence, intimidation and threats. The need for a witness to be standing in the line of fire of an offender is draconian at best, dangerous at worst. The fact that the offender knows beforehand who is bringing action against them and is able to approach them without fear of prosecution is borderline insane. If you were charged with a serious assault and then approached a witness and attempted to intimidate them then you can bet that you’d be passing bloody stools on a regular basis, if you’re a male, for the next few years. You get the drift. As it stands once the order is entered the offender can then have a time frame in which they can run amok, approach and threaten a witness and force a stay of execution. I can fully understand the need for the RTT to offer the offender the right of reply and give them access to relevant information, but to also provide the offender with names and addresses, well that part of things I just can’t understand. Evidence, valid evidence, both needs and should be collected and provided, but a better system for the hearing of serious disruptions and evictions needs to be developed and put into place. Until that day comes about more and more people will continue to live in fear from their own neighbours and feel trapped, not able to properly address the issues at hand, too afraid to report incidents and threats to the relevant authorities and expecting others to handle the situation. As they then become more and more disillusioned by a system that continually fails to provide adequate protection their anger will be further be focused on those who want to assist but can’t.

Therein lies the quandary. There is no quick fix, there needs to be a complete and utter reassessment of the system and how it (often fails to) works. Perhaps when someone is seriously injured, sexually assaulted or actually killed due to a breakdown in this current eviction system and the result makes the front pages then an inquiry will be undertaken. When it happens, not if, but when as it is a certainty that it will, I’ll be first in line to provide my own evidence of how this current system has failed.

Friday, October 17, 2008

#103: My Melancholy Baby

I had to laugh, eventually. One of the perks of having a rich job history is that I run into pals from different industries from time to time, some of whom read this blog. One of my pals works in the print media and recently I sat down for some coffee and we had a quick and quiet chat in the shadow of a building, inside of which sat one of the self-important demi-Gods who believe that not only do they make a difference to the blue rinse set, but that they are the most important people in the world, nay - the UNIVERSE - today. God love 'em all. If nothing else they are entertaining.

PAL: "So, mate, your blog, damn it's funny."
ME: "I hope you mean funny ha-ha and not funny jeez that's shit."
PAL: "Weeelllll...nah, seriously. What made me laugh the most is how amazed you get about the wankers in there," he said, jerking a thumb behind him, "I'd have thought you knew the media well enough by now, after all you're still in, albeit in a small manner, to know it's about ratings and entertainment. News doesn't exist, let alone compute."
ME: "Sure, but, well I dunno, I'm still amazed I guess."
PAL: "I'll do you a favour. I'll send through every mention that your lot gets for a week. Let's see how inaccurate it is and how much of the world's woes that you're to blame for."
ME: "Done." With that we settled in and enjoyed the warmth of the sun. Winter is passing, some cold mornings, sun is shining, warm days ahead. We drank, we talked, he made his usual half-arsed job offer, I said no, we moved on. I have no desire to work in the media, proper, again.

So what arrived come the end of the week? Loads of stuff. According to one late night raver our fine city is the drug capitol of the world. According to Bronze John, who knows these things better than someone drinking red wine in a studio, we'd not even be the drug capitol of a small asteroid. However it's our fault that we're the drug capitol of the world because we only ever house drug addicts and encourage them to set up clandestine labs and sell their wares to little kids on street corners. That was the start for the night show. The next night we were to blame for a house burning down. It wasn't one of ours, the batteries had been removed from the smoke detectors, but that didn't stop the callers and doyen of journalism ranting about how, again, it's our fault that people remove batteries from smoke alarms. Perhaps we need an alarm to prevent battery removal from every house? Tamper proof packaging perhaps? But he was just getting warmed up. Two nights later he really let rip. It was the good old standby - the "neighbour from hell". The caller, clearly an experienced mental health worker, went on to describe how his neighbour is 'mentally retarded' (does anyone use that term as a valid diagnoses anymore?) and that the neighbour has attacked his car, smashed windows, threatened animal doctors(!), threatened health care workers with violence - the usual stuff. Naturally none of this was proven by the cops, so it's our fault. Yep, we're to blame for someone bailing up a vet in the vet's office. We're to blame for the vet not feeling safe in his clinic anymore. We've been contacted, according to the caller as recently as 2005, but we refuse to lift a finger. The solution? "Animals like that need to be thrown out onto the street!" Yep, you can thunder that, but then you'll be blaming us for not housing those in need. Yeesh! The man on the phone is now about to take the law into his own hands. I hope he likes jail.

Now that was just the late night show. According to the King (I use the term very loosely) of them all we're getting worse by the second. He knows exactly how we operate, despite never having seen any of us at work (he's been offered to come and sit with us for a few hours/days etc etc but always refuses - you see, he's one of those who doesn't need to know how it works in order to claim with authority that it's broken) and he knows where to put the blame - squarely on our shoulders. His highlight of the week was a good old standby - domestic violence.

Now I take DV very seriously. It's evil and insidious. Those who did it are the lowest of the low. Domestic Violence should be punishable by instant prison, no matter the gender. It should be recognised that domestic Violence happens to both females and males alike, however the latter is often ignored - wrong, wrong, wrong. That out of the way let's move on with our pal. He had someone ring who told him a situation where a lady was having the living suitcase beaten out of her on a daily basis. The guy doing it is living in the property without out consent or knowledge as the lady denies he's there. She's never contacted the cops, nor taken out a restraining order (I couldn't help but recite the words to a song in my head as I heard all of this,
'You say when he hits you, you don't mind,
Because when he hurts you, you feel alive,
Hey babe, is that what it is?' - any contact is affection to those who can't differentiate between right and wrong - and those are the ones we need to assist the most) so who is to blame? Oh, come on, you know the answer. It's us! This is despite the admission that the events are happening in a small town where everyone knows each other and are well aware of what's going on behind the closed doors. Call me odd but if I knew that one of my pals was handing out a knuckle sandwich to their significant other then I'd be paying them a visit.

My favourite though was when a senior journalist for a major print outlet put forward their own views on homeless people. According to this journo, one of the best paid in the land, they know what it's like to be homeless because they once did one of those 'spend part of the evening with a homeless guy and drag a photographer around and give the guys some hot food and some cash in lieu of permission and proper consent' stories. You know the ones. They always have a photo of the journo looking rough and shocked at being told to fuck off and get a job. Mind you, some of these journos need to hear those words at least twice a day regardless of what they're doing. Despite recounting a litany of issues, including, but not limited to, sexual and physical abuse, mental illness, starvation, deprivation and more, the homeless are kind of deceptive. You see they dress so they can't be too bad off surely?

I can't wait to sit down with my pal again. He's right, I shouldn't be surprised that we're perceived as being the cause of the woes of the world, but it'd be nice for a fair hearing. Not a positive 'spin', but fairness. But then fairness isn't a word that a lot of the so called 'journalists' are familiar with these days. There's always one of the story - they side they want you to hear, read and see. Anything that might contradict that isn't going to be on the tables at all.

Today's newspaper, tomorrow's fishwrappings.

Friday, September 26, 2008

#101: You Might Think I’m Delirious…

“I bet you fucking love your job, don’t you arsehole?” It wasn’t a rhetorical question; at least I didn’t take it that way. After the police had escorted the waste of valuable oxygen into the back of a paddy wagon I thought about what was posed. Do I love my job? To answer that I needed to go back and review what I wanted to be in life, what I wanted to do with my life and that would lead me to an accurate answer.

