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Monday, March 30, 2015

The blue screen of death

 

My HP15, acquired at great expense only six months ago, displayed nothing more than what is also known as the "blue screen of death". I took it down to the nice people at DICK SMITH who diagnosed it as 'dead on arrival' and sent it off for repairs in Canberra. Knowing what little gets done in Canberra, I may be without a computer for several weeks.

"But how", I hear one (possibly even two) of my more sharp-minded readers ask, "could you have written this blog if your computer is dead?"

And well may they ask! The first person who correctly guesses where I blogged this last entry receives a coupon for an hour's free computer use at the Public Library at Bateman Bay.

Please rush your reply to riverbendnelligen[AT]mail.com.

 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Existentialism exists

 

Marry, and you will regret it; don’t marry, you will also regret it; marry or don’t marry, you will regret it either way. Laugh at the world’s foolishness, you will regret it; weep over it, you will regret that too; laugh at the world’s foolishness or weep over it, you will regret both. Believe a woman, you will regret it; believe her not, you will also regret it… Hang yourself, you will regret it; do not hang yourself, and you will regret that too; hang yourself or don’t hang yourself, you’ll regret it either way; whether you hang yourself or do not hang yourself, you will regret both. This, gentlemen, is the essence of all philosophy.”

Thus wrote a frustrated Kierkegaard in his masterpiece Either/Or about the dilemma at the heart of Existentialism, a philosophy that draws attention to the difficulties created for humans by having insufficient knowledge and time to make optimal choices.

Today is election day in New South Wales. Vote for the Liberals, and you will regret it; don’t vote for the Liberals, you will also regret it; vote for the Liberals or don't vote for the Liberals, you will regret it either way.

 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Land Below the Wind

 

Many years ago, in another life in Canberra, I shopped at Phillip and there, in Colbee Court, noticed an odd sort of shop with odd sort of people going in and coming out with odd sort of things. They told me it was an op-shop which meant nothing to me and I forgot about it.

After I had moved to the coast, I noticed a similar shop in the Bay but it was many years before I set foot in it. I wished I had done so sooner! Why? Well, for starters I've come to realise that I'm probably just as odd as the next person but, more to the point, I've come to realise that op-shops sell some of the most interesting books.

Today I am an op-shop aficionado and know every op-shop in a 50-kilometre radius and visit them regularly. From a recent visit I brought back a copy of Land Below the Wind which was Agnes Newton Keith's first book in a trilogy which describes her life in what was then North Borneo and what is now Sabah.

‘Land below the wind’ was a phrase used by seafarers to describe all the lands south of the typhoon belt and it was made famous through Agnes Newton Keith's book. When she writes of the Sulu Sea, and of the islands around Semporna, you can just about feel and smell the sparkling sea, tread quickly over the burning sand and peer again into the miraculously beautiful pools among the coral reeds. You can almost feel with her the exhaustion of toiling through the jungle, of slipping in and through the jungle mud, you can experience again the horror of leeches, the misery of unremitting rain, and of never, as it seems, being able to dry out.

Her second book, Three Came Home (published 1947), was made into a movie, and White Man Returns (published 1951), which completes the trilogy, is now quite a rare book.

Of course, I've ordered the movie on ebay and I'm looking for a reasonably-priced copy of White Man Returns. After all, my own Borneo retirement plans are still intact.

 

Friday, March 27, 2015

In memory of Noel Butler

Noel (left) and I at Wewak in New Guinea sometime in the early 70s

 

Basically your friends are not your friends for any particular reason. They are your friends for no particular reason. The job you do, the family you have, the way you vote, the major achievements and blunders of your life, your religious convictions or lack of them, are all somehow set off to one side when the two of you get together.

If you are old friends, you know all those things about each other and a lot more besides, but they are beside the point. Even if you talk about them, they are beside the point. Stripped, humanly speaking, to the bare essentials, you are yourselves the point. The usual distinctions of older-younger, richer-poorer, smarter-dumber, male-female even, cease to matter. You meet with a clean slate every time, and you meet on equal terms. Anything may come of it or nothing may. That doesn't matter either. Only the meeting matters.

Noel Butler was such a friend. Some friends are more or less replaceable with other friends. Noel was not. I last heard from him on this day exactly twenty years ago. He'd sent me a "Greetings from Childers by Night" postcard which was all black except for those words. On the back he had written, "Hope your outlook on the future is not as black as this; mine is but that's inevitable." I was then far too young and far too busy and far too full of myself to think that this was more than a funny card. Four months later, Noel was dead.

