Failed friendships: what we can learn from them.

F and I were discussing a mutual acquaintance, C, when the issue of failed friendships arose. Usually I would shy away from such introspection, accepting that what is, is, except that F put to me the following: why do my relationships often involve such high-voltage drama?

C, whom I hardly knew, had beseeched me to secure her an audience with 1 of HRH’s close personal friends, working in the same field as her. When HRH’s close personal friend, in the manner of all Chinaman, obliquely refused the introduction, and I conveyed this to her, C “unfriended” me on facebook, hence effectively “un-friending” me in real life.

But why do your friendships involve such drama though?” asked F.

“Hey, wait a minute. It was C who wrote me a long email begging the favour. Unfriending me only showed a lack of gratitude on her part since I went out of my way to help her. Which I might add, I didn’t have to.”

On reflection, I realised what my problem was: helping people who didn’t deserve help. Sure, C might have asked for it, but should I have even tried?

“Yes, but C has been through a lot. Now that crazy Wendy, I totally get,” said F, referring to my well-publicised stalker.

I fell silent for a long moment, pondering F’s question. I knew she was concern for me as a person, even if to others, such a comment might come across as judgemental. I threw my mind back to all the testy relationships I’ve had. Why were they difficult and what did I do to make them difficult?

Finally I said, “I realise I could have avoided half of the problems I’ve encountered in even the vaguest of associations if I cared less. Take Wendy for example. After she attacked me the first time for accidentally sending her a mail intended only for my friends, I could have ignored her, instead of writing back to ask what was the matter with her. If I had been less caring, I would have simply hit delete, which in hindsight, I should have. Her ex had the temerity to ask me to GO INTO HIDING ON HIS BEHALF. I asked him who the hell does he think he is, making such a request of me. It bothers me terribly that people contact me out of the blue, after 15 to 20 years, to ask advice and favours, then they have what they want, I never hear from them again. Or until they want something more.”

“Well, the world is full of users, Estella,” said F.

“That’s what I’ve come to realise, rather sadly. Maybe I have this sign that says, ‘Come Use Me.'”

To spare myself further angst, I’ve downgraded my expectations of all associates to the minimum, except those closest to me. There’s a Buddhist belief that says, “Expecting little is the way to avoid disappointment.”

It makes sense: no one can possibly hurt you if you expect from them nothing. In line with this new policy on friends and acquaintances, I will also only be giving time to people who give time to me. To this end, I will only help those less helpful if I have the time or inclination. If I don’t adopt this approach, I will be swamped with requests, mostly from people who think that just because I don’t go to work, I have a lot of time to listen to their endless complaints and dilemmas.

Sometimes, I’m beleaguered by agony aunt-type emails from people I don’t even know. Take for instance this young girl who suddenly started writing to me. She wanted to know how to find her soulmate or a boyfriend at any rate, and wrote to me because I look like I might specialise in such things. I duly offered her my past posts on relationships.

“It outlines broadly my beliefs on the topic,” I said.

“Does this mean I can’t have a one-to-one talk with you?” she asked.

“You can but I don’t have a lot of time to answer questions I’ve already answered.” I left out my terribly short fuse and contempt for people who refuse to help themselves by reading.

“But aren’t you not working?” she asked.

See, that there is my point. Her statement smacks of presumption and betrays a sense of entitlement for attention from one who is essentially a total stranger. Working through who to exempt from this policy change, I’ve come to realise my core group of friends is actually very small. Who are these people? They are people who support me as much as I support them, who I know, beyond a shade of a doubt, I can count on in times of difficulty to pull me through. They’ve been tested and found to be loyal, honest and reliable.

They are the sorts of friends who make me want to be a better friend and in order to do that, I have to severely cut back on my involvement with more superficial friends. While those who’ve come to your rescue in the past, may not come again, a truism of friendships and relationships is that someone who has hurt/disappointed/betrayed you before, will, given half the opportunity, do so again. I’ve come to accept that some friendships exist solely to make time pass in a more pleasant manner, some exist to challenge you out of your comfort zone, and some exist – like my difficult ones – to make you review your associations as a whole. It’s entirely up to you to discover which is which.