I’ve never really known what I wanted to be. If you asked me at the age of about 5, when I was first asked, I’d have probably replied that I wanted to be a firetruck. Not a fireman, but the vehicle itself. I grew out of that about the same time as Marc Bolan got into a mini and met a tree. Eventually I graduated to wanting to be a fireman but I developed an entirely rational fear of being burnt to death after seeing the Poseidon Adventure and Bambi. So you can blame Irwin Allen and Walt Disney for beating that one out of me. I’m sure I’m not the only person over the age of 40 who still has nightmares of that forest fire. Indeed I’ve seen actual bushfires that haven’t scared me as much as that bloody cartoon. May Walt’s head burn in whatever cytogenetic chamber it now resides in. Later I wanted to be a number of things but really I had no ambition other than getting the next round of books, insulting teachers and devouring comic books by the pallet. Words were, and still are, my life. Hence I decided in about 1984 that I wanted to be a writer. I had no idea what kind of a writer, but I wanted to write. About a billion rejection slips and multiple rip offs by publishers hasn’t beaten that out of me. Yet.

I knew what I didn’t want to be by doing it. I knew I didn’t want to be a telemarketer after I was kind of forced to do it for a few months back in the mid 1990s. Well, I say forced, but then the strong desire to eat solid foods more than once a fortnight can do that to a person, especially when the government gives you just enough money to pay some rent and utilities. When I wasn’t depressing myself listening to Pearl Jam or killing neighbours with Nine Inch Nail CDs I wasted time being one of those annoying bastards who’d phone you at home during the day in the attempt to convince you that your roof was covered in pigeon shit and thus about to collapse in a screaming heap and devalue your only serious investment for life. I gave it up after hearing once too often about how we’d just cleaned the roof in question and only sparrows and the odd cat had been on it since. Oh, and when they asked me to work nights and weekends, for pittance mind you – base rate was $8.50 per hour (as a pal of mine pointed out at the time I could make more sewing buttons onto trousers in a tin shed) plus commissions, which were only good when sales were recorded – I gave it away. I do feel some sympathy for the many minimum wage monkeys who call from India on an hourly basis and I generally attempt to keep my insults to the barest mentions of what Sachin Tendulkar and Harbijan Singh do in the dressing rooms, however at times I do lose it a but. Multiple phone calls from 7pm to 9:30pm will do that to a person. Here’s my best hint from those days: if someone phones you about renovations/home improvements, tell them you’re renting, even if you’re not. That gets them off the phone faster than a bomb scare.

For ages, off and on, I used work for a few people and help with debt collection. I used to get into the mood by listening to Max Q songs. Work that out, Freud’s of the world. I’ll say no more about that other than if someone knocks on your door wearing all black with gloves and a rather sizable piece of timber, either run really fast, call the cops or resign yourself to your fate. Don’t be a hero and start a fight. It only prolongs the agony.

I worked at McDonalds. Seriously. Stop laughing. It was fun at times. I worked one Christmas Even from 5:30am through to 4am Christmas morning. I got paid a bucket of cash, got to dress up as Santa Claus, got drunk and managed to locate a filthy creature who had a red costume fetish, all this roughly twenty years before the movie Bad Santa. I was a pioneer in those days. I have some fond memories of those days, getting stoned with Ronald McDonald and Hamburglar in the toilets before he rushed out screaming “HI KIDDIES!!!” Never a truer word was ever spoken by that clown and, well, oddly enough I developed a Hamburglar fetish for the same reason as the filthy girl with the Santa costume did. Luckily for me Hamburglar wasn’t a dude and had a good collection of Spandau Ballet and Queen albums. I remember a guy who used to wash his feet in the pickle buckets as he felt that the acidic nature of the juice would fix his fungal infections. I saw a guy who, once he was given two weeks notice, spent ever morning happily masturbating in the cheese container. More than once a day actually. Saw the usual spitting on the grills and on the burgers of people who complained. I will say this, the McDonalds training videos are brilliantly funny and more true to life than the kitchens themselves and anyone who has ever worked there should recall it fondly. The videos showing people what not to do are templates for what can happen. And does. Great stuff. Any time I eat Maccas now I’m in a state of denial. It’s easier that way. There’s always other memories, good friends that I made, encounters in stock rooms and drive through booths. Piping Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath into the dining rooms over the PA system. Playing Van Halen on the roof. Sitting on the same roof watching the sun rise on a summer day, watching and hearing the city unfold below us, dew evaporating and the sweet sounds of bird song and watching girls doing the walk of shame past the early morning joggers doing their walk of life. The one guy who stole so many boxes of cookies that he was able to fill an entire room. He never ate them, he just liked stealing them. I gave that job away after we were shot at one night and the manager decided to leave everyone to fend for themselves while he locked himself in the cool room. I managed to get people to safe places, alerted the police via our duress buttons and locked the cold room and left the fat prick to stew for a few hours. That was enough for me.

I did physical work. Worked in foundries and factories. The foundry was horrid. Hot. Damn hot. Molten steel, sparks – if the whole gay steel works image springs to mind then I’m not surprised. There were a more than a few people who batted for the home side than not. I gave that up after a nasty encounter with someone’s lunch. The factory, well that was a bust. I injured my back and went through a long rehabilitation which put paid to me working there ever again, let alone the same industry. Damn good thing too. The romantic vision of Jennifer Beals in a welding helmet just doesn’t exist outside of a bad Adrian Lyle movie.

So what did I want to do with my life? I had no idea. What I didn’t want to do is be a social landlord. Having said that now that I am in that role I am enjoying it a little too much. I won’t go as far as to state that I can’t envision doing anything else because clearly I can. I’d love to be a full time writer, but that’s not going to happen until I make enough money to retire and not worry about who’s paying the rent and where the food is coming from. I do know I’d rather be doing what I’m doing, for as limited a time as it might well be, than anything else at this point in time. It could be worse. I could be Simon Clime. I could be on Jerry Springer, shirtless and beating the living suitcase out of some fat redneck over a Brian May special. Worse yet I could be a security guard on Springer or some related lower intellect show vainly separating whole sized wig wearing salad dodgers while they attempt to smother each other with various items of clothing and bodily parts. I could be working for the CSA or our Federal cousins in the dole office, both positions carry just as many risks, the later probably more, than what I do right now. I don’t want to work in a fast food place, nor do I have any desire to work in a factory lifting heavy machinery and waiting for the day when my knees of tissue give out and I’m crushed beneath a large vehicle.

I wanted to make my mark on the world and with my published works I’ve done exactly that. I’m semi-famous, more infamous, in certain circles and I’m afforded some respect from fairly famous people. That means a lot to me. In real terms I have achieved what I wanted to do. I could expire tomorrow, even today, and honestly say that I’ve not any regrets. In fact I’d have regrets, if I could remember them. I’ve made my mark, physically and otherwise, so in that regard I’m content.

I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing right now. Seriously. I’ve seen the other side of the fence and I know what it’s like. I know exactly how difficult it can be. I’ve not seen the struggle, I’ve lived it in more ways than one. If I can make one person’s life a little bit easier then I’ve done my work for that week. So all the people who like to come in and abuse me because they don’t get exactly what they want, hey, go and take a good look in the mirror. Then ask yourself this: if you were on my side of the fence and had to deal with you, anti-social behaviour, warts and all, would you help you?

Probably not. I know there’s been times in my life where I wouldn’t have lifted a finger to assist the likes of me. So get that epiphany, take some responsibility for your life (here’s a hint – if your life is crap then it’s no-one else’s fault but your own. No-one wakes up and says, “Hey, let’s stuff that dole bludgers life up some more,”. Nope. Your life is crap because you don’t pay bills, think that the world owes you a living – it doesn’t – and like to abuse people in an attempt to feel big. Two words – get stuffed cretin) and become a better, and more useful person. Then, like me, you’ll be living in a decent place, listening to tunes on an IPod, writing on an expensive laptop, – both of which are fully paid for - getting ready to have a nice evening with good pals and just enjoying the sunshine.

