Figuring things out

I’ve talked before about our participation in the Goulburn Medievalists, our local branch of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA).

This gives us plenty to do, and for the last two and a half years I have been the Chancellor of the Exchequer, basically the treasurer for the SCA kingdom.

It’s now time for the Domesday (end of financial year) report.  I have 28 Australian groups to report on, and a New Zealand deputy who does another 5 groups there.

Before I took on the job, most groups didn’t provide financial reports, and there were no regular reporting periods.  Groups running kingdom events failed to send in the required 50% of the proceeds.  The kingdom was often broke.

So I chased up lots of overdue monies.  I instituted a set reporting format and tied it to financial quarters.  After some initial screaming, most groups reporting regularly and properly.  Truth to tell, it’s probably easier for people to have a set report than stumbling about in the dark doing things your own way.

I’m still chasing up the last few groups.  Some haven’t reported at all, and others have sent in reports that don’t reconcile with last year’s or last quarter’s reports.

Most of the local reeves are not accountants, so it’s not surprising that some would run into difficulties.  Also, every year there are funds that go missing, so we need to work out what has gone wrong and why.  My review is really a sanity check rather than a real audit, as I’m doing this unpaid in my free time (huh!).  I’m just trying to deliver a reasonable level of confidence in the book-keeping of the kingdom.

The kingdom has gone from having about $12,000 when I started two years ago, to about $40,000 now.  And this after we put up the travel payments to the Crown from $4000 to $7000 a year, and a number of new spending initiatives.

This will be my last report as a Greater Officer of the Kingdom of Lochac, and I’ll be back to relative obscurity after that.  I’m looking forward to it.

What’s happening

We had Richard and Gloria (Allison’s parents) over on Saturday.

Richard is a keen gardener, and so a very useful resource.

Our first task was identifying a whole lot of trees.  We bought about 30 trees from Digger’s Club, which arrived while I was in England.  They have been sitting in the greenhouse getting watered occasionally.  Somehow they have all since lost their identification tags (no idea how!) and so it’s a bit of a mystery.

Richard was able to have a pretty good guess at most of them.  This wasn’t helped because I bought a whole lot of really weird ones, like a Japanese Raisin tree (you eat the swollen stems) and some weird South African things.  Some of them just look like muddy sticks, so we’ll just have to plant them and see what happens.  Japanese Raisin trees grow to 20 metres tall, so there could be difficulties down the track if we plant it in the wrong spot.

We did some more planning for our spring plantings, and marked out some new garden beds.  We have some new heavy trellis to build, to hold some kiwifruit vines, and Allison wants to double the size of our peacock enclosure.

Our current wwoofers are Luca from Italy, and Timo and Sabrina from Germany.  The last two weeks have been miserable weather, so we let our friend Jochen take them to the beach (Nowra) yesterday.  They enjoyed that a lot.  But they will be very busy from now on.

Our past wwoofers John and Claire called in yesterday, and it was lovely to catch up.  Our and their mate Joonas, the crazy guy from Finland, was last heard of being destitute in Byron Bay and having a great time.

My clicker training with Gawaine, my young horse, is going pretty well.  It’s a bit like working with a boisterous six-year-old, with a limited attention span and he’s six times bigger than I am.

I wasn’t all that conscientious during the bad weather, but even so I can just about get his halter (head strapping) on now.  Things will get much easier after that.  He does get a bit confused and frustrated sometimes, as he doesn’t always understand what I want.  He kicked me in the goolies on one occasion early on, but now I have a better sense of timing.

Still no job, and Australia now has a hung parliament which will slow things down even more.  The last government steered Australia through the world recession pretty well, indeed we didn’t even have one here, so it amazes me that we didn’t vote them back with an increased majority.  I certainly voted for Labor because of this, though I usually vote for the conservatives.  I don’t think most Australians realise how difficult things are now in the US and much of Europe.  They will find out soon enough.

There is a season and a time for every purpose

It’s miserable weather here. It has been colder, but we have a strong wind and freezing sleet.

Off the farm, many of our friends are sick or still having difficult times. We’re not seeing much of them.

I still don’t have a new work contract, and while I’m enjoying the break, I need to get back to paid work soon.  I’m a business analyst, generally for government, and next week’s election in Australia has cut the amount of work on offer.

In my head, I know that the seasons will turn, and we’ll soon have some gorgeous September days of gentle warmth.  And everything will be as it should.

In the wider world, it looks like the sharemarket is collapsing again.  I’m not surprised.

The US keeps talking about the emerging recovery, but house prices are still dropping there.  They have a lot of pain still to come, and their political system is dysfunctional at the moment.  I read widely on economic matters, and the single most cogent webpage is here — this implies that the US sharemarket will keep dropping for 3 years, which I guess means a recession of at least 5 years for them.  Unbearable.

In Europe, the countries owe each other immense amounts of money.  They are expecting the US to bail them out, which won’t happen.  Expect years of pain there too.  Japan is in a mess and will stay there.