 

By Estella Dot Com turns 1 today!

Dear readers,

I’m pleased and proud to announce By Estella Dot Com turns 1 today. Thank you for your generous support and many useful suggestions thus far. Like many a new parent, I’ve been trying to make this child of mine fit some lofty vision of parenting. To my chagrin, I’ve found it’s no different to parenting a real, flesh-and-blood child, in that the idealised vision swiftly gives way to the needs and practicalities of day-to-day life.

The child, once thought to be a passive participant in the parenting exercise, is no less assertive than a hungry baby left alone in a cot. It demands of you a great deal more fortitude, patience and energy than you bargained for, testing your resolve at every step not to abandon it in favour of a good night’s sleep and some precious “me-time.”

And so it has been with this blog.

Because By Estella Dot Com remains very much a 1 person venture (ie. me), I’ve often found myself holding a squalling infant, technically and editorially. What started out as a bare-bones affair of text and the odd picture, has slowly morphed into a semi-polished site. Excuse the continued use of parenting metaphors, but we’ve gone from nappies to diaper pants, sole milk feeds to first solid foods, not much physical movement to crawling. Much can still be done to improve the look and feel of By Estella Dot Com, but as I have yet to master programming, this will take awhile.

I may mention a business or product from time-to-time but please know, I receive NO remuneration for doing so. Friends and family may lobby me to give them free press but I only do so if the post I’m writing calls for it. Most are only too happy for me to leave them alone or portray them in a sufficiently benign light, given my propensity to reflect on the past.

About that, I suppose my tendency to look back is borne of a deep need to always take stock of where I’m going because from experience, there is no greater predictor of where I’m going than where I’ve already been. I’m a glass half-full kinda gal, so even with all this looking over the shoulder, I still say my best days are yet to come, even if things are already pretty good right now.

Looking forward, I hope to bring you more stories with heart and perspective on matters relevant to modern, transglobal, multi-cultural living. I anticipate more spirited dialogues with many of By Estella Dot Com’s regular readers, who often hold views very different to mine. I welcome comments from others who’ve so far only sent me private messages or stayed silent, even as I maintain the right to moderate such comments. As civilised human beings, we can all say our piece in a peaceful fashion, regardless of the number of raw nerves touched.

With that, I thank you once again for reading my blog. Feel free to share posts with your nearest and dearest or simply folks you think might be interested in my various ramblings and postulations. Ours has been a fascinating discourse between author and reader I’m very much keen to continue.

XOXO

Is race about genes or nurturing received in childhood?

If you must blame someone for today’s post, blame Charlie Sheen. Before I go any further, let me state that I am a big fan of the former “2 and a Half Men” star despite his obvious personal dysfunction. So how is this his fault?

Hear me out: I was driving home from sending HRH to work this morning when  a radio host on Perth’s 94.5 said, quoting Charlie Sheen, “I don’t wake up feeling Latino. I’m a white guy in America.” Read more on http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/entertainment/2012/07/12/charlie-sheen-on-being-latino-never-part-my-life/#ixzz2USHQdGUe

In the interview with Univision News, Charlie Sheen went on to say that he isn’t ashamed of his background or running away from it, “But I was born in New York and grew up in Malibu.”

Having come across innumerable second and third generation migrants in the course of my travels around Australia, I’ve found this to be a common phenomenon, instead of the rarity non-migrants think it is. Before you start hurling apples at the likes of Charlie Sheen, calling them “traitors to the race”, consider what the main problem with being an ethnic minority in the West is: the lack of exposure to your own language and culture.

You’d be amazed to learn that this lack of exposure often starts at home. Sure, your parents can speak your so-called “mother tongue.” They do so to each other, relatives and same-race friends all the time. But do they speak it to you? I’ve found many parents speak English to their children but somehow expect these same children to be able to converse fluently in their mother tongues. Frankly, I’m guilty of this myself: I’m still hoping that one fine day, Amanda will wake up spouting the perfect phlegm-inducing Mandarin of mainlanders even though I draw a blank from her every time I ask her what she learned at Mandarin class.