That’s why I’m enjoying my job right now, because I’m enjoying my life. It may not last, it might not always be like this, but for the time being I’m gonna milk it and keep riding the waves. So yeah, I fucking love my job so go and chew on that for a while you ignorant mouth breathing peon.

What about you?

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Price Of A Friend

They were the best of friends. They didn't live next door to each other, nowhere near. In fact a large black car park separated their houses but this didn't matter. They hadn't known each other long, and wouldn't get to know each other for any great length of time, a mere two years. That didn't matter either. They were happy in each others company and appeared to get along very well. And why wouldn't they? They both came from similar backgrounds. The young man, not yet 40, who had a partially self-inflicted hard life and who was busy trying to deal with his demons, along with a serious Hep C problem and assorted issues that a long life spent injecting drugs provide. The older man who'd also spent a life wrestling with the white powder devil and the lifestyle it brings, who had forgotten more than most people would ever wrestle with in regards to ethics. They had a lot in common indeed.

They'd spend long nights together, talking about everything and nothing. The younger man would bring out his photo albums and show them off. In those photos he’d see a younger version of himself, playing little league football for the Redlegs. Two best and fairest trophies that now sat in his spare room, a reminder of the promise that once existed, a time when he could match it with the best of his generation and come up trumps. He'd played alongside some of the game's later greats as a youth, but where they'd gone on to fame, adulation and fortune, he'd slipped into obscurity once he'd sampled his first toke from the bong. He’d see the football on the television and ponder how he’d have been if he’d listened to the coaches and kept playing. He'd show the older man the memories of his life. An album full of cards that he'd gotten for his coming of age - his 21st birthday. All the cards, proudly displayed, signed by family
members long dead and others who'd disowned him. Signed by friends who'd long ceased to speak to him or tolerate his habits. One signed in a delicate pen, "My Darling, I Love You Now And I'll Love You Forever", signed by a girl who'd also long since vanished out of his life. He'd show him photos from his primary school years and they'd laugh at the childish pranks. Oh, they'd laugh. They'd laugh until his ailing body was wracked with spasms and the thick, brackish blood would rise and be caught on the rugs that lay around the house. Then he'd pass out and sleep where he fell. The older man would simply rise and leave.

Sometimes he'd pull down the photos of his parents, the sepia tone photos, the enamel photo of their wedding day. He kept all the stuffed toys that his parents had given him as a child. His favourite was a grey bear that he'd gotten at a very young age. He'd show the bear off and make sure that the bear had his own seat. Often he'd speak to the bear. Sometimes he'd sit and look at photos of his parents, his father, long gone, his mother, living in a nursing home, incapable of looking after herself but still with enough wits surrounding her to send a birthday card to her wayward son, each and every year, each time with the same salutation, “I Hope This Year Is Better”. She'd just sent one two weeks previously. He'd hold that card and stare at his bear and begin to sob. The sobbing would turn to uncontrollable weeping. The old man would simply rise and leave.

He lived a simple life, as simple as he could make it. Each day was just like the last, he’d wake, do what he had to do to get through the day and then hope that the nightmares wouldn’t trouble him too much in sleep. The days and nights, the months and years, just blurred into one long day, twenty four endless hours. He’d amuse himself with his childhood, which he kept close at hand. The video tapes of old television science fiction shows, the music that most would laugh at he played and enjoyed. No compact discs here, just cassette tapes and old vinyl records. He’d read the books that he read at school, he joined several libraries and would borrow. Reading didn’t take much effort and it was rarely taxing. His school reports showed that he excelled at such pursuits, he was creative, and the impish grin that looked back at him from the photo albums, the young teenage self that constantly challenged him. What would he say to that younger version, the fit young man, the creative young man, the well read young man, the cheeky little man if he met him now? He’d never know, but he’d often wonder.

The old man would help the young man. He'd help him call the taxis that he needed to get around to the doctors and the chemists. He’d help lift him off the floor and into the bed. He'd help him medicate, both legally and otherwise. Sometimes he'd go and score the junk that the younger man would never cure himself of craving and, with a steady hand, find the vein and inject it, resulting in a good nights sleep. And he was there when the inevitable finally happened.

They'd been talking about the old times when the younger man began to scream and writhe in terror. This time the old man didn’t simply get up and leave. The old man stood and watched as the younger man fell onto the floor coughing blood at an alarming rate with a violent seizure that defied the body. He watched as the younger man began to sob and scream for his bear, his eyes weeping blood, unable to hear even himself as his ears filled with a yellowish fluid. He watched as the younger man began to speak in languages that he'd never heard before. He watched this unfold for fifteen minutes until the younger man ceased thrashing and began to merely twitch. Then he phoned for the ambulance to come and take the body away.

The ambulance workers arrived, donned gloves and face masks and began treatment. The younger man gathered all his remaining strength and attempted to stand. He failed. As he fell he uttered the last cohesive words anyone would hear. "My bear!!" Then he was taken away, taken to the emergency department where several Bronze Johns and their assistants would labour for three hours to not only keep him alive but make sure he remained alive. They didn’t know who he was, they didn’t know his life and they didn’t care. They wanted to keep his life going, they failed. In the end he simply got up and left himself. He died in the early hours, his bear not by his side, with only an unknown hospital staffer to hold his hand and whisper to him that everything would be alright, to just let go and be at peace. I don’t know who she was, but I hope she at least shed a tear at his passing.

So it ended. Once the ambulance left the older man knew what to do. He stood and watched it leave the courtyard and turn around the corner. He could hear the sirens fade. He knew the police would soon arrive. He scuttled across the darkened car park to his own house, gathered his sack truck and scurried back. It was a long, sweaty hour but at the end of it he'd managed to claim a brand new washing machine, a television, a
DVD player, a fridge, several credit cards, and identification and banking details. The police arrived and passed on the sad news. The older man stood, stunned. The younger man was gone now but the older man knew what to do. The next morning he used the cards and drained the bank accounts dry, gaining another few hundred dollars in total. You see during these late night long chats he'd managed to get the younger man to reveal more than just a distant, fading past, he'd given him details of a present. Certain numbers. Signatures on hire purchase documents and credit applications for items that would never be paid off. Signatures obtained from an ailing man in a delirious state. This was his payment for those long nights. This was the price of his friendship.

Recently I prevented the older man from obtaining the most important items, the photos, the cards, the trophies and, most importantly, the bear. The family asked for them. "He can keep the rest," they stated, "none of it matters, but he's not having that stuff." That didn't stop him from trying. "Call a cop," I said, standing tall, broad and mean, "or someone who cares. This stuff is ours now, it was never yours." He wasn't happy but he did stand up and walk away.

The old man says he's going to complain now, to the minister himself. I hope he does. I can't wait. The younger man, wherever he is, is now out of his reach, out of pain but I suspect still in sorrow, as he now knows what he was worth to the last person he called friend.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

#99: The Wake Up Bomb

Part of my weekly job involves me going out to large flat groups and just sitting there in the hopes that something might happen, or that someone might want to come in and talk about something more than the stench that cat urine gives off in the summer, or those pesky neighbours, you know the ones I mean, those people (or as we now say across the board, "Those people? What? People from Salisbury?"), the latter always reminds me of the bigot in Love Thy Neighbour who I am now convinced is one of our tenants as he constantly calls about the problem's he's having with various 'darkies'. I put it to him last week, "Do you think that you might be contributing to the problem?" Silence. Come on down Snowflake!