Australia will hold up as long as China does — which won’t be all that long, but hopefully they will get us past the worst of the world trouble.  I have a comforting thought that perhaps India might do a bit better and soften the collapse of the mining boom.  So I expect pain here too, but less than Europe and the US.

This then is the autumn of our discontent, with the worst to come.  But in time, the seasons will turn and things will look a little better.

Fortunately, I moved my superannuation funds to bonds before the first stockmarket crash, then back to shares for most of the rebound, and late last year put it all into cash.  So my timing has been pretty good but not perfect: I tend to jump about three months too early, as I am cautious more than greedy.  I’d rather be safe than sorry.

Trouble in paradise

Yesterday we had to ask a wwoofer to leave.

Conrad from Germany had been with us for some weeks, and had been a cheery and willing enough worker.

But he was hard to raise in the mornings.  He quite often he had stomach pains, and couldn’t do any work, especially in the mornings.  He went to a Goulburn doctor, who did blood tests and could find nothing.

We had difficulties communicating.  Conrad’s English was not so good, initially, so maybe it was that.  But after a while we realised that Conrad was eager to help, and would quickly visualise how he could do the job.  The trouble was, if we wanted the job done a different way (because we had additional information, and needed to achieve other goals too) then Conrad could not let go of his first idea.  He would get really anxious and revert to his first idea whenever we were not looking.

We did work out strategies to deal with this.   So this was difficult and often time-consuming for us, but manageable.  We had to explain our perception of the situation to the other wwoofers, who had become completely frustrated with him.  Once we were all working together on this, we found that Conrad was a bit more flexible when his stress levels were lower.

Over time, we came to realise that Conrad was drinking considerable amounts of alcohol, by himself, at night.  Which in retrospect now seems obvious, but people can be rather good at covering these things.  I think that much of Conrad’s inability to work some days was simply hangover, and perhaps some withdrawal symptoms.

We realised that we had been losing bottles of wine and spirits, so we checked Conrad’s room.  Sure enough, there was a bottle of our sherry there, some of our wine, and other things.  Also there were some of my prescription drugs there, which I guess Conrad must have been mixing with alcohol.  Allison checked with Google which said that this combination could stop his heart.

Also we found a sharp kitchen knife jammed repeatedly into his windowsill.

So we asked Conrad to leave and escorted him to the railway station.

Life at Cockatrice Farm often sounds quite idyllic, and really it frequently is.  The combination of young people from different countries at our wacky farm can be enormous fun.

Conrad is the second person we have asked to leave at short notice, and there have been others who we’ve moved on earlier than they would have liked.  We are a lot more accommodating and accepting than a commercial business would be, but there are limits.

Conrad is heading back to Germany.  His parents have the details, and will be looking for appropriate treatments for him there.

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Apart from that serious stuff, we still have cold mornings but we’ve had a few lovely sunny days.

I have started Gawaine the young colt (11 months old) on clicker training.  He quickly worked out that touching the bright yellow end of the stick gets a ‘click’ (from a clicking toy in my hand) and then a treat.

He has a couple more things to learn, then I’ll get him touching a halter (head straps) then teach him to wear it, and be led around.

Then I’m sorry to say that the veterinary surgeon will come around to geld (castrate) him.  He’s already getting a bit frisky with the old mare in the next paddock, and his mum.  Gelding will settle him down further, and I think he will be a lovely horse to ride.

Gianluca has taught us to play Scopa (sp?), a Napolitan card game which uses a distinctive pack.  The rules are quite bizarre but they are starting to make sense.  Chance seems to play a large part, but Gianluca strangely enough usually wins….

Christmas in July

On 31 July, we ran a medieval feast at the Goulburn Club.

Like last year, it was a fundraiser dinner.  This time we asked if our club (the Goulburn Medievalists) could keep half the proceeds as we ourselves are fundraising for a new large feasting tent.  The club was agreeable so we did that.

The Goulburn Club has a very limited kitchen, down two flights of stairs.  But we were much more familiar with the territory this time, so we made it work.

The functions room at the club is not large.  Last year we were over-run with late bookings, and we squeezed 70 people in there.  Which was rather difficult.

This year we made better use of the space, and had comfortable seating for 60.  In the event, only 50 people turned up.

We made a magnificent pastry boar’s head, brought in on a huge platter donated by our friend Jane.  We had hot mulled wine, roast beef and currant-wine sauce, medieval onion quiche, chicken and leek pies, and many other dishes.  We did our medieval-style christmas puddings again, set aflame at your table.

We received many compliments for the food, but we overcatered considerably.  Some of that was simply logistical: one chicken-and-leek pie is too little for a table of 12, and two pies is too much.  Perhaps tables would have accepted getting one-and-a-half pies, but it’s hard to cut them neatly for serving.

The event made $681 to be shared between the two groups.  And the club ran the bar for the event, so they would have made some more money on that.

A successful event, and we had six people seriously interested in joining our local medieval club.