Well, we all have our dreams. I look to my two sisters, whom I have made nary a mention of on this blog, out of respect for their privacy, to form some sort of conclusion as to whether race is in our genes or upbringing.

The fact is if you were to see the 3 of us coming down a street, you wouldn’t think we were related, much less the products of the same womb. You’d look at us and think, “Who are those people with Estella?”

My eldest sister, Rachel, a purchasing specialist residing just outside of London, looks much like her white father, in that she can pass off for being totally white. My second sister, Rebecca, a top-notch divorce lawyer in Cardiff, has Rachel’s lower face but our mother’s Chinese-sy eyes. Since both spent their formative years in Malaysia, both speak Malay and understand Cantonese. Rachel though, lives as a white person would, whilst Rebecca is very proud to be identified as half-Chinese. I judge neither for their choices as they went through hell growing up in an unevolved Malaysia during the 80s – rejected and vilified by Chinese, the targets of racism even among family, who have thankfully grown to see the error of their ways. Far be it for me, who has experienced no such vilification, to get on my high horse and insist they “honour their Chinese heritage.”

Amanda is another case altogether. Even if, as an adult, she were to feel more comfortable in the company of whites than her own kind or wind up marrying someone outside of our race, I’d still very much like for her to embrace her Chinese-ness – leaving out the inherent bigotry and xenophobia of course. I recognise that whether she does so or not depends very much on my current efforts to educate her and of her own acceptance or rejection of her identity. What I’ve discovered is that many second and third generation migrants do take an interest in their own language and culture once, and only if, they get pass that adolescent and early adulthood phase of proving they are “just like the white guy.”

As for Charlie, he’s welcome to call Rebecca for consultation and representation the next time he gets divorce, which if you ask me, is probably some time soon after he gets remarried. And should any of you need a fabulous, win-’em-all, divorce lawyer in the UK, or perhaps simply some advice on asset division and custody issues, just PM me for her contact details. Mention you read about her on By Estella Dot Com and she’ll give you a good discount.

My protracted silence.

Just in case you were about to file a missing person’s report (do know the gesture is appreciated, although as yet unnecessary), let me share with you what’s been keeping me most occupied this past month. First there was my 9-day trip to NZ; I managed to squeeze in a post about NAPLAN and another about life in Perth’s affluent Western Suburbs on my return. Then there was much illness, which, I cannot tell you anything about at this point, only to say that it persists and even cleaning my 2-bedroom townhouse requires the methodical deliberation of an army general because I am so short of energy; now involuntarily vegetarian, I am as animated and energetic as an amoeba after sundown, subsisting mostly on liquids.

If you were thinking of inviting me over for dinner, thank you, but I don’t think I’ll make very good company due to the aforementioned reason. Then there’s the vomiting and overall lethargy. It’s amazing if I can even tell you the day of the week past 7 pm.

Anyway, last week, my Aussie mates F and B came to visit me from the other side of Australia. That was a triumph in planning and execution to rival some of the most complicated operations military too because F and B have 2 ankle biters and anyone with kids that age will know how hard it is to go anywhere with them, what more across a space as huge as Australia.

Cleaning the townhouse took me the better part of 2 mornings, as I was out of breath after each and every single self-assigned task and needed a bit of a break. Nevertheless it was worth it when F and B turned up; we were home most of the time because it was just easier with the kids and when we eventually ventured out, after B rented a car, we had “yum cha” in Northbridge and a short midday stroll along Cottesloe Beach one day, and a brief visit to Claremont Quarter the next.

Another day, F, Amanda and I took a drive out to Peppermint Grove to visit our mate G Rinehart who we suspect lives in the vicinity. I’m only joking. We don’t know G Rinehart or she, us. We just wanted a sticky beak around her part of town, as you do when you are on holiday, or convalescing like me.

As F said, “You know you are great mates with someone when they start cutting their toe nails in front of you.”

F had bought me a nail clipper to replace my misplaced one so I could get rid of my vampiric talons. Hence, after an impromptu house inspection (neighbour was selling), I hoisted one foot, then another, on to another neighbour’s outdoor table (I watch their house for them) to clip off the offending growth.