A few weeks back I had the joy of spending a couple of hours in a small unit, waiting for something to happen. The police came to arrest a tenant, that was fun, but sadly the guy in question wasn't home, so it was over as soon as it began. With the excitement in mind I sat down to read some notes on the complex I was in. The first thing that leapt out at me was the high number of reports of car theft and vandalising in broad daylight. I promptly went to the car and moved it into plain sight, good thing too as a few likely lads were admiring the duco. Once I'd finished reading the report for the fourth time (hoping to find something positive in amongst the tales of woe and crime) I looked about and found the famous biography of Weary Dunlop. "Self," I said, "there's nothing else to do, and words are words and reading passes the time, so why not." With that ringing in my mind I sat down and quickly became absorbed in the book.

Then it happened. An elderly man decided to walk in. I placed the book on the table, stood up and introduced myself. He seemed pleased that someone was in the unit and alive (or so he said) and sat down to tell me, in detail, the history of the units and the problems with everyone contained within. I felt like say, "I've read the novel," but asked the right questions and at least looked and sounded interested, although my eyes must have looked as if I were nodding off after a nice dose of heroin. Then it happened. He spied the book. He'd been talking about the Asians that had moved in, well, to use his words, 'the filthy bloody Jap bastards,' but let's not split hairs.
MAN: "You read a lot?"
ME: "When I can."
MAN: "Weary Dunlop eh? Now there's a man. He knew what to do with those bloody Japs. I wish he lived here."
ME: "That'd be a tad difficult."
MAN: "Why?"
ME: "For one thing he's dead, and the second he wasn't born here, meaning he'd have to wait a very long time to be housed, if he wasn't dead, which he is, which means he's not moving here in a hurry."
MAN: "He's not dead."
ME: "Ummmm, yes he is. Died a few years back. It was in all the papers. State funeral, TV specials, newspaper coverage, the lot."
MAN: "Oh, that'd have been when Howard was the PM. He had the right idea, he hated those bloody wogs too."
ME: "Well, that's neither here nor there, but deep down I don't think Howard hated wogs."
MAN: "He knew how to deal with the bloody Japs he did. Killed them all."
ME: "Who? John Howard??"
MAN: "No, Weary Dunlop. Killed millions of Japs he did. With a fountain pen."
ME: "No he didn't."
MAN: "Are you saying that Weary Dunlop was a coward?"
ME: "Not at all. Look, if I had to pick ten guys to go into battle then he'd be right up there. From what I've read and heard he was one of those guys who'd lay down their lives for the people he was with. Great guy, a true hero, and a terrific doctor. He went through a lot and I admire the guy. But I don't think he killed millions of Japanese people."
MAN: "Yes he did. In World War Two. I was alive then, you weren't."
ME: "True, but Weary Dunlop was a doctor which meant he was dedicated to saving lives, and plus which he was locked up in a POW camp for the bulk of the duration and didn't see as much action as others did."
MAN: "No he wasn't. Who told you that crap?"
ME: "Well, I read it in Weary's own published diaries."
MAN: "Well he was lying."
ME: "Weary was lying about himself?"
MAN: "You calling Weary Dunlop a liar?" At this point he stood up and thundered this question. I also stood up and attempted to calm him down.
ME: "I'm not calling anyone a liar. I wasn't there. I've just never heard of Weary Dunlop killing millions of Japanese in World War Two."
MAN: "Well he did," his chin was quivering, " and what's more he killed more of those slanty eyed bastards than anyone else in history." At this point I had a vision of Weary Dunlop riding the atomic bomb down onto Hiroshima, ala Slim Pickens in Dr Strangelove. I grabbed my phone out of my top pocket.
ME: "Whoops, sorry, I have to go. I've got a call."
MAN: "I didn't hear it ring."
ME: "It's on silent mode?"
MAN: "Ok, I'll leave you to it then." With that he wandered off back to his flat, muttering all the way. I drove back to the office in silence. Two days later my phone rang.
MAN: "You know you're wrong, admit it."
ME: "Ok, John Howard killed more people in World War Two than everyone else combined."
MAN: "You're bloody crazy you are." The phone hung up. At least he hasn't called me back.

The things we deal with.

Monday, May 26, 2008

#97: The Ballroom Blitz

I couldn't help myself. I know I shouldn't do it as it only frustrates me when I do. But like a moth being drawn towards a flame I found myself sitting in a car listening to the morning radio. Today's topic? Same as yesterdays, same as tomorrow, same as last month. I'm sorry Mr Parslow, but the record's stuck the record's stuck the record's stuck the record's stuck the record's stuck the record's stuck the record's stuck the record's stuckBRRRRRRPPPPPPZZZZZZZZZTTTTT

Sorry. But that's how it feels sometimes. Today's rant, same as previous days, revolved around our utter inability to address the serious issue of disruptive tenants. You see, according to the 'announcer'* and his panel of 'experts', we don't do enough to assist those tenants who have the unfortunate experience of living next door to the Alans of the world. We sit in 'ivory towers' drinking 'tea' and just basically 'laze about' laughing at people's misfortunes.

I'd love for the 'announcer' to come and spend a day in one of our 'working environments' and see what we go through. We're accused of hiding behind 'policy' and 'procedure' all too often. Yep, we do work to policy - that's why policy is there. To dictate what we do in any given situation. We refer to policy a lot, when policy doesn't cover anything we go outside of the norm and attempt to resolve things as best we can. Our best bosses will say, "I'd rather you come to me and apologise for a mistake than to sit there and do nothing." I love that attitude.

Back to the radio. So there I am sitting when a caller came on the air. Here's what was said:
CALLER: "So 'announcer', I have a neighbour who is very abusive. He's attacked me more than once, beaten me, broken into my house and set fire to my car. He killed my dog."
'ANNOUNCER': "Dear oh dear. So what did _________ do about this?"
CALLER: "Nothing. They refuse to move him. I'm living in fear and they won't do a thing about it. They keep saying crap about police reports -"

Now let me cut the caller off right there. In short the 'announcer' berated us about our inability and reluctance to act and thus keep this poor soul in fear and being abused, daily, if you believe the caller. What was the solution?
'ANNOUNCER': "Look, here's what I want you to do. I'm going to put you back to my producer and they'll give you a number to call. It's for Frankie Peanut, the local member of parliament. Tell him what you've told me and he'll get something done." YOU IDIOT!!! The MP won't get anything done. Let's review this: two people, neighbours. One is regularly beating the other up. The Bad Neighbour steals. The Bad Neighbour has burnt a car to the ground. The Bad Neighbour breaks into houses and knocks things off. The Bad Neighbour is clearly a criminal. And the best solution is to phone a local member of parliament? WHERE'S YOUR FREAKING BRAIN MAN!!

If that person phoned me for advice the first thing I'd be asking is: have you phoned the police? If the answer is no then I'd be saying, "THESE ARE CRIMINAL ACTS, CALL THE POLICE!!!" I'd not be recommending that they phone a radio station or a local member of parliament. Call the cops. If someone beats you up, call the cops. If they burn your house/car/pushbike/cat down, call the cops. If they break into your house - calls the cops. That's called illegal entry. It's called CRIME. Deary me, what a concept. Instead of rallying against us, rally against the legal system that allows these people to roam society at large. We can move them, and often do, so that they can ply their wares elsewhere resulting in a whole new slew of complaints. If we evict them then some poor bastard in private rental gets the pleasure of their company, or they become homeless and the same 'announcer' will rally against us for not doing enough for the homeless.

