Archive for November, 2007


November 7, 2007

My son is practicing the art of domestic survival.

He was around this afternoon and we got to talking birthdays and anniversaries. He turned twenty eight this week and my wife and I celebrate our 32nd wedding anniversary in two weeks time.

We were hanging about in the kitchen while my wife was cleaning out a few cupboards. Perhaps our son’s wife was cleaning up as well and had kicked him out of the house for a few hours. My wife pulled out the old electric frypan, a wedding present which had given years of faithful service. Last month it was displaced by a fancy new one and it has been sulking in the cupboard ever since. If only it knew what it was in for today.

‘I’ll go chuck that thing out’, I said, and I started to the back door. ‘Which bin do you reckon?’ I asked my wife with a grin. (That’s me with the grin, not my wife – she was too busy multitasking or whatever it is that women do these days.) The council yesterday gave everyone in our street a brand spanker recycle bin and they expect us to think before we chuck. Son number one said, ‘After thirty two years you should have had that one worked out already.’

He’ll go a long way, that boy. As long as he stays out of reach of his wife when she’s cleaning out cupboards.


November 4, 2007

I’ve just come home from a concert in our local cathedral, and I’m feeling good. The cathedral comes into its own for large scale performances. The acoustic quality really shines when there is an orchestra and a choir who climb over each other to bounce their voices from the high ceiling. Today there was a small orchestra and two hundred voices, half of them children from seven to twelve.

The concert was Rutter’s Mass of the Children – a latin Missa Brevis with some English poetry worked in. Lovely music, well performed, wonderful blending of the adult and children’s parts. Just the thing for a sunny Sunday afternoon.

And that is why I am thinking about rain. OK, that’s not the whole reason I’m thinking about rain. I’m thinking about rain because it has been raining. Several days of rain we’ve had. The river near here is up and flowing again. People are walking over the bridge just to look at the river. Hey, it’s only water in a gully. But that’s rain for you.

Several years of drought sure do make a difference. We’ve racked up five or six years now, seven in places. It’s a long thirst. For a while I was kind of pleased. In the first year I cut down on mowing the lawn. The second year I used one can of mower fuel for the whole summer. Beauty, mate! The third year and things were different.

Have you ever driven around your town and watched the trees dying? Around here they die of thirst and heat shock. One tree gone one year, another the next. Six years later a whole row of trees down the street are spindly sticks and we’ve given up hoping for them. It doesn’t matter how hard a tree works to keep itself alive, when the rains are gone for six years many just can’t make it.

And last week the rain. Steady, heavy, constant, gutter-breaching, rain. We lie in bed listening to it on the roof. We sit at the window and watch it. We stand outside and let it fall on us. We smile at each other and no words are necessary. And the world turns green.

There are those who say that had the world turned a bit more green a generation ago we might have been spared the drought. What a world we are passing on to the next generation. So many things of yesterday, gone.

This afternoon I saw something being passed on to the next generation. A hundred adults all dressed in black. A hundred children all dressed in white. The adults had printed scores in their hands, the children sang from memory. The adults had soprano and baritone soloists, the children sang treble in unison. The adults understood the latin they sang, the children struggled with a language heard only on the concert stage and unknown in their everyday world.

And the applause at the end, it was thunderous and those children came alive. Little kids who for forty minutes had concentrated and maintained their unison and struggled with harmony against the backdrop of a very adult setting, suddenly something was let loose. Broad smiles and shy bows to the audience and wide-eyed looks passed between friends and proud but subtle signals to parents in the crowd.

And the soloists and conductor were presented with gifts, but the applause went on and on for those children.

It was like rain on the roof, that applause. And I am feeling good.


November 3, 2007

“Man down alarm on Kim Miller, showing G-Block south end.”

Sometimes my ‘scaredy button’ goes off. And when it does I am suddenly surrounded by officers. Sometimes five or six of them. They come running. They see I am OK and they call a false alarm back to the control tower and I reset the beeper.

Having a duress alarm on my belt is just part of working in a prison. It’s a little black box with a red button. Just behind my right hip. If I press the button it goes off. I’ve never had to do that. Chaplains don’t get attacked much in prisons. We’re kind of safe from attack. But if there is an incident that calls for intervention, I press the button. And they come running.