Rest in Peace, Noel! Your memory lives on at "Riverbend" and so does your card which, beautifully framed, sits on top of the mantelpiece.

As long as we live, they too will live,
for they are now a part of us,
as long as we remember them.

 

I go apes over orangutans

 

Orangutans (the Malay word 'orangutan' means "person of the forest") are said to be the world's most intelligent animals other than Man (looking around me, I'd happily cross out 'other than Man' ☺). Sharing 98% of human DNA, their similarity to us is remarkable: babies cry when they are hungry, smile at their mothers and shed tears when they are hurt. They express emotions in the same way humans do - they laugh, they cry, they show surprise, joy, fear and anger.

I came face-to-face with my first orangutan in Penang in Malaysia when I worked there in 1978. This gentle little fellow sat sad and lonely in a metal cage at the foot of Penang Hill. Some locals delighted in tempting it to put its hand through the metal bars - and then press a burning cigarette into its palm! And yet, it was so lonely and so much in need of company that it continued to put its hand out in the hope of making contact with a more kindly and kindred soul.

Knowing of the orangutans' plight, I have been supporting the Orangutan Protection Foundation ever since my time in Kalimantan (the Indonesian part of Borneo). I even 'adopted' one of the little fellows.

All problems are man-made; therefore all problems can be solved by Man. So if you want to get a real buzz out of helping these wonderful creatures, go to Orangutan Protection Foundation and make a sizeable donation. Don't piss around with $5 or $10! What's a carton of beer worth these days? $50? Right! Donate the equivalent of two cartons of beer, or a hundred dollars (about 50 quid on their website), and let's both drink to having done a good deed!

 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

I talk to the trees ... that's why they put me away

 

As someone who almost grew up to the sounds of The Goon Show on the steam-driven wireless, I must confess that I've been a lifelong fan of the participants in the show.

Particularly of Eccles when he sang I talk to the trees .. that's why they put me away. My immediate boss in the ANZ Bank, John Burke, would occasionally sing it under his breath when things got a bit mad at work. At the time I thought it funny without knowing that it was a parody of the Paint Your Wagon tune.

I no longer think it's funny because every morning, cup of tea in hand, I wander among the trees of "Riverbend" and do my own impersonation of Eccles (I tried to do a 'Squint' Eastwood impression but didn't quite manage the spaghetti-western look).

♫  I talk to the trees ..♪. that's why they put me away  ♫ 

 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

I want his job!

 

Sitting in the Ulladulla Bowling Club and washing down my meat loaf and chips with a glass of Chateau Cardboard, I watched the greenkeeper leisurely moving back and forth across the green, and I thought to myself, "I want his job!"

I mean, does he ever go home with a splitting headache or will he ever develop a peptic ulcer? I don't think so. He could even read a book while doing his job!

Speaking of which, after our swim at the pool we visited my favourite second-hand bookshop where I picked up the 1946 classic "Tahiti Landfall"; a clever little novel of third-person assessments and first-person reminiscences titled "I was Amelia Earhart"; a copy of Anthony Burgess's "Malayan Trilogy" which I already have but not in such beautiful binding; and "The World that Summer", a political book that describes the events that led from the 1936 Berlin Olympics to Nazi Germany and the Second World War.

And here's a photo I took in the supermarket which pretty much sums up what's wrong in his country: while you could break your leg tripping over coconuts up north with nobody bothering to pick them up, we import coconuts from Samoa and sell them in the shops for $4 a piece:

 

5438 days to go

 

No, not to Christmas but to all my Christmasses. That's according to the above table. Of course, I'm still a few months short of 70 and could slot myself in at 69 and scrounge an extra 292 days but who wants to be that greedy?

I mean, although it wasn't always cricket, I have had some terrific innings. Yes, there was some underarm bowling and ball tampering going on and I got caught out a few times but, although I dropped quite a few, I also had some brilliant catches and, as we all know, it's catches that win matches.

Still, it's a bit of an untidy number, isn't it? Maybe I cut back on coffee and red meat to round it out to an even 5500.

Anyway, I'm off to the pool now for a few laps before my time has elapsed. Talk to you again tomorrow - 5500 minus 1. Memento mori!

 

My gob is still smacked

"Riverbend" outlined in yellow

 

Almost exactly four years to the day, a husband-and-wife couple walked down the driveway, salivating at their mouths and asking, "Is this place still for sale?"
It was - and still is; see www.realestate.com.au - and I gave them the 'Royal Tour'.