Love those ratings though.

Here's today's advice. If you have a disruptive neighbour then phone the police. Get police report numbers. Why? Because if a case comes up at the RTT then you need all the ammo you can get. Police report numbers are vital and impossible to dispute. Plus if you call the cops then the odds are good that the person might just get arrested and leave you be. They might have active warrants. They might be doing other things that they shouldn't be doing. Don't phone a radio station. Don't phone a local member - they're as useless as can be. Phone your landlord/agent/commission/whatever, but don't expect them to police the situation because they can't. The ones who really police the situation are the POLICE. After all they can do POLICE work and lock people up. We can't. Wish we could, but we can't.

Novel idea, calling the police. I'm sure there'll be more rants from the same 'announcer' in the future. We do wonders for his ratings.

On a related topic. You never hear these ones on the radio. I can't help but wonder why.

Over the last few weeks I've spent virtually every day counselling people about their neighbours. Apparently they're all arseholes, the neighbours that is, not the tenants. Having said that the tenants come in and begin screaming like you'd not believe. There's a lot of reasons for this kind of behaviour, my favourite is the full moon theory, and I know I'm not the only one who subscribes to that. Still, here's what happens.

The tenants will come in and start demanding that we move whatever neighbour that exists. Generally it's just some idiot playing the stereo a little too loud, or having a party. Every so often an original explanation is heard - one elderly lady wanted her neighbour removed because she was having loud, violently explosive sex at all hours of the night. Clearly, according to this spinster, she was a prostitute. How did we know she was a spinster? She told us. Never been married. Never wanted a man about the house. No Richard O'Sullivans for her. How did she know the girl next door was a prostitute? Because she has sex! Sometimes more than once a night! With giggling! And sometimes more than twice a week! That's all. I politely explained that it'd be hard for us to evict a person solely due to noisy nookie, as per usual my explanations of policy were clearly inadequate the the standards threats of going to the minister and 'announcer' were issued. I kindly pointed out that such actions are a personal choice and we wouldn't discourage it. Awww crap.

Sometimes they come in with the most basic of reasons - the neighbour is black/white/coloured/pick a race/gender/preference. These are the people who generally cause more problems than they deal with. I remember listening to one guy's lenghty 'Hitler would be proud of me ' rant and suggesting that if he just stopped yelling, "F*ck off you f*ckin' black coon c*nt!" at the top of his lungs then perhaps the guy next door wouldn't threaten to kill him. "But," he replied, "you started it."
"We did? How did we start it?"
"You moved the f*ckin' nigger in there in the first place." Of course! D'OH! I felt like slapping my head. The revelation was clear. You see a lot of the problems due to neighbourhood disputes are our fault for moving the wrong people in. Clearly. The only thing with that theory is that, while there might be a germ of truth to that statement, a lot of the time the people who complain are the ones who probably shouldn't have been housed in the first place.

Still, try telling people that. People threaten us. They'll come in and scream, "If you don't fix this problem and evict that bastard then I'll move out and then where will you be?" Maybe in a better place? Seriously, I don't know. Move out. Go with our blessing and try the private rental market. Go and try the tricks of not paying rent, telling the housing managers in an office to fuck off when they come around for an inspection. Try having loud parties whenever it suits you. Try dealing drugs. Try setting up your hydroponics. Do all the stuff you do with us and see how long you last. I'm guessing the answer would be 'not long at all.'

I don't own any real estate. Funnily enough I can't afford it. Well that's not entirely true - it's more that, in this day and age, the suburbs that I could afford to buy in, I don't want to live in. And there's no way I'd buy an investment property and rent it out. I don't need the early heart attack. I've seen too much to fall into that trap. It's an insane market out there. It's feral. it's competitive. It's as hard as ever to find decent rental at an affordable price that's safe and secure and hasn't got some dodgy landlord who'll throw you out the minute you complain about the roof falling in on your head.

I'd love to phone that into the 'announcer' and see what he'd make of it.

* said 'announcer' loves to preface a statement by saying something such as, "Those, quote-unquote people, who do yadda yadda yadda." Hence 'quote-unquote', for our 'announcer', at least, is code for, "I think that the word/phrase/description is just bullshit." Said 'announcer' also has an odd tendency to attempt to mimic female voices to make a point, but always manages to sound like some old Italian drag queen - go figure.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Going, Going, GONE! Rented To Claude Raines!

Following up from my previous entry.

I spoke to a guy the other day and we discussed the rental crisis, in particular the concept of rental auctions. "But," he said, "this has been around for decades." "I agree," I replied, "housing has been going downhill for about the last twelve years or so, but rental auctions are a relatively new thing." He was a bit puzzled. For the past six or so years he's had to compete in an open auction to secure rental accommodation and as such that's all he now knows. He's been doing it so long that it's now second nature. He fails to see a way out of all of this. "Don't compete," I told him, "just withdraw from the process." "Not that simple," he replied, "you see it's easy for you, you know what to do and say. However when you're faced with sleeping in the parklands or getting a place then you do what you need to do." It was futile. He pointed out that I've never been in such situations, I replied with what happened to me last year when a dodgy real estate agent attempted to play me off - it's across the board. In a way he was right - the places I'd be looking at are well outside of his price range, but that doesn't mean rental auctions don't exist for all price ranges.

The other fallout was when I spoke to a chum who does some work for the fuzz here. They confirmed that we do have a few dodgy landlords who offer to rent places for 'services rendered'. As the people they prey on are vulnerable and usually homeless, their actions go unreported. "We know all about them," I was told, "but as no-one is prepared to go to court, well, there's bugger all that can be done about it." Bastards!

The end result is that both actions aren't illegal, yet. Immoral, yes, illegal, no. Insane isn't it?

In 2003 and 2004 there was a huge hue and cry about the practice of 'dummy bidding' in relation to on-site house auctions. Agents would artificially bump the price of a property up by 'accepting' bids from trees, passing cars, urinating canines, nits, you name it. Various media outlets lept all over the practice causing it to be addressed at the Pacific Rim Real Estate Conference in 2004 - you can see the paper here. I'll quote that paper now;
"One real estate practice that has achieved a great deal of media attention is that of “dummy bidding” which refers to bidding at an auction by those who have no genuine intention to buy. The real estate industry at large would distinguish this from vendor bidding whereby the vendor bids either on their own behalf or though an auctioneer or agent up to but not including a preset reserve selling price. Such bidding by an auctioneer on behalf of a vendor has been described colloquially as the “pulling of bids”. Most in the industry would agree that dummy bidding at auctions is misleading and that it should be specifically prohibited. However views regarding vendor bids are more equivocal. Many in the industry would argue that vendor bidding creates momentum in auctions and that the vendor bid equates to the vendor’s counter offer in a private treaty negotiation. As such vendors should not be placed in a worse position in auction sales than they enjoy in private treaty sales negotiations."

Of course it creates momentum in auctions. it makes people think that an actual auction is taking place when it really isn't. It means an auction that might otherwise have ended is still current. I expect that the practice still takes place, although legislation was introduced to make auctions transparent and to remove 'dummy bids', it'd just be a bit more discreet.

For the record I was involved in an auction as a 'dummy bidder' once. in 2002 I wandered over to see an auction with an ex of mine because we were both bored and the book shop I wanted to go to wasn't open yet. The auctioneer began his spiel and started the auction. Before I knew it he was saying things like, "Do I hear $10,000 more?", then pointing at me and saying, "Thank you sir!" He'd then increase the price. All the time I thought, "Shit, what happens if no-one else bids?" I wasn't bidding, I stopped shuffling and still I kept 'bidding'. I moved to another position. The auctioneer looked puzzled, looked around and before I knew it I'd 'bid' another $20,000. Finally I said, "No! I'm not bidding!" only to have the auctioneer say, without missing a beat, "The gentleman is out." "I was never fucking in you idiot!" I yelled, utterly exasperated. People looked at me very oddly. The auction ended very shortly after.

