Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Census Night, 2011.

Yesterday evening was Census Night in Australia. We are visiting with Dr Tabubil in Brisbane at the moment, so she had herself, one sister (currently unemployed by virtue of recently winding up her last job) and one brother-in-law (an engineer on his way to a new job in another country) to prod and poke and tally up for the public record. 
            A census turns into a thing - deep terminology, that. It's sort of amusing, and sort of embarrassing, sort of like getting undressed in front of a doctor and sort of like getting undressed in front of an auditorium.
            It's Very Important, so you feel full of Public Virtue, and even faintly Self-Important, because your little statistical data point can build hospitals and inspire public works initiatives like highways and bus routes (so the carpet-bombing pre-census advertising told us) but when you're a doctor working 16 hour shifts six days a week or a couple that has spent the last two weeks eating their way across the continent in the arms of wonderful and wonderfully hospitable relatives, some of the questions tend to come across a little uncomfortable, and put a nasty leak in your deeply inflated chests.

"Have you provided any unpaid childcare for relatives in the past five days?"
"Have you performed any charitable activities in the last two weeks?"

And you begin to feel rather like Butterflies - or even Mayflies - and Parasites, and Pimples on the hard-working arse of society.  
So your answers start to get a little bit dippy.
"Provide a comprehensive description of your job duties."
"Hah."  Doctor Tabubil said.  Reinflating, she took up her pencil and  solemnly inscribed: "I SAVE LIVES."

Things got a little misty after that. From Mr Tabubil, the engineer who was last seen helping to re-line the blast furnace of a steel mill, I distinctly remember the words "contributing to the carbon load of the Australian atmosphere" being bandied about, and me - well, if we're determined to be pedantic, I've got no job at the moment and haven't actively sought a new one in the past four weeks, and that doesn't look like an example of productive public virtue any way you slice it. 

I do remember Mr Tabubil posing his sister-in-law the following question:
            "Have you performed any unpaid domestic work for your household in the last week?"
            "Oh yes."  She replied, relieved.  "Lots.  At least three hours." 
I'm sure that I hooted. 
            "Oh yeah?"  She said.  "And I suppose you've done any on your holiday?"
            "Yes."  I said smugly.  "I washed out our underwear and socks every night while we were traveling.  And I unpacked and repacked our suitcases every four days."
            "I'll put you down for under five hours then.  That's the lowest option.  And if you were washing the socks, then Mr Tabubil wasn't doing anything, was he?  Typical male.  You won't be shaking up any demographics here, will you?"
            "If you would care to recall" Mr Tabubil said with great dignity "I spent most of that holiday in various beds with a case of the flu."
Dr Tabubil made a rude noise and wrote something uncomplimentary in the comment box. 
            "Ahem." She said.  "Another question - are you willing to have your name, address and other personal information made available in the public archive after ninety-nine years?"
Mr Tabubil and I looked at each other and shrugged.  "Sure. "
            "Really? All public?"
            "Why not?"
            "Well I'm not sure that I want...I mean, that's pretty... Hah, wait a second! I'm the cool cat who saves people's lives!  Hell yeah!"

And with that, the party rather broke up.  Five years down the track, lets see if we can be in a permanent-enough situation to make us out to be rather more than mayflies and drains on the public purse.


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