If I lean back in a chair for a few too many seconds it goes off. It’s got a tilt feature. Leaning back in a chair is easy. Especially after lunch.

On my first day working here it went off. At lunch time. I leaned back just a little too long. I might even have dozed off. Perhaps five seconds, perhaps ten, it was long enough for the button to think I had been attacked and was lying in a pool of blood. I wondered what the beeping sound was. They came running, those officers. They gave me a school grading – Beep 101, could do better. Nothing’s changed since I was at school, then. My first day on the job. Nobody much knew my name but the lunch room filled with officers anyway. Hey, it’s a good way to get to know people.

So began my lessons in standing up straight. No room for leaning here. No tilt from me, no sir. Soon I was like the rest. The microwave beeps to tell me that my cold coffee is cold no more. I sit up straight. I lean down to a lower shelf at the supermarket and somebody’s watch beeps the hour. I stand up straight. My name is now Rover or Bowser or Patch, or whatever it was that Pavlov named his dog. No more tilting from me. It’s all over red rover. I am the straightest of the straight-backs.

One day the unthinkable happened. They disabled the tilt feature. The gate officer told me when I got to work. He handed me my alarm and said, “We’ve taken off the tilt. Press the button and it works as normal. But there is no more tilt. It’s gone for good.” Suddenly I could snooze for ten seconds after lunch and nobody would come running.
“Why’d they take it off?” says me.
“Too many false alarms,” he said. “There’re all false alarms anyway. Control’s got sick of it.”
“OK” I said. And that was it. I kissed his proffered hand and went to work. I couldn’t wait for lunch time.

Then I thought of something. One day I had needed that tilt. It was in the lunch room. Walk in the door and turn left around the potted palm, you’re there. On this particular day somebody had watered the plant. An obsessive compulsive somebody. They watered that potted palm until it overflowed the pot. And the overflow flowed over the industrial style shiny painted concrete floor. I walked in the door and turned left in a pool of industrial grade slippery invisible water and ended up flat on my back, cracking my head on the concrete floor. That was it for me, tilt or no tilt, I was out for the count.

“Man down alarm on Kim Miller, showing G-Block south end.” I didn’t hear it, of course. But soon I felt somebody opening my eyelid and the voices of the ‘come running’ officers started to rouse me. They helped me to sit up. They called a nurse from the clinic. Then they took me to the clinic. They checked my blood pressure and my iris dilation. They found nothing. They checked my wallet. They still found nothing. “That is the sign of a chaplain,” I told them, “a dazed look and an empty wallet.” They thought I sounded pretty normal and they left me sitting there wondering how long it would be before somebody brought me a cup of tea. I take it black, one sugar. It took about fifteen minutes, just in case you are also wondering.

But that day was in the past. Today, there was no tilt. It was gone. I was free to snooze after lunch as long as I wanted, even for more than ten seconds. I was free to knock myself unconscious and stay there without interruption. Ah, the blessed taste of freedom in a high security environment. I wanted to share it, I wanted to wallow in it, I wanted to take it home and dip it in chocolate.

I didn’t, though. I didn’t do any of that. I just worked as normal. Bit of a let-down, actually. Work as normal. There you have it. Tilt or no tilt. Work as normal. The tilt’s been gone a month of more now. But work continues as normal. Until yesterday.

Yesterday I sat down to talk with a visiting colleague just outside the main gate. Ten seconds later he said, “What’s that beeping?”
“Must be the microwave,” I said.
“Out here?” he said. “What microwave?”
I looked around. We were outside. We were almost in the car park. He was right, there was no microwave. I looked at my beeper. It was tilted against the chair back. And it was beeping. “Just a moment” I said and I walked back into the gate.
“Kim Miller’s here” said the gate officer as I walked in. They called the false alarm even before the officers came running.
“I thought they took the tilt off these,” I said.
“They did.” said the officer, “but they put it back on again.”
“Why?” (That was from me, the why)
“The staff didn’t like it, thought it compromised safety.”
“When did they put it back on?”
“Weeks ago.”
“Weeks ago. It was only weeks ago they took it off. How long was it off anyway.”
“Cuppla days”
“Oh, that all.”

I’ll tell you something for free. Living with a false sense of freedom is a bit of a let-down when you find out the truth.