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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Bmag Nov 29th 2011 - Blood donors

The Red Cross Blood Service has been hitting the airwaves again, desperately seeking donations as we head into the silly season. In one interview, the Blood Service’s Shaun Inguanzo told my 612 ABC Brisbane colleague Kelly Higgins-Devine there were just under three days’ blood supply left across Australia. Shaun was encouraging listeners to book an appointment straight away. But, the fact is, many of us are not allowed to give blood, myself included. Perhaps you’re disqualified but don’t realise it.

The reason I can’t give blood is I spent a combined six months in the UK between 1980 and 1996. I’m banned because there’s no test for vCJD, the human form of Mad Cow Disease. I wonder how many other people who like to holiday in Britain every couple of years might fit into that category. Even vegetarians who spent six months in the UK during that time are banned because of what the Red Cross calls “the extensive time period covered by the deferral and the possibility of unknowing exposure to beef or beef products”.

Here’s why some people I know are excluded from giving blood: Michael James can’t donate because he’s been male-male sexually active in the past 12 months. The Red Cross says this is because of “the statistically higher incidence of some blood-borne diseases (such as HIV) and the existence of ‘window period’ infections”. Michael says it’s ridiculous that there’s no option for him to tick “I’ve been sexually active unprotected with a monogamous partner of almost a decade”. Jen Hansen can’t donate “because I’ve had piercings and/or tattoos in the last six months”. Lyndal Cairns was turned away “because my fiancĂ©, who had not had sex with anyone but my fine self for years, identified as a bisexual man.” Lyndal says she has been told that “before HIV, gay men were among the blood bank’s biggest donors because they were so community-minded and healthy”.

Kevin Conway can’t give blood “because I had a heart attack 10 years ago and have been on blood thinner ever since.” Daniel Rose has a lifetime exclusion because “when I was eight, I had a blood and bone marrow transfusion from myself – it was taken from my hip and put in my nose – and the blood service does not distinguish between your own product and other people’s”. Ask around and you’ll soon encounter people you know who are not eligible to give blood. You may not agree with the reasons given by the blood service but put yourself in the position of someone receiving blood and then see how strict you want the Red Cross to be with their screening!

Other exclusion categories include those living with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, anyone who has been in prison in the last 12 months, and anyone who has been with a male or female sex worker in the last 12 months. If you’ve worked in an abattoir in the last 12 months or had acupuncture in the last four months, only the plasma from your donation can be used. There’s a full list of who can and cannot donate blood at

Secretly, I’m relieved that I can’t give blood. I don’t like needles or the sight of blood. But if I could, I would. As soon as researchers come up with a test for vCJD, I’ll be first in line with my sleeves rolled up. Currently only three per cent of Australians give blood. If you can, please do. Don’t assume everyone else will step up to the crease. Call 131 495 now and make an appointment. You can donate if you’re 16 to 81 years of age. You can donate for the first time up to the age of 71. Another friend of mine Gayle Richardson can’t donate because she had blood cancer. But she has received blood: “Two bags after giving birth and eight or 10 during chemotherapy,” she says and urges others: “Please, if you can give blood, do. Thank you to everyone who can and does give blood”.

On a lighter note, in the next issue of bmag I’m going to share with you some swimming pool games that my 11-year-old son Jack and I have invented over the past couple of summers. I’d love to hear about yours. Email me (see the address below) with some fun, original ways to entertain the troops in the pool during the school holidays!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Bmag November 15th 2011 - Danny and Kevin

When I first started writing this column at the beginning of the year, I secretly hoped the gig would include judging bmag’s Brisbane Person of the Year. I had no idea how difficult it would be deciding on just one winner!

Lord Mayor Graham Quirk and I could see that all 10 candidates were worthy of taking out the award, with their outstanding, ongoing achievements in areas as diverse as business, science, the arts, sport and communities.

But in this most terrible of years for Queensland, for his work in the South East Queensland floods and Cyclone Yasi, and for training and inspiring the next generation of SES volunteers, the decision to present the award to Danny Armstrong was unanimous.

Danny, as I said to you at the ceremony last Monday night, congratulations and thank you on behalf of your fellow Queenslanders.

I also want to congratulate a Brisbane radio stalwart and good mate who has decided to hang up his headphones after 21 years on the ABC. Kevin “The Big Wheel of Motoring” Weule hosted his first car valuation talkback show in 1990. Last Saturday, with obvious sadness, Kevin farewelled listeners, telling them that after 52 years in the car business it was time to enjoy retirement (read camping and fishing) and make way for the next generation (Kevin’s valuation company and his talkback show are now in the hands of Troy Dwyer).

Regular guests like Kevin Weule are the backbone of a radio station. More often than not they do it for nothing, week in, week out, and they’re as much a part of the station’s sound and success as the paid announcers. I had the great pleasure of working with Kevin when I was presenting regional afternoon radio in the mid 1990s. Heck, I think all of us at 612 ABC Brisbane have worked alongside Kevin Weule and learnt the spiel: “What sort of car? How many Ks? Air? Steer?”! Without Kevin Weule, I’m pretty sure I would have ignorantly sailed through my entire life without knowing the difference between dual-cab and twin-cab utes!