The house sold for an incredible $185,000 over the pre-sale estimate, partly my fault for being there. For me it was fairly frightening really as I fully expected to be the owner of a house I didn't want for price I couldn't afford. Part of me still wonders what would have happened if I'd 'won'. Each time I go past the house I feel for the people inside - they bought a house for more than they should have paid.

'Dummy bidding' on house sales is illegal, however bidding on rental properties isn't - yet. It should be though because it's an insidious practice to say the least. If someone advertises a place for a set price then they should stick to it. To engage in a 'silent' auction, that is an auction that isn't advertised at the start, only serves to cause pain and more rental stress for those people who might 'win'. People go in with a set budget and that's blown out of the water by an auction - before they know it they're committed to paying extra money that they've not budgeted for. That's when the problems really set in. I suspect, and this is from my own experiences and from listening to people, that, more often than not, 'dummy bidding' is now rife with rental auctions.

I spoke to a lady who thought she'd found a property for $190. In the course of our conversation she mentioned that the ad said $190 so she filed an application and was accepted. Two days later the agent phoned her and informed her that someone else had viewed the property, after she'd been accepted mind you, and had offered $210. If she wanted to increase her offer to $220 then it'd be hers. She'd been approved $190 and came to see me to ask advice. I informed her that we'd go no higher than $190 with assistance, if she wanted to pay $220 then she was on her own. I then told her all about rental auctions and how they're run and that she was probably being played. She phoned the agent right there and then and said she'd pass. A day later she got a call, the property was hers, for $190. She then negotiated the price down to $180. Brilliant! This is why I believe that 'dummy bidding' is evident with rental auctions.

We're not talking about vendor bidding here either - the owner/vendor isn't bidding to rent their own property. If the practice has to happen then make it totally transparent. Insist on seeing absolute proof that someone has bid against you. Currently, in relation to house sales, by law in South Australia an agent is 'required to register all bidders and auctioneers will be required to identify all bids with reference to the bidders registration number, which is to be clearly displayed. One bid only is to be permitted on behalf of the vendor, which is to be clearly identified as a vendor bid. The agent/sales representative is to be required to record the agreed reserve and document any changes to the reserve, in writing prior to commencement of the auction. The agent/sales representative is to be required to make and keep a record of all bids made at auction, and identify which bids were vendor bids. Agents are to be required to retain the register of bidders, record of bids and documentation evidencing the reserve for a reasonable period of time to facilitate the later scrutiny of the auction process'.

The above legislation/rules can easily be expanded and adapted to accommodate rental auctions. If they have to happen then make it legal, make it moral, and make it regulated. Here's how: an agent would assign you a number when you register interest in a property. Your details are entered into a database and your bid is either accepted or rejected. If you're outbid then you're told straight away - no opportunity to rebid as you're allowed one bid only, that being your initial offer. All bids are recorded, thus if you think that there's something improper going on you simply ask for an audit. No names and/or personal details will be released to the general public, however those details can be released to a proper regulatory board if need be to ensure that the process was handled legally. Thus you'd soon see if you were engaged in a proper auction or a fake auction. If the auction was fake then action would be taken against the agent and sanctions imposed.

The sooner the real estate industry and/or the government wake up to these practices and expand their original legislation to eliminate rental auctions the better. It'll take a campaign stronger than my blog entries though but someone has to start somewhere. In the meantime if you're faced with a rental auction then don't participate. The odds are good that it's a fraudulent auction and you're the only person involved. As soon as someone phones you and tells you that 'someone else' has offered more, withdraw your application, thank the agent and inform them that you'll go elsewhere. When they backpedal begin your negotiations and get the best possible deal for yourself and then tell everyone, make it public - hell people run to the media with nothing stories showcasing the worst of everyone else so why not begin to expose rental auctions for what they really are - exploitation. The industry needs to be held accountable for rental before something tragic happens - as I said, I can see properties being offered on places like eBay before too long, or someone will offer a family member up for sexual abuse in order to secure a property. Alarmist? Possibly. But trust me, it will happen, and when it does, well don't whinge. Especially if you were made aware of it and kept your silence.

The Real Estate Institute of South Australia did announce new guidelines to control rental auctions but in my eyes they don't go far enough. They've inserted one of those all purpose clauses into the guidelines, "If a potential tenant wishes to make a higher offer then that is entirely their choice. The important distinction is that property managers must not encourage rental auctions." I'll stress that these are guidelines only, it's not enforceable by law or any other legal body. They're short and reek of band aid methods to cover the institute from any real response. Mind you I don't recall seeing any media release about these guidelines. Still, if you're looking for a place and think you're being duded, take a copy of the guidelines with you. It probably won't help much though as they don't go anywhere near approaching offering real protection. Kudos for them for recognising, albeit well after the horse has bolted, that there's serious issues that need addressing.

Having said all of this I'll stress that not all agents and landlords are like this - the bulk are decent and will do everything to assist you in your quest to be housed. As with any industry there's plenty of cowboys out there who like nothing more than to see how far they can stretch the elastic before it breaks.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Seven Simple Rules To Renting

So you want to rent, or you need to rent but are finding it impossible to find a place? You're now walking the streets wondering why landlords and real estate agents have to be such pricks. So what do you have to do in order to secure a decent rental property? Let me tell you, it isn't that difficult. And now I'm going to make it a lot easier with my Few Simple Rules To Renting. You read this and follow the rules and not only will you be in a place so fast your head will oscillate, but you'll be wondering why you were so worried in the first place.

Now this is important. You have to be totally realistic with what you want and what you can afford. What you want will probably not be what you can afford, so you're going to have to work a bit to find that middle ground. We all want to live in the CBD, in a four bedroom rooftop penthouse but the facts are that you're not likely to find such a property for under $700 per week, and even that might be a dog of a place. The trick is to find something that's more than affordable. Ideally you want your upper limit to be exactly 50% of your net, not gross, but NET, income. Why? Because no matter how good you are you can't afford to live if you're spending greater than 50% of your net income and I don't care who you are or what you say. On an average income 50% is more than enough. On a limited income 50% is pushing things up hill. Now I know there are people out there who think that they can afford to pay anything up to 80% of their income on rental because it means they'll find something more decent.


You might find something more decent but you won't enjoy it. The rent is one aspect, you also have to pay bills and buy food. You have to live. You might think you can manage a budget better than anyone but seriously, you won't. My mother used to tell us, "Pay the rent and buy food first, the rest you can work out," and while that's very true more often than not people get in over their heads. Loads of things apply here, if you're on a limited income then it's probably better that you either find a legal way to supplement that income to pay for the luxuries in life or just don't bother getting Pay TV, give up smoking and by all means turf the drugs. I've lost track of the amount of people I've seen who've been evicted because they smoke like John Elliott, do more drugs than some ex AFL footballers or think that Foxtel, Playstation, Wii and a pile of other goodies are more important than the rent.

Think affordable. No more than 50% of your NET income, your take home pay, or whatever payments the DSS give you.