Within days their email came back, "Hello Peter, we’ve made some preliminary arrangements with our bank, with a view to purchasing. We’d like to arrange for their valuer to appraise the property".

A young man with a bad case of acne showed up a few days later, said he was a valuer, had a cuppa and a bickie, jotted down that our last offer received had been for $1.64million, and left.

A month later, the couple emailed again, "Hello Peter, please accept our apologies for not having corresponded with you in so many weeks ... our time of late has been very heavily focussed on our business ... which has been hit with some unexpected expenses that have upset our original plans for the remainder of the year. Accordingly, we regret to tell you that we won’t be in a position to pursue the purchase of Riverbend, as much as we’d love to.
P.S. You may be interested to know that the independent valuation on your property came back at $1.64million"
.   What an amazing coincidence!!! (believe me, I am not making this up!)

Half-expecting such a reply, I had already emailed them, tongue firmly in cheek, about a much cheaper (and much smaller) property across the lane, suggesting that, with neighbours like us, $950,000 for a small wooden house on a 1,887 square metre block would be a bargain. Wait for it: within days THEY BOUGHT IT - FOR $950,000!

My gob was wide open but not yet smacked. That happened a few months later when the adjoining 1,719 square metre vacant block came up for sale and THEY BOUGHT IT, TOO - FOR $750,000.

That's a total of $1.7million for a small wooden house on 3,606 square metres of land (outlined in red in the photo above) vs $1.95million for Riverbend's substantial two-storey brick house plus many additions and improvements on some 30,000 square metres of land (outlined in yellow)!   SMACK!

And this is where the story should end, but it doesn't: less than a year after they had bought the two properties, the couple abandoned them and they have been for sale ever since - at $799,000 and $529,000 respectively!

Perhaps we were both inept: I at selling and they at buying  ☺

 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Raindrops keep falling on my head

 

It's early Tuesday morning and I'm enjoying my first cup of tea. It's no Japanese tea ceremony, just a simple cup of black tea with a spoonful of honey and a dash of lemon juice, but that first cuppa at the first crack of dawn is important to me. The dogs - and the "top-dog" - are still asleep, the house is completely silent, and I can think - or rather, not think but just let my mind wander.

The rain has been falling all night and it still is which means there won't be any "turning grass into lawn" activity today. Some mad fishermen, hooded up in their wet weather gear, are already heading downriver for whatever they're chasing.

I won't be chasing anything but just quietly read a book. If the rain keeps falling - and it looks like it might - , I'll sit in the 'Clubhouse' by the pond which has a corrugated iron roof. There's nothing as soporific as the sound of rain falling on a metal roof.

Zzzzzee you later!

 

I love Lucy

 

ONE YEAR ON A DESERTED TROPICAL ISLAND. 'WIFE' 20-30 NEEDED TO ACCOMPANY MAN 35+. WRITE TO BOX WITH DETAILS AND EVENING PHONE NUMBER.

That classified ad was the beginning of Lucy Irvine's year spent on tiny Tuin Island in the Torres Strait with adventurer Gerald Kingsland who was going to write a book about it. In the end, it was Lucy who wrote the book Castaway which also became a movie.

I had heard about Lucy from my involvement with Pigeon Island about which she had written in her book Faraway.

Today Lucy lives a secluded life in rural Bulgaria from where she writes an occasional blog.

 

Monday, March 23, 2015

On Golden Lake

This is an inferior photo of a superior Chinese restaurant, soon to be
replaced by a real-life shot of a serving of marinated chicken feet

 

What's the odd one out - 15, 20, 25, 29, 30, 35 or 40? Of course, the obvious answer is 29 but it's actually 30. All the others come with fried rice.

Anyway, Padma, who works at the Golden Lake Chinese Restaurant for a few hours a week, is happy to take your order, be it for a prime number or composite, sorry, combination soup with prime beef.

Just call 4472 5420.

 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Sunday moaning

 

There are some questions that can't be answered by Google, so Padma wanted to go to St Bernard's Catholic Church for some answers while I walked the dogs on the beach.

Strolling through Batehaven's small shopping precinct, I met this Pom standing outside a laundromat. Coming out to Australia in '72 and settling in Melbourne, he was now heading north and bemoaning the fact that the world in general and this country in particular were heading south.

It was a great morning for moaning and so we talked and talked until even the dogs got the shits and had to be taken back to the beach. We shook hands and agreed to start our own TV show: "Grumpy Old Men".

Keep an eye out for it!

 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Hi from T.I.