Kevin is a true gentleman who I know will be missed, especially by the older ladies with whom he would flirt (just a little) as they asked him what their “only driven to church on Sundays” car was worth. They were Kevin’s favourites too. You could see it in his face when he was talking to them. And Kevin would always take great care when talking to recently bereaved women faced with selling their husband’s car. Kevin always worried about them being ripped off. If time ran out, he would continue talking to these callers off-air long after the program had finished.

(I’ve just realised this is starting to sound like a eulogy. Well if it is, then at least Kevin is still around to read how much he’s been loved by his listeners and his colleagues at the ABC! We’ll miss you, Kevin!)

As Kevin Weule reflected on his half century in the business, he offered his listeners a final, serious observation: “One thing that should happen in Queensland – there should be annual roadworthies. The only time you do a roadworthy on a car is when you sell it. It’s going to cost Queenslanders a little bit more but you get a better quality of car. Over the years, when you buy a car from NSW, some of them are better cars. Here you can have a car for 10 years and not even take it near a garage.

“I don’t know how they’re going to do it. I don’t want to bring it up because it’s going to cost Queenslanders but one lady one time traded a car in and we went to roadworthy the car and she had the back brakes of the car squeezed up with a pair of pinch grips and taped up and she said `I was only driving the kids to school with the car. I wasn’t going anywhere’!

“And if they can’t get the airbags to work, they just disconnect them. A lot of that is happening.”

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Bmag Nov 1st 2011 - Stephen Fry's 3.3 million

Remember the excitement when you hit 50 friends on Facebook or 50 followers on Twitter? Last week I had the chance to ask someone: “What’s it like having 3.3 million Twitter followers?”

Many celebrities, politicians and organisations have smashed through the million follower mark since CNN and Ashton Kutcher famously raced to be the first (Kutcher won in April 2009) but few if any have the intellect of British actor and writer Stephen Fry.

Fry has been in Brisbane to present a live stage version of his ABC TV show QI, at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre this week (Monday 31 October to Wednesday 2 November). Speaking on my ABC radio show, Fry explained why he’s drawn to Twitter:

“It suits me fantastically. Print journalists are a savage, unpleasant and deeply unlikeable people mostly who wish to do one down and make one look an arse so the great thing is when your Twitter followers exceed the circulation of a newspaper you can just tell any press person that you’re not going to do any print media for the rest of your life and it’s great. There’s no newspaper that has a bigger circulation than I do!”

The trouble is, Stephen Fry’s 3.3 million followers tweet him back, about once every 10 seconds from what I’ve seen. So how does he deal with one-on-one feedback on that scale?

“This is the problem and people have to understand Twitter. Sometimes newcomers don’t get quite how it works. You have to imagine I’m in the middle of a forest in autumn and leaves are going all around me in a huge cyclone and I might occasionally grab one and look at it, and grab another and look at it, but the vast majority howl past me without any chance of my seeing them.”

That said, he loves asking a direct question and watching the responses come in. “It’s terrific fun when you show it to someone! Dangerous, intoxicating and thrilling at the same time!”

Stephen Fry knows he can’t promote every charity or fundraiser he’s asked to – “It’s hard to turn them down but I don’t want my Twitter feed to become a bulletin board of good causes” – and when he does endorse a blog or website, it’s likely to crash. Fry’s own site couldn’t handle the 20,000 hits a second it received after he wrote a Steve Jobs obituary and posted a link on Twitter! It makes me think having just 50 followers (or Facebook friends) might not be such a bad thing after all!

The car dilemma in perspective

There was quite a reaction to my column on the two-car dilemma and wants versus needs. To recap briefly, my sister-in-law has garaged her car with us for the past two years while she’s been overseas. However, she’s returning home soon and we must decide whether to buy our own second car or go back to running just one.

Former Ten News presenter now PR executive Kristin Devitt tweeted: “We’ve been a one car household for the past 16 years. All good. Until we start Saturday sport, then all bets are off!” Current Ten News presenter Bill McDonald also chimed in: “Four boys, sport, Mt Coot-tha. Nah, need two cars”. Environmentalist Rowan Barber suggested I investigate one of the “collaborative consumption” car-sharing websites.

Chris Hassall tweeted: “Buy another car but allocate a certain number of days per week to use public transport”. But Deb Russell-Groarke put it all in perspective when she said: “We’ve been a no-car family since our car was written off last October. We’d happily be a one-car family again.”

In the same column, I argued that materialism was out control but “as soon as you realise you can never have everything, you give yourself permission to not want anything more”.

Sarah emailed: “I fully understand and agree with you! I was fortunate enough to be in my early 20s when this dawned on me. My chosen career was never going to give me the earning power to satisfy many of those materialistic desires, so consciously choosing not to go after the latest and greatest has resulted in much happiness and contentment. “I’ll admit it’s not always cool to not want the latest toys and gadgets, but I feel much happier for it now, more than 10 years on. If only more people knew this kind of freedom and happiness!”