For most of F and B’s stay I also sported overgrown eyebrows (yes, I do have eyebrows), bed-hair, the clothes I’d gone to bed in the night before… Sometimes I napped in my outside clothes and when I woke up, had to have the heater on, even though I had on thermals, jumper, woolly socks and scarf. Seeing as my tiredness has reached absurd levels, I will have to look into Star Formulations, a vegan iron supplement for women produced by my mate Julie Moss, which had been previously unnecessary as I was consuming meat. But since I’ve been unceremoniously tossed from the meat-eating train…

Well, now that you know what I’ve been up to, you can go away reassured that I will be back. Speaking of which, what you been up to lately? Have you attended any public rallies or been a part of something I should know about?

Life in one of Australia’s wealthiest suburbs

I’ll be honest: when I first moved from the 4101 to one of Australia’s wealthiest suburbs, I was decidedly underwhelmed. All the things I loved about my former life – proximity to a thriving arts and culture scene, easy access to a man-made beach, an abundance of lifestyle markets, quirky neighbours – were 4800 km away. In this new place, I knew no one and no one it seemed, had time to know me. Seated in a French café, I called one of my Brisbane girlfriends for company.

“It will get better, Stella,” said my girlfriend. “Really, it will. When I first moved to West End (4101) I thought people were snooty and unwelcoming too. But I’ve since made many friends here. Life will get better. You’ll see it will.”

There was nothing I could do about my predicament so for my sake, I hoped my girlfriend was right. I went to a morning tea hosted by the parent body of Amanda’s school for parents such as myself, new to the schooling community. The principal took 10 minutes out of his busy schedule to give us all a warm welcome.

He told us of the school’s upcoming centenary and how our children would benefit from the many programmes the school has to offer. “I guarantee you that if your child stays here for 2 or 3 years, he or she will be impacted positively for life. Misbehaviour warranting disciplinary action is hardly an issue here – most of our students come from good homes – you’ll realise the importance of that as your child gets older, when his or her behaviour and choices are influenced by those he or she mixes with, and the vast majority (of our students) will go on to university.”

The claim about university might seem like a stretch in any other part of Australia, especially for a public school, but in our suburb, it is simply a way of life. It is the natural progression for children of highly educated parents, whose median household income is estimated to be well above the $150k pa mark. One suspects that but for the impoverished University students who also make up the demographic, and are thus included in the calculation of household income, the average would be significantly higher. It stands to reason, these are households that can and do see the benefit of proper schooling.

But just how does this translate into day-to-day life?

For one, even if the time-poor adults are a bit hard to get to know, the children have the most impeccable manners. There was once when Amanda and I turned up for school just as the morning bell was about to go. Most of the “good hooks” (read: height appropriate for little people) for hanging school bags had been taken and we were down to the last “good hook” available. Just then I noticed one of Amanda’s classmates standing there with his bag, it would seem, contemplating the last “good hook.”

To my surprise, he said to me (Me, a full grown adult!), “After you.”

“Are you sure?” I said to this seemingly very confident and gentlemanly little person. “It’s the last good hook.”

“Yes, please go ahead,” he said.

“But what will you use then?” I asked.

He pointed to a higher hook, which he obviously could not reach!

“Do you need a hand with your bag then?” I asked.

He nodded and said thank you after I’d put his into place.

When I asked Amanda how she liked school weeks later, she said, “It’s been good. No one has threatened me here, yet.

“Is anyone mean to you?”

“No one is mean at all. They’ve all been very nice.”

I was going to ask her if any of her schoolmates have gone around shooting expletives, but it seems that in this land for whom none has heard of “gentle parenting” and the like, such a question is more than redundant. For the rest of Australia, for whom wealth is equated with undeserved privilege, such a uniformed display of good breeding is usually unheard of. Outside of suburbs such as mine, the common belief is that freedom of speech and choice is a God-given right, welfare is a basic entitlement, and people who pay shit-loads of tax are the unfeeling, calculative bastards known as the “idle rich.” Few see that in many cases these are simply ordinary people who have worked hard and made many right, if highly conventional, choices.