Hubert sitting in Merauke considering the pros and cons
of travelling without a visa! Read the full story below.
Australian Hubert Hofer sitting in the airport waiting for his flight home at the Mopah Airport on March 13, 2009 in Merauke, Papua Province, Indonesia. The five Australians, Karen Burke, Hubert Hofer, Keith Mortimer and William and Vera Scott-Bloxam were detained after landing a sightseeing aero-plane at the Mopah Airport in September 2008. They were charged with entering Indonesia illegally and each were jailed for between two to five years. The decision was overturned by the Jayapura High Court on March 10, 2009. They landed in Merauke on 12 September 2008 and finally flew home on 24 June 2009.

 

Hi Peter, I just read your article of your visit to Thursday Island on the TRINITY BAY. What a great read. I have the strange feeling that I know you. I of course know all the people you mentioned including my dear old friend David (Pommie Dave) Richardson. David passed away over two years ago, aged 82. David and I did a few trips together up the Jardine River, Possession Island, Somerset etc. He was brilliant with the metal detector and so knowledgable. He's one gentleman I miss. You mention you worked for the Island Industries Board (IIB) under Cec Burgess. Well, the grumpy old bugger made it to 95, I was told. I ran into him when he was in his late 80s on his way to England. Anyhow, I thoroughly enjoyed your writing. Cheers."

So emailed Hubert Hofer after having read my travelogue in which I describe my trip back to Thursday Island in 2005. And he continued:

"I've been back on T.I. since 2002, retiring on 8 May 2016. 'Bluey', your former neighbour, was actually Kevin Douglas and he was the skipper on the MELBIDIR. He passed away quite a number of years ago as did Canadian Jim. I was told Wally Robinson too has succumbed some years ago. I was employed for a little while with IIB in ’79 and then with DAIA. Cec sacked me on the word of Allan Neil and when John Buchanan reinstated me, Cec became really friendly towards me. I went away in '81 to work with Ben Cropp in Port Douglas but returned to the Strait in '83. Have been hanging around ever since chasing shipwrecks and other historical interests. Did a couple of minutes on the COAST programme last year on the sinking of RMS QUETTA.

SS QUETTA Wreck from Hubert Hofer on Vimeo.

But mainly, I have been accumulating material to compile later. Meant to do a video on some wrecks but the theft of my two Mac Book Pro’s and ALL info on back-ups and several cameras and some diving gear got taken in a daylight break-in as well as damage to the car and the rust then continued where the mongrels left off. This set me back quite a bit. Intend to sit on my boat MV TIGA KALI cruising the coast upon retirement and hopefully get some serious writing in. Unfortunately, my website northpic.net has a severe malfunction so you won’t be able to see anything for a while. Hopefully it’ll be up and running again soon."
  (Hubert's website isn't working but he's uploaded some great photography at Panoramio.com - click here.)

What a blast from the past! And from a chap with a leaning toward writing when most of the leaning on the island was done against the bar! And so the reminiscing continued about the old T.I. sandals (sadly, they stopped producing them some fifteen years ago); about Rolley Kirk and his wife Geraldine who used to run the Rainbow Motel; Dan Taylor a.k.a Dan Fritz who ran a nightclub opposite the open-air cinema and also published the local rag, THE SENTINEL; Milli and her husband Lance Fulwood who struggled to operate a small grocery store in competition with the taxpayer-funded and tax-exempt monopoly of IIB; the Hermit of Packe Island whose island plot Tony the Swiss fellow has apparently acquired; and others - see here.

Seaman Dan, already famous when I lived on the island

Hubert, who came out in '71 from the Salzkammergut in Austria, is going on 64 (must have come out at the same age as me) and used to work as a maintenance carpenter for IIB for about two years, then DAIA, then Qld Health (the most unhealthy outfit to work for, he says), also for Ben Cropp the filmmaker, and for the past twelve years as a desalination plant overseer on T.I. His boat is a little 8m cabin cruiser but, once retired, he'll be looking at something around 12 m catamaran or similar shallow draft.

Hubert got his 15 minutes of fame in 2008 as one of the "Merauke Five" when a retired 747-captain invited him along on a one-hour joy flight in a P-68 twin-propeller light plane from Thursday Island to Merauke in what is Indonesia's politically sensitive province of West Papua. Hubert was told that they would be granted entry visas on arrival; instead they were in immigration detention for six weeks, then out for three months, then back in the clink for another six weeks. Flying time 1 hour; detention time 9-1/2 months! Pity they weren't drug-runners or the Australian government would've sent in the gunboats to get them out - see here.