Now also be aware that the bulk of rental properties are not advertised in the newspapers. In order to get a decent place you’re probably going to have to visit a real estate agent, which makes the rest of the rules even more important. I was once told that real estate agents only ever advertise about 10% of their total rental properties, and those 10% are the ones they can’t find tenants to move in for whatever reason. They might have chalk marks outside, blood stains on the carpet or just plain haunted, but that’s what you’re going to get via the newspaper. Go into a real estate agents office and speak to them. Tell them what you have to spend and where you’d like to live. If you’re going to be getting government assistance then let them know that too – trust me here, real estate agents love the idea of getting a bond. It doesn’t matter where from, they just want the money with the RTT. Most real estate agents, the reputable ones at least, will work with you and help you find a good place to move into. Once everyone is on the same page then things will happen.


Walking up to a prospective landlord saying, "Yo, dude, how f*ckin' much is this f*ckin' sh*thole?" isn't going to win you a solid tenancy. You don't have to prance around like a pounce, just curb your swearing. Be polite. Ask some valid questions. Most landlords don't know where the local shooting gallery or knock shop is, but they might know where the local deli is. Most elderly people don't appreciate being called 'dude' or 'chickie'. It's rude.

Think about your answers. Here are some helpers. When asked the following questions respond as such:
"Have you been looking for a place long?"
The correct answer is, "No. Just a couple of weeks. I really want to find the right place." Now you might have been looking for the last eight months, don't tell them that. The longer you've been looking the worse it is because if you can’t find a place quickly, in the eyes of the landlord, you have some serious issues that you're not addressing and they can't be bothered with you. By saying you’re looking for the right place means you’re picky and that generally means you’re a clean person who won’t leave the place looking and smelling like the surrounds of a local McDonalds dumpster when you leave.

"Why are you leaving your current place?"
The correct answer is, "I need a bit of a change and I'm looking to move up in the world." Not, "I got evicted when the roof fell in due to all the holes I drilled for my hydroponics set up." By saying the phrase, 'move up' you're telling the landlord that you think their place is great, and much better than the rat hole or dumpster you're currently living in. You can also turn the tables here a bit and ask,
“So why did the last guy move out?” Landlords don’t really expect that question so if there’s a bit of a stammer then it might be a good idea to look elsewhere. The last thing you want is some large ape like creatures turning up on your doorstep asking if you know where the f*ck that c*nt Frank is and are you f*cking Frank? That you don’t need. You also don’t need some psycho girl throwing bricks through your windows at night because someone got the Hell out of Dodge in a hurry.

"Do you pay your rent on time?"
The correct answer is, "Of course." Now if you don't pay your rent on time then you're screwed. If you've been evicted for non-payment of rent then the odds are good that you're on this wanker database that's run out of Queensland (I think). It's for landlords only and it tells a prospective landlord, for a fee of course, if you've been a deadbeat and have fled without paying the rent. Try and bluff your way out of that, or hope that the landlord is too cheap to pay the fee to check you out. Mind you there's no database I know of that covers deadbeat landlords...yet.

Be wary of pets. Most places will say, “No pets!” but you can get around that. Going into a small apartment with a Doberman isn’t a great idea. A shorthaired, neutered, housetrained cat isn’t a bad idea. Budgies are great – everyone loves a budgie. How do you get a cat in? Write a supporting letter introducing your cat. I’ve done this and it’s worked every time. I’d write how the cat was a few years old, housetrained, very clean and fussy. I’d say that he never sheds, is quiet and is never out of the place after five o’clock. I’d also say that he’s a fairly scared cat for the most part and as such won’t be pissing in the next door neighbours’ garden, let alone leaving landmines on the lawn. It works. And even better when I’ve moved into a new place I’ve said, “Ask the last real estate agent for a reference for my cat. They knew he was there.” Just by saying that you’re stating that your cat, of all things, has a rental history. That’s a good thing. Be upfront with your pets, but never say you have anything more than one cat or one small bird. Dogs are a no go. No landlord will allow a dog. They bark, they shit, they grown, they terrorise old ladies next door, and they carry on like, well, unregistered dogs. Even the registered ones. You won’t get a dog past a landlord.

And don't be trying to impress anyone with your gangster speech. Gangster = criminal for most landlords and they're not real keen on renting property to people who they think are wanted by the law for any reason.

In short, think before you speak. Which brings us to...

Seriously I don't care how you dress. Wear torn clothes. Wear bikie gear. Wear women's underwear on your head. Wear a freaking mankini and white Wellington boots for all I care, just don't wear them to an interview with a landlord. Put on a clean shirt, clean pants and shoes. Brush your hair and hide the tatts, piercings and other markings that everyone has these days to make them individual. Just look as normal as possible. It won't kill you and the landlord will appreciate it.

Why? Because if you turn up looking like someone just dragged you through a hedge backwards and smelling like you've spent eight weeks sleeping in dog crap then they're going to wonder what you're going to do their nice place. Trust me on this, as much as it hurts, dressing properly and grooming yourself will make the difference.

Talk to your mates. When someone finally says, "I can't find a f*ckin' place, landloards are c*nts." have a good look at them and think, "Would I rent my property to this guy?" Then look in the mirror and ask yourself the same question. Be honest. If the answer is no then odds on the landlord is thinking the same thing. Now your pals won’t be totally honest with you. No-one will tell you how much rent they’re paying or why they got thrown out of a place. I can have dinner with people and no-one from the DSS will lean over and say, “So, how much dole are you getting?” anymore than a copper pal of mine will ask how many charges am I up for next week. It’s not polite. You ask your pal why he got evicted and he’ll tell you it was because the landlord was an idiot. It was never because he did the wrong thing. So judge them by appearance and attitude because, rightly or wrongly, a prospective landlord will do exactly the same to you.


Unless you're living with someone then go it alone. Taking a friend along only makes the landlord think you're going to be having parties or your mates over all the time. They hate that. If you're old enough to wipe your own arse without help then you can find a place on your own. Plus you never know when your mate might start speaking and as hard as you might try you can’t control what comes out of someone elses mouth. You might think, ‘Jeez, I need this,’ only to hear your pal say, “This frigging dump ain’t worth $150 a week? F*ck off!” Yep, that’d just about do it for you. He might have a nice place to go home to, you might well be looking for a nice Salvation Army dump bin.

Now this rule is altered if you’re a young girl for obvious reasons, so don’t be harping on about sexism. Take your brother or some big guy who’ll say he’s your brother, or cousin. Never say the word ‘boyfriend’ though because landlords hate young girls with boyfriends because they generally equal domestic situations. Cousins are handy and most landlords expect a young girl to come by with someone in tow for support.


Here's a question - you phone for an appointment to view a property and you line it up for the next day. Do you,
A] Go out that night and get scattered/bladdered/ wiped out, or do you
B] Get home early and get a good nights sleep?

If you answered A then that's why you're probably sleeping on the floor on a mattress that smells like urine and waking up next to something that looks like an Orc. Go home early, if you go out at all, wake up early, wash, shave and get to the place a good ten minutes early. Be rested and clean when you go for a place. Be alert. I once viewed a place that had a landlord who was an ex-cop. He asked me so many questions my head was spinning. I got the place though because apparently I wasn't the only person to tell him to f*ck off with all the questions or stammer for an answer. Clear your head and then go.

Be prepared financially as well. Arrange the bond and the rent in advance before you go looking. Make sure you have enough ready cash on hand to leave a deposit, and make sure that deposit is refundable. Get receipts for any payment you make. Don’t play it by ear and then spend the next three days running around selling DVDs to Cash Converters in order to raise the cash. Take a folder to put paperwork in. Take your own pen. Little touches can make you look like you not only know what you’re doing but also make you look organised.

Good word; organised. Work it into conversation with the prospective landlord if you can. Organised = paying rent on time to any landlord on the planet.