Take NAPLAN for instance; while parents right around the country are actively deriding the series of tests for students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9, many mothers in this suburb have bought their children NAPLAN-style practise test workbooks. They don’t say NAPLAN is backward or that it stifles their children. They don’t spout any of the common arguments against the exercise. Instead, we all compare whose kid had done the most pages, what books to buy next, when the next available workbook sale is going to be; all this, even when most children are bound for elite private schools and university thereafter.

Conversely, one might contend that it is precisely because of this behaviour, not usually associated with Australian laissez faire parenting, that the children are going where they are going. The rest of Australia may pooh-pooh at this, calling the children a host of unflattering names synonymous with “robot”, but due to the high level of conformity among inhabitants, welfare is almost nonexistent, crime is low to nonexistent, academic achievement is consistently high, incomes are well above the national average. If nothing else, the suburb makes a good case for a return to conventional values.

Three and a half months on, I am no closer to the life I once led, but as much of this post attests, have come to appreciate the many positives of living here – chief of which is Amanda’s remarkable improvement at school. If you had asked me a year ago what I thought my daughter’s chances of getting into medicine is, I’d would have said it depends on how hard she’s willing to work. She wasn’t at all hard working. I’d also have been the first to say, “My child’s not brilliant.”

We were consistently late to school; she often didn’t finish all the exercises doled out during a normal school day. This year we’ve been consistently early because she’s been racing me out the door each morning. She finishes most of the exercises at school because everyone around her does so too. Rather than report on how well her classmates are doing, Amanda’s telling me how she’s been commended for her efforts and achievement. There’s even a spark of hope in this old heart of mine that she might go on to land a scholarship in one of those elite private schools – something that if you’d ask me about a year earlier, I’d have said is totally impossible.

 

In support of National Assessment Plan for Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN)

I’m well aware I’m in the minority of parents who welcome today’s NAPLAN test. The majority of parents tremble at the prospect; some have openly denounced NAPLAN as nothing more than an exercise aimed at rating teacher’s performances to justify school funding and wage increases. Some say it unduly exposes children in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 to stress – that life skills cannot be reliably measured using a series of standardised tests.

To them I say: would you rather your child’s first test be in Year 12? Or are you expecting them to be admitted into the University or Tafe of their choice based on a bunch of “feel-good” qualities that only you, as their parent, know of?

Some assert periodic assessment by the class teacher is enough to determine a child’s grasp of the “need-to-knows.” Bah! How do you know it is? I have a lovely tale for you.

There are 3 Year 3 classes in Amanda’s school. Since I get around quite a bit, I know parents whose kids are in the classes adjacent to Amanda’s. Those in the class next to mine have voiced their anxiety over their children not knowing how to tell the time, or gauge probability or even simple things like their 3 times table. One particularly concerned parent even went so far as to request a meeting with the class teacher, who assured her everything is fine. “The kids are only in Year 3,” she said.

“She might say that, but my kid doesn’t even know Year 2 work,” said the parent to me.

And when your kid gets to Year 4, she won’t know Year 2 or 3 work either,” I said.

Those parents have every reason to fear NAPLAN and every reason to want to blame the system, citing GONSKI’s findings as reason for their child’s underperformance. If you ask me, by doing so, they take on the “poor me” victim mentality and abnegate their sacred duties as parents. But that’s just me.

Meanwhile, those in Amanda’s class are not just ready for NAPLAN, they’re actually looking forward to it. As I told Amanda when we started preparing back in January, “You will silently thank me when you see the NAPLAN test. Unlike the others, you will have no fear. You will cruise through it without breaking a sweat.”

Did Amanda willingly prepare for NAPLAN with me?

At first I had to threaten her, withhold privileges and offer up rewards in exchange for compliance but the day she aced a practise maths test, as the only one in her class (and I suspect all 3 classes) to get a perfect score, she came to me and said, “Thank you mama. You were right. I have nothing to fear now.”

Oh, and in case you think tests like NAPLAN only produce book-smart children, think again. Preparing for NAPLAN has taught Amanda discipline, perseverance, the need to read and understand a question before tackling it, it has primed her to think critically, to see how what she knows can be extrapolated to fit different scenarios.