Four of the "Merauke Five"
l-to-r: William Scott-Bloxam and wife Vera, Hubert Hofer,
Keith Mortimer (and here is a photo of all five)

It seems we have a few things in common (including Indonesian wives) and certainly knew all the same people. We also worked under the dick-tatorship of the same boss, Cec Burgess, a former missionary-type who, having discovered the difference between a debit and a credit, passed himself off as an accountant to become manager of what was then the Island Industries Board. Had it not been for Cec's reign of terror, I might well have stayed forever, as, according to 'Banjo' Paterson's "Thirsty Island", 'the heat, the thirst, the beer, and the Islanders may be trusted to do the rest.'

Of course, professionally speaking, I would have signed my own death warrant had I stayed because Thursday Island was a dead-end whereas I went on to bigger and better jobs in the Solomon Islands (again!), Samoa, Malaysia, Australia, New Guinea (again and again!), Saudi Arabia, Greece ...

It was a case of Thursday Island versus the World, and the world won!

 

Friday, March 20, 2015

"I'm on benefits and I got a fair go"

 

Last financial year Radio Rentals' total revenue was $197 million, and $90 million of that came from Centrelink payments for flat-screen televisions, sound systems and smartphones.

Gerard Brody, CEO of the Consumer Action Law Centre said it was scandalous that Radio Rentals enjoyed such business security from the welfare system, "... to see [in this report] that such a high proportion of their revenue being paid from people who are Centrelink recipients, they are people on welfare payments and this business is sustaining itself on that, is astounding."

Radio Rentals' advertisements target people on Centrelink benefits, with one promotion saying, "I'm on benefits and I got a fair go".

What about a fair go for the taxpayers who have to fund this madness?

 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

I, too, was a homeless person once

Sunday morning after the night before: chilling out on the front steps; "yours truly" in dead centre, wearing sunnies and checkered shirt. Notice the chap on the far right having a "hair of the dog" from a McWilliams flagon left over from the night before. If that didn't do it, there was always BEX powder and a good lie-down! Or take Vincent's with confidence for quick three-way relief. All things of the past now!

 

The Council to Homeless Persons says the people who live on the streets are just the tip of the iceberg as their definition of 'homelessness' also includes people living in rooming houses (smart move to up their 'membership'! ☺)

Thank you, Council to Homeless Persons, for your research which is probably as 'quackers' as, and probably even dearer than, the 300,000-Pound taxpayer-funded U.K. study Why-Ducks-like-Water.

It's one thing to regard as homeless those who slip into a pair of cardboard pyjamas and only read newspapers they've slept under, but to include people who live in rooming houses? Really! They could've made even bigger headlines if they had included people who live in houses with fewer than four bedrooms and an ensuite!

Anyway, at least now I know that I, too, was a 'homeless' person once as was my immediate boss in the ANZ Bank and many other 'Bank Johnnies' who in the 60s and 70s lived, two to a room, in what was then Barton House, one of Canberra's many boarding houses - or rooming houses, if you will.

The 165-bedroom Barton House in the late 60s

Another boarding house I remember was the ORIENTAL PRIVATE HOTEL at 11 Milsons Road at Cremorne Point. In that esteemed establishment I occupied the dark, windowless end of a corridor which had been walled off and grandly called a "room". No window, no ventilation, just a bed and a wardrobe but it was all I could afford at the time.

These boarding houses were the sort of "homes" that prepared me well for the house I later shared in Rabaul with two fellow-accountants and the camp accommodation I occupied when I went to Bougainville Island.

I am glad I was a 'homeless' person once. I wouldn't have missed it for the world because it gave me the confidence to go out into the world and deal with all manner of people and situations in future years.

 

P.S. The ORIENTAL PRIVATE HOTEL has since been turned into twelve strata-titled apartments, each costing close to a million dollars. And that's the cause of the real homelessness today: the lack of boarding houses which became uneconomical to run because of ever-increasing rules and regulations, rates, property taxes and insurance costs.

11 Milsons Road at Cremorne Point today

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Debbie Does Dallas

 

It all started in 1985, my very own annus horribilis: I had returned from my last assignment overseas and, in anticipation of continuing the work for my former Saudi boss, settled in tropical Townsville.

The work never came - well, not until two years later when he offered me my own office in the Banque Des Echanges Internationaux's building on Avenue Kléber in Paris but by that time I had grown tired of the fickleness of Arabs and declined the offer.

