Archive | Weekend Magazine Columns

And how are you today?

Mindless phrases like “And how are you today?…” are driving me nuts. Or the new horror “Yeah/ No…”

It’s one of the banes of my life – mindless social phrases. I’ve been on the phone for ages waiting for a call-centre stranger to pick up. I want to cut to the chase: to find out why my phone bill is $200 over my normal plan repayments. To simply say. “Hello, my name is Ruth Ostrow. I need to make an inquiry about my phone bill.”

But that’s not how interactions go nowadays. They go like this. Call-centre operator answers and says in a sing-song voice: “Hello, and how are you today?” Pause. I’m then required to say: “Fine thank you.” She replies “That’s good.” Pause. Then I must say in a sincere voice: “And how are you today?” “Fine thanks.” “That’s good.”

That’s 12 seconds of my life I’ll never get back again. If you multiply this increasingly popular, inane interaction by the amount of times every non-thinking stranger does the “blah blah” in every shop, phone conversation, restaurant it soon adds up to at least 10 times a day – or two minutes – which is an hour a month taken up with blind stupidity. By the end of a year that’s 12 hours of wasted life. Continue Reading →


Holiday Clues not Blues

Three things you’ll really want to know about this holiday period like how to save your relationship.

Hi readers,

I’m back! Here are the three column blogs I wrote during the break on how to avoid holiday blues.

31s December
How to avoid becoming an +++hole. this time of year

It’s that time of year where we all like to make New Year resolutions and atone for crimes big and small we’ve committed during the year. Well, at least I do. It’s a ritual I do each year instead of driving around to bad parties, caught in traffic and feeling unsatisfied. I sit down with those closest to me and write a list of all the things of significance that happened during the year; all the things I’m grateful for; and all the things I want to change. Continue Reading →


Call Centre Blues

Call Centres are driving us all crazy

I WAS dealing with a call centre recently, trying to get something I had organised to be cancelled. The process was exhausting. Every time I called I had to stay on the line for at least a half hour because of the pre-Christmas backup.

And each time I called for a progress report I had to tell the story all over again to operators who pretended they were from the institution I was dealing with but quickly revealed their ignorance about some of the simplest questions I was asking.

“I’ll just ask my supervisor,” they would say while I waited another 15 minutes. Most were from overseas call centres and had no idea about the local situation I kept referring to. This is so common nowadays that most of us are used to it.

No longer do we have a bank manager, or insurance broker, or favourite customer service person at major companies – we’re put through to impersonal voices far, far away and can’t even ask for the same person for a follow-up. Continue Reading →


Why and how we get scammed

How and why do we get conned? According to Paul J. Zak neuro-economist, and columnist for Psychology Today it’s about brain chemicals

A COLLEAGUE of mine got caught in a Nigerian money scam before much was known about them. And he lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. He was bright, head of a leading company, and savvy. None of his friends understood how he could have been roped in. Continue Reading →


Don’t sweat the small stuff

We fret our daily pains without remembering how trivial much of it is

IT’S been a hell of a week for me. Many things have gone wrong, with one drama snowballing into another. The only thing that’s kept me above water was hanging out for an amazing trip we had planned for Christmas. Even though I’m a travelling gal, it was to be the trip of a lifetime, trekking across the Sahara to a festival called Festival in the Desert, in Timbuktu, Mali.

Being a great lover of African music, in particular music from Senegal and Mali, it was powerfully exciting to imagine being amid the indigenous peoples of the region who come each year for the festival — from north and south on camels and by foot in their traditional costumes, carrying instruments. And then to sleep under the stars surrounded by crackling fires and song.

Warnings on government websites of al-Qa’ida activity in the region did not deter us, so strong was our passion for the music, the dance. Then at the end of my nasty week, the news. Six foreigners were kidnapped from or near Timbuktu — one executed. Continue Reading →


Depression at Work

Depression at work is becoming an epidemic around the world.

IT’s interesting that while people who haven’t got jobs or have been recently laid off tend to despair, actually having a job doesn’t ensure happiness.

A global study reported in The Wall Street Journal claims that almost a quarter of the global workforce is depressed. Apparently, 92 per cent of people surveyed linked the state of their mental health to job performance and only 12 per cent claimed to be optimistic on the work front. The respondents came from a variety of industries, but mainly in the financial and professional areas.

Continue Reading →


Sex surrogacy

We should respect those who help with sexual problems not condemn them.

I’VE known several sex surrogates and have admired them all, which is why I was so surprised recently to hear that a Melbourne sex therapist had called them glorified prostitutes and called for an end to the practice.

Surrogates are women or men who get paid to provide what crooner Marvin Gaye pined for — ‘‘sexual healing’’. The practice is sex therapy with a touch more, as advocated by sexuality pioneers Masters and Johnson in the 1960s. It’s used in conjunction with traditional therapies to provide help for erectile dysfunctions such as impotence and premature ejaculation, intimacy issues and marriage problems.

Sex surrogacy has a reported 95 per cent success rate in Australia, according to a study presented to the World Congress on Sexual Health in 2007. Continue Reading →


Bullying with a smile

Even smiling at the wrong time can be considered workplace bullying.

IT was another interesting example of political correctness gone crazy. My friend, a senior manager, was asked to attend a retraining course on workplace bullying in the light of tough new laws. As someone who has had her fair share of bullying rising up the ranks in media, I welcome any and all legislation that protects employees from this often subtle and insidious form of cruelty.

However, my friend was told that even cocking an eyebrow at the wrong time, with a smirk on one’s face or a sarcastic quip, can now be considered an act of bullying. I have to say that, well, frankly, the new laws are making me feel bullied.

Continue Reading →


How to deal with suffering

It’s hard to stomach world suffering

IT’S been a horrible few weeks in the world, and a hard time for sensitive people. The daily news has been so distressing and appalling that if I were not a journalist, I wouldn’t turn on or read the news.

As it is, I can’t read the papers over breakfast, or watch television news over dinner, as what I see often makes my stomach turn and I can’t digest my food.

Last week there were two or three stories that had me feeling ill and powerless, but I soldiered on, feeling dreadful: children hit by cars, abused, murdered, starving; the massacring of animals; revelations of torture. But something snapped one morning after one particular story: I was in the bathroom putting on make-up, then I was suddenly crouched on the floor, crying. My partner tried to comfort me but I said this to him, and I am saying it now.

Continue Reading →


Kids and music

With iPod earphones strapped to their ears, kids today are missing out on musical riches of days gone by.

I GREW up surrounded by music. Tchaikovsky and Beethoven were playing for much of my early childhood. My father’s family came from Europe and brought with them an old record player and loads of classical records.

My house was filled with the sound of great operas and symphonies. I don’t think in those early years that I liked any of it, although I was fond of Rachmaninoff.


As I grew older the music became familiar to me, and familiarity burgeoned into love. Now I feel deeply satisfied that I was given the opportunity to appreciate the genius and beauty of many classical masterpieces and much more. My father was musical and sampled every type of sound imaginable.

I think of this often as I try to expose my daughter to many forms of music: classical, folk and world music, each coming with its own rich history.

Continue Reading →