Unlike in Asia, where it is all about memorising tables or facts, the Australia education system puts emphasis on knowledge application. Take maths for instance. Due to Mrs B and Mrs D’s stellar teaching of the current curriculum, Amanda can not only tell time but tell me how many hours and minutes there are until a particular time. She can convert hours into minutes and back into hours, if need be. Or divide a bag of 64 cookies among 4 people with ease. She can tell me how much change I should get from $10 if items purchased are $1.50 and $2.70. Or the probability that the items I’ve bought are one kind or another. She knows that ½ can be expressed as 2/4, 3/6, 4/8, 8/16 and an infinite number of fractions, and that they all mean exactly the same thing.

When it comes to English, she can easily write 2 to 3 pages in support of a particular argument, with a decent introduction, ending and 3 points in between. She can spot misspelled words, faulty grammar, provide correct punctuation. She comprehends syntax and semantics. What more can I, as the parent of an 8 year old, Year 3 student, ask for?

Since you don’t know my child, you may ask me, “How does all this help foster creativity? Independent thinking?”

I will answer you, “Look at that wonderful house you live in. Would you still be happy to live in it if it wasn’t built to safety standards? What are safety standards but a bunch of numbers calculated based on size of dwelling and strength of materials used? Yet, those numbers are necessary, aren’t they? Regardless of how wonderful the building looks, how eco-friendly the design is, how well it blends in with the environment, you wouldn’t want to live there for a second if you couldn’t be sure that the thing will hold its form without collapsing on you.”

“Same goes for the bridge you drove across this morning on your way to work. Or the medicines you took with your morning coffee. You want quantifiable facts in support of what you consume, because “feel-good” based on nothing solid is simply a con.”

The same, dear readers, goes for education. You want to be dead certain your child is on track for his or her Year; not just based on your personal bias because that’s playing a very dangerous game with your child’s future. He or she will not thank you when failing to get into the course or university of their choice. Of course, if you’ve been playing the anti-establishment, anti-system, anti-convention game so far, you can continue to do so by blaming the system, the establishment, convention and everyone around you.

However, since the dye has yet to be cast, I urge you to cast your view towards wider society where progress is made by mastering and building on the basics. Even if your child were to be as creative a person as Lady Gaga, for whom neither maths nor English is necessary, aren’t you the least bit concerned that he or she might be taken for a ride by his or her accountant or manager? Think about your various criticism’s of NAPLAN and broaden your perspective to take in ALL of your child’s future. You’ll realise that if you embrace orthodox schooling, embrace regular attendance, embrace standardised testing, and help your child prepare for these challenges, you have nothing to lose but everything to gain, in the form of a well-educated, well-rounded child.

Two sides to socialism (aka “If you have 2 cows, can I have 1?”)

I’ll tell you 2 stories, both true. I once asked a friend if she would ever return to live in Malaysia. She said, “Why ever do that? Australia gives me so many benefits.”

At the time, this wonderful government was giving her both parenting payments and rent assistance. This came to about $1100 + a month. Today, she still receives the same payments, but gets around $1250 a month. The school kids bonus and any free money going around is extra. She also has a health care card, which subsidises the costs of medical consultation, medication, utilities and public transport.

To her credit, she was able to feed her family of 4 adults and 1 child from Monday to Friday on only $50 a week, whilst on weekends, she’d eat out. From her, I learnt quite a number of penny-pinching tricks (good ones too) so  in return, using what I’d gleaned from faithfully reading Money Magazine, I gave her some layman’s financial advice.

“Lose the credit card debt,” I told her. “Your credit card charges around 17% in interest. How long will it take you to pay off what you owe? What you’ve bought on the cards aren’t even income-generating assets and if they were, I wouldn’t bankroll them with cards if I were you.”

She wouldn’t listen and the debt kept piling up. Instead, she confessed to spending up to $400 a month on herself, my then-home and personal belongings serving as a real-life “Pin-interest” with which to decorate her own home. Using her first baby bonus she bought an old car with a 5-year loan attached, and with her next baby bonus, she took the family back to Malaysia for a month-long holiday. After that, she brought them back another 2 times, an average of once every two years.