With few other job prospects in Townsville, I had hastily relocated to Sydney where I eventually took up the impressive-sounding job of "Internal Consultant" with Wormald International which required me to be 'on the road' - or rather 'in the air' as Wormald's operations were spread all over the world - for nine months of the year. After the first rush of adrenalin had passed, I remembered that I had just given up an even more highly-paid overseas job with even greater perks in order to live a 'normal', domesticated life.

But not in Sydney! So when I saw a job advertised for a PICK computer programmer in Canberra, I remembered having studied PICK with Ranger Uranium almost a decade earlier, and applied. A few days later the company's directors flew down from Canberra to give me the once-over and then the job.

I had found it puzzling during the interview when the directors asked me if I had any objections to working in the 'adult video industry' which, as they repeatedly pointed out, was involved in the duplication and distribution of X-rated videos. I had never heard of an 'adult video industry' nor did I know what X-rated was or who rated it. As for videos, the first and last time I had seen a video was at a friend's place in Saudi Arabia during the screening of 'Bambi' to his young kids.

However, I wasn't going to let this lack of knowledge get between me and a lucrative job in Canberra. And so, one early morning before the crack of dawn in late November 1985, I drove out of Sydney, against an endless stream of headlights coming into the city. I still remember thinking to myself, 'You can keep it, you suckers! I'm out of here!'

Arriving in Canberra, I acquainted myself with my new 'boss', a brand-new AWA Sabre mainframe, its empty bowels hungrily awaiting its very first line of computer code. But before I could start 'cutting code', I had to learn about the business. And what a business it was! Quite simply, it was Australia's biggest - by far! - distributor of pornographic movies with a client list as thick as a metropolitan telephone directory and a turnover running into the millions. The problem was that it was all done, slowly and expensively, by hand.

After having accepted the fact that pornographic movies were just like any other movies except with the boring bits removed, the professional challenge was simply too good to be missed and I was itching to introduce some methods into the madness.

Which began each morning with Australia Post delivering several large bags of letters containing orders and cash. Lots of cash because many customers didn't want to use their real names which were needed to pay by Bankcard. I had never seen so many Donald Ducks and Mickey Mouses buying pornographic movies! ☺

The girls - it was an all-girl crew! - would write up the bank deposits and Bankcard slips and then pass the orders to the 'production department' with its banks of fifty-or-more duplicating machines. The 'production manager', when drunk (which was often), delighted in turning up the sound. I don't know how many heavy grunts and groans got embedded in my computer code. ☺

Creating a database of tens of thousands of customers, adding their 'profiles' of likes and preferences (I won't bore you with the details ☺) and their purchase histories, and then linking their orders to produce daily picking slips for the production department, bank deposits, and Bankcard submissions seems to have been, in retrospect, quite a simple task but was in fact colossal. There were many nights I couldn't sleep; not because I had watched too many of their movies - as it happened, I didn't watch my first X-rated movie until several months into the job! - but because of the many programming problems.

One particular problem was the 'lending' side of the business. With the price of a movie around fifty dollars (when fifty dollars was still real money), many customers preferred to borrow, which sounds a bit like your local library and in many ways it was: a customer would buy his first video and, after viewing it, exchange it for another.

This was a very profitable side of the business and, to keep it going, customers were given one free 'exchange' after six (six, not sex! ☺) To keep tabs on their exchanges, a bunch of girls kept 'library cards' for all customers which presented a problem as harddisk space was still at a premium in those days and a decision had to be made on how many and for how long such records should be kept.

My idea was to do away with library cards altogether. "But what about the free exchange?", asked the 'library girls'. "Give them a coupon with each exchange; when they've collected six, they can return them in lieu of money for a free one", was my reply. "But what if they lose them?", shot back the girls who seemed more concerned about losing their jobs than the customers losing their coupons. "Tough!" I told them, on both counts. But they still had one shot left in the locker, "Without a library card, we won't know what they ordered before. What if they borrow the same video twice?" "Girls", I said, "if they want to do Debbie twice, they're welcome to her!"

And so it came to pass that, in just under a year, the business was fully computerised. The order backlogs vanished, turnaround times were reduced from more than a week to just one day, and I like to think that those 'library girls' found work elsewhere - maybe even in your local library in which case say 'hello' from me next time you borrow a book.

As for all those people who tut-tuttingly told me, "How could you?" (they were probably the same who signed their orders with "Donald Duck" ☺) and asked what it was like working for an X-rated adult movie distributor, I tell them it was hard. In fact, it was constantly hard. The drunken production manager saw to that.