Never, NEVER mention that you know people in the area. For all you know those people might be the same clowns that the landlord has been trying to evict for the last two months. They might be the local blunt connection and well known to all and sundry. His name might be Dave to you but it could be Shit to the landlord. If they ask, "Do you know anyone in the area?" simply answer, "No, not really." You're not lying, but you're not telling the truth. Don't say, "Oh, yeah, I know a couple of girls who live three doors down, perhaps you know them?" Their answer to that might be, "The same house where the cops are four times a week?" or “The same place that burnt down last week?” or “Isn’t that a crack house?” or “Oh, yea, I know that person. Isn’t he wanted for murder?” Your application will be binned.

And while we're at it, be legible when you write. If, like me, your handwriting is so bad even a doctor looks at it and asks what it says, wrap your hand in a bandage and say you sprained it lifting a box. That'll excuse your handwriting. I used to shake my hand and mutter, "Damn carpal tunnel," that seemed to work a fair bit. Write slowly and surely. Make sure your spelling is good and make sure it can be read. Here's a clue - if you can't read it then the landlord won't be able to read it either.

You've found a place. It's affordable. It's clean. It's located in a nice area and the landlord is one of those people who pops around every six months to do an inspection, as is their right by law. You’ve followed the rules and you’ve been accepted. So do the right freaking thing by them and pay your damn rent. Don't have a wild dickhead Corey style party whereby you throw your address up on the web and invite half the globe over. Don't be dealing or growing drugs - do that elsewhere. Don't be fighting with your other half. Don't threaten or stand over your neighbours. Don't abuse anyone. Don’t defecate in letterboxes. Don’t come home blind drunk singing and telling people to f*ck off when they tell you to shut the f*ck up. Don’t do burnouts in the communal driveway. Don’t be revving the crap out of your car at 3am when you get home. Don’t lock yourself out and climb up over roofs trying to get back in. Don’t damage the property.

Treat the property and people around you as if they're your own. Think about it - you've got some decent stuff I'm sure, (unless you're a nihilist) so how would you feel if some moron came along and pissed on it all and then set fire to it? Not too good I’m sure. So do the right thing and just behave. Have some respect for the people around you and the property that someone has been kind enough to let you live in for a while.

Do that and you’ll find that you won’t need to locate a new place every five and a half months.

As time passes I’ll throw a few more additions to this list, and by all means if people have suggestions then let’s get them out there. What works for you, when you’re finding, and securing, rental properties?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Gonna Fix It So You Never Leave This House Of Pain...

Remember those tv advertisements that ran over the past few years about Violence Against Women? I'm not sure if they're still on the idiot box, but they were powerful indictments on how women are frequently bashed and raped in domestic situations. Strong stuff. They offered up a number of solutions and alternatives for women who needed to flee abusers. The tag line was: "Violence Against Women? Australia says no!" Great weren't they?

I hated them. With a passion. Thought that they were not only demeaning but also ignorant and insulting.


Because they put forward an ostrich approach to domestic violence - the way the ads were presented domestic violence and sexual abuse only happens against women. men are immune. They're all superman when it comes to these kinds of things. Men don't get bashed, or raped, only women do. I always thought that the ads should have gone further and shown men in situations of domestic violence and ran the proper tag line: "Domestic Violence? Australia Says No!" Men are just as prone to this kind of thing as anyone else. Only an idiot from the early 19th century would think otherwise.

Case in point. We had a guy come in not so long ago with two little kids. The kids looked terrified but relaxed when the guy gave them some paper and a few pens. "It's alright," he told them, "mummy won't look for us here." Strange, I thought. This wasn't a small guy. He was at least six foot three and 16 stone and it wasn't fat. He showed me his ID - he's a licensed security guard for one of the most reputable companies in Australia - not the usual crowd control gorilla that you find at a concert, this guy was one step away from being a cop. He was well presented, other than the black eye and the long scratch down his cheek and neck.

"I need help. I've just fled a domestic violence situation last night. Banana City* won't accept me because I'm a man. What can you do?" I ran through our usual options and outlined what could be done. He went away and came back, he'd found a place, got the paperwork done and presented it all to be processed. While we waited he began to talk.

"It all began about three years ago," he said. "She went really funny all of a sudden and demanded that I move out of the house proper and live in the carport. I said, 'Hang on...' and with that she threw a pan at me, in front of the kids. BANG off my head. I started towards her and she said she'd call the cops and say I bashed her if I didn't do what she said. I thought, ok, I'll give it a bit of time then, let her cool off, and off I went. That was my first mistake.

"Every night I'd come home I'd have to sleep in the carport. I wasn't allowed to move the car, mind you, I had to sleep with it. Hot summers, cold winters, it didn't matter. This went on for a while and then the abuse really kicked in. We'd be having dinner and she'd haul off and start smashing me in the face, in front of the kids. I'd tell her to stop, no dice. She'd scream at me that I was useless and if I hit her she'd call the cops. The smallest things would set her off - a dirty glass in the sink. A weed in the driveway. Sand in the kids shoes. She'd wait til the kids went to bed and then start bashing and threatening me. I'd go the carport because at least there I was safe.

"Then it got really bad. If I tried to talk she'd spit at me. She'd swear, threaten and assault me. Dishes, glassware, you name it. She made me transfer all my money into her account and not pay the bills, then I'd get slapped about for the bills not being paid. Couldn't win that one. Then she'd say how she was going to take the kids away, that she'd call the cops and tell them that I'd been bashing her. I'm no idiot, I know that if she did that then the cops would come and arrest me, no matter what I said, so I had to take that threat seriously.

"The end came when she went really crazy. In one week she bashed me in front of the kids every night. The last night she went for me with a knife. That was it. I thought about taking her out, just being done with it all, but then the kids. What would happen to them? And what would they learn? As I was thinking this I hesitated and she stabbed me in the ribs. Superficial, but it was enough for me to get the knife and throw it away. Then the glass came and cracked on my head, she got some cut glass and began to carve me up. 'F*ck this, I'm gone!' I thought, so I ran into the next room, locked her in, grabbed her purse with the keycards in it, grabbed the kids and bolted. I went straight to the cops, filed a report and promptly passed out.

"When I woke up I was in the ER department being treated. Two cops were there wanting to ask me questions. They told me that they'd been to see her and that she'd claimed that I'd attacked her. They took a statement and asked did I believe the kids were in danger. I replied yes, my heart sank, this was it, the cops would side with her. Then one of the cops, a female, leant over and said, 'We don't believe her. She hasn't got a mark on her and you're here. Seriously, if you'd bashed her like she says you did then she'd be downstairs with a DFKDFC** sticker on her.' I got the kids and fled. Now I'm here."

This stuff happens all too frequently and the shame is that the bulk of the agencies set up to assist are geared more towards women then they are the wider community. Women and men are bashed and raped by men and women every day.

Domestic Violence, we all should say no. I'd love to see those tv ads reworked to reflect what's happening in the community of today, as opposed to what was believed back in the 1960s.

*Banana City - well known advocate service whereby if you're fleeing a domestic violence situation they'll help. Not sure why they turned this guy down, but he was insistent that it was because he's a man. Might be something in it. I've seen people on the phones break down and cry after being told that not only will they not be helped, but that the best thing for them is to go back home and wait it out. Great advice, and people think we're bad.

**DFKDFC - years ago a doctor pal of mine used to insist that this expression was doctors jargon for 'Don't F*cking Know, Don't F*king Care' and was written on charts of people who were loopy or faking it as a code. Anyone wanna verify that? I've got others.