“Why don’t you put the children in childcare and get a job to help out? At your level of wages, the taxes are negligible,” I advised.

You might say the same thing of me but there is no point I work outside the home since my husband already pays the taxes he does. I’ll have you know: for him to work those hours to pay these taxes, I do the bulk of all home duties and child rearing. In return, I receive no parenting payments, no rent assistance, no school kids bonus, and if I were to have another child, no baby bonus either. Since I’m out of the labour force, I’m also ineligible for the paid maternity scheme, single, childless folks Australia-wide have been seeing red over.

People often preach to me the value of work-life balance, of spending time with the family, but no one acknowledges that my husband is not just keeping me at home, but other mothers too. My friend’s husband works a regular 40-hour week. Mine works double that. Until last year, HRH was upgrading his skills (to pay even more tax in the future) so he didn’t have much time for us when not working.

Anyhow, a family member of hers told me, “She wants what you have, to be taken care of by a man, but married someone who can’t even care for himself.”

“What are you going to do in the event something happens to your husband? How much does his work insurance pay?”

“Sixty thousand.”

“That’s not enough to bring up children,” I said, out of concern. “What more with outstanding credit card bills.”

I tried to get her to put her finances in order and aim for self-sufficiency but that ultimately put a strain on our friendship. The way she sees it, I’m a FAT CAT because I live a much better life than her. She doesn’t see the sacrifices, the years of toil.

The flip side of the coin is story number 2. This other friend is like HRH, a surgeon. He isn’t HRH, because my stupid HRH is too much of a socialist, plus he always likes to take the opposing side just to rile me up. He says I look cute when pissed off.

Let’s return to story number 2. This conversation took place roughly a year ago, in my house.

The country is heading down the drain under this government,” said this other friend.

“Why would you say that?” I asked.

The government penalises you for working hard. People all point to me and say I’m rich and use that as an excuse to take my hard-earned money, but don’t see the 20 years I’ve put in to get to where I am. I had to work very hard to get into medicine, then very hard to get into surgical training, then very hard to stay in surgical training, then very hard to exit surgical training, then very hard to establish myself… when I could have skipped university, got myself drunk every night, found some interesting hobbies and gone on the dole.”

The truth is it doesn’t pay to be responsible.

We, stupid people, have mortgages, body corporate and council rates to pay (so we can fund our own old age), a flood levy to foot (so we can afford to clean up after another flood), the carbon tax to bear (God knows what’s that about), medibank levy and SURCHARGE taken before we even see a cent  of our wages (now no longer offset completely by the taking up of private health cover), private health insurance  to cough up (to reduce the strain on the public health system), flood insurance to protect buildings (to nullify dependence on public funds collected through the flood levy), and a raft of personal insurance policies (to prevent dependence on the government in the event of being sued, falling ill or being struck with disability) and FOR ALL THAT, we’re labelled SELFISH FAT CATS and targeted every time the public coffers run short.

“In hindsight, option 2 probably seems much better,” I said. “The interesting part is you have to provide care for the very people who accuse you of being a FAT CAT and you have to PAY for their care through taxes and various levies. And, none of them will ever hesitate to sue you, because you’re a FAT CAT and they are the “little guys.”

“That’s true.”

“Did HRH ever tell you about one of his consultants? He asked the guy why he drives such an old car. The consultant said he once treated someone, who subsequently tried to sue him, even though everything went well surgically, because the latter simply needed the money. ‘It’s not personal, doc,’ he said as he slapped him with a lawsuit.”

I’m not saying that all patients are ungrateful bogans. Many are very considerate and appreciative folk who bring sushi and fruits and whatever else they sell, as gifts, when coming for consults. But you will encounter those who think you should be taken to the cleaners simply because you are doing better than they are. You will also encounter many who feel ENTITLED to welfare payments because Australia is a supposedly rich nation and everyone, save them, is OBLIGED to help the underprivileged.

At any rate, I don’t see the need for more levies or more taxes. If, in managing the country’s finances, the government were even half as good as a regular housewife is at managing the family budget, they won’t have to keep slapping tax payers with more levies to fund projects.